P10: The Same Disease.

 

 

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The man calling him on the hotel rotary seemed hurried. His name was Tom.

There were hints of sediment the timbre, hanging by the vowels, as if he were congested, needing to dislodge something. Or perhaps, he’d just not spoken to any living creature as of yet this morning aside from Rob, which is customary of the coroner’s field, and the laboratories associated with them. They hardly speak to anybody alive, except amongst themselves, his partner once said. And since they conduct their meticulous work quietly with microscopes, and strange instruments made of German grade stainless steel, with even stranger names to them, when they finally do end up speaking, their voices always seem distorted by an insecure shock. As if they had either never heard themselves speak before, or had forgotten what the sound of their own voice was like.

It wasn’t her, the voice had said, ahem, clearing the gravel in his throat. Tom worked in a lab much farther away than Santa Fe, in a sterile, sick-smelling backroom. He’d told Rob about a new technique that sorts out DNA, and how they’ve opened a sector up on the premises dedicated to the ongoing study of it. It was unveiled a few months back, he’d said, when a doctor had come upon its usefulness during another criminal investigation, and so they’d employed the techniques with Ashley’s case. It was already cracking open cold cases, and creating new ones.

Everyone had come to the likely conclusion that the young body had been Ashley’s, because everything else had matched up: a hand-poked tattoo on the bony ankle of a Zia sun symbol, an earlier extracted, and therefore missing, right back molar. The face had been unrecognizable, but when diligently repaired resembled Ashley. Among the several others they’d all given up on ever finding, she was the only recently missing Native American woman who fit the bill.  Someone had made it look enough like her, knowing no one would pry into the body’s personally identifying marks, how a lover or a mother could, because it was unauthorized. Ashley’s family didn’t live nearby. They were in Gallup on a big ranch with western diamond backs, and a few German shepherds, too drunk on ancient depression to pick up the line when anybody had called to inform them of their daughter vanishing.

Good thing they hadn’t.

Robs chest went cold in that trice of knowing the truth, as if the thing that had been missing there had returned all of a sudden, like a vapor that smelled like the plastic peony of her shampoo, some diaphanous memory seething back underneath his skin.

So she’s alive, Rob said. He remembers instantly feeling guilty for losing his desire on the case, because he’d wanted to find the living girl instead, but they’d never let him chase a personal harmony, not with an America full of other, louder monsters. How could he have been so stupid? It wasn’t as if he were the only one who’d thought it was her. Someone had known what they were doing when they’d set this up, and they were damned good at it. Because even in its sweet putrescence, the corpse had smelled like Ashley, but analyzing why that was, was above Robs head. The others could figure out what kind of esoteric shit was behind the illusion of it, because he was just a detective. A detective in a clandestine unit that investigated the more interesting cases in the west, not somebody holding all the answers. Of course, his disease gave him an advantage, and that’s why he was chosen, but it would never be an answer, just another looming question mark in his long life.

Was that a sip through a straw, on the other line? The siphoning sound of a fountain drink sucked through seams of ice, and up through a straw, and down a thirsty, gulping throat? Tom had attempted unsuccessfully to stifle his belch, and he’d breathed out the words, She could be, and he’d said that they had known whom the body belongs to, and that they had the local PD calling her parents, because she was another missing girl from around the same time, and isn’t it a pity, all these vanishing girls? Tom had said, and then he’d said, I suggest you find out why someone went through all that dog and pony show just to make everybody think she’s dead, and then he hung up.

***

But his boss didn’t want him doing that. He needed him somewhere else. Somewhere with a few bodies that had near prominent puncture marks on the neck, leading people to whisper halloween stories about things that aren’t supposed to exist in this world, but do.

Rob would spend the rest of his life tracking Ashley down, sometimes forgetting, sometimes giving up, but always coming back to it like a tomb in a graveyard, because she never got to know that they had shared the same disease. If she had, would she have stayed? It haunted him that he had the same secret, and that she’d never known, and that his was hidden just in the corner of his mouth when he would kiss her. That the wolfs curse was teeming within him, too, and that luckily they’d avoided the blood-curse, since both werewolf and vampire are a white mans disease, which they brought over with them on the shores, erected up in their starving colonies, but the wolf is at least more impressive and sacred, useful.

