Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Magic Lantern Chapter Two

Please make a donation to support Minutes Before Six

By Anthony Engles

To read Chapter One, click here

Square One

Colleen sat with her arms crossed in front of her, lips pressed tightly together as she looked out the windshield. Faded white broken lines advanced toward her in a never ending succession. The weathered gray asphalt of Highway 11 separated freshly cultivated timothy and alfalfa fields in every direction until they merged with the horizon in a hazy blur.

"That‘s how bikers do it, hon," Austin continued. "They slowly infiltrate these funky little towns, and before you know it, they've got their greasy fingers in everybody‘s pie. It's their standard M.O. The local yokels are too scared or too stupid to pull their heads out of their asses until it’s too late."

Colleen bristled.

"Those stupid yokels are my parents," she said. "And Mom says there's only a couple and that they don't bother anybody. She says they keep to themselves and are very respectful. At least it won't be like the gang-bangers shooting each other every night in Oak Park.”

“Maybe not yet. Besides, we didn’t live in Oak Park."

Austin's voice was weary. He had been driving since eight in the morning and now it was close to three in the afternoon. He seemed to hunch over the steering wheel of their newer white Chevy Tahoe; his blue oxford button-down shirt hung limp from his arms. Dark stubble peppered with gray covered his jaw and made him look older than his forty-two years. Only his blue eyes- Ricky Nelson blue Colleen's mother had called them - crackled with the suspicious curiosity of a hard-bitten, big-city detective. He shook his head slowly from side to side, his eyes locked on the road.

"I still say we're making a mistake," he said. "We should have stayed in Antelope. We could have worked on our problems there just as easily."

Colleen closed her eyes and took off her glasses to rub her temples.

"There's no point in discussing it any further, so please let's just drop it. We're both tired, and I don't want to fight."

"I'm just voicing my opinion. I don't like it."

"You don't have to like it. It's not about you. It’s not even about us right now."

"How can we have a healthy fresh start if we're not in agreement on a big issue like this? It's crazy, just packing up twenty-two years of our lives that we built together back to Podunk, Nowhere."

"It's done, Austin. I need to be close to my family after everything that's happened. I just want to get back to square one. We‘ve been through this a hundred times."

"I've tried to explain --"

“No more explanations. No more apologies. We're past all. What I want is for you to support me in some of the changes I've decided to make on my own terms. It's our marriage's last chance."

Austin fell silent. He looked forward, the muscles of his jaw working while he absorbed Colleen's words. A mile passed before he finally spoke.

"Okay," he said. "Who knows, maybe you'll discover the biker mama within. Maybe run off to Sturgis with some guy named Spider."

Colleen got up on her seat and crawled over to him. She put her arms around his neck and planted several kisses on his cheeks and lips.

"I could get a tattoo," she said, making her voice husky. She bit his earlobe. "Would you like that?"

Austin chuckled.

"That could be kinda sexy," he said.

Colleen smiled and returned to her seat. The tension that hung between them since Biggs Junction evaporated, leaving a still calm. She settled back and tried to enjoy the rest of the ride.

Colleen had forgotten that a true, deep-blue sky existed in places beyond Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valley where the air was always a brassy, russet color. A light, bright-green peach fuzz of feed grass made its first appearance of the year -- still two days before the official beginning of spring. The distant Blue Mountains formed a dark band that stretched along the east, and then vanished in a blur of brown, green and gray to the north. Several miles to the northwest a sun-faded green water tower appeared-a lone structure in the middle of nowhere that rose from the earth like a steel sentinel.

"Walla Walla," Austin said.

He kept his eyes forward and said nothing more -- the two words hung malignant in the silence of the cab for several miles. Colleen breathed a quiet sigh of relief that Austin had decided not to drag out those old bones; the subject had not been broached for several years and there was no reason to bring it up now. The situation was like a simmering stew made from foul ingredients that no one ever dared to lift the lid to check. Thankfully, Austin had never used that part of their history together as a weapon against her to make her life any more hellish than it already was.

