Chapter 1: Awake
"My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up.
My father's loss, the weakness which I feel,
The wrack of all my friends, nor this man's threats,
To whom I am subdued, are but light to me,
Might I but through my prison once a day
Behold this maid. All corners else o' th' earth
Let liberty make use of; space enough
Have I in such a prison."
Shakespeare, The Tempest.
You can never escape the lighthouse here.
This time it's on a sign.
Another great day in Arcadia Bay. Thank you, come again.
But it's all a lie. It was all for nothing. There is no escape.
She's not leaving. She never leaves. She sees the truck pull away - her fucking truck - round a bend and disappear, but she's still there in front of that fucking sign. Like a butterfly beating against the glass.
She screams something that sounds like fish language and kicks at the sign, trying to split the cursed thing down the middle, only she misses it by about a mile and pitches forward like an idiot and falls on her face and wakes up.
In a Blackwell classroom, Max phases in with a start.
For a while, she has no idea where she is.
There's this greenish carpet thing with gray dots on it, which may have been white dots once, just like the carpet may have been green once, but the dots have clearly been gray for a while, and the carpet thing plays through several greenish hues, varying based on area traffic and gross accidents of the past.
And she is on top of it, on her face, in a space between the bed and the wall, which she grabs both for support as she springs up, telling herself they gotta be less gross than the floor.
It's the truth, actually. Probably.
The walls are wood panels, stained, and not by accident. The bed's comforter, though greenish too, looks reasonably clean. There's another just like it on the other bed, untouched.
She sees the other bed, the lampshades, the desk, the old boxy TV like the one that used to sit in their living room, the pulled blinds, and remembers. The Three Seals.
But she also remembers everything else still, and her gaze snaps from the empty pill and whiskey bottles on the dresser to the gun handle peeking from under a pillow.
Chloe Price shoots Frank in the chest. She shoots him in the leg. She shoots Pompidou, and it's the saddest thing because he makes that hurt dog sound as he dies.
Her mind catches up at about this moment, and begins to reject it all. The room spins. Her stomach fills with something hot and bitter that wants to get out.
"No," she says, swaying, swallowing. "No fucking way."
Her voice sounds weird, like listening to yourself on a recording, or even - a weirder thought comes from the left somewhere - like you've been used to listening to your voice on tape and then heard yourself actually speak for the first time.
There's never been a more appropriate time for wake and bake. She looks for weed and both, sees and remembers that there's no weed, at the same time. There is, however, a pack of smokes on the side table, so she fishes out a cig and lights it, standing up between the beds. She wants to lie down, but is afraid to.
The cigarette smoke helps, but also hits her hollow stomach and her already shot equilibrium.
The train is coming. She sees its headlights through the cloud of smoke. Pretty soon, the headlights see her, too, and the train starts to scream.
She realizes that she's about fall. She needs to sit down, just not there.
She draws the blinds. The sunlight blinds. She finds the balcony door handle by touch, flicks the lever and pulls it to the side. The wind and the noise of the waves hit her in the face, and she likes it. Her vision fades in. She can see the water across the strip of a reedy beach and she likes that, too.
"No," she says. "No fucking way."
There's a white plastic chair on the left. She sits down and takes a deep drag, studying, steadying her hands. They shake, but they are her hands.
The waves roar like a tornado.
October 7th, she recalls. That's when they meet. That's when she gets shot in the Blackwell bathroom, and Max comes back from Seattle to save her. By fucking rewinding time. Then on Friday, the 11th, a giant tornado kills everyone.
She remembers this clearly. Remembers living - and dying - through five October days.
Except it never happened.
Not only because she's not - and never will be - Max fucking Caufield, but also because it's May. May… What date is it?
She chokes the life out of the cigarette and heads back in, looking around for her phone. The search takes her to the bathroom, which is also reasonably clean.
How drunk was I last night? I should use my mom's phone to call mine. She finds her mother's phone in her step-douche-infested bedroom and dials the number. Her phone is on the floor next to the toilet.
There's no phone there, just a gray plastic garbage can with a plastic liner inside, empty except for the torn soap wrapper left from the previous guest, but she keeps looking, to concentrate on something, to get away from the memories, which explode in her brain like movie flashbacks.
Not that she can.
She finds it finally, on the floor under the bed. It's May 9th, which mean she's been out for… 3 days? She remembers now. She drove away on the 6th. The "anniversary." Happy joy rainbow fucking unicorns. Drove south until she found this spot. As good a spot as she was going to find. Escape from Arcadia, the Epilogue.
Pills, booze, and the gun for good measure. Kurt would be proud.
Only here she was, three days later, alive somehow. Awake. Remembering. Out of her mind.
"She let me live," she says to the room. "The idiot hippy killed five thousand people to let me live."
Max, soaked in rain and tears, bleeding from the nose. Max, tearing the photo in two and giving it to the wind.
She hesitates for about a second and a half before tossing the gun into the duffel bag. The orange pill bottle watches her from the dresser. Judges her. There's no label on the bottle, of course. The empty bottle of Jack, meanwhile, is cool. Gives no fucks.
What the fuck did Frank sell me?
Chloe stabs Frank. Frank's got a scar on his neck, then he doesn't.
"You don't know shit, Chloe!"
Frank and Rachel.
"No," she says. "No fucking way."
Doors, boots on wooden stairs, the engine that was never supposed to start again, rasping and hawking and choking and complaining, then somehow managing to start after all. Tires squealing. All of these sounds seem to her to happen at the same time, in between time, maybe, while the world is a drum, rising out of the fog about 10 feet in front of her and dropping down into the cloud of dust and smoke directly behind the bed of her truck.
North. She drives north.
Chapter 2: Dig
She eats two cheeseburgers on the drive back, with two sides of fries and a milk shake. That leaves her with roughly four dollars to her name. That doesn't matter.
Hunger did, but only because she could not keep the truck on the road without putting food in her body. Burger a la king.
She's at the table. At the Amber house. Poking at the chicken on her plate to the rhythm of the grandfather clock.
"Arson," Rose Amber says. "Why would anyone do that?"
She blows by the Arcadia Bay sign, blows by the Two Whales, and does not stop until she's through the town completely. The sign AMERICAN RUST thunders under the wheel of her truck. The truck skids to a stop. She runs. She knows exactly where she is going.
It's not. Real.
She knows this.
There used to be a passage right here, a shortcut, the memory comes without a flashback. But the junkyard has changed. Everything has changed. She has to run all around the old school bus now, and she does.
Here. Oh fuck. Here it is.
She drops to her knees, and begins to dig.
A thought occurs to her that she should have brought a shovel, but it's immediately dismissed, because what if the shovel cuts through the bag? No.
She digs with her fingers and nails instead.
Max and Chloe are on their knees, digging. Chloe's fingers hit vinyl, something blue. As soon as it's uncovered, as though she triggered a trap, it breathes in their faces. The stench almost makes her retch, and then it does.
What kind of world does this?
The pain reaches out of the flashback and hits her stomach. The pain is real. Tears come, and she can't stop them.
She's alone. So alone here. There's no Max. There's never been a Max. Pain is real, but Max is not. How is that fair?
She can't stop crying. He can't see anything because of the tears, but she digs.
She can't stop digging.
Max is right next to her, hair tied in a pony tail. They're in her backyard, digging for buried pirate treasure.
Her fingers hit plastic and she gasps and almost passes out, but it's just an old plastic bag. She rips it out in a fountain of dirt. Some of it hits her face.
There's nothing. There's nothing. No smell.
But what if she's… it's… deeper?
She digs deeper, then wider. Finally, she collapses in the middle of an empty shallow crater.
Still, she can't stop crying. It's a fucking tsunami of tears. It's about to wash away this entire shithole town.
Eventually, she runs out of water. The town breathes a sigh of relief.
It's probably a good time to take a nap in the shallow grave she dug, but she doesn't. She stretches out and stares up at the sky, where a pair of birds fly in weird mathematical patterns. There are no clouds and there's no sun. Just a swath of deep blue and the birds. She gets to her feet and dusts herself off halfheartedly and laughs, because fuck if she doesn't look like a ridiculous mess.
What the fuck were those pills?
A shower would be fucking amazing, but a smoke will have to do for now. She goes back to the truck. It takes a while. She's suddenly exhausted. Everything is in slow motion, like a dream in which you want to run. Not that she wants to run ever again. The whole world aches. It whines and climbs on her back and wants her to carry it. She tries, but slips on a Two Whales carry-out menu and almost faceplants into a Hellraiser mess of old syringes and broken glass. By some miracle, she finds her other foot and stays upright. Get the fuck off me, world. Her hands burn. There's blood under her nails. She spends a fucking hour lighting her cigarette and considers shooting some empty bottles to get the adrenaline going again. Just so she can function. The thought triggers another flashback, and she phases back in a moment later, checking her chest for a bullet hole.
"This is some new shit, Price," she remembers Frank saying, four days earlier. "I'll give you this as a sample. It's like you're participating in a study. You love science, right?"
"People get paid for participating in studies, Frank."
"Hey, if you don't want it, you don't want it. I'll sell you whatever you need. As soon as you pay me the hundred and seventy five bucks you owe me."
"Fine. Give me your new bullshit. Can you OD on it?"
"Just don't take the full bottle, Price. You'll be fine."
The truck starts again, somehow. The Singing Man disapproves. The fuel light is on, like it is half the time. Maybe the fucker is broken. Maybe there's a hole in the tank. She lets go of the brakes, and the truck rolls forward, bald tires crunching over gravel and junk. The truck is as tired as she is.
Up ahead, between the trees, she sees the lighthouse giving her the finger from its cliff.
"Chloe, I can rewind time," Max says. "I'm not crazy."
"But high, right?"
"Chloe, you ever wish you could rewind time?" Rachel says.
