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P was back in town for a few weeks of summer. I was still renting the place close to the river and P slept on the mouse-shit orange couch in the basement. I wasn't working and P had some cash to spare, so every day we trekked to the river's edge, killed an 18-pack, and washed our feet against the brown convulsions.

One day P told me not to play bounce-or-break with the bottles because we were going to go see some of his boys and they had a better use for them. We jammed the bottles back into the box and marched through the hypertension heat to the other end of town.

The town was small, brick-muscled, people-close. A cracked pavement grid of alleys and thoroughfares. Relic of 19th-century central-planned capitalism, long neglected in favor of the action out east. Now it groped toward a taxpayer-funded resurrection. Tourists from Boston snacked in bougie coffee shops and plucked curios from antique stores stocked with dead-mill treasures. People like me wanted none of that. We traced our lives through the derelict arteries, the dust-and-dumpster-choked maze. The sun couldn't find us there.

As we walked P opened his mouth to speak and then fountained a length of curdled beer on the ground.

I'm good, I'm good, he said, waving me back.

Then he roared another bubbled jet, this time loud enough to echo down the alley. An old man turned his head as he passed the opening.

We stopped beside a two-door garage. A dust-webbed air conditioner quaked against its side. Music mumbled behind the doors. Heat parched and damned I pressed my palm against my chest, found my heartbeat, and listened for that something's-off.

P banged against one of the doors. It rose in reply. A few guys stood or sat scattered in folding chairs. Beers in hand.

An ancient, mammoth, red-blue lawnmower lorded between them. One of the guys knelt and tinkered with its innards. I know nothing about engines so I could only guess what he was doing. The guys considered me and reached for handshakes. One of them grinned at the box I carried.

Food for the beast? he asked.

The beast?

Another convert to the game.

The guy took the box, said his name was G, and then placed one of the bottles in front of the mower. Solemn, like an offering, as if it were a lit candle. Everyone backed away as one of the guys tore the mower to life with a great pull of the starter rope. The mower convulsed as it drank its petrol meal. Then the chanting began.

Will it mow!

Will it mow!

Will it mow!

My blood rose. I forgot my thirst. Then the guy behind the mower released the break. The mower charged. Its maelstrom teeth devoured the bottle. Spewed jagged chunks in every direction. One piece struck my leg but I ignored the pain and roared with the others. We'd lusted for violence and now we had it. Something died and we loved it more than anyone, any nation, any creed. The simple truth of obliteration and nothing more.

G arrayed three bottles before the mower.

Will it mow!

Will it mow!

Will it mow!

Released, the mower gnashed its glassy prey. Pinprick star shards pierced a half-pane window and whizzed out into the world.

Then someone shouted, Let's feed it my piece of shit phone!

Now a smartphone glimmered on the concrete floor, screen full-bright. The garage's energy twitched. The phone was something valued, maybe not entirely paid for. A thing owed, a debt connection to the world.

Then, the clamored question, the rope pull song, the engine snarl, the reek and thrill of gasoline, the prison break of wheels, and then at last an answer like a rocket's shriek right at my face and oh my God, me in thrall to redstone darkness, a flood of unforgiveness, my hand the face's door too late to stop the flow of blood, my drag-down body cast against the wall.

But even suffering must end. Arms forced me to my feet.

You're good, man, P told me. He gave me a beer. I tasted its goodness. I opened my bad eye. A painful sunset stained the world, but it was enough. I drank the back-slaps, the I-can't-believe-its, the one-of-uses.

I'm sick of this music, someone said. They shoved a wireless speaker before the mower's glare. G fed the mower a viscous draught of viciousness and ripped the leash while we, the savage ones, barked our question against the noise. Would it destroy again, just as we asked?

The speaker sputtered, shorn of wire and plastic bone. We didn't hear the music stop.