Smoke Girl

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Chapter Five: Rise

1.

Flames explode upward. Somewhere, Renee screams.

The world falls out from under me as the flames climb higher. Into a hill. Into a raging mountain. A volcano.

Alvin Gaffrey seizes my arm. He's solid. Real.

My breath flees me in little puffs of smoke. I can’t move. I’m frozen, my blood turned to ice.

His grip tightens and he pulls me away from the inferno. “Stand back, Jae.”

The air snaps. The world whooshes and blurs with heat I can't feel. Smoke curls and billows. The flames calm and the form of the cross returns, stabbing into the night. Smoke settles on the ground. It gathers, drawn back to the fire. The air stills.

Shapes form in the smoke.

They’re fuzzy at first, blobs of cotton drifting along the ground. But they grow, and white cloth swishes, hoods tower, and deep eye holes stare at Alvin Gaffrey. At me. I can't breathe. They're everywhere. In front of us. Behind us. We're enclosed in a ring with the blazing cross. Where is Renee? I see her nowhere. That's my only relief.

A pit forms inside me, one as deep as all the eye holes. More and more Klansmen appear from the smoke, rising from the ground like a giant infected scar has burst open.

No one speaks. They stare. A hundred strong, they stare. Fire casts their robes in a yellowish glow.

My heart flutters in my chest.

I’ve failed.

Alvin Gaffrey takes a bold step forward, shadowy robe flowing around him. He drags me along. My legs quiver. He raises his free hand in greeting as his voice thunders across the crowd. “My fellow Klansmen. Welcome.”

The figures in front of me shift around, looking at each other. Some flip their masks from their faces, revealing ordinary men and women who mutter to each other in confusion. They don’t know why they’re here, or how they got here.

“Order,” Alvin Gaffrey booms. “Listen.”

The chatter dies.

“We are gathered tonight to protect our cause and take back our future,” he says over the crackling of the fire. “I have seen it through the eyes of my grandson. Our country is on the brink of disaster. Foreigners are invading. They’re in our towns. Our businesses. Our children’s schools. They bring their infernal religions and ways of life with them."

Murmurs. Masks flip back down. My heart races faster, trying to escape. Where is Renee?

“Our families’ hearts are no longer with us.” His fingers dig into my skin. They’re cold daggers, sucking the life out of me. I feel woozy. I should give up. “They turn away from us as if we’re something to be ashamed of.” Alvin Gaffrey pauses as he peers at me out of the corner of his eye. “They side with the enemy. We must bring them back to the light.”

I can't fight against this anymore.

Mutters of agreement float out from under hoods and masks. They surround me.

I'm weak, a mere drop in a massive tide. I'm helpless to flow against it.

Alvin Gaffrey looks straight ahead. “Bring it here!"

I follow his gaze. The crowd parts before us.

Two figures in white robes approach from the direction of the house, masks down. One holds a folded white cloth, one with a red and white patch sewn on it. The red forms angry splotches like blood from a stab wound.

My stomach turns and I wake.

Alvin Gaffrey nods. He's not facing me.

I punch him as hard as I can with my free arm.

He flinches and his grip loosens. It's not much, but enough for me to break away.

"Jae!" Alvin Gaffrey booms. "What are you doing?"

I don't care. I just have to escape. I'm surrounded by white sheets. Firelight. Eye holes, all trained on me. I can't tell who is who. I don't want to. There's no opening for me to run through, for me to get away. Are they all solid?

A motor cuts into the crackling of the flames. People scream and dodge out of the way. A large shape bursts through the crowd, headlights gleaming. It stops two feet away. The flames from the cross reflect off the windshield, hiding whoever might be inside.

I don't care. I run for the car. A hand brushes the back of my shirt. I open the door and climb into the back.

The Grand Dragon’s voice cracks through the night. “Ted! Stop her!”

I close the car door and lock it. There's nothing outside except for robed figures, fire, and darkness.

Renee takes my arm. She breathes heavily and stares out the windows at the scene around her. Then I spot the driver. It's Ruba. Her mother's pineapple air freshener hangs from the rearview mirror. Beyond it, Alvin Gaffrey advances towards us, face molded into a scowl. Ruba's frozen, staring. She grips the steering wheel as the car idles.

"Go!" I yell, beating on the back of her seat.

She changes gears and we reverse through the crowd. The screams are muffled now, the smell of smoke lighter, less oppressive. Alvin Gaffrey disappears behind a moving wall of white robes. The last I see of him are his thick, bushy eyebrows. They're lowered in disgust. In hatred.

