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Authors: Glen Krisch

Arkadium Rising (9 page)

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
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He remembered the narrow alley shielded by the hedge. They could still get out of this. All they had to do was move.

Jason ran to Dylan's side but he wasn't moving. "Dylan!"

A halo of blood outlined the boy's head. Jason kneeled down in the filth and cradled the boy's head in his lap, but it was too late. His eyes were open and vacant, at peace.

He began to sob over the corpse, tugging at his muddied undershirt as if trying to encourage him to move. He lost all sense of time as he cried. He mourned the loss of any semblance of sanity in the world, mourned his place within it moving forward.

He didn't know how much time went by, but eventually he heard others enter the alley. He waited for them to approach him with their weapons raised, prayed for them to litter his body with bullets.

Instead, a steady hand gripped his shoulder. "I've been looking all over for you! We need to get out of here, brother. We've cleared a path to the hills, but we have to act fast before they rally."

 

 

Chapter 7

 

Two Days Earlier…

 

 

Lost in her thoughts, Kylie Dwyer walked along the weedy edge of the road winding through the wooded hills surrounding Concord. She peeled her shirt from her clammy back, blew a wisp of blonde hair from her eyes. Her cell phone vibrated and she took it from the front pocket of her shorts.

Mom:
We need to talk
.

Great. What did that mean?
We need to talk?
Kylie's mom didn't go out of her way to talk to her. Why now?

She read the brief message a third and fourth time, trying to divine a meaning between the pixels. Knowing that it's harder to get yelled at through texting, she considered replying, but realized some things are best dealt with in person. The phone went right back in her pocket. As she made her way up the hill, the calm stillness of the late morning was broken by an explosion so powerful that the ground beneath her trembled. She stopped in her tracks, her eyes widening, her arms flailing for a moment at her sides. But there was nothing to hold on to, nothing to help her balance.

Earthquake?

She quickly dismissed the idea. An earthquake in Illinois? Yeah, right.

Her mind shifted to terrorism, but she dismissed that possibility just as quickly. Why would some far-flung people decide to attack her speck-on-the-map hometown? Even though she'd lived most of her life in the aftermath of 9/11, she'd always believed that sort of chaos would never touch her.

And then, just as sudden as it began the rumbling beneath her calmed. She started to doubt the intensity of what she'd felt, but the surrounding trees erupted in a chorus of birdsong, as if the whole of the woods were exhaling in relief. So, if it wasn't terrorism or an earthquake, the only other explanation she could think of was some kind of industrial accident. Whatever the case, she would have to ask RJ about it.

She started walking again, determined to get home as soon as possible. As long as the earth didn't start to tremble again, and as long as she didn't hear any more explosions, it was fairly easy to ignore the incident. Her thoughts turned to the Underwoods. She sometimes wondered if it was worth the hassle to babysit for them. Sure, little Libby—with her tight ginger curls and big blue eyes—was just about the cutest baby ever, but the mile-long walk in the summertime heat was a real pain. It helped knowing that she was so close to having enough money saved for her first car. Even a beater would be better than her current mode of transportation.

As she trudged up the incline her phone buzzed again. She swiped the screen to pull up the text. This time it was from Gabby, her best friend.

Let me knw wut hapns. It cud b ur tickt outa this dmp, lol

This message was easier to decipher, but no less stress-inducing. She could practically hear Gabby's teasing tone, even though the text lacked her typical sprinklings of emoticons. Kylie had not wanted to share her secret, but needing a ride to the free clinic in Napleton, she'd had no other choice. Gabby, still by no means from a well-off family, had been given her parents' hand-me-down Toyota when they upgraded the year before. It's easier to share a secret when it's done willingly, less so when it's out of necessity.

Kylie decided to text back later, after she discovered what had made her mom decide to actually try to communicate with her for the first time this century.

Though the road was steep, the looming trees shaded her way into the hills. Anna and Reece Underwood lived in a Cape Cod a few blocks from the commercial district and Kylie had passed only a smattering of houses since leaving their home. The suburban-style blocks surrounding the commercial district quickly transitioned to rural woods just north of town—the Underwoods's house straddled that boundary. The few rural homes she'd passed were small, lacking in general upkeep.