Just under a year ago, Colleen had been a cross word and a slap away from throwing a few things in a suitcase and walking away from Austin and their marriage. She had given him two options: They could both return to Vermilion together as a couple so that she could be close to her family, or she could return alone and Austin could stay in Antelope or live wherever he wanted -- maybe not alone but without her. Up until several months ago, Colleen's self-esteem was perhaps a bit tarnished but remained largely intact. Now it stood battered and cracked with heavy structural damage; without positive reinforcement and nurturing, it threatened to crumble around her. She had been forced to make drastic decisions for the sake of self-preservation, and with the support of her parents, she would stand firm.

Colleen fiddled with the turner on the stereo. She settled for a country station, partially for clarity, but also because Austin enjoyed Rodney Atkins-a subtle way to extend their delicate armistice. She leaned back and smoothed the front of her dress--a cotton paisley print she had selected for comfort over fashion. Her feet were delightfully bare, with her favorite sandals kicked off to the side.

"Everything okay?" Austin asked. He reached across the cab and gave her hand a squeeze. Colleen realized that she had fallen into a thoughtful silence since passing the prison town. She looked over at Austin and mustered a genuine smile; the one that he used to say could light up a room.

"Yeah," she said. "a little nervous, maybe."

"About what?"

"I don't know," she said- "Change. The unknown. I'll be okay."

"Of course you will. Just keep it simple."

Keep it Simple.

Colleen kept the annoyance off her face and held her tongue. Austin had picked up the phrase at his first A/A meeting and beat her over the head with it ever since -- long after his brief and futile attempt at complete sobriety. Simplicity was what she had chosen when she decided to marry him after her high-school graduation so long ago. Get married have babies raise them in a loving family environment, an environment where the father doesn‘t disappear for days at a time, and when he doesn't come –

Colleen stopped herself. She took an eraser and wiped the chalkboard in her mind. She had to stop thinking like that, just as she had finally learned to curtail the little nips and jabs that had always been on the tip of her tongue, tiny malicious arrows, ever ready to fly. Besides, she was tired of being a bitch; she just wanted to forgive and move on.

They ascended a low rise, and the small farming town of Northfield spread out before them, a veritable portrait of rural mediocrity. Its own water tower stood as a rust-streaked graffiti covered exemplification of such -- a local artist had devoted an exorbitant amount of time and white paint to create a giant swastika with tines pointed in the wrong direction.

Long ago, Colleen and Austin had spent many nights driving around the back roads of Northfield. He had been a senior, she a junior. Sometimes they would drive down here after the football game on Friday nights. Austin would drink beer and drive around while they planned their future together. They always wound up at the end of a dark old farm road in Austin’s 65 Olds Delta 88, in the back seat as big as a single bed. With the windows rolled down, they would listen to the crickets and breathless words of undying devotion to each other -- words that people barely older than children had any business using. It was on one of those nights that Colleen had given Austin her virginity.

As they drove through Northfield, Colleen managed to keep her emotions in check until they passed the Tastee-Freeze where Austin had proposed to her. He always swore that he had been inspired by the John Cougar song. Colleen stole a glance at him to see if they were anywhere close to being on the same plane, any sign of recognition or vestige of nostalgia. He caught her though and looked at her intently.

"What's the matter? Do you have to go to the bathroom?"

Colleen had a lump in her throat and couldn't speak. She shook her head, but with too much enthusiasm. She wanted to lunge over to Austin's side of the truck, take his head in her hands, and kiss him hard on the mouth, to tell him that she should have seen it coming and tried harder to be a more attentive, impassioned wife-not just the mother of his daughter. Not just the woman who spent her days cooking and cleaning. She wanted to spring on him like a panther and punch him in the face over and over and scream obscenities at him until blood flowed from his nose and mouth for what he had done to their lives and their marriage. Instead, Colleen folded her arms in front of her and looked out her window at all the new strip malls and shopping centers as Northfield passed by.

