Happy New Year! This story is told from three points of view and has been posted in three parts, beginning in November with "Matt's Story," continuing last month with "Jamie's Story," and ending this month with "Rob's Story." It was first published in the Winter 2010 edition of Black Oak Presents: A Journal of Mid-American Culture, which is now out of print. I am excited to reshare it these seven years later:
What a morning. The air came crisp and cold into my lungs and the sky was blue and endless. On another day it might have been fun to call out of work and do something, but instead I was bleeding to death in my car and speeding off to nowhere with Jamie going into shock next to me.
I wanted to drive her out to a little deserted lot I knew of, where we could just talk in private for ten minutes. Ten minutes of sanity was all we needed to talk things out.
To think that all Dad had to say was that he didn’t want to hear about it again—no wonder we did such crazy stuff all the time and got away with it. What a joke. My parents were clueless, clueless about every damn thing.
The pain pounded in my head from Matt slamming me to the ground. He was no small guy but I couldn’t believe he knocked me clear off the porch.
I needed to get Jamie out of there. It was not her fault that all of this was happening, and she had plenty of other crap on her mind. None of this should have been her problem at all. Life is short and sucks enough as it is.
When we were all kids, Jamie and Matt and their parents used to visit us during the summer. A big part of me was glad when those two came to live with us. It was like we were kids again. Those were the good memories I had from growing up here and I knew we could get them back, even though we were all torn up about what happened to their parents. I sure as hell don’t know what happened to Matt, though.
Anyway, number one on the day’s list: get me and Jamie out of there. I needed to tell her about what Matt had done. There were a couple of reasons why I wasn’t happy with him, and his creepy night-spying was just the cherry on top of a pie that had been baking for a very long time.
When we got out to the lot about 20 minutes from home, I turned off the car and got out. I went around to the trunk and looked inside. I kept on almost believing that the present Matt had left me wouldn’t be there anymore, but of course it always was. I scared myself now just thinking that I had ridden around with it for a good few days, trying to pretend like nothing was wrong.
There was a big old rifle in the trunk. It was mine but I had not put it there. My dad and I went hunting sometimes, but I didn't just keep some big gun rattling around in the back of my car. Matt had somehow gotten a hold of it, but that wasn’t all.
I decided to leave it for a second and walked over to Jamie’s side of the car. She stared up at me with her big eyes. I stood back and pulled the door open. “Hey,” I said, giving her shoulders a rub and kissing her cheek. “Look, I got somethin’ you need to look at.”
“What?” she asked. “Why are we here? Robbie, it’s freezing, just show me in the car.”
“No, you need to come look at it,” I said. I started to pull her to her feet but she grabbed my arm.
She tucked in her bottom lip and didn’t say anything for a long time.
Suddenly she burst out crying and shaking, clutching at my arm. “I’m scared. I’m scared. I can’t deal with this anymore. We can’t just do nothing. We have to do something. I want to go, I want to go away.”
I knelt down in front of her, freed my arm, and started rubbing her arms. “It’s okay, it’s okay. What we should do is leave here as soon as possible.”
She started crying even harder and I put my arms around her, pulling her close to me. After a few seconds she kind of pulled herself together. “What’s in the trunk?” she asked.
“Just come take a look at it.” I got her to her feet and she held my hand with both of hers. She was still shaking.
We walked around the car and she looked into the trunk with this mixture of curiosity and fear, like it was some open coffin. Now, usually I had a very messy trunk, filled with crap, but when Matt broke into it, he cleaned all of it out, even the dirt and sticks, everything. It was literally spotless—not even a speck was left ground into the fabric. It was as clean as the day I bought the car. When I found it, the gun was also polished clean and sitting in there with a note tied to it.
Of everything Matt had done, this bothered me the most. It had taken him so much time, yet I had no idea how he got a hold of my car keys or the keys to the gun case, or where the hell I was when all this took place.
Jamie ran her hand over the fabric and inspected it, and I could see her shudder. She took the little note and opened it, leaning in to read it.
“Monster.” She looked puzzled and then turned to me. “What the hell?”
I shrugged. “It had one bullet in it. First thing I did was unload it.”
She stared at me for a second and blinked. “Why didn’t you tell me about this? How long ago did he do this?”
I shook my head and shrugged again. “Couple a days ago. I mean, to be honest, this really didn’t surprise me. I didn’t think it meant much. I really don’t know, I mean…I guess today settles it.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t say anything. So…what does he want you to do?” She talked quietly and looked around over her shoulders.
“Let’s not find out.”
She looked straight into my eyes. “Let’s just leave, altogether, and get out of here. You and me, today. Now.” The look on her face was dead serious.
I knew she meant it. I had been waiting for those words for the longest time. I was all ready. “Okay. Let’s do it. We should go back first, though, so we can get our stuff. Check on my parents. You think everything’s okay?”
“I don’t know.” She reached out and hugged me. I hugged her back and kissed her on the neck. The way I bent my head made my face hurt like hell. I knew that when I got back in the warm car I would feel just how badly I was busted up, now that the adrenaline was wearing off. Everything was going to hurt. She held onto me for a long time.
We got back in the car. It was still warm in there and I could start to feel the aches. We didn't say much, but Jamie kept looking at me and trying to smile. I smiled back. I just needed some time to think, a little about how scared I was and a lot about how relieved I was.
We were going to go somewhere, do something, be free. I didn't want to start talking about it just yet. I could give it until we got back on the road again and to a hotel, maybe. But something real was happening.
As we drove, I looked around. It was still early. The road sprawled out in front of us, with snow and fields lining it forever. I can’t say enough that the sky was blue, but it was also that cloudless blue I was used to seeing in fall, not spring. I could even smell burning leaves somewhere in the distance and I had this sensation like winter was coming and not going.
We pulled onto the long driveway and I could see our property stretching across the horizon. There was our house, a barn and the trees to the west, and then a long field of brown and white that crawled out toward the east till there were hills where the sunflowers grew.
As we bounced along the gravel road, my head throbbed with every jolt and bang of the wheels over the rocks. Jamie put her hand on my leg and rubbed it a little. We both looked at the house. It wasn’t our house anymore. I looked at everyone standing on the porch, waiting there and watching us.
There was something wrong about how they looked. Matt was standing there, still in his t-shirt, all covered in his own blood. His hair was a mess and he was pale like he was freezing his crazy ass off, just standing there on the porch like a total nut.
I looked at Jamie. “Do you think he knows we talked about him?” I asked.
She glanced at me. “Of course he does.” I nodded and looked back at them again. Matt was alone.
“Where did Uncle Mike and Aunt Misty go?” she asked quietly.
“They were right there,” I said. We stared ahead, bumping along while Matt glared back at us. There wasn’t that much blood on him before. That wasn’t all his blood.
“Robbie, we could turn around now,” Jamie said quickly, leaning back into her seat.
“I know. But we need money, though, and clothes. We gotta’ get our stuff.”
We pulled to a stop. Matt was just standing there, straight ahead of us, sort of leaning to one side with his dark eyes squinting toward us in the sunlight.
I had a terrible feeling.
“Don’t leave me alone,” Jamie said quickly, grabbing my hand.
“I won’t,” I said, and wondered if we were really going to get out of this car, and what the hell was going to happen if we did.
"Dakota Morning," copyright 2018 Amelia Cotter (first published in Black Oak Presents: A Journal of Mid-American Culture, Winter 2010 Edition, 2010)