Their sheets were never changed. They were either too small, or just too weak
and old to stay stretched out on the bed. The mattress, with its yellow-brown and
green-black piss, shit, cum, vomit splotches, always showing. Always visible. The
walls surrounding the bed so coated with black mold that if you stared at it long
enough, while inhaling its medieval poisonous fumes, you'd start to see the mold breathing.
Alive. Pulsating against the wall. In the wall. Spreading itself slowly, slowly, outward.
Alive, and well. Hungry and feeding on its own maddening mitosis. The kitchen was full of millions of moving, infesting ants. The only safe
place to store food was in the fridge or microwave. One could not so much as place
a hand upon the kitchen countertops without having their arm covered and crawling
within seconds. Screaming. Screaming. "They're climbing into my shirt! Holy shit help
me! Holy shit they're in my shirt! Help!" My mother made a rule (she did not make many) that I was never allowed to
stay over there again after the one time that I did and couldn't sleep because of
the mold, and the mattress, and the fact that we had nothing to eat for supper but
stale tortilla chips that Crystal found crumbled in the microwave. I did not argue
with her. So I left my house at half past six, in order to give us plenty of time to
dress for seventh grade together and show up to Winboat Junior High in the most style
either of us knew. After almost an entire school year full of hour-long bus riding
hell, Crystal and I had finally talked her sixteen-year-old track queen sister Leeta
("Leeta the Cheetah," as she was called around town) into driving us that day in her
red two-seater convertible. I slid out of my bedroom window, leaving a note on the dresser reminding
parents of the plan that they most certainly had forgotten. Most certainly would have
had some irrational, pot-head tempered reason to take back from me at the last minute.
Furry pink slippers on naked twelve-year-old feet; pajamas clinging to my legs, back,
and arms. Backpack full of clothes to exchange for the day with Crystal, schoolbooks,
hair and makeup supplies (the compressed powder donation from Mandy, bing cherry lip
gloss, and my hope that Crystal would paint my face, shine my eyes, and frill my hair
the way she did hers so glamorously everyday). I crossed the street. Alherd Avenue. White trash central. Up the hill from
the trailer park slums, down the street from the government project housing, just
a few blocks away from Win-Mart (dirt cheap, dirty bulk discount food for the foggy
fat pants herds of Humboldt county), and kitty-corner from Joe Banem (school for the
serial killing dropouts and geeter monkey ghetto rats to prepare for G.E.D.s and adult
education exams). Crystal's house was smack at the north end of Alherd, which is not
quite a dead end street, but kind of set up to look like one. There is a final left
turn, then a sharp right, to go on further. The entire distance between our houses
was equivalent to maybe two street blocks, no more than a hundred yards and visible
from my front door. I started walking alongside the rusted chain link surrounding Joe Banem.
A few steps down the sidewalk, still at least eighty or so yards away from my destination,
a car appeared. On the same side of the street as me. Coming towards me, away from
Crystal's. Brown car, faded paint. Some late seventies or early eighties model that
looked like a Pinto or a Dukes of Hazard low rider, though I didn't know enough about
cars yet to recognize a make or model. But definitely full of four men. Definitely
four male faces staring. It was driving at a normal speed, maybe slightly on the slow side, straight
towards me. Although I noticed the vehicle immediately (the only one on the street
in a neighborhood like this so early), I paid little attention to it. I kept walking.
On the sidewalk, alongside the drooping chain link, just a few yards down from the
corner. The car slowed as it approached me. The passenger side window rolled down,
just as the car pulled up along the curb next to me. A rough-faced man with disheveled
patches of sweaty brown hair, thick around the upper lip, yellow teeth, and squinting
brown eyes began to beckon me. "Heeey, come here little girl. Yeaaah... Come over
here." Within a second I hopped over the fence, adrenaline and instinct kicking
in, and started running. As if for my life. For I knew. Somehow. Deep in the walls
of my stomach. Instantly. That this was real. That this was the after school special.