Northfield behind them, they drove north on Highway 469. They passed through another verdant stretch of timothy, the ankle-high tender young grass reaching toward the mid-afternoon sun. After several miles of pasture land, the Tahoe began another winding ascent into a more mountainous terrain; towering ponderosa and tamarack pines crowded both sides of the road, throwing cool flickering shadows upon them. Colleen cracked her window and the crisp smell of the forest rushed in.

30 miles of hairpin turns and wooded hillsides rolled by before they crested the rise that overlooked Vermilion in the saddle of the valley, split in two by the sinuous Snake River. Colleen sat up in her seat like a giddy young girl, excited at the prospect of new beginnings. They descended a gentle wooded grade and soon crossed the four-way intersection with the old Shell station to the left across the street from the Quickie-Mart. A new motel, the Thunderbird, took up the entire block on the northeast corner.

"Sure you don't want to check in?" Austin asked. "We could probably still get a room without a reservation this time of year."

Colleen shook her head.

"I‘m sure. We'll have fun."

They crossed the muddy expanse of the river and the bridge landed on the north bank where Highway 469 turned into Dora Road. Colleen was astounded at how touristy this part of town -- once just sagging buildings half-empty and failing family businesses -- had become; both sides of the street were lined with quaint shops that sold hand-blown glass figurines, hand-crafted leather goods and even full-sized fountains made of copper and brass, tastefully stained with verdigris. There was a feel of local artistry here, possibly the hub of Vermilion‘s cultural entity, but it had carefully kept pretense at arm’s length. Sidewalks were swept and tidy and the plate-glass windows gleamed from recent washing. Fresh asphalt paved the street-flawless black with immaculate white stripes down the center.

"Smells like dirty money," Austin said.


Their new home lay a mile and a half down a washboard and pothole-riddled gravel road called Lariat 5 miles north of town. Here the pines yielded to thick stands of larch and oak amidst heavy patches of foliage and wild berry bushes, still gray and leafless awaiting the vernal equinox to resurrect them.

Beyond a sharp bend to the right, the forest on the northern side of the road opened up to encircle a small cluster of two mobile homes and a dilapidated brown cracker-box house with beige trim in a clearing. They drove slowly past the first mobile, a weathered single-wide with a vintage Camaro parked in front- -shark-gray dappled with flat-burgundy primer spots.

Set back 40 yards beyond a shabby yellow lawn sat another home, positioned parallel so the front slider faced the road. The trailer was bisque colored with long vertical streaks of dried rust from old screws, fronted with a home-made porch made out of plywood and two-by-fours -- the railing bowed and stone colored with age. Moored in front was an early seventies Ford LTD that seemed in danger of being swallowed by knee-length dead grass.

The tiny brown house was theirs and faced inwards. The three domiciles formed a square with an invisible side adjacent to the road. A mighty juniper tree provided a permanent and majestic central point in this ramshackle array of man-made junk. Austin pulled into the gravel drive in front of the house and cut the engine.

Colleen stepped out of the truck and stretched. Her ears buzzed from being on the road, but there was no other sound except for the ticking of the engine -- no nearby traffic or other city noise that had been woven into the fabric of her life for so long. The absence of even a distant car alarm or siren seemed surreal. Austin made a noise of disgust.

"Swell," he said.

Near the thick trunk of the juniper lay four metal trash cans dumped on their sides. Garbage littered the lawn, scattered about by local dogs or animals. Several Hefty bags sat chewed open with dirty diapers, beer cans, spent coffee filters with moldy grounds and a wide assortment of other trash strewn about in a 15-foot radius from the tree.

A child‘s scream shattered the afternoon stillness. A half grown black Lab trotted out from behind the trailer in the back lot with three laughing children in hot pursuit. The dog carried a piece of chewed up Styrofoam in its mouth-the type that raw meat comes on wrapped in cellophane from the grocery store. There was movement behind the sliding glass door of the far trailer, and Collen thought she saw the shadow of someone looking on. She and Austin watched the kids' futile attempt to capture the over-grown puppy for a few moments, then climbed the steps to the covered porch.

