When I pulled up to his house the next morning, I could tell Kyle had cracked. He his skin had taken on a yellowed color and his voice was flat and void of emotion.
“It’s not over yet, Kyle,” I said as he dropped into the seat next to me.
“Yes, it is, Sam.” He all but whispered.
“No, I don’t believe that. Kimber’s dad is missing too, you know. Maybe it was him instead that was…that was…” I couldn’t bring myself to say it.
“We’re living in hell. Drisking, it’s Hell in our own reality.”
I couldn’t disagree. The town I’d grown to love seemed so foreign to me now. Whitney hadn’t been an outlier like I’d thought. Missing people were the norm here. “And that would make Jimmy Prescott the king. He’s Satan, himself.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth Kyle punched the car door, awaking from his dead state with rageful vigor. “I’ll fucking kill Jimmy Prescott! Where is that motherfucker! You know he’s involved in all this, Sam, you know-“
“Maybe partially.” I said, staring out the window. “His dad created the town that bred this shit but I’m pretty sure the Prescott’s are just running drugs. You know, the powder.”
“Yeah… and so what, he’s recruiting people to be- to be drug mules or something?”
“Maybe,” I agreed for Kyle’s sake, though I didn’t really believe it. The sound, the great beast machine of Borrasca gave off the distinct stench of death. And though I knew that physically that was impossible, it didn’t change my mind about it. The air smelled different after the metallic wailing ended.
We drove over to 4th Street Gourmet Coffee and Bakery and went in to buy our usual provisions of Rockstars and Monsters. As I paid for the four-packs of cans I saw Meera waiting on coffee at the end of the bar. I could tell immediately that she was in a good mood, something that I hadn’t seen much of since I’d started working for her. It was probably a good time to tell her I was calling out of work for my 5th day in a row.
“Hi Meera,” I muttered when I approached. “Ah…I can’t come in again today. I’ve got some- some really important-“
“Sam! Oh my gosh, how are you?”
“Um…o- okay.” I stuttered.
“Good!” She said, brightly. “Don’t worry about coming in, I’ll hold down the fort and I’m sure I can call Emmaline in if I need help. But really, Sam, what have you been up to lately that’s so important?”
My mind blanked. Just as I started to stutter out some bullshit about helping my dad, Kyle appeared behind me.
“We’re trying to find Borrasca.” He said with all the gravitas of a eulogy.
“Ah, yes. Owen told me you’d asked him about that. You know that’s just a story, Sam; that legend has been around since I was a kid.”
“Yeah, well, we’re looking for our missing friend, Kimber. We think maybe she’s… there,” I trailed off lamely.
“Oh really? I thought I heard the Destaros were staying with relatives in Maine over the summer. Oh well. Anyway, good luck, boys.”
“Thanks.” Kyle’s voice was sour and I knew his patience was thin.
When we got back into the car we each popped open a can of Rockstar and started chugging. I knew better than to ask Kyle if he wanted to smoke since I was sure he hadn’t lit a bowl since before Kimber disappeared. He finished the energy drink in under a minute and crumpled the can in his hand.
“I don’t like your boss,” he said.
“Meera? Why not?”
“I don’t know. She’s…just…off.”
“Well I mean she has been going through some things.” I wasn’t going to elaborate any further.
“Why were you asking her husband about Borrasca anyway?”
“I don’t know. I was just making small talk and I thought he might know. He seemed to know about a lot of other things.”
“And did he know?”
“Nah.” I took a long gulp of the sour drink and then choked on it when I remembered something Owen had said. “Well, actually, yeah. He said ‘a’ Borrasca instead of just Borrasca. You know, like it’s a thing instead of a place.”
Kyle lowered his Rockstar. “And is it?”
“Is it what?”
“Is it a thing?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never heard of it. I’ve googled everything weird about this town but nothing ever came up.”
“Did you spell it right?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Do you know how to spell it?”
I pulled out my phone.
“No, fuck google.” Kyle said. “We need to talk to Kathryn Scanlon. That’s what Kimber would say.”
