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Authors: Lauren Sabel

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BOOK: Vivian Divine Is Dead
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Chapter Thirteen

I’
VE BEEN HIKING UPHILL A
couple of hours now, away from Scars and (hopefully) toward Rosales. But my head is aching, and it turns out that hiking isn’t anything like the Outdoor Channel says it is.

There aren’t any spectacular vistas to look off into the horizon and I haven’t seen any perfectly placed boulders or pretty wildflowers. There are just crabby bushes that scratch my ankles when I walk past them, scary moving bodies under rocks, boulders that slide when I step on them. I’m grimy and my legs hurt and sweat drips into my mouth, and my jeans are so hot I want to tear them off my body, but they’re stuck to me like a layer of skin.

See that mountain?
I hear Nick say.
Rosales is at the very top
. I force myself to keep climbing rock over rock, trying not to stare into the late-morning sun.
If Nick’s dead, it’s my fault
. Guilt slides over me, sticky and wet as tar.
Don’t think about it or you’ll die right here, alone, on this mountainside.

I’ve slowed my walk to almost a crawl when I reach a dirt road. The road is empty and silent, like no one’s driven on it in years. The only car in sight is a yellow truck, lying fifty feet down the steep embankment. The front teeters precariously over the brink, a drop of hundreds of feet.
That’s the mariachi band’s truck.

I step off the road and walk down the steep hill toward it. Even though a cool wind is picking up, I feel hotter than ever. Up close, the blue tarp is pocked with bullet holes. The windshield is crushed in, and the driver’s seat is wet with a dark stain.

What happened to the little girl? The mariachi band? Is it my fault?
I’m staggering backward, my knees shaking uncontrollably, when I hear a wounded crying. Even though every bone in my body doesn’t want to do it, I follow the sound to the truck bed. The lamb is in there, wrapped in a tight ball.

“Honey?”

Bleating a low cry, Honey rises to his shaky legs and pulls himself down the truck bed toward me. When he gets to the open gate, he falls off the side and smashes into the ground.
Walk away, Vivian. You can’t save him.
I slowly back up, and Honey climbs to his feet and tries to follow me, but his legs are shaking, and he crumples face-first into the dirt.
I can’t just leave him here to die.

I slowly lower my hands to the ground. “Please don’t bite me,” I say as I wrap my hands under his belly and lift him up. He cradles his head against my chest as I cross the road and walk up into the mountains. I don’t look back.

 

By now my legs are so tired I’m stumbling. I’ve put Honey down only once so he could drink water from a stream, and my arms ache from wrist to shoulder from carrying him. Even counting all-night film shoots, I don’t think I’ve ever been this exhausted, but my mind is still wide awake.
I’ll reach Rosales soon. Roberto will take me to the safe house, and we’ll look for Nick. I have to find him.
And then, for the thousandth time, my mind tortures me with how much I wish Nick were still here, but more than anything, how I wish I could call Mom, and have her tell me how everything will be okay, and that I have a whole story left to write. But here on the deserted mountainside, it feels like my story’s ending.
It’s a story with a tragic ending, one where the heroine starves to death on the side of a mountain, all alone, with only a lamb to keep her company.

I wonder if Pierre misses me, and if Dad is frantically searching for me, or if he hasn’t even noticed I’m gone. I wonder what happened to the girl I was before Mom died, and if I’ll ever get her back. Even though it’s only been six months, I can hardly remember who that girl was.

How can so much change in so little time?
My head starts to feel heavy, and my legs stick like magnets to the ground
. I can’t go on. I’m too tired.
Once again, I wish I were the person Mom thought I was: strong, capable of anything
. I can’t even build a fire or find food to save my life.
I realize that Nick was right about me: I’m just a spoiled princess who needs someone else to save her.
And that’s all I’ll ever be.

I’m not paying attention to where I’m going anymore, just up, up, up. But as I come over another small hill, I’m startled back to reality by two mangy dogs, eating a long, furry carcass.
The feral dogs are what you really have to watch out for,
I remember Nick saying.
They’re everywhere, and a pack of them will rip you to shreds.
Stifling tears, I back up as slowly as I can, nestling Honey tightly to me.
I wish Nick were here. He’d know what to do.
I try to picture the beach, my favorite café, anything—but it’s no use. I keep seeing myself being eaten by hungry animals.
I’m going to die all alone out here, torn to pieces by wild beasts.

