She looked down at the desk, at the brochures, tried to tell herself that it was nothing, just her imagination, that there was nothing unusual happening outside. But she could still see the light in her peripheral vision, buzzing around the deep interior of the mine.
Then it winked off.
Appeared instantly next to her car.
Loretta’s heart leaped in her chest. There was no way she could continue to pretend that there was nothing going on. She quickly reached for the phone, intending to call Lymon. She picked up the receiver, but there was no dial tone. The line was dead.
She looked back out the window, saw nothing but blackness.
There was a knock at the door.
She let out a small yelp. Her pulse was racing, her heart thumping, and she was more scared than she had ever been in her life. She swallowed, tried to sound brave. “Hello?”
There was another knock, louder this time.
“Go away!” she yelled.
All of the lights went out.
She screamed, an instinctive reaction but not a practical one. The office was too far from downtown for anyone to hear her. She could scream all she wanted and no one would ever know.
Crying, terrified, she slumped against the wall.
And in the darkness, something grabbed hold of her hand.
awn grass, freshly cut.
It was the smell of suburban summer, and Adam had always loved that rich, unique scent, but it depressed him now, and as he walked down the sidewalk past the Josefsons’ yard on his way to Roberto’s, he thought about how unfair life was. Especially if you were a teenager. Or almost a teenager. It was an adult world, adults made the rules and made the decisions, and they always got their way. Forget black, white, brown. Adolescents were the true minority. They were the ones really being oppressed. They had the thoughts and emotions of adults but none of the rights. He might be only twelve, but he considered himself mature for his age, and he knew better than anyone else what was good for him. He should at least be consulted regarding decisions that would affect his life and his future.
But his parents had decided to move to Arizona without even discussing it with him.
They’d just told him.
Adam sighed. Life sucked.
His friend was already waiting for him, sitting on the trunk of his dad’s old Chevy parked in the driveway.
“Hey, Ad Man,” Roberto called.
“Dick,” Adam said. No one had ever made fun of his name except Roberto, although he’d always been embarrassed by it and considered it supremely goofy. Babunya, his grandmother, had picked out the name, and it sounded okay when she said it:
with the accent on the second syllable. It sounded exotic that way, not quite so stupid. But when it was pronounced the normal way, the American way, he hated it.
He was glad Babunya was going to be living with them, he had to admit. He liked the idea of having her around all the time instead of just going to visit her on weekends. But he was not happy to be moving.
He was miserable.
He’d postponed telling Roberto that they were moving, not sure how to break the news to his friend.
Sasha, if possible, was even more upset than he was. Teo was only nine and didn’t seem to be all that concerned, but Sasha was furious. She’d had a big fight with their parents last night, refusing to move, threatening to leave, threatening to run away, and she and their parents were still arguing when he finally fell asleep.
For the first time in his life, he’d been rooting for his sister to win an argument.
But of course that could not happen. She might be a senior in high school, but she was only a teenager and they were adults, and hierarchy always overrode logic.
They were going to be forced to move to Arizona, and there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it.
Roberto walked quickly over to him, glanced back at his house. “Let’s hit the pavement,” he said. “My mom’s on the warpath again, and I know she’s gonna try and make me wash windows or pull weeds or do something stupid. She was all over my old man last night about how I don’t do anything around the house, and she’s been looking around all morning trying to think of something.”
“Roberto!” his mother called from inside the house.
“Haul ass!” Roberto took off, and Adam followed. They sped down the block, turned the corner, and didn’t stop until they were out of hearing range. They were both laughing and breathing heavily, but Adam’s laughter was tinged with sadness as he realized that in a few more weeks he would not be able to hang out with Roberto anymore, would not be able to rescue him from the hell of household chores, and his amusement faded much faster than his friend’s.
“Let’s check out the AM/PM,” Roberto said. “The new Marvel cards should be in.”
Adam nodded his agreement. “All right.”
