St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (7 page)

BOOK: St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
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The sinkhole is a boggy pit on the edges of Zorba’s property. Elastic bubbles pop along the puckered brown skin. Lightning-scored cypress trees surround it, a greenish phosphorescence sparking along their submerged roots. And it occurs to me that throwing a dead sheep into the sinkhole, this is not our best idea. The sinkhole is a window to the camp’s aquifer. Anything you throw into the sinkhole remains in our water system indefinitely. Eventually, Merino is going to come back to haunt our drinking supply. Annie’s not protecting anyone by dumping the body.

“Are you ready?”

Peering over the edge of the limestone cavity, I have an otherworldly certainty that I have been here before. It’s one of those rare moments, the air thick and perfumed with memory, when the imagined world and the real world seem to overlap. A catatonic calm takes hold of me.
Oh, no,
I think, staring into the swirling, milky center, the blind eye of the sinkhole. We should not not not be doing this.

“Ready.”

With a strength I couldn’t have predicted, I help Annie to swing Merino’s body into the murk. She hits the sinkhole with an awful thwack, her pale belly facing us. Annie and I watch in a grim, conspiratorial silence as she sinks beneath the surface. I wonder how much of this Annie will remember in the morning.

         

When we get back to the cabin, I wash my hands eighteen times. Then I loofah them. Then I wash them again. Then I wake Oglivy up and drag him outside and heave him up against the rain-slick wall, my palms still smarting.

“Why did you lie to her?” I hiss. “Were you
trying
to make us look like sheep killers?”

“Jesus, Elijah,” Oglivy gasps, squirming away. “Calm down. I was going to tell you, you know.” There’s a pained expression on his face.

“Tell me what?”

“I think I might possibly be, uh, getting better? Our dreams, the fires…” He gives me a helpless shrug. “I haven’t been remembering them.”

My hands drop from his shoulders. “What?”

“I mean, I still get the shakes, and everything,” he says quickly. “I just can’t remember what I augured, you know?”

“No,” I growl. “I don’t know. You faker! You mean you’ve been lying to me all summer?”

Z.Z.’s Sleep-Away Camp is divided down all kinds of lines: campers who can’t sleep vs. campers who sleep too much, campers who control their bladders vs. campers who do not, campers who splinter through headboards vs. campers who lie still as the dead. Now Ogli and I are separated by one of the greatest rifts: campers who remember in the morning, and the ones who forget.

“You didn’t have the Trail of Tears dream, with the ice floes and the frozen squaw?”

He shakes his head.

“The Inundation of Ur dream? All those alluvial, egg-smooth Sumerians?”

He shakes his head.

“What about the Great Peruvian Firequake of 1734—”

“Look, Elijah. It’s a good thing.”

“Oh, sure. It’s great!” I kick the side of the cabin, feeling stupid even as I do it. “You’re getting better! You don’t remember our dreams! That’s a great thing.” I blink furiously, glad for the dark. “Really.” I reach up to give him an awkward pat on the shoulder. “Really, Ogli. It is.”

Ogli grins down at me, relieved. “Look, let’s go to sleep? Maybe if I concentrate really hard I’ll remember them tonight?”

“Nah, Ogli,” I sigh. “I appreciate your volition. But I don’t think the dreams work that way. You go get sleeping without me.” I turn back towards the woods. “I need to be awake for a while.”

“You’re not going back out there tonight, are you?” he yells after me. “After what we just saw?”

You mean what
I
just saw?
I think, a deafening, echoing thought. It roars around me, the new solitude within my own skull. And I am angry, so angry at Ogli, for his forgetting. It’s worse, somehow, that it wasn’t deliberate, that the dream sickness just left him like a fever lifting. It means I don’t even get to hate him. Ogli gets to wake up to cheery blankness and cereal, and I’ll spend the rest of my life counting dead sheep.

This time I do a slow, listless shuffle through the woods, crunching into the leaves. All the happy fear has ebbed out of me. The leaves sound like leaves; the lake looks glassy and flat. When I startle a young stag in the middle of my path, I stand my ground and hurl some sticks at it. I climb into the Insomnia Balloon and curl my body like a fist. Now that I really am ballooning solo, I’m afraid to pull the rip cord. At least with Emma I could feel the warmth of another body in the basket.

Far away, I can hear Mouflon, our last sheep, bleating in the dark. I wonder if Annie is still out to protect her, still scouring the woods in barefoot pursuit of those dogs. I feel sorry for Annie, alone with a rabid pack of her own delusions. I feel sorrier for Mouflon. She’s alone with Annie.