He was right. Kathryn Scanlon may be the most knowledgeable person in town and was probably the right person to ask. I pulled out of 4th Street Coffee and prayed she was at her office already. When we parked in front of Drisking Arts and Antiques I was disappointed to see that the store was dark. Kyle pointed to a small, cheap ‘OPEN’ sign hanging in the corner of the door and I crossed my fingers that it was for Kathryn’s office.
I was relieved to find the door unlocked and we hurried past all the antiquities and blown glass to the back of the store where we found an open door and Kathryn sitting at her desk.
“Boys!” She stood up when she saw us. “You’re up quite early for summer break. How did the essay do?”
“Eh…great,” I said. “Actually we’re here for more help.”
“Personal interest,” Kyle added.
Kathryn raised her eyebrows. “Color me impressed.”
I needed to get right down to it. If by some small chance Kimber was still alive then every second counted. “We’re here because we want to know if Borrasca is a thing or a place.”
Kathryn raised her eyebrow. “I remember that legend as a kid. I’d actually have to tell you I didn’t know if it wasn’t for Wyatt. He knew so little about so much,” she laughed. “A sort of jack of all trades…anyway, he told me an interesting fact once about Borrasca – it’s both!”
“What do you mean?” I leaned over her desk.
“Well the term ‘borrasca’ is just old, outdated lexicon. The word was used by miners to describe an underperforming mine.”
“A mine…” I whispered.
Kyle shook his head. “We’ve been looking at mines.”
“So all the mines in Butler County are Borrascas?” I asked.
“Well, generally it’s only the first mine in the system to run dry that is called a Borrasca.”
“Do you know which mine ran dry first? In our mining system?” Kyle asked from where he stood near the door, repeatedly clenching and unclenching his fists.
“Ah, not off the top of my head, no,” she laughed. “I can look though, I think I have those records here somewhere.” Kathryn walked behind her desk and opened a drawer of loose files. “This is an odd thing to be interested in for boys your age but I guess I should be glad you two are so eager to learn, especially over the summer.”
“Yes, ma’am, very eager,” said Kyle.
“Is the Borrasca, the first mine that ran out of ore, um, was that by chance the same one those kids disappeared in?”
“The McCaskeys? Oh, no I don’t think so. That particular mine was the southwest mine and was very close to town. I think it was one of the last to close, actually. Ah! Here we go. This packet should have that information.”
Kathryn spent far too long moving books around on the desk to make room for the stack of papers she had. Kyle and I paced around the room, nervously, trying to appear casually interested, while the energy drinks started coursing through our systems.
“Here, we go! The first mine to close was the north central mine, which was…yeah, actually one of the first to open.”
“But where is it?” Kyle walked over to the desk and braced his arms on it. “Where is that mine?”
“Um…” Kathryn pulled over a different stack of papers and started to fumble through it. After the longest minute of my life she made an ‘a-ha!’ sound and pulled out a large, yellowed piece of paper that had been folded into a standard A4 size. She unfolded it on the desk and leaned over to read the markings. I could see from where I was standing near the doorway that it was a map and I knew we weren’t living this office without it.
“Let’s see. That mine was up further on the mountain, a little harder to get to. See?” And she pointed at a small dot on the map that was at least four miles from where we’d been looking.
“Can we take this?” Kyle asked. “We’ll bring it back.”
“Of course! I’m sure I have copies. Listen, if you boys are going exploring-“
“I’m bringing my dad.” I lied.
“Oh! Excellent then, you guys have fun!” She yelled at us as we rushed out of the building. We didn’t stop to answer her, ‘fun’ was far from our minds.
“It’s- it’s- it’s so far from where we’ve been looking,” Kyle stuttered. “We need to go there now. And we need to get a gun.”
“A gun? Where are we going to get a gun, Kyle?”
“From you dad.”
“He’s not going to give us a gun, man.”
“Fine, then let’s scout the place first and then we’ll come back with a gun.” That didn’t seem like a good idea to me either but what choice did we have? After studying the map for several minutes we realized the easiest way to access the mine was still through the West Rim Prescott Ore Trail.
We parked at the trailhead and made the familiar hike down the marked trail and then up the beaten path, realizing that we’d have to travel past Ambercot Fort on the way. And I knew in my heart that we were going the right way. We were walking the same path that so many people before us had on their way to Borrasca. But what had they found there?
