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Authors: John Gideon

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BOOK: Greely's Cove
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Kirk Tanner, the owner of the Chev, cut the engine and the lights. Both doors swung open, and both boys swung out. They wore nearly identical bulky jackets of dark satin, with sleeves pushed almost to their elbows, and sweatshirts over threadbare jeans. Jason Hagstad wore sunglasses on the top of his head, like Don Johnson, even at night.

“Oh
gawd
, Jason is such a fox!” breathed Gina. “Doesn’t he look like Rob Lowe?”

“They’re gorgeous,” said Leah, scarcely above a whisper. “You
guys
, they’re
seniors
‘.” cautioned Teri. “Leah, I’m warning you, don’t you dare honk!”

“Seniors don’t have leprosy,” chided Gina. “Leah will be one herself next fall, for Christ’s sake.”

Leah honked. The boys halted in midswagger to look back at the girls in Mrs. Solheim’s shiny white Toyota Celica, and much to Teri’s dread, they swaggered over, hands in their hip pockets, faces smug with certainty that they had hooked into serviceable prey.

Their ritualized small talk was smooth and easy, laden with “y’know” and “excellent” and “man,” and before long they had thoroughly charmed Leah and Gina.

“Hey, man,” said Jason, getting down to serious business, “we were gonna go in and have a pizza, but what the fuck, do you guys wanna head down the road and—y’know—do a little smoke? We got a case of Mick on ice in the trunk, if the doobage makes you thirsty.” He grinned, and Teri saw Gina squirm with delight.

As if the proposition weren’t sweet enough already, Kirk Tanner leaned through the window to whisper, “We got half a dozen hits of crack, man. Ever been high on crack?”

Teri felt her stomach chum. She had never been high on crack, and she had only smoked marijuana four times. Her parents had caught her with a joint in her purse about a year ago, and the whole damned world had almost come to an end. She resolved never again to risk going through that God-awful, tear-drenched hassle—not
ever.

But here were Gina and Leah, considering taking up with two seniors. Not just
any
two seniors, but the most notorious pair of reprobates at Suquamish High—Kirk Tanner and Jason Hagstad. To drink and smoke and fuck and do crack.

Not that Teri considered herself an angel. But doing
crack
:—it was the worst stuff anyone could smoke: high-intensity cocaine, horrifically potent and addictive. Teri felt like vomiting.

“Now where did you get some crack?” asked Leah, trying to sound sophisticated enough to disbelieve an implausible story.

“New guy in town,” answered Kirk Tanner, meaning Greely’s Cove. “Hangs out in Liquid Larry’s. His name’s
Cannibal,
if you can believe that! He got us the beer, too. So how about it, man? You guys interested?”

Gina and Leah were—y’know—interested.

“It definitely sounds more exciting than what
we
had on tap,” said Leah.

“Definitely!” confirmed Gina. “I’m ready to party!”

“You
guys
,” protested Teri, “I was going to buy the pizza tonight. I almost had to wrestle my mom to borrow twenty dollars.”

All eyes turned to her—silent ones, but eloquent. The boys’ eyes said “Well, what the fuck, go in and have yourself a pizza, little girl!” The girls said “Really, Teri, don’t be such a slug!”

The meaning of the deathly silence was clear: A foursome is company, but a fivesome is wet toilet paper.

“I s’pose we could split up,” said Gina in a low but hopeful voice. “Don’t you have to go home early, Teri?”

Teri Zolten got the message. “Yeah, I guess,” she said, fighting an ache in her throat. “But I hate to make you guys take me all the way back to the Cove.”

“Oh, hey,” said Leah Solheim, “you can take this car, if you have to go, Ter. Just park it up the street a ways from your house and leave the keys under the floor mat. I’ll pick it up later.” Leah’s tone was that of a close friend who was riding to the rescue, as though Teri could always count on Leah for help.

“There you go!” said Kirk Tanner. “Problem solved!” And it was.

So Teri Zolten found herself alone behind the wheel of Mrs. Solheim’s new Toyota Celica, headed south on Bond Road, blinking away tears. Fortunately the car had an automatic transmission, because Teri had no idea how to work a stick shift. She strained through blurry tears to see the road and its painted lines, remembering her lessons from driver’s ed.
Accelerate smoothly, not like a jackrabbit.
And:
Apply even pressure to the brake pedal—don’t stomp on it.

