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no safe ground
cold moon home
dark end of town
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The Dark End of Town CHAPTER ONE

By some strange coincidence, it was exactly two years after Jonah killed himself in the flatbed of his father's old pickup, that Abby got the call about the missing minivan.

At that moment, Abby was also in a truck, an enormous truck, trying to get up her own driveway. She knew it was her driveway, but it was different—darker and steeper. And while she knew the house at the top of the hill was home, it wasn't her trailer—diarrhea-brown and patchy with age—it was a sweet white farmhouse, with a long, deep porch along the side facing the slope. More than anything, Abby had to reach the house. The reason why wasn't clear to her—she might have left something burning on the stove and smoke was filling the kitchen. Or maybe she had forgotten to turn off an upstairs faucet, and water was seeping under the door. Whatever the reason, she knew that every second she delayed, something was getting worse.

The truck struggled, its tires spinning then catching. She glanced up at the house and saw, with growing panic, that it had grown two new additions, one barely visible behind the house, the other a lean-to on its left side. The new structures were dirty, the paint peeling, the clapboard hanging off the framing. She pushed down on the accelerator, but the vehicle burrowed down, deeper into the mud. The pitch of the engine's whine went up an octave but she kept pressing down on the accelerator, unable to lift her foot. Finally, with a jolt, the wheels stopped moving.

As soon as she stepped out of the truck she sank to mid-calf. Her boots were held down by suction and at her first step, one foot slid out and down into the cold, wet clay. She heard herself whimper. She looked up at the house: it had grown to twice its original size, rooms and add-ons stuck to it like fungus. The original building was hardly visible.

Both feet bare now, she pushed her legs through the viscous, dark substance. She tried to grip it with her hands, but it squeezed out between her fingers. With each step the mud was thicker, deeper. Her whimpering turned to a dry, painful sobbing, each breath raking painfully down her constricted throat.

At first, the sound was nothing more than a pale echo in her head. Then it became a rusty knife cutting into the nightmare. Finally it sharpened, gaining strength, slicing the dream away and disgorging her into the real world. She lay in bed, covered in sweat, still shuddering with unshed tears. She became aware of her surroundings. Her legs were weighted down by her two dogs. Her thin trailer walls were all that was keeping the dark night outside and she lay as still as she could, her chest rising and falling. The phone kept ringing. Her breathing began to quiet. Slowly, she turned on the bedside light.

"Hello?" Her voice was ragged, sounding strange even to herself.

"Abby?" The woman's voice at the other end sounded unsure.

"Who's this?"

The voice gained confidence. "It's Dulcie. What took you so long?"

"A dream. Nightmare." Abby tried to clear her throat. "What time is it?"

"Two-fifteen. Someone's taken my car."

Abby was having trouble understanding her. "Your car?"

"My car, they've taken it."

"Where?"

Dulcie's voice rose. "I don't know where. It's gone. Come over?"

Abby sat up in bed, trying to clear the mud from her brain. "Stolen?"

"No. I think they'll bring it back."

"Nobody stole it?"

"I think they borrowed it."

Oh, yeah. "One of the kids?"

"No, not one the kids!"

"Dulcie, call the police."

The small, double-hung window in her trailer bedroom was open and a breeze rustled the pages of a calendar hanging on the wall above the dresser. It was the only decoration in the drab, boxy room, a freebee from Hudson River Bank. For the month of May they had a color photograph of an old farmhouse with a wraparound porch, the painted boards dappled with sunlight. Corny, but you'd live there in a second.

"Abby, I'm scared—"

"Oh, shit, Dulcie, come on, I—"

"Please, Abby."

"Are the kids home?"

"I'll check. But it's not the kids. They have a car. Better than mine." She sounded pathetic.

Abby forced herself to pay attention. She cleared her throat again. "Lock the door and call the police. Or go to bed. We'll talk in the morning, okay?"

"Abby, please, I need you."

"Why me, Dulce—"

"You'll think of something, please, I can't be here alone—"

The panic in Dulcie's voice sounded genuine. Resigned, Abby let out a slow, deep breath. "Okay. Check on the kids then lock the doors, front and back, Dulcie. I'll be over soon."

"Great, great. Thanks, Abby."

Abby hung up. She moved the small poodle mix, Rick, and his eyes stayed closed, though his tail gave a wag of acknowledgement. Delilah, the pit bull, watched her with doting eyes, her powerful tail drumming on the bed. Slowly, Abby put her feet on the floor and stood up. Like a hangover, her dream was still with her. She moved to the bathroom cautiously, so as not to shake it loose again. In the tiny bathroom, she looked at herself in the mirror over the sink. Muddy circles under her eyes, skin with a waxy, restaurant pallor. Nothing new. As she brushed her teeth, she thought with resignation of Dulcie, who somehow managed to look after her children and the people who worked for her all at the same time. It wasn't a big deal to go keep her company for an hour or so. The least she could do.

By the time Abby was ready to go, Delilah had taken over her warm spot, and Rick was on her pillow. She didn't have the heart to move him, and as if reading her mind, he snuggled in deeper.

© Julia Pomeroy




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