Published in hardcover by Tor Books, August 1992
Published in paperback by Tor Books, October 1993
Paperback ISBN 0-812-52237-0
Copyright (c) 1992 by Steven Gould.
All rights reserved.
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The first time was like this.
I was reading when Dad got home. His voice echoed
through the house and I cringed.
I put the book down and sat up on the bed. "In here,
Dad. I'm in my room."
His footsteps on the hallway's oak floor got louder
and louder. I felt my head hunching between my shoulders,
then Dad was at the door and raging.
"I thought I told you to mow the lawn today!" He
into the room and towered over me. "Well! Speak up when
ask you a question!"
"I'm gonna do it, dad. I was just finishing a
"You've been home from school for over two hours!
sick and tired of you lying around this house doing
nothing!" He leaned close and the whiskey on his breath
made my eyes water. I flinched back and he grabbed the
of my neck with fingers like a vice. He shook me.
nothing but a lazy brat. I'm going to beat some industry
into you if I have to kill you to do it!"
He pulled me to my feet, still gripping my neck.
his other hand he fumbled for the ornate rodeo buckle on
belt, then snaked the heavy western strap out of his pants
"No, dad. I'll mow the lawn right now.
"Shut up," he said. He pushed me into the wall. I
barely got my hands up in time to keep my face from
nose first into the plaster. He switched hands then,
pressing me against the wall with his left while he took
belt in his right hand.
I twisted my head slightly, to keep my nose from
grinding into the wall, and saw him switch his grip on the
belt, so the heavy silver buckle hung on the end, away
I yelled. "Not the buckle, dad! You
He ground my face into the wall harder. "Shut UP!
didn't hit you near hard enough the last time." He
his arm until he held me against the wall at arms length
swung the belt back slowly. Then his arm jerked forward
the belt sung though the air and my body betrayed me,
squirming away from the impact and....
I was leaning against bookshelves, my neck free of
Dad's crushing grip, my body still braced to receive a
I looked around, gasping, my heart still racing. There
no sign of Dad, but this didn't surprise me.
I was in the fiction section of the Stanville Public
Library and, while I knew it as well as my own room, I
didn't think my father had ever been inside the
That was the first time.
The second time was like this.
The truckstop was new and busy, an island of glaring
light and hard concrete in the night. I went in the glass
doors to the restaurant and took a chair at the counter,
near the section with the sign that said, "Driver's Only."
The clock on the wall read eleven thirty. I put the
up bundle of stuff on the floor under my feet and tried to
The middle-aged waitress on the other side of the
counter looked skeptical but she put down a menu and a
of water then said, "Coffee?"
"Hot tea, please."
She smiled mechanically and left.
The driver's section was half-full, a thick haze of
tobacco smoke over it. None of them looked like the kind
man who'd give me the time of day, much less a lift
down the road.
The waitress returned with a cup, a tea-bag, and one
those little metal pitchers filled with not very hot
"What can I get you?" she asked.
"I'll stick with this for awhile."
She looked at me steadily for a moment, then totalled
the check and laid on the counter. "Cashier will take it
when your ready. You want anything else, just let me
I didn't know to hold the lid open as I poured the
water, so a third of it ended up on the counter. I mopped
it up with napkins from the dispenser and tried not to
"Been on the road long, kid?"
I jerked my head up. A man, sitting in the last seat
of the driver's section, was looking at me. He was big,
both tall and fat, with a roll of skin where his shirt
opened. He was smiling and I could see his teeth were
uneven and stained.
"What do you mean?"
He shrugged. "Your business. You don't look like
you've been running long." His voice was higher pitched
than you'd expect for a man his size, but kind.
I looked past him, at the door. "About two weeks."
He nodded. "Rough. You running from your parents?"
"My dad. My mom cut out long ago."
He pushed his spoon around the counter top with his
finger. The nails were long with grease crusted under
"How old are you, kid?"
He looked at me and raised his eyebrows.
I shrugged my shoulders. "I don't care what you
It's true. I turned seventeen lousy years old yesterday."
The tears started to come and I blinked hard, got them
"What you been doing since you left home?"