Suddenly Honey thrashes in my arms, and then he starts squealing the highest pitched squeal I’ve ever heard. The dogs look up from the bloody carcass, and as I slowly stumble backward, they crouch down and stalk toward me, growling. I retreat until my back is against a jagged cliff wall, Honey squealing louder and louder every second, and I can’t stop thinking that years from now, someone will find my leg bone or elbow joint, and DNA will prove it was me.
The missing child star?
they’ll say.
Vivian who?

The boom of a shotgun rattles through the cliff behind me, and the dogs take off running. Then someone jumps onto the ground in front of me, trapping me against the cliff. News headlines of people being tortured to death fill my mind:
Vivian Divine was found with her fingernails pulled out. Body intact, head a mile away.

For a moment there is only silence as she stares at me. Then tears gather in the folds of her gigantic black eyes, and her lips form a word I’ve never heard before. “Paloma?” she asks, and then, as if she’s just seen me, she draws back, her face solid as petrified wood. “No,” she says quietly to herself.

I shake my head, wishing I were whoever she thought I was.
She’s gonna leave now. I’m gonna die at the jaws of rabid beasts.
But she doesn’t leave. Her face cracks in pain, and I see the wrong girl reflected in her eyes. She takes Honey, and then pulls me up and wraps me tenderly in her arms. I break into loud, gasping tears, thankful she didn’t leave me to get torn to shreds by wild dogs. The woman cradles my face against her shoulder.


Ay
dios
,” she sighs.

I’m numb all over. She puts her arm around me and leads me up the rocky hillside.

Chapter Fourteen

T
HE SUN IS ALMOST SETTING
over the mountain when we reach the woman’s house. The smell of ammonia smothers me and chickens shriek, loud enough to make my skin crawl.


No tengas miedo
,” the woman says, leading me away from the chickens to a small concrete house. She points to a rusted folding chair just outside the door, and I sit down gratefully as she places Honey back in my arms. He baas at me, and I kiss the top of his head, then rub my lips against the back of my hand, wondering what diseases I just contracted from his dirty fur.


¿Hablas inglés?
” the woman asks me.

I nod, and then I hear the angels sing. They sound like this:

“I speak English,” she says, and although her Mexican accent is thick, and the last word sounds like Engl
ee
sh, I can understand her just fine.

A smile breaks over my face. “Where did you learn English?”

“My sister taught me.”

“Is she here?”

“She’s dead.” She disappears into the house, returning quickly with a bowl of leaves and a bottle of rubbing alcohol. “We need to clean those wounds before they get infected,” she says. “Just hold your breath.” Before I can ask why, she rubs alcohol on my skinned knees poking out of my jeans, and they burn like they’re on fire. I bite my lip so hard I taste blood. Just when I think the pain’s never going to end, she coats my knees with the wet leaves, and the pain disappears immediately. “Aloe,” she says. “Helps with the healing.”

“Thank you,” I say, releasing the grip on my bottom lip and hoping she doesn’t douse that in alcohol too.

“What’s your name?”

“Ines.” As the lie rolls off my tongue, I remember when Nick first asked my name on the bus, and how he stopped calling me princess, without me even noticing.
But where is he now? Is he even alive?

“I’m Isabel,” she says. “You’re lucky I heard you screaming. What were you doing out there anyway? Those feral dogs would’ve killed you.”

I squeeze my hands into fists to keep them from shaking. “I’m on my way to Rosales,” I say, “to meet my uncle.”

“For the Day of the Dead?”

That thing again.
I nod.

“Well, you sure got lost. That’s several hours away,” Isabel says. “But let’s get you inside, and then we can talk some more.”

 

Isabel’s house is just a square block of concrete, divided into four equal sections by four fading black sheets. It looks like it’s been staged for a commercial, the ones promising a dollar a day will save a child.