"Fuck, wouldn't that be nice. I'd go back and save my dad. Go back and meet you again…"
Something tells her to turn around, to check the junk shack for something, but she can't understand the message and shakes her head. Her brain is tired and scrambled and it can't figure itself out between all of these flashbacks and bullshit. It's just not trustworthy right now. Also, she's afraid again.
So she steps on the gas.
Chapter 3: Wrist.
She pulls into a parking space and parks the truck. The flashbacks come in waves. The ones from October are the worst, because not only they make her feel like she slips into their bullshit reality, she also becomes someone else in them. Maybe not quite Max Caufield, but definitely more Max Caufield than Chloe Price. This freaks her out, because it makes her feel like a ghost. Or maybe a soul trapped in purgatory. Meaning a dead person. Which she may have intended to become a few days ago, but now, when it comes right down to it…
She shuts off the engine and sits in the seat. Rides them out.
Max Caufield, wearing slacks or some shit, and Chloe Price in a motorized shopping cart. The beach is full of dead whales. Max knows way more than she lets on. They talk about the good old days.
"My nose is getting cold," Chloe says.
Chloe and Max walk through the parking lot towards the RV. There's a finger painting of a smiley face in the dust of the boarded up window. The beach is deserted. There's a plastic chair and a table in front of the RV door and empty beer bottles all over.
"Wait, Chloe," Max says. "This is not going to go well."
Chloe shoots Frank in the chest. Chloe shoots Frank in the leg. Chloe shoot Pompidou. Chloe stabs Frank with a knife.
She phases back in, wondering if the message is to bring the gun or leave it. There's a little girl, about four, squatting at the edge of the surf, scooping out a hole in the sand, which overflows with every wave. Her mother is talking on the phone. The beach is empty, otherwise. No whales. She could smoke a whale right now. In the end, the gun stays in the duffel.
She crosses the lot towards the RV, her boots scraping the pavement. There's no smiley face in the window, but the chair and the table and the bottles are all there on the other side, making her stomach churn. She waits a bit for the flashback to phase out. It never does, so she exhales and checks her pockets and walks up to the door and knocks.
There's a moment where nothing moves, and she realizes there are about a thousand gulls screaming constantly over the waves. She has time enough to register their cries and to wonder if maybe she knocked on the door in some other reality and not this one, before Pompidou begins to bark.
"Goddamn it," Frank's voice. Then Frank himself in the doorway. His eyes go mustard-big when he sees who it is.
"Price! Where the hell have you been? And what the hell are you thinking showing up here looking like this? If I wanted to advertise, I would place an ad in the Beacon, not invite junkies to hang around the lot. You know you're not coming inside looking like that, right?"
She lets him talk without hearing much of what he says. Her eyes are on his wrist. Then his other wrist. There are no bracelets on either one. He notices and shuts up for a moment, then asks, "What the hell happened to you, anyway?"
"What was that shit you gave me?" she asks.
"Was that it? Were you tripping?"
"I'm still tripping, Frank. I get these flashbacks. It's a mix of things that happened and things that never did. Past, future, all over the place. It's fucking with my mind and freaking the shit out of me. I need to know how to stop it."
"Shit, Price. It's a drug. It'll wear off and you'll come down. Just ride it out. How much did you take?"
"All of it."
"With some Jack. Three days ago."
He blinks at her a few times.
"You took the entire bottle. At once."
"Why the hell would you do that?"
"Fuck it," Rachel says. "I just want to take something that's not mine."
Her eyes are blazing. Her feather earring dances in the gusty Overlook wind. She's hurt, and pissed, and wild, and she will not be stopped.
"I'm going in," she says. "Try to keep up."
"That's… uh… not important right now. How do I get straight?"
"How the fuck should I know? I told you this shit was new. Nobody's ever taken the whole bottle before. And lived to tell the tale, that is. How long have you been up?"
"A few hours. Should I go to the hospital?"
"The hospital? For what? Pumping your stomach is not gonna do shit three days after the fact. No. What you need is rest."
"How am I supposed to rest when I'm tripping balls every time I close my eyes."
"Just ride them out. They won't hurt you. The hospital is bullshit, though. All they'll do is bill you."
"Like I give a shit. What's another bill we can't pay?"
"Maybe some weed will do you good. Settle your mind a bit."
"Kind of strapped for cash, Frank."
"Shit, never heard that one before… Come in a second."
He holds the door open for her gallantly. Suddenly, she's spooked to come up those steps, because in four years of their acquaintance, Frank never volunteered free weed before.
The door opens and Chloe Price barges in, all cheekbones and blue hair and suspenders and ugly-ass cowboy boots. Max Caufield shrinks back into the corner of the bathroom. The courage she's been working up to confront the Prescott kid and ask him what the hell he thought he was doing in the girls' bathroom shrinks with her. She doesn't recognize Chloe, because she doesn't really see her, though she would not recognize her if she did, either.
"Did you check the perimeter?" Chloe Price says. "Like my step-ass would say."
The voice rings the tiniest of bells, but Max is too confused - and kind of terrified of being found - to put her finger on it. She closes her eyes to steel herself for the inevitable embarrassment of discovery, which never comes.
It's ten seconds later and both, she and Frank realize she hasn't moved. Their eyes meet. There's a silent question hanging in the space between them. She takes a couple of steps back. Frank's face becomes more confused.
"I think I'll just go home and sleep it off."
"You're walking away from free weed."
"You're offering free weed, Frank."
His eyes shoot past her for the briefest of moments. She follows the trajectory and sees the mother and daughter combo from earlier. She looks back at Frank and takes a couple of steps more. Frank rolls his eyes.
"What's in your head? What do you think is happening here?"
"I don't know, man. Nothing feels right."
She just got backhanded in the face. The burned room swims around her. She would like to get up but somehow she can't seem to find the up and down. The sky where the ceiling is supposed to be doesn't help.
"Chloe!" The voice. It's Frank. He's bleeding and grimacing and leaning on the wall and laboring to breathe.
"Damon, what did you do?"
"Oh, I fucked you up good, didn't I?"
"People change," she says, turning and walking away. "I'll see you later, Frank."
She hears the door slap shut, but when she looks back from the truck, Frank is still there by the RV, watching her. She glances at the duffel bag and for a moment she desperately wants to come back over there and ask Frank about Rachel. Instead, she starts the truck and raises her hand in a salute that she hopes looks friendly.
He doesn't return it.
Chapter 4: Crypt
She makes it about halfway up Cedar Avenue when her phone begins to ring.
She declines the call. It rings again immediately.
-Not in the mood, mom, she texts. I'm alive.
-Pick up that phone right now.
She stops at the stop sign and picks up.
"Where the fuck have you been?"
She doesn't remember Joyce ever using the word "fuck" in casual conversation, so it's almost kind of amusing.
"I filed a missing person report, Chloe. I called every hospital from here to Portland. The Coast Guard are looking for you body under the cliffs, as we speak. And then I get a call from random people that my daughter's been spotted driving through town. And she doesn't even bother to call!"
"I'm nineteen, mom. I've only been gone three days."
"Then why didn't you tell me you were going to be away? Why didn't you answer a million of my calls and text messages and tell me you're OK? I'm your mother, Chloe! What was I supposed to do? First Rachel disappears, then you."
This hits hard and surprises her, and she blurts out "Rachel fucking left, mom," before she can stop herself. More like shouts it, turns out. A pair of little girls playing three houses down the street stop and turn to stare at her. One is blond; the other brunette. She exhales slowly and lets the truck roll across the intersection.
Joyce is silent for a moment, but only for a moment.
"Rachel would never just leave without telling you."
That exhale comes back fast and won't come out again. She opens her mouth to speak, to breathe, and can't do it. And then she suddenly can't keep it in, and the breath breaks out through both, her mouth and nose in a violent sob.
She steps on the brakes in the middle of the street and wrestles with the thing and gets it under control somewhat.
"Listen, mom," she growls into the phone. "I'm about a minute away from home. What are my chances of getting in the shower without being waterboarded by Sergeant Ass-hat?"
"David is not home. He drove out to Newport to look for you."
"Best fucking news I heard all day."
She pulls into the driveway at 44 Cedar, thinking it's a bad idea. Every idea she has, though, every thought, feels like a bad idea. Everything is the stupidest thing she's ever heard. Chloe Price is someone's terrible mistake. Maybe everyone's.
Joyce is out of the door, reeling her in with the tractor beam and scanning her with x-ray vision at the same time.
"Oh my god," she says. "What happened?"
"Nothing, mom. Just camping out. Ran into a bit of weather."
"You're covered in dirt."
"Mud. It's not a big deal."
She circles her mother and enters the house, then climbs up the stairs. A flashback explodes in her face - something with lame music - too brief for her to dwell on, but shocking enough to make her miss a step. It's not going to be one of those cases where Joyce just leaves her be, either.
"Chloe," she says, following. "Stop. You're not… well."
There's absolutely no way to prevent her mom from following into her room, so she stops before she opens that door, praying a flashback doesn't catch her during the inevitable conversation that's about to happen.
"No. You're not. This is just like… 2010, all over again."
Wrong. It's way fucking worse than 2010. It's 2008. She doesn't say it, but the truth of it fills her to capacity. Her brain can't formulate a suitable platitude fast enough. After a momentary struggle, she just gives up and says nothing at all. Fuck it. What's the point?
"Maybe you should see a doctor," Joyce says after a pause.
"And what's a doctor gonna do, mom? Bill us? Like we need another bill we can't pay?"
It doesn't even register that she's paraphrasing Frank.
"I don't need some overpaid, uncaring asshole's help! Look, mom. I'm sorry about ghosting you like that. It was stupid. And selfish. Irresponsible. I wasn't thinking. But I'm fine. I'll figure it out. I just really need that shower right now. Cool?"
