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To the Lighthouse: Photograph

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Let’s take a photograph.

 


 

It’s like waking up from two dreams at once. In one, there is a lighthouse, in the other it is gone. So, when Chloe wakes to the sound of her own forehead clunking the top of the steering wheel, the first thing she does is curl her head up to check the rear-view, to see if the lighthouse is still there.  And for the briefest of moments, maybe it really has disappeared. Until she blinks, rubs her eyes, and, yes, there it is—safe on its cliff-top perch, still visible in the distance through a tunnel of trees. Weird. She doesn’t remember falling asleep.

Her head feels like Bongo’s old scratch post—shredded; the edges frayed and dangling. She rubs a wrist over her clammy forehead, sinks it back down onto the wheel with a groan.

From the dash, her crooning Mr. Bobblehead swims into focus, staring up at her with unblinking eyes, mocking her with his painted, plastic grin. “I feel like shit,” she tells him, words rasping at the back of her throat, dry as ash. “Do I look like shit?” She reaches over the wheel, flicks him with a thumb and middle finger, and his bulbous head nods furiously on its spring. “Thought so,” she says with a sniff. “Well, eat dick, little dude. Eat. Dick.”

The bobblehead says nothing, just watches on as Chloe pats down her pockets for cigarettes she forgot to bring. She shoots off a few muttered curses into the cab and picks among the piles of junk on the dash; swipes aside a crumpled soda can and a pair of sunglasses, brushes some parking tickets into the footwell. Eventually she finds a half-smoked cigarette nestling in a bed of used tissues—yep, that’ll do—and lights it with trembling hands. Fuck, she’d give anything right now for some decent bud. The high from that dry, seedy shit she’d smoked earlier hadn’t even been worth the lighter fluid, had slipped away hours ago, leaving nothing behind but the weed stink and a burning behind her eyeballs. “So,” she says to the bobblehead, paper filter dangling between her lips, “remind me why we’re at this shitpile again?”

Outside the truck, the Blackwell parking lot is still quiet. The last of the calm before classes finish for the day. Before the kids start crawling over the place, jumping in their pimped-up SUVs—windows down, sunglasses on—yelling their phony love yous as they shoot off down the hill into town. She should get moving but she’ll finish this smoke first. She still has time. He can wait.

She takes a drag, slinging her feet up onto the dash, and as the smoke gushes through her teeth and swirls up towards the tattered, yellow ceiling, she finds her gaze lingering beyond the tree line, high on the ridge above Arcadia Bay. Maybe it’s the hangover, or another jumbled memory tossing itself around in her skull, but the sky looks... weird. She closes her eyes, shakes her head, refocuses and... No, still there. Above the trees, the sky burns red—bubbling and distorting before fading outwards into black; like someone burned away the edges of a photograph.

Or started a fire.

Like the one they’d lit three years ago. The one that was only supposed to burn a single photo, not torch the whole fucking forest to the ground; burn one memory, not create a thousand more. The town still talks about the time the ash had fallen like snow, covering everything—cars, houses, sidewalks. How children had gathered it up, thrown it at each other, tried to make ash angels until their eyes had begun to sting and their parents had yelled at them to get inside. How the sky had been red for days.

Chloe holds her cigarette over Mr. Bobblehead, taps the end so the ash floats down over his head, his shoulders and down onto the dash. He doesn’t judge her, just keeps on singing his silent forever-song. She gently wipes the flakes away from his face with her thumb, remembers the glow of streetlights, ash caught in golden hair, a blue feather earring. The most beautiful smile in the world.

They’d never been caught. Everyone had blamed it on stupid kids, and they had been stupid kids back then, hadn’t they? Not that it matters. It’s all in the past now, like everything that came before it and everything that’s happened since. Maybe that’s where Rachel is right now, up there in the forest, starting wildfires. Maybe later, Chloe will go and check.

Her phone belches in her pocket and spews out a violent puking sound, like someone hurling into a sink: Her message tone for people she doesn’t want to hear from, which these days, is almost everyone. Everyone apart from... She had to change it. To avoid that familiar, useless flutter inside every time her phone beeped. To muzzle the inevitable disappointment. In her fragile state the sound is way too raw, and she winces at the muffled splatter of electronic vomit, yanks the phone out.

I see you Price. Stop daydreaming and get over here.

Chloe groans, sliding her boots from the dash. “Let me guess,” she asks the bobblehead, “he’s gonna give me shit about that cash I owe him?” She flicks the little guy once more, and he nods. “Awesome.”  She takes the last couple of drags of the cigarette, grasps at the door handle and flops out into the Blackwell parking lot, kicking the door shut behind her.

The air is warm, too warm for this late in the year. Her pants stick hot and tight to her thighs, sweat prickles the back of her neck. Was it cooler earlier? Not that she mixes up her wardrobe too much anyway, she’s been wearing the same clothes for close to a week. From somewhere to the west comes the dull rattle of a freight train; a reminder that, for some, Arcadia Bay is only ever a place to pass through. Not everyone gets stuck here. Not like her. Not like Frank.