A small, scared part of me cheers.

Ruba swears, changes gears, and guns the car up through the yard and around the fire pit. Her car scrapes the metal cage and we leave it all behind, bouncing onto the driveway and screeching out onto the road.

2.

"Don't stop," I tell Ruba. "Please--just keep going. I don't care how far we have to drive."

That's all I can say once we're safely off my road. We've made a turn, and then another, and another. I think we're driving out past the old farm by now, the one that would always display that glowing star on its silo around Christmas. It's not there tonight, of course. It's all an expanse of darkness.

Ruba breathes heavily. She hasn't spoken. Neither has Renee. I look behind me to see if anyone is following. No headlights. We're okay for the moment, but I know Mom and Dad will want me back home. As soon as the flames die at home and the phantoms clear, they'll be calling the police. Or worse--they'll send something else in search of us. I don't want to think about it.

Ruba's cell phone rings and lights up in the drink holder. It's her mother. She doesn't pick up. The phone dies, and rings again. Ruba must have gone against her wishes to come out and check on me. She even took her mother's car instead of her own.

Is she looking straight ahead to concentrate on driving, or is she trying not to look at us?

At last, she speaks. "I...didn't know that was going on at your house, Jae." The tremor's apparent there in her words.

Yes. She's very freaked out.

"Thank you for getting us away from it." I check on Renee. She looks out the window, lost. "I owe you a huge hug as soon as we stop somewhere."

Alvin Gaffrey has released his followers.

He made my parents into--

Can anything stop him now?

Can I get them back?

He nearly made me into--

I'm never going to go to his side.

Ever.

Ruba clears her throat. "Those weren't spirits."

"They were."

"Ghosts wouldn't have moved out from in front of the car. I would have gone through them. And they rarely look solid when they manifest. There were just too many of them. One of them grabbed at the back of your shirt. I saw its fingers actually seize the fabric." She pauses like she's debating on what to say. "It was the one in the dark robe."

I shudder. Ruba doesn't want to say who it is. "He's dead. Trust me. Or, he was."

"So the dead are coming back to life?" Renee rises in pitch. "Is that why I saw them forming from the smoke like that? I thought I was only seeing things."

I silently thank her for backing me up. "Yes." My throat's dry. A lump grows inside. "Ruba--you have to believe us." I hate that I spent so much time trying to convince her that there was no such thing as this, that there was only one safe layer to the world that I see every day. Now that layer is gone and I'm not sure what is what anymore. "I don't know what exactly is bringing them back. It doesn't make any sense, but something has to be making all this happen. I mean, I know I must have released some energy or something when I...when I burned that stuff, but this?" I need answers.

Ruba doesn't have any.

I don't speak for the rest of the drive. At last, after what feels like hours, Ruba pulls into a gas station and parks on the side of the building. I don't know where we are. We might be in over in Venice or Stanton or some other town that Darnell plays during football season. There's a lone McDonald's sign and a closed car wash just down the street. Behind the window of the gas station, a young man in his twenties reads a magazine. If it wasn't for him, we'd be alone out here.

"Where are we?" I ask. "How far did we drive?"

"Half an hour," Ruba says. "We're in Hemlock Township. It doesn't look like a big town."

"No kidding," Renee says. We're all trying to avoid talking about the worst.

The silence hangs heavy. A car pulls up and a man pumps gas. He goes in, pays, comes back out and slams his car door shut. It punctuates the tension in the air.

I have to get out.

I walk up and down the side of the gas station. I want to punch the wall and kick the cooler that holds the ice bags and scream. Instead, I go inside and head into the bathroom. The guy says hi to me, but I ignore him.

I don't let the tears come until I make it into the bathroom and the door swings shut behind me. My hands splay out on the sink. I'm a mess. I can't let Renee see me like this. It's my job to give her all the answers now.

The thing is, I have no idea what to tell her.

Alvin Gaffrey took our parents away. He drove a dagger between us and them.

We can't see them unless we want to bend to his will and go to his side. Unless we want to help him unleash a new reign of terror. Mom and Dad couldn't resist his trap, disguised as sympathy and understanding and righteousness.

I have no money. Nothing at all to get us a hotel room for the night. I can't spend the night at Ruba's, either. Dad might search for us there. We'll have to remain out of town for who knows how long. But do my parents know about Marcee? I've never had her over at my house. We've just hung out at school and during the play, in safe places. Perhaps we can call her, if her parents will be okay with letting us stay the night.