"Chloe, I know Rachel would…"
"Oh for fuck's sake, mom! Can you really not tell that's the last thing I want to talk about right now? Or are you doing it on purpose?"
"You have to talk about it!"
"Can it not be right this minute?! Can I at least get this fucking dirt off me first?!"
She storms through the door and slams it in her mother's face. Thankfully, Joyce doesn't follow, but the room doesn't help. It used to be home base, but now it looks like a crypt. Smells like a crypt, too. It's even shaped like a coffin. Oh, fucking great. She sees this next flashback coming like it's a freight train, and it's not the kind she can dodge by hopping off the tracks at the last moment. Thanks, mom.
"People are so stupid. Smug about it, too."
She's at the desk, browsing. She makes a face and changes her voice, to express "stupid smug."
"GMOs are science. They're perfectly safe. Why don't you put on your tinfoil hat and go protest the polio vaccine. Rachel?"
Rachel is not on the bed. She's standing in front of the closet, looking at the half a dozen hangers of her clothes hanging inside. She's wearing white shorts, a black t-shirt and black boots. The dragon on her calf is taking a nap.
"These have been here for years," she says without turning.
"You can drop the rent off in that jar there. Speaking of rent, come check out this apartment I found in Santa Monica."
Rachel turns, and Chloe sees her face and knows. She knows she should ask what's wrong, but what she says instead is, "It's a one-bedroom that costs about as much as this house. On the plus side: don't have to share it with the step-fuhrer."
Rachel comes closer and bends down over Chloe's shoulder, until her hair is tickling Chloe's neck. She flips through photos of rooms, but she's not really looking.
"Too shabby for your Highness?"
This makes Rachel wince.
"Too fancy for my station," she says, straightening and turning away.
"You feeling OK, Rach? You're never this modest."
"Are you trying to help by being an asshole, Price?"
Rachel's face brightens up, but just for a moment. Then the light is gone again. Chloe would like to go over there and hug her and whisper in her ear, but she catches Rachel's look and sees that it filters through a glass wall.
Suddenly, this sounds bad. Way worse than Rachel's usual drama. Chloe says nothing else. Just waits, counting breaths.
"I should have probably told you this sooner, but I haven't been getting anywhere with my photos. None of the agencies are interested. I'm too short."
And Chloe is so relieved, she feels like she's about to burst out laughing. Both at her terror from a moment ago, and Rachel's big reveal. Rachel Amber, rejected. Hell hath frozen over. Apocalypse imminent. A tiny part of her - or is it that tiny? - is even glad. She knows she shouldn't be, though. She knows that even though something like that just seems stupid to her, Rachel is hurting for real. The whole no-fucks-given Chloe Price influence never quite stuck. Rachel can't help but give fucks. So Chloe doesn't laugh.
"How long have you been carrying that around?" she asks.
"A few months, I guess."
"You're right. You should have told me sooner. But anyway, fuck all that. I've just been saying how people are stupid. You know you're worth more than your height, Rachel."
"Not to the industry, apparently."
"I bet you I know what happened. What actually happened was none of your pretentious Blackwell artistes can take decent photos."
She hears the off-key note, but trying to rephrase and explain is just going to make it worse, so she just plows on, adding a little comic relief.
"Maybe we should commission Max Caufield out of Seattle. That'll open some doors. And if even that doesn't work, then fuck modeling. You can be an amazing actress, Rachel. You can be an amazing anything."
Rachel looks up. Her smile is sad, but it's a smile.
"That might not be a bad idea," she says.
"It's a perfect idea. We get the apartment. You go to a few auditions, get discovered…"
"No, I mean about bringing your friend Max from Seattle…"
"Oh, that… Well…"
"Chloe, I met someone."
There is this half image of some traveling merchant or wizard (Elamon?) or someone, and Chloe starts her witty comeback with "What, like some traveling…" and then her brain just stops working and she sit there gaping in her chair, like her mouth is a hole to another universe, from which no words can escape.
"A guy," Rachel says. "I met a guy."
"Why are you telling me this now?"
"Because I thought you should know."
"Why would I want to know about some guy you met? Not like he's the first, or the last."
Unlike the earlier "highness" dig, this one bounces off, which terrifies Chloe all over again.
"He's different," Rachel says, coldly.
"Well, shit. Break out the candles! Let's celebrate quickly. God knows the moment isn't going to last."
"Chloe, why do you have to be such a bitch? Do you think this is easy for me?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Life is hard for Rachel fucking Amber!"
The last time Chloe saw that look on Rachel's face, it was directed at a certain District Attorney.
"Obviously," Rachel says, "this was a mistake. I shouldn't have said anything. I thought we were something that we're clearly not."
Chloe tries to scoff, but her eyes are suddenly wet, and it turns into more of a gasp for breath.
"Clearly," she rasps.
Rachel, meanwhile, is somehow already by the door. Teleportation, possibly. She turns and says, "Goodbye, Chloe." And then there's just the door there. No Rachel.
This is eighteen days ago.
This is the last time they speak.
Chapter 5: Purpose
Hot water washes away dirt, blood and tears. She gets a flashback of Max in her bathroom, just reminiscing away, while the future Chloe Price - she knows - is back in her room, blazing. It's hella weird, but after the last one it's almost welcome. Almost.
She phases back in, noting how she's still upright in the shower, even though she spent the last five minutes as a hovering, disembodied eye in another reality. Or rather, unreality. Check out autopilot Chloe, she thinks. AutoChloe. AutoChloe does all right by herself while the real Price is out tripping. This is good to know, but also raises questions.
What is AutoChloe like? How do flashbacks look from the outside? Does she just zone out? Loops into whatever she was doing and continues doing that until she phases back in? Like soaping yourself in the shower? Can she do higher level stuff? What happens if she flashbacks while driving?
She can't be sure, but she feels like it must have happened at least once by now, just working off of how often the flashbacks come versus how much time she spent behind the wheel today.
Still here in one piece, so AutoChloe has to be able to drive. What else can she do? Can she talk?
Can she talk to Price-Madsen hybrid, for example, while the real Chlo is in hyperspace, solving nonexistent crimes with her imaginary friend?
The thought makes her feel better, and as she wraps the worn-ass pirate towel around, she's surprised to find herself grinning in the mirror.
What if this AutoChloe girl is different? Like a complete opposite of her? A polite, friendly girl? What if she and mom - and Mustache from Planet Dipshit - hatch a plot to get rid of the crazy punk alter ego for good?
The grin becomes laughter, which she hopes, as she crosses the landing from the bathroom to her room, Joyce doesn't hear.
Good thing I haven't had weed today yet, she thinks. Or that shit would be no laughing matter.
Laughter doesn't last, anyway. The room is a downer.
A few minutes later Chloe stands in front of the closet, just like Rachel did 18 days earlier. She is dressed. She isn't crying - there's been enough of that - just thinking. On the dresser there's a bunch of Rachel's makeup. On the floor between the bed and the dresser, there's a small stack of Rachel's books. Girl with a Dragon Tattoo on top.
"Terrible book," Rachel says. A memory. Not a flashback.
She runs her hand along the sleeve of the red-and-black flannel shirt.
Max is wearing Rachel's shirt, t-shirt and jeans.
"Ready for the mosh pit, Shaka Brah," she says, while doing this super-awkward thing with her finger and her hips.
"Mmmmaybe not," says Chloe Price from the bed.
She phases back in and reaches for her emergency stash without missing a beat. It's a pathetic roach, far below the standards of dignity, but beggars can't be choosers. She lights it with the reverence of an Olympic torch-bearer and lies back on the bed, the Oregon State official ashtray on her chest.
It feels good.
Everything slows down.
Chloe thinks back to the motel.
She remembers watching TV - the Hot Dawg Man cartoon was on - while methodically flushing the pills down her throat - three at a time - with mouthfuls of Jack mixed with Pr. Amaury. She remembers touching the gun handle every five seconds, to make sure she could find it easily when the time came. She remembers finishing everything and getting up from the bed to put the empty bottles on the counter and turning off the TV and settling back down on the pillows and touching the pack of smokes and the gun.
She remembers flipping through her phone and seeing a million texts and missed calls from her mom and whoever else, and another million of her unanswered and unreturned calls to Rachel, and despite everything, she thinks about Rachel, because she wants her last thoughts to be about her.
She remembers lighting a smoke and she remembers remembering herself smoking on the train tracks, like a dream within a dream. A dream that lasts three days. It's the three days of May 2010, when she and Rachel really met for the first time. It's the three days that gave her extra three years of life. She remembers reliving those days and getting expelled - or was it suspended - from Blackwell again, and the play and Rachel under the street lamp and Rachel getting stabbed and her lying dad. It's confusing and weird and some of it seems wrong, but a lot of it is so beautiful that she wishes it never ended.
She remembers wondering if she had already died and this was her proverbial life passing before her eyes, and she remembers thinking that maybe dying wasn't so bad, after all.
And when she reached the end of those three days and her memory began to fast forward through all of the happy times, she really thought that was it.
Except it wasn't.
Except she saw Rachel's phone, buzzing with her unanswered calls, and before she could understand anything, she was no longer Chloe, or no longer just Chloe, and all the crazy magic shit started happening, with the storms and maniacs and suicidal girls and… and…
And she couldn't stop any of it, until Max tore that photo and she and future Chloe drove away, leaving her behind.
Leaving her to come back to life, possibly with permanent brain damage.
The roach helped, but now it's dead and everything becomes a bit overwhelming again. She puts the ashtray away, so that there's nothing between her and the big question. The drug dream doesn't seem strictly real, judging from the empty grave in the junkyard, but is it just an amalgamation of her fears and anger and heartbreak, or is it a message, some bullshit allegory from a higher power? Is it telling her that Rachel really is missing and in danger? Or is that what her sick, dumped mind wants to believe?
"Sometimes people need you, though," William Price says from behind the wheel. "Even when they don't admit it."
