Cars never bounce around the way they make them appear in the movies. No, instead they glide, more like the lull of a boat on stale waters. And they’re just as loud as the boat’s engine, even with the windows rolled up there are always loud swooshing noises assaulting the senses. The sounds should be calming, like the ocean, but they never are. They are annoying and invading.
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We gathered for the last time in October, under the pretense of discussing a novel that was currently bobbing along in the zeitgeist like a rubber duck at sea. It was unusually cold for October — the summer season had lasted long and hard and then dropped precipitously in a matter of days. Now we came bundled to Luna’s house, sweaters beneath jackets and dishes in chapped hands and the novel tucked into our armpits.
Waiting on the steps at Changdeokgung for my language study group, I watched a girl in a guide’s vest herding American tourists. She had full cheeks and a broad nose, vanishing eyebrows, sad eyes. It was summer, boiling hot. Her skin was sheened with sweat. As I watched, she slipped the wallet from an American man’s back pocket, extracted some bills, and put it back. In chipper English she called to them, “This way! This way please!” Leading them off, she looked at me and smiled.
It starts with a small child — a girl of no more than eight or nine, with stringy blond hair and grease caked under her ragged fingernails — trotting down a street in a not so fashionable district of London. It’s 1886. It’s nearly three in the morning, the night shrouded in fog. She’s barefoot and hungry, and back in the rooms she left just ten minutes ago, her parents have begun making up from the row they’ve just ended.
The shadows press on your skin, prickled velvet that shouldn’t have weight, shouldn’t have texture, shouldn’t feel like you are wearing sandpaper and poison, but they do. You are almost used to it, this new way that things that shouldn’t happen do, but you do not like it. Here is one of the things that shouldn’t have happened: You are awake, and you do not want to be.
My hands were badly chapped that fall, the year we found Bog Dog. At least that I remember. The ground iced in early September, a month and a half early, and we had to dig the turnips from the earth with trowels. The soil was like pebbles of ice and the turnip tops were stiffened with freezing juice that re-froze on our hands as we sliced them off.
They had known that the pillbox was in the woods, but for some reason they’d never got around to visiting it. Andy thought maybe it was because the older kids went there sometimes, smoking cigarettes and drinking cider and, so rumour had it, getting blowjobs from Mandy Sullivan. He wasn’t entirely sure what a blowjob was—though his older brother Nick seemed to think it was something to do with sticking your tongue into your cheek—but those ideas were enough to keep the pillbox out of bounds.
There was a tree. I remember it. I swear I’d be able to recognize it. Because it looked so unusual. It stood on my left, in the distance, by Interstate 80. At first, it was just a blur in the shimmering heat haze, but as I drove closer, its skeletal outline became distinct. Skeletal: that’s what struck me at first as being strange.
When we started playing LandsBetwyxt, Jerry was all about killing monsters. But Amy was in Drama Club at Hematite High, where we went to school, in the Upper Peninsula, near Lake Michigan, on the dateline, and for her it was about interacting with people we met in the online game. Me, I wanted a chance to not be Jim.
Since we were little, Oona’s collected Victorian photographs. A certain subset of people love them, but I got a library book of them once, just before I met her, and I’ve never not been appalled. I don’t know what a book like that was doing lost in our local library. It’s exactly the kind of thing that would normally have been removed by a logical parent.