It's finally here! After nearly three years In Older Worlds will come out, an e-book series of novellas, one episode after the other, taking you deeper and deeper into into the mysteries underlying the strange events that took place in 1984 in the little fictionalized township of Magna, Utah.
Imagine a group of cult members flee a Manson-like commune during the fall of 1969. Something dark follows them and takes an interest in their children. Forward to 1984, and various, seemingly unrelated teenagers begin to experience strange things and soon discover something special about their lives.
As a little note, this novel started as a short dark fantasy story, Pony Rides the Sunbeam. Over a decade ago I had written various other short stories that had related themes and elements. Those close friends and family who had read Pony Rides the Sunbeam had mentioned it could easily be made into a novel--a few enthusiastically even said it should be a movie. After several unsuccessful attempts to publish Pony as a short story, I returned to it, and the other related short stories, and began to rework them, eventually bringing them together into a story that not only draws upon elements of dark fantasy and horror, but a box within a box type of mystery (much like the Lost television series) where the answer to one question reveals a piece of a greater puzzle.
Without further ado I would like to introduce you to the first four chapters:
Copyright © Robert Goble, 2012
All Rights reserved
Cover photograph © Rick Wallace, 2012
Not limiting the rights of the copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part, by copying electronically, printing, Emailing, faxing, photocopying, or stored or transmitted by any other means, without the prior written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, and places are creations of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any likeness they may bear to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is coincidental.
When my friends and readers ask me, “What’s your new book about?” I admit I’m eager to fill their ears, hoping what I tell them will inspire the kind of urgency that would make them mark dates on their calendars and invest in the latest e-book reader with the sole purpose of beginning the dark, somewhat disturbing new serial novel, a fantasy set in the west side of the Salt Lake Valley during the summer of 1984. It’s a novel that draws heavily on the nostalgia of those days and seems to carry with it its own soundtrack—I would suggest googling Youtube (two words unthought of at that time) or some other site that has quick, accessible music, or simply digging out the old boxes full of the tapes and records of those fond times, and playing them along. I hope you’ll dive in, immersing yourself in the spirit of the times, and feel a little of what I felt scraping over the pavement of old memories with worn shoes and sore feet—and yet at times it was hard to come back to the present.
Speaking of friends and readers, one in particular comes to mind. As I enthusiastically dragged him through the plot, staring inwardly into the visions of my own imagination, he kindly stopped me in mid sentence and said, “You really ought to get out of Magna.”
After a silent pause, I clumsily tried to explain how I wasn’t satisfied with how I had situated the story of my last novel, Across a Harvested Field, in Magna, yet had only tiptoed around the township, timidly leaving out the richness of the community. I’d even left out the name of our beloved high school, substituting “Magna” in place of “Cyprus.” I had to go back. There was so much more to write about.
He held up his finger, and with a sage shake in his head, a patronizing smile, and a long, patient blink of his eyes, he said, “No one cares about Magna. No one knows where it is. You have to branch out, write about what’s familiar to the greater audience.”
At that point I had nothing left to say. I smiled, told him, “Thank you,” and filed his advice in a safe place where it wouldn’t bother me, and went on writing. I went on writing because the story itself, though entirely fictional, was Magna, a very subjective Magna, but it was the little corner near the Point of the West Mountains at the edge of the Great Salt Lake that I knew and loved and was brimming with untold treasure chests of stories. It was the salad of imagery filling the mind of a shirtless teenage boy, longish hair blowing in the wind, Judas Priest screaming through his headphones, the tender bruise under his eye felt every time he blinked, the heat of the bleaching asphalt under his bike tires, the drying tears on his cheeks.
I combed over each scene, fighting to stay true to the physical setting, turning the Magna of 1984 itself into a fictional character, though not wanting to lose even a brick of an old building, a crack in a sidewalk, or a piece of shattered glass in the dirty gutters. I named no one. Not one local character in the book ever existed. The historical characters (for this book floats on heavy elements of historical fiction mixed with fantasy) never performed the acts depicted in the story.
Though the story faithfully sticks to the timeline of that year, events like the local incorporation vote or the 1984 Summer Olympics passing by like scenery on a stage, it also unabashedly draws on, satirizes, and takes well out of context, the unique political character of the township. That I confidently treat as sacrilegiously as a young boy on a pig farm might take the once-living bladder of a hog, fill it with air, and kick it around like a ball.
Today Magna has two councils, a democratically elected Town Council, and a “private organization,” another council wholly unelected, that acts as if it carried an authoritative share in the voice of the people to ear of the county government. Those two councils didn’t exist in 1984. But the politics that lead to that unique and on-going state of affairs did. The fictional “West Oquirrh Council” of In Older Worlds is not the council that served generationally through boom times and hard times, doing great things for the community, and whose members were well-known and well-beloved. This fictional story doesn’t act as a history of Magna nor reflects upon the real individuals who love and serve their community and hold its real history dear.
As a dirty, street-wizened punk (who looked a lot like Bogie in the story) once said outside the old Safeway on Main Street, knuckles dripping with blood, “I can say all I want about my family, but you say something, I break your face.”
Don’t worry. He’s a good-old-boy. And if you’re with me, he won’t bother you. Take my hand as we step onto this worn trail through fields and backyards and alleyways as we pass through the light into older worlds.
“I found this map in my brother’s stuff when I helped box it up when we moved to our new house,” Corey said. He cleared his throat. “My parent’s held out hope for a long time. I mean, maybe Donnie was pissed for some reason and ran away. It’s not like I cared to wear his clothes when I grew into them. By then we had the money to buy my own. The styles had changed a little by then. I didn’t need hand-me-downs. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still in boxes in the loft of the garage. I get the feeling my parents still think he’s alive. It gives me the creeps. You know my mom never cried?”
He tossed it onto the coffee table.
“Do you mind if I take it and get a copy?” Bogie asked.
“Keep it,” Corey said.
Bogie picked it up, held it, lightly touched the paper with his fingers. It trembled slightly. As he turned to leave, Corey stopped him with one last question.
“You were there, weren’t you?”
Bogie didn’t face him. He looked old, his long hair hanging unwashed, uncombed over his face. His shoulders hunched defensively under his black leather motorcycle jacket.
Corey continued. “You were with him when he disappeared.”
Bogie opened the door and faced the afternoon sun, which gave little warmth in the late autumn. A cold wind blew leaves over the yard.
“Yes, I was,” he said and attempted to close the door behind him.
Corey swiftly caught it before it could shut. “Then why don’t you tell me what happened to my brother.”
“Because I’m still trying to figure it out.” Bogie briskly walked away.
Before Corey could ask another question, Bogie mounted his motorcycle, aggressively kick-started it, then backed out onto the asphalt circle. He turned the wheel, put it into gear, and hit the gas, not enough to peel out, but tiny rocks flew up and hit the neighbor’s car.
“Asshole,” Corey whispered, as he watched Bogie disappear around the corner.
Wednesday, October 1, 1969
How did I get here?
Cool air lifted a hand drawn Beatles poster. Behind it, moonlight turned a bullet hole in the wall into a star. Stephanie Hardman (a.k.a. Meadowlark) swallowed, looked into her baby’s shadowed face, then slowly detached him from her breast. The others in the room slept peacefully—mostly stoned—on their mattresses and sleeping bags. An old propane heater, stuffed in a fireplace, softly hissed. Meadowlark watched the door with fear and guilt and second thoughts.
But if Mahesh really knew everything, why wasn’t he stopping her? Why wasn’t she dead already? Just thinking of him caused her head to pound with love—and terror. He was her life, her soul, her universe. No devotion could have been as complete as hers—until the baby came. Maybe Meadowlark deserved to die. Maybe she should hand her baby to the new girl as Mahesh had ordered, and then confess her weakness and ingratitude. The thought of confession felt sweet: a way to unburden herself. He was merciful; perhaps her confession would bring mercy, especially if she ratted on Dennis Fish—a.k.a Doggie. Which was worse: having her throat slit and her baby’s losing his mother completely, or letting Doggie take the fall and living to see her baby grow, even if in the arms of a different mother? She would face several hours of self-criticism, if not several days, but after that it would all be forgotten. She could go on.
That’s what all this was about! His wisdom! His glorious wisdom! This was a test!
Mahesh hoped she would confess. Doggie was one of Mahesh’s chief lieutenants, wasn’t he? Mahesh needed people he could trust, people who would sacrifice their very lives, even something dearer than that: their own children.
Pride swelled in her heart. A flood of images from her religious, working-class childhood, the dreary, endless hours of Sunday school, passed through her mind like a vision. Still hazy from the acid she’d been tripping on, she wasn’t sure it really wasn’t a vision. God had commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. As he raised the knife, an angel spared him. He got to keep Isaac and God’s favor. And when two women, both mothers of infant sons (one alive, one dead), approached the wise king Solomon for a judgment, both women claiming to be the mother of the live child, Solomon ordered the child be cut in two. The true mother was revealed when she pleaded that the child be given to the other woman to spare his life.
This was Meadowlark’s divine test, for who else could come up with something so brilliant but Mahesh himself? She was supposed to rat on Doggie, who was under orders. Mahesh’s wisdom would be revealed, and Meadowlark would be rewarded with her baby and with his favor: his innermost trusted circle. He was Krishna, Mohammed, the Buddha, the Savior. He had saved her from that most odious enemy of mankind: I, ego, self.
A glow grew in her belly, and the smile of peace bloomed on her lips. I’ll die for you; I’ll kill for you, she thought, as she looked toward the darkened stairs. Her eagerness to confess nearly brought her to her feet. But Mahesh was asleep. She couldn’t disturb his rest when his work was so important. She would wait, not for Doggie’s signal, but for the sun to rise. In the power of the morning light, she would surrender herself to Mahesh, lie down at his feet and kiss them, then bask in his love.
So…how did I get here?