He’d even found the sloppy man again, some years down the road, but no matter how much Rob intimidated or bribed him, he never gave up Ashley’s whereabouts, because he didn’t know himself, and because he was loyal to the people he’d helped. Rob found the characteristic annoying and admirable. If someone wants to vanish, let ‘em, the sloppy man had said, and for decades, Rob did let her vanish.

But he’d found her, when he was old, and with his body failing.

He’d asked his daughter to drive him out to the place that he believed Ashley was holed up in, in a trailer near a highway hardly anyone frequented. Hiding out as their kind do, they were only free under a dreary full moon like that night, because as you age the wolf controls you less, and you end up being in control of it. His plan was to see her aged face as a woman, because surely she’d learned this control. But he neither ever got to tell his daughter the reason why they were going there, nor did he ever get to see Ashley’s face.

They got into a car accident a bit before dusk, and he’d died soon after as his daughter saved the other people involved in the wreck, but he was right about Ashley. She was there, just not as that changed, beautiful face he’d known, but as the prowling being, shifted just beyond the dark road.

That night, his daughter had gotten what she’d always wanted... his worst fear come true, to share the same disease as her father.

 

“Daddy, I wanna be just like you.

 

 

 

the end

?


 

P8: Howling.

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The drone of the petite voice is unfamiliar and he turns to face it.

The ghostly woman is fretful and weary, fiddling with a red-beaded necklace that encircles her wiry throat twice, her wispy spider-leg thin fingers ghoulish pale and jittery. Her lengthy black hair trickles down from a middle part and shines with an oiliness and musky tang his keen nose can corral, dripping over her shoulders like a silken blanket of shadows. His narrow eyes, sun-blinded, browse the bright jewelry for a missing piece, but he can’t tell for certain if it’s a link to the one he’d found earlier on Ashley.

Yes, he answers in the shape of a puzzle piece, hoping that what she will say next fits into his daydreams; everything he needs to know, a lead, a finger pointing in the right direction of a case swiftly dying, collapsing into cold.

She came to my prayer group, scratched up on her face to all hell like, animal or who knows, and uh, she wanted help, thought she was sick, possessed or something. She said we were a cult and left real quick when Jim said it’s not easy to exorcise somebody. We tried finding her after, night’s dangerous here… can be, and the moon was full. It made it easier to see, but we didn’t find her. Drove late as we could, but nothing …just howling in the night. Guess she didn’t show for work either, she says, next day she was dead.

Scratched face.
 Moon full.
 Howling.
 She didn’t show for work.

Where’d you get that necklace? He asks.

Oh, uhhh… lady makes them. Name’s Corrine, she says, Corrine Green.

He grins with recognition.

The dusky man with his worry lines transposing into irremediable creases between his brows excavates a yellow notepad and blue pen from an inner-coat pocket.

What’s your name? He asks.

Cassandra Brown, she says.

Can I see your necklace? He asks, and she lets him. There’s no missing piece.

An hour later, he’s got Cassandra’s necklace in a trouser pocket full of loose tobacco leaves and her phone number on that yellow pad, just in case he needs more answers. He’s knocking at someone else’s decrepit door on a dusty highway.

An elderly woman hardly able to move shambles over toothlessly; he sees her wobbling like a busted toy through the gauzy mint curtains. She arrives out of breath, says nothing when she props open the stuck door that’s ruptured at the hinges.

I need to speak to Corrine, he says.

Corrine gone, the woman oozes, crazy white man at motel take her somewhere, she never come back.

 

TO BE CONTINUED … 


 

[ ‘Girls That Vanish At Night: New Mexico, 1986′ is the continuation of a short horror series told episodically by Samantha Lucero. To catch up on series 1, go here. ]

 


P7: Sloppy.

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Always hard when a case goes cold, the sweaty man says with his pot-belly big and hard as a boulder, smelling strongly of pabst blue ribbon, endless, wet layers of Marlboro second-hand smoke paining Robs over-sensitive nose, and the un-sanitized, humid flesh of a man who is unmercifully inattentive to his own hygiene. Rob mulls intellectually over the mind of man who can live so happily in the organic outcomes of his self: a sign of depression, of a mind too burdened and brimming to leave room for thoughts of cleanliness. Was this the unique torture of all those who dwelled in centuries past, to be ignorant of their own stench, tolerant of everybody else’s?