We passed the treehouse, which was as silent as the morning. We walked on in the woods, further north than we had ever been before and soon we were flying blind, hiking in the general direction of the dot on the map and hoping we were still on course. Within an hour I began regretting that we’d come without provisions, emotional and unprepared.
By noon we had been hiking for four hours and it seemed to me that we were lost. I tempered the welling panic with thoughts of Kimber and Whitney and the answers to the mystery that had absorbed my life for so many years.
Kyle, for his part, said nothing and kept his eyes straight and his mission his priority. And then, just as the sun teetered on the apex of the day, we saw an emptiness through the trees and the hard lines of manmade buildings. Kyle quickened his step and I rushed to keep up.
When we finally broke through the tree line I choked on my own deep breath and fell back against a tree as I looked over the quiet encampment. A large, wooden sign post that was almost as long as the entire clearing was still standing near the entrance of the mine. It had to be a century old and though most of the letters had rotted off over the years, from those remaining I could guess that it had once said: DRISKING UNDERGROUND MINE.
What was left, however was: SKIN ND MIN
“That way,” Kyle pointed to the north end of the camp.
We stepped out from the shadows and into the vulnerability of the clearing. There were several large buildings still standing and the boarded up entrance to the ore mine was set back in the mountain.
“We’re not getting in there,” I whispered.
“Let’s try that building,” he said, and pointed toward the one nearby, which was the largest and at least two stories tall. We counted to three and then ran across the camp to the large wooden doors of the old building. They were cracked open and when we squeezed inside I was had no doubts that death was indeed present in Borrasca.
We were standing in what I guessed was a refinery and in the middle of the room was a large silver, conically shaped machine. A conveyer belt fed into it and the room had a sour smell. Even the dirt beneath our feet seemed to have taken on a crimson tint.
“This is the machine. This is where they take them,” I said. “This is the place where people die.”
“Kimber isn’t here. Come on.”
I was only too happy to squeeze back out the door of the building and tiptoe around the side. We rounded a corner and almost ran into a recently waxed, shiny, green truck parked there.
“This is Jimmy Prescott’s truck,” I breathed.
“I know whose truck it is.” Kyle growled.
We were now on extraordinarily high alert. Kyle dropped to the ground and began to commando crawl around the building. I followed him waiting to hear a shout or a gunshot but none came.
As we crawled around to the back of the building, Kyle turned around to me and put his finger over his lips, then pointed at a one story brown building that was only a dozen feet away from us. He got into a crouched position and moved as fast as he could across the gap between the two buildings. I did the same.
As soon as I reached the wall next to him Kyle whirled around and put another finger to his lips and then pointed up to a window directly above us.
There were noises coming from inside and even to me, a 16 year old virgin, the sounds of sex were unmistakable. We could hear an animalistic grunting and the tired, objecting groans of an old mattress. Unable to help myself I whispered “What the fuck?” to Kyle but he was already gone, all caution abandoned, running around the side of the building.
I followed him in through the first door we came upon and was hit in the face by an invisible wall of filth and suffering. The smell knocked me back, but Kyle kept running. I followed him in, past crates of ramen noodles, MRE’s, bottled water and boxes I had no time to read. I crossed another threshold and I was suddenly surrounded by people. So many people. I skidded to a halt and realized I was standing in a sort of dorm. Rows and rows of beds on either side of me with people strapped to them, some of them wearing dirty rags and some wearing nothing at all.
Many seemed to be bloated and I waited for one to call out to me but they all remained silent, some watching me through tired, dead eyes and others turning away. Looking around I realized they were all women and the bloating I saw seemed to be…pregnancies. Some were confined to their beds and others were not.
I looked around the room for Kyle and saw him standing a little further in the long room looking back at me with the same confused, wild expression I was sure was on my face. I saw the realization cross his and called out to him but he was already running again.
I lost him before I’d taken five steps to follow. I figured it was probably best to just keep running, spread out and look for Kimber. I didn’t see her in this room and I was sure she would have called out to us if she was.
I looked around for another door and saw one cracked open on the left behind a row of beds. I stared straight at it as I made my way there, desperate to avoid the wretched, void eyes of the women around me. First we help Kimber, then we help the others. I will come back and help you all, I promise. As soon as I find Kimber.
