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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Light It Up

Kekla Magoon

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)





No one saw anything.

In the aftermath, the curb is dewy with blood. The man crouches by the girl’s body. They are both now smaller than they were.

“No, no, no, no, no.” He is on his knees. On his lips, a litany of sorrows.

He shoves away the iPod lying on the sidewalk. It jerks back, tied to the body by headphones. The sound of low talking blossoms into the silence.

He is supposed to press the walkie-talkie button, call again for backup.

Instead, he reaches around her puffy coat collar, presses fingers to her neck. “No, no, no, no, no.”

What he sees—it’s impossible. He prides himself on being a good shot. Prides himself on his instincts.


You don’t expect it. Ever. Walking home, like usual, the last thing you expect is to witness a murder. Shootings happen around this neighborhood, of course they do, but somehow you still never expect it. You worry about it, in a ghost way. A sliver of thought in a dusty back corner of the brain. A curl of gray matter that gets woken up once in a blue moon, given an electric shock to remind it never to fade.

You expect to cross the street, avoid the hoopla, like always. There’s no call to get involved. No one wants to be a witness. To put yourself out there like that, against some gangbanger you maybe went to high school with? Hells no. Not this cat.

The squad car, lights flashing, is at the other end of the block. A traffic stop, maybe. Or a domestic thing, checking up on some hipster’s noise complaint about the sound of fighting next door.

It’s a whole block away. You figure you have time to get around whatever’s going on. There’s no crime scene tape. But then suddenly you’re upon them. The cop and the child. You can tell it’s a child, somehow. Maybe you know the world all too well.

When you’re first on the scene, here’s what you find:

The body looks unreal. Some punk-ass King, or whatever, rendered inert. Black coat, like a marshmallow. Strange kicks, for a gangbanger. Is pink the new red?

The sirens are blaring. Response time was slow. One cop in the area, got to the scene first.

“What happened?”

“He’s dead. He’s dead,” the officer says. “He had a gun.”

The world inverts. This is a whole different thing. You can’t help it, you blurt out, “You shot him?”

The officer lunges to his feet. His weapon rises up. “Step back.”

You freeze, then slowly spread your hands wide. “Whoa, man. I ain’t do nothing. I ain’t see nothing.”

Heart pounding, skin pounding, the pulse pumps firmly in your chest, your knees, your eyes. You pray. Keep pumping. I ain’t gotta die today.

That corner of your brain, that worried corner, is much bigger than you thought and it’s wide awake now. It scolds. See flashing lights, go down another block. No lookie-loos. It aches. Not my time. Not today. I ain’t going down like this. It speaks to your feet. It’s your brain—it can do that. Run. Run.

You fight it. With another part of your brain, the common sense part. You hold fast there, knowing you might be shot down where you stand.

The sirens grow louder.

“Be cool, man,” you say. “Be cool.”

He’s breathing hard. And you are.

More cops roll up. More guns. All on you. Just like that, a walk home becomes a mouthful of sidewalk. Becomes handcuffs. Becomes the back of a cop car and a call to some legal aid lawyer. On the phone you tell her, “I ain’t done nothing. I ain’t seen nothing. I was just walking home.”


In my nightmares I see flashing lights. I see them in the glint of sun off the other cars’ hoods in the rearview. I see them in the glare off the road signs and in bouncing headlights. I see a white car with a ski rack and I ease off the gas on instinct. Just in case.

I wanna fly, you know? I wanna put the pedal to the metal, knowing I can afford the cost of a ticket. It’s gonna be what, fifty bucks? A hundred? I don’t know. Never been pulled over. Never wanna be.

Watch the needle like a hawk instead.

Every time.

Tonight, the lights behind me are real.

My pulse pounds under every part of my skin. Blinker on. Glide to the shoulder. Lower the window, then freeze, with my hands at ten and two. I already can’t breathe.

Not one, but two police cars. I expect them to flank me. They don’t even slow.

My car rocks in their wake. They are flying.

A prayer slides out of me, unbidden.

Relief, for myself.

Hope and despair, for the poor souls at the other end of their call.

Find a gap, ease back into traffic. Other cars rocket by me. I’m that annoying driver everybody can’t wait to pass. Their slipstream is my security blanket. They’ll get pulled over before me, for sure.

I’m only a few minutes’ drive from the Underhill Community Center. I’ll make it there before full dark.

Copyright © 2019 by Kekla Magoon