Chapter Three

     Vera ran down the porch steps, climbed into Rick's white VW bug, and started the engine. It caught with a cough and sputter and settled into a steady, chugging idle. She shifted into first and started to pull away when Shelly came running out of the house, waving at her.

     "Hey, hey, hey!" he yelled, waving his arms and running toward the car. "Let me go with you! I gotta get outta here, too!"

     Jeez, that's all I need, she thought, letting out the clutch and accelerating past him, kicking up the dust as she spun around and headed for the bridge. Then she made the mistake of glancing up in the rearview mirror.

     He looked so forlorn and pathetic standing there, gazing after her, that she simply couldn't help herself. Against her better judgement, she stopped the car, sighed, and opened the passenger door.

     Elated, Shelly came running. I just know I'm going to regret this, she thought as he got in, beaming. She shook her head in resignation, cursing herself for being softhearted and drove off across the bridge.

     "Chris! Chris, wait up!" yelled Debbie, running down the trail after her.

     Chris stopped and waited for her to catch up before resuming her walk down to the lake.

     "What's wrong?" said Debbie.

     "Oh, it's that creep, Shelly," Chris said angrily, picking up a branch and tossing it into the bushes, as if she were throwing it at him.

     "What a sick sense of humor."

     "Oh, that's just his way of getting attention," Debbie said. "He doesn't know about what happened."

     Chris sighed with exasperation. "Oh, I know it, Deb. But from the minute we got here, I've been seeing things and hearing things. . ." She shook her head. "It's probably just my imagination. I shouldn't have come back here so soon."

     "Don't let it get to you," said Debbie, trying to reassure her. "Relax. Enjoy the weekend. Nothing's going to happen when we're all here together." She quickly tried to change the subject. "Hey, how are things going with Rick?"

     "Okay," said Chris, in a resigned tone. "But he just doesn't understand." It was clear from her tone that she didn't really want to go into it.

     Debbie wished that there was something she could do to make her friend feel better, to make her forget what happened, but there were some things a person simply couldn't forget. Things like what had happened to Chris last summer.

     Debbie and Chris were best friends since childhood, and they had talked about it, just as Debbie had talked with Chris when she had found out that she was pregnant and had some very serious decisions to make. But what had happened that summer was the sort of thing about which Debbie couldn't really give Chris any advice. Because she didn't really know what happened. Not eve Chris knew, not completely. Perhaps that was just as well, Debbie thought. On the other hand, not knowing could be even worse.

     There was a dark secret buried deep in Chris's mind and there was no way of telling if she would ever be able to unearth it. Not even analysis had helped. A psychiatrist had tried to hypnotize her and cause her to regress, but she had subconsciously resisted him, refusing to go under. Chris wanted to remember, because not knowing frightened her; Debbie thought maybe there were some things that people were better off not knowing.

     Chris only remembered part of what had happened to her last summer and that had been frightening enough. The rest was a complete blank. A gap that Chris felt she desperately needed to fill. But Debbie was afraid for her. After all, when the mind blocked out something so completely, there was usually a reason for it. It was self-defense.

     Debbie bit her lower lip as they walked down by the lake. Chris had become silent, staring off across the water. Debbie knew that Chris was afraid of what would happen if she could never remember that missing part of her life.

     But Debbie was afraid of what would happen if she did.

     The cashier at the crossroads convenience store rang up the total as a local high school girl bagged their purchases––several six-packs of beer, a couple of six-packs of soda, assorted bags of chips, cookies, and a mess of candy bars, cupcakes, and doughnuts Shelly had grabbed for himself.

     Vera guessed that he had used restraint because of her. Otherwise, he probably would have loaded up on two or three times as much junk food. She figured that he probably had some emergency supplies stashed away in that makeup kit of his. It was certainly big enough. She didn't even want to think about what sort of gruesome things could be inside there if that hatchet-in the-head trick was a typical example. Boy, she thought, Shelly was really strange.

     "That'll be eighteen-fifty," the cashier said. "And we don't accept no food stamps."

     Vera sneered at the thinly veiled racism. She thought, you wouldn't say that to an Anglo, would you, bitch? And then her face fell as she realized that she had left her wallet in her purse, which was still back at the house.

     "Shelly?" she called.

     He quickly put the skin mag he was leafing through back into the rack and turned around guiltily, blushing like a little boy caught doing something wrong.

     "I need some money," Vera said, feeling awkward that she had to ask him.

     Shelly quickly dug into the back pocket of his jeans, pulled out his cordura wallet and tossed it at her. Vera reached out to catch it, but it struck the side of her hand and fell to the floor. As she bent down to pick it up, a black leather high-heeled boot with ankle straps suddenly came down on top of it.

     She looked up to see a hard-looking young black woman in skintight, black, studded motorcycle leathers standing over her. She wore a dark purple headband and lots of turquoise and silver jewelry. She back Vera away with a hard glance, bent down, and picked up Shelly's wallet.

     "Excuse me," Shelly said, moving towards her with his hands held out, "but I believe that's my wallet."