The sloppy man, loosening scents behind him of his squalid motel when he’d shift standing as if in chronic agony, also talked too much: was this a guilty mind, or an innocent one over-compensating for being helpless? When he’d smile Rob could detect the faint black outlines of the roots of dying teeth; in his own mouth, Rob skimmed his teeth with his tongue as if being in the proximity of the other man would suddenly rot his own teeth.

Used to work ‘em myself, Texas Ranger way back, and the slobs tongue worms out of his mouth to gather the foam accumulating at the corner of it.

What do you do now, luxuriate alone in motels?

The pig-man scoffs, and then answers.

I travel with my pension, spreadin’ the good word. What else imma do? Ain’t got no family, no wife waitin’ in the wings… Ashley was a nice girl, lookin’ to find herself thru Christ, said she thought she was…. Possessed or somethin’. She approached me in the hotel after she saw my dog-eared bible. Like to stay in fancy ones, sometimes, hotels, then slums like this. Gives me a sense of gratitude. Anyways, she was real geared toward the lord it seemed to save ‘er. Gave ‘er the name of a man who runs prayer group. Recall ‘em tellin’ me she left quick before they could try’n help ‘er. Guess it wasn’t what she was lookin’ for.

He’s standing in front of an adobe-colored threshold with turquoise trim. Thick black brows reminiscent of Halloween cats superstitiously arching, and Rob is uncomfortable in his dusty suit, beginning to itch, thinking too much of what could’ve happened. Rob wears his long, raven-feather black hair down today, and he feels it toyed with by the wind on his back.

But you do have a family; Rob says impassively, not a flinch.

The filthy man looks down, and Rob sees it now: the pathetic sadness, the weary eyes. The man hesitates, but then says, not any that wanna see the likes of me.

He didn’t seem to be lying, Rob thought, able to feel his own cleanliness and loneliness, and so after a few otiose questions, he took his leave, but he keeps him on the list of suspects.

The man named Rob traipses out into the loose gravel. He’d stops in the middle of the motel parking lot, dazedly, taking in the view of the blue skies, the scatter of rooftops, beyond that, sempiternal earth with tufts of Mexican feathergrass. He shuts his eyes against the flaming wheel of the sun.

Are…. are you asking around about Ashley? A woman’s tremulous voice inquires behind him.

P6: Hinterlands.

The man named Rob is visibly dispirited, morose; one can nearly find it palpable when within the propinquity of him. He is a man seated alone at the end of a lively bar, ornate with women laughing open-mouthed with big hair and men in pressed suits. He’s off in his own hinterlands, on his third Jameson on the rocks, light on the rocks, and he stares into the veneer of the wooden bar top before him for so long without blinking his tired, bloodshot eyes, that the fake, oval lantern above him reflecting onto it becomes dimly reminiscent of a summer moon.

The weight on his shoulders is sheer, like lace, but heavy as leather, and he hardly carries himself up tonight. He’s more wont to slouching after hours of brainwork, as if the stringing together of detail upon detail into an intricate mental map exhausts all the senses so, that it makes one lean into themselves as if desiring the refuge of the curled position of a fetus, before it is flushed, pushed into this pitiful world that it never had a say in joining.

Ashley was her name.

Ashley Bitsuie, he says out loud.

Rob purchased this hotel for the week, and he may purchase it for longer. He doesn’t pick up his daughter from his ex-wife until weekends, and the last time he saw his daughters face, she had said something that still haunts him now:

Daddy, I wanna be just like you, she’d said.

He scoffed and said, no you don’t.

Yes, I do! I wanna save people, just like you, she’d said, so innocently that it agonizes an empty gut.