As she left the shoulder for her parents' dirt driveway, she saw her dad's current tinkering project—a Pontiac GTO so sun-faded she could barely make out the candy apple red of the original paint job. Mitch Dwyer didn't get as much time to tinker as of late, not since the warehouse moved him to the graveyard shift. She missed her dad. Sure, he was around in the sense that he occupied the same home as her, but for the most part, he seemed to drift in the background of her life.

She pocketed her cell and opened the screen door of their doublewide. The door snapped shut behind her and her eyes slowly adjusted to the afternoon gloom of the living room.

"Mom, did you hear that explosion?"

"Mind explaining what the hell you're doing with these?" Linda Dwyer held a lit cigarette with the trembling fingers of her left hand, and a package of condoms with those of the right.

Kylie's breath caught in her throat. Of course, her mom had been snooping. Of course she'd found the condoms and freaked out. Of course Kylie would now be lucky to not get grounded until graduation. Kylie coughed into her fist and took an unsteady breath, wanting nothing more than to reach behind her for the screen door, throw it wide, and run. Just
go
. But she couldn't seem to move from the entry rug. She had never seen her mother so livid. The overhead floodlights blazed a smoky path to her face. It looked like she'd been crying. And seething. Her eyes were red-rimmed with puffy brown bags beneath.

"I… I…" Kylie said before drawing a complete blank.

"I asked you once and I'm not going to ask you again," her mother said in a pinched voice. Since Kylie's dad still had trouble sleeping with his new work schedule, the Dwyer women had adopted hushed voices during the day, no matter the emotion tied to their words. "Who are you fucking, little girl?"

"Mom, I'm not… I never…" Kylie said, stung by her mother's accusation.

"Bullshit. Two are missing from the box."

"I swear!" How could she explain it to her mom? She would never believe that it had taken Kylie two practice tries to get one fitted properly over a banana. And she could never admit out loud, especially to her mom, that she had been curious enough to want to learn how.

"I'm not stupid, Kylie. But you obviously are. Spreading your legs for who the fuck knows. How many times have I told you to save yourself? Haven't I told you—"

"How having me was your biggest mistake?" Kylie cut in. "Yeah, every day of my life, Mother. Every single day."

Her mom gasped and started pacing behind the kitchen island as if she were trapped. She puffed on her cigarette, violently expelling the smoke from her nostrils.

She violated my privacy,
Kylie thought,
and she's the angry one?
Kylie's anger flared, but only briefly. As they stood glaring at one another, her mother wilted and broke eye contact with her in favor of her own trembling hands. Ready to go another round, Kylie was mentally dredging up the most hurtful laments of her life for ammunition. By the narrowest margin she held back, seeing how tired her mother looked, how incredibly old.

"I… I can't deal with this now," her mother said, her voice a withered husk. She tucked the box of condoms inside her purse and zipped it tight. She took a long last drag on her cigarette and stubbed it in the ashtray next to the sink. "I'm going to be late for work." She exhaled a gray haze. "But this isn't done, Kylie Ann. Not even close."

Linda Dwyer grabbed her purse and held it close, as if she feared Kylie might try to snatch it from her, seeking the prophylactics in some kind of sexual frenzy. Kylie—with her arms crossed in front of her and her fingers digging into her own ribs until it hurt—stood her ground and scowled at her mother as she swept past her.

Before she could escape the doublewide, Kylie called out, "That's where you're wrong, Mother. This is done. You're not going to bring it up again, and I'm going to be the responsible adult you raised me to be, for better or worse. End of story."

Her mother looked back over her shoulder, her eyes steely, and muttered, "Slut."

Her unfettered contempt weakened Kylie's knees. The screen door snapped shut, leaving Kylie alone in the front half of their trailer. The air felt heavy in her lungs, and it wasn't from the humidity. The walls of the trailer, always too close for comfort, seemed to be spiraling in on her. Kylie only now noticed the rapid-fire beating of her heart. She wiped her sweaty palms against her shirt.

