Chapter Ten: The Missing
“I wonder if she’s still alive.” Mariah was stretched out on the dirt floor, her arms crossed behind her head. “I wonder why he didn’t bring her here. He can’t have thought that someone was onto him, could he?”
“After another of our little parties maybe he’s scared to. Maybe he’s scared of having another one of us around.” Crazy Girl cackled, and then grew serious. “How do we even know there was another girl?”
“You mean that it could have been a boy this time?” Both girls laughed at this. Mariah’s remark wasn’t funny; but taken in context by the ghosts of two dead girls there was a sort of ghastly humor in it. Neither could accept their situation; but since nothing could change it, they saw the world from their own perspective.
“I hope she’s alive,” said Mariah solemnly, “He doesn’t deserve, he doesn’t have the right, to kill again. He didn’t have the right to kill us. I don’t want another girl to suffer what he put me through, what he put you through. He’s a sadist and he enjoys making people suffer.”
“Not much we can do to stop him if she’s already dead. If she’s alive the only chance she has is if someone finds her. Maybe your boy toy and his friends…”
“He’s not my ‘boy toy’, he’s not my anything. After what he did to me, I don’t want to see him again—ever. I didn’t deserve that.”
“Girl when are you going to get over that and forgive it? That poor white boy banged his head so hard he wound up in the hospital with a concussion. He’s lucky he’s alive. I bet his dreams are still crazy. And I bet he hasn’t forgiven himself for what you said he did. For Christ’s sake, he’s in love, crazy in love with you, even though he shouldn’t be.”
“One of these days we may escape this basement. I lived with my grandma for a while and she used to make me go to church with her. I may not have got much from it, but I learned about forgiveness and letting go. We’re the reason we’re down here, stuck in this nasty old basement because we haven’t let go. We’re our own prisoners because we won’t let go of this place.”
Mariah sat up and gave Crazy Girl a hard look. “You’re saying we should forgive this creep for what he did to us? Now that makes a lot of sense,” she added sarcastically.
Crazy Girl shook her head. “No, I’m saying that when the day comes that we’re willing to let go and just accept it will be the day we free ourselves. I see that white light sometimes, but you need me to take care of you. And maybe that’s why you’re staying away from white boy—you know that someday you’ll have to let go, too. He’s alive, you’re dead, and some day you’re going to have to let him go so he can live his life.”
“Look, he loves you, you love him, but it can’t last. And that’s why you need to give him a chance to ask your forgiveness. You don’t know how much time you have left, Mariah. Why waste it being bitter when there is someone out there who loves you the way he does?”
“Never figured you for a church lady before, and I definitely didn’t expect a forgiveness lecture from you.” Mariah chuckled. “Maybe you’re right.” Suddenly she was crying, though no tears flowed down her cheeks. “He’s the first boy I ever loved, the only boy I’ll ever get to love, and I don’t want to lose him.”
Suddenly, Crazy Girl floated over to the window. “Did you hear that? I could have sworn I heard something.
“Hear what?” Mariah drifted over to her and the girls strained to see through the dirty glass. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“Let’s check it out. Something’s not right. He’s upstairs asleep, but I heard footsteps outside, I swear it. I think we got company.” Crazy Girl vanished, leaving Mariah alone.
After Dewey shut the door behind him, he paused for a moment before straightening his cap and slipped his arms through the straps of his backpack. He didn’t feel up to this errand that Mike was sending him on. He figured he had two choices: either check out the house and tell Mike what he saw, or not check out the house and pretend that he did, and say he saw nothing.
The second alternative would have been the easy way out, but he didn’t like to lie. He’d learned that people who tended to be truthful either got caught in the lies they told, or were believed precisely because they were known for telling the truth. Dewey fell into the second group, and wasn’t exactly proud of it. It eased his conscious somewhat to know that he’d lied very few times in his life. He preferred telling the truth.
He heaved a sigh and started up the street. He was going to have to pass the house no matter what. Right now he resented Mike for laying this obligation on him. Ever since Mike had revealed the secret of the ghost girl to him, he’d been able to make sense of his friend’s odd behavior. If he didn’t know Mike, he’d have thought he was some sort of flake, but that just wasn’t Mike.