His filthy RV is parked in its usual spot, taking up two bays with its rusted bulk, blue trim long-lost to grime. She’s amazed the thing still runs. Since Frank made that deal with the cops, he’s been so blatant, parking up and doing business wherever he likes. They’ll stop him one day, but right now he seems well past caring, rolls on up and lets the kiddies get in line like they’re buying candy.

Chloe traipses over and thumps the door with the side of her fist. “Yo, it’s me.”

Inside, a dog barks and a heavy voice fills the RV. “Pompidou, pipe down! Pipe down, I said!” A whine, a struggle, followed by an internal door slamming and heavy footsteps. A rough sigh: “Price? Get in here.”

She lets herself in and—holy shit—the smell hits her like a bat to the face: rotting garbage, stale weed smoke, the overpowering stench of wet dog. All of it tinged with something sweet and sticky, the residue of Frank’s latest chemical mystery. He’s getting worse. Chloe’s too hungover for the assault on her senses, holds her sleeve up to her nose. It doesn’t smell much better.

The windows are all covered over with cardboard, allowing in chinks of spidery, late afternoon sunlight that ripple over the dust, the garbage, the piles of shit in this place. Frank sits in the gloom, absently drumming a packet of cigarettes on the table, bars of light and shadow masking his face like a cage.

Chloe closes the door behind her. “S’up, Frank.”

He nods in reply, grunting a short, guttural sound that Chloe takes as a greeting. It’s the best she’ll get. His eyes are sunken and red, his cheeks hollow. Even by Frank’s low standards he looks like ass. She almost feels bad for the guy. Almost.

“You okay, man? Did someone die or something? Like, in here? Because seriously, dude, it reeks.”

Frank ignores her, the packet of smokes turning slow circles in his hand. He leans forward and speaks at last, voice thick, “Your boy wonder flew by.”

“My boy what?” Her brain catches up. “Oh.”

“Yeah, ‘bout 10 minutes ago. Picked up a couple sheets.”

Chloe groans. “Shit, so he’ll be tripping?”

“Not if you’re quick.”

“How did he seem?” Chloe asks, leaning against the kitchenette counter. Her jacket affixes to something with a tiny squelch. She shudders and tugs it away.

“Same as always. Fidgety. Like the little prick’s tweaking.” Frank takes a cigarette from the pack and lights it, sitting back and unfolding his face into a smile, the kind of smile Chloe wants to punch. “I take it you’re not gonna fuck up your master plan this time?” he asks.

She scowls at him. “Second time’s a charm, right, Frank? This time it’s foolproof.”

“Uh-huh? Just as well.” He sighs and hauls himself to his feet, stumbling as he pushes past her to get down the short corridor. He throws open the door onto his filthy bedroom and Chloe can just make out Pompidou, barely visible in the half-light and eyeing her suspiciously from the unmade bed. Even Pompidou looks at her suspiciously these days. She used to love that dog—ungrateful mutt. Frank rummages under a pillow as Chloe looks on in disgust. He must be paying good money to any woman who agrees to be tossed about in those rank sheets. Pompidou seems to sense what she’s thinking, gives her a final knowing glance before he lifts his hind leg and licks his balls.

Frank staggers back, holding something out in front of him. “You want this?” he asks.

It’s a flick knife, bent in two and sitting in the center of his huge palm. His hand is calloused with grimy fingernails and is one of the few things that still gives away his raw strength: huge hands, thick wrists; wide, furry forearms. Chloe has felt that strength before, his huge hand curled around her wrist—the heat of it, the twitch of it, the burn flooding up her arm. She has felt that angry, untamed power over her, and the fear still catches like a fish-bone in her chest.

“Nah, I’m good, dude. I’m not going to fucking stab the guy.” And she wouldn’t, not really. She’s many things, but she’s not violent.

“Suit yourself,” he says and pockets the knife, pushing past her again to get back to his seat. As he lowers himself, the sound of vomiting erupts from Chloe’s back pocket and Frank hovers for a moment, shoots her a what-the-fuck look. She shrugs at him and pulls out her phone, rolls her eyes when she sees the sender.

“Right, dude, it’s been real, but I gotta blow.” She pockets the phone, hesitates. “Um...” She may as well ask, always worth a shot. “Listen, do you have anything? You know, to take the edge off?”

He plops his spent cigarette into a soda can, and it emits a tiny hiss. “Do you have my three grand?”

Chloe glares at him but she’s not surprised, because why would she be? Guy’s an asshole. “Dude, if I pull this off, we’ll both have hella cash.”

“Yeah? So you can buy your weed from me then.”

“I work better when I’m chill.” Chloe holds out her hands in front of her. She doesn’t even have to fake it, they’re visibly shaking. “Seriously, man, look at me.”

He sits back, spreading his arms along the back of the seat. “Looks to me like a break from that stuff would do you good.”

Her teeth clench, her jaw twitches. Typical of Frank to play fucking games when this shit is for his benefit too. She slaps her palms down on the table in front of him. “Well, if I go in there and fuck up and it all turns to shit, then we’ll both know who’s to blame!”

