"Nah I wouldn't go up there." My brother said, throwing another to its demise. He brought to his lip a piece of paper rolled like a cigarette filled with the bits of tan and golden bush and grass we had collected. We were smokers now. I was too since yesterday when they broke my jumprope using it as climbing rope.
My cigarette hung limply along my gumline, the make-shift tobacco having fallen out since I hadn't rolled it tight enough. As the spit wet the paper a nasty taste formed in my mouth, like the taste of play money as mom said, whatever that meant. Didn't have the same effect I suppose but it looked alright and that's what I needed to be to be in the club, one of the boys. My jeans were rolled up to my knees so they wouldn't get wet and there was mud on them from where I had fallen earlier. I scratched one leg with a dirty foot and tried to wince as thoughtfully as possible up the hill, like a cowboy at the horizon.
"Why wouldn't you?" I said, daring to ask the question I needn't know the answer to. I was senstive and whatever was bad enough to scare my big brother would certainly scare me, not that I would let on and let him see it.
"Ah things. Mom told me not to tell you."
"Yeah." said his friend whose name I forget- that's the way it is with most unimpressive sidekicks I would imagine.
"So Mom's not here. C'mon tell me."
"Ok if you stop whinin'." He dropped a rock into the creek and bent over in my freckled face. His was smooth and white, like mom's. "But if you tell, I swear whatever beatin' Mom gives me I'll turn 'round and give it to you worse."
"I won't tell. Scout's honor." I said, holding up three fingers.
"Yeah a Girl Scout's honor. I told you we shouldn't have let her come." Stupid sidekick. I had a mind to take off my shoe and throw it at him but then I remembered I wasn't wearing any.
He stuck out a vile pink tongue at me.
"Stop fightin' or I won't tell you. Ok well the reason we can't go up there is there are Devil Worshippers up there in a cave. Which is no fun because I hear there's some good huntin' up there." He turned and threw another stick which was getting old to watch so it must have been old to do.
"Well what do they do up there?"
"Worship the Devil, stupid." I narrowed my eyes at the sidekick. Let's call him Ned. I've never liked that name anyway. Yeah Ned, like a frog, an ugly toad more like it.
"Well what do Devil Worshippers doo?"
"Oh you know, they light fires and dance around them and sacrifice deer and stuff like that. What the Pay-Guns do." My brother knew everything.
"Well what's a Pay-Gun?" I asked.
"Oh you know, people who steal stuff. They don't pay. They just pull out their guns and people let them have it. You know, they pay with their guns. I 'spose that's where they get the name."
"So like robbers?"
"No, not like robbers, like Pay-Guns."
"I don't see the difference."
"Well you wouldn't because you're a girl." Stupid Ned. I'd have beat him good if my brother wouldn't kick me out of the group. I wa stronger than he was anyway. Faster too.
"Don't call her stupid, Ned. She'll tell mom we were up here and we'll all get in trouble."
"Cuz she's a snitch."
"Am not!" My neck turned red, the way Dad's does when he's had too much to drink and Mom asks him about it. He turns red and something always falls on the ground and breaks like he pointed a wand at it. I secretly suspected that Dad was drinking brown liquid potion that turned him into an evil sorcerer and Mom didn't know it.
"Well if you're not a snitch then you're a sissy little girl."
I grabbed him by his collar, a plaid red and white one than made him look like a picnic blanket. I stomped my white cowgirl boot on his big toe and he yelped like a dog who put his tail in the wrong place. He got a scared look in his eyes for a second which turned into a nasty, congealed yellow color in his skin. "Well if you're so brave why don't you go on up that hill there and see what a Pay-Gun is for yourself!"
"Fine." I could do it better than any boy anyways and I was faster than either of them on account of the fact that I was scrawnier, stick-legged like a grasshopper.
Anxiety hijacked my brother's normally calm demeanor. "No you'd better not! You fall or trip or something and my butt'll be red for a week!"
I shrugged him off. "Ah stop bein' such a worry-wart. I ain't gonna fall and I ain't gonna tell!"
"Don't see ain't. Isn't proper."
"Ah stop it." I jumped across the small creek and landed hard on my feet. I scampered up the hill, marching bravely like a soldier outta Troy- course they ended up running into a giant horse which spit out a ton of men holding heavy, blood-hungry swords too. Anyway. My heart beat faster as the boys got smaller behind me and my fear denser with the growing population of trees. Then I saw a light. Probably a fire from the Devil Worshippers. Oh no. What if the Devil himself was there? Then a door shut. It sounded like the Gates of Hell slamming. They must have been wooden. I dove behind a tree with the noise of some rustling bushes and crouched down, peeping out to see an approaching dark figure. I couldn't quite tell because it was getting quite late in the evening but he must have been wearing a black cloak because that's what Devil Worshippers wore.
Then I heard a harrowing bark, probably that three-headed dog in Hell that forced people to eat his nasty biscuits. He barked again and dove through some bushes. The figure followed after him, slowly as if he was floating on air. That was all I needed. I turned and bolted down the hill, blowing past the boys. They raced after me until we hit the narrow line and crossed the field. We stopped in my backyard and between fearful breaths I told them about the Pay-Guns. Then we went into the frontyard and inspected more bushes for our tobacco crop. We didn't ever say we were scared but we gave the hill its distance.
And that was the one time, the only time, I ever knew more about something than my big brother. Months later, when Grandpa was taking us to town, we drove down a road that ducked around the hill the Devil Worshippers lived on and there was a big brown house with a wooden door on one side of it. A dog trotted across the front yard, wrestling a half-deflated Nerf ball. I hoped the deer weren't short that year so the Devil Worshippers would let him alone. A man walked out of the garage and as I peered out of the back window at him I wondered if he had ever seen a Devil Worshipper before.