Without a thought I pushed the door wide open as soon as I’d reached it and found the source of the noises we’d heard outside.
It was Jimmy, something I’d been expecting to see, but the scene before me was not. He was hunched over the bed of an almost unrecognizable, unresponsive Kristy, treating her like an animal. She watched me through the slits of her dead eyes but she didn’t call to me for help. I thought I saw a tear run down her cheek before she turned her face away from me to face the wall on the other side. “What the fuck?” I didn’t even realize the words were audible. I had never seen this depth of human suffering.
Jimmy’s head snapped around to look at me and briefly registered surprise before he smiled at me in a way that turned my insides to ice. He didn’t stop what he was doing and I wanted nothing more than to run over and push him off of Kristy but to my utter shame I couldn’t force myself to come any further into the room.
“Sam! Sam!” Kyle’s voice echoed through the building and immediately cured me of my paralysis. I found myself running back into the miner’s dorm and away from Jimmy Prescott and Kristy.
“Back here, hurry, please, I fucking- I found Kimber!”
I followed his voice through the maze of beds and rooms as a cacophony of voices began to follow me.
“Help us. Please.”
There were maybe only a handful of girls yelling at me but it sounded thunderously loud as it filtered through my guilt. The weight of their misery dropped down upon me and it almost pushed me into the ground.
“I will! I’ll get help, I’ll help you!” I promised them as I followed Kyle’s voice, still screaming desperately from an adjacent room. I sprinted across another threshold and saw him, hunched down near a corner bed helplessly yanking on a leather strap attached to it.
I slammed into the bed and fell to my knees, trying to work out what he was doing and how I could help him. I tried not to look at the bed because I knew I couldn’t see her like that, I couldn’t bear it. If Kimber looked at me through the same accusing, empty eyes as Kristy and the others had I might lay down on the ground beneath her and curl up into a ball.
“Go around the other side! Unbuckle the other two straps!” Kyle had the high pitched voice and wild, desperate eyes of madness. I ran around the other side and did as he’d said with shaking, awkward hands.
“Oh, boys!” Jimmy’s voice rang out from somewhere in the building. I had just freed Kimber’s ankle and was working on her wrist. She whimpered when she heard him and buried her face in my shoulder. “Do you think you’re hiding? I know where to find you. I know right where I put that girl.”
“I’ll fucking kill you, Prescott, you sick cunt! I’ll fucking stomp all your bones and bleed you out you little motherfucker!” Kyle had lost all reason and strategy. He was filled with rage instead of fear and it scared me even more. I pulled Kimber’s wrist from the final strap and yelled, “Go now!”
We pulled Kimber up off the bed and quickly realized that her legs could barely support her. She was heavily sedated and breathing weakly. We braced her on either side and moved as quickly as we could through the nearest doorway – away from Jimmy.
We were in another dorm, though this one was filled with mostly empty beds. I could see sunlight shining through the door at the end of the long room and we raced toward it as Kimber made little cries of pain. I didn’t think my heart could break any more but I was wrong because in the next moment – it did.
I almost dropped Kimber when I saw her staring at me. Her eyes were hollow and uninvested and when I turned toward her, she looked away immediately as if she couldn’t stand the sight of me.
“Whitney.” I said weakly.
“Sam, let’s fucking go!” Kyle screamed.
“I can’t.” I turned toward him as tears ran down my hot cheeks and Kyle saw her too.
“I can’t…I can’t stay,” Kyle said, still moving toward the door. “I have to get Kimber away from here. Please…” But he knew I wasn’t going anywhere now.
“Good luck, bro.” I said and then we were both running in different directions.
Whitney’s hair was long but it was thin, as was her face. Everything on her looked brittle except for her stomach which bubbled out from her like an overblown balloon. She refused to look at me and flinched at my touch as I tried desperately to unbuckle her from the bed. I hadn’t even finished the first belt when I heard Jimmy walk up behind me. I didn’t bother to look at him or stop trying to free my sister. I didn’t know what else to do.
“I admire your grit, kid.” Jimmy said, and then sat down on a bed behind me and continued to watch me, giving no objection to what I was doing. “You probably think your friends got away but there’s no sense in false hope, is there?”
“There’s no sense in any of this.” My voice sounded frail and it cracked over the last word.
