The sand felt warm, the way it usually was on Saturday afternoons in Seaside Heights; face down on the beach under a hot July sun that burned my back and shoulders while Jenny was getting cheese fries and Cokes from the boardwalk concession stand. Later we would jump the waves, venturing farther from shore until the life guards motioned us back, their shrill whistles straining above the roar of the surf and the cacophony of voices that filled the air - ready to save us if we needed help. As the waves rolled into our bodies she would squeeze her arms around my neck and try to drag me under but I could always kick free, riding the wave to the beach and tumbling out of the water with my stomach red, raw, and bleeding from the shells and pebbles that tore my skin and filled the waistband of my trunks; the water would surge forward over the chairs and towels of people too close to the tide line, sending them in a frantic scramble towards drier ground before pulling back with the empty cans, baggies filled with left-over snacks, and cheap plastic toys that had been left behind. Later Jenny would shiver as she held me close on the blanket, towels wrapped around our shoulders, her lips cold, salty, and wet as they pressed against mine, and the warmth we shared would spread throughout my body and stay with me on the drive home. I could feel that warm sand under my face as I opened my eyes in an unfamiliar expanse of desert, just north of Tikrit - a world away from New Jersey and the cool waves of the ocean; the ground was wet with the blood that poured from the gaping hole in my stomach and the mangled pieces of flesh and bone that had once been my legs. I heard the voices of the soldiers around me, the fear and panic in their screams as they tried to help, and felt the searing wave of heat and pain that swept over me - I closed my eyes and wanted only to be home again.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
It was barely past noon but it felt like nightfall. The pine trees formed a thick, dark canopy over the winding dirt road – sunlight barely pierced the cover of the branches in spots overhead. Burnt, stunted, twisted pygmy pine trees with multiple trunks dotted the sides of the road, needles shooting out at odd, random angles. A few feet past those trees, beyond the scrub oaks, moss, and ferns, sand pits that could swallow a car the same way the Bermuda Triangle consumed ships were hidden by the underbrush. And in other spots the ground was still scorched black from the fires three summers earlier.
Dance grit his teeth as he steered the Jeep down the road. He hit every bump and ditch hard enough to lift him out of his seat, no matter how slowly he drove. His shoulder banged against the roll cage as he jerked the wheel back and forth, trying to avoid the ruts carved deep in the sand but it was useless.
He hadn’t been down this road in a few years; probably not since the fires. It was his bad luck to be the only deputy on duty when Sheriff Cole called.
“Need you to swing by Tilden Brown’s place,” the Sheriff had said. “He hasn’t been seen in days.”
“So? Nothing unusual about that.”
“His Momma’s starting to worry. Ain’t like him not to show.”
“Probably just lost track of time,” Dance said.
“Maybe,” Cole said. “But I still need you to drive out there and make sure everything’s okay. You never know what that boy is into.”
That was what worried Dance. Everything about Tilden was trouble. He just hoped this didn’t have anything to do with the meth lab Tilden kept on his property.
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