An abundance of katherin.., p.21
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       An Abundance of Katherines, p.21

           John Green
 
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Page 21

 

  “Dude,” said Hassan softly. “Khanzeer. ”69

  Colin shot up. Perhaps fifty yards in front of them, a brown-gray creature was pushing his long snout into the ground and snorting like he had a sinus infection. It looked like a cross between a vampire pig and a black bear—an absolutely massive animal with thick, matted fur and teeth that extended below its mouth.

  “Matha, al-khanazeer la yatakalamoon araby?”70 Colin asked.

  “That’s no pig,” answered Hassan in English. “That’s a goddamned monster. ” The pig stopped its rooting and looked up at them. “I mean, Wilbur is a fugging pig. Babe is a fugging pig. That thing was birthed from the loins of Iblis. ”71 It was clear now the pig could see them. Colin could see the black in its eyes.

  “Stop cursing. The feral hog shows a remarkable understanding of human speech, especially profane speech,” he mumbled, quoting from the book.

  “That’s a bunch of bullshit,” Hassan said, and then the pig took two lumbering steps toward them, and Hassan said, “Okay. Or not. Fine. No cursing. Listen, Satan Pig. We’re cool. We don’t want to shoot you. The guns are for show, dude. ”

  “Stand up so he knows we’re bigger than he is,” Colin said.

  “Did you read that in the book?” Hassan asked as he stood.

  “No, I read it in a book about grizzly bears. ”

  “We’re gonna get gored to death by a feral fugging hog and your best strategy is to pretend it’s a grizzly bear?”

  Together, they stepped carefully backward, kicking their legs high to get over the fallen tree, which now offered their best protection against the hog. But Satan Pig didn’t seem to think much of their strategy, because right then it took off running at them. For a squat-legged beast that couldn’t have weighed less than four hundred pounds, the thing could run.

  “Shoot it,” Colin said, quite calmly.

  “I don’t know how,” Hassan pointed out.

  “Fug,” said Colin. He leveled the gun, planted it tight against his exceedingly sore shoulder, turned off the safety, and took aim at the running pig. It was perhaps fifty feet away. He inhaled deeply and then slowly exhaled. And then he pointed the gun up and to the right, because he just couldn’t bring himself to shoot at the pig. Calmly, he squeezed the trigger, just as Lindsey had taught him. The kick of the gun against his well-bruised shoulder hurt so badly that tears welled up in his eyes, and in the shock of the pain he couldn’t tell what had happened at first. But, amazingly, the pig stopped dead in its tracks, turned ninety degrees, and ran.

  “You sure shot the living hell out of that gray thing,” Hassan said.

  “What gray thing?” asked Colin. Hassan pointed, and Colin followed the trajectory of his finger to an oak tree about fifteen feet away. Crooked between the trunk and a branch, a sort of gray paper cyclone contained a circular hole about an inch in diameter.

  “What is that?” asked Hassan.

  “Something’s coming out of it,” Colin said.

  It doesn’t take long for a thought to get from your brain to your vocal cords and out of your mouth, but it does take a moment. And in that moment, between when Colin thought Hornets! and when he would have said “Hornets,” he felt a searing sting on the side of his neck. “Oh FUG!” shouted Colin, and then Hassan said, “AIEE! AH! AH! FU—FOOT—SHIT—HAND!” They took off running like a couple of spastic marathoners. Colin kicked his legs to the side with each step, like a heel-clicking leprechaun, trying to discourage the blood-thirsty hornets from attacking his legs. Simultaneously, he swatted around his face, which, as it happened, only indicated to the hornets that besides stinging his head and neck, they could also sting his hands. Waving his hands above his head crazily, Hassan ran considerably faster and with more agility than Colin had ever thought possible, weaving around trees and hurdling bushes in a vain attempt to discourage the hornets. They ran downhill, because that was easiest, but the hornets kept their pace, and Colin could hear their buzzing. For minutes, as they ran in random directions, the buzzing continued, Colin always following behind Hassan, because the only thing worse than getting stung to death in south-central Tennessee when your parents don’t even know you’re on a hog hunt is dying alone.

  “KAFIR (breath) I’M (breath) FADING. ”

  “THEY’RE STILL ON ME. GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO,” Colin answered. But just after that, the buzzing stopped. Having chased them for the better part of ten minutes, the hornets began the winding journey back to their decimated nest.

