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by Alex Reece Abbott

The girl in the kiss breaks away to peer over his denim shoulder.

He pulls her to him, but she sways out of his tobacco-stained clutches.

“Look at all those weird birds,” she says.

The swans are tethered, a huddled whiteness facing in on themselves at the edge of the shore. Their hard, plastic skins glare in the morning sun.

He grabs her hand. “You like ’em?”

“We-lllll,” she drawls, slower than molasses in January. Her classmates are right. He is kinda old.

He stands behind her, his chin spiking into her bare shoulder. “I got ’em all for you. Dragged them from the camp, right out past the point to our spot. Makin’ it special, for my baby.” He strokes her bare arm with his rasp hand. “Did it all-lll for you.”

“Isn’t that kinda like stealing, Ray?” Honey fixes her pink lipstick with an exaggerated O-shaped pucker, the way her mother does right before church.

He wraps his arms around her flat belly, tightening like that Jungle Book constrictor. “Not calling me a thief, are you darlin’?”

What is his plan? Surely he has a plan, bringing her all the way down here. She hopes he isn’t thinking of taking her out on one of those damn swan-boats. She buries her toes deep into the gritty sand, knowing she’s already way out of her depth.

He squeezes her so hard her ribs flex. “I only did it for you, baby, for your birthday. I can tell I’m gonna have to send you right back to school, missy. Swans are real loyal. Don’t you know, they mate for life.”

His scaly hands are worming up under her thin halter top. The swans have their heads bowed, they can’t stand to watch.

“That so,” she says, buying time.

As he nips at her neck, she breathes stale cigarettes. “Uh-huh, totally monogamous too. Know what that means?”

“Sure I do, Ray.” Grinning his gappy grin, he doesn’t look so good no more. And his little ride downtown has crept way out of hand. How the hell did she end up out here in the boonies?

Honey makes like she’s finding the stranded swans totally fascinating. Plastic swan-boats mean something, alright. They mean cheap vacations at Camp Crooked Lake when you’re twelve. Soooo last summer.

“Feelin’ alright?” His voice is hoarse in her ear. He tugs her hair binders loose. “Because Ray is gonna make you feel a whole lot better, you’ll see.”

The girl has seen the dumb, lifeless, tethered swans; she has seen their reflections warping on the choppy lake.

Holding her tight, he presses his cracked lips to hers, ashtray tongue slithering.

The girl in the kiss thinks her mother’s gonna kill her.

“See.” He tucks a rogue strand of her hair behind her ear.

Over his shoulder, she sees a piece of driftwood washed up on the deserted shore.

The driftwood is within her reach. She sees it is not too big, and shaped just like a club.

Alex Reece Abbott is an award-winning writer working across genres, forms and hemispheres. Her stories are upcoming and appear in London Journal of Fiction, the Katherine Mansfield Society: Creative Work, Headland Journal, Takahe Magazine, the Maine Review, Hypertext, Pure Slush, Spelk, Flash Frontier, Hysteria, Halo Magazine, FlashFlood, Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, the Furious Hope Anthology, and Landmarks: The 2015 National Flash-Fiction Day Anthology, among others. Her short fiction has won the Northern Crime Competition and the Arvon Prize, and often shortlists, including for the Sunday Business Post/Penguin Short Story Prize, the Bridport Prize, Fish, Mslexia, the Society of Authors’ Margot Manchester Award, and the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition.