Not your typical family outing
'April, get a move on it. We haven't got all day. We need to get going if we're to make it to the cabin by nightfall,' bellowed my father from downstairs.
'I heard you the first five times. Give me a sec, will you? I'm blow drying my hair,' I hollered back, exasperated. Everything had to be planned out when it came to my father. The family didn't do anything unless there was a plan. Ugh, it infuriated me. I flipped my head down, running my splayed fingers through my hair, trying to get the right amount of fullness and body. I wanted to look good for Josh tonight.
Josh is my boyfriend, first-string all-American. He's the one. I think he's going to be my first. Hell, even my dad likes him, invited him to stay in the spare room at the cabin. Josh loves skiing, so of course he jumped at the opportunity. Plus, the fact that he was going to spend the whole weekend with me kind of sealed the deal. I just wished Dad would have let me ride up with Josh after he was done with practice, but, of course, it wasn't part of his plan.
'Come on, Hon,' said my mom as she entered my room. 'We really need to be going. You know how your father gets,' she added in a lighthearted, conspiratorial tone.
I laid the hairdryer down on my dresser. 'Okay, Mom, just let me get my purse and I'll be down.'
She walked over to me, ran her hand over my head, and kissed me on the forehead like she had been doing since I could remember.
'Bailey, get your little fanny down here or we're leaving without you. I'll have Mrs. Henderson come over and watch you, with all her cats,' threatened my father.
My little brother was named after my father, John Bailey Wesley, but we just called him Bailey so nobody got confused. Most of the time, he could be a pain in my ass. I seriously thought he had ADD, but of course medication wasn't an option. Mom didn't believe in drugging the youth, so I was the one that had to suffer.
The Mrs. Henderson thing' well, she's the neighbor across the street. She has about fifty cats. I think she started collecting them after her husband died. Sort of weird, but anyways, my parents were going out of town one weekend, and I had junior cheerleading camp, so I couldn't watch him. My parents had Mrs. Henderson watch him. I guess she scared the crap out of him. Mom told me when they went to pick him up, he was sitting on the sofa like a statue with twelve or so cats all around him. All I had to do was just mention Mrs. Henderson, and he would just about wet himself. It was really my only means of intimidation. Dad must have been getting really pissed if he brought her up.
I grabbed my purse off my bathroom sink, which just so happened to be carrying a pack of condoms, slung it around my shoulder, and headed out my door. Suddenly, something shoved me into the wall, and I saw Bailey running down the hall. He turned around, put his thumbs in his ears, and stuck his tongue out at me before he headed down the stairs.
'Oh, you are so dead,' I yelled at Bailey. My mother came up behind me and placed her hand on my shoulder.
'Let him be. You only have one brother. Make nice for me. I don't want this to be one of those trips from hell,' pleaded my mother.
I sighed heavily and rolled my eyes, 'Just make sure he stays on his side of the seat.'
She nodded her head and blinked slowly. 'I'll try my best, but you know him. Be the more mature,' she said, then headed down the stairs.
I followed her, shaking my head. That was her answer to everything. Be the more mature. I was always the more mature. And what did it get me? Nothing but grief. I plodded down the stairs, dreading the drive ahead of us. The only thing that kept my feet moving was the thought of Josh and the excitement that tonight would bring. My father was blaring on the horn.
'Damn, I'm coming,' I said under my breath. I walked across the foyer and locked the front door on my way out. The Volvo was a gaudy and ghastly sight. I had always hated the pasty blue color of the nerdy station wagon, and the plaid luggage on top didn't do anything to help. I walked across the yard and opened the back door to the Volvo. I plopped down in the seat behind my father and slammed the door.
'Jesus, April, don't slam the door,' said my father.
'Sorry,' I muttered.
'You can at least pretend to have a good time. I don't get it. You used to love going up to the cabin for the weekend and skiing with the old man,' he said with a hurt tone to his voice.
'Yeah, well'' My attitude surprised me. I normally wasn't this surly. It was just sharing the ride up there with my family that was getting to me. Don't get me wrong. I loved them; I just didn't want to be cramped up with them for two hours. I would much rather go up to the mountains with my friends.
My dad flicked the radio on, and as I would have guessed, Byron Chase, the local talk-radio king, was blasting his message of hate towards inept politicians and local government officials.
'this is what I'm talking about, Governor Parsons. Your unfounded compassion for these' these outcasts, these social pariahs, has got to stop. They won't change, but I can promise you this. They will suck the social tit dry, and once the last drop is consumed, they will turn against the mother and anyone else who gets in their way. Take this lot of murderers and thieves from the newly formed rehabilitation outreach program. Four hardened criminals, which you were trying to help, killed their handler or counselor, whatever the institution calls them, and escaped'set loose among us God-fearing citizens to terrorize and'
I couldn't take this boring talk radio shit any longer. I placed my ear buds in my ears. I let the soothing sounds of the iPod take me away. I looked over at my little brother. He was hopping around like a seizure patient on speed, rocking his head back and forth against the headrest, all the while, his finger stuck deep into his nose. I could feel the hard thump, thump, thump of his head against the leather seat. I gave an incredulous look into the rearview mirror and noticed my father's eyes weren't on the road, but were on me, like I was the one he should be worried about. If I were him, I think I would have my eyes on my spaz of a son, but what did I know? I'm just the normal one. Finally, I gave up on the staring contest with the mirror and closed my eyes.
Someone was shaking me. I opened my eyes and looked around. Everyone was out of the car. The door was open and my dad was shaking me. His lips were moving but I couldn't figure out what he was saying. Then I remembered that I was listening to the iPod. I reached up and pulled the buds from my ear. The air rushed into my ears, and I had to admit it felt good.
'Dinner and bathroom break. Come on, don't throw us off schedule,' said my dad with a sly little wink.
He seemed to be in a better mood. We must be making good time, I thought to myself. Leaving my purse on the back seat, I stepped out and slammed the door. We were in the parking lot of a Jack in the Box. Dad must have been trying to cheer me up. He knew I had a weak spot for the Chicken Club Paninis. I couldn't rebel against them. My stomach was growling which pitted itself against my full bladder, both vying for the top spot of most urgent need. I dashed towards my family. They were almost at the Jack-in-the-Box doorway. Catching up with them as they were going in, Dad lingered a moment, holding the door open for me. I rushed passed him and headed towards the women's restroom.
My hand was about to grasp the stainless steel handle, but it hesitated for a moment, wavering in midair. I pulled my sleeve down over my hand and used it as a makeshift glove to open the door. I slid into the bathroom, hoping that no one else was in there. Bending down to look underneath the stalls, checking for feet, all was clear. I went to the last stall and pushed the door open with my shoe. The smell was horrible and overwhelming. 'Jesus,' I said out loud, letting the door swing back. It smelled like a dead moose. How can people be so inconsiderate? And what the hell did she have to eat? I considered holding it until we got to the cabin, but I had to pee so hard it hurt.
Trying to get as far away from the biohazard site as I could, I walked to the first stall and opened the door. I reached into the stainless steel box above the toilet and pulled out a paper cover and laid it on the seat. I turned around, pulled my starched jeans down, then my cotton panties. The seat was cold, even through the paper covering. At first, my body stiffened, but the relief that followed was amazing. I couldn't believe that I didn't wake from the pressure. I wiped, flushed (which is more than I can say about the previous occupant of the last stall), washed my hands, and exited the bathroom.
I expected to see my family at the counter perusing the overhead menu, but nobody was there, not even a cashier. Scanning the restaurant, I spotted them at a booth towards the back and made my way over to them. Bailey was sitting in the middle of the booth and wouldn't scoot over, so I used my hips to push him over to the wall.
'What, do I not get to eat?' I asked a little put off.
'We ordered for you,' Mom said, matter-of-factly.
'How do you know what I wanted?' I asked with an air of haughtiness.
'Well,' my father decided to chide in with his cool logic, 'seeing as we have had the cabin for seven years, we always stop here for food and bathroom breaks, and you have never ordered anything but the Chicken Club Panini, waffle fries, and a diet coke, I thought it safe to assume that that was what you wanted.'
The corners of my mouth curled upwards trying to form a smile. I kind of liked the idea that they knew what I liked. I was about to let the icy exterior of my attitude melt away and enjoy a nice meal with my family as a loving daughter, but then my little brother had to open his mouth.
'Plus we couldn't wait on you to poop all day long. Poop, poop, poopedy, poop,' jested Bailey seemingly amazed at his witty comment.
'Oh, shut up, you little shit. I did not. I was barely in there two minutes,' I retorted.
'April! Language,' Dad said.
'Bailey! That's not appropriate talk for the dinner table.' Mom was just a second behind Dad.
Bailey giggled, then continued his nonstop, erratic movements. His hands were apparently jet planes now, having a dog fight over the square Formica sea of a Jack-in-the-Box table. I sighed heavily once again, certain that it would not be the last time before the night was over.
Dad steered the conversation into happier territory. 'Here's a bit of good news. The weatherman on The Peak said that we were in for a good three to six inches of snow tonight. That ought to make for good skiing come tomorrow. Whaddaya say, April? Care to challenge your old man to a race down a black diamond?'
'No, I'll probably be with my friends,' I replied, making sure I didn't mention anything about Josh and give away my intentions.
Dad seemed to be hurt for a moment, but he quickly regained his composure and barreled on. 'How about you, Linda? Want to live on the dangerous side of life and finally give Widow's Trail a try?'