A check of my pockets confirms that I only have a few coins in change. I plunge my hand into the other one. Something paper tries to cut into my palm.

My stomach flips.

It's one of the photos.

I pull it out. It's the one of the young girl in the robe, standing before matching adults. I'd forgotten about it, about shoving it into my pocket in the woods. Would it have made a difference if Alvin Gaffrey had burned this one? Released whatever energy is in it?

Maybe not, but I shove the picture back into my pocket, collect myself, and head out to the car.

3.

"Marcee--thanks."

Ruba, Renee and I climb in through her window. Marcee's parents have long gone to bed. It's evident from the darkness coming from under her closed door. But this isn't the kind to fear. The night here is tired and sleepy, the way it should be. A lava lamp glows in green on her desk, illuminating a poster of cute kittens.

"What's going on?" she hisses. "I heard that you, well--"

"That some horrible pictures fell out of my locker," I finish for her. "This might have to do with that. I found them in my attic and brought them with me so I could find a place to dump them. That whole album just happened to fall out in front of everyone."

Renee looks between us. "What are you guys talking about?"

She still doesn't know the whole truth. I want to keep it that way as much as possible. But soon, my sister will demand answers, answers that will hurt both of us for me to give.

Marcee sighs with relief. Before now, did she think that I brought that album to school for any reason other than to dispose of it? What speculation did she hear at school today? I don't see her at the end of the day, after all, so I never got the chance to clear the air. "Are you in trouble with your parents?"

"Sort of."

"It must be some major trouble."

Ruba looks at me. I can read the question in her gaze. Do you want me to tell her about it?

I give her a little nod, glad that she's going to take some of the burden from me. I can't bear to form the words, not even in my mind. Alvin Gaffrey made my parents join--

"I don't know if we should go to school tomorrow," I whisper. Someone's snoring somewhere in the house. "Any of us."

"I agree," Ruba says. "Your parents must know it was me who picked you up. If they find me, they can find you."

What if Renee and I can never go again? I can't stay here at Marcee's forever. Mom and Dad might call the police to look for us, or worse. Should I even stay in town?

We're quiet for some time. Marcee digs a sleeping bag from her closet and I let Renee take it. I want my sister asleep and away from this for a while. I know that I should sleep, too. Ruba and I will have to leave in the morning. I'm not sure how we'll explain being here to Marcee's parents.

What's next?

I don't want to say goodbye to my parents. I have to get them back and I have no idea how.

I lie down on one of Marcee's stuffed unicorns. The photo still in my pocket pokes into me, refusing to bend. It's the last one. The energy in all the others has been released, if Ruba is right about how hauntings work.

But what's in the photo of that unhappy little girl, made to wear that horrible robe? What's ready to emerge if Alvin Gaffrey gets his hands on it?

I roll over and I know.

Me.

4.

Despite the uncomfortable unicorn and my thoughts spinning into a maelstrom, I sleep.

I don't wake until someone's footsteps plod past Marcee's door.

I gasp and sit up. The lava lamp is still on, casting the room in a comforting green glow. A gray light comes in from the window. Shadows move past Marcee's closed door and continue down the hall. Next to me, Renee's still in a slumber, swaddled in the sleeping bag. Ruba sits up in Marcee's bean bag chair, head against the wall. She blinks and looks at me. I have the feeling she's remained awake the whole night.

One of Marcee's parents must be up.

It's time for us to go before we're discovered.

"Renee." I hate to wake her. "Renee--we need to go."

She grunts and rolls over.

"Sorry." A horrible sense of dread falls over me. Where are we going to go? I can't stay here and I can't stay at Ruba's. Dad might look for me there, so it's best if we avoid the place. "You have to get up."

And do I hold some kind of last hope in my pocket? Maybe, just maybe, Alvin Gaffrey can't completely come back until he's burned all the photos away.

Or can we run him out of town?

Almost no one here wants the Klan around anymore. Perhaps, if I can start some kind of resistance, we can somehow make him go away.

But what will people try to do to my parents? Or my sister and I? What if they think I'm involved with the wrong side? Alvin Gaffrey thinks similar things about Ruba's family. I have no reason to believe that I won't face the same judgment.

Someone could hurt my family. Or they could hurt someone else. I'm not sure what would kill me more.

But I can't sit by and not do anything. I'm not going to let Alvin Gaffrey win.

Marcee shifts in bed and sits up. "Morning."