  Hassan fell face-first into a brambly bush and then slowly rolled over onto the forest floor. Colin bent over, hands on knees, sucking air. Hassan was hyperventilating. “Real (breath) fat (breath) kid (breath) asthma (breath) attack,” he finally said.

  Colin pushed aside his fatigue and rushed up to his best friend. “No. No. Tell me you’re not allergic to bees. Oh, shit. ” Colin pulled out his cell phone. He had reception, but what could he tell the 911 operator? “I’m somewhere in the woods. My friend’s trachea is closing. I don’t even have a knife to perform an emergency tracheotomy because stupid Mr. Lyford ran off with it into the woods to chase the same goddamned pig that started the whole fugging mess. ” He desperately wished Lindsey were there; she could deal with this. She’d have her first-aid kit. But before he could even register the consequences of such thoughts, Hassan said, “I’m not allergic to (breath) bees, sitzpinkler. I’m just (breath) out of (breath) breath. ”

  “Ohhhhh. Thank God. ”

  “You don’t believe in God. ”

  “Thank luck and DNA,” Colin corrected himself quickly, and only then, with Hassan not-dying, did Colin begin to feel the stings. There were eight in all, each of them like a little fire burning just inside his skin. Four on his neck, three on his hands, and one on his left earlobe. “How many do you have?” he asked Hassan.

  Hassan sat up and looked himself over. His hands were cut up from landing in the briar bush. He touched his stings, each in turn. “Three,” said Hassan.

  “T h ree?! I really took one for the team by staying behind you,” he noted.

  “Don’t give me that martyr shit,” said Hassan. “You shot the bees’ nest. ”

  “Hornets’ nest,” Colin corrected. “They were hornets, not bees. That’s the kind of stuff you learn in college, you know. ”

  “Dingleberries. Also, not interesting. ”72 Hassan paused for a moment, then started talking. “God, these stings HURT. You know what I hate? The outdoors. I mean, generally. I don’t like outside. I’m an inside person. I’m all about refrigeration and indoor plumbing and Judge Judy. ”

  Colin laughed as he reached into his left pocket. He pulled out Mr. Lyford’s can of chewing tobacco. He pinched a bit of tobacco, and pressed it against his own earlobe. It felt instantly, if only marginally, better. “It works,” Colin said, surprised. “Remember, Mae Goodey told us about it when we interviewed her. ” Hassan said, “Really?” and Colin nodded, and then Hassan took the can of dip. Soon their stings were covered with blobs of wet tobacco dripping brown, wintergreen-flavored juice.

  “Now see that’s interesting,” Hassan said. “You should focus less on who was prime minister of Canada in 193673 and focus more on shit that makes my life better. ”

  Their idea was to walk downhill. They knew the camp was uphill, but Colin hadn’t been paying attention to which way they ran, and while the cloudy sky made it bearable to walk around in long sleeves and an orange vest, he couldn’t navigate by the sun. So they walked downhill, because (a) it was easier, and (b) they knew the gravel road was down there somewhere, and since it was longer than the camp, they figured they had a better chance of finding it.

  And maybe they did have a better chance of finding the road than the lodge, but they never found it, either. Instead, they walked through a forest that seemed endless, and their progress was slow, as they had to step through kudzu and over trees and hop the occasional dribbling creek. “If we just keep walking in one
direction,” Colin said, “we’ll find civilization. ” Meanwhile, Hassan was singing a song entitled: “We’re on a Trail / a Trail of Tears / There’s Dip on My Chin / and We’re Gonna Die Here. ”

  Just after 6 P. M. , tired and hornet-bitten and sweaty and generally in a poor mood, Colin spotted a house a short walk to their left. “I know that house,” Colin said.

  “What, we interviewed someone there?”

  “No, it’s one of the houses you can see when you walk to the grave of the Archduke,” Colin stated with great confidence. Colin gathered his last bit of energy and jogged up to the house. The place itself was windowless, weather-beaten, and abandoned. But from the front of the house, Colin could—yes—see the graveyard in the distance. In fact, there seemed to be some movement down there.

  Hassan came up behind him and whistled. “Wallahi,74kafir, you’re lucky we’re unlost, because I was about ten minutes away from killing and eating you. ”

  They hustled down an easy slope and then fast-walked toward the store, ready to bypass the cemetery. But then Colin caught sight of movement in the graveyard again, turned his head, and stopped dead. Hassan seemed to notice it at precisely the same moment.