Great. Thanks, dad. Let's add flashbacks of dreams to the mix. Another helpful hint that clears up fuck all.
"So what if they do?" she asks the empty room.
So get off your fucking bed. Smoke break is over.
She does and goes to her computer and checks the email and the local news. She should buy shit if she wants to save; Ultra Death is coming in June; her Frontside subscription expired, but she can get three more issues for free, if she fills out a survey. They found a homeless guy dead by the docks; another bookstore is closing its doors; and Sean Prescott spoke about the bright future at the Pan Estates Grand Opening.
Nothing from Rachel. Nothing about Rachel.
She grabs her dad's jacket off the hook and heads down.
It's tempting to just rush the door, but she makes an effort. Joyce is at the dining table, smoking a cigarette. A thought to pull out her own smoke and join in billows in Chloe's mind. It could be like a mother-daughter thing. Like a mother-daughter-whose-fault-it-is-that-the-mother-is-smoking-again thing. She would probably do it on any other day, but today she's not in the mood. So she just pulls out a chair.
"Are you leaving again?" Joyce asks.
"You were right," Chloe says.
"Are you saying we should make an appointment?"
"What? No. I mean you were right about Rachel. She wouldn't leave like that."
"Well, I'm glad you agree, honey, but…"
"So I'm going to find her."
"Mom, this is what I need. A purpose. Not a doctor."
"There are people who are already looking for her."
"Like who? Arcadia Bay's finest? They don't give a shit."
"I'm sure they're doing their best."
"I'm sure they are, but that's not saying much."
"Oh, Chloe. What do you know about finding someone?"
"I know you have to look! Anyway, I'm not trying to start a fight about this."
She gets up from the chair.
"I promise I'll do better about staying in touch."
Joyce puts out the cigarette, opens her purse and pulls out her wallet. She hands Chloe three twenty-dollar bills.
After a pause, Chloe hugs her, and not because it's a polite thing to do.
"Thanks, mom. I'll see you later."
The sun is bright and huge, as if seen through a magnifying glass. There's plenty of daylight still left. The truck starts up quickly. It seems focused and ready to go. Just needs some gas.
Chapter 6: Stub.
The affluent part of Arcadia Bay is the usual diorama of sprawling houses and pedicured lawns. She parks in front of the Amber House and just sits there, thinking that maybe she should have called instead. She actually pulls out her phone, but at that moment the front door opens, and Rose Amber comes out on the porch. She stands there, waiting, hands clasped together. Even from fifty feet away, there's so much hope and doubt and fear all at once on her face, that it almost makes Chloe cry. She may be a Stepford wife, but no one is ever going to think Rose is not Rachel's real mom.
Chloe gets out of the truck and heads towards the house.
"Hey there, Mrs. Amber," she says, waving.
Rose is frozen in place. She says nothing, only watches Chloe's face.
"I don't have news," Chloe says hurriedly. "I thought you might…"
She cuts off, seeing pain and disappointment and maybe relief on Rose's face, and slows down, until she stops completely.
After a moment's hesitation, Rose comes forward and hugs her. They stand there, hugging silently for a minute.
"Oh, Chloe," Rose says. "Joyce told me that you were gone, and when I saw your truck out there, I thought… I thought…"
"No, Rose. I'm sorry."
"Did you… were you trying to… find Rachel?"
"No, actually. That was a… different thing. But I'm going to try now. That's why I'm here."
Rose scans her face for clues, or lies, then leads her inside. While she makes tea, Chloe stands in front of the grandfather clock. It shows five after five.
Chloe places the plates on the table. A painting of cubist royalty takes up the better part of the dining room wall.
"Oh, look! It's the original whogivesashit!"
Back in the kitchen, she asks Rose for her next task.
"Would you be a dear and ask Mr. Amber what he is going to drink?"
"I will be a dear."
The DA in question is hiding behind the newspaper screen. The forest fire his daughter started is all over the front page.
"Ah, Chloe. What can I do for you?"
"What's your vice, Mr. Amber?" she asks.
"You wife wants to know what you're going to drink for dinner."
"Oh. Let's say, sherry."
"OK. One, two, three… Sherry!"
"Comical. Chloe, maybe you can help me with something…"
She's back in front of the clock, three years in the future. It still shows five after five. What the shit? Is this thing on? The pendulum swings, though, and there's a clear clicking noise when the hand moves.
"Sugar?" Rose calls from the kitchen.
"Yeah… two," she replies, puzzled. Do flashbacks not take any time? If true, this means no delegating unpleasant tasks to AutoPrice. Damn it.
They drink the tea in silence for a while.
"Mrs. Amber… Rose… Can I ask you something?"
"I would appreciate it very much if you did, Chloe."
"And don't get offended or anything. I say shit, sometimes…"
"I think I've known you long enough, now."
"OK. So let's say I had a dream, and in this dream you and… Mr. Amber… shit… well, you stopped looking. You know? After a while. Is that even possible? I mean, is there any reason in hell that would make you say, 'She probably ran away, and there's nothing we can do at this point, so we're just going to accept that?'"
Rose Amber doesn't answer for a while, but at least she doesn't splash hot tea in Chloe's face.
"Chloe," she finally says, "are you trying to tell me something?"
"No. No, I swear, Rose. I just want to know."
"Well. If we ever did… Look, if Rachel is gone and we get no word or progress for a long time… Believing that she ran away and stopping the search might become a better option, than… Than finding… her…"
She can't say it and Chloe doesn't need her to. She nods.
What kind of world does this?
She remembers being pissed about the Ambers giving up, in the hallucination future. About everyone giving up. She gets it now, somewhat. It makes sense. Finding her in that junkyard… Ugh. No. Not in front of Rose. She pushes the thought away. Yet even as she does, she knows that she will not give up. She will not let it become the better option. Especially now that she already checked the junkyard and found nothing.
"Do you mind if I look around Rachel's room?"
"Feel free, Chloe. We've been through it a few times, though. Us and the police, both."
"That's OK. I know I'm a few weeks late."
I just want to see things Rachel left behind. I just want to find her safe and sound in her bed, by some miracle. Let this all be a prank. Let it be a misunderstanding. Let it be that Rachel came up with this whole elaborate ruse just to avoid me, because she's pissed still. Please.
"I think you're the only one in the world I can trust," Rachel says.
"I don't know… I bet there's like, one other chick in Australia, who's super trustworthy."
"Not a chance. You're one in a hundred infinities, Chloe Price."
Rachel turns over to lie on her back, reaching out to brush the bracelet on Chloe's wrist with her fingers.
"I wore this bracelet my entire life. Never asked why. Never even thought about it. Somehow, I think I always knew. Even when I didn't know. That my real mother was gone."
"You should take it back, Rachel."
"No. There's nowhere else I'd rather keep it than right there."
The room is empty, of course. The bed is made.
Chloe finds herself holding her wrist.
Wait. I had the bracelet? Not Frank? Why did I… How did I get it? The lamp post. Rachel gave me the bracelet that night under the lamp post, because I asked her to prove to me that she was serious about running away. Right? But… no. I asked her for… a kiss, didn't I? We kissed then. I know we kissed. It was… our first time. Did I get the bracelet after? No! No, she had it after! But… fuck. Didn't I ask her to get a star tattoo? How can I have multiple memories of the same event? Is this drug fucking with my real memories now, too?
"That's just great."
While the flashback is still fresh in her memory, which is some kind of twisted mindfuck Chloe prefers to just snag in stride, she scans the walls. The astrology charts and the maps and the Machiavellian wisdom still hang, but the hats and the masks and the stars are all gone. The sky globe is still around, and the travel posters. Most of the inspirational shit is off the cork board, replaced with acceptance letters to about a dozen schools. Chloe sees headers from Yale and Harvard Law, USC, UCLA, AFI, Columbia University. Ivied coats-of-arms and whatnot. Rachel never said she had that many options open. Just that she was looking at a couple of Cali schools. Was that because Chloe was so excited about Cali and looking for places and generally dreaming the Cali dream? In between the letters are rave fliers and ticket stubs from the shows they went to. On the dresser, there's a photo of the two of them, dancing on the beach.
Tears come without warning. Chloe gasps and wipes them off roughly. Clearly, her nerves are shot. Must be the sign of aging.
She contemplates stealing the pic, but sort of forgets about it halfway through the thought. Peeking from behind the frame is another ticket stub. This one doesn't have a matching pair and is from Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, dated February 28. Oregon vs Oregon State. Basketball.
There's a flashback, but either she's really distracted, or it's completely incoherent. Either way, she barely registers it. There's… snow and… a creek… and a screen door?
She goes back downstairs. Rose is in the living room, reading Bleak House.
"Hello again," she says.
"Do you happen to know who Rachel went to this game with?"
"What game? Oh, that one. They got free tickets at school. I guess Oregon was courting Blackwell's finest, so a group of them went. Principal Wells drove, I believe. Rachel was really bummed about going, I think."
Which is probably all true, except this is the first Chloe hears of it.
"Didn't Rachel tell you?" Rose asks, shrewdly.
"Uh… not who were all going…"
"Do you think it's important?"
"I… uh… I'm just grasping for straws, Rose. I'll see you later, OK?"
"Any time, Chloe."
Rose sees her to the door.
"Rachel... loved… I mean, loves you. You know that, right?"
For a while, Chloe can't respond, so she just looks away and nods.
Finally, she says, "You too, Rose."
It's the closest she's ever seen Rose Amber to crying.
Chapter 7: Vortex
She texts Justin while driving and gets a surprisingly quick reply, but his answer to her question about the basketball game trip is: "The wut?"
It's a game with balls and baskets, dumbass.
With only one opposable thumb to spare, she sends, "nvm." He "lols" back.