'I think I'll stay away from anything that insinuates that I could be a widow, and you should too. Why don't you stick around Bailey and me this time? You know, show him the finer points of skiing' on the greens.'
I think my dad liked skiing with me. I was good at it. I could go down all the trails that he went down, do all the tricks that he could, and almost go as fast as him, but seeing as he outweighed me by a hundred and twenty pounds, he had gravity on his side.
'What do you say, kiddo? Gonna give skiing a try this year?' My dad asked Bailey.
'Access denied. Must Snowboard. Reboot'' droned Bailey acting like a robot now. His arms were bent at the elbows, and he swung them around in a stop motion fashion, occasionally bumping into me.
The whole family was too busy looking at Bailey to notice that the Jack-in-the-Box employee was standing next to the table with our order. She grabbed the numbered placard that Dad had placed at the edge of the table and sat our food down.
'Domo, domo oragato, Mr. Roboto,' said our waitress as she mimicked Bailey's movement. 'Cute kid. Well, if there is anything else I can get for you, let me know. You folks enjoy your meal.'
I thought the girl's actions were totally absurd. What kind of person acts like a total freak in front of people she doesn't even know? She looked like she was my age, and I would never be caught dead doing anything as stupid as that.
My mother was more polite than I would have been. 'Well thank you. What a nice thing to say.'
I rolled my eyes and sighed.
'We'll let you know if we need anything else,' said my father, not as kindly as Mom spoke.
The waitress walked away, and we began to dig into our meal in comfortable silence. When we were finished, we headed back out to the Volvo. The sky was overcast, and big, fat snowflakes had begun to fall. The ground, still retaining much of the heat of the day, quickly melted the snow, turning the parking lot into a messy slush. Everyone piled into the car once again in their preordained seats. Dad was behind the wheel, Mom beside him in the front seat. I was behind Dad, and Bailey was seated beside me, noisily spitting and sucking the saliva up again before it fell in his lap.
'What did I tell you? It was going to be a good trip this year,' chirped Dad. 'Did you guys see the size of those snowflakes! Powder city here we come.' He started the car and pulled back onto the road.
For the first time since the trip had begun, I could agree with my father. Maybe it was going to be a good trip this year. We only had one more hour of driving time. Dad had switched the radio to a classic rock station which was tolerable. Bailey even calmed down a bit. I guess the four junior burgers were having an effect on him. I looked out my window, amazed by the falling snow as it danced within the illuminated airspace of the street lamps. Off in the distance the mountains stabbed at the sky, backlit by the last muted rays of sunlight trying to push through the thick, ominous clouds. I leaned back and rested my head against the seat, taking in the ever-rising landscape.
Everyone was quiet as Dad pulled onto the treacherous road leading up to our cabin. The Volvo's headlights pierced the night. They carved their way through the dense forest as they zigzagged back and forth around blind curves. The silence had been ongoing since we left Jack in the Box. I guessed everyone was lost in their own thoughts.
Even though I had slept the majority of the trip, I found myself fighting the urge to close my eyes. My head dipped down and I jerked it violently upright, surprised that I had almost succumbed to sleep again. Soon, I started to doze off once more, and this time it was my father who brought me back.
'On the home stretch now, kiddos,' he said, peering into the rearview at me and my brother.
'John! Look out,' wailed Mom, her hand firmly planted on the dashboard.
Dad looked ahead and slammed on the brakes. The car broke into a slide, the wheels unable to find purchase on the slick mountain pass. Startled, I leaned to the side to look out the windshield. There, on the fringe of the Volvo's headlights stood a massive mule deer. The animal's pose was something out of a naturalist's sculpture exhibit, all muscle and magnificent. His antlers were suggestive of his regal claim to the forest.
The car began to slow and it finally stopped in the middle of the road. The deer broke free from its shackles of fear and darted off into the thick of the woods.
'Whew, that was a close one. Did you see the size of that thing, Linda?' Dad's knuckles turned white on the steering wheel.
Mom slapped Dad on the shoulder. 'Keep your eyes on the road. We come all this way and you about kill us all not five miles from the cabin. Good Lord, John!'
'I'm sorry. What do you want me to do? I can't make the deer not walk across the road.' Dad sounded slightly put off by Mom's chastisement. He looked in the rearview and asked, 'Everyone okay back there?' his tone a little more composed.
'Yea, I'm all right,' I said with my heart still pounding.
'Whoa, Dad, you almost ran over the king of the forest,' added Bailey. He was wide awake now, his mind alert and steering him into the land of imagination. 'Shcrrrrrk, buuursk.' He made some sound effects while he pantomimed the incident with his hands. In his version, the deer'or for that matter, the car'didn't come out so well. He insisted on bringing his faux car crash right next to my face. I could hear the dull slaps of his hands again and again.
