Savage Delight

Page 28


“What are you screaming –”
“It’s a piece of moss, Isis!”
I stop flailing and look down. The slimy green offender peeks out of my jeans innocently. I pull it off and Kayla rolls her eyes and goes back to searching.
“Y-Yeah?” I adjust my jeans as I stand. “Well, next time a flesh-eating zombie crawls out to eat you, I will just sit back and watch. From a safe distance. Which slightly impairs my ability to hear you screaming for mercy.”
“It was moss.”
“Well it felt like a zombie, and who do we have to blame for that, hm? Mother nature?” I look up and shout at the trees. “Thanks, M-dawg! Next round can you maybe tone down the moss-that-feels-like-a-zombie-hand thing? Thanks, love ya, big fan otherwise!”
“Aren’t we supposed to be sneaky?” She hisses.
“Yeah, but it doesn’t matter! There’s nothing here. I f**ked up, okay? My big plan that was supposed to answer all the questions backfired and here we are, scrabbling around in the dirt like Cro-Magnons who haven’t learned about fire! Or gloves!”
Kayla’s eyes are glazed, and she’s staring off into the distance. I wave a hand frantically in front of her face.
“Hello? Don’t go to space yet, dumbo, you’ve got work to do and degrees to earn and boys to break the hearts of.”
She grabs my wrist and looks at me slowly.
“I remember.”
“Remember what?”
Kayla looks over my shoulder. “One summer, tenth grade I’m pretty sure, because I had my orange tankini and that was, like, SO cute and in-style –”
“Right, um. So that summer, we went way far down on the lake, like, took a walk in this direction, which was weird because it’s really rocky this way and we usually went the other way, but that day we decided to go this way, and we got about this far, maybe a little farther, and Avery told us –”
Kayla inhales.
“Avery told us to stop. She got really freaked out. Weirdly freaked. She was almost panicking, and she told us we had to go back, and we all asked her why but she just kept saying, ‘because I said so’ and ‘it’s my cottage you morons, so we go back when I say’.”
My heart soars. Maybe this wasn’t useless after all.
“And that was this way?” I ask. Kayla nods and points over my shoulder.
“If we keep going, I can look over the edge of the cliff and down to the lake and tell you where she told us to go back.”
I follow her. She’s faster than ever, but adrenaline pumps my legs just as fast, and I can keep up easy. The sun’s still high, and glints off the massive Lake Galonagah. Kayla peers over the edge of the forest, where the woods and dirt crumble into rocks and shoreline. She shakes her head each time and keeps going, until finally, finally, she stops.
“Right here. This is where she freaked out.”
I look around. There’s nothing here that stands out – just more woods. But if Avery got scared as they walked this way, that meant she was afraid they’d see something they weren’t supposed to. Something she’d hid way out here. Something that could definitely be seen from the lake shore.
“Let’s keep going. Keep your peepers peeled for anything weird.”
Kayla nods, and follows me. We walk slowly, taking in everything. Kayla sees it first and grabs my elbow.
I look to where she’s pointing, and my heart sinks. No, sinks isn’t the right word for it. It falls out through my butt. It’s gone, a heavy leaden thing in its place.
There, against a tree and planted in the ground, is a wooden cross, and at the foot of the cross is a small pile of stones.
“Is that –” Kayla swallows, hard. “Is that a –”
“A grave.” I finish. “Yeah.”
She stays, frozen in place, but I move towards it with careful steps. I kneel at the graveside. The wooden cross is shoddy – somebody just put two thick sticks together with twine – but it’s withstood the test of time. The bark’s eroded off; white, bleached wood all that’s left. You could easily see the white color through the trees and from the lakeside, if you caught the right angle. Whoever made the grave knew their stuff, though. The stones probably kept scavengers from digging the body up and eating it.
The grave is so small.
I already know what’s inside. But that’s not enough. I have to see it, with my own two eyes. I start moving the rocks.
“Isis! What are you doing? Stop it!”
“Go back to the car and wait for me.”
“You can’t just – you can’t just dig that up –”
I look over my shoulder at her. “The truth is in here, Kayla. And I have to know. So go back to the car and wait for me. Pretend I’m not doing it.”
Kayla squeezes her eyes shut, but she doesn’t move. I pull the rocks off, one by one, and use a flat one to start digging into the soft square of earth. As I get deeper, I can hear Kayla start to sob. Her cries echo in the forest, and somehow I know they aren’t the first human tears the trees have seen. My arms ache, my fingers burn, and the blood from my torn cuticles flows over and mixes with the dirt, but I can’t stop. I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. It’s feet down. Two feet, three feet, and then –
And then the dirt comes apart, and there’s a tiny piece of pink blanket sticking out of the ground. I bleed on it. I dig faster, but more gently, just around the bundle that’s starting to form. I dig until it comes loose, and pull it out slowly. Brush the dirt off. Put it on the pine needle ground and open it. It’s pinned, but the safety pin is long rusted and snaps easily, and the edges of the blanket falls apart like a crusted, ancient flower to reveal the center.
I feel Kayla’s heat to my left, her curiosity obviously overcoming her reluctance. But the second the blanket falls apart, she starts crying harder than ever, and pulls away like she’s been burned.
“No. No no no,” she cries. “No. No no!”
A tiny skeleton looks up at me, with eyes too small and too black to see anything. It never got to see anything. That much I’m sure of. Five months? Maybe six, but that’s pushing it. And next to the skeleton is a miniscule bracelet, with letter-beads. My shaking fingers pick it up.
I stare at the name for what feels like hours. Days. Tallulah.
Tallie, for short.
The sounds of the basement deafen me the second I walk in. Bull’s Tail isn’t a nice bar, or even a tolerable one – sawdust and piss and vomit crusting in the corners – but it’s exactly what I’m looking for.
It’s exactly the place people’s hopes go to die.
On a Saturday night, it’s as packed as it can be. Men swagger and guffaw into their beer and whiskey, the smell of B.O and stale peanuts overpowering. Rock music blares from the creaky jukebox in the corner and the flickering LED TV above the bar shows a game only a fraction of the patrons seem to care about. The bartender is an older woman with once-bright blonde hair and beauty to spare, but years of wolf-whistles and ass-grabbing has worn her to a pale mockery of that.