Frank's eyes crease and his face rearranges itself into a half-smile. Cracked, like broken bone. “Yeah,” he says. “You.”

“Fuck you, Frank.”

“Just go and get my money.”

She growls and opens the door. The sunlight and fresh fall air burst in like uninvited guests.

“Oh, and Price!”

She stops short at his words, hovers in the doorway, one foot still inside, the other hanging in space. “Yeah?”

“Move your fucking truck. It makes you look like an asshole.”

Chloe hops down from the RV. Her old pickup sits across the lot, casually slung across two disabled bays. She doesn’t even remember parking it there. “But I am an asshole, Frank.” She flashes him a raw smile. “It’s the nicest thing about me.”

And with that she closes the door on him, heads off towards the school, and her second meeting in a week with Nathan Prescott.

 


 

Blackwell Academy looms up ahead as Chloe takes the steps from the parking lot two at a time. God, she hates this place. When Rachel comes back, they’re going to burn it to ash, but for now it’s still here, towering from the hillside like some despotic, red-brick dildo.

She reaches the top of the steps and passes the bulletin board outside the pool building. A crumpled sheet of paper lies on the ground nearby and she stoops to pick it up. It’s a missing person poster, a picture of a girl.

Rachel.

Five months, two weeks and a day. That’s how long she’s been gone. 19 years-old. 5’5”. 110lbs. Dragon tattoo on right calf. Just facts. Just numbers.

Chloe strokes her thumb across the grainy black-and-white photograph, over a face, over an image, so achingly familiar—every last detail of it—she could draw a perfect likeness from memory: Rachel’s half-smile, her feline eyes, the stray wisp of hair falling across her forehead. It looks like her, but it’s not her. Not really. There’s no color in it, no life. Her blue feather earring is a faded gray, her hazel-green eyes are black and barren; her hair, without all its texture, its caramel and gold—drab, monotone. It’s not her.

There is dirt on the poster’s edge, tracks from a shoe print. Chloe rubs at the stain, presses the poster out flat against her chest, and sticks it back up, right over a flyer for a Bible study group and an anti-bullying notice. Like anyone here reads that shit, anyway. Four identical missing posters already flutter from the board, Rachel’s neutral expression staring from each of them. One has been defaced, a scrawled picture of a dick points towards Rachel’s mouth, cartoon cum splats decorate her cheeks, her eyes, her hair. Chloe claws at the offending poster, ripping her fingernails deep into it and tears it down, scrunching it into her pocket. Assholes.

Chloe knows these posters well. Knows them because she made them, with care and time and a free graphics program; with the public library scanner and a Xerox that's always whirring. She designed them, printed them, hung them here on this board and she’s been plastering the whole goddamn town with them for months. It hasn’t done any good, they haven’t found Rachel. There were a few dead-end leads in the beginning, a few crank calls, but solving the mystery of Rachel’s disappearance was never Chloe’s only reason for making the posters. She had made a promise that Arcadia Bay would never forget Rachel Amber. Even if she has to coat every motherfucking surface in town with Rachel’s image, it’s a promise she intends to keep.

Her pocket retches: U wanna meet or not??? Im waiting bitch. Girls bathroom. Now.

She stuffs the phone back into her pants. Sighs. How can anyone need so few words to sound like such an assclown? She leaves Rachel and the bulletin board behind, more hurried as she stalks across the courtyard where cliques of students are collecting in groups, waiting for buses, waiting for friends, waiting for hookups, waiting for... What are they waiting for? As a student here, Chloe had never stuck around longer than she had to. Even in Arcadia Bay there was always somewhere better to be than Blackwell.

Her presence goes unnoticed as she passes by, head down, hands stuffed in pockets. Some final-year students might recognize her, but to almost every other kid in this place she’s just the scary, blue-haired punk that puts up Rachel Amber posters. Is that all she is now? The last few people who remember her name, who remember the actual person, will all leave, and all she’ll ever be is the crazy poster girl. Like the old, toothless lady down by the beach who spends every day pushing a shopping cart full of grubby baby dolls up and down the boardwalk. Everyone knows the doll lady. No one ever speaks to her. Except for Rachel. Rachel did. She’d stopped the woman once by the bus stop, flashed her easy smile, had asked what the dolls were called. That’s just who she was. Who she is. Maybe she genuinely cared, or she’s attracted to freaks. Either way, doll lady had beamed this huge toothless grin and told her the story of each one. Until the bus had arrived, and they’d had to make their apologies and leave. Eleanor, that was the doll lady’s name. Chloe is probably the only person left in Arcadia Bay that remembers that. She and Eleanor should hang out.

At last, she reaches the main entrance, hauls open the heavy doors and is thrust into the menagerie of the hallway. All around the clang of locker doors, the hum of voices, bodies everywhere—yelling, pushing, preening, bumping, jostling—the tang of teenage sweat. The rank stench of entitlement clogs Chloe’s lungs, congeals in the corridors, clings to these kids who worry about nothing except grades and prom dates and acne. They don’t even glance at the posters of Rachel that pepper the walls here too, just another subject for their gossip. Two geeky-looking guys stand in the middle of the hall, locked in conversation, scrolling through the images on a digital camera. They don’t mean to be in Chloe’s way, but they are. She jostles one hard with her shoulder as she passes: “Get out of the fucking way, jerkwad!” The camera flies from his hands, crashes to the ground, and the boy stumbles backwards, too surprised for a retort.

