Coeur d’Alene — Prologue

Prologue

AUGUST

1988

 


The girl felt hope leave her as the road went dark. Night lapped across the valley and seeped over the mountains, an approaching tide. She turned her head and saw a light far away on the hill. Even as she looked, it faded into the depths. The darkness would swallow her.

Ahead of the car were only acres of water, an emptiness that roiled slowly against the forest and the mountains. She rolled the syllables around in her mouth, a name her father had taught her: Lake Coeur d’Alene.

Her father was gone. And when she peeked into the front seat, all she could see were the strange pair of muscled shoulders soiled with dirty ink, a blue-black smear.

She closed her eyes, willing this strange man to go away. She tried to go to sleep, tried to pretend that none of this had happened. But even as she closed her eyes, she remembered seeing him for the first time.

That afternoon, the man opened the car door quietly, as if he did not want anyone to see him. At first, she wondered if it were someone she should know, the man her momma talked about, the one who would come to get them both someday. But when she saw this man’s shoulders, she knew immediately this was not anyone she knew. This man had bent dragons written all over him, his skin was dirty as sin.

Heat waves vibrated up from the pavement, blurring the entrance of the building her father had entered. The dirty man looked around the parking lot quickly and then ran his hand over the steering wheel, finding the keys right where her father had left them. The girl watched the man with her eyes slit nearly shut, willing him not to get into the car.

But he did get in. He swung a small knapsack and a rolled-up sleeping bag onto the seat next to him and slammed the car door closed. He didn’t even look in the back seat, it was as if it already belonged to him. Then he turned the key. No one came out of the building.

 

In the back seat, the girl slid down to the floor. She pulled the yellow blanket over her and gripped her doll tight in her free hand. She imagined that she was invisible with her eyes shut, that no one could see her there, curled up next to her doll. She imagined that when she opened her eyes, her father would be sitting in the front seat. She would climb over the seat to sit beside him and watch the road.

Then, a few minutes after the dirty man drove the car away, her father’s cell phone rang loudly, a penetrating series of beeps.

God dammit to hell! The car swerved as the man pushed papers aside, trying to find the phone. As he lifted it up to his ear, the dirty man glanced in the rear view mirror, as if examining her under a microscope. His eyes saw her tennis shoes first, and then caught the edge of her dress at the top of the blanket, and then jumped up to lock on her face.

Yeah, I took her, he said. So you ready to give it up? You aren’t fuckin’ with me anymore, are you? Then he hung up. After he was done with the phone, he reached in the backseat, and pulled her over, gripping the girl’s hand sideways in a lopsided hold, hard enough to hurt. Numbly, she tried to straighten herself out on the seat.

Then the dirty man opened the car window, he began to throw her father’s books outside. His muscles clenched and moved tightly on each book.

Behind the blue car was a litter of broken things, her daddy’s church things. Quickly, she placed her doll in the gap between the seat and the window, pushing down until the doll’s face disappeared from sight. She looked behind the car and saw the books falling. She imagined herself falling to the road, her skin ripping open like a book cover, the thin tissue inside tearing like pages against the black tar road.

Without warning, he spoke to her. You ever been underground?

She thought of worms and bugs. Dirt. She shook her head, but he was still talking.

– it get into your skin and your mouth, an’ you never get it off, you got that shit coming out of your pores for fuckin’ ever. You go underground, you’d know.

No, said the girl tremulously. No, I’ve never been underground.

The blackened chain around his neck bounced towards her, the red thing hanging on it like something alive. It’s hot too, y’know – it’s hot ten thousand feet underground, like you’re a little nearer to hell, it’s like you gonna suffocate in some big womb.

An’ the air blast comes rushing in like a freight train – that motherfucker is like fuckin’ demon breath. He shuddered and slapped the wheel with the flat of his hand.

I don’t want to go underground, she replied.

Nervously, she stared outside. There was only an infinite blur of motion. Fragments caught by the roaming headlights: wiry bushes, the outline of trees, pieces of light poles and old road signs. She began to count the poles, but they went by so fast she lost track. The lights in the distant houses fluttered by like anxious moths, melting into the night.

 

 

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