'Get off me, Bailey,' I growled as I pushed him away.
'Kids, please! John, just get to the cabin.' Mom was obliviously frayed from the near collision. Dad didn't reply. He just stepped on the gas and drove the last five miles to the cabin without another hitch.
I grabbed my purse, opened the door, and headed to the back of the station wagon. Dad was already there. He grabbed three suitcases and awkwardly balanced them in his arms as he headed into the cabin.
'Linda, could you get the door for me?' Dad patiently waited at the cabin's entrance, his cargo shifting precariously in his arms.
'Be there in a sec,' Mom hollered back.
I wrenched my bag out of the back of the station wagon and lumbered over to the cabin. Mom was still busy searching the car for something, so I opened the door for Dad who was about to lose all the suitcases. He made a couple of steps in the cabin and let the luggage fall to the wood floor. The sound they made bouncing off the floor was comforting. The old wood planks absorbed much of the impact, softening the blow. It was a testament to the resiliency of the cabin. I tended to forget that it has housed many families since being built back in the forties.
I dragged my bag down the long solitary hall to the second bedroom. I wanted to get there before Bailey could call dibs on it. Last year, he got there first, and I was doomed to the shitty hide-a-bed on account of our cousin, Mariah, staying with us. I swear they intentionally build them to be the most uncomfortable things in the world. I'd let Bailey deal with it this year. Keep him in the living room next to my parent's room. That way it would be just Josh and me at the other end of the cabin, together'alone.
I opened the door and flicked the light on. The air was chilled and unwelcoming. I could feel the goose pimples racing up my arms to the back of my neck. I forgot how cold this room could get. Must be a draft coming up from the floorboards or something because the rest of the house stayed decently warm, considering the age of the place. I rubbed my hands over my arms, trying to warm them or at least get rid of the goose pimples.
I hefted my heavy bag up and tossed it on the bed, effectively claiming the room as mine for this trip. The thick layers of blankets sagged under the weight of my bag, and I thought about how nice and cozy it was under all those blankets, especially the quilt my grandmother had made for me before she died. I also thought about how much it sucked to get out from underneath them in the morning, but maybe, just maybe, Josh would keep me warm, and we could get up before my parents woke. I knew it was only a fantasy. I wouldn't actually do that for fear of oversleeping and have Mom and Dad find me in bed with Josh, but I liked to think about it, nonetheless.
I left the room, leaving the door cracked. I wanted to let the room warm up, but I didn't want to leave the door wide open, seeing as it would be an invitation for Bailey to go rummaging through my stuff. I hoped Dad would soon have the fire roaring in the fireplace. I made my way back to the living room to give Mom and Dad a hand with the rest of the provisions. As I entered the living room, Bailey saw me and immediately began to complain.
'Mom, I don't want to sleep on the couch-bed. I hate it.' He puffed out his cheeks and stomped his feet on the floor.
My mother looked at my father who was busy stuffing big logs into the fireplace and said, 'Well, you can probably sleep with your father and me.'
I noticed Dad hesitate for a moment before he tossed the last log onto the massive pile within the fireplace. 'Yeah, you can sleep with us tonight, but you're getting to be a big boy. I think eight-year-olds should have their own beds, don't you?' asked my father. 'I think it would be best if you slept on the hide-a-bed tomorrow.'
My father looked back at my mother with that all-encompassing look of pure understanding that only people who have known each other a great while can do without mixed messages. The more subtle nuisances were lost to the observer. I got the gist of it, but that was all. They wanted some alone time on this trip. Seeing as the world still revolved around Bailey and thinking that everything was about him, he missed the undercurrent of the look. I was sure, in his mind, Mom and Dad were somehow shunning him, but none the less, he gave in to their demand.
'Yeah, I guess I can sleep on the dumb old couch,' grumbled Bailey.
'There's a big boy's decision,' said my father beaming. He splashed the logs with the jug of whatever he kept by the fireplace and struck one of those improbably long matchsticks. He tossed it on the logs and immediately a flame roared within the brick walls of the fireplace.
'Well, let's see here. I got the fire going, and our bellies are full of good, old-fashioned Jack-in-the-Box burgers. What are we going to do to pass the time?' he said, reaching underneath the aforementioned hide-a-bed and pulling out a board game. 'Anyone up for a game of Cluedo?'
'I'd rather not,' I said, wishing the hands on the clock would hurry up until Josh got here.
'That sounds like fun. Are you in, Bailey?' asked my mother.
'Oh yeah!' Bailey double-fisted the air, completely forgetting about his sleeping arrangements. 'Let me pick the murderer.'