The girls’ bathroom is up ahead with a handwritten ‘CLOSED FOR CLEANING’ notice stuck to the door. Prescott must have put it there. Rachel once tried the same trick to get exclusive use of the dorm shower block. It didn’t work. Of course, some illiterate dickhead came in anyway; at the best, worst moment. That had been... fun. The memory relaxes Chloe, and she readies herself to go inside. What is it Frank always tells her? Be the bad guy. Even when you’re shitting bricks, always be the bad guy. With the dealer’s eminent words of wisdom echoing in her ears, Chloe opens the door.

 


 

Nathan Prescott stands hunched over a sink, knuckles curled over the white porcelain. He is talking to himself, so deep in conversation with the mirror he barely even notices as Chloe comes in. She shudders at the sight of him—his wiry little body, his pale, tiny hands—as memories of the last time they were together gurgle to the surface. As usual, he’s wearing that creepy varsity jacket, the one Rachel gave him, the one he never takes off.

“So, what do you want?” he asks, barking the question at Chloe’s reflection.

Be the bad guy.

Chloe’s eyes flit over the room. “I hope you checked the perimeter, as my step-ass would say.” She clangs open each of the stall doors to make sure they’re alone; the stench of disinfectant, some unimaginative graffiti, but no one there.

As she reaches the end of the row of stalls, a flash of electric blue catches the corner of her eye and her heart jolts. A feather, a blue feather earring left by the sink. She peers closer. No, not a feather. Not an earring. Not her. But a butterfly, perched on the rim, strands of sunlight glinting off its wings. Glowing. It seems so out of place, yet it’s so beautiful, that Chloe catches herself, just for a moment, before wheeling back to Nathan: “Now, let’s talk business.”

“I got nothing for you,” he says, his watery eyes shining in the glass.

“Wrong. You got hella cash.”

“That’s my family, not me,” he says, knuckles twitching on the edge of the sink.

Be the bad guy.

Chloe comes up behind him, leans her face close to his, so close that his expensive yet sickly cologne stings her nostrils. But his gaze remains glued to the mirror. She stares back at both of them in the glass, sees herself—lip curled, a glint of incisors. Just like she practiced. “Oh, boo hoo, poor little rich kid,” she hisses into his ear. “I know you been pumping drugs and shit to kids around here. I bet your respectable family would help me out if I went to them.”

He’s trying hard to hold himself steady, but she can hear his voice start to un-stitch itself, unravel, thread by thread, “Leave them out of this, bitch.”

Be the fucking bad guy.

“Yeah? Well, I can tell everybody Nathan Prescott is a punk ass who begs like a little girl and talks to himself!” She shoves his shoulder, once, twice. Tries to dislodge him from that damn sink.

He whips around, grabs at his jacket, and is looking her in the eyes at last. Straight at her. Straight down the barrel of a .9mm pistol.

A rush of air, cool and sharp, pierces the sludge in Chloe’s hungover brain. Like throwing open the front door on a frosty morning. Her hands fly up on instinct. What the?

“You don’t know who the fuck I am or who you’re messing around with!” Nathan yells, eyes ablaze, the gun held high and steady.

Thoughts tear through Chloe’s head like shards of ice. What the fuck is this? What is he doing? Prescott’s been known to pull shit in the past, but on a scale of one to psycho, this stunt ranks highly even for him. “Where did you get that?” she snarls.

He takes two steps closer. His face is hazy beyond the barrel, his labored breath escaping in spurts—the only sound in the room but for the thumping in Chloe’s chest. She doesn’t know if she should be scared or laugh in his face. As if the prick has the actual balls to shoot her. He’s just a fucking pussy with a God complex.

Her ass pushes up against something hard and she realizes she’s been moving backwards, is now pressed into the wall. There’s nowhere else for her to go, nowhere to escape to. The door is too far to reach. He steps closer.

“What are you doing?” Her voice is too high, too breathless, and she tries to catch it behind her teeth. He is right upon her now, the gun inches from her face. She flicks her eyes away, avoiding looking at it, at that angry, dark hole with its promise of oblivion. Instead looks at him, his ashen features taut and twisted, top lip bared and jittering, a flash of white teeth. Still he moves closer.

His hand begins to tremble, his finger twitches on the trigger. Is he high? Is he high on that shit he bought from Frank? No. Too soon. Too soon to be tripping on that. Something else? She forces herself to look into his eyes. His pupils are huge, like glistening black marbles in his skull. There is death in them. And the words crystallize like icicles in her brain: He’s gonna kill you.