I don’t save anyone, he said, by the time I know about ‘em, it’s already too late…

He came back to his room late, swerving like a car out of its lane in the long hallway that leads to his door. He does not fester long admiring the mediocre art on the walls, because none of it makes sense to him. None aside the blurry figures of confused faces, which he finds himself creating tales for: the artist was trying to convey anger, helplessness, he thinks; the artist was trying to make you look in the mirror, read yourself. You’re that stain, that blur, that lash in the eye, that old drunk fool…

The room illuminates when he flicks the lamps on beyond the burden of the heavy door, and all along the walls are photos of the crime scene, statements he’d already gathered. Some from earlier, with only one lead given by a coworker, and much red sharpie used to emphasize clues with thick circles: a strange man who had checked into the hotel last week, who seemed to take a liking to Ashley. Whom her coworker, Regina, had said that Ashley apparently left with on the night of her murder.

This being the very hotel she was employed with, he had asked if there were any security footages he could review… none. But he got a name and an address, and that was damn fine for him, just like the acrid lure of the coffee they brew in the early mornings here. He would question her grandmother, gently, since she’s old and rickety and faint of heart, but his partner had said that she knew nothing, was genuinely upset, and he wasn’t too sure if her heart could take anymore questions, or anymore harsh memories.

Ashley.

Ashley Bitsuie, he says out loud.

There’s a Polaroid unlike all the others tacked to the wall. This one is happy; Ashley is grinning in the sun, holding down a hat curved by the push of the desert winds. She is smiling with somebody else, someone stern, with a tight-lipped grin, as if grinning doesn’t come easily to them, but in the eyes he is light and full of the same happiness that she is.

She is smiling with Rob.

I’m not solving this murder, he says out loud.

I’m proving to myself that I didn’t do it.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…


[ ‘Girls That Vanish At Night: New Mexico, 1986′ is the continuation of a short horror series told episodically by Samantha Lucero. To catch up on series 1, go here. ]


P5: Memory.

before.

No, please… I wanna live… she’d implored, tears from both burning eyes stumbling down hotly in a race to the curves of her jaw.

The severity hadn’t settled in her features like powder in fine lines or the pores one gets as the pertinacity of age needles the helpless face and weathers the lukewarm spirit in icy gales, but keeps all pain locked behind the eyes. She takes this doggedness as a game, and only as a precaution did she weep before the few folk gathered.

They are red-faced religious zealots convinced that they’re faintly touched by something celestial, with stares like beams from moonlight towers, high and mighty and distant. Two tall-haired women feathered and coated in aqua net, basked in the vaporous, undead radiance of fluorescent lightbulbs. The man is dark and hollow, handsome in a bygone era, like a man sucked out, shriveled against his own bones, slender and tall, white as a ghost, with big eyes like a lost animal.

Mother was absent much for the lonely girl, grandmother raised her, still this pain with her where the cord that connected her to her mother ached with a phantom agony as motherless children share, and it bore a hole she walked around with like an invisible mark only others with the same hole could see. Savoring the intensity of the spirituality others felt around her, while inside she secretly remained unconvinced, ASHLEY had been around. Out and about from the reservation, or the rez, as it’s called, searching for something, and that something had found her. And when it did, she only had more questions… piled upon the other questions that had, as yet, still no answers, and nobody had those answers. Nobody. 

That thing in the plains had scratched her face up pretty bad, some kind of wolf, and ever since she’d been sick. Was it rabies? Nah… they’d given her that shot at the hospital. She’d have been dead by now if it were. She didn’t tell grandma a damn thing about the wolf, the old woman far too superstitious, said she’d fallen on a cactus.

Her ‘prayer group’ was convinced it was the devil lodged inside of her. They had to get it out of her, they’d said. And there they were; they looked surreal, like a carnival of gaunt, starved souls, staring at her.

We aren’t like that other group, they’re a cult, he says, stay away from the likes of ‘em. Only on rare occasions do exorcisms cause death, his teeth were yellow as he grinned and his clothes reeked of tobacco and thrift stores that she used to shop at as a kid, too poor and too far away to find something new.

You’re all a cult, said she, one big fucking cult, that has no idea what’s going on in this world, no more than anybody else…

You can’t go out on the full moon, few days from now, the apparition of a man says, that’s when the devil—

And although they had begged, she had left.


[ ‘Girls That Vanish At Night: New Mexico, 1986′ is the continuation of a short horror series told episodically by Samantha Lucero. To catch up on series 1, go here. ]