Inside the house, Colleen was greeted with the distinct smell of new carpet and Pine-Sol. She smiled and inhaled deeply through her nose. The living room to the left and kitchen to the right were devoid of any furnishings. An island covered with Formica separated the two rooms with cabinets that hung from the ceiling. Colleen bent down at the knees to run her fingers along the new beige shag carpet. She enjoyed the way it felt.

"I'll bring our stuff in from the truck," Austin said from behind her and went back out the sliding glass door.

Colleen stood again. She began to explore the layout, starting with the kitchen. A fresh coat of wax had been recently applied to the slightly-yellowed linoleum floor. A full-sized bay window at the front of the kitchen faced south and overlooked the heavily-wooded forest across the road, another unexpected joy.

Austin came in with a sleeping bag under each arm and a suitcase in each hand. He dumped everything on the floor in the center of the living room.

"Want help?" Colleen asked.

"There‘s just a couple of things left. Finish your inspection."

Colleen smiled and went to the large picture window that faced east. An abandoned garden plot ample enough to provide for a large family lay covered with rotting vines and oak leaves with a dense forest of trees and thick underbrush beyond.

She walked down the hall and looked in the first doorway on the left. The small closet-size room would serve as temporary storage space since this house was a third of the size as their last.

Colleen inspected the small bathroom and laundry area then moved to the far north-end of the house to the spacious master bedroom. A single three-by-six window provided outside light from the north wall. Colleen leaned against the doorjamb and in her mind arranged the furniture that would arrive tomorrow. While she stood there, brow creased in concentration, Austin came up behind her and put his arms around her waist. He nudged her ponytail aside with his nose and kissed the nape of her neck. Colleen‘s body involuntarily tensed up, but only for a split second -- enough time to strain the brief interlude. Austin released her and took a step back. Colleen felt the urge to say something but Austin broke the silence first, mercifully allowing the awkward moment to pass.

"Your back is going to hate your guts for deciding to camp out on the floor," he said.

"It'll be romantic," Colleen said. She put her arms around his waist, trying to capture the lost moment. "Maybe we can fool around."

It had been almost a year since they had slept together and Colleen surprised herself by suggesting it. Austin blinked, also taken momentarily aback, but he recovered quickly. He kissed her on the lips. He had just slipped his hand around to her lower back when a tentative knock on the glass of the front slider reached them.

"Ah, must be the welcome wagon," Austin said. "I don't suppose you packed any Rid. My scalp itches just looking at those brats."

"Shhh! Let's just go greet them and try to be nice neighbors," Colleen said. "For once."

Colleen turned Austin around in the doorway, swatted him on the butt, then pushed him gently towards the living room. Austin rounded the corner and hesitated when he saw their visitor. Colleen almost ran into the back of him.

The young woman was in her early to mid-twenties with a voluminous crop of blond hair that spilled out through an opening at the back of a simple ball cap. She was short and quite full figured and wore a black T-shirt, extremely-tight jeans with ripped knees and tennis shoes covered with old food and grease. She held a parcel of aluminum foil while she looked absently out towards the road. Colleen thought that if the girl gained an ounce she would be overweight, but as she stood now, she had a figure like one of the bombshells that drove men crazy back in the forties and fifties. The hair stood up on the back of Colleen's neck, and she prepared to extend her claws.

Austin beat her to the slider and slid it open. The young woman ignored Austin's Officer Poncharello smile, however, and looked past him, directly at Colleen. Her dazzling-blue eyes were the color of sapphires hidden in the freezer.

"Hi," she said, "You must be the Millers."
Her voice was shy with a latent obnoxious quality that Colleen assumed would blossom as they became better acquainted. The girl extended her hand nervously, almost dropping the aluminum foil package. Colleen smiled and took the girl's hand, reaching underneath Austin‘s arm.

"We are. I'm Colleen and this is my husband Austin."

Austin shook the young woman's hand politely.

"I'm Tina. Me and my husband Cody live over there."

She turned around and pointed to the trailer across the dead lawn, the one with the Camaro parked in front. Colleen could hear the three kids screaming and laughing behind the back trailer.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Tina," said Colleen. She relaxed, seeing that Tina focused on her instead of Austin. Austin was aloof, but well behaved.