The door to her parents' bedroom opened and her dad stepped out. He leaned against the doorframe and ran his fingers through his mop of salt and pepper hair.

"Did we wake you?" Kylie asked.

"Naw, couldn't sleep. What was that, kids in the woods and a bunch of M80s?"

Kylie remembered the explosion, but it didn't seem to fit. She shrugged.

"Kids'll blow their hands off and learn a valuable lesson."

"What's that?"

"Not to wake a working man from an honest day's sleep." With one eye open, he added, "What was all that other fuss about?"

"What fuss?"

"You two try so hard to keep a lid on things, but, you know, even in an opulent palace such as this, sound travels."

"It was nothing, Dad. Just go back to bed." Kylie couldn't look him in the eye. She occupied herself by stepping behind the kitchen island, hoping he would just go away. When she realized that he wasn't going anywhere, she started washing the few dishes in the sink. She parted the sheer curtain and could see her mother's agitated form getting smaller as she neared the end of the dirt driveway. She watched her, hunched and brittle looking, disappear as she turned toward the Thompsons' house next door, where she worked as a housekeeper. She let the curtain fall back into place. Its lacy border had a dull brown tinge; her mother's discontent had seeped into every surface of the trailer. Kylie couldn't escape it or her.

"You girls, I wish you'd just get along."

Kylie sighed and shook droplets from her hands. When she turned to face him, he offered her a familiar, tired smile.

"It's not hard. I get along with you. I get along with your mom. Easy-peasy. Right?"

Kylie paced the narrow confines of the kitchen, feeling as penned in as her mother surely must have felt.

"Yeah, right," she replied.

"What was it about this time?" He sat on the high back of the couch, looking like he was mentally preparing himself to have one of those awkward father-daughter talks. He was settling in, girding himself for the discomfort. She loved her dad like crazy, but she wasn't about to talk to him about this.

"You don't want to know. Trust me."

"I might not
want
to know…" He hesitated. "But that doesn't mean that I don't want to know. Know what I mean?"

She couldn't help a brief chuckle. "Really, Dad. It's just women's stuff."

He raised his hands palms out and waved her away. "Okay, okay. I trust you. Just answer me one question."

"Shoot."

"Are you… being safe?"

It was such a loaded question, and one that made her face burn with embarrassment. She was fairly certain that he hadn't overheard the argument, or that her mom had shared her discovery of the condoms. Sharing that knowledge with anyone but Kylie would only highlight her failings as a mother, at least in her own eyes.

But if history was a guide and the Dwyer women had had an argument, there was basically one subject it could be about—the steadfast importance of Kylie's chastity.

"Yeah… yeah, Dad." She dropped her gaze to the floor. She realized she was still whispering as if he were still tucked away in his bedroom, asleep. "I'm being safe."

"Good. That's real good, Kye. I trust you, and I know your mom
wants
to trust you. But you have to understand…"

"But I do understand, Dad. She just doesn't realize it. "

"Okay, Kye. Just know… she means well." Again he smiled before rubbing his eyes and stifled a yawn. "I better hit the sack. Those boxes aren't going to move themselves tonight."

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

 

Her mother's crucifix hung solemnly, accusingly, on the wall above the TV as Kylie paced the trailer. She clutched her cell phone in her sweaty grip. She knew she should return Gabby's text. She really should, but did she want to? Gabby was crude and always,
always
guilty of TMI, especially while texting. Kylie would rather speak to her face-to-face, but of course, she didn't have a car. No, while she knew she should return Gabby's text, she decided it could wait.

She slipped her cell into her pocket and stepped outside, easing the screen door quietly behind her so her dad could get his rest. As she walked across the front lawn to the edge of the woods, she immediately felt freer, more at ease. And that she could finally breathe. She felt most at peace among the trees. She'd spent most of her years barefoot, romping carefree along the wooded trails surrounding her home. A wild, untamable thing she'd been—all knotted hair, sun-washed freckles and scabbed knees. Venturing from childhood into adolescence and beyond, that nature had been muted but not entirely buried within her.

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
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