“You’re wrong about that,” Jimmy sighed. “But just so you know, I’ve got Clery out there looking for them already. People making a lot of noise coming down off this mountain, trust me on that.”
“Sheriff Clery?” I was desperate to keep him talking, anything to keep him from trying to stop me.
“Oh, yeah. You know he was supposed to retire from the business but unlike the previous sheriff he kept a few horses in the race.”
“Horses?” Nothing made sense.
“Yep.” Jimmy slapped the bed next to him. “We call these buildings the stables,” he laughed.
I dropped the last buckle on the floor and looked down at Whitney. I expected her to spring up and run toward the door while I went after Prescott but all she did was rub her wrists and itch her collarbone. Then she put her arms back where they’d been, turned her head away from me and shut her eyes. I slumped down onto the bed next to her and picked up her cold hand. If she wasn’t leaving here neither was I. It was over. I sent a silent prayer up to a God I didn’t know and wished my friends safety.
“Do you want to know what this is, Sam?”
I shrugged. It didn’t seem to matter now.
“It’s all about the babies.”
I stared down at Whitney and her swollen belly but gave no indication I was listening.
“You wouldn’t believe how much money is in the industry. I mean, my dad was a smart man. And he knew we didn’t have anything of value to sell and back then the Prescott’s were dirt poor, out of work miners just like everyone else in town. He first got the idea when he sold my older brother off to pay for the legal fees to fight the city. I mean, some people will pay five figures for a newborn, you know, even back then. And the organizations that buy them, well, they buy in bulk. But we still make a killing off them. And our overhead is very low.”
Jimmy stood up and pulled a gun out of his waistband, then threw it on a bed across the aisle.
“You know, try to understand, Sammy, it’s not just about the money. We use the stables for community services, too. Lots of people in town come to us, you know, ever since the 50’s.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t want to be here, listening to this, I didn’t want to see Whitney so broken and I didn’t want to wait for inevitable death. It was torture in its purest form.
“What are you waiting for, why don’t you just kill me? This isn’t a James Bond movie, I don’t care about any of this shit.”
Jimmy laughed loudly as if it was funniest thing he’d ever heard. “Kill you?! Christ, kid, if I could than I already would have, but I’m not allowed to kill you. I’ve been trying to decide if I want to fuck your sister right in front of you though. She’s not one of mine but it might be worth it just to see your face.”
“Just- just kill me and let her go. Fuck, I’ll kill myself if you let her go.” I stood up from the bed and Jimmy took two steps toward me and punched me so hard in the face that I fell back down on it. I moaned as I fought the tears and stars behind my eyes.
“I can’t let her go, you little fuck. She’s got one of our community services babies in her. Grace says she’s got another week to go, two tops.” Jimmy looked down at Whitney and frowned. “She’s been puttin’ out shit babies, though, and as soon as this one’s out of her she’s got a date with the Shiny Gentleman.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” I yelled at him and a loud ring suddenly filled the room. Jimmy held up a finger and pulled a phone out of his pocket.
“I gotta take a business call. Two minutes and we can get back to our conversation.” Jimmy walked over to a corner of the room and I desperately started to pull on Whitney.
“We gotta go. We gotta go, Whit, we can’t stay here.” She kept her eyes shut and her body lax. “Whitney, they’re going to kill you!”
My head whipped toward the door as I heard a truck skid in the dirt just outside of it. Jimmy ended his phone call and Killian Clery walked in, pushing a limping, bloody Kyle in front of him. “Lose something, Prescott?”
“Where’s the girl?”
“Couldn’t find her.”
“Goddamn it, Clery, you fucked us. Go back out there and find that girl!” Jimmy snatched his gun off the bed and shoved it into the back of his waistband.
“Now listen here, you little shit,” Clery growled. “I ain’t your fucking employee and I don’t have all fucking day to play and hide and seek in the woods. I’ll telling you she wasn’t with him so I guess if you wanna know where she is you should get it outta him!” Clery threw Kyle down on the floor and spit near his feet.