Eventually the dark gravity of the postmonitions begins to tug at my eyelids, a first oracular shimmer. I shiver and lie flat against the basket. My fingers curl through the holes in the wicker, through the wet grass beneath it, trying to hold tight to the sharp blades of the present. Somewhere in my brain a sinkhole is bubbling over, and each bubble contains a scene from a tiny sunken world: Oglivy erasing his dream log; Annie’s blank eyes filling with phantom dogs; Merino’s milky gray belly resurfacing with a terrible buoyancy. I have never been the prophet of my own past before. It makes me wonder how the healthy dreamers can bear to sleep at all, if sleep means that you have to peer into that sinkhole by yourself. Oglivy really spoiled me. I had almost forgotten this occipital sorrow, the way you are so alone with the things you see in dreams. Overhead, the glass envelope of the Insomnia Balloon is malfunctioning. It blinks on and off at arrhythmic intervals, making the world go gray:black, gray:black. In the distance, a knot of twisted trees flashes like cerebral circuitry.

The Star-Gazer’s Log of Summer-Time Crime

My job is to be the lookout.

Raffy’s job is to give out jobs.

Marta’s job is to get Petey choreographed and in costume.

Petey’s job is to be the moon.

         

I didn’t come out here tonight expecting to join a Comical Ironical Crime Ring. I’m here because my dad set me up on a date to see Alcyone. Dad made some sly references to her long blue light filaments and her extraordinary nebulosity, and boy was I excited. I polished my pocket planisphere. I read up on all the expert tips for locating her star cluster center in my
Starry-Eyed Guide to the Galaxy—For Kids!
I logged her spectral type prematurely in anticipation of one luminous night. That’s how Molly and I got suckered into coming out to the touristy side of the island in the first place. Dad promised us that it would be a Junior Astronomer’s beach paradise. But then I crested this dune and saw Petey, and now all my thoughts of Alcyone have been eclipsed.

Petey is dancing on the beach in a puddle of moonlight. He appears to be doing your basic two-step, but he’s spiced it up with a spastic little shimmy from side to side. He twitches; he twirls. He lets out a low, gurgly giggle that goes goose-bumpling up my arm.

Petey’s not particularly nimble, but he sure is quick. I’m not surprised. The formula bubbles up unbidden in my brain:
Momentum
©
mass
®
velocity.
And Petey is a sandy dervish of a man, soft-bellied, at least twice my height.

He is also twinkling like a star.

When I get closer, I find out why. Somebody has tied a trash-can lid to Petey’s chest with crisscrossed strings of Xmas lights. It’s been buffed to an impressive sheen. The rest of Petey’s upper body is festooned with more of the tiny white bulbs. They loop around his arms and neck, blinking on and off at random intervals that seem timed to coincide with his lurching dance. I hypothesize that they must be battery-operated. The nearest hotel is a fifteen-minute walk away, so you’d need a pretty long extension cord.

We’ve never met before, but I know that this human disco ball must be Petey; after all, what other adult man on the island would look and move and laugh this way? Petey is something of a legend around here. Doreen, the chambermaid at the Bowl-a-Bed Hotel, told Dad that he’s one of the few people who come to the island every summer. Nobody’s sure what’s wrong with him, exactly, and Doreen says he always shows up at midnight so she’s never there to check him in. All Doreen knows for certain is that Petey’s at least thirty years old and has wax-white skin and long, colorless lashes. She says that frightened guests always call to report a ghost haunting the hallways whenever Petey comes to stay.

“Is he a friendly ghost?” my sister Molly wanted to know. “Like Casper?”

“Oh, Petey’s no ghost,” she reassured us. “I told you, I don’t know what he is, exactly, but he’s harmless. You’ll see.”

But the ocean mist has fogged up my glasses, and now I can’t see a thing. After I spit-shine them, I realize that Petey’s arms and hands are covered in tinfoil. He’s holding a pair of huge red flashlights in his aluminum-foiled fingertips; he shakes these like maracas. They cast weird shadows across a roped-off square of sand. I can’t actually see what’s inside the roped-off area; all I can make out is the red plastic tape wrapped around four wooden beams. A triangular sign is attached to a driftwood post behind it. It takes me a couple of Petey’s strobe-light revolutions to read it:
SEA TURTLE NEST. DO NOT DISTURB
!
VIOLATORS SUBJECT TO FINES AND IMPRISONMENT
.

A boy and a girl are standing next to Petey, staring down at the mound of sand. I recognize the boy as Raffy. Uh-oh, I think. I stuff my stargazing apparatus in my back pocket and turn to go, but it’s too late. They’ve seen me.

“Hey, Raffy,” I gulp. “What’s up?”

“Hey, cockbag,” he says. His tone is unexpectedly genial. “Who the hell are you?”