He didn’t like this new development, though, didn’t like what he was being dragged into; but a part of him, albeit small, was intrigued in spite of himself. The things that were happening to Mike challenged all of his beliefs and were forcing open a crack in the comfortable, rational world he had been taught existed. Now he might find out that his parents did not know all of the truth, that the world did not always make sense.
And another truth nagged at him—what if he got caught? What if whoever lived there came out of the house and saw him? He was taller than Mike, worked out in the weight room at their school, and was fairly strong for his size and age. He also had his skateboard, which he would use as a weapon if he had a chance. The odds were that he would be okay, he figured he could tell if it was safe to check the garage, but why was he hesitant?
Dewey passed the first house, then the second, then his reluctant feet dragged him further and he found himself standing in front of the old grey house with the foxglove poking out of its gutters.
Mike hadn’t really prepared him for what stood in front of him. Two tall firs, old and wide of girth, stood in front of the house like sentinels. Two windows, their glass with curtains of plain cloth stared out at him like the empty eyes of a corpse. The gutters sagged badly, and the yard had not been mowed for weeks or maybe even months. Weeds mingled with blackberries and tall grass. The overall effect was one of decay. “This house is dying,” he thought as he stood and stared. He wanted to walk past, wanted to put the house behind him, but something compelled him to look further. To his left was a piece of broken fence that had once been attached to the house, but to his right was a dirt driveway. He could see tire tracks leading somewhere towards the back of the house. They were not fresh, but neither were they old.
Now it was becoming real. The missing girl. The possibilities that perhaps this house held secrets too awful to contemplate. Compulsion drove him to walk carefully up the driveway, avoiding the tire tracks, not wanting to destroy them. Now he felt almost eager to get a glimpse of the garage Mike had spoken of. He did not commit himself to inspecting the garage to see if the van was there. He wanted only to see, but did not know if he was ready to see too much.
One foot in front of the other. One step at a time. I can do this, this is no big deal, I’ll just go far enough to see the garage and then I’m getting out of here. I can still make the bus, there’s plenty of time. I’ll look at the garage and then I’ll leave and never come back. That’s as much as I’ll do and no more. Mike can’t ask any more of me than what I can do.
His reluctant feet were growing closer to the garage. Suddenly, not ten feet in front of him, he suddenly saw an African-American girl. She seemed flesh and blood, but something about her was wrong. One side of her head seemed flattened, and her long black cornrows were matted and tangled. She stared at him with cold black eyes, then turned around and walked towards the garage and vanished.
Dewey’s feet seemed rooted to the ground. He wanted to turn and run, but could not seem to move. Nothing Mike had told him had prepared him for this. This was so far out of his experience that his mind had no place to put it, no way to truly understand it. His heart was pounding so hard it felt as if it were struggling to escape from his chest.
Then, noiselessly, the garage door opened just far enough for Dewey to see the lower part of the van. He had expected that the hinges would squeak noisily, had even worried that opening the door would disturb whoever was inside the house, but they made no sound. He was still frightened, but the open door was a siren song, luring him in. Against his better judgment he walked slowly towards the garage to have a better look.
There it was, just as Mike had said. A beat up maroon van that must have been out in the woods not too long ago. The tires were worn, but they matched the tread he had seen in the soft dirt of the driveway. “Leave Dewey, leave now,” he told himself, but curiosity trumped his fear.
He looked just long enough to see that mud spattered the license plate and there was more mud on the tires and in their treads. Mud covered half of the license plate, obscuring the letters and numbers. “All right, Mike,” he thought, “you’ve got what you want. But I’m outa here.” He whirled around to run down the driveway, only to see a girl standing almost within arm’s reach—far too close for his peace of mind.
Suddenly he knew. This was the girl. He would have recognized her even if it hadn’t been for Kit’s red jacket. Her piercing blue eyes looked straight into his and he felt an overwhelming sadness. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. Instead, he nodded his head and then ran past her and didn’t stop until he reached the bus stop, not pausing to see if she was still there or had vanished like the other.