They walked through the neighborhood, cut through an alley, and headed down busy Paramount Boulevard to the gas station mini-mart. Roberto found a plastic spider on the ground next to a sewer grating, and Adam found a quarter in the coin return slot of a pay phone, and they both agreed that this was turning out to be a fine day.
At the AM/PM, they walked straight to the trading cards rack. The new Marvel cards had indeed arrived, and the two of them pooled their money and bought five packs. Adam was the Spiderman fan, so all Spidey cards automatically went to him. There were four this time, so Roberto got four choices from the remaining cards, and they divided up the rest on a one-for-you-and-one-for-me basis.
They were walking slowly past the pumps, back out to Paramount, sorting through their cards, when Adam told him.
“What?” Roberto stopped walking and looked dumbly over at him as though his ears and brain had somehow mistranslated what had been said.
“My parents bought a house in some small town in Arizona. That’s where my dad’s from. Ever since he won the lottery and quit his job he’s been lost. He doesn’t have anything to do. He doesn’t know what he wants to do. So he decided to try to recapture his childhood or something and he dragged my mom out to Arizona and they bought a house out there and now they’re going to force us to uproot our lives and take off and live in the middle of the desert.” The words spilled out in a torrent, with barely a pause between sentences, and Adam realized that he had a lump in his throat and was very close to crying.
Roberto was silent.
They looked around at the building, at the cars, at the pumps, at the street, at everything but each other, both of them too embarrassed to acknowledge what they were feeling.
“Shit,” Roberto said finally.
Adam cleared his throat, starting to say something, then thought better of it.
“I never said anything against your old man, you know. Even after everything you told me, I always thought he was pretty cool. But, Ad Man, your dad’s an asshole.”
Adam nodded miserably.
There was a horn honk behind them. Adam jumped, turning around to see a mustached man in a beat-up Chevy waving them away from the gas pumps. “You’re blocking my way!” he yelled.
Adam followed Roberto out to the sidewalk. “You can come out and visit,” he said. “You could stay for, like, a week or two. Have your mom and dad pick you up. If it’s all right with them,” he added.
“Or you could come back here. Stay with us.”
Adam smiled. “Even better.”
Roberto shook his head. “Arizona, huh?”
“It’s gonna be tough, man. You’ll have to go to an all-new school, have to meet new people, make friends. Probably everyone there’s known each other since birth, so you’ll be an outsider. Big ol’ hillbilly kids’ll kick your ass for no reason.”
Adam hadn’t thought of that.
“There’ll be nothing to do but watch TV and stare out at the cactus.”
“I’ll tell ’em I’m a major surfer from California. They’ve probably never even seen an ocean. What do they know? I’ll lie my way to the top of the school.”
Roberto smiled. “There are some possibilities there.”
They were both silent as they started to walk back toward the neighborhood. It was going to be as tough for Roberto, Adam knew, as it would be for him. He was Roberto’s best friend, and Roberto would have to find someone new to hang with, too.
They were both depressed as they headed down the alley.
Adam looked over at his friend. “You gotta write to me, man. You gotta keep me up on current events, tell me what’s going on in the real world so I don’t turn into some inbred Jed.”
“I will,” Roberto promised. “I’ll write to you, like, once a week. And I’ll put in a new Spidey card every time.”
Adam tried to smile. “Yeah. That’s cool.”
“They probably don’t have ’em out there.”
But Roberto wasn’t much of a writer, he knew. His friend might send a letter or two the first couple weeks, but that would taper off as he found some new best friend, and probably by the time school started there wouldn’t be any letters at all.
Once his family moved, he might never see Roberto again.
He tried to imagine what his friend would be like in ten years, what kind of job he’d have, whether or not he’d go to college. Would Roberto’s life turn out differently because he wasn’t there with him? Would
life turn out differently? They were good influences on each other, Roberto’s mom had always said. Maybe their new friends wouldn’t have as much influence, wouldn’t be as good.
