Date: Wed 07 June 2000 19:53:16 -0500
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The first time I knew I would kill? I was six years old.
I’d snuck some things from the kitchen, vials of food coloring, Dixie cups, a pitcher of water. I was in my bedroom mixing potions, watching how the dyes curl in the water.
That doesn’t sound like much, I know. But I’d spilled a few cupfuls onto the carpet. My fingers were stained purple. It was enough to give the Old Man an excuse.
He came in so quietly I didn’t hear him, didn’t know he was standing over me until I caught his smell, like sweet smoked beef. He said something like, “Is this what we clean the house for? We clean the house so you can do this?”
Then I realized water was running in the bathroom. I remembered what my friend had said.
I tried to apologize, but the Old Man caught my wrists, dragged me backward, using my arms as a harness.
I kicked at the carpet and walls as he pulled me down the hallway. When we passed the bathroom doorjamb, I got one hand loose and grabbed at it, but the Old Man just yanked harder, ripping a nail off my finger.
The ceiling sparkled white. I remember bare avocado rings on the shower rod, plastic star-rivets holding up the mirror. The Old Man lifted me, squeezed me against his chest. I was clawing, grabbing at his clothes. Then he dumped me in. The cold stopped my blood. I floated, wet to my armpits, my clothes grafted to my chest, heavy.
I knew better than to try standing. I lay low, crying, the water nipping the backs of my ears. My mouth tasted salt. There was a comma of blood from my ripped nail on the Old Man’s shirt pocket, purple smudges from my dyed fingers on his chest.
He said, “What did you do wrong? Tell me what you were doing.”
His voice sounded kindly in the tiled acoustics of the bathroom, rich and deep.
I couldn’t answer. I cried.
“I don’t want to hear that,” he scolded. “Until you can tell me what you did, I don’t want any sound from you.”
I kept crying, knowing it was the wrong thing to do, but crying more because of that. So he leaned over me, pushed my chest, and the water closed over my head.
Sound turned to aluminum. I could hear my own struggling and splashing. Water lapped into the overflow drain, rushed through pipes in the walls like underground machinery.
The Old Man shimmered above me, his hand keeping a warm, constant clamp on the middle of my chest. I clawed at his wrist, but it might as well have been a mesquite branch.
I held my breath, which is hard when you’re facing up, the water flooding your nostrils, gagging you.
I tried to be still. I thought maybe if I were still, the Old Man would let go.
I studied the hazy balls of light above the sink.
My lungs burned.
And finally, the first clear decision I ever remember making, I gave up. I breathed in the water.
At that moment, as if he knew, the bastard lifted me out, rolled me onto the tiled floor.
I curled, cold and trembling, belching water, my throat on fire.
“Be grateful,” he said. “Be grateful for what you have.”
That was only the first time.
Over the years, he taught me that drowning a thing you hate, drowning it well and drowning it completely, is a slow process. It is an art only the patient can master.
And I learned to be patient. I’ll always credit the Old Man for that.
Excerpted from The Devil Went Down to Austin by Rick Riordan. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Riordan. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.