1Sheed’s Probably Going to Punch Otto
In the opinion of Sheed Alston—one half of the duo known as the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County—his cousin Otto (the other, more annoying half) sometimes needed to be punched.
Sheed had come to the conclusion a few years ago, when Otto got on this whole dinosaur thing. Don’t get it twisted—dinosaurs were, and still are, super cool! But even something super cool, like dinosaurs, became less cool when Otto insisted on knowing every single fact in the world about them, then insisted Sheed know that he knew every single fact in the world about them. All day. Every day.
Like, okay, Otto, a lot of movies got it wrong, because some dinosaurs had feathers . . . but did he ever think movies don’t show that because then the dinosaurs would look like chickens and that’s just dumb?
Around the fourth time Otto mentioned that the heaviest dinosaur was the Argentinosaurus and it weighed ninety tons, Sheed had had enough. He’d slugged Otto in the chest.
Not a hard punch. He didn’t want to hurt Otto. It was just enough to make a point. Otto stopped talking about dinosaurs so much after that.
And now that Otto was onto a new topic, one so much less cool than dinosaurs, Sheed knew another punch was coming. For sure.
“Did you know,” Otto said, “doctors who play video games are twenty-seven percent faster than doctors who don’t?”
It was Saturday in Logan County, Virginia. The sun was shining. The leaves were shifting from green to brown/orange/gold, and they hadn’t had any legend-worthy cases lately so Sheed wanted to eat his Frosty Loops with just the right amount of milk—the loops only damp, not soggy—in peace. Then maybe ride bikes to Fry Park and do flips off the swings. He did not want to talk about doctors. Again.
“Faster at what?” Grandma sang. She had choir rehearsal that afternoon, and while she worked the dough for the biscuits she was taking to the church, she also practiced. Low notes, high notes. Their conversation was at least one half song. Sheed didn’t like this tune, though.
“Diagnosing illnesses,” Otto said. “And surgeries. They make fewer mistakes, too. Do you think Dr. Bell plays video games?”
Grandma cut off a high C note and resorted to her speaking voice, giving her vocal cords a break. “I don’t know about that. Dr. Bell likes fly fishing, I heard him speak on that many occasions.”
“People can like fly fishing and video games, Grandma. Maybe you should make an appointment for me and Sheed, and we can ask him.”
Sheed dropped his spoon into his Frosty Loops bowl, splashing milk on the table. He leaned into Otto and whispered through clenched teeth, “Are you crazy?”
Visiting Dr. Bell usually meant shots. That man was scarier than the dentist and were-bears combined.
“We’re overdue for checkups,” Otto said, looking at the floor. “They’re important.”
“Stop. Talking.” Sheed flexed his punching hand.
Grandma left her biscuit dough alone and checked the teacup-pig calendar on the wall, humming while she flipped back a few months. “Y’all went at the beginning of summer. We barely into fall, so you don’t need a checkup yet.” She crossed the kitchen, rubbing dusty flour on her apron before pressing the back of her hand to Otto’s forehead. “You feeling all right, sugar?”
Sheed wondered the same thing.
“I’m fine, Grandma.” Otto still wouldn’t meet Sheed’s eyes.
“What about you?” Grandma said, reaching for Sheed.
Sheed tried to execute Maneuver #1 (run), but Otto turned full traitor and grabbed his wrist so he couldn’t get away. He was so getting punched when they were alone.
“Hold still,” Grandma said sharply, and Sheed knew better than to resist.
When she pressed her hand to his forehead, she said, “Hmm.”
Grandma then grazed his cheek. “You do seem a bit warm.”
“I’m fine, Grandma. It’s just hot in here from the oven.” He slipped away, headed upstairs, cranky because he knew his Frosty Loops were too soggy now—the optimal milk absorption window was a narrow one—and he was almost certain his cousin had just bought him a trip to Dr. Bell’s. What was wrong with Otto?
“Rasheed Alston! I know you ain’t stomping up no stairs in my house!”
Sheed stopped stomping. “No, Grandma.”
Otto padded out of the kitchen but skidded to a halt at the base of the stairs when Sheed gave him the we have unfinished business look they saw all the time in kung fu movies. Otto said, “Um? Where you going?”
This! On top of doctors-doctors all the time, Otto acted like he couldn’t let Sheed out of his sight for one second these days.
“To brush my teeth!” Sheed said. At the top of the stairs, he entered the bathroom and slammed the door.
“Rasheed Alston! I know you ain’t slamming no doors in my house!”
He sat on the edge of the bathtub, cupping his chin in both hands. If there was a way to mess up a Saturday, leave it to Otto to discover it.
A couple of sharp knocks sounded. Sheed yelled at the door, “Leave me alone.”
Two more knocks, like he hadn’t said a word. Not from the door, and not even close to the sound you get when knuckles hit wood. This sound was a hollow echo. Maybe a pipe? The house was old so that happened sometimes. He leaned into the bathtub, ear angled toward the drain.
Two more knocks, followed by a voice that almost made Sheed run screaming.
It said, “I know you’re there, Mr. Alston. I’d prefer not to be rude about this, but you and your cousin have already worn my patience razor thin.”
Sheed stood slowly, tracing the sound to a place it should not be coming from: the mirror over the sink.
When he faced it, the usual sight—his own reflection—was not where it should b...