Renee stands and the sleeping bag falls to the floor. "Morning." She blinks like she's not sure where she is. "Oh."

"Yes." I stretch. "Oh." I have to have a better answer than that. "We're going to go hang out at the library today. And there, we're going to come up with a plan."

5.

We skip school.

It's not like I have anything good waiting there for me. Not, at least, for a while. Ruba skips as well. I'm not sure if it's for me or if it's because she's just as afraid to return as I am.

Not only do I have to be worried about being found there, I have to worry about what everyone is going to do after the photo album fiasco yesterday. I have no good way to explain that to anyone, not without revealing more of the truth than I care to.

The three of us head into the library building and creep past the librarian, who's got her back turned and is searching the online book catalog for something. We choose a table in the dusty old microfilm room and take seats.

I have no idea what we're going to do. Renee taps her fingers on the table. I need a shower, since I was unable to take one at Marcee's. I want to be in my own room and my own bed. The thought of not being able to return there without falling under Alvin Gaffrey's spell sickens me. I'm an exile.

The light gets brighter on the floor of the library. Renee stops tapping her fingers. "So. What are we going to do? We can't stay away from home forever."

"I know we can't." I scan the cabinets of microfilms. There must be a wealth of information about the history of Darnell here--and the history of the very thing Alvin Gaffrey once led. Would any of it do me any good?

But if I look, Renee might discover exactly who that man in the black robe is. Does she realize yet? But she hasn't asked me about him, either. Deep down, she might already know and doesn't want to confront the truth.

"Renee," I say. "Why don't you go and check out the new book rack? I think they have some in of that series you like."

My sister glares at me. She doesn't want to feel unimportant in all of this.

"I mean, we're going to be sitting here bored until I figure out what we're going to do. Might as well pass the time. Don't sit by the front, though. We don't want the librarian asking why we're not in school." She's going to figure it out sooner or later. The librarian's going to walk through and shelve something eventually, and she'll find us back here. If I'm going to look anything up, it had better be now.

Renee's gaze softens. I hate to lie to her, but it's better if she's not here for this.

She vanishes up through the shelves and I sift through the microfilms. Ruba joins me. I'm not sure if I like her being there or not. I want to keep this under wraps.

We reach the twenties.

Nothing stands out at all up until June of 1923. I spot the first march through downtown Darnell, complete with the Coca-Cola sign above all the robed figures. Is this the same march I saw in the photo album? It sure looks like it.

"Wow," Ruba says. She grimaces. "I had no idea."

"I didn't want to have an idea." Heat rises, filling my cheeks. I flip through two more months. Nothing. I don't find anything else about the Klan until we reach September of 1924.

The familiar headline screams out at me.

250 Initiated at Klan Gathering. September 30, 1924.

"This is useless," I say scrolling away from the page before Ruba can read it. Next to me, she's gone very silent. I can sense her discomfort. Does she still believe that none of this is my fault?

I stare at an ancient ad for Vick's Vapo-Rub for an eternity. Ruba gets up to go use the bathroom.

"Careful," I tell her, more to get my mind off all of this than anything. "Watch out for the librarian."

I breathe out once she vanishes and continue looking.

There.

Splendid Home Burned. Immigrant Family Displaced. October 21, 1924.

The article's in the corner of the Darnell news, like a footnote that no one will care about.

I keep scrolling.

Barn Razed to Ground. January 8, 1925.

Shopkeeper Beaten, Ordered to Leave Town by Masked Men. February 16, 1925.

My stomach turns. Not all of these must have to do with Alvin Gaffrey...but I I'm just about to turn off the machine and remove the microfilm when I spot another chapter in the story.

A scandal.

It's a national story, but it hasn't escaped the attention of the Darnell News.

A Klan leader in another state--another Grand Dragon, in fact--is tried after sexually assaulting one of his assistants in 1925. He goes to prison.

And after that, the Klan begins to die.

My head pounds as I scroll through the headlines. Memberships drop. The group struggles to pay its bills as people leave. Its shuts down in the forties, until it's resurrected a few years later.

Mutters float down the hallway towards me. More people are entering the library. It's almost time to make our getaway before we're sent back to school--or before the police are called on three truant girls. I place the microfilm back in the drawer, where it can join countless other secrets that few ever uncover.

A young woman had to suffer horribly to end the Klan. Well, one of its incarnations.

That doesn't help me any.

Ruba hasn't returned.

How many minutes has it been?