'Okay, I can deal with that,' Dad agreed. 'But we really need another player to make the game worthwhile. What do you say, April? Want to join us? It'll be fun!'
'Fine! One game,' I said as I sat down on the hard-wood floor Indian style with my back against the other couch for support. 'I'm serious. One game and I'm done.'
My mother had that little smirk on her face, and she turned to my father. I recognized that look: success that they had me hooked. I was a competitive person. My dad picked up the suspects and fanned the cards out to Bailey.
'Okay, Bailey, pick the murderer and don't look. Slide him''
'Or her,' added my mom. I smiled a bit.
'Or her in the envelope,' said Dad.
Bailey slid the killer inside the envelope. He seemed happy to be playing with the family. He even managed to quit fidgeting so much. Dad passed out the other suspects. Mom picked up her cards and looked at the rest of us with her one eyebrow raised, acting like a detective. Bailey snorted he laughed so hard, and hid his face behind his cards. I did what I always did in these situations. I rolled my eyes, but at least I didn't do it as dramatically as I usually did. Mom laid her cards down, giving Dad a chance to look at his, and picked up the location cards.
'April, want to pick the where?' asked Mom fanning the cards out in front of me.
'I'm fine,' I said, looking down at Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum.
'Okay, here you go, Hon. Pick the where,' said Mom proffering the cards to Dad. He put his suspects down and pulled a card out of the middle of the where stack and slid it into the envelope. She passed the remaining cards out. Then Dad picked up the murder weapon cards and offered them to Mom. She picked the last piece of the puzzle out of the deck and slid it into the envelope and laid it in the middle of the game board.
'Ah, and so it begins, my dear Watson,' said Dad out of the corner of his mouth in a horribly mangled British accent. With his hand near his chin, holding an invisible pipe, he took a long, exaggerated draw off the imaginary pipe, then let out a crackling guffaw.
'Oh stop it,' said Mom playfully slapping his shoulder, not unkindly this time.
Bailey absolutely roared with laughter at Dad's antics, and I have to admit they elicited a smile from me as well.
'April, why don't you go first?' asked Mom.
I picked my cards up and looked at the facts to see if my guess was a plausible one. The rest of the family was eagerly waiting to tear down my accusation. Their eyes were darting back and forth from their cards to me. Well, Mom's and Dad's were, the goal of the game lost to Bailey. He was busy playing with the murder weapons.
'I suggest that it was Miss Scarlet in the bedroom with the knife,' I said, hoping that I had hit the nail on the head because first, I love to win at anything I do, and second, maybe I could end the game quickly. That would save me the embarrassment of Josh seeing me play Cluedo with my family. I accomplished neither.
'Sorry, April, for you see, it couldn't be Miss Scarlet,' said Dad employing his British accent once again, which wasn't quite as amusing the second time around. He held up the card of Miss Scarlet, showing it to Mom, me, and Bailey.
Next up was Bailey. Everyone looked at him expectantly. He stared back at the family, vacant and unsure how to proceed.
'What do I do?' he asked.
I was the first one to notice it. A light slowly stretched across the living room wall. Somebody was coming up the drive. At first, I thought it was Josh. My mind raced. I needed to change, fix my make-up, and do my hair. Dad was about to explain the basics of the game, then he noticed it also, followed by my mom. My mind caught up to itself, and I realized it couldn't be Josh. His practice probably ended only thirty minutes ago. I breathed a sigh of relief. By this time the vehicle was stopped in front of the cabin. Dad stood up and made his way to the window.
'I wonder who that could be?' he asked no one in particular. He brushed the curtain aside and peered out the window. The lights shone bright through the window dulling the soft glow coming from the hearth. 'Looks like a park ranger. I wonder what they could want. There wasn't an avalanche warning was there, Linda?' Dad stepped away from the window.
'I don't think so. The weatherman on the radio said we were only going to get a couple of inches of snow tonight,' replied Mom.
The authoritative knocks hung in the air, heavy and foreboding. I stood up off the floor and plopped down on the sofa behind me, hooking an ankle under my knee. Mom stood up, as well, taking a formal stance. She did this every time someone was at the door. It didn't matter where she was. Bailey remained on the floor, the only member of the family not self-conscious.
'Coming,' announced my father. He walked over to the door and turned the knob. After that everything changed. The door slammed open violently. I flinched and instinctively brought my knees to my chest. I didn't know for certain what Mom's and Bailey's reactions were because my eyes were fixed to the door, but I'm pretty sure theirs were similar. Anyone would have reacted that way.
A huge bald-headed man, all prison tattoos and muscle, barreled in at my dad, striking him repeatedly in the face. Dad fell on his ass. His nose was gushing. The turtle neck he was wearing was voraciously soaking up the blood running down his chin. His eyes were big and wide, tinged with fear. His mouth was slightly agape, as if he couldn't figure out what was going on. Neither could I, for that matter. Bailey and I shrieked in unison. He ran out of air before I did.