The tea had gotten as dark as it was going to. I
pulled the tea bag and spooned sugar into the cup. "I've
been hitching, panhandling a little, some odd jobs. Last
two days I picked apples--twenty-five cents a bushel and
I could eat. I also got some clothes out of it."
"Two weeks and you're out of your own clothes
I gulped down half the tea. "I only took what I was
wearing." All I was wearing when I walked out of the
Stanville Public Library.
"Oh. Well, my name's Topper. Topper Robbins.
I stared at him. "Davy," I said, finally.
He smiled again. "I understand. Don't have to beat
about the head and shoulders." He picked up his spoon and
stirred his coffee. "Well, Davy, I'm driving that
tanker out there and I'm headed east in about forty-five
minutes. If your going that way, I'll be glad to give you
ride. You look like you could use some food, though. Why
don't you let me buy you a meal?"
The tears came again then. I was ready for cruelty
not kindness. I blinked hard and said, "Okay. I'd
appreciate the meal and the ride."
An hour later I was eastbound in the right hand seat
Topper's rig, drowsing from the heat of the cab and the
stomach. I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep, tired
talking. Topper tried to talk a little more after that,
stopped. I watched him out of narrowed eyes. He kept
turning his head to look at me when the headlights from
oncoming traffic lit the cabs interior. I thought I
feel grateful, but he gave me the creeps.
After a while I fell asleep for real. I came awake
with a start, unsure of where I was or even who. There
a tremor running through my mind, a reaction to a bad
barely remembered. I narrowed my eyes again and my
and associated memories come back.
Topper was talking on the CB.
"I'll meet you behind Sam's," he was saying.
"Ten-four, Topper. We're on our way."
Topper signed off.
I yawned and sat up. "Jeeze. Did I sleep long?"
"About an hour, Davy." He smiled like there'd been a
joke. He turned off his CB then and turned the radio to a
country and western station.
I hate country and western.
Ten minutes later he took an exit for a farm road far
"You can let me out here, Topper."
"I'm going on kid, just have to meet a guy first.
don't want to hitch in the dark. Nobody'll stop.
it looks like rain."
He was right. The moon had vanished behind a thick
overcast and the wind was whipping the trees around.
He drove down the rural two lane for a while then
pulled off the road at a country store with two gas pumps
out front. The store was dark but there was a gravel lot
out back where two pickups were parked. Topper pulled the
rig up beside them.
"Come on, kid. Want you to meet some guys."
I didn't move. "That's okay. I'll wait for you
"Sorry," he said. "It's against company policy to
up riders, but my ass would really be grass if I left you
here and something happened. Be a sport."
I nodded slowly. "Sure. Don't mean to be any
He grinned again, big. "No trouble."
To climb down, I had to turn and face the cab, then
feel with my feet for the step. A hand guided my foot to
the step and I froze. I looked down. Three men were
standing on my side of the truck. I could hear gravel
crunching as Topper walked around the front of the rig. I
looked at him. He was unbuckling his jeans and pulling
I yelled and scrambled back up to the cab, but strong
hands gripped my ankles and knees, dragging me back down.
grabbed onto the chrome handle by the door with both hands
as tight as I could, flailing my legs to try and break
grip. Somebody punched me in the stomach hard and I let
of the handle, the air in my lungs, and my supper all at
"Jesus fucking christ. He puked all over me!"
Somebody hit me again as I fell.
They grabbed my arms and carried me over to the open
tail gate of a pickup. They slammed me down on the bed of
the truck. My face hit and I tasted blood. One of them
jumped up on the truck bed and straddled my back, his
and shins pinning my upper arms, one hand gripping my hair
painfully. I felt somebody else reach around and unbuckle
my belt then rip my pants and underwear down. The air was
cold on my butt and upper legs.
A voice said "I wish you'd gotten another girl."
Another voice said, "Who brought the vaseline?"
"Shit. It's in the truck."
"Well...we don't need it."
Somebody reached between my legs and pawed my
then I felt him spread the cheeks of my butt and spit.
warm saliva splattered my bottom and....