Raffy must have forgotten that he already knows me. We’ve had homeroom together since middle school, but Raffy travels in a different social solar system. Raffy hangs out with tattooed graffiti artists who race cars; I hang out with members of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Club. We discuss the fiery edge of Orion’s sword. We wear helmets and reflective knee pads when we ride our ergonomic bikes to school.

Raffy is the reason that we wear protective gear. He demands “loans” from our meager treasury and mocks the size of our genitalia and brags about fornicating with our mothers. If you inform Raffy that you do not, in fact, have a mother, as I have on several occasions, he tells you to go fornicate with yourself. All the girls in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Club confide to me that they are secretly in love with Raffy. It’s not fair. Everybody knows that bullies are supposed to have squat bodies and flattish heads like hammerhead sharks. But Raffy is tall and lean and regal-looking, with these leonine dreadlocks and laughing black eyes. He’s bashed me into the gym wall several times and “borrowed” my dollars, but we’ve never had what you’d call a real conversation.

“I’m Ollie,” I remind him. “Oliver White? We have class together. I’m staying over at the Bowl-a-Bed Hotel….”

“You staying on this side of the island too? Small fucking world,” Raffy says. He narrows his eyes and gives me the once-over, and I am painfully aware of my dimpled arms, my effeminate blond curls, my collared shirt on which every button has been dutifully buttoned. I feel my planisphere bulging conspicuously in my pocket. But Raffy just nods at me, visibly relaxing.

“Well, Ollie…” He turns to the girl, who hands him a big burlap sack. He holds it open for my inspection. “We could use a third. Are you in?”

I peer inside the bag. It’s empty, except for one lone potato peel.

In what?
I wonder. They’re all staring at me expectantly, even Petey. In the uncomfortable silence that follows, the only possibility I can come up with is that Raffy wants me to get in the sack. I try to swing my right leg over, and end up kicking the little girl in the shin.

“No, you retard!” Raffy yells. “Not in the bag. I want to know if you’re in on our baby turtle smuggling ring.”

“Shhh,” the girl says, a finger to her lips. “Don’t talk about retards that way in front of Petey.”

We all stare at Petey. He’s resumed his dance, shaking the flashlights with such gusto that the tinfoil’s peeling off, chunks of aluminum big enough to wrap up a ham sandwich. Shimmering bits of foil fall all around him, revealing swatches of Petey’s skin. He looks sort of like the Tin Man from the
Wizard of Oz,
were the Tin Man to contract some leprous skin disease. I don’t mean to, but I can’t help it: I gasp when I first glimpse the skin on Petey’s arm. In the moonlight, he looks like he’s made of liquid silver.

“We think Petey’s an albino,” Marta explains.

“And a retard,” Raffy adds.

“Mentally handicapped.” She frowns, punching him in the arm.

“Special,” I say, and it’s true. I think that Petey might be the most special person I have ever seen.

“Hi, Petey,” I say. “Good to finally meet you.”

Petey waggles his silvery fingers at me.

“What about the rest of you?” I ask. “Who are you?”

I smile at the girl. She’s cute. She has a freckle-dusted face and these big round glasses with pink frames. She looks like she should be eating vanilla wafers, or pasting evening wear on paper dolls. She definitely doesn’t look like she should be hanging around with guys like Raffy. Or even guys like me.

“Who, her?” He pinches her cheek. “This my bitch, Marta.”

“I’m his bitch,” she repeats happily.

“Oh,” I say. “I’m Ollie. Nice to make your acquaintance.”

“So, Ollie,” Raffy asks again. “You down for some turtle smuggling tonight?”

“Um…yeah. I mean, maybe. What is this smuggling ring, exactly?”

Raffy nods at Marta, who hands me a yellow flyer. I recognize it from the lobby of my hotel. They’re posted all over the place on the island, in English and Spanish and Creole:

WARNING: DISTURBING A SEA TURTLE NEST
IS A VIOLATION OF FEDERAL AND STATE LAWS

As you may be aware, the months of June–August are prime time for sea turtle eggs to hatch. Baby turtles possess an inborn tendency to move in the brightest direction. On a natural beach, they will orient themselves by the reflection of moonbeams and starlight on the water. However, in recent years our hatchlings have become disoriented by artificial lights, which beckon them away from the sanctuary of the ocean.

On the coast of Namibia, a nest of disoriented hatchlings walked into a beach barbecue and were burned to a crisp.

On the shores of Greece, the fatally bright lights of the discotheques lured thousands of baby turtles to their deaths.

Let’s not make the same mistake here in Loomis County! Please turn off all outside lights between the hours of dusk and dawn.

REMEMBER: SEA TURTLE HATCHLINGS RELY ON

NATURAL LIGHT TO ORIENT THEMSELVES.

DO NOT INTERFERE WITH THE MOON
!

