“Wat th’hell is that?”

Freddy had an Upper East Coast accent. Three syllables out of his mouth and you could surely tell he came from a long line of people who caught lobster and turned it into “lawbsta”. It was a law school, Matt-Damon-as-poor-boy-genius accent. It had city-boy class.

And pretty much it sounded like a fart in church out west, even in a something-or-other field. It’d gotten punches thrown at him in bars.

Although in all fairness, Bonnie thought, that might not’ve been the accent. Might’ve, maybe, had something to with the way he pointed those Pall Malls of his at folks and barked like the gonzo ghost of Johnny F Kennedy.

She followed his accusingly pointed cigarette to see what’d crawled up his ass and laid eggs this time.

This time, the egg layer was a ratty shirt with funky stains, hanging on a broken stick in the middle of some amber waves of something.

Bonnie smiled with a weird sort of hometown pride. There’s only one thing it could’ve been, and this was about the only place someone’d have put one up.

“That’s a bugshirt, Tonic,” she said. She called him Tonic because he drank them with gin every time he was in a bar (and not getting punched in the mouth). And because she just about pissed herself laughing every time he said the word in that accent of his. For his part, he hated the nickname. In that ‘secretly liked it’ kind of way, she was pretty sure.

“A bugshirt,” he said, flatly. He took a drag, stared at the thing. Bonnie could see him working out if he wanted…

“Wat,” he said thickly through slightly less thick smoke, “is a bugshirt, hah?”

Bonnie cleared her throat, leaned on the roadside fence like a podium.

“So okay, it’s like this: the tall stuff growing in the field feeds folks or gets them drunk or whatever. It’s vital to enter folks by the mouth somehow, is the point.

Problem being, course, that bugs are keen on taking it mouthwise too. And some folks ain’t burdened with an abundance of prosperity, so they can’t get a crop duster or a big spray thing. And anyhow, some folks object to spraying their crops with that shit anyhow, y’know?

So anyhow, what some folks’ll do is MacGuyver themselves up a bugshirt. They’ll take an old shirt, made of hemp or something plantish, and they’ll soak that sucker in a cocktail of something that’ll bring in the bugs and something that’ll kill them stone dead. Sugar water and strychnine, I dunno. Rubbing alcohol sometimes, like for ticks.

Point is, bugs go for the shirt instead of the crops, take one bite, and keel right the hell over with their little buggy legs twitching.”

She waited. He smoked.

“So that’s a bugshirt, hah?” he said, finally.

“That’s a bugshirt.”

Freddy shook his head and kept walking. Bonnie kept in step with him, waiting for the inevitable pissing and/or moaning from the city-boy about the yokels.

“Yer’ll too damn weerd out here, girl,” Freddy flicked his cigarette at the shirt as he walked. If Bonnie hadn’t been rolling her eyes away from him, she might’ve noticed the habitual gesture and slapped it out of him.

As it was, they got a few feet before they heard the dull fwump and felt the blast of heat at their backs, followed by a low roaring crackle. They turned slowly. Stared.

“…Oh goddamit, Tonic.”

And they ran, twice the speed of the devil, kicking up dust and glancing back at the faint glow over their shoulders.

“Man. Wat th’hell they’d soak that shirt in?”

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Josh Hechinger is a future writing superstar/cautionary tale. He lives in Pennsylvania.

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