I pitched forward, the pressure off my arms and hair,
the hands off my bottom. My head banged into something
I struck out to hit my hand against something which gave.
turned, clutched at my pants, pulled them up from my
while I sobbed for air, my heart pounding and my entire
It was dark, but the air was still and I was alone.
wasn't outside anymore. A patch of moonlight came through
window six feet away to shine on bookshelves. I tasted
blood again, gingerly touched my split upper lip. I
carefully down to the patch of light and looked around.
I pulled a book from the shelf and opened it. The
stamp on the inside cover told me what I already knew. I
was back in the fiction section of the Stanville Public
Library and I was sure I'd gone mad.
That was the second time.
The first time I ended up in the Library, it was
I wasn't bleeding, my clothes were clean, and I just
away...from that building, from that town, from that life.
I thought I'd pulled a blank. I thought that
my father did to me was so terrible that I'd simply chosen
not to remember it. That I'd only come back to myself
reaching the safety of the Library.
The thought of pulling a blank was scary, but it
strange to me. Dad pulled blanks all the time and I'd
enough fiction to be familiar with trauma induced amnesia.
I was surprised that the library was closed and dark
this time. I checked the wall clock. It read two
five minutes later than the digital clock in Topper's
Jesus Christ. I shivered in the Library's air
conditioning and fumbled at my pants. The zipper was
but the snap worked. I buckled the belt an extra notch
tight, then pulled my shirt out so it hung over the
My mouth tasted of blood and vomit.
The Library was lit from without by pale white
moonlight and the yellow glare of mercury street lamps. I
threaded my way between shelves, chairs, tables to the
fountain and rinsed my mouth again and again until the
was gone from my mouth and the bleeding of my lip had
In two weeks I'd worked my way over nine hundred
from my father. In one heartbeat I'd undone that, putting
myself fifteen minutes away from the house. I sat down on
hard wooden chair and put my head in my hands. What had I
done to deserve this?
There was something I wasn't dealing with. I knew
I'm so tired. All I want is to rest. I thought of
all the snatches of sleep I'd had over the last two weeks,
miserable stolen moments on rest stop benches, in people's
cars, and under bushes like some animal. I thought of the
house, fifteen minutes away, of my bedroom, of my bed.
A wave of irresistible longing came over me and I
myself standing and walking, without thought, just desire
for that bed. I went to the emergency exit at the back,
one with the "Alarm will sound" sign. I figured by the
any alarm was answered, I could be well away.
It was chained. I leaned against it and hit it very
hard, an overhand blow with the flat of my hand. I drew
back, tears in my eyes, to hit it again but it wasn't
and I pitched forward, off balance and flailing, into my
I knew it was my bed. I think it was the smell of
room that told me first, but the backlit alarm clock face
the bedside table was the one Mom sent the year after she
left and the light from the back porch light streamed
through the window at just the right angle.
For one brief moment I relaxed, utterly and
muscle after muscle unknotting. I closed my eyes and felt
exhaustion steal over me in a palpable wave. Then I heard
noise and I jerked up, rigid, on the bedspread on my hands
and knees. The sound came again. Dad...snoring.
I shuddered. It was strange. It was a very
sound. It was home, it was family. It also meant the
of-a-bitch was asleep.
I took off my shoes and padded down the hall. The
was half open and the overhead light was on. He was
sprawled diagonally across the bed, on top of the covers,
both shoes and one sock off, his shirt unbuttoned. There
was an empty bottle of scotch tucked in the crook of his
arm. I sighed.
Home sweet home.
I grabbed the bottle neck and pulled it gently from
between his arm and his side, then set it on the bedside
table. He snored on, oblivious. I took his pants off
pulling the legs alternately to work them past his butt.
They came free abruptly and his wallet fell from the back
pocket. I hung the pants over the back of a chair, then
went through the wallet.
He had eighty bucks plus his plastic. I took three
twenties, then started to put it on the dresser, but
stopped. When I folded the wallet, it seemed stiffer than
it should, and thicker. I looked closer. There was a
hidden compartment covered by a flap with fake stitching.
got it open and nearly dropped the wallet. It was full of
hundred dollar bills.