'Somebody shut that cunt's mouth before I do,' growled the man.
My mother rushed over to Bailey and me. She covered my mouth and muffled the scream. The big man was soon followed by another two men. The first was a short, stocky Latino. He wore a wife-beater and a few tattoos. The one I remember the best was the tear at the corner of his eye'a facsimile of an emotion he had probably never possessed. The second guy was tall, thin, and black. His skin was dark as burnt coal. He, too, sported a wife-beater, but it hung limp on his small frame. His hair was long and wiry, standing straight up in all directions. I didn't like the way he looked at me. The big man and the Latino man scanned the interior of the cabin, as if some unseen danger could be lurking anywhere. Their keen, furrowed eyes probed every corner, every nook of the cabin. The black man never took his eyes off me, never even blinked.
The big man's eyes finally settled on my dad. 'You,' he pointed a menacing finger at my dad. 'You got cash?' He looked at his cohorts, as if seeking approval. The Latino nodded his head up and down in a reassuring manner. The black man continued to stare at me. 'And the keys to the family wagon.'
My father extended an arm in a calming gesture, as if trying to buy some time to let his thoughts catch up. It didn't work.
'Now, fucker! You think I'm playing?' the big man yelled, his muscles rippling under his shirt. To drive the point home he kicked at my father, hitting him in the thigh. 'Huh, shithead?'
I saw the fear in Dad's eyes. He looked at his family. Maybe if we weren't in the mix, he would have stood his ground, taken them on. He used to play college football. I kept expecting him to pull off some heroic deed. I expected him to jump up and wail on these men, powered by some secret instinct that all fathers possessed. But we were here, same as him, and he did what I'm sure he thought was best in this situation. He placed us and our safety first.
'Yeah, I've got money,' he said, pulling out his billfold and holding it out to them. The Latino man snatched the wallet out of my dad's hand and immediately rifled through it. He went for the cash first, licking his thumb as he counted out the bills.
'Six hundred dollars. Not bad, huh, Marx?' said the Latino with barely contained glee to the big man. Marx didn't reply. He just kept looking at each of us in turn, as if expecting one of us to make a move, psyching himself up.
'Yo, check for plastic, Trejo,' said the black man, his first words since entering the cabin.
'Fuck, Low! Whatcha think I am, stupid? I'm getting to it. Let's see' MasterCard, Visa, and Discover. Damn, boy's got the hookup,' said Trejo, pocketing the cash and credit cards.
'The keys,' Marx said.
'There on the mantle. Please take them and leave my family alone,' pleaded my father.
Marx stepped over to the mantle and scooped up the keys to the Volvo.
'C'mon guys let's get outta here,' Marx told the other two.
By this time, Mom's hand was off my mouth. Bailey was still cowering at our feet. I felt the weight of the couch shift. I looked to my mother. She looked straight ahead. Her eyes were fixed on the invaders, but her hand was slowly descending into her pocket. I knew what she was doing. She was trying to contact the police with her cell phone. I chanced a look at her and shook my head back and forth, nearly unperceivable. The tears that were welling up finally broke free and ran down my cheeks. The bad men were almost gone. Why was she jeopardizing everything?
'Hey, Marx, why we got to leave so soon? Shit, we're free, baby. Why can't we enjoy ourselves a little bit? Man, it's been five years since I got my dick wet, and that little honey on the couch look good,' said Low holding his crotch.
At the mention of the little honey, all three men looked towards me, and that's when they saw what my mother was trying to do. I was almost as mad at her as they seemed to be'almost.
'Fucking bitch,' murmured Marx, as if he was a little sad at the turn of events. I honestly believed he would have left us be, gathered his posse, and drove the Volvo out into the night if Mom hadn't tried to contact the authorities. Trejo took off towards Mom, speaking in rapid-fire Spanish. I assumed he was cursing my mom, our family, and maybe the whole damn world.
My earlier wish about my dad rising to the occasion and pulling off a heroic deed came true. He jumped to his feet, as if the quarterback had just snapped the ball, and propelled himself forward with the speed and agility of a jungle cat. He speared the stocky Mexican, picking him off the ground and driving him into the wall. Dad wasn't the only one on the move, though. Marx ran up to Mom and me. He grabbed a fist full of her hair and pulled her off the couch, knocking Bailey over in the process. He threw her to the ground. Her arms and legs sprawled out over the hard-wood floor. Then the son of a bitch kicked her in the head. I didn't know if the blow killed her or just knocked her out. All I knew was that she wasn't moving.