“C’mon, dude...” She pushes herself up onto the balls of her feet, slides up the wall. Her jacket rides up and the chill of cold tiles stings the sweat on her back. He’s gonna kill you. The wall doesn’t yield yet he keeps on coming. Closer, closer. The gun lowered, the tip pressed up hard and cold against her, digging painfully into her stomach. That heavy chill penetrating through her skin; icy cords curling up through her chest, wrapping themselves around her lungs, pulling, squeezing, tighter, tighter. Makes it so damn hard to breathe.

From outside the door comes the jumbled murmur of voices in the hallway, life going on in the background. Now, now would be a really good time for someone to ignore that sign, a really good time for some dickhead to walk in anyway. Come in, she pleads silently. Please, come in. Please, someone, come in.

“Come on, put that thing down!” she tries to order him, but her throat is so tight the words barely push their way out. Her hand finds his jacket, palm wet and slick as she grips the leather, and tries to push the gun away, but his arm holds firm. She can’t reach the door, she can’t cry for help. She can’t breathe. She can’t fucking breathe. There is no escape. She is trapped.

“Don’t ever tell me what to do!” he yells, his face inches from hers, so close she can see his stubble as it breaks the skin on his cheeks, the sweat ooze down the side of his nose. His breath flows over her, hot and sour. “I’m so sick of people trying to control me!”

Oh God, the thought comes to her, tears stinging her eyes, is it gonna hurt? Is this gonna hurt?

Deep in Chloe’s head there starts a distant hum, not just a sound, but a feeling, like hundreds of spidery tentacles rising up through the base of her neck. Into her skull they slither and probe, spreading through her brain, coiling around her temples. The hum grows louder and louder until it fills her whole head with white noise, like static on TV. And the louder it gets, the lighter her head feels, so that her mind starts to float, leaves her shoulders, is drifting away. The tentacles grip. They pull.

Backwards.

“Nobody would ever even miss your punk ass, would they?” Nathan’s voice breaks over the waves of her consciousness. Not just one voice, but multiple cries, all clamoring over each other to be heard: The voices of a hundred Nathans, a thousand. Echoes calling from the far distance, bursting to the surface, popping then fading away.

A bang. A gunshot. Almost lost to time. Not a sharp crack but a soft thud, like a bag of flour hitting a tiled floor, the paper bursts, the flour explodes in a cloud of white.

The corners of Chloe’s vision fade, burn inwards; from white to yellow, to red, to black. She is somewhere else, someone else, and the fear begins to leave her, flow out of her and float away along thousands of silvery threads that run from her chest; twisting, interlacing, entwining, up, up, towards a bright blue butterfly wheeling and pirouetting through the air by the window, the sunlight dancing on its flapping wings.

“Nobody would ever miss your punk ass, would they?” Nathan’s voice. Again. Like Chloe is listening underwater, like she can hear him once more, drifting back to her from another time, another place. The butterfly is gone. All she can make out are Nathan’s eyes, burning and feral, so close to her own that she’s sure she can see her pupils mirrored in his, and his back into hers, reflecting ever inwards, on and on for eternity.  And still the edges of her vision ripple, distort, bubble and then, like that, she sees him.

They have been here before.

In this moment.

Or another.

 


 

It is dark. Somewhere else. All she can make out is Nathan’s face, waxy and pallid in the pale light, tiny beads of sweat clinging to the soft hair around his temples.  She is lying down—they are lying down—but she can’t move. He is so close to her, breathing into her—short, rasping breaths. His narrow eyes gleam manically, tiny embers flickering; the only light in his internal darkness. There is fear in them, so much fear. It is the present, it is a memory, it is all she can see.

 


 

Somewhere, an alarm sounds.

Chloe feels arms clasping her shoulders, hauling her upwards towards the light. And like a drowning man coming up for air, she breaks the surface. Gasps. She’s back here again, all of her. The bathroom. Nathan. A gun. Trapped.

Not trapped.

“What the—?” Nathan’s attention is taken by the sudden, piercing sound and Chloe shoves him backwards, bringing her knee up hard into his crotch. He falls to the floor with a groan and she runs, doesn’t look back, runs the fuck out of there as fast as she can.

The hallway is empty now. The shriek of the alarm interrupted only by the squeak of Chloe’s boots as she skids around the corner towards the far exit. She bursts through the double-doors and heads right, scurrying across the gravel and through the flower beds at the back of the pool building. Chest burning, she darts around the next corner and stops, leaning back around the wall to check if he’s following. The alarm fills the campus and the few students still milling around shuffle away to their fire drill points. Nathan is nowhere to be seen. Chloe creeps further through the beds, keeping close to the wall, the fingers of her left hand trailing along the rough, red brick. At last she comes out behind the parking lot. There’s her truck, there’s her escape. Time to blow this shit stand...

“Price!” Frank’s voice booms from the door of his RV.

... fuck.