Now he knew why the old Navajo, who had conducted the tour his family took at Canyon de Shelly, told them of the rituals their tribe performed to rid themselves of ghosts. When he got home he was going to jump in the shower and scrub and scrub and scrub until this experience had been washed off of him. He didn’t want to believe in ghosts, but now he had been confronted with a world he had denied all his life. He had been better off when he didn’t know that it existed, and part of him felt angry at Mike for opening up a door he would rather have remained closed.
Crazy Girl and Mariah stood in the middle of the driveway as they watched Dewey run to the safety of the sidewalk.
“So now he knows,” murmured Mariah.
“But I don’t think it’s gonna do him any good.” Crazy Girl took Mariah’s hand, “You still think this was the right thing?”
“If he doesn’t believe, how can he help Michael help us? We need Michael; Michael needs him, and the other one. We want out of that cellar, don’t we?”
“I already told you how we get out. Girl, you gonna make your boyfriend lose his friends, then where will he be? Where will you be? I think we should have left well enough alone.”
Mariah shrugged her shoulders, and they both vanished, leaving unanswered questions all around.
Dewey bounded up the steps of the bus, pausing only to pay his fare. He wanted to run to the back of the bus and hide his head. He could kick himself now for going to that house. He wanted to blame Mike, but he couldn’t. The choice to go had been his. He hadn’t promised Mike that he would, he’d only said he’d think about it.
Part of him felt sorry for Mike. A bigger part of him felt sorry for himself. He’d just seen things that he never dreamed existed. He just had proof that what he hadn’t believed in all his life really did exist. The worst part was that he had not been given a choice, the other world had all but slapped him in the face.
He pulled out his cell phone and punched the speed dial button for Mike’s number. He didn’t understand why, but he had to confront him. How Mike had been able to live with this all this time, he didn’t know. Now he understood why Mike had kept this secret.
Michael had been dozing when the sound of his cell phone ringing jerked him back to reality. He was still half asleep when he pushed the button and answered woozily, “Hello?”
“What the hell was that, Mike?” Dewey was struggling to keep his voice low when what he wanted to do was yell. “Those girls, who were they? What are they? Why did they…”
“Disappear?” Mike finished for him, “I told you, I warned you.”
“But you didn’t tell me that I’d see them!” He shouted, then lowered his voice when he saw the stares directed at him. “You just asked me to check out the garage.”
“I didn’t know that you’d see them, Dewey,” the conversation was making Michael’s head ache, “But if I had thought for a minute that you’d see either of them, I wouldn’t have asked you to go. But you what know what? I’m jealous.” Sick at heart was closer to the truth. Dewey had seen Mariah.
“Jealous, are you crazy? What do you mean, jealous? You’re not making sense.”
“Dewey, she appeared to you. To you. She’s mad at me and I haven’t seen her since that night in the hospital. So I’m jealous.”
Dewey heaved a sigh. “Mike, why didn’t you find yourself a real girl? A live one.” His conversation was drawing strange looks from the other passengers, but he was beyond caring. “Sometimes I wonder if hit you harder than you realized when your dad lost his job. But never mind that. I know what you really want to know, so here it is. There was mud on the car. If you ask me, it’s a good thing you have a concussion, it’s going to keep you from trying to do something really stupid.”
There was silence for a moment. “You’re right,” then Mike’s voice brightened, “Tell Molly I said ‘hi’ and that I’m hanging in there. Lying on this couch is driving me crazy. I want to go back to school and I want to get back on my skateboard.”
“I’ll tell her. I’ll call you tomorrow.” Both left the subject of Short Round unspoken.
Dewey hung up, and slouched down into his seat. His nice, neat, normal world had been shattered, but he no longer felt angry at Mike. He realized none of this was going away, much as he would like it to. He’d rather go back to believing that ghosts didn’t exist, except in people’s head, but his eyes had been opened, albeit reluctantly. He just wished that he could close his eyes and everything would return to normal and he could pretend that none of this happened.
“You wish,” a voice said inside his head.
Part Two: Summer