That I could, at this very moment, become one of those tragic stories. My parents
wet with tears forever. Everyone wondering. No one knowing. My face in a window. On
a tv show with [enter name of guy who had that most wanted tv show after his little
boy was stolen, tortured, killed here]. I ran faster than I ever had. Straight for Crystal's. Quick logic convinced
me the way to go (opposite direction than the vehicle faced, even though it was a
much farther distance to her house than back to mine). I booked across the wet lawn.
Towards the Joe Banem parking lot, towards Crystal's. To my terror, the car began
to race backwards. Down the street, alongside me. Going faster than I was, though
not by much. I could see it out of the right corners of my eyes. Speeding reverse.
Revealing serious commitment to get me. Why else would they be high-tailing it down
the street backwards? Still yelling at me from the open window. All the time yelling.
"Heeey! Why you runnin? Heh... heh... heh... went their creepy chuckles, four men
in the car. You scared or something? Ha... ha... you scared of us, huh? Come over
here. We just wanna give you a ride. You can sit on my lap. Heeey!" I ran so fast my slippers flew off. First one, then the other. My feet hit
the hard cemented parking lot and scraped against the tiny pebbles, broken glass,
and cracked pavement, though I never felt the cuts. I got to the end of the lot. Where
the lot meets the sidewalk which meets the street, directly across from Crystal's.
The car did, too. It was exactly in front of me. And right in between where I stood
frozen on the sidewalk and Crystal's house across the street. The passenger side door opened. The man who had been yelling the most started
to get out. Did get out. He was only ten or so feet away from me. There was no way
I could out run him. Not all the way back to my house. I knew this. I knew that he
knew this. And he was ready for the chase. I could see the game of it glaring through
the cruel light in his eyes. A loud atrocious grin set on his face. Two perverse men
chuckling with excitement in the backseat. And it was just about to start. Any second.
Tears exploded under my skin. But instead of running, I opened my mouth and started
screaming. As loud as I possibly could. As loud as I had ever screamed before in all
my life. "Tony! Tony! Get the fuck out here!! Tony!!! Tony!!! Tony get the fuck out
here! Help Tony! Help!!!" This made the man pause for a moment. One leg in, one leg out of the car. Tony was Crystal's dad. A little balding, greasy man with tuberculosis. He
also had a rifle. Apparently. Because a second later their door swung open and he
was there. Crazy bulging eyes with rifle. Crazy, bulging, ready. The man hopped back into the car, which sped away with the door still open.
Black track marks stained onto the street. I don't recall what happened next. My legs were numb and shaking and my knees
felt full of air. But then I was in Crystal's house. Sitting on their filthy brown
couch. Answering questions, maybe. Getting hugs, maybe. An ice-cold nausea turning
inside me. Heartbeat clogging throat. They got my dad on the phone. In a second he was there. With a large wooden
bat. I saw pieces of my slippers sprawled across the parking lot and lawn as we drove
away from Crystal's. My feet black and bloody. I stayed home from school that day. And the next too, I think. Spent hours
driving around with him, bat in the back seat. Searching for the car. "Is that it?
How about that one? I'm going to kill those motherfuckers. Bash their fucking brains
in. Is that it? You said it was brown, right? A low rider? How about that one? I won't
stop until we find them. I won't stop until they're dead." Eventually he stopped, I guess. Either that or enough time passed to make
* * *
For years after that day I had a reoccurring dream. It usually started with
me standing across the street from Crystal’s, though sometimes it began from the moment
I slipped out of my window. I was there, frozen in my tracks, the man was out of the
car, in the middle of the street, a split second away from darting after me. The same
instinct took over and I opened my mouth to scream, but instead of yelling for Tony,
nothing came out. I screamed and screamed with all my breath, my face red and my throat
swelling with strain, but my voice was gone. Panic consumed me, lungs beating with
fear, face full of sweat when I woke.