Canto Four

Between the city and the hills the detective drove through the scorched earth, passing street signs with names blurred and battered, past vagrants starving, eyes aglow, past the walking dead and the actual dead, rotting atop the layers of the previously dead and decayed. The detective pulled the car left onto a street familiar to the young man and yet not familiar, as if he had traveled backward or forward in time many years and saw how the street had changed, the subtle ways time shapes the physical world. What do you want me to do, said the detective. He drove up through the twisting mountain road and the young man craned his neck to view the summit, imagining large winged creatures and cities made of tomb-lined streets where history is paved with the ground bones of the dead.

The peak of Gorgola Hill thrust upward into black clouds and orange sky and the young man said, I want you to tell me you’ve got this, that you’ll take it from here. And in the road before them a huge black bird with the mouth of a dog landed and scowled at them and the detective steered the car around it, the young man staring into its eyes as they passed.

I want you to say, She’s alive, kid. She’s always been alive. And then you’ll motion for her to come out from behind the door or wherever so that I can see her, I can sleep and dream peacefully again, I can eat and breathe and get on with my life.

There were fewer dead in the road the higher the car climbed and the detective pushed on harder, faster, weaving through the tricky curves as if down a slide, and the young man noticed fire up ahead, fire in the road and trees, fire eating the world in great red and orange waves, and the detective rode the vehicle headlong into the wall of flames with his hands gripping the wheel tightly, fire all around them, a world of light and incredible heat. The engine ran harder and louder until it burst with flames screaming into the car interior, fire swallowing everything, and the detective laughed, melting.

*

He was sweating and cold and alone in the dark and he closed his eyes again, breathing. For some reason the word RESTRAINT appeared in his mind, floating there white on black, almost as if he could reach up and touch the letters, rearrange them. There was a knock on his door and his mother saying, What time do you need to be at work. He swallowed and breathed deeply. I’m off today, he said.

His mother cracked the door open, looking in at him. Honey, she said. You’ve been off all week. I’m tired mom, he said, and turned over on his side.

*

It was a Sunday when he gassed up his rusted station wagon and drove though a wind shorn highway back up to Gorgola Hill. The trees dipped and shook and debris sprinted through the narrow dirt lane and the young man looked up to the sky low and gray, churning and rumbling like the angry belly of a god. He had the odd sensation he was entering something. He steered the car through the curves with raindrops disintegrating on his windshield and despite the obvious danger he never once considered heading back down the mountain. When he finally got to the clearing he parked the car and killed the engine, listening to the sounds of rain and wind and all the other attitudes of nature’s fury. He pulled out his cellular phone and dialed the detective but there was no answer.

When the rain seemed to have stopped he got out of the car and the force of the wind pushed him upright, reeling. Jesus, he said, and managed to pull up the hood of his windbreaker. He thrust his hands in his pockets and leaned into the wind with his head down, looking for tracks, looking for signs of a struggle, drops of blood, anything that may stand out or something he’d overlooked the last time. He looked up at the sky with his hood whipping in his ears and he realized for the first time how stupid this was.

Lightning like giant capillaries sparked and snapped about the shifting charcoal sky. It began to rain again. The young man remembered the dream he’d had the night before or the night before that in which he was standing in the exact same place as he was now, only in the dream it was night, the sky was total black, and he looked over to the ledge where he saw the backs of two people, both of them seated with their legs dangling over the precipice. He walked toward them now just as in the dream and he could clearly see the figure on the left was Norma Jean, her stringy black hair and wire thin frame, but the figure to her right was hidden behind the jutting rock, and as the young man walked closer to the ledge just behind the two seated figures a violent surge of wind rained down upon his back like a hammer and forced him to the ground.

He picked his head up from the dirt and saw that he was just inches from the ledge. He got to his feet carefully and looked to where the two forms had been and he knew there was no mistaking that the person Norma Jean had been seated next to was a woman with blonde hair.

*

To read this chapter in its entirety, buy the novel when it’s published.

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