The first time she saw him was on the way to San Francisco. It was the spring of 1967. She was sixteen, free, turned on to a new life, hardly looking back at what she thought of as the stiff, structured world in Utah that she’d left behind, a runaway poet. She’d hitched a ride with some college kids, who took her as far as Berkley.
Left alone and penniless under the arches of Sather Gate, entrance to the University of California campus, she saw him on a blanket, his long, dark, Jim Morrison hair and loose, unbuttoned shirt, so clean: an Adonis in the form of a panhandler. He played a strange musical instrument before a gathering crowd. The metal strings sounded exotic, something she couldn’t resist.
She found a place to sit on the concrete, while everyone else stood, except for a hippie girl who leaned her head against the greenish, ornate metalwork of the gate. Her eyes were closed, and she rocked back and forth in mild ecstasy. Though San Francisco was only a few miles away, Stephanie felt in no hurry. Experience and being were the purpose of existence; she was there, in that place, because she was meant to be there.
The mysterious whine and twang of the strings vibrated in her mind like an answer, a guide to all else. She looked the musician in the eyes and felt herself one with his movements. From time to time he looked up at her, and she felt his energy connect with hers.
When the music ended, he held his fingers over the strings, until the sound faded into nothing. His eyes stared at the space between himself and Stephanie for a long time. She watched him, expecting another performance. Instead, his dark eyes rose, and she fell into his stare.
“Yes, you may,” he said. He looked at her with love.
For a moment she couldn’t speak. She glanced around at the crowd. By the way all attention seemed to focus on her, there was no doubt who he was talking to.
“Um…I’m sorry. I don’t know—”
“Yes, you do,” he said. “You may play this, if you want,” he said.
He’d read her mind. She’d just thought how groovy it would be to try out that strange…guitar? She felt cold and warm at the same time. Forcing herself not to be shy, she stood up and walked to the blanket. He moved over to allow her some room, then carefully helped the instrument over her lap.
“Sit like this, with your right leg in over the left, not cross-legged, a yoga position. It’s easier that way. You can rest it on your knee,” he said.
She thought, what is it?.
“It’s a sitar,” he said smoothly, as if her inner question had been part of the conversation.
A tremor went through her chest, and he gently reached around her shoulders to lift the neck. He smelled like a mixture of old leather, smoke, and something wild. He could have been in his early thirties, twice her age, but then again, maybe ten years younger than that. She liked the way his chest felt against her shoulder. Something deep inside made her feel the need to lean against him, and she succumbed, surprising herself.
“That’s it,” he said. “Let yourself be free. You can do anything if you’re free.”
The hippie girl who had been leaning against the metalwork straightened and seemed interested.
Stephanie wanted to giggle like a bashful little girl, but she composed herself to act more mature, more sophisticated. “Okay. What do I do now?”
He gently took her right hand and pressed her thumb to the bottom of the neck, where a joint connected it to the gourd-like body. “This is your axis point. Let your arm rest. Relax it. That way you can move your hand.” He stroked her forearm, and she couldn’t relax. “Now use these two fingers.” He took the forefinger and middle finger of her left hand, held them gently, then touched her thumb and pressed it against her fingers. “Feel that?” She nodded. “That’s how you want to press.” His fingers stroked the space between her thumb and forefinger. “That’s where the neck rests.” He then placed her hand under the neck, as he would have a guitar, but the instrument was much wider.
“Now you need this.” He took a funny wire contraption off the tip of his right forefinger and slipped it over hers as he would have a ring. “That’s your pick. You pluck the strings with it.”
After a pause, while she put her hands into place, he backed away. She instantly missed his touch. He watched her with an encouraging smile.
“Okay. Here it goes.” She pressed the fingers of her left hand onto a fret and plucked with her right hand. The richness of the sound surprised her, and she faltered. When she tried again, a twangy whine escaped into the air. She slipped her fingers up the frets as she’d watched him do. The tones rose clumsily, almost in a minor scale, ending in a major scale. The surrounding group clapped.
“What did I tell you?” he asked, his voice slipping over her shoulder.
Giving it another try, she played around with the strings until her fingers hurt.
“Like a meadowlark,” he said. “Pretty as a meadowlark. That’s your name. That’s who you are.”
“My name is Steph—”
“No.” He shook his head and radiated love. “That’s your old life, what you left behind. Here you’re free to be a meadowlark.”
Stephanie/Meadowlark smiled and felt as though she’d known him forever.
“I knew you the moment you sat on the ground, while the others stood. A mark of humility,” he whispered. “And you, too,” he said to the hippie girl behind him.
She sat forward as if surprised. “Me?”
“You think I didn’t notice?”
Stephanie/Meadowlark exchanged a perplexed glance with the hippie girl.
“That’s right. I felt your energy. You’re Sahaja,” he said. “A natural healer and teacher. You were born with it.”
The hippie girl’s eyes widened, almost fearfully, worshipfully.
He nodded and smiled humbly. “Do you have someplace to go?” he asked Meadowlark—for Stephanie had disappeared from her heart.
“San Francisco,” she said. “But as far as a place to crash….”
He shifted and took Sahaja’s hand, stroked it and kissed it with profound, almost tearful reverence, then took Meadowlark’s, which had held the neck of the sitar, and joined them, and they clasped. “Sisters,” he said. “Tribal sisters.” Looking at Sahaja, he said, motioning with his hand to Meadowlark, “Take care of this one. She’s an ember in the wind, just a child.”
His demeanor changed. The magic had blown away in the breeze. He lifted the sitar off Meadowlark’s lap and handed it up to a fellow leaning against a stone pillar. “Thanks, man! That was a trip.”
Her new mysterious friend stood and stretched. She didn’t want him to go. “What’s your name?” she asked, and reached out and touched his sandaled foot.
He caressed her hair and said: “I have no name. But Mahesh will do.”
Sahaja stood, and so did Meadowlark.
“That’s not your sitar?” Sahaja asked.
He shrugged. “Mine, yours, everyone’s. It was all of ours for a moment.” He gave the true owner a brotherly nod and smile and pat on his shoulder.
Sahaja took hold of his shirt sleeve. “Where did you learn to play like that?”
Another humble, almost bashful smile adorned his face like a string of jewels. “First time. Beginner’s luck, I guess.”
Sahaja looked as if she wanted to kneel down before him. He reached out and embraced her. A tear slid down her cheek. “Will I see you again?” she asked.
“Of course. It’s in our karma. It’s a powerful thing…karma.”
“It is,” she said, and wiped away the tear.
He reached out and drew Meadowlark into a tender embrace. She felt herself yield to him as she would to a lover.
“Soon,” he whispered. “You still have a journey to take. San Francisco?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“We’ll watch for each other at Haight and Ashbury. Do you know where that is?”
Meadowlark shook her head.
“That’s okay. You will soon.”
He left both girls standing at the gate to Berkley and disappeared into the campus. Meadowlark wanted more than anything to hold on to him, to make her journey one with his, but he was right: she still had her own journey to take.
Late that evening, under a violent sunset, she reached the corner of Haight and Ashbury with Sahaja at her side, and as the song said, she hadn’t forgotten to put some flowers in her hair.
Cold mountain air whispered through the old farmhouse. Meadowlark felt her first real tear of regret break through the icy mask of devotion that had become her face. The smile of peace on her lips was only a crust. The Hell’s Angels were due to arrive by the coming afternoon, and she would probably be chosen to show them special hospitality. She already knew she needed medical attention, especially antibiotics. Some days were better than others. But as she sat in the dark, though craving the love and acceptance of Mahesh, she felt she couldn’t offer any more service in his name—something else she would have to confess.
An outbuilding door, not properly closed for the night, softly banged: a distant, lonely sound. She looked out the window and saw silhouettes of cottonwood trees and pines under indifferent stars. Inside the house darkness swirled, a thick mixture, like muddy oil. She imagined herself tiptoeing out the door, leaving Doggie and Mahesh’s elaborate tests behind, walking to the river, and, together with her baby, plunging into its black waters. The thought felt sweet, and she asked herself: how long would it hurt?
As Mahesh had said, he appeared a few weeks later, a vision of prophethood, parting the shining seas of beautiful people crowding Haight Street. His white linen shirt with leg-of-mutton sleeves; faded, hand patched jeans; and leather sandals shouldn’t have stood out among the throngs moving in and out of Golden Gate Park, but there he was. He raised his arms from his sides, reminding Meadowlark of the many paintings of Jesus she’d seen, and she felt as if her heart sailed over the surrounding San Francisco hills.
Distant sounds of The Grateful Dead pushed through the muggy June air. Sahaja had led a group of friends and roommates to the park to participate in the Summer Solstice "Do-In" Meadowlark had heard Jefferson Airplane was playing somewhere near the polo grounds, so she’d decided to tag along, instead of staying behind to mend a used baby doll dress she’d picked up at a flea market for seventy-five cents.
A shouting kid in a top hat and Lincoln beard was peddling an underground newspaper he called a “dirty hippie paper.” Bare feet and moccasins swished along the sidewalk. Beads rattled, and colorful art adorned storefronts. Several people danced atop a Volkswagen bus.
“Love to you,” a man said, and handed her a flower.
“Thank you!” she said warmly, taking it, but her smile was aimed at the approaching apparition that defied the heavy overcast that turned distant hilltops into faded dreamscapes.
“My beautiful tribe!” Mahesh said, extending his hands as far as he could, as if wanting to embrace the whole group.
Sahaja was the first to land in his arms. A ripple of jealousy tickled Meadowlark, but she continued to smile and take the not-so-eager-approach. Soon she had her moment, as he whispered in her ear: “It wasn’t soon enough, beautiful. You are so beautiful.”
He hadn’t whispered anything to Sahaja.
After a round of introductions was made, he naturally took the lead, dancing and gliding and flattering, until even the men seemed to fall in love with him.