I leave the drawer open behind me. Maybe she's keeping Renee out of the way while I look at things I don't want her seeing.

I had down the aisle, hidden by bookshelves. I turn around the J's and head to the front.

Ruba stands there at the mouth of the aisle. She's pale.

She mouths two words.

He's here.

I rush to her. "Are you kidding me?"

My best friend shakes her head. "I saw him. He's hanging something up on the particle board in the entrance. I told Renee to hide in the bathroom. I don't know if he's gone."

I silently thank her. I don't know if she's talking about Alvin Gaffrey or my father. I have to check. I push past Ruba and emerge from the bookshelves. I can see through glass to entrance hall from here. There's the glass case with the old pictures of downtown, the clean, pretty ones lacking hooded marches. There's the table of donated books that you can take for free. And--

Dad stands with his back to us, placing a thumbtack on a white piece of paper with bold black type. I can't read it from here, but I know it's either a missing persons poster or something sinister. He's pinned it up next to garage sale ads and photos of lost dogs.

I back away. "Hide."

A hand seizes my arm and pulls me back. Ice slices through the air. Ruba hits the opposite bookshelf, eyes wide. It's as if something has pushed her away. She struggles for breath. Grasps at her throat, desperately pulling in air.

I know what's happening. I pull against my captor, but its grip remains tight. "Run!"

She stands there like she's debating.

Then she turns and bolts away. Her wheezing fades into the building. Her footfalls fade.

I'm left alone with the hand on my shoulder. My breath spirals.

"Jae," Alvin Gaffrey says from behind me. "We need to speak."

6.

He releases my shoulder.

I'm trembling. I ball my fists. I need to confront this monster before he does any more damage. I'm so furious that I don't care what I have to do.

He tried to hurt my best friend.

He actually tried to hurt her.

I knew that things like this were coming, of course. But to actually witness it--

I face him. Alvin Gaffrey stands between the bookshelves, black robe swishing in the air conditioning. He places one hand on the bookshelf. I spot the spine of the book he's touching. Discrimination: You Can Speak Out. The spine next to it reads Hate Groups: A History. We're standing in the Sociology section.

Adrenaline pulses. I don't even feel the cold. I want to murder Alvin Gaffrey for all that he's done, for the things I know about as well as the things I don't.

"You bas--"

“Jae,” he says. “I would like to apologize for scaring you the other night. You worried us when you jumped into that car with your sister."

I can't stop the words from pouring out. "If you're sorry, go away. Get out of our lives and never come back. You're not wanted here. Everyone hates the Klan now. Everyone knows you're disgusting! You have no place here." I know anyone in the building must hear me, but I don't care. I can't sit idly by and let him go forward with his plan.

He flinches. The top of his hood towers towards the florescent lights in the ceiling, and the patch on the front of his robe stares at me like a bloody, diseased eye. He can appear it the daytime now. The thought screams louder and louder in the back of my mind. Alvin Gaffrey's growing even stronger. What's feeding him now?

"And what did you do to my friend?" I ball my fists and eye the books next to me. I need any weapon I can reach.

A scowl grows over his face. “She is not your friend, Jae. Don't you watch the world around you? I have been, very closely. Her people want to destroy our country. I worry about the future. I'm looking to protect you. Do you understand?”

Protect me?” My voice rises. My vision blurs with tears. “She's been my friend for years. Why are you butting into my business? What did you do to my parents?”

“Nothing.”

"You turned them into horrible bigots like you!"

"Jae, I told you. I have done nothing to them."

“Get away from me and get away from my family!”

Alvin Gaffrey shrinks back, hurt. He slaps his hand over his patch, his heart. “Jae, I am--”

“No!” I grab a few books and hurl them at him.

They fly through the air, a flock of angry, weak birds, and bounce off the front of the Grand Dragon's robe uselessly.

Silence falls.

No one comes back to check on the noise. We stare at each other. His eyes are an intense, angry shade of blue.

He shakes his head. “I feel sad for you, Jae. But I'm confident you'll come around soon.” He stares down at the books at his feet, then back up at me. “You're smart. You'll figure it all out. You'll make a wonderful addition to our cause. You're very strong willed, like me.”

"I'm not like you."

Alvin Gaffrey takes a step towards me. "You are," he says, staring hard at me.

7.

I run from the aisle and into the girls' bathroom. I watch the door close behind me and don't let out my breath until it thuds shut. Then, I stand against the door.