The fuel light is blinking now, so she detours to Arcadia Gas and feeds the tank ten bucks' worth to appease it. The light sighs contentedly and goes to sleep. Chloe circles back up the wooded slope. Blackwell parking lot is pretty full. There are a couple of legal spots left open on the woods' side, but they look narrow. Too iffy for the student driver here. The handicapped parking is wide open, though. And close to the stairway. She parks diagonally and with a certain satisfaction.
"There's a timeline in which I'm in a wheelchair," she says to the dashboard King. He nods.
She takes a deep breath and gets out of the truck.
On the left is the red wall of the swimming pool. On the right the woods stretch up the mountain side. Straight ahead, where the school driveway cuts a swath through the trees, she can see the lighthouse.
Blackwell is a weird place. She's been by plenty of times, of course, to pick up Rachel, or run an errand for Frank, but she rarely had to get out of the truck for those. It's been a couple of years since she's actually walked on campus. It's making her want to smoke. She doesn't, though. The faster she's in, the faster she's out of this hellhole. She takes the stairway steps three at a time.
There's a missing person poster on the wall of the pool, which feels like a flashback. She wants to just walk on, but can't, so she stops and reads it and stares at Rachel's face.
"You knew Rachel?" Max asks.
"She used to chill with us sometimes, but one day she just vanished…" Justin pauses, clearly high. "Hope she's living the dream somewhere. If anybody hurt her, we'll get a skater posse and take 'em out with our boards."
"Who was Rachel's punk friend?"
"Uh… I can't remember her name… But she was hot. Tats. Blue hair. Hardcore. She stopped hanging with us after Rachel disappeared… or ran away."
The flashback dissolves. It wasn't real, but totally sounded like Justin. "Can't remember her name." Paranoid pothead. Cagey as fuck.
It's almost six, so there's barely anyone around. One nerd is sitting under a tree with a book. A girl with Miss America hair is doing laps around the fountain while talking on her phone. There's a vaguely familiar green bike with orange handles by the entrance, but she can't place it. The girl with the phone sees Chloe and stops across the fountain from her. For a moment, Chloe reflexively thinks about fucking with her somehow, but then she remembers why she's there. It also occurs to her that Wells might be long gone by now, polishing off a bottle of expensive Scotch somewhere.
Wells, drunk, mumbling, looking for his keys in front of the boys dorms.
What the actual fuck would Wells be doing living in the dorms? Hello, real world. Or maybe… he was just going there for a visit? She rushes up the steps and through the doors, waving flashbacks and gross analysis away.
The admin is still in, which is a good sign. She's ready to call security, though.
"I need to talk to Wells," Chloe tells her.
"Principal Wells is not available," the admin says. She's such a blank slate, Chloe gets the urge to tag her. She can't even figure out if the admin's new, or someone who's been there during her time at Blackwell. If she came back the next day, she probably wouldn't be sure if she'd spoken to the same person.
"Tell him it's about Rachel Amber."
The admin struggles, but she's no match for the power of Rachel's name. She picks up the receiver and speaks in voice too soft for Chloe to hear, pointedly. Chloe doesn't care. The admin hangs up, gets really involved with something on her screen for a minute, looks for something on her desk, "remembers" Chloe and says, "You can go in now."
Chloe goes in without a word.
Wells's office hasn't changed much. Good expensive furniture. Bad expensive art. Book shelves. Filing cabinets. That damned bird. She remembers the hallucination version of her acting like she's never been in this room. Product of a glitching mind. Confused by the weird duality of the thing, being Max and Chloe at the same time. Max would probably be the one who's never had the pleasure.
"Ms. Price," Wells says.
"If only you were so determined to get into the school while you still attended here."
"Yeah. Thank god I didn't have a good reason to back then."
"Witty as ever. Now what is this about Rachel Amber? If you know something, you should tell the police, not me."
Like I would come all the way here to share it with you if I knew something. Get your head out of your ass, Wells.
"Two months back you took the best and the richest to the college game in Eugene. I want to know if anything unusual happened there."
"Unusual? I'm sure I don't know what you mean. And what does this have to do with Rachel?"
"Rachel never told me about going to this game."
"I'm sure there are a lot of things Rachel never told you."
"I'm sure you're sure about a lot of things. But what makes you sure about this?"
"Well, to put it bluntly, the difference between you and her."
"To put it bluntly, you can... Uh... So you're saying you noticed nothing unusual?"
"Not a thing. Especially since Rachel never even went to the game."
"As far as I remember, she wasn't feeling fell, so she canceled at the last moment. You could check with her parents. Though I'm sure they have their hands full as it is. As do I, incidentally…"
"Oh yeah. Don't let me keep you. It's just a missing girl case. Not a donor or anything important like that."
She doesn't stick around for his reply.
Blackwell is in the energy-saving mode, so the empty hallways are twilit.
Chloe stops outside the office to get her bearings, but her mind is swirling with thoughts and memories and memories of memories that aren't exactly hers. Welcome to the fucking Vortex Club. She spots the poster for the stupid thing, and her hand reaches for the marker absently. There's the big trophy case on the other side of the hallway, full of inane, shiny things. She can't remember if that was there in 2010, but she does remember it was there in October of 2013. It being May 2013 now, it's enough to make you want to puke, if the trophies themselves don't do it.
Maybe that glass could use some street art, too…
Suddenly, a door bangs shut somewhere. The echoes roll through the hallways, followed by a faint sound of footsteps, gradually getting closer. For some reason, she feels like she just got off the bus in downtown Spookville. She feels something else, also, and it's this other thing that makes her stay in place and wait. It makes her want to light up a smoke, as well, but she's pretty sure that's, like, illegal, and the Sharon Stone Basic Instinct bit is not going to work for her. So she balls her hands into fists inside her pockets and waits.
Blackwell is not Pentagon, so the wait is no longer than twenty seconds. Still seems like twenty minutes.
But then it's over, and the man who comes around the corner is exactly who that other thing told her it would be.
Glasses, goatie, sports coat, down to the rolled up fucking Lees. Where have I seen this guy to know exactly how he looked, to see him that way in my dream? She doesn't have a memory, but she has some ideas. On the street somewhere; on campus; in a photo in a paper. Somewhere she didn't pay attention but her subconscious did. A snapshot of the guy and some serious resentment to make him into a scumbag he was in the hallucination world. The name picked up in a Blackwell brochure or a flier. All that's missing is a gun shooting her in the face.
He stops, surprised, looks at her, looks around.
It's all a bit too real. Her head spins; her stomach churns. The flashback of Max in the darkroom explodes in her brain, making her wince. Jefferson is shooting, ranting.
"Are you a student here?" The question reaches her, and she realizes the flashback is over. The anger and disgust are far from, though. She clenches the fists in her pockets until the nails bite deep into her palms. Kind of a good thing she didn't bring her gun.
"Former," she growls.
"I feel like I'm interrupting something. Are you here to blow the place up? Set it on fire?"
"No. Not today, anyway. Just had to see Wells about a friend. Zoned out a bit."
Zoned out into a really unfortunately timed flashback, in which you are a psychotic fuck.
"Ah, yes. The hallowed halls do have the… effect. Who's the friend?"
Jefferson inhales deeply and nods.
"You know her?"
"Of course I know Rachel Amber. I teach here. Wait a minute. You're Chloe Price, aren't you?"
"Now, how do you know that?" Fuck. Fuck. Did Rachel tell him? So maybe she did… So maybe he is…
"You're the mysterious friend of Rachel Amber. Kind of a hot topic, I guess."
"That's funny. Nobody knew or gave a damn about me when I actually went here."
"Well, you know what they say. You don't know someone's true value until you lose them."
Her mind reels from how close to home that hits, and with the duality of Jefferson being the psycho creep in the drug dream versus the fact that nothing from that world has so far lined up with the real one, for a moment she just can't.
He waits for a polite moment, then proceeds to ask, politely, "So, any news of Rachel?"
"No. But I'm gonna find her. And if somebody hurt her…"
"I believe you will. Well, if there's anything I can do…"
"Have you… noticed anything unusual in the last couple of months? Anybody new she mentioned?"
"No. Have you?"
"She did mention she met someone. No details, though. Why I'm asking."
"I see. Yeah, no. I haven't heard anything about that. But if I do remember something, or hear, I can… drop you a line? By the way, my name is…"
"Jefferson. Yeah, I know. You're kind of a hot topic, too."
Chapter 8: Knife
She's back outside. Jefferson's gone. The book nerd is gone. Miss America is campaigning for world peace somewhere else. Sun is hanging low over the stadium, blazing straight into Chloe's face. It won't let her think. She hides behind the statue of Jeremiah Blackwell from the bastard. She can think now, but the benefits of that are very questionable. She didn't expect the stub to run out of juice so quickly.
Rachel didn't go to the game, but told parents she did. This creates about 10 hours unaccounted for. Where was she? Hanging out with her new boyfriend? Who was he? Someone at school really should know. Especially if Chloe Price is so famous. Who would she ask? Just random people at the dorms? Is there anyone at Blackwell Rachel was close with?
She wishes some of her old Blackwell buds were still around: Steph, Mikey, hell, even Drew. But Drew went off to college (Oregon State, if you can believe it) back in 2010, and the rest of the Norths all moved to Eugene (you can call them "the Souths" now) to be close to him. And Steph is living their Santa Monica dream in LA.
Would… Rachel contact her if she went down there?
Steph is straddling a bench, poring over the sketches and production notes. She's doesn't see Chloe, who just quoted Dante in the fresh concrete, until her black wings blot out the forest fire, and she snatches the clipboard from under Steph's dangling dragon necklace.
"Hey, Steph." Chloe says, plopping down on the bench.
"Whoa. Hey, Callamastia."
"Surprised to see me on parole?"
"I told you Wells was out to get you. The text was a rare courtesy, by the way. I don't normally get involved in other people's dumb decisions."
"Thanks for trying, but skipping yesterday was totally worth it."