When the evening ended, the group, of which some had no permanent home, but moved from pad to pad, all gathered over a pot of rice in an upper apartment that overlooked Clayton Street. A girl from downstairs brought up fresh lemons to squeeze over the rice to make it taste better. Pot smoke permeated the room. Mahesh sat under a cheap Ben Shahn poster of a man wearing an old-fashioned military uniform. The caption underneath read: LE CAPITAINE DREYFUS. Having no idea who Capitaine Dreyfus was, she immediately associated the uniform with the uniforms the Beatles wore on the cover of their new album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Until a few weeks before, the only song she’d known from it by heart was the one the radio incessantly played: “With a Little Help from My Friends.” Since then, several people in her circle had picked up the record. The current song of the day was “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Soon the rough circle of people in the room changed from its egalitarian formation to an orientation focused on the newest addition, who spoke passionately of “master-and-slave moralities.” Feeling the merriment of the past few days catching up to her, she lay at his feet and drifted in and out of sleep. The conversation, mainly his, drifted to the white oppression of blacks and the coming revolution. The LBJ society wasn’t great; this was no longer Eisenhower’s society; civilization was falling apart; western culture was a big prison, a turkey farm for the slave masters; freedom was something you paid for in Viet Nam blood; blood would soon run in the streets of America.
When the night turned to early morning, Meadowlark asked him if he had a place to stay. He said: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”
She knew instantly whom he was quoting, yet she felt as though she were hearing those words for the very first time, as if he were their author. Before anyone else could speak, and before Sahaja, who was ten years older than Meadowlark and had become a big sister to her, could make a move, Meadowlark sat up and said, “Here’s a place for you to rest your head.” And then she pulled him down into her lap and stroked his long hair and beard.
“Well, I’ve had enough for tonight,” Sahaja said and left the room.
Meadowlark didn’t try to see the look on her face. She only wanted that moment. Whatever else would come, would come.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wadded-up paper bag. He unraveled it and withdrew a sugar cube. Though partial to pot, she’d avoided most other drugs floating around, especially LSD. She’d seen a few bad trips.
He held it to her lips. “Take, eat.”
“No, thanks.” She stroked the dark hairs of his arm.
Again, he touched it gently against her lips. She didn’t turn away but looked down at his strong neck, his mature, slightly sweaty chest, and then the shape of his hips and legs, the way they filled his jeans. She studied a strange stone attached to a gold chain that hung around his neck.
“There’s a first time for everything,” he said softly. “I’ll guide you through it. There are so many wonderful things to see.”
Something inside her said, Make an excuse. She saw herself going to the bathroom, or standing up and saying she needed to go on a walk, maybe taking him with her through the moody San Francisco streets.
Instead, she felt the pressure of his fingers against her lips. She relaxed, let them part; the sugar cube slipped between them, and her tongue caught it. Mahesh looked up at her and lovingly stroked her cheeks, then her neck, then her shoulders, then her chest. She enjoyed the way it made her feel. Slowly the sugar cube melted on her tongue. She fought the urge to crush it with her teeth just to get it over with. As the time passed, nothing happened. He sat up and kissed her, slowly shifting position, until, naturally, she lay on the floor.
As the kissing became more passionate, the thought that the LSD should be something they did together began to nag at her. Taking his bearded face in her hands, instead of thinking of him as sexy, she thought of him as ridiculous, and she stopped him and asked, “What about you?”
“What about me?” He stared into her eyes, then resumed kissing her neck and slowly unbuttoning her shirt.
“Why don’t you drop, too?”
His long hair fell into her face, and, for a moment, it seemed to fall from a great distance. He swished it back and forth like a broom, and she had the urge to bite it.
“It was my last one,” he said.
She’d clearly seen the bag when he’d opened it. There was more inside. She reached for his pocket. He shifted her hand to place it elsewhere and smiled. Whether he did some himself or not probably didn’t matter. What bothered her was that he would lie. But the more he touched her, the more she wanted to lock that thought away behind some inner door and just let him love her.
After a few more minutes, she felt as if her tired head had cleared. She wanted to be awake and experience every moment. She began to talk about herself, reciting what he’d missed since the day they met at the university gates.
“What are your parents like?” he asked, then nibbled on her ear.
It took her a moment to respond, because her ear suddenly felt twice as large and his teeth felt like fangs, sexy fangs.
“They act like bourgeois pigs.”
He nodded his head, then looked deep into her eyes. His face was the only face that existed, as big as a drive-in movie screen; hers was a smear, a pile of dust, smudging into the floor.
“What is your dad like?”
“A hypocritical bastard. He cheated on my mom, got excommunicated from their church, and then had the gall to come and tell me I needed to be clean and pure.”
“Did he ever apologize?”
“In his own way, I guess. I could never look at him again without thinking of that other woman, especially when he’d supposedly straightened out his life. My mom never left him.”
“Wow, don’t you, like, think that should be a good thing?”
“I don’t know. It’s like he became a stranger. Maybe I’m the stranger.”
“He wounded you.”
Meadowlark didn’t say anything. The pain of her home life became too real, and all she wanted was escape it and start a new life.
“I can heal you,” he said, and he pressed her flat against the floor, like a piece of paper. She was in the floor; she was the floor. A small peace sign drawn over the door with the word PAX written underneath it became something chilling, sinister. She would have to get a rag and some cleaner and remove it before it cursed the room.
Later, in the thin light before the sun rose, and in the cool breeze under an open window, Meadowlark would find herself passionately embracing him, flowing with his rhythms, and he would breathlessly whisper in her ear: “Think of your father. Think of your father.”
The black bundles on the floor weren’t really her sleeping tribe, they were dead bodies. Death was everywhere. It filled the old farmhouse with its crushing presence. Even her baby was dead. Painted on the wall, barely perceptible, was a figure sitting in the lotus position, a silhouette emanating rays. Dots of various colors rose in a straight line from groin to head: Mahesh’s “path to nirvana.” It stood out, blurred and gray, an evil spirit that would step from the wall at any moment, quietly walk toward her, its face the abyss, and she would go insane. On the other wall, in fresh blood red that looked dark gray, was painted a goat. In the center of one eye was the communist hammer and sickle. This she refused to look at.
All the dark bodies stirred at once, their heads turned, and white cataract eyes opened to stare directly at her.
Feeling a horrible shock, she awoke from the nightmare. She gripped her baby and felt for his breath. Another tear turned cold on her cheek. Feeling pain from sitting too long, she stood and quietly paced in front of the window. The despairing thought that she might have missed Doggie’s signal grew inside her like mold.
What use would it be to turn him in now? But then what if her chance to escape was real and she missed it?
The tribe’s first major communal decision was on the day they bought the old school bus. Ken Kesey’s famous bus ride was already legend, so in a sort of tribute to Kesey, but also out of economic need, Mahesh had found the vehicle through a mechanic friend who worked in Napa valley. The latest owner had used it to haul bees—screening off the driver’s section, of course. Everyone pooled what cash they had plus a few favors Sahaja agreed to provide, and the bus was theirs—Mahesh’s, but the title would carry the name of Dennis Fish, a regular among their group and a good mechanic.
They abandoned the apartment on Clayton Street and split, setting out on the road to escape “the man.”
The bus made it to Chihuahua, Mexico, before its first major breakdown. Everyone was positive and hip for adventure, so it wasn’t a terrible set back. Dennis/Doggie was in charge of repairs, which required some creative wheeling and dealing to acquire engine parts; in some cases a few of the group managed to find some day labor for a few pesos, which mostly ended up buying beer, marijuana, and a few tortillas. Local peach farms, which were in season by then, provided many of their meals—the farmers unknowing. Meadowlark discovered nopales and how to prepare and cook them through a lady she washed clothes for; and then came the time when Sahaja, who had studied Spanish in high school, disappeared for two days and then returned with a twenty-pound sack of rice roped onto her back.
Happiness permeated their world—for awhile. Driving along dusty highways in red sunsets, they set out for ancient ruins and empty beaches. Mahesh would read aloud from some of the many books he kept in an old military locker. One favorite was On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. He would reverently go back and reread parts for emphasis, then say, “Do you feel it? It’s karma.”
On clear nights, lulled to sleep by the surf, Meadowlark would lie in Sahaja’s arms, safe in her sisterly embrace. In the mornings, they would wade, hand in hand, through the ebbing tide and pick up shells, of which they would make jewelry. Out of clam shells they fashioned bikini tops, which became hits among the other girls, and wore them nearly constantly—when they weren’t topless—burning themselves as brown as the locals. Wreathes of small shells adorned their sun-dried hair. After sundown, they would dance around the bonfire as Doggie played the guitar, passing the peace pipe and drinking cool fruit juice mixed with tequila.
Month after month the little band of gypsies traveled the coast, gathering fellow revelers, surfers, and wanderers, and the love increased. Mahesh preached apocalyptic tempests while everyone moved with his words in dreamy mescaline grooves. Nature, even the weather, was their cradle. Paradise couldn’t have been as free and perfect.
Then things began to change. Meadowlark would always associate one night in particular with the beginning of the end. It was the night she went on a moonlight walk along the beach and stumbled upon Mahesh and Sahaja in a love embrace. She began to turn away, when Mahesh asked: “Where are you going?”
Meadowlark simply smiled and said, “I’ll leave you two to your private moment,” and turned to leave.
“Nothing’s private here,” Mahesh said. We share everything. Come.”
Knowing she should reject society’s programming in every way possible, she abandoned herself to stranger passions; drugs helped to numb away the inner warning voices.
“Shit’s goin’ down,” Mahesh said. He’d taken the chain from around his neck and stared at the stone. With the other hand he withdrew a knife and used the blade to move the stone around as it reflected the light of the distant bonfire.
Since when did he start carrying a knife? Meadowlark asked herself, feeling sore and cold and exposed to the elements.