By now she loathed herself, the whole world and everyone in it.

She loathed the transparent Leah, who was actually more the predator than Kirk Tanner or Jason Hagstad. Tonight’s exploit, when retold at school Monday morning, would enhance Leah’s already considerable mystique among her rivals and pursuers. That’s what Leah wanted: to be thought of as exotic and spicy, and she worked at it. A brush with criminality couldn’t hurt the image.

Gina was hardly any better. Though she loved to accuse Leah of nymphomania, Gina would fuck anything with an erection, Teri suspected. Teri was also sure that she herself needed some new pals, regular girls who liked regular things and regular boys. She wanted no part of drugs anymore, and she wanted no part of criminals like Tanner and Hagstad.

The night grew darker as the lights of Kingston fell behind, and the highway led inland through the tiny Port Madison Indian Reservation, where Teri always assumed Indians lived, maybe in little huts nestled in the dense forest or in long lodges made of animal skins. Though she had lived virtually next door to the reservation for seven of her sixteen years, she had never laid eyes on an Indian—at least none that she knew of. But then she had never actually set foot on the reservation, either, except to ride through it in a car.

As Kingston had, the reservation fell behind, and the aura of the Toyota’s headlights became a world unto itself, a gliding island in a cold ocean of dark. Here, a few miles before the lights of Greely’s Cove would start to wink through the trees, the vegetation grew to the very edge of the asphalt, a tangled wall of mossy bark, sword fern, and tawny grass. Now and then a bright pair of eyes glowered through an opening in the undergrowth, captured and betrayed for the barest moment by the passing headlights. Animals’ eyes, of course: maybe a deer’s, a cat’s, or a raccoon’s—eyes made differently than humans’, able to gather light and concentrate it for use in a world of black.

Teri thought about turning on the radio: A few tunes might have made her feel better. But she couldn’t let go of the wheel with either sweaty hand. Too tense, she told herself. Too uncertain of her driving skills. For a girl her age, driving was hardly routine.

But this was not really the problem. The
darkness
was. It seemed to make a sound that floated on the edge of the satiny rush of tires on wet asphalt. Teri could almost
hear
the darkness as it devoured the edges of her gliding island.

She thought of her mother’s admonition to stay away from strangers:
We’ve had more than our share of weirdness in this town lately.
How stupid, Teri had thought at the time. The old bag’s going crackers because of the disappearances, just like half the other adults in town. But now Teri wondered whether she herself teetered on the edge of crackers, for the sound of the dark was giving her gooseflesh. She longed to see her mother’s face, to feel the old bag’s protective arms around her, to be safe at home.

A pair of eyes appeared up ahead on the shoulder of the road, on the very edge of the headlights’ reach, eyes that seemed too high off the ground to be a cat’s or a raccoon’s. Teri’s own were dry of tears now, and she narrowed them in an effort to focus on the indistinct shape that supported the two pin-pricks of reflected light. Her foot went instinctively to the brake pedal, and the Toyota jounced wildly, for she had stomped in violation of the Doctrine of Even Pressure. As she straightened out the wheel, the figure came into clearer view: a
human
figure, a woman.

Teri slowed the car, but her mind went into high gear. How could a human’s eyes glow like an animal’s? Why would someone be out walking on this forlorn stretch, braving rain and dark? And what on earth was there to
smile
about, as this lonely pedestrian was doing, while standing in the middle of the road? Teri hit the brakes again to avoid running over her, and the Toyota came to a halt.

The woman in the road was of medium height, dressed in a dark and shapeless coat that covered her from neck to knees. She had a wide forehead and a long, sloping nose that ended in a sharp point above her mouth.

An accident,
thought Teri.
There’s been an accident somewhere
, for the woman had only one shoe, a white canvas sneaker. Her brown hair stood crazily away from her head in tangled fingers, and her wild, reflective eyes were open so wide as to expose white all around the pinpricks of color. And that
smile
... More a grin, really, wide and toothy.

Yeah, there’s definitely been an accident. The poor woman’s car is probably in a ditch somewhere,
thought Teri,
maybe overturned, and she’s crawled out to flag down-


Teri!

The voice seemed to come from inside the car, or from inside Teri’s head, even though she had seen the woman’s lips move. A blanket of icy needles enfolded Teri’s shoulders. She cramped the wheel to the left and hit the accelerator, causing the Toyota’s wheels to
screeee.
In a fraction of a second, the woman’s figure was behind her, a shrinking gob of red in the rearview mirror, bathed in the bloody glow of taillights.