     Before he could take more than three steps, Shelly was grabbed by the arms from either side and yanked up on his tiptoes. He gulped and smile nervously at the two bikers who held him. Both wore leather vests and patches on them––large black widow spiders on the backs. One of the bikers was black, with a shaved head, a gold earring, a heavy chromed steel lock-up chain hung around his neck, and a neat little goatee that made him look satanic. The other one was white, sort of punkylooking, with short, spiky hair, shades, an earring, and a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.

     "Make a wish," the black guy said, grinning at the white biker as they held Shelly by the arms.

     "Uh. . . could I buy you two a beer or something?" Shelly said, badly frightened but desperately trying not to show it.

     The woman started going through his wallet.

     "I'll take that now," said Vera, reaching out for it.

     The black woman smiled and arched her eyebrows as she held up a condom in a foil packet she had found inside the wallet. "Ish this your rubber?" she said

     Shelly groaned with humiliation.

     Vera grabbed for the wallet, but the black woman was quick to react, pulling it back out of her reach. "Didn't your mamma teach you manners?" she said. "If you want something, you ask. Nice! "

     Vera set her jaw, gritting her teeth.

     "Please," Shelly said, "be cool. . ."

     Through clenched teeth, Vera said, "May we please have the wallet. . . ma'am?"

     "That's good, " the black woman said. "That's real nice."

     She slapped the wallet into Vera's outstretched hand. Vera immediately plucked a bill out of it and tossed it down onto the counter, then she snatched up their grocery bags and stormed out of the market. The punky biker flicked his cigarette butt at Shelly as they released him to run after her.

     "Hey, that was a twenty!" Shelly said as he caught up to her outside the parking lot. She hadn't even bothered with the change. Then he quickly added, "Are they following us?"

     Vera glanced back over her shoulder. "No," she snapped furiously.

     "Good," Shelly said, with enormous relief. His heart had been racing back there.

     Vera shoved the groceries into the backseat of the VW and tossed the keys to Shelly. "here You drive. The way I feel right now, I'd probably get us into an accident."

     She got in and slammed the door.

     Shelly quickly jumped into the driver's eat and inserted the keys into the ignition. "Next time, I'll know how to handle a situation like that," he said, with false bravado, as he started up the car. Then, realizing how obviously phony it sounded, he lamely added, "Let's just hope next time isn't too soon."

     As the engine caught and chugged hesitantly to life, the bald biker came out of the market. He stopped to open the pop-top on a beer can and glanced up at them with a mean look.

     "Uh-oh," said Vera.

     Shelly swallowed nervously, quickly shifted the VW into gear, and stomped down on the gas pedal, anxious to get the hell out of there. But in his hurry to drive off, he mistakenly shifted into reverse instead of first gear and the car leaped backward with a lurch. There was the awful sound of crashing metal as the VW backed into the two chopped motorcycles, knocking them both over and sending them crashing to the ground.

     "Oh, shit!" Shelly exclaimed with horror as he realized what he had done.

     "Oh, shit is right!" said Vera. "Let's get out of here!"

     The black biker threw his beer can to the ground in a fury and raced toward them, whipping the heavy steel chain off from around his neck. Panic-stricken, Shelly slammed the gearshift lever into first and stepped on the accelerator. The car lurched forward, but the biker stood his ground, positioning himself directly in their path.

     "Hold on!" yelled Shelly.

     The guy's crazy, Shelly thought as he realized that the bike wasn't going to move! He hit the brakes. The car stopped inches away from the motionless biker. He leaned in close to their windshield, giving them an evil grin. And then he snarled and smashed the chain right through their windshield.

     Shelly and Vera ducked, throwing their arms up to protect themselves from the flying glass. The biker wound the chain around his fist and came around the side. He hauled off and smashe the driver's side window, shattering the glass. As he pulled his fist back for another blow, this one aimed right at Shelly's face, Shelly quickly let out the cluth and the car pulled quickly away.

     The biker ran over to his fallen motorcycle and bent down to pick it up, intent on giving chase.

     Suddenly, Shelly made a screeching U-turn.

     "What're you doing ?" Vera said, incredulouse that he had stopped and turned around when their escape was clear.

     "He went too far this time!" said Shelly, closing his hands around the wheel with a grim determination.

     He sat hunched over, an intense expression on his face, his lips pressed tightly together, his forhead creased, his eyebrows knitted, and as the biker started to pick up his cycle, Shelly let out the cluct and floored it.

     The biker couldn't believe his eyes when he saw the VW bearing down upon him. He barely managed to leap out of the way in time before Shelly ran right over his bike, purposely finishing the job he'd accidentally started. The other two bikers came running out of the store in time to see the VW pull another U-turn and slide around in a spray of dust, heading toward the road.

     "I did it! I did it! I did it! " Shelly crowed jubilantly. "Did I do it?"

     "You did it!" Vera said, with disbelief. "You were great!"

     "I was great!" said Shelly, riding on the adrenaline high. It was the first time in his life he had ever stood up to anybody. It felt terrific. He glanced up into hi rearview mirror.

     "You son of a bitch!" the black biker yelled after him, throwing the chain after the departing car. "Come back here, you bastard! You're not gettin' away with this! I'm gonna get you! You're dead, you mother! You hear me? Dead!"

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