"Hmm, skipping with Rachel Amber does have an appeal."
Chloe pulls out her phone.
-hey steph. It's chloe price.
There is no response for something like twenty seconds. She types:
-u hear from Rachel at all?
Twenty more seconds tick away.
Oh well, it was worth a try.
But as soon as she slides the phone back in her pocket, it buzzes. That magic of Rachel's name at work again.
-Chloe! Long time!
-oh idk if I like it. There's like no rain or fog at all…
-so what's this about hearing from Rachel? Was she supposed to send me a wedding invitation or something?
-no Rachel is gone. Missing.
There's a ten-second pause, then the phone begins to ring.
"Hey. What's going on?"
"Rachel, uh… disappeared a couple of weeks ago. I thought… if she went down to LA, like… she… wanted, she might have tried to… Haha, shit. It was easier to type."
"You're saying no one knows where she is? The police are looking for her?"
"At least they say they are."
"More like 18 days."
"And you're just telling me this now?"
"Uh, I mean… We haven't talked in like a year, Steph."
"So does that mean I'm not going to care about Rachel disappearing?"
"I'm going to get in a car and drive over there right now."
"What? No, Steph. It's like a thousand miles!"
"Of course it isn't! Hold on…"
Steph goes silent for a minute, and Chloe catches herself grinning like a fool. It feels good.
"Crap. It is." Steph says. "Why did I think it was like four hours away?"
"Cuz you're bad at Geography? Don't worry. I got this."
"I'll have to fly in…"
"Steph! That's crazy!"
"Rachel is missing, Chloe. What is crazy?"
"You just gonna drop everything, spend hundreds of dollars on a ticket and fly over here? To do what?"
"To help you. Support you. You're my friend. Rachel is my friend."
Chloe can't think of anything to say, so she groans loudly, to prevent herself from crying.
"Isn't it, like, finals season?"
"Yes, I'll have to head back on Sunday. So we better find her by then. But if not… I'll work something out."
"You are a crazy person, Stephanie."
"You call me that again, and I'll… I'll…"
"OK. I get the terrible implication."
"And you better believe it, too. I'll text you when I book the flight. You'll pick me up in Portland, right?"
"Does a bigfoot shit in the woods?"
"Ew. Later, Callamastia."
She sits and stares at her phone, feeling vaguely happy and like a shitty person at the same time.
"The girl is fucking insane," she says out loud. Where is she even going to stay? And where am I going to stay? Not going back home to attend a mandatory sergeant asshat lecture, that's for sure.
There's a rolled up sleeping bag in the truck that has seen a thing or two. It could use a tumble at the laundromat, and maybe some mending, but it'll work just fine for camping in May. Memories of the times that blanket was wide enough for two bodies sting her eyes, as she walks back to the parking lot. She's sort of afraid and thirsty for a flashback at the same time.
An orange envelope under her windshield wiper ruins the mood somewhat. A yellow sticky note on top of that reads: Glad you're back safe and sound, Chloe. OFC. Berry.
She tosses the ticket and the note into the cabin and slams the door.
It's dark. She gasps at the sudden drops of rain, the noise of it rushing at her out of the darkness. There are tree trunks all around her. Tall, thin, disappearing into the dark rain. The rain washes away dirt, blood and tears. She doesn't know which way to go. There's a knife in her hand, its handle sticky. She drops it and runs.
"No!" She screams.
She's back in the truck, in the Blackwell parking lot.
"No, no, no, no, no."
The bag. She rummages through the duffel bag, then dumps everything out on the seat. The gun thuds to the floor. She picks everything up one by one. Shit, is that mud on that shoe? Does that shirt feel damp?
"No," she says, swallowing. "No fucking way."
There's no knife.
Chapter 9: Hatch
"OK, calm the fuck down, drama queen," she says.
For, like, the seventh time.
She's driving. Away from Blackwell and that, which is enough for now.
"You've had flashbacks of shit that hasn't happened yet, shit that will not happen, shit that happened 3 years ago. You remember multiple versions of the same past event. Now you got a flashback of something you have no memory of, either living or hallucinating. Annoying, but you already knew your brain got scrambled by Frank Special. This is just another proof you're psychotic. No big deal."
Good pep talk, Price. Except, where is the fucking knife?
"A knife?" Rachel echoes.
"Yeah. My mom took mine."
The sun is hot, and Chloe is sweating. Her legs ache from the climb. Thankfully, there's a slight breeze blowing off the ocean. And then, of course, there's Rachel.
"No…" Rachel says. "How about a nail file?"
"I guess you could stab someone with a nail file…"
Rachel makes a face like "Good one, Chloe (but not really)."
"Oh yeah. Sure. Let's try it."
She's back in the truck. Rachel is gone. Some day that was.
Did mom actually take the knife?
She tries to remember when she saw it last. Like definitely saw it. Held it.
The only thing she can remember for certain is learning to throw it against the tree in the junkyard, in the small clearing behind the old school bus, not too far from… where she was excavating earlier. Both, Rachel and her were drunk, and high, laughing and screaming in horror, as the knife bounced every which way, and cheering and hugging and… kissing, when it stuck. It was a wonder no one got killed, or lost an eye, but then, that was a daily wonder with them.
This was on her 19th birthday, nearly two months earlier, so not very helpful.
Still, the memory makes her smile.
After that, after that.
She didn't lose it there, did she? No way. She would have noticed it missing in the two months that followed. Probably would have found it back since.
She thinks back to the Three Seals. There was no knife there. No need for one. The gun was going to be the ticket.
Before that, then? Went to see Frank to pick up the drugs… Keep going back…
I must have been at home, packing some stuff, right? Stealing the gun from the rack?
She knows those things happened, but after a minute or several of denial, she has to admit that she doesn't remember any of it.
Fucking drug. Fucking Frank.
Well, they did happen, though, so maybe the knife is chilling, unremembered, in its usual hiding place: the sheath taped to the underside of the desk. She visualizes it. Long hefty blade. A rectangular crossguard. Leather-cord-wrapped handle. She pulled it out of the wooden beam at the burned mill 3 years back. She sees the knife in her mind, in its sheath, and it seems as if she can almost remember leaving it there…
Until a voice inside her head says, "Or… you dropped it in the woods somewhere, at some point in the last 18 days. What was that sticky stuff, you think?"
The craziest part is the voice sounds like Max. The smartass Max.
"Shut up," Chloe says, out loud, catching herself before she said "Hippie."
Not going to start talking to imaginary Max now. Been there, done that.
Wouldn't mind some advice from imaginary dad, though.
She hasn't had one of those dreams in three years, give or take. Ever since she and Rachel began hanging out.
But Rachel is gone now, and Chloe needs help to find her. Should be good enough reason for any ghost to start showing up again. If the ghost cares, that is. If the ghost existed, and wasn't just the product of her psychosis, that is. Though with the way things are going, dad will probably start showing up during waking hours pretty soon. Wait, that hasn't happened yet, right?
It is with these thoughts that Chloe realizes that the sound she's been hearing for a good minute is her tires on a dirt road. She stops in front of a low gate. NO TRESPASSING, a sign says. PRIVATE PROPERTY. Which in itself is nothing a hop, skip and a double-middle-finger salute wouldn't fix, but Chloe keeps the engine running.
Past the gate, the dirt road diffuses into an old farmstead. There's a big, dilapidated barn, familiar as fuck. There's a rusted carcass of 1930's Ford in the corner of the yard and rusted wagon wheels leaning against the fence and the side of the barn. There are probably rusted horseshoes and nails everywhere. The woods surround the farm on all sides, except east, where in the distance Chloe can see a house.
Everything is quiet. Down here under the trees, it's getting pretty dark. There is no sign of animals or people. No lights in the windows. The place looks perfectly abandoned.
Except that, which makes Chloe want to turn around and drive away.
There are tracks in the dirt, going right through the closed gate towards the barn.
For a while she just sits here, her mind blank.
"How did I even come here?" she asks the dashboard King.
It occurs to her that sitting there waiting for the night to fall and the owner of those tracks to show up is not a very good idea.
She opens the door and pushes off like she's about to luge. Then she reaches back into the hastily repacked duffel on the passenger seat, fishes out the gun and tucks it into the waistband of her jeans behind her back. She feels like a TV cop, and an idiot. But no amount of self-deprecation can make her turn around and leave at this point. She knows she can't physically get back in the truck and drive away.
No fucking way.
Gate hopped, she advances across the yard towards the barn.
"Nothing exciting ever happens to us," she mutters under her breath.
A different flashback leaps at her from every lengthening shadow.
There's the red folder with "RACHEL" written along the spine. There's Mark Jefferson, saying sneeringly that the room is under 24-hour surveillance. There's Chloe Price spinning around with her gun, and a shot, and the blood, and the hole to another universe between her surprised eyes.
She stops. Listens. There's no sound. No birds singing. Not even trees rustling. She kind of wishes she left the engine running still. It's too quiet. Then an invisible owl hoots like right on top of her head, making her duck.
A fucking owl.
The gun is in her hand now. The next time that fucker hoots is going to be its last.
She checks the barn gate. It's locked with a padlock the size of her face. A bullet would probably be useless against that.
Maybe there's a hole in the old wall somewhere, say covered with a metal sheet, oh, around the left side? It's worth a try.
She does. There's no sheet. Nothing there at all, but the wall, solid, aside from the peeled paint.
She continues around the house, hopping the low fence to get to the back. The wall is unbroken there, too, but the ground slopes down towards a brook and in one spot the earth eroded from the rains, leaving the boards of the wall to hover in space. The resulting fissure is too small for your average obese American, but a scrawny 19-year-old woman might just be able to squeeze through.
It's mud again, but fuck it. She lies on her back under the hole, grabs the edge of the boards and pulls herself up and through, until her head and shoulders are inside. She freezes for a moment, because she thinks she hears a sound. Then she does hear it, but it doesn't sound human. A rat , most likely. Or that goddamn owl plucking its feathers.