Roberto cleared his throat, looked away. “You’ll still be my best friend,” he said embarrassedly.
“Yeah,” Adam said.
He wiped his eyes, and tried to tell himself that they were only watering because of the smog.2
In her dream, Gregory was a little boy again. He was standing on the steps of the old church in Arizona, staring down at what looked like the dead body of a deformed child. Wind was blowing, a strong wind, kicking up dust, and there were shapes in the dust, vague, dark outlines that resembled the small, twisted body on the steps.
She herself was a viewer of this scene but not a participant in it, and though she wanted to call out to her son, wanted to yell for Gregory to get away from the body and run into the church, she could only stand there and watch as he bent down and tentatively touched the figure’s face.
The wind instantly grew stronger, and the deformed child lurched to its feet. She saw unnaturally short legs and unnaturally long arms, a tilted head that was far too large for the supporting neck and was of a disturbingly peculiar shape. Gregory backed up, backed away, but he was already changing, his head enlarging, his arms lengthening, his legs shriveling, and in a few brief seconds, he became the identical twin of the malformed child before him. He screamed, a piercing cry that carried over the howling wind, and then the blowing dust obscured them both, fading them into the vague shapes that were hovering behind the curtain of sand.
She awoke drenched with sweat.
She sat up, breathing heavily, a muffled pain in her chest. She did not know what this dream meant, but it did not bode well and it frightened her. Closing her eyes again, she folded her hands, bent her head.
hey followed the moving van, making quick stops only for gas and pee breaks. Gregory didn’t trust movers on general principle, and he wasn’t about to let these jokers out of his sight. They looked like men even a carnival wouldn’t hire. The kids had been moaning and complaining since Phoenix, begging to stop at McDonald’s or Taco Bell or some other fast-food place for lunch, but he told them to eat the pretzels and chips they’d brought along.
They sped through Tucson, headed east toward Wilcox.
The night before last, they’d had a going-away party with all of their friends and family, a big blowout at Debbie and John’s that had spilled back to their own house, the revelers sitting on packed boxes and the floor, drinking out of paper cups placed on the empty kitchen counter. Julia had ended up crying most of the evening, hugging people and promising to keep in touch, accepting invitations to stay at various homes on the promised frequent Southern California vacations, issuing invitations to all and sundry to visit them in Arizona, but he himself had not teared up at all. He’d been more excited than sad, looking more toward the future than the past, and that forward-looking optimism still held. He felt good driving across the desert, and despite the kids’ complaints and Julia’s sagging spirits, he felt happy. They were getting a new start, their future was bright and wide open, and they had the freedom to do whatever the hell they wanted.
God bless the lottery.
They’d bought a new vehicle for the trip, a Dodge van, and it was nice to experience a smooth ride, air-conditioning that actually worked, and a state-of-the-art radio/cassette/CD player. He’d grown used to the tepid air-conditioning and rough-and-ragged suspension of the old Ford, and the striking contrast between the two vehicles made the van’s pleasures that much more enjoyable.
He glanced in the rearview mirror, saw Sasha reading a Dean Koontz book, Adam and Teo playing Old Maid. Behind them, in the backseat of the van, his mother stared straight ahead. Her eyes met his in the mirror, and she favored him with a slight smile.
He smiled back.
His mother was with them on a trial basis. She’d brought her clothes and Bible and a few other necessities, but she had not even tried to sell her house, her furniture was still safely in place inside the home, and she reserved the right to return at any time. As he’d expected, as he’d known, she was not really enthused about leaving her friends and her church and the rest of her family, but she did seem to recognize that she was not as young as she once had been, and since he was her only son, she’d agreed to come. On some level, she seemed to realize that she was more dependent on him than she was ordinarily willing to admit, and he was encouraged by the fact that her love for her family appeared to be stronger than her ties to the Molokan community.