As he pulled up his pants, his white, glowing legs disappearing behind denim, Meadowlark watched his movements and thought he looked old. He sheathed the knife. “We’re going back,” he said.
Sahaja sat up and shook the sand out of her hair. The wind began to blow, and the surf grew louder.
His face seemed to disappear in the shadows. “That’s right. We’re going back to the belly of the beast, to the Rocky Mountains this time. Shit’s goin’ down.” Then his eyes, as if floating in the middle of nothing, turned to Meadowlark. He touched her belly. “And this…this is where the world starts over.”
How could he have known? she asked herself, then bowed down and kissed his feet. She hadn’t said a word, but during the past few weeks she’d felt different, sometimes nauseous in the mornings, and had missed a period.
Sahaja stared at her, the look on her face unreadable.
Later that night, Sahaja claimed to have a vision. At first Meadowlark thought she was into the music, tripping, swaying back and forth and humming, but then the shaking set in. Her eyes rolled back to where only the whites showed. She crept among the party like an aboriginal shaman, jerking and moaning, then she stopped before Meadowlark, who froze in terror, and placed her hands on Meadowlark’s belly. The things that howled from her mouth left Meadowlark curled on the ground and weeping like a child.
The signal came: Doggie lit a cigarette near the window. The flame made a ghostly image of his face, which then disappeared.
Losing strength, she nearly let herself fall back onto the chair, but a weak foot took one step forward, then the other. She found the kitchen door and carefully avoided the creaking floorboards. The dead light from the window revealed black shapes of guns stacked along the walls and ammunition spread across the table.
Gripping her baby, she carefully turned the doorknob, then froze. Soft shuffles, almost footsteps, came through the ceiling.
He’s awake. He knows.
Strength hemorrhaged from her body. She wanted more than anything to fall onto her hands and knees and weep in submission. Her shaking breath was the only sound until her baby stretched in her arms and let out a little grunt. She felt his hand move, and she knew he was sucking his thumb. He was awake.
Something happened inside her chest and head, something electrical that caused her to grit her teeth, widen her eyes. Gasping, she eased the creaking door open and slipped out. Her body tensed against the cold night air, and she tucked the blanket over her baby’s face. As she stepped off the porch and past the sound of sleeping chickens, the electrical feeling increased, and she ran pell-mell across the yard.
Rounding the bus, she nearly collided with the battered old farm truck they’d stolen from a nearby town. She reached out and swung at the air like a blind person. She ducked a tree branch and felt the crunch of leaves under her feet.
Out of nowhere, a large form seized her around the neck. Another hand covered her mouth. She nearly fainted as Doggie’s voice, warm against her ear, hushed her and said, “This way.”
She felt him carefully let go. He took her hand, and together they found the overgrown ruts of an old dirt road that led to the river. She nearly stumbled trying to keep up. The road widened into meadows. Doggie pulled her out of moonlight and into treeshadow. As they moved, the song “Eve of Destruction” played over and over and over again through her head.
Her friend. Her love. Her truth. She was abandoning him at the hour he most needed her. She slowed down and loosened her grip on Doggie’s hand. They were somewhere near the place, she was sure, where Bruce and Alabama were buried: Bruce, their landlord no more; Alabama, a threatening snitch no more. Her fingers slid from Doggie’s, but before she could turn back he skidded to a stop and seized her by the Mexican blanket that covered her shoulders. She instinctively gripped her baby close and hunched forward to protect him.
She took a breath to scream, and Doggie clapped his hand over her mouth, hurting her lips. The pain and his intensity brought her attention to where she thought his face would be—only darkness. Mountain cold filled the loose places in her clothes.
He said through his teeth: “This is our only chance. He’ll bury you here, too. You know that. You can’t turn back now. You can’t lie to him.”
He gripped her hand, tugging it; she felt as if other hands pulled her the opposite direction: black hands, dirty hands, dead hands.
The baby fussed. She gave in and let Doggie lead her to the river, where they crossed through knee deep water. Her legs cramped, causing her to slow down. She continued to hold the baby, steadying herself over the slick, rounded rocks and the force of the water. On the other side, she ached in the breeze. Lights from a house several miles away sent a dreamy message from a life she’d forgotten.
Exhausted and hurting, she barely felt her feet scrape along the dirt road. They crossed a bridge of old railroad ties. From there she could see headlights shoot by on the highway. Doggie lifted his Zippo lighter, which reflected moonlight, and flicked it. The flame shone for a moment but quickly went out. He kept doing it, defying the moving air, until, up ahead, another tiny flame appeared. He let out a long sigh.
“Who’s that?” Meadowlark asked, her teeth chattering. The baby fussed and squirmed under the blanket.
“Friends,” Doggie said.
Filled with dread but too exhausted to run, she let him lead her to a small group of silhouettes standing in the road. The test was over. She’d failed. Tears filled her eyes, and she wept for her baby.
Doggie fiercely hugged one of the silhouettes. He flicked his lighter. In the flame, Meadowlark saw the tribal member she knew as Warlock. Others stepped forward, and she searched for Mahesh, knowing the end was near.
“I couldn’t leave without her,” Doggie said.
“We know,” Warlock griped him by the hair, and they touched, forehead to forehead: a brotherly gesture.
“You okay?” A voice came from the group, and Meadowlark realized it was directed to her. Tender hands reached out and touched her cheek. “Is the baby okay?” It was Sandy, one of the girls whose nickname never stuck, who also held a baby.
“I’m cold,” Meadowlark said.
Doggie whispered in her ear. “Let’s go.”
Feeling confused, she let him lead her to a jeep concealed in the brush on the side of the road.
She started to ask: “But how—”
“Mahesh only thought it broke down,” Doggie said.
She could picture his mischievous smile, and for the first time since she could remember she felt hope. He helped her to the front passenger seat, where she would sit on Warlock’s lap, and tucked the blanket around her. The others found places, packed like sardines, in the back seat. Doggie fired up the engine, put it into gear, and the old army jeep bounced and rattled over bushes until it hit a dirt road. He didn’t turn on the headlights. The road passed under them like a dark river. Her baby began to cry, and so did she.
When they reached the highway, she curled herself against Warlock to protect the baby from the icy wind. Occasionally she looked back, expecting the old bus or the farm truck to be following them, but the only headlights she saw were from other innocent travelers.
The canyon steepened. Doggie shifted to a lower gear, and the wheels whirred. She buried her head in her blanket. For awhile, she listened to her baby. When she looked again, she saw what seemed to her to be the canyon walls moving apart, and below them were the lights of the Salt Lake Valley, glittering like a spilled treasure box.
Ides of March, 1984
Wind and sleet raged against the little northwestern corner of Salt Lake County called Magna. A blinking yellow traffic light swung wildly, turning the sheets of sleet above it momentarily gold, then spotlighting the road underneath, and then it winked out. Across the street, as the sleet changed to a heavy snow, pieces of a billboard sign broke away and sailed east, into vacant lots and fields. The Sinclair sign, with its glowing green dinosaur extinguished in the power outage, shook and rattled. Darkened storefronts and houses seemed to turn away from nature’s angry abuse.
In a window in the corner house, a red brick Victorian, a lighted candle was placed: a tiny, fragile glow, innocent against the tempest on the other side of the glass. Behind it, a girl (some called her Nutty Nancy Nash), pretty by any standards, but empty in her eyes, paced the floor and moaned as her exhausted mother, Sandy Nash, struggled to keep her from running out into the storm. Her stepfather, Paul Nash, a science teacher at Cyprus high school, sat tiredly in an antique wooden chair and guarded the door. Nancy’s brothers and sisters held vigil in the kitchen and made hot chocolate on the gas stove.
Nancy waved her hands in the air, put a knuckle to her lips, squeezed her eyes shut, screeched, attacked the closest piece of furniture, then repeated the actions. Sandy tried to calm her and for a moment felt hope. Nancy seemed to succumb to her mother’s arms but then fought away. Miles, her younger brother, both guarded the kitchen door and supervised the hot chocolate but didn’t look confident enough to stop his sister without hurting her should she decide to bolt through the kitchen. He also looked exhausted.
This wasn’t the first time Sandy had thought of institutionalizing her daughter. Each occasion brought sharp feelings of guilt and hopelessness and frustrating indecision, and then she would tell herself that maybe sometime in the future things would change. But then she would look at the neglect her other children suffered. Anger would set in, and she would imagine Nancy as some sort of black hole, sucking away all her motherly energy, dominating everyone else’s lives and schedules … and sleep.
Yet there was something more keeping her from giving up. Nancy had been there. Her bright, beautiful, dynamic, happy, fun little girl had been there, in her home, in her life, in her arms; such a sweet, burning, intelligent personality. She wasn’t completely gone, and Sandy knew it.
Not long after Nancy’s thirteenth birthday she had become distant and moody. At first Sandy attributed it to puberty, but when the strange outbursts and behavior problems began, not only at home, but in school, she became worried. The specialists told her symptoms of autism rarely, if ever, showed up so suddenly or in an older child. Since they hadn’t found evidence of a brain tumor, the most likely diagnosis was an obscure condition called CDD, or childhood disintegrative disorder, also known as Heller’s syndrome.
Still, something wasn’t right about the diagnosis. Her condition didn’t completely match all the symptoms. Sometimes, if just briefly, she seemed almost there, scared and lost and pleading in her eyes. If it was simply a mother’s hopeful imagination, it was still enough to keep taking her for tests, even out of state. The strangest symptom of all occurred every time they traveled more that a hundred miles from home. She would become catatonic, as if completely surrendering to whatever held her captive. Her eyes would droop and become blank. She would lose all bodily control. Upon returning, she would reenergize and start to fight again.
Financially drained, physically drained, and emotionally drained, Sandy raised her trembling hand, wanting to strike the hooting, arm-flapping, biting, scratching, smelly, stringy-haired, animal-child, who should be cheerleading basketball games and choosing a dress for the freshmen dance. Paul stood up from his chair and tenderly gripped her arm.