In the middle of the tiny front room is a wood fire. A tin bucket boils in the blue part of the flame, pale chicken legs flopping out the sides, and a covered ceramic bowl is nestled in the fire beside it. Around the fire, there’s a small folding table, two plastic chairs, and a basket of chopped wood.

It takes all my energy not to look shocked.
People really live like this?

At my house, the kitchen has its own wing, with a walk-in freezer and a temperature-controlled wine cellar. It’s so far away from my room you have to scream for anyone to hear you. The memory of my pink bedroom and the life I left behind prickles through my bones and raises goose bumps on my skin. It feels like I’ve been gone for years, not days.
Will I ever find Isla Rosales, Roberto, the safe house? Will I ever get to go home?
I glance around the strange little room again, the sides closed in by faded black sheets, and a shiver courses through my body.

“You must be hungry.” Isabel pulls a chair inches from the flames. “Sit here and eat.” She scoops brown goop from a ceramic bowl on the fire. “Chicken in
mole negra
.”

With a grateful nod, I stuff a hunk of chicken covered in mud into my mouth. It tastes like a melted Snickers bar with a smoky, spicy ending.

Isabel makes a bed for Honey near the fire out of ratty blankets, and he lies down and shuts his eyes. “I’ll get you some clean clothes,” she says, pushing the sheet aside and grabbing something from the other room. “Try this,” Isabel says, handing me a white cotton dress and then disappearing through the black sheet.

“Thanks.” My teeth are chattering as I pull off my clothes and step into the dress, which fits perfectly. I sit down and let the heat from the fire surround me, seeping up my legs, warming chilled bones I didn’t know I had.
And my God, does it feel good.
“Yessss.” I sigh, letting the heat seep through the cracks in my toes, under my armpits, around my freezing cold ribs.
Ahhh, bliss
.

Besides the crackling of the fire, there’s this dreamy silence, the kind of “on the moon” feeling you only get before you fall asleep. I imagine Nick’s arms around me, nestling my head into his strong chest . . .
Don’t think about him.
I breathe deeply, feeling air fill my lungs and clear my head.
Maybe Isabel will help me find Roberto, and he’ll find Nick.
I see Mary’s note in my mind, and I grasp on to it like it’s my last bit of sanity:
Take any ferry to Isla Rosales. Roberto will meet you on the dock. He’ll be wearing a cowboy hat.
I sink deeper into the warmth of the fire, my muscles slowly relaxing, letting the heat play over my face.
Roberto will know what to do.

My head drops to my chest, and I let my eyelids close. I’m drifting in and out of a drowsy, peaceful sleep when I hear Isabel’s voice float toward me, her syllables curving around unfamiliar words.

“What’d you say?” I ask.

The talking stops. There’s a brief silence, then somebody answers back.

Somebody besides Isabel.

Is there someone else here?
My eyes snap open, but I can’t see past the black sheets closing me in on three sides.
Anybody could be back there. What was I thinking?
This strange house in the middle of nowhere, the kind woman who takes me in for no reason—how could I fall for this? I’m totally in the part of the horror film where the innocent girl walks into the killer’s house while the audience yells, “Run away!” at the screen. “Isabel? Is there someone else here?” I ask, jumping to my feet.

“Just Abuelita,” Isabel says, pushing the sheet aside, and yelling, “Abuelita!” loud enough to wake the dead. “My grandmother’s partly deaf. Come with me.”

When I step through the black sheet into the other room, the oldest woman I’ve ever seen is crouching behind an antique loom, the kind you’d see in a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. When she sees me, she pulls her hands out of a bucket filled with blue liquid. It smells like something is rotting, and I hope it’s not her.

Trying not to hold my nose, I ask, “What is that?”

“Indigo dye. Abuelita’s the best weaver in the region,” Isabel says, pointing to the loom. “People come from all over Mexico for portraits of their families, of the saints.” Her voice brims with pride. “We make especially good business during the Day of the Dead, when rich people want portraits for their altars.”


