Home > Gun Shy(4)

Gun Shy(4)
Author: Lili St. Germain

 

* * *

 

And every time I’ll tell you, you are wrong. That, even as I cried in the aftermath of his sudden interest in me, I still was a girl without a black coal heart.

 

* * *

 

I can tell you the exact moment the darkness burrowed in to stay. I imagine it like some filthy worm, coming up from the earth, chewing a neat circle in my skin and wriggling in. Finding that hollow space beneath my heart, in my ribcage, and curling up. Sated. Satisfied. Warm. I feel it sometimes when I’m frightened, and my heart won’t slow down. It beats like crazy like a machine gun with the trigger locked on. I can’t breathe. My vision tunnels. In those moments, I imagine the worm, how happy it must be, how comfortable within my fragile chest.

 

* * *

 

It’s strange how you know something has happened, even if you can’t remember it.

When you wake up in your bed, and the sheets beneath you are wet, and you haven’t wet the bed since you were little, a three-year-old girl who started to cry because she’d slept through instead of getting up and going to the bathroom.

Eighteen years old, naked, and laying in a cold, wet spot, damp thighs and a bitter taste on your tongue. The taste of a medication you took once after your dad died and you started having nightmares that kept you awake. The bitter pill that your mother crushed into a glass of milk for you, the one that knocked you under and held you there in a chokehold, so that you could still see the nightmares in your sleep, but could no longer wake up from them. It was terrifying then, and it’s terrifying now. It’s in your mouth and in your nostrils and down the back of your throat and all you can remember is a low voice that says, Finish your milk, Cassandra.

 

* * *

 

You have been drugged.

Somebody has undressed you, tucked you into your bed, and they have used you. They have left something inside you.

A darkness. A coiled, buzzing midnight that becomes all you’ve ever known.

You don’t like it at first. It frightens you.

The darkness is where nightmares come to life.

But after time goes by, you start to feel differently.

 

* * *

 

You begin to realize that the darkness you’ve been given is not a burden, but a gift.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

 

CASSIE

 

 

EIGHT YEARS AGO


I’ve never felt rain like the rain we had that night.

It didn’t fall from the sky so much as it drove into the ground, each drop an individual missile that indented the earth and turned firm-packed dirt to mud. It bit at your skin like tiny stinging bullets, if you were stupid - or unlucky - enough to be caught out in the deluge.

It’s imprinted in my mind as if it’s still happening now, on a constant loop.

Truck lights flashed past on the interstate on their way through our tiny town, in and out of Gun Creek in thirty seconds. We had plenty of customers at the Grill, but nobody ever stayed longer than a meal and a bathroom stop. The truck stop out front lay empty most nights, the once bustling stop in the road usurped by a fancier one up the highway fifty miles or so, with its shiny gas station and fast-flow gasoline pumps and sealed parking lot for the trucks to pull in for the night.

The diner was the most alive part of our town, and it was still dying.

It was storming, not unusual for that time of year, but the business it brought us was incredible. Dana’s Grill was heaving; I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had to seat customers at the bar while I cleared off tables. I had overheard a couple earlier talking about some flooding north of Gun Creek, and I guessed the shiny new rest stop had been cut off by the downpour.

I was handing change to a table of truck drivers when I heard the sound. It was dampened by the unrelenting rain, the water almost delaying the sound waves from breaching the diner.

A loud bang. The sickening screech of metal twisting, accordioning in on itself like a can being crushed underfoot. Every head in the diner swiveled to look outside, just as a crack of lightning lit up the world in an eerie blue-white flash that lasted but a fraction of a second.

A midnight-blue Mustang with a custom-painted white racing stripe down the middle. I looked just in time to see it hurtling toward the rusted guardrail that ran along the edge of the bridge into town. An entire diner full of people watched, slack-jawed and unmoving as the guardrail groaned and gave way, the car hurtling into oblivion below.

 

* * *

 

It hit something, hard. What did it hit? Not a tree. There weren’t any trees on this stretch of highway, save for a few dying lemon trees that somebody planted out the front of Dana’s Grill years ago and left to try and survive in the blistering hot summers and fatally cold winters that make up our little spot in northern Nevada.

Whispers began to flow through the diner before the car had even crashed to a stop in the shallow bedrock below. An accident? Somebody call nine-one-one. What’s going on? The creek was somewhat frozen at this time of year, but no doubt the force of the car would smash straight through any ice and into the freezing water below.

I dropped the change onto the table, missing the guy’s large, oil-stained hand completely. Coins rolled in ten different directions, and the guy glared at me, clearly unimpressed.

I wasn’t paying attention to him, though. I was staring at what I thought I’d just seen, what I’d definitely heard, waiting for another crack of lightning to show me I was imagining things.

“Hey, you okay?” One of the truckers asked me. He was wearing one of those baseball caps, the peak so low I could barely see the whites of his eyes as they reflected my horrified expression.

My mouth was dry. It wasn’t his car. I just spoke to him.

“My boyfriend drives a Mustang,” I said slowly. An odd taste filled my mouth, and it was a moment before I realized I’d bitten the inside of my cheek hard enough to draw blood.

“Oh, hell,” the guy said, putting a hand on my shoulder as a set of headlights rolled through the rain on the highway stopping in front of the warped guardrail, illuminating it in full detail. The car that had gone over was nowhere to be seen. Oh God.

I snapped out of my inertia. Tearing my apron off, I dropped it, sprinting for the front doors.

“Cass?” A voice sounded from my right. Hands fell upon my arms, a face leaning down into mine that I knew but couldn’t place, even though I saw it every day.

“Cassie!” the face yelled, and suddenly, two light-brown eyes sprang into focus.

“It could be Leo,” I said to the face with the eyes.

Those eyes scrunched up in confusion. “What?”

I needed for him to let go of me. I needed to get to the car down in the creek bed to tell myself it wasn’t Leo. That it was anyone except Leo.

“The car!” I yelled, shaking myself free. “It’s a Mustang. Let go of me!”

Chase Thomas. That was his name. The quarterback of Gun Creek High’s football team. The little kid who pulled a chunk of my hair out in kindergarten. He was seventeen, like me. His eyes went wide as he let me go, and then I was smacking my shoulder against the heavy double doors at the entrance to Dana’s, leaping off the front steps and almost breaking my neck as I landed on icy asphalt. My teeth started chattering almost immediately. It was below freezing that night, and the rain was turning yesterday’s snowdrifts into pale, gray sludge.

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