“I gotta do your fucking job now?” Jimmy walked over and without any hesitation kicked Kyle so hard in the ribs I heard some of them snap inside his chest. I tried to stand up but I was still dizzy and fighting off the darkness. “Where’s your girlfriend, Landy?” Prescott raised his boot and then stomped down hard on Kyle ankle. He screamed in pain. “I can do this all day, kid.”
Clery sat down on a bed across the aisle and lit a cigarette, watching impassively. Jimmy pulled Kyle to his feet and then punched him hard in face. A few of Kyle’s teeth scattered across the floor. “Tell me, you little cunt!” Jimmy punched him again in the face and Kyle went limp.
“You’re killing him!” I screamed and jumped off the bed, running blindly toward Jimmy in a red rage. Clery stood up and caught me with no effort at all, holding my arms down at my sides. He laughed, cigarette still tucked into the corner of his mouth as I struggled helplessly against his chest.
Jimmy had straddled Kyle by now and was rapidly punching him in the face and chest. Kyle was barely conscience and I prayed he’d pass out from the pain. After a full minute of this Jimmy stood up and rubbed his bloodied fists. “Last chance, Landy.”
“Fuck you.” Kyle said through a wheezing, rattled breath of air. Jimmy spit on him and raised his foot up as high as he could and brought it down on Kyle face with so much force that I heard his skull break. I sagged in Killian Clery’s arms and he dropped me into a puddle at his feet.
Jimmy bummed a cigarette off Clery and they stood next to Whitney’s bed, watching me cry. “Jesus, what a mess.”
After a few minutes Clery flicked his cigarette out and pulled out his phone. “Alright, Sam, take your friend.”
I couldn’t have heard him right.
“Fuck that, that little Landy shit ain’t leaving here.”
“You wanna clean this mess up, Prescott?”
I stood up and my knees didn’t buckle beneath me. “I’m not leaving without my sister.” I told them. Jimmy laughed.
“Yes, you are,” Clery said. “If you want to save your friend’s life. He ain’t dead yet, Sam, but he will be soon.” He tossed his keys at me. “The road off this mountain is back by the refinery.”
I let the keys bounce off of me and fall to the floor. Clearly swore at me. I knew he was right. I was a coward and I would leave my sister and all the others here just so I could get away and save Kyle’s life.
I picked up the keys and then, without looking at the two men, I picked Kyle up by his shoulders and his head rolled back as if it was no longer attached to his spine. His face was a collage of pulp and blood and I struggled to stay calm and breathe as I dragged him out of the building. Cleary and Prescott watched me, taking drags off their cigarettes and saying nothing. I knew they were probably lying to me; Kyle would be dead by the time I got down the mountain if he wasn’t already.
I opened the door to Clery’s old Ford and placed Kyle in the front seat, wincing as his head rolled around like a ball on a string. It took me almost an hour to get down the mountain, even though I took the overgrown road at ridiculous speeds and did everything I could to destroy the shocks on the truck. I sped into the hospital’s emergency zone and found a medical team waiting inside the door. It was clear that they’d gotten a call to expect me because they already had a crash cart with them and an IV ready to push into Kyle’s wrist.
I left Clery’s truck where it was and spent the next two hours in the waiting room, calling my dad over and over again and crying over an Architectural Digest magazine. No one came to take a statement from me or ask me any questions. Kyle’s mom arrived just before my dad did and started screaming as soon as she saw me. My dad walked in behind her and had a deputy restrain her. He drove me home in silence but I couldn’t take it for long.
“Is anyone going to file a police report? Does anyone even fucking care what happened?”
“Sam.” He didn’t turn to look at me. “I am doing my best to do damage control on the situation but if Kyle dies or his parents sue, there’s nothing I can do to keep you out of court.”
“You think I did this?” I screamed at him.
“We’re not going to tell your mother. Alright? She has enough to worry about.”
“Dad, it’s- I- Kimber- it was fucking Prescott! And Sheriff Clery!”
“Yes, you arrived at the hospital in Killian’s truck. We already talked to them both.”
I was so frustrated and full of rage that my next words came out a jumbled, stuttering mess that ended in a helpless scream. We pulled into our driveway and my dad turned off the car and finally turned to look at me as I struggled to catch my breath.
“Samuel, we will never speak of this again. Do you understand?”