She reaches out with her arms and elbows and pulls again, inch by painful inch, until she's sitting on the edge, with her legs in the hole. The floor under her hands is strewn with hay. It's poky, but dry and kind of warm. She gets to her feet and pulls the gun out again. In her other hand is the phone-flashlight. The beam of it sweeps the empty barn. She can see crap piled along the walls and in corners, but she's not about to search for ancestral Prescotts.
She goes straight to the spot.
And trips over something halfway way there, flailing and falling on her face with a ridiculous little scream, which reminds her, even as she succumbs to gravity, of playing pirates with Max.
Tasting salt on her lips, she scrambles up and confronts the offending obstacle, ready to eviscerate it. It's a padlocked latch, formerly concealed under a layer of hay. And there's a hatch. It's not where it's supposed to me - nothing ever seems to be - but it is a padlocked hatch in an abandoned barn with tracks leading up to it.
A shiver that runs through her is so violent, she almost drops the gun. Overcompensating, she grips the handle until her knuckles turn white. A flashback of Max using ropes and pulleys and hooks and time powers comes, but Chloe is not in the mood.
She points at the lock and pulls the trigger.
The gun kicks hard in her hands. The discharge makes her ears ring. She feels a shadow over her and spins, terrified that someone is behind her, but it's only that damned owl, spooked, flying out of the window under the roof, its wings blotting out the last rays of the setting sun.
Surprisingly, the bullet hit the lock and made a mess of it. To be free of the latch, all it requires is a little push. The hatch is harder work, but eventually she manages to lift it and drop it to the side.
There it is. The steps leading down. The tunnel. The door. There is even a keypad.
It's fucking surreal.
She advances, not quite believing it, not quite sure if this is a flashback or reality, thinking that Max should be in this tunnel with her. That it's all wrong.
At some point she finds herself in front of the keypad.
There's no way this opens with 1337, she thinks. But what if it does?
What if it does?
She raises her hand.
"What the fuck?" a voice says behind her.
Chapter 10: Lab
What the fuck?
"Chloe, look out!" Max's voice, so weak, fading.
And Chloe Price, spinning, fumbling with the gun, "What the fuck?"
But she's not in the junkyard in the middle of the night. It isn't a flashback this time. Just a memory of her death. This time, she's in the bunker corridor, in front of that goddamn door, and she's not going to be shot.
She's not going to be shot. Not this time. Not today.
No fucking way.
She needs to be faster.
Spin and shoot.
That's the only chance.
She spins, but it's a terribly slow motion.
Come on! Pull the trigger! Shoot!
But it's slow enough for her to think, What the fuck? That wasn't Chloe's voice. He spoke. He was surprised.
Don't think. Just shoot.
Chloe Price, you are about to die.
She drops to one knee as she spins, like some kind of a movie cop again. Aiming will take too long. Better to just shoot and hope for the best. Even if she doesn't hit him, maybe the sound of it will give her an extra second to aim the second shot…
It's fucking Frank Bowers.
"Whoa, Price," he says. "Calm down. It's me, Frank."
His arms are spread. He's unarmed.
"Sorry, if I scared you. But now you can put that away and tell me what the fuck you're doing here."
He's slowly coming closer as he says this.
"Please step back," Max says.
She's pointing the gun at Frank. They are in the junkyard in broad daylight. Frank has a knife out. He's coming closer. Chloe Price, meanwhile, is frozen in place.
"You're kidding," Frank says. "Put that down."
Before Max pulls the trigger, the flashback winks out, leaving a weird fuzziness behind, vague half-images of someone else, somewhere, somewhen, who kept coming. Something red?
"Stop," she says, rising.
Frank's face looks like he smelled something unpleasant. He slows down, but doesn't quite stop.
"Come on, Chloe," he says. "I startled you. You screamed. But we're cool now. You know me."
"I didn't scream. I said stop coming closer," she screams, "or I swear I will fucking shoot you, Frank! I've done it before."
Finally, he stops, about three yards away.
She can tell he wants to say a lot of things, but to his credit he waits.
"OK," she breathes, regripping the gun with sweaty hands. "Now tell me why you're here."
"Why I'm here? I saw your rust bucket out there and was coming to ask you the same thing, when I heard the gunshot. I thought somebody shot your punk ass. Fucking worried about you, actually."
"I'm going to ask you one more time, Frank. Why are you here?"
"Listen. We go way back, but I'm getting pretty tired of this, Price. I'm here on business. Which is none of your business. Now why the fuck are you here with a gun?"
She says nothing for a while, then steps sideways with her back to the wall, gun pointed at his face.
"Open the door."
"How about no?"
"Open the fucking door! If she's in there… If there's… I swear, if you did something to Rachel…"
"Wh... Rachel? God damn it, Price! You're looking for Rachel Amber here? Are you fucking insane?"
"Open the door and prove it, Frank. I'm getting really tired of holding this gun."
He's pissed now. Real pissed. He wants to punch her in the face. Or stab her. In the face.
She can tell.
He looks at the gun in her hand, at her face, the gun again, calculating. He doesn't like what he sees, clearly. He believes her. Still, he can't help but keep being an asshole.
"Idiot. You shoot me, you're never getting through that door."
The old tough guy act. Adorable at times, but Chloe is not in the mood. She pulls the hammer thing back until it clicks.
"I know the code, dipshit."
"How can you possibly know the code?"
"The same way I knew about the door. Now, do I need to count to three? Or just shoot you now and prove it?"
Frank's eyes are not scared, like, at all. They're shooting lasers. He also might lose tooth enamel from all the grinding. But finally, after a long time, he turns and punches in the code. The bastard covers it, though, so she can't confirm.
There's a loud metallic click, and the door swings out.
She steps behind Frank, the gun pointed at the middle of his back. She sees shelves. Shit on shelves.
"Go," she says. "Inside."
He walks forward without looking back at her, without saying anything.
The shelving is made of chrome wire. The shit on shelves is not food. It's like household cleaners and bleach and bug spray and baking soda and plastic bags and unmarked tin cans and fourteen other kinds of random nonsense. She doesn't get how any of it is supposed to save you, when the nukes fall. Where are the beans?
"You have serious balls, little girl," Frank says. "But hanging out with Chloe, playing with guns and dressing up like Rachel doesn't make you cool or tough. What the fuck do you want?"
He's in the booth at the Two Whales, a plate of beans on front of him. He looks like shit.
"How do you know these are Rachel's clothes?" Max asks.
"Because she looks beautiful in them, and you look like ass."
"Grab your keys and let's check out your RV…"
Wow, nice transition, Max…
Suddenly, she realizes Frank turned the corner and is out of sight. The vinyl strip door flutters to reassemble itself behind him. Chloe rushes forward to keep up, splitting the strips with the gun.
What she see through the clear vinyl and the gap between the strips are long tables full of beakers and burners, and stainless steel fridges along the walls.
"What the shit?"
It's all wrong. She doesn't understand. There should be a photo studio in here, not a fucking chemistry lab.
To make matters worse, while she stands there gaping, Frank jumps her from the side and takes the gun away. Together with her fingers, nearly.
It's another "gotcha" from the universe. Another "Sike!" Maybe the last one…
She closes her eyes and waits.
"No!" Frank shouts. "You keep those eyes open! Go on! Look for Rachel Amber, you goddamn idiot."
"She's not here."
"Of course she's not here! And if instead of me it was someone else, you wouldn't be here right now, either! You'd be in one of those freezers. Dead! And you had the nerve to point the gun at me. Threaten me!"
"I'm sorry, Frank. But I… I thought this place was... something else."
"Who told you to come here?"
"I… saw it. Like in a dream. And in this dream, Rachel was… hurt here."
"Holy shit! You're talking about the drug again, Price. You hallucinated! Is this your first time with hallucinogenics or something? What if you saw a goddamn golden unicorn at the police station? Would you break in there to free it?"
"It wasn't like a normal hallucination. It was... like I could remember the future."
"You just described a hallucination."
"It seemed real."
"Well, it fucking wasn't real, was it? There's no Rachel Amber here."
"But the place itself was here, Frank."
He chews on that one for a bit, shrugs.
"Coincidence. Happens all the time with mind-altering drugs. Patterns. The design. Anyway, we're done here."
Frank keeps the gun in his hand and shoves her towards the door. She takes one last glance around the room, in a desperate search for a clue, but there's nothing. It's obvious Rachel has never been there. Frank rolls his eyes at her tears, but doesn't comment, and does not touch her again.
He locks the steel door and covers the hatch with hay.
"You owe for the new lock I'll have to put on there," he says.
Outside, it is dark. Stars are out.
"Who cares if the stars are dead?" Rachel asks.
The big barn door rattles. The lock clangs.
"Why did you take the whole bottle, Price?" Frank's voice in the darkness. "You want to die?"
"I… uh, did at the time."
He says nothing to this, until they're back on the dirt road. Frank's RV is parked behind Chloe's truck, blocking it.
"I don't want you to come here ever again," he says. "I don't want you to talk about this place, even in your sleep. I don't want you to remember that this place exists. Do you understand me?"
"I'm keeping this." The gun.
"You and Rachel… Was there ever anything… between you?"
He says nothing for a minute. It's dark, and her eyes have not adjusted, so Chloe can't see his face.
"Did you see that in your dream, too?"
"Not exactly. Just… hints."
"She was too young for me."
"I knew she was too young…" Frank says over the roar of the tornado. He's on the floor behind the diner's counter, hurt. "I knew she was going to leave me… Just not how it happened. I would never stop her from following her dreams."
She hears the RV door open and close, then the headlights come on, blinding her. She gets in the truck and starts the engine. Her phone buzzes.
Landing Portland @ 11:20AM tomorrow. Pick me up?
