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July 4,1982

Becca and Alex were just kids to their parents, fully adult as far as the law was concerned, college students on summer break, partying because that was where all the fun was. They had summer jobs but it was Saturday night and the big party was southeast, down near Clayton, some twenty miles or so, at a big North Carolina farm house. “Like a mansion or something,” had been Becca’s comment when Alex turned off the two-lane blacktop and directed the car up the dirt drive.

Now, as she eased herself around a half dozen gyrating girls, and one guy, she thought of the place as the old dilapidated and abandoned structure that it actually was; large, two story, moldy, tired. Just as she thought she had made it unscathed, one tall girl, Judy, Julie or something—mini skirt, black lace bra, barefoot—chinked left and jabbed a bony elbow into Becca’s breast.

“Oops!” The girl stumbled away. “Sorry.”

Becca rubbed at the future bruise. “Don’t worry about it.” What she wanted to say to Judy, Julie, whatever, was that she was too drunk and too young. She should be home playing with her dolls.

In attendance at this abandoned farm house beer-fest were fifty or sixty high energy intoxicated bodies. They were not just college students. As a matter-of-fact, a good quarter of them looked like high school age—underage for sure—stupid townies. There was a time when, for her, this was the place to be, the center of everything. No longer, she was just beginning to realize; she didn’t much like this anymore, though she still drank what was handed to her, beer with something like bourbon in it. Someone called it beerdka. She considered that for a moment before realizing it meant that it was beer with vodka. There was a time when she would have found that amusing and enticing.

Something about this whole thing was irritating her and she couldn’t put her finger on it. Just a few months ago she’d attended something like this up in Raleigh and had a good time. Now it was as though she’d matured ten years since then, could no longer see the point in any of it. Was she starting to sound like her mother?

And it was noisy. Blaring music, blaring voices, screaming, yelling, laughing . . . way too much of all of it. She went outside after a time to watch the fireworks a couple of the guys were setting off. “Happy Fourth of July!” they yelled. It was just after midnight so she guessed it made sense. The third of July was gone.

She wondered where Alex was. She’d lost track of him early on. A shiver snaked down her spine and she wondered if it had anything to do with what she was drinking . . . eating. She’d only had two beerdkas and one beer in the four hours since they’d arrived, but the sausage-like things she’d consumed thirty minutes ago did nothing but make her nauseous, putting a damper on her party mood, if it was ever actually there, and all she wanted to do now was go home.

She went back into the house to find Alex.

She had the sudden fear that she’d find him making out with some slut and she didn’t know why she thought that. They were a solid item and he’d never said or done anything to make her think she shouldn’t trust him. She went from room to room, gagged at the stench of marijuana in one, closed her eyes to three nude bodies in another, finally finding him in a small bedroom with a single bed. He was passed out on the bed. Some other guy was passed out on the floor, snoring like his life depended on it. She stood there for a long time, swaying slightly, not liking the feeling in her stomach, trying to figure out what to do. He was definitely too long gone to drive, if she could even revive him. She could take his keys and come back for him in the morning but the idea of driving all the way back to here from Raleigh didn’t seem all that appealing. She retreated down the hall to the nearest bathroom, waited for it to become vacant, then went in. There was a plastic cup on the sink that someone had left behind, a quarter full of beerdka or whatever. The smell of it made her stomach roll a bit more. She dumped it and filled it with water.

Back in the bedroom, she stood over Alex for a time, debating whether this was a good idea, then splashed half of the water on his face. He jerked awake, saw her, then settled back down, maybe to begin another alcohol-induced snooze.

“Hey!” She dumped the rest and kicked a leg that was hanging off the edge of the bed. “Wake up!”

“Wha . . . Becca? Stop drownin’ me. I’m awake.”

She reached down and grabbed his arm. “Up! Time to go.”

“It is?”

“Yeah. It is.”

Alex blinked several times, wiped at his face and then gave in to her pull. “Okay. I’m good.” He sat on the edge of the bed for a time, rolling his head around. “I think I’m good. What have I been drinking?”


“Good stuff.”

“Get up. I’m driving.”

He gave her a long look. “Have you been drinking . . . beerdka?”

“Not nearly as much as you. You can’t drive but I can, so let’s go.”

He struggled to his feet whereupon she held onto him until he seemed to find his balance. “It’s my car. Why should I let you drive . . . my car?”
“If you drive it you’re going to wreck it, probably kill us or someone else.

There’s no arguing. I’m driving and that’s final.”

He shrugged and allowed her to pull him along.

It took a while to thread him through the house, her own steadiness a bit questionable in itself, but at least she was wide awake and alert. The girl with the miniskirt and black lace bra was twirling the bra over her head.