 


 

A glossy, naked breast stares up at Chloe from the table top.  She runs an idle finger through a pile of magazines and papers while Frank digs around in the cupboards behind her. A cigarette end, sucked down to the filter, twitches in her hand, and she clutches her wrist to stop it shaking. What does Frank have here to distract her? Tits and ass. More tits and ass. Envelopes with yellowed, torn edges. A home-made flyer for a meet-up out in Portland. Girls wrapped in vinyl, draped over choppers with headlines like Back in the Saddle Again. Thick-set old bikers in vests and adorned with tattoos, showing off their ‘suped up cruisers’. They remind her of Frank at the repair shop, sitting astride an old bike the two of them had fixed up. He was smiling, bouncing up and down on the saddle to test the suspension.

“You’re such a fucking cliché, Frank!” she had laughed at him.

“I’m a cliché with a fucking Harley! What color should we spray it?”

“Pink with gold sparkles. Like your soul.”

He flipped her off. “Yeah? Fuck you, Price!”

Had they been friends back then? It seems like a thousand years ago, the chopper long since sold to repay debts.

A familiar corner of paper juts from the bottom of the pile, and Chloe slides it out. Another of Rachel’s posters. The ghost between them. He misses her too, she knows that.

A grubby glass tumbler clunks down onto the table, right over Rachel’s grainy photo. Chloe lifts her head to see Frank looming above her, thick hands unscrewing the lid from a fifth of cheap whiskey. He pours out a large measure and Chloe watches the liquor spill out into the glass, distorting Rachel’s face as it swills and settles, coating her in honey and treacle... in amber. Color at last.

Are Chloe and Frank still friends now? Does she even know what a friend is? It’s been so long since she had one and maybe that’s a good thing, they all fuck off anyway. Ducks at the funfair, knocked out of her life, shot down one by one: Pop, pop, pop. Rachel, Max, Steph, Tony. They all go. They all leave. All except Chloe... And Frank. Her whole life she’s lived in this shithole, nineteen years, and the closest thing she has to a friend is this man, this dealer, this addict—almost twice her age, with his trap house on wheels and his shit-eating grin. She downs the shot.

Frank leans back against the counter, arms folded, an unpleasant smile hanging on his face. “You know what, Price? Every day I ask myself the same question: How the fuck are you still alive?”

No, not friends. Chloe closes her eyes, rubs the bridge of her nose. “Not now, dude.”

“Seriously! If an atomic fucking bomb landed on this town tomorrow, there’d be nothing left afterwards apart from cockroaches”—he points at her, still that smile—”and you.”

Yeah, and him. “I dunno, Frank,” she says. “Don’t put yourself down.” She gives him a dirty look as he dumps himself down in the seat next to her, shoving her over with his thigh. There’s nowhere to sit in this dump, not since he ripped out the seats opposite to make room for his goddamn dog. He grunts a laugh and cracks open the bottle again, reaching across Chloe to refill her glass. She winces, tries to shuffle away. Dude stinks like piss. “Do you have anything stronger?” she asks.

The whiskey splashes into Frank’s own glass, the bottleneck clinking against the lip as he tries to keep it steady. “Not for you, sunshine,” he says. “Maybe if your head had been a little clearer in the first place, you wouldn’t have fucked up your ‘foolproof’ plan.”

Chloe grips her glass, stares down at the copper liquid. She’s not going to beg the bastard but, holy shit, she needs to get high. The whiskey will have to do. She downs her second shot, and the warm weight of it flows through her, creeps down her legs, into her toes. Still not enough. “Yeah, well,” she says. “How was I supposed to know he was compensating with a fucking .9mm stuffed down his pants?“

“I told you to take the knife.”

“Dude, you know I can’t afford to get caught with a knife on campus. I shouldn’t even be here with you.”

Frank sighs and looks down at Rachel’s poster. His face softens and Chloe catches that douchey expression, the one he always gets when he looks at Rachel. “You still wasting your time putting up these posters?” he asks, sliding it off the table. Rachel’s face disappears into his hands.

 “You still collecting them?”

He flicks her a look but lets the words slide. “It won’t do any good, you know,” he says. “Just makes you look obsessed.” He bends down, puts the poster in a box underneath the table. Slides it in, like its something delicate. “You gotta let go. You’re getting distracted. She always distracted you.

Chloe watches him push the box back under the table with his foot, wonders how anyone can be such a fucking hypocrite. “So now I’m the one that’s distracted? Don’t lay this all on me, Frank. Last week was your fault.”

“My fault?”

“Yeah, your fault. You sold Nathan that fucking G!”

He rolls his eyes, like this is a conversation he doesn’t want to be having again. “I told you, I watered it down.”

“Yeah? So how come I ended up sucking carpet pile on his dirty-ass floor?”

She reaches out for the whiskey bottle but Frank snatches it away. “Probably because of this,” he says, waving it in her face.

She grabs it back from him. “I’m not that fucking stupid. One beer, that’s all I had... maximum two.”

Frank cuts her off with a laugh that never escapes his throat. “It’s never just one, though, is it, Price?”

“Dude, that asshole drugged me!” Chloe gives him a hard shove, the heel of her palm slamming into the rock of his shoulder. He doesn’t flinch. “With shit that you sold him.” She pours out the whiskey, pissed at how much her hands are shaking. “But that’s okay, right, because you ‘watered it down’? Why the fuck didn’t you call me and warn me, man? You knew I was with him.” Frank says nothing, just looks down at the tabletop, swipes a knuckle back and forth across his pale forehead. Chloe narrows her eyes at him. “It’s because you didn’t want him to catch you tipping me off, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Fuck, Frank! You let him fucking drug me? With a fucking rape drug?”