“I’ll take it from here,” he said.
Lightning momentarily turned his glasses into two white blanks. Sobbing, Sandy left the room. From the doorway, she could see Nancy’s dim form swaying hauntingly back and forth, her hands cupping her ears against the loud claps of thunder. Sandy sat on her bed, and hot tears stung her face.
The bedroom window facing westward flashed with a terrible volley of lightning. She instinctively covered her head with her arms. At that same moment Nancy screamed; Sandy screamed with her.
On the west end of town, somewhere between Webster elementary school to the north and the Pleasant Green Cemetery to the south, on a street with a great view of the Oquirrh foothills, Beau “Bogie” Lewiston dreamed he was a famous movie star performing the steamiest scene of his career. His costar was the one and only Donna Plato from the TV show Diff’rent Strokes, and as the scene progressed the Diff’rent Strokes theme song played, as if the movie itself were an extension of the television show.
One moment, he was kissing Donna’s silky, innocent-girl lips; the next, he was kissing his new real-life girlfriend, Rachel Varney—but she still had Donna’s lips. Just as things were getting good, his best friend, Jeff Addis, walked into the room to watch. Bogie tried to send him away, but he wouldn’t move. So when Bogie’s hand began to wander, Rachel-Donna slapped it away, frustrating him.
“But I love you,” Bogie said.
Rachel-Donna’s head turned. She looked him in the eyes, and her face changed to something terrible. Her slimy mouth, full of dog teeth, opened, and she took a long, deep breath and howled loudly in his face. He screamed and turned to Jeff, whose face had also turned elongated and dog-like, and he also began to howl.
The intensity of sound became large and threatening, as if the air around them were a rushing river. He grabbed a knife and without another thought plunged it into the Rachel-Donna creature, whose jaw snapped and bit at his face. He thrust the knife again and again, feeling the skin and tissue break and the warm blood pour over his hand. When he looked again, it was just Rachel gasping and dying in his arms.
He woke up, swimming in horror and sound. He fell out of bed. Pain in his shoulder brought him into reality. Rain and sleet thrashed his windows, and behind the noise he heard his dogs howl and whine and scratch at the door.
Stumbling around in the dark—for the power was out—he made it to the kitchen. Lightning revealed the black silhouette of his father slumped in a chair at a table covered by gleaming, empty bottles. Bogie passed him in disgust at the smell of urine mixed with alcohol. The dogs barked and whined in a chorus. When he put his hand on the doorknob, his dad growled: “Well, aren’t ye gonna let ‘em in?”
The unlocked door, caught instantly by the wind, swung open and slammed against the side of the house. Sleet blasted in with three, large, happy, wet dogs. They pattered across the kitchen floor and, one after another, shook off water.
Dad’s voice issued from the darkness. “You kids want dogs but won’t take care of ‘em.”
Ignoring him, Bogie remembered he’d left the dog bowl outside, so he found a dusty, wooden salad bowl that hadn’t been used since his mom ran off with a trucker (a guy Dad used to work with at Kennecott) and poured the dogs some food. Lightning struck close by with a startling, simultaneous blast of thunder, revealing the side of Dad’s grisly face. One yellow, rheumy eye glared at him, the kind of glare he knew to stay away from.
Letting the dogs go about their business, he sneaked away and passed the living room, where his oldest brother, Junior, slept on the old hideway bed with his girlfriend. The dogs would eventually wake them up, if the storm hadn’t already, but he didn’t care. Knowing his dad was home and pissed-off drunk, he thought it better to take his little tape recorder and a few tapes and spend the rest of the night in his closet, which wasn’t the best of places to hide if Dad really wanted to come after him.
If it weren’t storming, he’d just leave, just sneak out and wander the night until he found a safe, comfortable place to doze—the old people’s tool shed with the faulty lock nearly always sufficed, but he often fantasized of Rachel letting him into her warm bedroom. He thought one of these nights he might actually get the guts to pay her a visit and knock on her window.
Using a match as a torch, he chose Pyromania, by Def Leppard, Blackout, by Scorpions, and El Loco, by ZZ Top—all tapes his next-to-oldest brother left behind when he went to jail for drugs. What he really wanted to hear was that new song “Legs” that had recently come out on the radio. He thought it was ZZ Top, but wasn’t sure. If it was, he would have to acquire the new album, which wouldn’t take much effort if he was careful.
Inside the closet, he felt the vibrations of the house. The flue for the furnace ran exposed up one corner, keeping things warm. He moved aside some boxes where the carpet was still clean, took a blanket with him, shoved a rolled-up sleeping bag against the other corner, and then went for the tape player. The old, black Sony tape player, rectangular like a brick, something his parents had bought a decade before, was missing the rewind, forward wind, and play buttons, but by using a butter knife he could press the little metal pieces that the plastic buttons had been attached to into place.
Because rewinding was the hardest, he always let the tape run through to the end, where it would automatically stop. Then he would play it on the other side and just be patient for the next go-around when he could hear his favorite songs over again. But on the Def Leppard tape, nearly every song was a favorite song, so it didn’t matter, unless there was one he felt he really needed to hear.
He checked the batteries, slipped in the tape, closed the little door, carefully started it, then adjusted the sound so he could listen to it by laying his head on the speaker as if it were a pillow. The creak of the gears and moving parts added to the hiss of sound as the blank beginning of the tape rolled through the magnets.
His dream was to get a “ghetto blaster:” a portable stereo big enough to announce to the world that his music ruled. His grandparents on his mom’s side always sent money for Christmas, never presents. But he couldn’t complain about cash. In the past his parents had made him use it for school clothes, but lately Dad didn’t seem to care. Bogie received a one hundred dollar bill, which Dad still kept somewhere. So if a ghetto blaster cost sixty dollars, along with it he could easily afford two pairs of Levis (if he caught a sale at the mall), which were enough to satisfy Dad if he asked. There were other ways to get clothes if he needed them.
The tape noise changed in quality. As if from far away, a note, probably a guitar effect, faded in like a harbinger, introducing a sad ringing of clear guitar strings. They made him feel mysterious and lonely. Joe Elliot’s rough, nasally voice, not as whiny as Robert Plant’s of Led Zeppelin, but fuller, groaned in with the lyrics of “Foolin’,” pining about Lady Luck, love gone bad, and loneliness. Then the heavy emotion and heavy distortion kicked in, making Bogie want to play air guitar in the dark.
Downstairs, Dad howled at the storm, and Bogie, ever cautious, raised his head to listen, in case Dad’s voice came closer. Junior was probably up by now, and when Dad got that way Junior often served him something strong enough to put him unconscious the rest of the night.
“It’s a bitch-kitty storm!” Dad yelled. “Devil’s gonna come, you know!”
Bogie stared into the darkness, swallowed in fear, and hated his dad.
On the south end of town, in some cheap duplexes, Marge Eaton lit candles and incense, sipped coffee, looked over the boxes that still needed to be emptied, and, troubled, listened to the storm. Her house shook, and something in the swamp cooler on the roof rattled. Since she couldn’t sleep, she dedicated herself to repotting a plant that had been damaged in the move: Fergie, her spider plant.
Her copper and silver jewelry softly tinkled as she worked. The moist soil felt good in her hands. She wanted to bury them in the pot along with the plant. Living sisters, rooted in the earth, free of human care or responsibility. Nature was happy; humanity was a curse. She asked herself: Are we evil or divine? Whatever we were, whether hairless apes or something else, we were the last to come. She imagined life would be happiest if she embraced the inner animal, left civilization, returned to the wild to have sex, scavenge for food, and then die early, before having to rot away senile in some geriatric prison for the poor. But it was the system that kept people from nature, held them hostage and unauthentic, unfulfilled. Capitalism was the great crime, raping the earth, building ever bigger and bigger, poisoning, devouring, until it was on the edge of destroying itself and everything else in nuclear disaster—the image of Ronald Reagan’s face drifted through her mind like a ghost, and she shuddered.
When she was finished with Fergie, she turned out the light and let the power of the storm flow around and through her. She approached the window, remembering her mother’s drunken voice muffled by a cigarette: “Don’t stand by a window in a storm. You’ll get struck by lightning.”
Whether that was true or not, she had to see the storm. Sheets of rain turning to sleet lashed the street, and naked trees whipped and bent in the wind. She wasn’t accustomed to Utah’s weather, but the storm felt unusual, extra powerful. The energy didn’t make her feel like dancing in the rain, like most storms she’d experienced; it felt like an angry wake in an astral sea.
Lightning split the eastern sky in two, and the glass simultaneously reflected the outside world and the room behind her, revealing a shadowy face that wasn’t her own, the eyes dark, icy, and hateful. She spun around to see Chad, her son, her love child, standing in the doorway, staring at her, not with the hate she’d seen in the reflection, but with contempt; then he turned away with sleepy disinterest.
When he was a little boy, he would have stood by her to study the storm with innocent curiosity. That boy was gone. A deeper voice, impossible to ignore, but quiet enough to dismiss as a night terror asked: So what had taken his place?
She felt the rotating universe above her press down like a giant thumb. Slowly, the storm began to calm, but in a confusing way. The energies around her had risen to a peak, instead of passing, almost as if she were in the very center, in the eye, so to speak. She looked at a cheap granite pyramid covered in Egyptian symbols she’d bought in a New Age store in California. On one side was the ubiquitous Eye of Horus. As much as she claimed ancient mystic knowledge, the eye seemed just as foreign as if she’d never understood it at all. Its golden reflection took on living qualities in her imagination, and she thought, as she stared into the depths of an otherworldly vision, something stared back, and she slammed her eyes shut in horror.
Her hand trembled, which meant a message from beyond.