"Cody ain't home right now, but he told me to come over and make you feel welcome," Tina said. She extended the package towards Colleen. "Here, these are for you guys."

"What's this?" Colleen asked. She took it and lifted a part of a loose flap of aluminum.

"Oatmeal cookies. They're okay, I guess. I ate one to make sure I wasn't poisoning you guys or anything. They're kinda salty."

Colleen laughed politely and invited Tina in. Austin tried one of the cookies. He raised his eyebrows and nodded dramatically. Colleen shot him a warning look not to overdo it.

Tina took a single step into the doorway, and then froze as if obeying a previous order not to proceed any further. When she knelt down and ran her fingers across the new carpet as Colleen had done, Colleen felt an immediate kinship with their pretty new neighbor.

"We seen the carpet guys over here a couple of weeks ago," Tina said. "The old stuff that came out was pretty nasty. The whole place was."

"Why?" asked Colleen. "Who lived here?"

"Her name was Edith. She was a real sweet lady, but she had a bunch of cats that stunk real bad. It took Big Norma and me a week to scrub this place down."

Colleen and Austin looked at each other.
"Big Norma lives back in that trailer at the end of the lot," said Tina. "Those three pests chasing that stupid dog around belong to her. Patty paid Norma and me to clean this house up. Patty's your sister, right?"

"Yes," Colleen said. "The place looks wonderful. Thank you."

Tina shrugged and blushed slightly, then turned away. The last of the late afternoon sun slipped down towards the horizon and caught her hair in an explosion of platinum and light.

"What happened to Edith?" Austin asked.

Tina looked at him full-on for the first time.

"She died. She didn't have no family or nothing. Just them nasty-ass cats. Kinda sad."

"Poor lady," said Colleen. "Maybe sometime you could show me what she had planted in her garden."

"Oh, she had all kinds of stuff," said Tina, suddenly animated. "She even taught me how to can vegetables. I got my own set-up and everything."

"Maybe we could plant some things together," said Colleen. "I've always wanted a full-sized garden."

"I'd like that," said Tina.

Tina stuffed her hands in her back pockets and looked out at the lawn. The three kids came back around and cut a diagonal path across the grass. The Labrador puppy stayed just ahead of them and disappeared behind Tina's trailer, his three pursuers close behind.

"So, when‘s all your stuff gonna get here?" Tina asked. She pointed to the pile of sleeping bags, luggage, and cooler. "I hope that ain't it."

Tina snorted and laughed at her own little joke then became serious again.

"I‘m sorry, I shouldn't be so nosy. Cody says I need to learn to mind my own business."

Colleen shook her head.

"You‘re perfectly fine, hon," she said. "The moving truck should be here tomorrow morning. We wanted to be here, so we got here early."

"We thought we'd camp out tonight," said Austin.

"Outside?" Tina asked.

Austin laughed, and Colleen elbowed his arm.

"He meant we're going to sleep in here, on the floor," said Colleen. If Tina's feelings were bruised, she did not show it.

"Oh," she said. "Well, if you guys need anything, let me know. I‘ll be home in a few hours."

"Why don't you stay, Tina?" Colleen said. "We have beer and stuff for sandwiches."

"I'd like to take you up on a beer, but I can't. I have to get to work. Cody'll be home tonight, but it'll be real late. Maybe I'll bring him over to introduce you guys tomorrow."

Colleen and Austin followed Tina out to the porch. With some effort, she extracted a set of keys from her front pocket. The black Lab pup bounded into the yard. The three kids appeared from the back of Tina's trailer - still running, but slowed down by half, their faces flushed and sweaty. The oldest boy brandished a hatchet or hammer handle that he apparently intended to use as a club to brain the puppy. The next down in age was a little girl with blond hair that needed to be washed. She held a rusty leash that lacked three feet of chain. The youngest boy was around four years-old with bright-red hair that sat like a sweaty mop on his head. All three kids wore dirty clothes that were in bad repair and fit poorly. They all stopped in the middle of the lawn and tried to regain their breath. The dog stopped several feet away and turned to face them. It panted and wagged its tail. After a brief pause, the kids started the chase again. The pup sprung gleefully into the air and led them across the lawn once again.