I turned the light off and carried the wallet back to
my room where I counted twenty-two crisp hundred dollar
bills onto the bed.
I stared down at the money, four rows of five, one
of two, my eyes wide. My ears were burning and my stomach
suddenly hurt. I went back to Dad's room and stared at
This was the man who took me to the mission and the
second hand stores to buy clothes for school. This was
man that made me take peanut butter and jelly to school
every day rather than part with a crummy ninety cents
of lunch money. This was the man who beat me when I'd
suggested an allowance for doing the yard work.
I picked up the empty scotch bottle and hefted it,
shifted my grip to the neck. It was cold, smooth, and
the right size for my small hands. The glass didn't slip
shift as I swung it experimentally. The glass at the base
of the bottle was extra thick where the manufacturer had
chosen to give the impression of a bigger bottle. It
Dad snored away, his mouth open, his face slack. His
skin, pale normally, looked white as paper in the overhead
light. His forehead, receding, domed, lined, looked egg-
like, white, fragile. I felt the base of the bottle with
left hand. It felt more than heavy enough.
I put the bottle back down on the table, turned off
light, and went back to my room.
I took notebook paper, cut it dollar bill size, and
stacked it until it felt as thick as the pile of hundreds.
It took twenty sheets to match the stiffness of the money-
maybe it was thicker or just newer. I put the cut paper
the wallet and put it back in the pocket of his slacks.
Then I went to the garage and took down the old
suitcase, the one Grandad gave me when he retired, and
packed it with my clothes, toiletries, and the leather-
set of Mark Twain than Mom left me.
After I'd closed the suitcase, stripped off my dirty
clothes, and put on my suit, I just stood looking around
room, swaying on my feet. If I didn't start moving soon,
There was something else, something I could use ....
I thought of the kitchen, only thirty feet away, down
the hall and across the den. Before Mom left, I'd loved
sit in there while she cooked, just talking, telling her
stupid jokes. I closed my eyes and pictured it, tried to
The air around me changed, or maybe it was just the
noise. I was in a quiet house, but just the sound of my
breathing reflecting off walls sounded different from room
I was in the kitchen.
I nodded my head slowly, tiredly. Hysteria seethed
beneath the surface, a rising bubble that threatened to
me. I pushed it down and looked in the refrigerator.
Three six packs of Schlitz, two cartons of
half a pizza in the cardboard delivery box. I shut the
and thought about my room. I tried it with my eyes open,
unfocused, picturing the spot between my desk and the
I was there and the room reeled, my eyes and maybe my
inner ear just not ready for the change. I put my hand on
the wall and the room stopped moving.
I picked up the suitcase and closed my eyes. I
them in the Library, dark shadows alternating with silver
pools of moonlight. I walked to the front door and looked
out at the grass.
Last summer, before school, I'd come up to the
check out a book or two, and then move outside, to the
under the elms. The wind would ruffle the pages, tug my
hair and clothes around, and I would go into the words,
the cracks between the sentences and the words would go
away, leaving me in the story, the action, the head of
people. Twice I left it too late and got home after Dad
did. He likes supper ready. Only twice, though. Twice
more than enough.
I closed my eyes and the wind pushed my hair and
fluttered my tie. The suitcase was heavy and I had to
switch hands several times as I walked the two blocks to
There was a bus for points east at five-thirty AM. I
bought a ticket to New York City for one hundred and
two dollars and fifty-three cents. The clerk took the two
hundred's without comment, gave me my change, and said I
three hours to wait.
They were the longest three hours I've ever spent.
Every fifteen minutes I got up, dragged the suitcase to
bathroom, and splashed cold water in my face. Near the
of the wait the furniture was crawling across the floor,
every movement of the bushes outside the doors was my
father, belt in hand, the buckle razor edged and about the
size of a hubcap.
The bus was five minutes late. The driver stowed my
suitcase below, took the first part of my ticket, and
ushered me aboard.
When we passed the tattered city limits sign, I
my eyes and slept for six hours.