I didn’t listen and I pulled the trigger.
I dragged the body to the waterfall and watched it tumble limply over the rapids. No one from town would find it. Even if they did, they wouldn’t recognize the face anymore that’s for sure.
I turned and gasped at the eyes staring at me. I gathered my senses and realized that it was just the gnarled bark of a large tree leaning over the waterfall. Moss gathered like braids of hair around its horrid face.
“And that was the last you saw of Madison Guzman?”
“After school, yeah,” I said, sitting in the police station, “We helped Mr. Truman take down the history projects and then walked home.”
Sheriff Helen sighed and meditated over her cup of coffee. “She didn’t seem out of turn, or upset?”
I envied her the coffee. I hadn’t slept at all. I shook my head. “No. Said she wanted to meet up this morning and go over our book reports, but that was all. I was in a hurry to get home.”
“There was a hole in my book bag,” I said. It wasn’t a lie. “And I had lost all the quarters I had for the payphone to call home if I was staying out too late.”
The Sheriff smirked. “Happened before?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I nodded. “I forgot to call home and Pa was so mad he slapped me silly. Took away my books for a week too.”
“Took your books?” Sheriff Helen laughed. “My boys pray that I take their books as punishment.”
I smiled politely. Mom walked into the Sheriff’s office in her uniform. She handed me some hot chocolate. “How you doin’, Dougy?”
“I’m alright.” I took a sip. I eyed the gun on Mom’s holster. Wondered if I’d need it again. Decided not to think about it. “Any word?”
Mom looked at me and then the Sheriff. “Once Madison’s tracks get in the woods, it’s hard to figure out where she went. It was raining so hard last night, it’s all muddied up.”
“Nothing from the dogs?” asked Sheriff Helen.
Mom shook her head.
Sheriff Helen placed her empty cup on her desk. “You can go with your Mom, Doug. Let us know if you remember anything.”
I grabbed the handle of my book bag. “I will.”
Mom kissed my cheek. “Pa’s waiting for you in the pickup out front.”
Pa tried to talk in the car but I didn’t. He told me that Mom would find Madison, that he knew we were close. Pa knew nothing, he proved it when he asked about school. “How’s it going?” he asked.
Girls at school were already getting pregnant. The boys would be dropping out and working at the mill and then die here of alcohol poisoning. Or they joined the military and died somewhere else, probably still drunk. Babies would be born with or without fathers, it’s not like it mattered. “It’s alright,” I said. Pa turned on the radio and let that drown out the silence.
Pa was one of the worst examples of this shitty small town. He was born here, raised here, knocked up my mother and now kept her here. He worked at the local mill, like all the other fathers. On the weekends he watched football and waited until Mom got off her shift to remember he was hungry. I learned to cook so that Mom could rest when she got home.
“You look like a sissy in that apron,” he hissed at me one day. Mom said I looked handsome. She was too good for him. We were too good for the whole goddamn town in the middle of goddamn nowhere. I would leave. We would leave… not all of us though.
Pa warmed up some leftover chili in the microwave but I wasn’t hungry so I went up to my room. I wept before I slept.
I saw Madison’s face in the darkness, her braids framing her face. She smiled at me and I wanted to kiss her lips. She spoke but I heard nothing. She was scared then she looked like she was in pain. I reached out but before I could touch her, the gnarled bark of the tree shredded through Madison’s face and screamed at me. I woke up, sweat drenching my bed. I didn’t sleep for the rest of the night.