Once again Chad was in the doorway, glaring at her. She found a pencil, grabbed the closest thing she could find, which was a phone book, relaxed, let herself slip into the trance state that often reminded her of the onset of labor and child birth, surrendered to the other forces that took hold of her hand, and began to write.
The last thing she remembered was her own voice, far away, as if she weren’t in the room at all: a terrible sound between singing and crying in agony, saying words she couldn’t bear to hear.
The power was still out when Donnie Fish woke up. A light snow kept the world outside gray. Listening to a distant, moaning chainsaw, he remembered the dreams he’d had during the night. They’d left behind sensations of fear and regret, and he was glad they were only dreams, except for one, which had come apart from the others. It felt like a promise in the form of soft sunshine in a girl’s hair, her hand in his, a smile, and peace.
The others were a confusion of righteous anger, as if he were leading a charge against an unjust world only he could change; but the harder he fought, the more it crumbled in his hands and blew away into desolation and tragedy. It played in disconnected scenes from the movie The Road Warrior. Dad had rented it over the weekend, and they’d watched it together, eating homemade popcorn and drinking RC Cola. Donnie had seen himself in the dream as Mel Gibson’s character Mad Max but he’d sported a Fidel Castro beard and cigar. The town had burned, and his feet had splashed through pools of blood.
Letting the dreams fade away, he rubbed a sore neck caused by sleeping with his pillow over his head to muffle thunder and lightening. He sat up and looked through the sleet-spattered window, then let out a long breath in surprise. A giant limb, torn from the big elm that shaded the parking lot, lay snugly inside the crushed windshield and cab of his family’s nineteen-seventy-something Impala that the neighbors had not-so-affectionately dubbed “The Bomber.” Dad had the trunk open and was removing tools. Directly below Donnie’s window, the cheap redwood privacy fence that guarded the greasy cement slab outside their kitchen sliding doors was also flattened under a pile of limbs.
After finding a pair of socks that didn’t stink (tube socks: one had green and yellow stripes on the top; the other had blue stripes), he put on his shoes, then went shivering down the stairs. For breakfast Mom had set out peanut butter and jam. His little brother and sisters sat in their coats at the table, eating, while Mom, interestingly shaded by the fallen tree limb, stood at the sliding door and watched Dad.
“I don’t want to bus it again,” Mom said, still facing the doors.
Donnie was about to say he was glad he didn’t have to be embarrassed riding around in a junky car anymore; the kids at school were already making fun of it. Then Grandma Judith spoke up from the shadows in the living room.
“I’m sure I can scrape up something to help get you another car.”
“I don’t want your money,” Mom said. “You know that.”
Grandma didn’t answer back. Donnie saw her tighten her lips and look away.
The truth was his parents didn’t have the money for a car, nor would they have it in the near future. What sat under the fallen branch had come out of a want ad for two hundred dollars. Dad’s new day job pushing tailings at Kennecott took care of the rent, Mom’s night job as a waitress at Francesco’s bought the food. Whatever paid for things like telephone service and the occasional movie and VCR rentals obviously didn’t make it into savings. Donnie wanted a paper route, but he was afraid they’d just have to move again.
Grandma, pulling a shawl tight around her shoulders, walked into the strange light of the kitchen, gave Donnie a squeeze on the shoulder, then joined Mom at the sliding doors. “When are you going to let me help you, honey? You can’t carry the weight of the world on your back forever,” she said.
Expecting an argument, Donnie tensed, but was surprised when his mother said with a soft voice: “I don’t intend to, Mom.”
“At least let me get some nice family photos done before you leave again. If you don’t want them, I’d like to have them. K-mart’s having a special—”
Mom shook her head and let out a long breath. “We’re not leaving.”
Grandma turned to her, unbelief in her eyes.
“That’s right,” Mom said. She folded her arms tighter around herself. She seemed scared. “Denny’s got a job with potential. I like mine. Maybe we can really get a house this time.”
Grandma carefully put an arm around Mom’s shoulder. Mom didn’t pull away. A minute or two of silence went by, then Mom said quietly, “We’re not running anymore.”
Donnie finished his sandwich. When he looked up again, Mom’s head was resting on Grandma’s shoulder, a scene he took in with a wave of odd feelings. He picked up his plate and went into the living room to sit where Grandma had been. Above his head was a framed print of an old painting Mom had picked up at a yard sale, a painting that had haunted him since he was little. A golden retriever looked as if it had just emerged from the soft autumn grass. His nose pointed straight at a pretty, yellow-breasted meadowlark perched on an old cedar fence post, the barbwire, rusted and sagging. The two creatures stared at each other, their eyes terribly dark, full of secrets; it was their eyes that haunted him. Mom had named the painting: “Doggie and Meadowlark.”
Music from outside cracked the quiet moment. Dad, in a dorky hat with ear flaps, waved his arms over the branches and danced to “I’m a Believer,” by the Monkees, something from the oldies station. The kids laughed.
“At least the radio still works!” he yelled.
Donnie set his sandwich aside, leaned forward, and shoved his hands into his hair.
Friday, March 16, 1984
Pen scratches, paper shifts, desk squeaks, sighs, whispers, and someone chewing gum all answered Ms. Delfini’s question: “Should Magna, Utah, incorporate as a city?”
Donnie intently watched the edge of no return, where Tina Barnes’ legs disappeared under the hem of her denim miniskirt. Finally, Jennie Stewart, the Freshman class president of Brockbank Junior high, raised her hand.
“Yes, Miss Stewart,” Delfini said.
Back straight, pencil-like, under a bush of permed blond hair, Jennie cleared her throat and said: “I think so. We should be a city: the City of Magna—though my dad says the name should reflect the true old heritage: Pleasant Green. He supports the name change. But yes! We should—”
“Thank you, Miss Stewart. Is there anyone who opposes the incorporation of Magna?”
More gum chewing—it was the large-boned girl who sat behind Donnie. She was nice, but not attractive.
“Anyone at all?” Delfini twirled her hands as if stirring the air would bring about answers. “What do you think would happen to the tax base without Kennecott or Hercules to help foot the bill for basic government services? Are there enough businesses to help meet the cost of police and fire? How about snowplows and road maintenance and sidewalks and traffic lights?”
Jennie spoke up again: “My dad says the county is the problem for our lack of businesses. If we were free to make our own rules, we could make changes in government that would be business friendly and—”
“Thank you, Miss Stewart. Let’s give others a chance to respond, shall we? And please raise your hand next time.” Someone in the back of the room snickered.
Red faced, Jennie looked at her notebook. Donnie felt sorry for her, until Tina moved her legs. He figured out how to put his head down on his desk and peek through a space where his arms were folded. No one would notice him staring, and he could enjoy the class period in the way he thought it should be enjoyed.
“I disagree,” Shantel DeMint said.
She sat near the front of the room with the New Wave and punk crowd. At the beginning of the school year she’d tried to copy Cyndi Lauper’s weird style, but then cut her hair extremely short, which gave her a masculine look. Donnie hated her “mois-mois” voice—a term he felt witty enough to have conjured up himself when he was new in the class. Apparently there were others who might have hated it, too. The subtle tone of noises changed. The girl behind him gave her gum a little pop.
“It’s not fair that the big corporations can just opt out of paying their fair share of taxes,” Shantel continued. “Magna should stay a part of the county. People here are mostly poor and can’t afford a raise in their property taxes. We should focus on Magna Main Street redevelopment, which the county will help with. That will revitalize the Main Street town center.”
Donnie heard Jennie mumble: “It hasn’t been the town center since before we were born.”
Shantel continued: “Besides, staying a part of the larger county makes things more equal for everyone.”
“Ooh! Big words,” someone with a deep bass voice whispered.
Donnie snickered before he could help himself, causing others to join in.
“Well said, Shantel!” Delfini turned to the rest: “Can we show some respect in this room?”
Donnie glanced up to see if she was looking at him. Haloed by a poster of Cesar Chavez, she put her hands on her hips and severely looked over the class. He put his head back down.
“Any more comments?”
Slightly raising his head, Donnie couldn’t help but glance at Jennie, who still stared at her notebook.
“All right! Let’s move on to world events,” Delfini said. “What’s happening in Central America?”
Customary classroom background noise: paper shifts and chewing gum static.
Delfini unrolled a large, old map of Central America, one that, unless she tied it to something, would spin and roll back up. Every time she used it, she grumbled about lack of government spending on education.
“Please, someone tell me where El Salvador is,” she said tiredly. “There has to be someone in this room who can point it out—because you’re my little geniuses, right?”
Brad Anderson (Mr. Basketball) raised his hand. Donnie noticed Tina perk up.
“Um….” Brad stared at the map. “Like, right there by Honduras and Nicaragua?”
“Bonus for the boy with the bloated brown basketball!”
“Dude!” Brad’s friend sent him a high five.
“So, why is El Salvador important in the news?” Delfini asked.
Shantel quickly raised her hand.
“Yes, sweetie?” Delfini smiled.
“There’s a civil war, and Reagan’s interfering?”
“Exactly!” Delfini said.
“There are, like, freedom fighters against the dictator government. I think they’re the NFL or something like that.”
Laughs from the Brad side of the room. The gum-popping girl behind Donnie snickered.
“Close!” Delfini said. You mean the FMLN: Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front—say that five times fast.”
The kid with the bass voice unsuccessfully tried just that, winning a broader round of laughs and sending the class into mild chaos.
Jennie had her hand up again, but Delfini didn’t seem to notice.
“Okay, everyone. Let’s calm it down a little.” Delfini shifted to stand in front of a poster of bright primary colors with giant bubble letters over a peace sign, spelling the word: LOVE. “You said Reagan’s interfering. What do you think about that?” she asked Shantel.
“Like, I think it’s totally undemocratic. I think he’s going to turn Central America into another Viet Nam. He’s trying to stop an oppressed people from throwing off their tinpot dictators supported by Republicans.”
“That’s very insightful. Kudos to Shantel!”