“Whoa . . .”

Becca grabbed Alex by the jaw and turned his face toward her. “Not on your life.”

“Just always wanted to say that. Whoa!”


At the car she pushed him against the door. “Stand still.”

He made a face at her and smiled while she dug around in his pockets.

“Whoa! Keep that up and we won’t be going anywhere.”

She found his keys. “Not on your life tonight, mister.”

“Nothing is on my life . . . again? You’re no fun.”

“Not when you’re full of beerdka.”

She unlocked the car and shoved him into the passenger seat. After struggling with his buckle, she reclined the seat so that he was as horizontal as possible. She then ran around and got herself behind the wheel. She considered the seat belt for a few seconds, not really a fan of the restriction—be smart here Becca, be smart—then finally buckled because she could already tell that the alcohol was still doing a number on her. By that time Alex was fully asleep.

After carefully adjusting the mirrors, the seat, making sure everything was just right, she started the car, cautiously backed it away from the others that were parked every which way around the house and then navigated out the long, dirt drive until she was about to roll onto the two-lane blacktop. She sat with her foot on the brake for a long time, trying to figure out which way to go. It was pitch black dark in both directions. Did they turn right onto the property or left? She couldn’t remember. She’d not been paying attention when they arrived.

O’Neil! She remembered that. Alex had been looking for O’Neil Street so that must be what this was. But this didn’t look like a street. A street had houses on both sides, and driveways. This street . . . road was just white-striped pavement that should have been called a highway. Which way on this street, road, highway? North, south, east, west? Raleigh was northwest, she knew, but she had no idea which direction she was pointing.



She glanced over at Alex. “Go back to sleep.”

She was out in the friggin’ country and had no reference.

She turned right because it was easier and because some last second twist in her gut told her that the other way was wrong. She would know fairly soon if it was wrong or right, because they’d come from the direction of downtown Clayton, and it was less than a mile, at least she thought it was less than a mile. If she didn’t come to it in a few minutes, she’d turn around and go the other direction.

And on top of everything, her stomach was feeling like there was a huge steel ball rolling around in there, or probably those spicy sausage things, and that last beerdka was sloshing around with it. There were way too many things going on in her gut to believe anything it was saying.

Damn! She wished she’d stopped to pee before leaving.

Off in the distance there was a glow over the trees, which probably meant the town. Good. Maybe she was going in the right direction. Once she saw highway signs she’d know where she was for sure.

She pressed a little more on the gas pedal, wanting to get to someplace familiar or at least civilized real fast, before her stomach gave out and she had to pull over to take care of it. She didn’t want to stop on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere to throw up. Should have done it before leaving the house, along with peeing. Now if she did stop to throw up, she’d probably pee her pants in the process.

She looked over at Alex. He was still passed out. She probably should have locked the passenger door so that he couldn’t accidently open it and fall out. Too late now. At least he was buckled.

A street was coming up, going off to the right. A curved brick wall sat on the right, just before the street, two dim lights shown down onto white block letters depicting the name of a subdivision. Civilization . . . yes! She looked over at Alex again. “We’re okay. I’m not getting us lost.”

And then something flicked at the corner of her eye just as the right, front wheel dropped off the edge of the asphalt, nearly wrenching the steering wheel from her grip.


Her yell was simultaneous with the flash of someone on a bicycle. She jerked the steering wheel to the left and slammed her foot onto the brake pedal just as there came a thump followed by a body, a girl, flipping onto the windshield, blond hair wild, mouth agape. Young. Very young. And then she noticed the entry sign to the subdivision—something Oaks—just as the car ground to a stop. The girl slid off the windshield, across the hood and dropped headfirst to the ground, leaving behind a smear of something dark against the headlights reflecting off the subdivision sign.

Hands like vice-grips on the steering wheel, Becca stared wide-eyed for several seconds, mouth agape as though trapped in the middle of a scream, before she finally released a breath.

“Oh God! Oh God!” She fumbled at the seatbelt release until it let go, then pushed the door open and fell out of the car onto her butt. The car started rolling forward.

“NO! NO! NO!” She screamed the one word over and over as she jumped to her feet, dove back in and slammed on the brakes.


She put the car in PARK and without looking at Alex, said very calmly, “Go back to sleep.” He’d slid mostly off the seat, onto the floor, half caught up in his seatbelt, but she didn’t notice, couldn’t have cared if she had. She scrambled out and looked under the car. All she could see in the dark were wisps of blonde hair. “No, no, no . . .” This time her words came out as soft as a whisper, one right after the other. She scrambled back in, put the car in REVERSE and backed up some twenty feet.