“It’s not a rape drug. He told me he was using it to sleep.”

“Yeah? That’s why you diluted it, huh? Just in case?” She bashes the whiskey bottle down on the table top. The glasses shake. “You sell that shit to guys like Prescott, it’s a fucking rape drug. You knew exactly what he was doing with it. With me.”

He lifts his eyes to her, and a look of what she could almost mistake for concern shadows his face. “He rape you?”

Did Nathan rape her? An icy chill diffuses through her body, her fingers tighten around the bottleneck. Did he? There’s so little she remembers about that night: The oppressive gloom of Nathan’s dorm room, lamplight shining through the green glass of empty beer bottles, casting emerald shadows across his desk. That creepy-ass video projected onto the wall, girls in black and white, hair covering their faces; lithe, silver limbs... Then darkness. Darkness until Chloe had found herself running from that room as fast as she could, filled with a fear of something she couldn’t place. Like something terrible had happened there, something crouched on the edge of her consciousness, ready to pounce; as if she turned her head she could see it, but each time she does it gets further away. All she can see is a light. A blinding flash of light. Without her truck, she had half limped, half jogged home through dark, silent streets. Locked herself in the bathroom and unzipped her pants. Checked herself, checked for him. Nothing. Not that. Something, but not that.

She shakes her head at Frank. “No, I woke up in time... but that’s not the point.” She starts to pour another drink.

“Yes, it is. It’s exactly the point.” He yanks the bottle from her hand. “That shit I sold him wouldn’t have knocked out a fucking canary. Face it, you fucked up, Price. Because you couldn’t stay sober. You should be thanking me!” He jabs a finger in her face, and she turns away with a grimace. “I’m the one who had that little prick banging on my door at 9 am the next morning, accusing me of selling him water, threatening me with the police, acting all crazy. He’s my best fucking customer. Like I need that shit.”

“That’s what this is about, isn’t it? Your goddamn profits! Well, I’m so sorry you were inconvenienced, man. That must have been real fucking hard for you.” She tries to get up, but he’s blocking her in, and there’s no fucking way she’s climbing over his lap. She hauls herself up to standing on the seat, bumps her head against the overhanging lockers. “Ow!”

Frank stares up at her. “What are you doing?”

She leaps over him, clattering onto the floor of the RV and clawing at the counter to stop herself falling. “I’m going home, Frank,” she says, blowing a stray lock of hair out of her eye. “I nearly got fucking shot just now, okay? I can’t take this shit from you too.”

“Fine. What about my money?”

Chloe throws her head back, top lip curling. “Really, dude? You want to talk about this now?”

“Yeah, yeah I do. I’m guessing you’re not up for round three with Patrick Bateman out there, so where you gonna get it from?”

“I dunno, man. I need to think of something.”

“Well, you better think fast! You told me you’d get it back to me within a week. Well, guess what? It’s been a week.”

“I told you, I’ll think of something.”

“Uh-huh, like you thought about it before?” His voice rises as he attempts to mimic her: “'I have a great plan! I can double your money. I just need to get into Prescott’s room'. Like you were gonna try to seduce him or something?” His eyes crease, his voice creaking into a laugh. “Seriously, look at yourself, Price. Arcadia Bay’s least likely honey trap! You couldn’t even seduce your own right hand.”

Chloe glares at him, grabs his whiskey glass and throws the contents down her throat, her eyes fixed on his. Anger swills inside her, tumbling over with the whiskey in fiery waves. “Actually, I’m left-handed,” she says, slamming the glass back down on the table. And then she grins, her best go-fuck-yourself grin as she brings up her left hand to her nose, sniffs her fingers. “And it always worked on Rachel.” It’s a red rag to a bull, but she doesn’t give a shit. Fuck him and his money. Frank’s eyes darken and he rises from his seat, balled fists on the table. “I’m sorry, dude,” Chloe teases, wanting to see how far she can push him, daring him with her eyes. “I’m sorry I got to fuck her, and you didn’t. I know that must be hard for you.”

“I need that money.” His voice is low, threatening. “I’m meeting my wholesaler at the end of this week and I owe him. I don’t give a rat’s ass where you get it from. Go shake down someone’s grandma for all I care. We both know you’re capable of it. Just get it to me.”

“Wholesaler? Fuck that, Frank.” Chloe picks up an old pen casing from the counter, the ink removed, the inside coated in dark, smoky residue. She waves it at him. “We both know what you’re spending it on. Well, I’m hella sorry my inadequacies have cut into your fucking habit!” Too far. His eyes narrow and he goes to take a step towards her. Chloe fumbles for the door handle behind her.

“Get the fuck out of my RV!”

She gets the door open, jumps out backwards, stumbles, catches herself on the doorframe. “Already gone, dude.”

He slams the door in her face.