"That's Joshua, Micaela, and Ezra," said Tina. She pointed to them in turn from the oldest to the youngest. 

“Big Norma's on welfare and don't do nothin' but pump out brats and clean out the food bank once a week. The money she got from your sister for helping clean your house is probably the only she's earned since she had Joshua."

The three kids ran in front of the porch, close enough for Colleen to detect the odor of perspiration. Tina suddenly addressed the trio in a loud voice. 

"Why don't you kids stop spending so much time chasing that stupid dog around and spend more time picking up trash. I don't see why I should have to pick up shitty diapers when I don't even have a baby."

The kids skidded to a halt and looked up. The oldest, Joshua, glared at Tina.

"We‘re trying to catch him so we can take him down to Safeway to find him a home. Then he won't get in the trash anymore, Mrs. Busybody."

"Besides, you ain't our boss, Tina," said the girl, Micaela.

Tina exhaled with contempt.

"Fine. I hope you all get bit and get rabies. I'm gonna laugh my ass off when they put that long-ass needle in your stomachs."

"Why don't you shut your fat mouth, Tina!" said Joshua.

The three were off again. As if to taunt Tina, the Lab pranced toward the juniper tree and snatched up a rolled-up, disposable diaper in its jaws. It made two or three bounding leaps, tail wagging furiously to celebrate the find, then loped back around and stopped in mid-motion to throw its pursuers off the trail. It then bolted towards the steps that led up to the porch where Colleen, Austin, and Tina stood. 

Colleen gasped and stumbled backwards. She grabbed Austin's shirt for balance and swung behind him. The dog broke left at the last second and darted back onto the lawn.

"I was only kidding, hon," said Tina. "He‘s only a puppy. He ain't bit no one yet."

Colleen's heart pounded in her throat. Her mouth had dried up, and it was difficult for her to breathe. Still, she managed a smile.

"I‘m okay, I'm okay," she said. "He just startled me."

A loud bellow vibrated the wooden porch they stood on and echoed into the forest across the road. The command was unintelligible to Colleen, but the three kids understood it; they stopped in their tracks, turned on their heels and walked towards the back trailer with heads hung grudgingly like child laborers returning to the sweatshop. On the swayed, weather-beaten porch stood a mountain of a woman in a faded-yellow moo-moo.

"Big Norma," Tina announced. She looked at her watch. "Shit! I gotta go, I'm late!"

She trotted down the steps and walked quickly towards the Camaro, her keys jangling and body jiggling in all the right places. The Lab thought she was there 
to play until she picked up an empty tomato can and hurled it in its direction.

"When my husband gets home I hope he fills your black ass with buckshot, you little fucker," Tina said.

Colleen looked over just in time to see Austin openly enjoying the young woman's charms. She sighed and took him by the hand then led him into the house.

Colleen lay awake in her sleeping bag and listened to Austin's ragged breathing as he slept soundly next to her. She envied his heavy slumber - brought on by many hours of driving and the several cans of Coors he had drank to wash down two sandwiches. There it was again, Colleen thought. Why did she continually put a negative spin on everything?  

When would she finally be able to find her strength and move in a positive direction?

Tina had come home several hours earlier, but the bare-bulb porch light on her trailer still glowed, lighting up the lawn and much of the living room where Colleen and Austin were camped out. They had found a spot in the northwest corner where they could hide from the glare and make love in the semi-darkness. It was not the light that kept Colleen awake, however it was the silence. Without the sounds of the city, Colleen's mind had no distractions to focus on. She seldom drank because alcohol gave her a headache. When it was quiet and she was wide awake, she could slowly and painfully dissect herself with laser-
like precision.