“Ms. Delfini?” It was the gum-chewing girl.
“And Kendra, what do you have to add to this stimulating discussion?”
“I think Jennie’s had her hand up a long time.”
For a moment Delfini’s face became an unreadable mask. Kendra—so that was her name—subtly popped her gum again.
“Jennie,” Delfini said, her smile widening, but cooling. “Please share your thoughts with us.”
Jennie dropped her arm as if relieved. “I disagree. El Salvador is under threat of being overthrown by Communists like Nicaragua had. In fact, the terrorists are hiding in Honduras and being aided mainly by Cuba, the Sandinistas, and the Soviet Union. They have to be stopped before another country falls. It’s a threat to the US.”
“O…kay? Um…please share with us your evidence.”
“It’s a fact!”
So…the Salvadoran government isn’t an oligarchy with little regard for civil rights? A military dictatorship? There aren’t death squads terrorizing people who oppose it? The people aren’t suffering crushing poverty and inequality?”
“I didn’t say that. What I’m saying is—”
“I didn’t say that. What I’m saying is—”
“Please. I’m just trying to understand where you’re coming from.”
“They’re not freedom fighters, they’re Communist revolutionaries. They’ll just bring in a different sort of dictatorship, a pro-Soviet one.”
“So it’s okay for the people to live under a dictatorship as long as it’s not pro-soviet, or rather, progressive? Let’s use the term progressive. They want to bring social progress and equality to their country. What’s wrong with that?”
“But they won’t.”
“Please. I beg of you once again. Please share with us your evidence for that argument.”
“My dad’s in the military. He knows people. He also talks to a lot of people in his business. He explained to me how Cuba and Nicaragua are exporting their Communist revolutions and how the Nicaraguan government sends aid to the terrorists—”
“Let’s not use that word ‘terrorist.’ I prefer ‘freedom fighter.’ After all, if we were to argue about who is a ‘terrorist’ and who isn’t, we could make a good case that the American Founding Fathers would fall into that category. I always say, one people’s ‘terrorist’ is another people’s freedom fighter.”
“What a shame. We’re out of time. Everyone, please let me have your attention. You’re assignment is to go look up stories in the paper about the crisis in Central America. Both our school library and the public library have current and older editions you can look through. The public library has The New York Times—which I prefer above the Deseret News.” The last two words she said with a subtle sneer. “Then write three paragraphs explaining what you understand about the problems there, mainly in El Salvador and Nicaragua. The third paragraph should give ideas on what America should do about these problems.” The bell rang over her voice. “I’ll also accept feedback from articles you might read in publications like The New Republic and Mother Jones—because you’re my brilliant little dearies.”
Donnie took an extra ten seconds to watch Tina shift in her seat before he sat up and stretched as if he’d been asleep. A subtle movement of air brought her perfume his way, and he felt as if he would spontaneously combust if she didn’t at least notice him, send him a little smile or something. But she didn’t. She picked up her books and joined a couple of girls heading to the front of the row.
On his way out the door, he caught his reflection in the window and wished he could cover his face. His Levi jacket cuff had left a large imprint from his forehead to his cheek.
A slow flow of high school students clogged the hall. Almost like aliens, they’d invaded the junior high after the school district had torn down the old Cyprus high school (named in honor of the ancient copper mines on Cyprus Island in the Mediterranean Sea, an homage in connection to the modern Utah copper industry) building a block away. The school had literally sunk with the falling water table. Stories floated about cracks appearing in walls, and doors stuck so solidly in their frames the custodian had to pry them open with a crow bar; and since their mascot was the pirate, the joke was “the pirate ship had sunk.” So the other joke was that the students and staff—Delfini being one of them—who had come over for some of their classes while their new building was being built were the survivors, and Brockbank junior high was the rescue boat.
When Donnie reached his locker, someone had the one next to his wide open so that the door blocked Donnie’s access. It had been vacant up until then. Donnie figured the owner must have been a new kid. He was tall and could have passed for a high school student, but the high school students all had their lockers somewhere on the Cyprus campus, just not in the building under construction.
“Pardon me,” Donnie said in a polite voice and moved the door slightly. As he reached for his combination lock, the kid slammed the door back open, hitting Donnie’s hand.
“Dude!” Donnie yelled.
Seeming to ignore Donnie, the kid grabbed his jacket, lifted out a book, paused as if to think about his selection, then shoved the book back in.
“Hey, can I get to my locker?” Donnie asked, fighting to stay polite. Most kids at the school seemed to follow an unwritten rule that one should open a locker door just enough to get in, but not enough to block the other person.
When he was about to reach for the open door again, the kid slammed his locker shut and turned away as if nothing had happened.
“Jerk,” Donnie said under his breath.
The kid disappeared into the crowd, and Donnie felt cold. He decided to go the opposite direction. Once outside, he took a breath and decided to forget about the stupid tall kid. His feet scrunched through melting snow. Beyond the fence that lined the school property was a trail through an alfalfa field that led to the 7-Eleven. It was muddy, so he stayed along the edge.
While he walked, sensations of the dreams he’d been having floated through him like smoke from a distant fire. He remembered touching a girl’s hand—the one image that had stuck with him. The breeze felt colder, and he lifted up his collar.
Once inside the 7-Eleven, he eyed the nachos. Someone had left the bin open, so he sneaked a chip and wondered where the couple of dollars in his pocket would go the farthest: nachos? Big Gulp? Slurpee? Candy cigarettes? A chocolate doughnut, or video games? He chose the nachos and video games.
Occasionally glancing at the doors, as if the tall kid would come in after him, he poured hot cheese sauce from the dipper, carefully spreading it so he would have a place to pick up the chips, but then thought it would have been easier to fill the paper tray with cheese first, then put in the chips—the trick was to jam as many in as possible. After that, he opted for a Big Gulp of Coke for two fewer video games.
Several kids had gathered around Centipede, leaving Dig Dug open. He walked to Dig Dug, ate a nacho, chased it with Coke—savored it—then put in a quarter. He studied the high scores for initials he might have known, then the happy electronic music started.
His little white and blue character tunneled through different layers of progressively darker shades of orange, pumping Pookas and Fygars until they burst into a gory mess: a thoroughly addicting game. Donnie was on the sixth level when a kid next to him said: “Dude, those nachos smell good.”
Donnie briefly glanced at his food, but couldn’t take his attention away from the ghostly floating eyes that chased his little character across the board.
A very pretty girl slapped the boy on the shoulder and said: “Bogie! Don’t be rude.”
“What? Can’t I ask for a nacho?”
“You’re being embarrassing!”
Donnie waited for the brief moment when he graduated to a new level, then picked up his chips and offered them to the kid, who looked surprised.
“Dude! Thanks, man!” He took a few, lifting them in salute.
“You’re such a retard!” the girl said to the kid.
Another boy, who was playing Centipede, seemed to eye the nachos through a mop of long hair. Donnie offered him some, too. He took one without looking away from the game. Donnie then offered some to the girl and smiled.
“No, thanks,” she said, but smiled back.
With one quarter left, Donnie stepped away from Dig Dug and waited for a turn at Centipede. This time the kid the girl referred to as “bogie” was playing. The girl put her arm around Bogie and rested her head on his shoulder. Donnie felt a mixture of longing and jealousy. He wondered how guys got girlfriends like that.
In the background “Too Much Time on My Hands,” by Styx, escaped from a transistor radio sitting on the counter. Donnie worked on his nachos until he was full. Half the nachos still remained, so he offered them to the kid with long hair, who smiled slightly and took a couple more.
Bogie vigorously moved the trackball on the game, shooting his character from one side of the screen to the other, blasting the centipede, which divided into independent segments, each segment turning into a mushroom. Donnie learned a new trick as he watched Bogie position his character in a spot where, if he kept shooting, he could create a tunnel of mushrooms— “shrooms,” he called them— that the centipede would follow down to its demise. But then a spider came from nowhere and wiped out his character. Bogie punched the machine as it bleeped out a sound of failure.
“Dude, that sucks,” Donnie said, and offered Bogie some chips. “You want the rest of them? I’m full.”
“Sure,” Bogie said, taking the tray. “Aren’t you, like, in Brockbank? I think I seen you there.”
“Yeah,” Donnie said. He took a drink of Coke. “So you guys live around here?”
“Round and around,” Bogie said.
Donnie noticed his sandy blond hair, the way he had it parted in the middle and feathered back. He seemed tough, but not…bad.
“I’m Rachel,” the girl said. “Footloose” seeped from headphones that hung around her neck like a collar. “This is Jeff,” she said, pointing to the kid with long hair. A little smile might have ticked at the edge of his lips.
“Let’s give the man some room,” Bogie said, and motioned with his hand toward the video game.
The trio parted to let Donnie through. He set his Coke on the floor, put in a quarter, and pressed the start button. He felt the girl looking at him and became self-conscious. His movements weren’t as quick as he wanted them to be. When he tried the tunnel trick he’d seen Bogie do, the spider came out of nowhere and killed his character also.
“I hate the spider!” Bogie said, and gave Donnie a pat on the shoulder.
Jeff clasped his hands behind his back and raised an eyebrow—reminiscent of Spock from Star Trek.
“We gotta blow,” Bogie said. “Thanks for the grub, dude.”
“Nice to meet you,” Rachel said, smiling.
Bogie pulled her close, protectively under his arm. As they turned to leave, he paused thoughtfully, then raised a finger. In a Red Skelton lisp, he said: “Confucius say: go to bed with itchy butt, wake up stinky finger.”
Donnie laughed and watched them go out the door, but his focus drifted over their heads to the Sinclair station. Someone, who he thought looked an awful lot like the tall kid from the locker incident, stood leaning against the cinder block wall by the restrooms and smoking a cigarette. Donnie slipped out the door behind his new friends, followed them a few yards, then, after a brief “so long,” went the other direction past the hardware store and toward the field. When he looked back at the Sinclair station, the tall kid was gone.