 


 

Chloe stumbles to her truck, gets in and thumps her palm hard against the steering wheel, enjoying the momentary pain of it before it fades. She needs to think, she needs to get high, she needs a drink. Another drink. She busts open the glove box, scrabbles around among the detritus inside and pulls out a vodka mini, miraculously still full. She twists the lid, snapping the seal with a crack and downs the contents in one glorious, burning gulp.

Borrowing thousands of dollars from Frank isn’t the first big mistake that Chloe has ever made, but it is the latest. In hindsight, she’s surprised he even agreed to it, but he had been high at the time with eyelids drooping and a goofy smile. Flush after his weekend’s takings, he would have agreed to anything. He had fumbled around for the cash in his bedroom, let her count it, stuffed it clumsily into a reused envelope.

“Double my money, right?” he’d asked.

“Double it,” she’d assured him.

Even stoned out of his skull he had eyed her uneasily, like he didn’t quite believe her. She couldn’t really blame him.

She rolls down the window and tosses out the empty vodka bottle. It hits the asphalt with an unsatisfying clink and rolls away towards the curb. She sighs, resisting the temptation to get out and smash it against the wall.

The murmur of faraway voices drifts over from across the lot, and Chloe looks over to see a couple of kids she doesn’t know, a boy and a girl, chatting next to an old 1978 Plymouth Horizon. Wow, she hasn’t seen one of those in a while. She mentally pats herself on the back for the auto nerd-out. She may not recognize many of the kids around here, but she can always name a car. The boy is leaning back against the hood, the toe of one sneaker pressed up to the grill as he runs a nervous hand through his floppy hair. Chloe vaguely recognizes him from somewhere, probably shared a class with him years ago, but she doesn’t care enough to concentrate on it. There’s a grin on his face, one of those made-for-momma’s-photo grins, about as flimsy as a prom queen’s virginity. Poor kid’s shitting himself. And no wonder, the skinny chick would clearly rather be somewhere else, eyes cast down, playing with the sleeve of a gray marl hoodie. Her face is turned away from Chloe, but... No, it can’t be. That choppy dark hair, the hunched, diminutive frame. It looks like... Kelly? Shit, yeah. She really looks like Kelly.

The boy’s voice rises as he tries to play it cool, “Speaking of hip and fast, we should cruise out in my car to an actual movie this week.” Oh, dude... Chloe’s hand is on the ignition key, ready to turn, when a shadow scurries past in the rear-view mirror.

“Hey, you!” That all-too-familiar voice, shrieking like a train whistle, and then she catches sight of him in the glass: Nathan. She throws herself down into the footwell, cursing through clenched teeth. For several panicked seconds she hides there, hunkered down, breath held, waiting for the thumping on the window. It doesn’t come. Shouts echo in from outside and Chloe slides back onto the seat, lifts her head just high enough to peek out into the lot.

Nathan is yelling at the two kids, his sickly frame pulled up to its full height and backing the girl against the hood of the Plymouth. His hands are all up in the girl’s face but there is no gun in them. Not this time. Chloe’s own hand trembles on the ignition key as she fumbles to turn it. She needs to get out of here before he sees her. No way is she drawing attention to herself again. No way. The key jams, won’t turn, shit, shit, shit.

From over her shoulder comes a shout, a cry, the crunch of bone on bone. She risks a glance, sees the boy with the floppy hair writhing on the ground, hands clutching his nose. Nathan stands over him, shoulders curled, fists twitching. Come on, come on, come on, she pleads with the ignition key, half an eye still on Nathan, making sure his unwanted attention is still elsewhere.

“Leave him alone!” The girl’s voice this time, her tiny arms on Nathan’s back. Chloe watches as he rounds on the kid, grabs her by the neck. God, she looks like Kelly. Chloe has been here before, watching Nathan’s fists curl around Kelly’s throat, saw him scream in her face as a tearful Rachel clung to his arm, tried to pull him away. It’s not Kelly—it can’t be—not this time, but Chloe still feels her grip tighten on the steering wheel, a sharp intake of breath through her nose. Who the fuck does this asshole think he is? The key turns at last, and the engine grunts and splutters into life. She yanks the truck into gear, stamps down hard on the gas, her stomach clenching at the memory of Nathan’s gun, the cold weight of it digging into her, the invasion of his body bearing down against hers. She imagines that body now spread like jelly across her grill and... that image really doesn’t suck. She is just about to kick down harder on the gas, not knowing whether she intends to hit him or just scare the shit out of him, when Nathan pulls the girl around and throws her in front of oncoming Ford.

“Fuck!” Chloe slams on the brakes and the tires screech on the blacktop. She screws up her eyes for the inevitable jolt of soft flesh below her wheels.

Nothing.

The truck judders to a halt. Chloe dares her eyes open and peers out over the dash. There is a clunk of metal as a small hand reaches up over the hood. Arm follows hand, another hand, another arm, a head of choppy dark hair, and then... a face. Peeking up at her through the windshield. A face from a different place, a different time. A face Chloe was sure she would never see again.

“Max?”