Colleen shifted positions and lay on her side, facing away from Austin. She replayed their lovemaking session in her mind over and over. It had been eleven and a half months since the last time, but she realized she wasn’t ready, not emotionally. She had just gone through the motions, made the right movements or noises at the appropriate time, enhanced by words of praise and sighs of satisfaction. The very first time Austin had peeled her panties off with trembling fingers in the back of his car, she had responded the same way. How old had she been then? It didn't matter - her breasts were budding and she had had her first period over a year before, but in her teen mind it had been too soon. Only now it wasn't the fear of getting pregnant, her father finding out, or being labeled a slut at school that squeezed her heart or impeded the flow of blood to her pelvis: It was the image of the other woman that haunted her. It had felt like the whore stood over them while they copulated, her hands on her hips and eyebrows raised. You've got to be kidding, Austin. How can you actually enjoy fucking her after you've been with me?

Colleen had met Dianne Fletcher and her own husband once, during the Policeman's Ball one year at the Exhibition Hall on J Street. Colleen could not remember the husband's name or any of his unremarkable features, only that he sold insurance. Coleen remembered that much because he had approached her while she was standing off to the side casually observing how good Austin and Dianne looked together. The husband - Tom or Nick or whatever his name was-had the audacity to ask Colleen about their coverage while Austin and Dianne accepted a joint award for service in the City of Sacramento.

The affair technically never happened. Neither Austin or Dianne ever admitted that they had traversed those boundaries, Dianne's actual words to a legion of reporters that day on the steps of the State Capitol - the official last day of Austin's career as one of Sacramento's most productive detectives. Even under the crushing weight of hostile reporters and questions about other departmental corruption that cut to the bone, Austin and Dianne had looked like a beautiful couple - equanimous and unscathed under the barrage; Austin with his military cropped hair and block-cut C.H.P.-style mustache that he used to wear, Dianne with deep flame-red hair, flawless skin and impeccably tailored navy-blue power suit.

Colleen sat up. She tried to will the images of Dianne Fletcher from her mind, but with no success. She crawled quietly out of her sleeping bag and crept over to the cooler wearing only panties and an over-sized T-shirt. She pulled out a can of Coors, flicked an ice cube off the top, then returned to the dark corner of the living room and leaned against the wall. When she popped the top, Austin grunted in his sleep and rolled over, mumbling something unintelligible. Colleen took a sip of the icy-cold beer and savored the mild alcoholic aftertaste it left on her tongue; she knew that although only a few drinks would give her a headache in the morning, she would be able to spend the rest of the night in peace.

By the time Colleen finished just under half the beer, her brain felt fuzzy. Tiny lights popped in her vision and her tongue felt chilled and thick. She got up and walked bare-footed across the carpet into the kitchen, momentarily exposing herself to the harsh light on Tina‘s porch, and poured the remaining beer down the sink. While she stood on the linoleum, she felt the floor begin to vibrate - lightly at first - until a deep rumble shook the house as though a police helicopter was flying overhead. Colleen darted over to the slider to peer out, careful to stay out of sight.

Two choppers pulled into Tina's driveway and stopped behind the Camaro. The ground thumped for several seconds, then both bikes simultaneously fell silent. Colleen watched the two bikers dismount and walk up the steps. The two entered the trailer and the porch light went out, plunging Colleen into complete blackness. She returned to her sleeping bag and looked at the Indi-glo of Austin's watch before falling into a beer induced, dreamless slumber; it was 2:48.

To be continued...

Anthony Engles 832039
Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
P.O. Box 769
Connell, WA 99326
My name is Anthony Scott Engles, born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1965.  After a brief stint in the Navy, I pretty much roamed around the country, waiting tables and bartending.  I settled in Spokane in 1994, then got pretty heavy into survivalism and related activities.  I got in a shoot out with Stevens County Deputies in 2003 and wounded one of them.  I’m serving a 30-year sentence in Washington State, where I have done the majority of my writing.  I have one short story published and several unpublished short stories and poems.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The story is written very well, with only one minor critique. This story does not appear to be related to part 1. I'm hoping you're not just going to publish a series of stories with no endings because honestly, most will quickly lose interest if you do. I wish you well. - Ken