A feeling of loneliness slowed him down. The sun had mostly fallen behind the tips of the Oquirrh Mountains, the edge of it still throwing its glass and silver rays, briefly blinding Donnie as he stared at its beauty. The northernmost peak (from his perspective smaller than the others) caught his attention. A desire to walk that direction began to grow. The feeling turned into curiosity, as if he suspected something special was out there.
Then the sun’s rays died away, leaving behind a hazy glow. He shoved his cold hands deep into his jacket pockets and headed home instead.
Saturday, March 17, 1984
Judith Hardman raised her cup of Postum and let it warm her hands. “I’ll always associate this drink with the war. That’s when I stopped drinking coffee. Remember when coffee was hard to get?”
“I remember it being worse in the Depression,” Charles “Chap” Breeze said. “But I was never a coffee drinker, so I really didn’t notice.”
Ruth, his wife, smacked him on the arm. “Stop your fibbing! You drank it when we met. It was only after you started going to church you quit. Even after you’d sneak it now and then.”
“I don’t recall that,” Chap said with a grin.
“You think I didn’t notice it when you wanted a kiss, you old fool!”
Judith’s attention shifted to the kitchen. “Oh! You shouldn’t have!”
Sheryl Wallace, their host, entered the living room. “Coffee cake is ready!” She carried a glass cake pan with oven mitts. “It’s right out of the oven, so be careful.”
“Now tell me,” Chap said. “If this is coffee cake, then are we breaking the Word of Wisdom? I’m just asking.”
“Oh, be quiet!” Ruth said.
Morning light shone through the windows, striking the large bookshelves that lined the walls. Judith noticed how between sets of neatly arranged books, many of them on Orrin Porter Rockwell and other colorful characters of the Old West, displays of crystals sparkled and fossils seemed to come to life. She felt a chill and thought of Sheryl’s husband, Walter, who’d recently passed away. The others in the room seemed to sense the feeling and became more sober as Sheryl passed out plates of cake.
“It’s just us now,” Sheryl said. She sat back with her own plate, then took a sip of her drink. “You’d have thought knowing what we knew and doing what we did would have made us immortal.”
Ruth smiled. She reached over and put a hand on Sheryl’s arm.
“So what news do you have for us?” Chap asked, turning to Judith.
Fighting a mixture of fear and excitement, she said: “My daughter says she and Dennis are staying for good. They’re ‘not running anymore.’”
Sheryl held her fork above her plate as if she’d suddenly turned to into a statue. Ruth lost her smile and swallowed. Chap grunted, nodded his head, then put down his cup. He spoke: “I have Gordie Rushton on the West Oquirrh Council with me now. I just have to get him with your grandson—Donnie is it? Before someone else does, that is.”
“That ought to be easy. Wasn’t Gordie a comrade of your daughter and her husband?” Ruth asked.
“Stephanie doesn’t know,” Judith said. “She doesn’t know about me.” She motioned to the others in the room with her hand. “She doesn’t know about us. Gordie’s the only one from their…group…to know so far, and that’s pure synchronicity. Stephanie’s fought hard to avoid anyone she associated with. I’m terrified what she’d do if I told her everything. She might leave forever.”
“Not a chance,” Ruth said. “They’re all coming back. They could never really leave. It draws them. What we risk is a big reunion without us here to make sure things go right.”
“There are others,” Chap said. “Not friendly. You could pass them on the street and not know it. DeMint campaigned fiercely to bring into the council a young woman I’d never seen before. I should have suspected there was more going on than her corrupt cronyism. If it wasn’t for Gordie I never would have known who she was. She teaches at the junior high school during the day. It’s no accident she’s there, and with your grandson at the same school….”
Judith’s face hardened. “Then why don’t we do something now?”
“This is too big for us. We’ve lost track of all the pieces, and things are just beginning to fall together.”
“It was arrogance,” Sheryl said. She sadly shook her head. “We thought we were the shining ones.”
“We had no one to guide us,” Ruth said. “We have to step forward now, as we should have long ago. Maybe this time things will be different—for the grandchildren, anyway.”
“Maybe,” Chap said.
To Donny, that Saturday morning felt just like a spring morning should feel. Snow continued to melt, leaving black puddles in the Safeway parking lot. Though his little sisters wanted to stop at the machines that dispensed candy, peanuts, and little toys in plastic eggs, Mom herded them through the door to the shopping carts. Donnie yanked one out of a long row, causing a metal clatter. His little brother, Corey, went to go look at the magazines. When Donnie started to follow him, Mom said: “Stay with me. I need your help.”
Knowing it was useless to argue, he pinched his lips together and sulked to the produce section. Beyond the large glass windows, the supermarket interior felt shadowy.
In the cereal aisle, he stared at dirty floor tile and thought of the thousands of shoes and shopping cart wheels that had passed through there. His two little sisters started fighting over whether to get the Boo Berry or to get the Count Chocula, but Mom held a box of Kix and let out a sad breath when she looked at the price. Spiritless shopping music played over an intercom system, punctuated at times by calls to employees.
“Donnie, could you get me two loaves of bread?” Mom asked.
“Huh? Oh, yeah.” He turned to go.
“Please make sure you get the cheapest.”
Someone’s voice whispered down the aisle behind him: “Stephanie? My gosh! Is that you? I didn’t know you were back in town!”
Donnie turned and saw a woman holding onto a shopping cart with one hand and a girl about Donnie’s age with the other. She had stopped by the Quaker oats and nearly bumped carts with Mom.
“Sandy!” Mom said in the same tone of voice and reserve, as if they were glad to see each other but didn’t want the rest of the world to know it. Mom put her hand on the lady’s arm and glanced around. Secretive, Donnie thought. But that’s what he was used to about his parents.
The girl hid behind her mother and played with her bottom lip. She stared in the direction of the shredded wheat but didn’t seem to look at anything at all. She rocked gently back and forth. Her hair was bland and unstyled, no makeup: a retard, Donnie thought. Pretty…but still a retard.
“Is that Nancy?” Mom asked.
Sandy paused as if unsure what to say. “She’s had a lot of problems.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Donnie could see the conversation didn’t include him, though Sandy had glanced in his direction. He walked away, thinking of bread and the possibility of getting away from his brothers and sisters and wandering through town, maybe heading west, to the foothills. He turned his attention to a different girl, blonde, high school age, who stood at a nearby till, waiting for a customer to come along. She didn’t seem to notice him. When he found some loaves for forty-nine cents each, he thought: That ought to make Mom happy.
Donnie raised his head. The retard girl stood alone in the middle of his aisle. Some other look had replaced the emptiness he’d seen in her face. Her head tipped slightly forward and her arms dangled loosely at her sides. Ape girl, he thought and found himself slowly backing away. Her eyes suddenly focused and followed him, and he thought he saw her smile, which gave him the creeps.
Some of the kids in the neighborhood talked about her: Nutty Nancy Nash. She was the butt of dirty jokes, probably because some couldn’t reconcile a pretty girl like her being feeble-headed. If a guy lost a game or something, he got a free ticket to go “hump Nutty Nancy.” Others didn’t take to kindly to that talk and ridiculed the ridiculer.
He was about to turn the corner when he felt a strong grip on his shirt, which made little pops in the seams. He turned, surprised. Nancy let out a small hoot and pulled. His first thought was to clobber her with a loaf of bread, but he didn’t. Instead, he reacted by gently putting his hand over hers. Her fingers tightened and she yanked, forcing him to grab her wrist.
“Nancy!” Sandy called down the aisle. “Nancy, honey, let go!”
Her eyes seemed to tell him something, as if she wanted to speak but couldn’t. A babbling noise came out of her mouth.
“Honey! Let go!” Sandy said, as if talking to a toddler. She slapped Nancy on the hand.
Nancy whined and grunted, then gripped Donnie in a big bear hug. He put his hands on her waist and pushed. That wasn’t enough. Her slobbery mouth pressed against his cheek. The scene had caught the attention of other shoppers and the blond checker. Her mother tried to free him; the harder she pulled, the tighter Nancy’s grip became. Donnie felt his face turn red.
“Stop it Nancy! Stop it this instant!”
His instincts made him want to fight her, but something else, almost like an inner voice, told him differently.
“Wait!” he said. “Wait! Stop!”
Sandy stepped away with a panicked look on her face and momentarily wove her fingers into her own hair, looking around at the turned heads and staring faces.
He put his arms around Nancy and said: “Hey! It’s okay. I’m your friend. I’m Donnie.”
She let out a sound of excitement that sirened from a high pitch to a low growl. She bounced up and down and loosened her arms. Donnie gently pried himself free.
“I’m so sorry!” Sandy said, taking Nancy and slowly moving to the door. “This is so embarrassing.”
“It’s okay,” Donnie said, wiping the slobber off his face with his stretched shirt.
Grunting, Nancy leaned one way, then the other, nearly pulling Sandy over with her.
“Bye, Nancy,” Donnie said.
She abruptly stopped and turned her head. For a few seconds, Donnie saw that look again in her eyes, as if she had something to say, then she left willingly and docilely with Sandy.
Mom stood speechless at the opening of the aisle, holding the cart. The older of his little sisters was upset. People returned to their business as if nothing had happened.
“She can’t help it. She doesn’t know better,” Mom said.
“I know,” Donnie said. “Can’t we just get out of here?”
Mom started moving toward the check-out counter.
Donnie looked at the blond girl. “I’ll wait outside.”
“Don’t go anywhere. I still need help with the groceries and your brother and sisters.”
He knew what she meant, which was something just as embarrassing as getting loved on by a retard: Mom planned on pushing the shopping cart all the way up the road to the apartments, something he thought only vagrants did. Without a car, his family was reduced to being shopping cart people.
To read more, please visit the following links and upload it onto your Kindle or Nook.