“Are you fucking kidding me, Dad? Kyle might fucking die. I saw Kimber-“
“Enough! If you want this to go away you will keep your mouth shut about it, make no statements to anyone and I’ll hire the best lawyer I can afford to clean up your mess. I don’t know why you beat your best friend almost to death and frankly I don’t want to. You-“
“Fuck you!” I screamed at him and threw open the door to the cruiser. I ran then, away from him and the house and my broken life. He didn’t come after me. Not that day or any other.
Since everyone in town thought I was a violent thug no one would let me stay with them when I called around. I eventually went to a motel far outside of town and drained the last of my savings from work paying for the room.
I went back to pick up my car from the trailhead, but it was gone and I hoped it was Kimber who had it and not a tow yard. I read the paper every morning for some mention of Kyle’s condition. I saw the Daley’s birth announcement about 10 days later. They had just had a son that they named William. The whirling, twirling, Shiny Gentlemen lit up the valley with its stench and song of death that night. It was the last time I ever heard it.
I stayed in Drisking long after the money had run out and I was sleeping on the concrete behind the motel. I stayed until Kyle was released from the hospital; a mute, empty-eyed, soulless vegetable. I went to see him once, while only Parker was home, and threatened him until he let me inside the house.
When I had assured myself that the Kyle I knew was dead and only his empty husk remained, I left his house and hitchhiked out of town. And after I spent four drunken, drug-fueled years in Chicago, I came home one day to find a letter waiting for me. It didn’t have a return address but it was postmarked California.
I knew it was from her before I’d even picked it up. She’d written so many of my assignments for me that I knew Kimber’s handwriting better than my own.
Inside it was a letter. The letter. I read it only once, many years ago, until I sat down to transcribe it today.
I know you aren’t going to understand why we did the things we did. It was all born out of love, at least it started that way. You’re everything to me and you’ll always be my daughter. Do you understand? And I’m leaving this world because of what I’ve done to you, not because of what you are. I don’t want you to be upset about what you are. Because WHO you are is beautiful.
My dearest, this town has done horrible things. And all of us who live here are guilty. Read this letter and leave this place.
I need to tell you all of this. I need to start at the beginning:
Somewhere along the way, decades ago, the major population of Drisking became unable to bear children. Most people blame the town for letting the iron ore leak into our water table during to collapsing of our mines.
This is the same water table that still provides the town’s water today. They were never quite able to fix it and ore is toxic and exposure causes infertility. The town did, and still does, suffer greatly from its effects.
And the Prescott’s, they solved the problem that no one could solve. It was an ugly, crass solution but most people were happy to look away when they were able to raise families again. You see they took girls, mostly women from other places, and they impregnated them and gave us their babies.
And the town came under the care of Thomas Prescott when he started to “sell” some of the babies on the side for a profit to rich couples. And the Sheriff, he helped him do this. But then an ugly rumor started that they were selling to human traffickers. And the Prescott’s had to offer triple the price for girls. And in town, we began to murmur. But we once again turned the other cheek when the city was suddenly flooded with money because of how well the traffickers paid. People had well-paying jobs again and were proud to call Drisking home. So we said nothing and those that did were taken to the mountain.
Because that is where they do it. There is a place on the mountain where the women are taken, Kimber: drifters, runaways and, if their parents choose it, sometimes the girls in town are even sold back. They arrange to sell the girls and they meet them at a tree halfway between our town and their baby mill. Sometimes kids play there now. I think you played there.
The Prescott’s and the Sheriff are the ones who impregnate the girls and the children are named after them. P children for the Prescotts and K children for the sheriff. And then when the women become too sick or too old to deliver profitable babies they are sent through a giant machine that was used to refine ore and their bodies are crushed and the blood and skin stripped away and what remains of them are their stolen children and the dust of their bones. And all that’s left of their bodies is the powder that they spread over the mountain to hide our crimes.
I’m telling you this, Kimber, because you are one of those children. Most of your friends are one of those children.
Please get out of Drisking before your father finds this letter. Run away and never come back and never speak of it to anyone. Their industry has deep roots now and the traffickers have lofty connections. Don’t tell anyone. Don’t keep this letter. Don’t look back.
I love you. I’m sorry I have to leave you. We all have to answer for our sins and I’m ready to burn in hell for mine.
Love always and forever,