Does a bigfoot shit in the woods?
Chapter 11: Plank
As she drives back into town, she actually keeps her promise to Frank and forgets about the lab, at least for the moment. She even forgets about Frank. What she can't stop thinking about is the hole in the barn's wall, in the wrong place, but there. The trapdoor, in the wrong place, but there.
What if… she dug in the wrong place?
It's dark, but now that the idea took hold, there's not going to be any sleep until she checks, anyway. She lights a cig and rolls the window down. The ocean breathes in the smoke and breathes out salt. Arcadia Bay Avenue is an artery of a beached whale. The red blood cells of taillights are too few, moving too slowly. It is about to die.
She glimpses a teal uniform behind the counter as she passes the diner. Joyce, back to pulling a night shift. Means David's home alone. Means Chloe Price is not going home for the night.
At the junkyard, she shuts off the engine and sits in the dark.
"Great," Rachel says. "It's a pile of trash."
"An awesome pile of trash," Chloe replies, exhaling smoke into the ceiling.
She can hear the ocean, and the trees whisper, and there's a cricket and a squirrel and a bird or two birds and some piece of loose garbage rings against something else every 1.5 seconds. Other things creak and slap. Compared to the farmhouse, the junkyard is teeming with life. There's no way...
No fucking way.
She tosses the dead cigarette and turns on the flashlight on her phone. Starting from the original dig site, which is frighteningly wide and deep (maybe it's the trick of the light), she begins to sweep the ground for other fresh disturbances.
"Beer and guns? Nice combo," Max says.
"You can handle it," says Chloe Price. "Now go find us five bottles? Pretty please?"
"I have to find dirty-ass bottles while you chill? Not fair."
"I have to prep the range, crybaby."
"And what exactly are you doing to prep the range? Standing there posing with the gun?"
"Well… I've also been tripping hard about where you got this rewind power…"
"From God. Or the gods. So, bow."
"We can make the world bow… Are you ready for that?"
"No way. I still don't even know how my power works or for how long…"
"Dude, you fuck shit up, you rewind, you fix it. Drop the mic. Boom."
"Spin, rinse and repeat… I'm just altering time and space. Oh yeah, and history. No biggie."
"You already altered history by saving my life, smartass. Let's see what else you can do…"
It sounds like Max and Chloe, or at least it sounds like Chloe and what Chloe thinks Max would sound like at 18, but otherwise the whole flashback is too stupid to ever happen. I have to prep the range, Jesus.
She goes from the hole in the ground to where the ghost doe posed for Max's photo, to where Max sat down to take a break from gathering the goddamn bottles, to where Chloe somehow carried unconscious Max to the hood of an old car, to where Max didn't shoot Frank. She walks slowly, sweeping the ground with the beam, sweeping her memories and visions, like some demented version of the Arcadia Bay lighthouse. The beam casts shadows that are creepy as shit, making every pile of garbage seem like it's moving, like something is about to crawl from under it.
"All we need is some horror movie music," she says, catching herself before adding, "Right, Rache?"
Then she does say it out loud.
Old habits die hard. Chloe Price and her imaginary friends. The only real friends she's ever had. Always coming back to comfort her when everyone else bails.
It's stupid, but better than no friends at all, right? Except Steph is flying in tomorrow, and also except she's not looking for imaginary relationships right now. What she actually prays for, is help. A sign. A communication. Not from beyond, because Rachel isn't dead (nevermind what she's sweeping the grounds for). Maybe… telepathy, or some shit. She always felt like they had that connection. Not that they could read each other's thoughts, exactly. More like, that they didn't need to. But maybe now they do.
So if you can hear me, Rachel Amber, Chloe thinks real loud, I could use some guidance. Counseling. Therapy, even. If you're in trouble, let me know where to look. And if you left… then... just give me a sign you're OK.
"Just tell me you're OK," she whispers.
She turns off the flashlight and waits.
The stars are out suddenly, about a billion of them. They tug at her, making her rise to her tiptoes. Her clothes flap, but gravity chains hold. The sky spins slowly above the crowns of trees, above all the junkyard sounds. It's really peaceful, and beautiful, but none of it feels like a sign that Rachel is OK. What it all makes her feel is stupid, and alone.
"Well," she says, "that genius plan didn't work."
She hesitates for another two seconds, turns the light back on, checks the battery - it's at 37 percent - and begins to sweep again.
"Ms. Price," a voice jolts her out of a daydream, familiar and annoying.
It's Wells, of course, glaring down at her from the top of the stairway.
"You are well-aware you can't park here. Do I need to call the police for you to move your… vehicle?"
She's parked at the curb. Nobody aside from that asshole seems to mind.
Chloe is about to let him know the lay of the land and what she's "Wells" aware of, but at that moment Rachel appears, sweeps past the principal, down the steps and into the waiting truck. Smiling sweetly, Chloe releases a fluttering blow kiss birdie and pulls away. Rachel, meanwhile, is struggling to keep a straight, innocent face. Two seconds later she's laughing.
"Oh, Price. That was a long-ass year."
"I don't know… Seemed pretty short to me."
"OK, delinquent. School's out for both of us now. Wanna just keep driving?"
"Sure… we have enough gas to get to the gas station maybe…"
"That's fine. Leave the truck at Arcadia Gas. We'll walk from there."
"OK, princess. Except you're not even healed yet. Low on blood and you still got stitches."
"Again you with the cold feet. "
"Hey, I just don't want to be stuck dragging you when you pass out from exhaustion."
"Are you sure that's all it is, Chloe?"
"What? You think I'm backing out? You know I wouldn't. It's just…"
"Well, you got everything planned out. You know what you want to do, who you want to be. And I… don't."
"What, being Rachel Amber's bodyguard, chauffeur and companion isn't good enough for you, Price?"
"The job does have an appeal…"
"Well, it's there if you want it. But the point is, you don't have to want it or have it all planned out. You can figure it out on the road. Away from here."
The flashback is over. There's a boat in its place, with its own cargo of memories all the way up to the water line. What else is in the hold?
She props up the familiar pallet and climbs. The ship creaks and whines. There's the old pirate blanket crumpled to starboard, an ashtray full of butts to port side, bottles, cans, a pizza box. The boat was occasionally shack five yards away from shack. She searches and finds nothing but an old bra - Rachel's - which makes her cackle like a mad witch in the night.
It's time for a break.
She spreads the blanket and lights up a smoke and lies on her back. The boat creaks rhythmically. The stars wink. The smoke makes it seems like she's floating. Makes her forget everything.
Some time later, a meteorite shoots across the sky, breaking the spell. Chloe makes a wish without thinking.
She gets to her feet, letting a memory seep out through the cracks in the deck. It's a fake one. It's a memory of Max lifting an improbably large plank to get on board from the nearby bluff. She flashes the light over the bluff, but it's a bit too far for the beam to make anything out.
The side path that leads up to the bluff begins back by the gangster-mobile she had used as the backdrop for her "range." She weaves her way up there by the light of the flashlight. It's the very edge of the junkyard. In fact, the bluff was probably supposed to be a sort of a natural fence between American Rust and the woods, but the junk spilled over, as it does. There's an old fire pit and all kinds of hazardous shit, but most importantly, there's the plank. It looks even bigger than in her hallucination. It probably weighs a shit ton. There's no way Max would be able to lift it, much less throw it across the gap.
The beam skips and shivers along the wood, then freezes. Actually, it stops tracing the plank, but the shivering and skipping intensifies. What Chloe tries to keep with intermittent success inside the circle of light is a quarter-inch-long corner of bent leather sticking out from under the plank. It's literally the size of the tip of her pinky.
She moves the phone to her right hand and digs a finger into the earth under the plank until she hooks it behind the piece of leather and pulls, making more of it come out into the light. It's a brown leather strap, and it's causing the air to catch in the back of her throat.
She drops the phone in the dirt, holds the strap with one hand and hooks the other under the plank. The plank gives, but not enough. It's heavy as hell. She lets go of the strap for now, grabs the plank with both hands and digs her heels in. It rises a bit more.
"Fucking help!" She growls.
Slowly, the plank flips over the side.
She sits down, panting, and gropes for the phone. The light is noticeably dimmer, but bright enough to illuminate what was hidden. A fresh shallow hole in the earth, and in it, a brown leather backpack. The nicest backpack Chloe has ever seen. Rachel's backpack.
She grabs the bag and forces herself to get up. Back through the maze, towards the truck. Once inside the cabin, under the light of the same blue light bulb she had found around here about three years earlier, she puts the bag on the seat. Rachel's seat.
"The belt should be in here," she thinks.
She opens the bag - leather so soft to the touch - and looks inside. A photo catches her eye. It's Rachel and her dad, in hiking gear in the woods. Rachel must be like 10. She looks so happy.
Chloe was happy like that when she was 10, too. 14 is when it all went to shits.
She puts the photo back. Here's the belt, now.
Holding her breath, her heart pounding in her ears, she lifts the flap and extracts things one by one.
Wuthering Heights, Chemistry, a pair of notebooks, laptop, hair brush, a pouch of makeup, a red binder with Rachel along the spine.
No fucking way.
She powers through the fear and nausea, and cracks the red clam open. She recalls the binder as she does. She's seen it a thousand times. Rachel's portfolio. All of the better photos she had posed for. Nothing like the creepy shit she'd seen in her drug dream.
She would love to sit there for about a year looking at Rachel's pics, but she's got more important things to do. Time could be of the essence. Rachel could be…
She pushes the binder off and rummages in the bag. There's nothing else in it. Nothing useful out of it, either. The laptop is locked. She unzips the makeup pouch. Inside, there's the usual garbage. She squeezes the bag in her hands and freezes.
There's something in the side pocket. Something rigid. She pops the button on the flap and sits there, staring at the leather-cord-wrapped handle.
It's her knife.