Angelita
,” the old woman murmurs, pulling her hands out of the bucket, her fingers dyed blue from mixing indigo. She doesn’t bother to wipe them on her apron, just reaches up and traces the blue dye onto my face.
“Siéntate, angelita
.

“What’s an
angelita
?” I ask Isabel, staring at Abuelita’s eyes. They’re blue with lines of white cracks, like the edges of worn floor tile.

“Abuelita’s old. She’s talking nonsense.” Isabel shrugs. She hands Abuelita a towel to wipe her hands, but Abuelita waves it away, her eyes focused on my face.

“Why do you say that?” I ask, taking the towel and wiping the indigo off my cheek.

“Because she called you an
angelita
. But an
angelita
is a dead child.”

 

“Are you okay?” Isabel asks, leading me back through the curtain and settling my shivering body by the fire. She wraps a thick cotton shawl around me, but it doesn’t help: I’m cold
inside.

“Uh-huh,” I reply. But I’m not okay. I’m terrified that Abuelita can see my future, can sense what’s coming. “Is Abuelita a psychic?” I ask. Isabel looks at me strangely. In my world that’s not a weird question. Mom visited dozens of psychics on Hollywood Boulevard to commune with the universe, although none of them predicted her death. Personally, I don’t believe in psychic power, but Mom believed that everyone has some power, like people who know who’s calling before they pick up the phone. She called that latent power. I don’t have it. Things always surprise me, like a blow to the head.

“Psychic?” Isabel doesn’t seem to know the word in English. She turns it over on her tongue, like a particularly unpleasant candy.

“Fortune-teller?” I make the image of a glass ball with my hands.

“No,” she says sternly. “Only God knows the future.”

Here’s one thing I hate: awkward silences. I’ll take fake compliments and knife-edged air-kisses over them any day. “So . . . um . . . I want to thank you,” I stutter, “for saving me out there.”

“It was nothing,” Isabel says.

Nothing?
I beg to differ. Where I come from, helping an old lady across the street is a stretch, but taking someone into your home? Unthinkable.

“Many people get lost out here, mostly tourists following the monarchs,” Isabel says. “Since I’m the only one on this side of the mountain, I keep an eye out for people who need help.”

People who need help. Like me.
I never thought I’d be someone who “needed help.” But Isabel’s fed me, clothed me, bandaged my wounds.
What would I do if I found a bleeding girl outside my house? Call the police? Scream bloody murder? Certainly not invite her in and give her my new dress.

I’m ashamed of myself, thinking that I’m putting her in danger. I try to swallow the lump that’s building in my throat, but I can’t. The priest was right; I’m a danger to everyone around me.

My mind strays back to Nick—his teasing grin, his shaggy black hair, the way his arms fit around me like a life jacket, keeping me afloat. But then I picture the empty space on the dirt road, and pain rips across my chest.

“I should go,” I say, getting up from my chair.

Isabel looks at me in confusion. “But there’s nowhere to go. The nearest village is ten kilometers away. Besides, most of the villagers already left for the cemetery, or are leaving in a few hours, like me.”

That stops me. “Why the cemetery?”

“Because tomorrow the dead come home.”

The dead come home?
Despite the heat from the fire, a shiver trembles through my body, and I drop back into my chair.
But the dead can’t come home—only the undead.
There are very few things that scare me as much as the undead. After starring in
Zombie Killer
as a young girl who kills half of America’s undead, I couldn’t sleep for weeks. On set, zombies crawled out of tombs and dug up graves, bleeding from the mouth. At home, they lived under my bed, fangs dripping with human flesh, waiting for my tiny ankle to slip to the floor.

“You mean the undead? Like zombies?” I ask, studying Isabel’s face to make sure she’s joking.


¿Zombi?
No.
Almas
. The spirits of people who’ve died.” She stirs the chicken in the tin bucket; its legs spin round and round. “That’s why Abuelita called you an
angelita
. She’s old, and she gets confused sometimes. And since you’re wearing Paloma’s dress,” Isabel says sadly, “she thinks that you’re Paloma, back for the Day of the Dead.”

“Who?”

“My niece. Six months ago, she disappeared.”

BOOK: Vivian Divine Is Dead
8.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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