I can't even confront Alvin Gaffrey like I should. Instead of facing him down, I ran. I fled those horrible words and left him behind when I should be doing all I can to fight him. I'm a coward. I'm letting him get away with all of this.

But what can I do?

Ruba waits by the sink. Renee stands next to her, trembling. My best friend's eyes are red, wet, scared. Renee breathes heavily and shrinks towards the wall like I'm the one she should fear. Ruba must have told her what's going on. Alvin Gaffrey will surely tell Dad that I'm here, and then he'll wait outside the door and demand that we go home.

"You saw him," I whisper Ruba. I hate to do anything but hug her and Renee right now, but I'm terrified that if I take my body weight away from the door, it'll fly open. My heart pounds. I have to keep this away from my little sister.

She nods.

"You know he's not living." How did those books bounce off his chest? How did he seize my shoulder? None of this makes any sense.

"Is he still out there?" Ruba whispers.

"Maybe." I press harder against the door. Nothing comes. "All we can do is wait in here. We have to be quiet." He must have known that I ran in here. I wouldn't have run outside with Dad standing there.

I don't want to go back home.

Not until Alvin Gaffrey is gone and Mom and Dad can snap out of this spell and apologize for the things this monster from the past is making them do. When they can hug me and tell me I'm not misguided after all and that they love me no matter what.

A minute passes.

Then another.

No one knocks.

"Um, sis?" Renee asks. "Maybe you should peek out there and see if they're gone."

I take a breath. I know I have to do it. I turn, expecting the door to fly open, but it never does.

Crack it open a little.

The librarian stands there, arms crossed. She nods to me and waves me out of the bathroom.

I can't move. I'm relieved that it's only her confronting me, but I can't be sure that Dad and Alvin Gaffrey aren't waiting nearby, ready to take me and Renee home.

"Are you the only one out here?" I whisper.

"Oh, now you whisper," she says with disapproval. "Get out of there."

I sigh. She's only here to chew us for the noise and our running through the library. I step out and check the front lobby out of the corner of my eye. It's empty. I check the bookshelves. No one seems to be standing in their shelter, waiting to pounce out at me. Why isn't Dad standing here? Alvin Gaffrey would have surely told him about me.

I emerge from the bathroom and let the door close behind me. My heart hammers, but the librarian gestures for no one. Instead, she berates me.

"This is a public library. You are not to shout in here like a five year old. I expect this behavior out of--"

"But someone was bothering me." How did she not see Alvin Gaffrey? Did he simply appear in the bookshelves? He could have.

She stares hard at me. "That someone just might care about you," she says. "I know that you're young and you don't know that much about the world, but trust me when I say it might be a good idea to head home."

I back away.

The librarian--did Alvin Gaffrey influence her, too? How else would she know I ran away?

He's building his army. Dragging more people to his side.

I take a breath. "Okay," I say. We can't stay here, even if Dad has gone. But is he waiting outside? I head back into the bathroom and wave my sister and Ruba out. "We're leaving."

"Good," she says.

We pass her.

She's glaring at my friend.

8.

Dad is gone from the main entrance of the building.

The three of us stand amongst fake plants, billboards, and the entrance to the city hall. No one waits here except for us. Ruba stares at me. Renee stares at me. The mid-afternoon light spills in through the picture windows, leaving us exposed.

I don't know what to say.

What to do.

The paper still hangs on the particle board for all to see. I nod at Ruba. She turns to Renee and leads her towards the door. "Your sister's going to make sure that guy is really out of here. She's going to check the back parking lot."

"I'll see if Dad's truck is there." I walk towards the back door, peeking out the glass to make sure it's gone. It is, but Renee can't tell from the front door.

I don't want her seeing whatever's on it.

I approach the paper.

Read the text.

Celebrate 100% Americanism and our Traditional Values

Big Event! Food and Music Included

Melrose Park at Sundown, September 30

Bring the Family

There's nothing else. Just the invitation. No other text. No images.

I tear it down, ripping the top of the paper. I fold it and stuff it in my pocket to join the photo of the little girl already there. Is Dad hanging these all around town now? How many people are going to go to this, thinking it's innocent? How many will Alvin Gaffrey sway with his gaze and his words?

And how many will he hurt?

I rush outside, to where Renee and Ruba wait on the other side of the glass. How am I supposed to warn others of this?

"What's the date today?" I ask Ruba.

She pulls out her phone, which has countless bubbles on the screen from her mother's calls. "Today is the twenty-ninth," she says. "Why?"


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