         

“Did you read that first part?” Raffy asks, dreamy-eyed. “A federal offense!”

“You’re going to use a mentally handicapped man to help you steal baby turtles?” I ask.

“Yup!” the girl says brightly. “We’re going to trick those silly turtles into walking into our burlap sack instead of the ocean. Isn’t that right, Petey?”

“Tuuuurtles,” he says in his creepy monotone drawl.

“But…but why?”

They all stare at me blankly. Raffy shakes the letter in my face, as if it’s an open invitation to lure endangered species away from their natural habitat and into a burlap sack of certain doom.

“I mean, what are you going to do once you have all the turtles?”

Raffy waves my question away. “We’ll figure that part out later. Don’t people keep them as pets? Or eat them in soups, or something?”

“Tortoiseshell accessories are really trendy now,” Marta says helpfully. She beams at Raffy.

“Tuuuurtles,” Petey says.

“Okay,” I say. “But I still don’t get why Petey has to wear the trash can and the tinfoil and the festive lights. Doesn’t that seem…unnecessary?” I want to say
unnecessarily cruel.
“Why can’t we just scoop them up with our hands, or sweep them into a dustpan or something?”

“Because,” Raffy says, rolling his eyes at Marta as if I am the mentally handicapped one. “It’s
funnier
this way.”

Wowie zowie, I think. This is the most truly evil scheme that I have ever heard.

“Okay,” I say. “What’s my job?”

         

Two hours later, Petey is sweating profusely, and the turtles have yet to emerge from their nest. His calves quake with exhaustion in a way that makes the dance a lot less amusing.

“These fucking eggs better get cracking,” Raffy grumbles. “School starts in a few more weeks.” He turns to me. “How long you here for?”

I shrug. My dad is here with a group of his retired astronaut buddies, and my guess is that we’ll stay at the Bowl-a-Bed until Dad exhausts his pension or his lunar nostalgia, whichever comes first.

“Well, don’t dip out on us, Ollie. Meet us here tomorrow morning. We’ll do some practice daytime crimes.”

I gulp. “But these crimes…I mean, we only commit comical and ironical crimes, right? We don’t actually hurt anybody?”

“Please,” Raffy laughs. It’s not a pleasant laugh—it makes you feel like he’s giving you mean little pinches all over your body. “I’m on my summer break here. I save the real crime for the school year.” He grins at me. “Hold up, I do remember you. One of the Sci-Fi boys, right? I always had you figured for a fucking dork, kid, but you a’ight.”

“Um, thanks…” And then, a second too late: “You’re a’ight as well…. So, okay, then…” I try to keep my voice casual, as if being invited to join a crime ring with a cute girl and the coolest kid in my grade is a routine occurrence for me. “See you tomorrow?” I turn to go, but Raffy grabs me and whirls me around.

“Hey, you dropped something,” he says. “Fell out of your pocket.” He reaches down and shakes the sand off my
Starry-Eyed Guide to the Galaxy—For Kids!

Uh-oh. I hope that it is too dark to read. I hope that Raffy is illiterate. I think:
Don’t open it—don’t read the title—please God just give it back to me.

Raffy starts flipping through the pages.

The
Starry-Eyed Guide to the Galaxy—For Kids!
was a gift from my father on my twelfth birthday. Molly and I aren’t exactly little kids anymore, but Dad hasn’t seemed to notice. Besides, it’s not like anybody’s written a Guide to the Galaxy for Awkward Pubescent Boys yet. Anyhow, I kind of like the glow-in-the-dark graphics.

I’m less fond of the book’s other concession to the seven to ten demographic, a bunch of Wowie Zowie! Fun Facts scattered throughout each chapter. As in:

Wowie Zowie! Fun Fact #47:

Q: A shooting star is not a star, how does it shine so bright?

A: The friction as it falls through air produces heat and light!

As in, wowie zowie, we the authors of the
Starry-Eyed Guide to the Galaxy—For Kids!
have never actually had contact with anyone under the age of forty-two. Or, wowie zowie, if kids like Raffy catch you reading this book, they will crown you as King Nerd and announce the glad tidings of your coronation over the PA system.

My dad’s version of the book, the staid, declarative
Guide to the Galaxy,
is nearly identical, except that the graphics are a matte black, and the same information is listed as Fact #47. I guess that’s what growing up means, at least according to the publishing industry: phosphorescence fades to black and white, and facts cease to be fun.

The planisphere was a gift, too. It’s what we Junior Astronomers use to orient us in the night sky. Mine is shiny and compact and has the most accurate star compass on the market. It’s fallen out of my pocket and rolled near Raffy’s foot, and I quickly stoop down to retrieve it before he can see it flashing in the sand.

“Whatcha found there?”

BOOK: St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
6.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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