I screamed louder than I ever had before. I tried to run for it, but Low was there to scoop me up and throw me over his shoulder. I pounded my tiny fists against his back, but it did no good. He just kept on marching towards the back room. I think I saw Bailey run and hide in the corner by my parent's bedroom. I tried to look towards my father for help before Low rounded the corner into the hallway, but each time my captor's foot came down my head bobbled and blurred my vision. I screamed out one last time for my father, hoping against hope that somehow everything could still be okay.
He kicked the door to my bedroom open, and threw me on the bed. The door rebounded off the wall and came to a rest. A sliver of light stretched across my face. Before I could move, he was on top of me. I brandished my arms about, scratching at his face. I wanted to blind him, get out from underneath him. I wanted to see if my family was still alright. He reared his arm back and struck me on the left side of my face. Stars danced in front of my eyes; my field of vision narrowed. I heard the world through earmuffs.
'Cut that shit out and things will go a lot smoother,' he said. He might have yelled it; I really didn't know. He pulled my sweater off. I remember it hurt like hell when it brushed up against my swollen cheek. I could hear the muffled sound of furniture breaking in the other room. Get 'em Dad, I thought to myself. He fumbled with my bra, finally unclasping it and exposing my breasts. I was recovering from the blow as he unzipped my pants and jerked them down, but I didn't resist for fear of retaliation. I felt his hot breath on my chest. He reached down and grabbed the front of my panties along with a fair amount of hair. My underwear cut into my flesh as he ripped them away. I squeezed a handful of blanket, bracing myself for what was about to happen.
I never imagined this was the way I would lose my virginity. He unzipped his pants. I felt it brush against my leg as he pulled his pants down. I couldn't hear anything from the other room, which caused my fears to double. He repositioned himself and thrust his pelvis into mine. The pain was immediate, my inner thighs quickly becoming slick with blood. It felt like a jackhammer had run amok in my guts. At first, all I could do was focus on the pain, but gradually it faded into a dull pulse.
Something cold and metallic rubbed against my leg. I feigned enjoyment, placing my hands on the back of his thighs. Slowly I moved them lower and lower until I reached his pants and felt a pocket knife clipped to his pants. Hope replaced the panic. Could I do this? I had to be cunning and wait for the right time to act. I moaned energetically. He matched it, and then some.
It was one of those quick-flip box knifes that you find at hardware stores. I didn't know how he acquired it, and I didn't care. Maybe a higher power was looking out for me, but probably it was just dumb luck. Without hesitation, I grabbed the knife and flipped it open. He must have heard the click, because he stopped thrusting. I brought the knife up to his throat and slid it across. The arterial spray painted my torso red. He tried to say something in those last remaining seconds of life, but it was only bloody bubbles and gurgles to me.
Low's body fell limp on top of me. His penis went limp inside me. I struggled to get out from underneath him, the dead weight smothering me. The steady stream of blood slowed to a trickle, like an oil pan on a farm pickup. I don't know how I managed to do it, but somehow I mustered all the strength in my 105-pound frame and slide the dead man off of me. I jumped off the bed and looked at the grisly scene. Light slanted in through the slightly ajar door. The quilt my grandmother had made for me a long time ago was ruined. The patchwork was now a Rorschach blot in deep red. Low lay on top, still as a stone. His pants only covered the bottom half of his ass. He was naked the rest of the way up.
'Low, Lowboy! We gots to get the fuck out of here, and I mean now!' screamed Trejo. I could hear his footsteps coming down the hall. He would be in the room any second. My mind was mush, reduced to the state of a four-year-old afraid of the boogey man, but my boogey man was real. So I did what any four-year-old would have done. I hid behind the door. I cowered to the floor, getting as low as I could, trying to slip between the cracks. I was clutching the box blade, my only defense.
Trejo nudged the door, opening it a little more. The old hinges moaned in protest. My heart was thumping beneath my blood soaked chest. I feared it would give me away.
'Hey, Lowboy, c'mon. I know you ain't got your dick wet in five years, but the shit has hit the fan out here. We gotta go, now. That bitch might have called 911. Cops could be on the way right now, cabron,' he said, a note higher than a whisper, and then he continued a bit louder. 'Man, I don't care if you're done or not. I'm coming in there on the count of three, so you better put your pene up. One'Two'Three.'
He pushed the door all the way open and stepped into the room. From my vantage point on the floor, all I could see were his legs. He was far enough in the room there was no way he could miss the scene on the bed.
'What the fuck happen'Aaaggghhhh!' Trejo's last word turned into a scream.
I struck again with the box blade, this time low. I didn't know what I hit, but whatever I cut into caused him to fall. He crumbled to the floor like a sack of rotten potatoes. He cursed to no end, some of the words in Spanish, others in English. I sprung up off the floor and vaulted over Trejo into the hallway. I brandished the blade in front of me. I half-expected the big man, Marx, to be waiting for me in the hallway, but it was deserted. The cabin was silent, eerily so. Maybe he fled. Trejo had said the cops could be on the way. I took a couple of tentative steps, edging closer and closer to the living room. From behind me, Trejo managed to say something besides curse words.
