I spent last period roaming the halls, killing time until visiting hours. I’ve noticed that if you walk with a purpose, like you have somewhere important to be, no one ever stops you or asks for a hall pass. Chemistry was enough torture for one day, with Ms. Beck squawking at me every five minutes. “Mackenzie, are you listening? Mackenzie, you’re not paying attention. Mackenzie?” I just wanted to put my fingers in my ears and scream. And if I had to do another class today, I think I probably would have done just that. I can tell when I’m about to lose it. So, I was doing us all a favor and skipping Economics.
I timed it pretty well. When the bell rang, I was at the front steps of the high school, the first one to the parking lot. I had buckled myself into Dad’s old Honda Civic before the masses even left their classrooms.
As I drove, I flipped through the radio stations, never resting on one for more than a minute or two. I really can’t stand the crap on the radio, but I need the noise to fill up the car.
From the forest, Rayme heard Mother’s scream, a high-pitched squeal known to scatter flocks of birds. The sound jerked Rayme’s head up, slamming her heart to a halt. She dropped her secret project--a lost cause now that Mother had returned. She climbed down the wooden rectangles tacked to the tree housing her fort. Along the forest trail, she ran tripping and panting.
Where the trail opened into her family’s lawn, a man’s body sprawled out, his legs scissoring across the grass like he was in mid-sprint on his side. Rayme stopped short when she saw a deep gash at the man’s temple.
If she had not lost her tongue, the croak from her throat would have been a cry. Rayme slapped her hand against her mouth, sidestepping the body. The whites of his eyes stared her down. Blood splatter stained his blue tunic. One of his arms bent back, torn from the shoulder socket. A black and blue mark covered his wrist.
In the grass, Mother knelt in front of the body, covering her mouth with both hands. Her straw-colored hair was pulled back with a braid wrapped around as a headband crowning her reddening, terrified face. A tear rolled off her cheek.
The next time Don's really, truly awake again, it's in the early hours of the next morning. He must have been out for the whole day.
He supposes he'd walked back to the hotel, but he doesn't remember. He can sketchily recall, though, stepping into the lobby and being hit by a sudden crippling wave of exhaustion despite the few hours of sleep he'd gotten, stumbling into the lift while the television buzzed loudly with the report of a gang shoot-out on the bayou
He pops out into the dark and silent corridor and buys a few packets from the closest vending machine. His first thought, when he enters his room again and looks over the small amount of luggage that has somehow managed to fling itself everywhere, is that there's no reason to stay anymore.
It takes a long time to pack. It doesn't have to, but Don finds himself putting things in then taking them out again, refolding and rearranging. It almost feels like reluctance.
He wonders if it's all another dream. If what he heard and saw was nothing more than one last flashing nightly vision. If everything will go back to normal once the daylight comes again.
He makes it to the bayou in less than half an hour. The run is done on rote.
There's not even a moment of doubt before he spies the glow on the waterfront, a few hundred yards from where the St John's University back gates open out. He twists his arm to see his watch, and subtracts the hour he's still yet to set.
In the distance, he hears the first beat of a drum. It's deep, resonating, pounding in a steady rhythm that matches the rush of blood in his ears. But it's not loud, not very. It probably can't be, in an urban area like this. A chant starts up, sibilant and undulating, though he can't make out the words.