  “Colin,” said Hassan.

  “Yeah,” Colin answered calmly.

  “Tell me if I’m mistaken, but isn’t that my girlfriend in the graveyard?”

  “You are not mistaken. ”

  “And she’s straddling some guy. ”

  “That’s correct,” said Colin.

  Hassan pursed his lips and nodded. “And—I just want to make sure we have our facts straight here—she’s naked. ”

  “She certainly is. ”

  sixteen

  She Was facing away from them, her back arched, her butt bobbing in and out of visibility. Colin had never seen actual people having actual sex before. From his angle, it looked a little ridiculous, but he suspected it might appear different if he were in the guy’s position.

  Hassan laughed silently, and he seemed so amused by the situation that Colin felt okay laughing, too. “This is some fugging snow globe of a day,” Hassan said. And then he raced forward about ten paces, cupped his hands over his mouth, and screamed, “I AM BREAKING UP WITH YOU!” Still, though, a goofy grin was on his face. Hassan takes so little seriously, Colin thought. As Katrina turned back toward them, her face shocked and scared, her arms crossed over her chest, Hassan turned away.

  Hassan looked back at Colin, who finally tore his gaze away from the inarguably quite fetching naked girl before him. “Give her some privacy,” Hassan said. And then he laughed again. This time, Colin didn’t join in. “You gotta see the humor in it, baby. I’m bug-bit, hornet-stung, bramble-cut, covered in chaw, and wearing camouflage. A feral hog, some hornets, and a prodigy led me through the woods so that I might stumble upon the first girl I ever kissed riding TOC like he’s a thoroughbred next to the grave of an Austro-Hungarian Archduke. That,” Hassan said to Colin emphatically, “is funny. ”

  “Wait, TOC?” Colin’s head swiveled back to the Archduke’s obelisk, where he saw—holy shit—TOC, his very self, slithering into some camo pants. “The. Rat. Bastard. ” For reasons that he didn’t understand, Colin felt a pulsing rage, and he took off toward the graveyard. He didn’t stop running until he got to the knee-high stone wall, and was staring TOC dead in the eye. And then he didn’t quite know what to do.

  “Is my dad with you?” TOC asked coolly. Colin shook his head, and TOC sighed. “Thank God,” he said. “He’d have my ass in a sling. Have a seat. ” Colin stepped over the wall and sat down. Katrina was leaning against the obelisk, dressed now, her hands shaking slightly as she smoked a cigarette. TOC started talking. “You’re not gonna say a word. Because this ain’t none of your business. Now your little Arab friend can have his words with Kat, and that’s fine, and they’ll keep it ’tween themselves. But I don’t reckon you want Lindsey to know anything. ”

  Colin stared at the Archduke’s obelisk. He was tired and thirsty and sort of needed to pee. “I think I have to tell her,” he said, a trace of the philosophical in his tone. “She’s my friend. And if I were in her position, I’d expect her to tell me. It’s just basic Golden Rule stuff, really. ”

  TOC stood up and walked over to Colin. He was a sizable presence. “Let me tell you both,” and only then did Colin realize Hassan was standing behind him, “why you aren’t going to say a word. If you do, I will beat your asses so bad, you’ll be the only guys in hell walking with a limp. ”

  Hassan mumbled, “Sajill. ”75 Colin quietly reached into his cargo pocket and fiddled with the device for a moment, then kept his hand in his pocket so it wouldn’t look suspicious. “I just want to know,” Hassan said to Katrina, “how long this has been going on. ”

  Katrina put her cigarette out against the Archduke’s obelisk, stood up, and walked over to stand next to TOC. “A long time,” she said. “I mean, we dated when we were sophomores and we’ve been hooking up occasionally ever since. But we came out here and I was going to end it. Honestly. And I’m sorry because I really do like you and I haven’t really liked anyone since him,” she said, glancing up at TOC, “and I wouldn’t have even done it this time except, I don’t know. It was, like a good-bye or something. But I’m really sorry. ”

  Hassan nodded. “We can still be friends,” he said, and it was the first time Colin had ever heard those words spoken sincerely. “No big whup, really. ” Hassan looked at TOC then. “I mean,” Hassan said, “it’s not like we had agreed not to see other people. ”

 
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