Being sure the car was again in PARK, the emergency brake applied, she got out and ran to where the girl lay, a rumpled rag doll in the headlights, her head unnaturally crooked, eyes staring into nothing. And blood. Way too much blood.

“Oh God no.” Her words came out punctured with sobs, unabated tears streaking down her face.

And then the contents of her stomach began to rise and the best she could do was turn from the face, the sightless eyes, and dump beerdka and partially digested sausage all over the girl’s tennis shoes.

She wiped at her mouth with the sleeve of her blouse and took a number of deep breaths. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

And then she stood and looked up and down the road and over at the two houses in the subdivision that she could see, with huge, gapping, dark windows, and realized that there were absolutely no witnesses. She looked at the car. There was a small dent, but the car was basically a junker with plenty of other dents and scratches, so Alex would probably not even notice. She’d just have to get the blood washed off. Not a problem. She’d stop at the first gas station she saw that was open. Better yet, one that wasn’t open. There’d still be water and towels maybe. She could also clean herself up and find a bush behind which she could finish peeing. She did in fact pee some when she threw up, but she managed to squelch it quickly.

She looked over at the girl again, wondered what the hell she was doing out in the middle of the night on a bicycle—where the hell were her parents?—knew that there wasn’t a damned thing she could do for her, convinced herself that she would if she could.

Wait! She could do something. There was an old blanket in the backseat. She fetched that, noted that Alex was still passed out, and in less than two minutes had moved the girl from the side of the road to a darker grassy area near the flowerbed in front of the brick wall. She covered her with the blanket, then picked up the bike and dropped it well out of the way, beyond the girl.

With tears again flowing freely, Becca got back in the car and drove away.


Olivia Hean, the mother of Tanya Conner, sat in the living room of her daughter’s home just on the edge of Clayton, North Carolina. Tanya and her husband were asleep, as was three-year-old Benjamin, bless his little heart. He was such an energetic handful who his grandmother dearly loved. She also loved her time late at night when they had all gone to bed, the peace and quiet. The visit was nice but she was ready to go home where she had the freedom to roam her property and small town during the day, or night, taking pictures and remembering better days long gone by. She had thousands of pictures, intending often to submit them to contests or magazines at the time she took them, but after getting them developed would not be pleased. She’d file them away in boxes and that would be that. She often wondered if she’d have been a decent photojournalist instead of a stay-at-home mother and housewife.

Olivia never went anywhere without her camera and plenty of rolls of film. Her camera and memories were all she had since Craig died. She had her daughter and grandson of course, but they enjoyed their own lives full of energy and careers, hopes and dreams. Olivia’s hopes and dreams evaporated when her husband had his stroke. She was comfortable enough, financially, from the insurance money and his investments, but otherwise, she’d pretty much given up.

She gazed out the picture window, could see the place where the accident happened just an hour before. Now she had her doubts. She had been sitting in this exact spot, had taken pictures of the woman kneeling over the little girl, touching her face and then vomiting around her feet, at least that’s what it appeared she was doing. Maybe she’d just been looking at the girl’s shoes, or had turned away to laugh at something the little girl said. Olivia had taken a series of seven pictures, or maybe it was six. She couldn’t remember. She was having doubts that they’d even come out being badly lit by the car’s headlights and dim subdivision entry lights and far away and all. She’d mounted a long lens onto her Nikon, had 400 ISO film loaded, and used a super slow shutter speed, but still. The woman would probably be grainy and blurry and any emotional impact would be lost, which was the entire reason she was taking the pictures. Craig would have been proud. He had been a professional photojournalist, harped often about catching the emotional impact and staying detached from the action taking place. One of his specialties had been war. Everything she knew she’d learned from him. She had a roll of the new Kodacolor VR 1000 that Kodak had just come out with. This would be the perfect place to try it out, she remembered thinking.

So she’d quickly shot the last two frames on the 400 ISO, unloaded it and then went up to her bedroom to fetch the roll of 1000 ISO. When she’d returned, following an exhaustive search to find the film tucked in a corner of her luggage, the woman and the car were gone and apparently so were the little girl and the bicycle.

Olivia thought about that for a time, wondering what had happened. That’s when she started doubting that she’d seen anything at all, figuring she probably drifted asleep and dreamt the entire horrible scene. Or maybe the accident was very minor and the woman loaded the girl, with her bicycle, into her car and carried her home.

At just after 1:30 in the morning she took herself up to her bedroom where she packed her camera away and slid into bed for a few hours of sleep. She’d be back up at 5:30 for an early breakfast and the trip to the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Benjamin chattering all the way, she was sure. By late afternoon she’d be back on her porch in Chewelah, Washington, feeling good to be home.


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