'Marx, get that bitch. Fucking kill her!' he screamed.
I waited at the end of the hallway, willing my ears to pick up the slightest sound. Nothing. I figured he must have left. No honor among thieves, I thought. I stepped into the front room of the cabin. I was going to see if everybody was alright, hoping to God they were, but subconsciously knowing different. And that's when I saw him. He stood behind the crumpled bodies of my parents, one arm around Bailey's waist, holding him up, the other over his mouth. Marx had a nasty cut above his right eye and his cheek was badly bruised. I felt sad and proud in equal measure for my Dad. He had gone down fighting for me.
'It was supposed to be easy. Get the cash. Get the keys. Be on our way. Simple plan, huh? But nothing's ever simple. Your mom had to call the cops; your dad had to be the hero. Lowboy' fucking rapist,' he spat, shaking his head. 'Why don't you put the knife down? I wouldn't want anything to happen to the little man.'
Marx gave my brother a shake to show me what was at stake. Bailey's eyes were wide and red from crying. The rest of his face was lost under that massive hand. What could I do? I tossed the blade on the couch, and with it went my composure. I broke down and bawled. My parents were dead. My brother was at the mercy of some low-life criminal. I had been raped. I had killed a man, and seriously wounded another. It was all too much. Tears started to flow freely. Watery snot ran out of my nose and stretched across the chasm of my mouth as I wailed.
He stared back at me, looking me up and down, head to feet. And although I was completely naked, I didn't think there were any sexual motives behind that look. He shook his head slowly, as if disappointed.
'Time to tie up the loose ends,' he said, like maybe a doctor would, routine numbing the hard facts of life and death. He raised Bailey above his head and threw him to the ground. My brother hit the floor hard, coming down at an awkward angle. His shoulder and head took most of the initial shock. I tried to scream out. My protest lodged itself amongst my sobs. Marx brought his boot down hard on Bailey's neck. It sounded like a chicken bone breaking. I had to get out, get away. I ran towards the door, but Marx seized me first. He pushed me back. I lost my footing, tripping over my father's ski equipment. This was it, I thought. I was going to die, naked, covered in blood. He was coming at me fast with his fist above his head. He put all his weight into that blow, dropping into a crouch, but before it connected, I felt the ski poll. I hoisted it up, wedging it against the wood floor. He couldn't stop. Momentum propelled him forward towards his doom.
The point of the pole stabbed into his neck, finally stopping at the disk. His fist grazed my already swollen cheek, but all of his strength drained from him. The pole sticking out of the middle of his neck caused him to fall to the side of me. He was still alive. I could hear wet sucking noises as the blood filled his airway. My first thought was to run, go find some help. I stood up with those exact intentions. I made my way to the door. I reached for the knob, my hand inches from it.
'I hope it hurts like hell. I hope it hurts forever, you bitch!' said Trejo. He was clawing his way down the hall, dragging his legs behind him.
I clenched my fist just short of the door knob. I turned and looked at him, at Marx laying on the floor bleeding to death, my family with their dead eyes staring into nothing. I was an empty shell of a person. Where flesh and blood once resided was replaced with hate and loathing. I went over to my family and closed their eyes, my last kind act of the night maybe my only kind act. From there, I stepped over to the fireplace, picked up the box of those long matches, grabbed the liquid filled jug, and walked over to Marx. I spun the lid off, not caring where it went. I splashed half the jug all over him. He didn't move, just blinked, life leaving him fast. I saved the other half for Trejo. I tipped the jug up and let the clear liquid splash onto his back. He rolled around trying to get away from the pool forming around him. I tossed the jug down beside him and pulled out a match.
'No, no, please, please God, don't,' he pleaded.
I struck the match and held it in my hand for a moment.
'For the love of Christ, I have a family.'
'So did I,' I told him, and then I dropped the match. I bet his screams could have been heard for miles around. I struck another match and stood in front of Marx. He didn't move, didn't try to say anything. He just shut his eyes. I dropped the match, grabbed a coat from the rack by the door, and walked out of the cabin. About twenty feet away, I stopped and put on the coat. It was one of Dad's, I realized. I sat down in the snow and watched the flames engulf the place. The snow quickly melted around the house. The flames billowed out of the windows, and the roof was caving in. I thought to myself, That is what hell must be like.
I sat there recounting the events, everything that had happened. I tried to remember the good times, the moments before they took everything away from me. I thought about the ride up here, and then dreadful realization dawned on me. Didn't the radio say that there were four escapees? I heard a branch snap behind me.