The second part of this meandering story…

Pass on by rusted engine blocks, dry dusty weeds clawing their way out of gaps in the sidewalk, past the old truck, headlights, wheels and engine gone. Like a primered analogue skull.

Through the hole that no-one ever repaired in the chain link and squeeze between the loose clapboards into cool, dirty air and graffiti.

A huge, abandoned space, cathedral of dirt and crushed beer cans.

Up stairs that squeak and threaten to fall through one day, but never today.

Feeling like an eleven year old, half his age, Val steps out, finally, onto the uneven tar paper of the flat, factory roof and there she is.

Arms wrapped around her, back to him, seeming tall and frail although she is shorter than him, the loose edges of her flannel shirt whipping in the wind.

She looks out over the desert, at least twenty feet from where he stands. Even though he makes no noise she still says, “Hello Valentine,” as he stands there.

She does that, that’s who she is. It’s like a gift that no-one ever questions. It’s not like she talks to the dead or knows when someone is going to die, but she feels people coming and going, moving around the town and everyone knows and says nothing.

It just goes with the territory

he thinks, shit like that happens here.

“Hey Ellie.”

Just looking at her makes him light up, like there’s a small sun inside him, dim without her, that she makes brighter. She always looks different to how he remembers her, always looks better.

She glances over her shoulder, cool blue, cornflower eyes, smiles briefly and nods, beckons him to her side.

Her thin fingers curl tighter into her shirt, going whiter, showing the bones beneath.

As he walks to her, he notices the crumpled back pack and the first discordant note of worry sounds in his mind. He doesn’t know why, at least he says that to himself, because it’s the same back pack he’s seen all though school and on this roof so many times before. Sometimes with sandwiches in it, sometimes binoculars, always a book on birds in there.

A faded drawing of wings adorns it, done in magic marker. He remembers the recess when she drew it on, copied from a book found in the school library.

Looking back now, seeing that bag on the roof, he knows that was the first time he knew she was leaving.

At that moment he just didn’t realise how far away she was going.

“So, ” he opens, “got your call.”

She doesn’t meet his gaze, instead she keeps looking out in the darkening sky, over towards the railroad and bar.

He looks at her profile, the way the wind whips her hair across her eyes. She makes no move to brush it out of the way.

She knows he is watching her and looks away from the pressure of his gaze, towards the town hall and the copper roof of the library where James Connor is hearing strange sounds in the stacks.

Behind her, behind the buildings, the split peak of the mountain looms, the thick, rolling clouds almost seem to be emanating from it, covering the town at its feet, like a massive fog.

Val feels something, at first he feels as if it’s something exterior to him, something big, but after a split second he thinks that it is because he is going to tell her tonight. The realisation that this is a certainty is at once a release and a massive fear.

This is true, in a few minutes time he will tell her he loves her but at the same moment Bear Johnson will begin to remember the warm water and thrashing of small, white limbs and Simon Macready will hear the words that will haunt him (and eventually Lon Fences) for the rest of his life, because something is happening, something really is in the air that night.

Alex Swanmore, Mayor of the town and owner of the general store will give up trying to sweep up outside the store and look into the wind. Breathe it in and realise that the old town is going to start acting up again. He’ll sigh and resign himself to more hard work, harder damn work than any other mayor has to deal with.

“I bet the mayor of Ass-End, Alaska doesn’t have to sharpen goddam stakes…” he mutters to him self and turns to go back into his store and sit heavily behind the counter, head in his hands.

 

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