Teri! You’ve got to help me!

This time Teri almost gagged with fright, for the voice was clearly audible, and it sounded inexplicably familiar, though the figure was far behind on the road. The image of the woman’s face formed again in her head: wide forehead, chalky white flesh that drooped a little around the eyes, and a radically sloping nose that came to a point.

Suddenly Teri
knew
her. She was Peggy Birch, her former social-studies teacher at Suquamish High, who had disappeared three months earlier, as though she’d fallen into a giant grinder that reduced a person’s body to mere molecules. Teri had not recognized her at first. Under normal circumstances Mrs. Birch had been an impeccable dresser, even though her taste had been grotesquely middle-age. Her hair and face were always skillfully made up, and when she smiled, it was an intelligent smile that complemented the friendliness in her eyes—not at all like that lunatic grin on the face of the woman in the road.

Teri fought down her fear and brought the car to a complete halt. Poor Mrs. Birch was back there on the road, wearing only one shoe, having been through God-knows-what, desperately needing help. What kind of person would leave her to fend for herself?

And stay away from strangers, hear?

But Mrs. Birch was hardly a stranger, thought Teri in answer to her mother’s warning. Something terrible had happened to her, and she needed help. She may not even have known that her husband, crazed with grief and delusions that she had actually visited him in the dead of night, had put the muzzle of a twelve-gauge shotgun into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Teri lowered the window and stuck out her head to get a look at the roadway behind. A wall of brush loomed on either side, stained red from her taillights. But no sign of Mrs. Birch.

“Thank you for stopping, Teri.”

The girl’s heart fluttered and tried to crawl up her throat. She pulled her head back through the window and saw Peggy Birch sitting in the passenger seat, her face awash in the twilight of the instrument panel and dash. Teri’s mouth worked and yawned and formed a silent
O
before any sound came out. “H-h-how did you—you—”

The smell enveloped her, a horrid mixture of body dirt and rotting meat, a suffusive stench that drew hot tears. Teri covered her mouth with a hand and hacked.

“I really do appreciate your help, Teri,” said Peggy Birch, still grinning so tightly that vile little wrinkles appeared at the corners of her mouth “It was certainly getting lonely out there.” She actually laughed, and her throat rattled with phlegm. “You’re a sight for sore eyes, I can tell you that.”

Ten dared to look at her passenger again and saw that Mrs. Birch was filthy. Her face was splotched and encrusted with grime, her teeth coated with yellow, her clothing positively verminous. She looked very, very sick.

“Mrs. Birch, a-are you all right? W-we’ve all been really worried—”

Once again, that phlegmy laugh. “Oh, Teri! I’ve been terrific, I really have. I have so much to tell you that I really don’t know where to begin.”

“T-to tell me? I don’t understand.” Teri felt a knot of dread forming in her stomach. “I’d better get you to the emergency room in Poulsbo.”

“Teri, Teri, we don’t have time for that.” She reached out to touch the girl’s arm, exposing a hand and wrist that appeared to have been eaten nearly clean of flesh. Teri tried to scream, to shriek, to fill all creation with the sound of her horror, but only a croak came out.

“Tonight’s going to be your big night, honey,” said Peggy Birch, stroking Teri’s arm. “Tonight I’m taking you to the Feast, and you’ll find out what dreaming can really be like.” Teri squealed with revulsion and forced away the clawlike hand. She groped for the door handle, meaning to flee the stench-filled car. But Peggy Birch laughed yet again, issuing a sound that brought to mind a vat of bubbling slime, and the door locks engaged with a sharp snap.

5

The first light on Sunday, February 9, filtered through a mist that rolled seaward in the embrace of a tart breeze. For Lindsay Moreland it was a day for taking care of business. In this respect, it would not be much different from any other in her adult life, though the business itself was hardly routine. Today she would arrange her elder sister’s funeral. She would plan the future of her nephew, Jeremy. And she would meet and defeat her former brother-in-law, Carl Trosper, on the field of verbal battle.

Carl had apparently decided to become his son’s father again, notwithstanding that he had long ago given up that privilege. Carl’s audacity never failed to amaze her.

BOOK: Greely's Cove
3.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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