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       Tremor, p.3

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “If it hadn’t been for the skunk attack, the expedition would have been a complete success,” Clooger said.

  “You gotta be kidding me.”

  Clooger began walking through the cemetery, which put Hawk downwind of a soft breeze.

  “You smell like zombies,” Hawk said.

  Clooger didn’t say anything until Hawk jogged closer beside him, pulling his T-shirt up to cover his nose.

  “I found what we came looking for,” Clooger reported without a hint of emotion. “Time to go home.”

  While Clooger and Hawk were preparing to leave Colorado, Faith and Glory were sitting in a mostly empty Claire’s jewelry store in the abandoned mall just south of their headquarters. Only one light was on, right over the top of them both, and everything outside their little halo of light was quiet and lonely. Empty mall stalls stood like tombstones in the shadowy light as the buzzing of a tattoo needle started.

  “Tell me why you want this, and I might do it for you,” Glory said. She was testing out the instruments, making sure everything still worked as she rummaged through her bin of inks and dyes.

  “Is there some unwritten code of tattoo ethics I don’t know about?”

  “You mean, do you have to tell me?”

  “Yeah, that’s what I mean.”

  Glory stopped looking through her bin of supplies and focused her attention on Faith. Such a pretty girl, she thought. Blond haired and blue-eyed and tall as a Kansas cornstalk, like someone out of a magazine.

  “What’s goin’ on inside that head a yours, Faith Daniels?”

  Glory’s eyes were large and bright against her dark skin, and when she looked at Faith this way, it was always hard to keep secrets. But on this night Faith was particularly uninterested in any kind of criticism about her motives or her feelings. She didn’t answer.

  “So the hammer didn’t hurt enough?” Glory asked. “Now you wanna put a tattoo on your tattoo?”

  She’d asked Glory to add a white letter C over the ball and chain she already had etched into her skin. The chain ran circles around her forearm, tangled with green ivy, and the ball at the end lay on the softest part of the skin on her wrist. That’s where she wanted the white letter C tattooed, right on top of the ball.

  “The C is for Clara,” Faith whispered, her voice cracking under the weight of the words. Her heart was like a cauldron of sadness and rage whenever she thought about Clara Quinn. She’d killed Faith’s best friend with a hammer throw, killed her without thinking twice about it. “It’s for Clara Quinn.”

  Glory didn’t reply; she just sighed and shook her head softly. She quietly went about the task of preparing a small portion of the titanium dioxide she would need to etch the white letter, and then she went to work on Faith’s wrist.

  “You ready?”

  “Yeah, I’m ready.”

  As a second pulse, Faith had to clear her mind in a certain way in order to let the needle in, and this she did.

  It wasn’t a lot of work, just a simple letter C. And it wasn’t very big, only a half inch high and thin. But Faith had never felt such a shock of pain in her life. Faith was sure Glory was digging the needle deeper than she needed to, but she couldn’t bring herself to tell her to stop. The searing pain lingered across Faith’s wrist, and, looking up, Glory saw how much pain she was inflicting.

  “Revenge hurts, don’t it? And not just the one on the receiving end.”

  And still Faith said nothing. She would endure this pain, even take pleasure in it, until the deed was done.

  “We through,” Glory said a few minutes later. “You know the drill: keep it clean; give it some air.”

  Faith’s hand was shaking as she brushed away a tear. Her wrist felt as if it were on fire, as if the mark were burning a C-shaped hole all the way through to the other side.

  “I’m sorry,” Faith said. She didn’t know why she said it, but there it was. She got up and walked alone through the empty corridor of the mall, farther into the darkness, and, looking back, saw that Glory hadn’t moved at all. She looked like an angel who wasn’t quite strong enough to break through the shadows and save Faith from herself.

  Six Flags Magic Mountain had been, at one time, one of the more popular Southern California theme parks for teens. Disneyland was fine if you were a kid, but Magic Mountain had the really badass thrill rides, the ones that made your pulse race just by looking at them. With names like Viper, Dive Devil, and Drop of Doom, these were rides with the kind of muscle that routinely turned varsity football players into babies screaming for their moms.

  As Faith flew over the wide, looping roller-coaster tracks, she wondered what it would feel like to ride the rails, looking down at the park as she screamed and laughed. It was possible. She could get the coaster moving with the power of her mind, but the risks had been deemed too high by the almighty Meredith. What if someone saw them, reported them, came looking for them? There was too much at stake to risk revealing their hidden location to take chances on something as stupid as a glorified fair ride. And so Faith had been careful not to let herself think too much about sitting next to Dylan, hanging upside down at the top of the world, holding on to each other for dear life.

  Faith landed in the park and felt an immediate surge of adrenaline that put her senses on alert. It was always dark at night in the park, and it was pushing midnight. She hadn’t seen any patrols from the white State vans in weeks, and they’d settled on the location so close to the rising tide of the ocean for a reason: no one had stayed. Valencia, and Magic Mountain along with it, were zeroed. It wasn’t people Faith was worried about; it was animals. Wolves, coyotes, packs of rabies-infested dogs, and some alarmingly huge cougars that had taken over the whole city long before Faith and the other drifters had arrived.

  “Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” Faith whispered, walking down the main thoroughfare of the park. There was something altogether wrong about a theme park with no lights or throngs of people, but it was also peaceful in a way that she could never quite explain. Maybe it was the idea that it was a place that should have been full of life but wasn’t that had a heightening effect.

  She felt a presence and knew, before she saw it, that she was being tracked by at least one cougar. They were stealth creatures, quiet as mice when they wanted to be. And they were big, seven or eight feet long and loaded with claws and teeth for killing.

  The attack came from behind, and the jaws were wrapped around the back of her neck before her face hit the pavement. Faith felt her shirt ripping, the slight pressure of teeth against the skin. It was a big cat, the jaws clenched tight as they reached all the way around to the front of her throat. Faith raised her back, and the cougar moved as if it had been blown out of a rocket launcher. It flew end over end into the air, and, looking up, Faith deposited the beast inside a stranded roller- coaster car on the highest part of Goliath, a ride with a peak turn at twenty-six stories high.

  “Maybe next time you’ll think twice before hitting a girl from behind,” Faith said. She stood up, felt the shirt on her back.

  “Damn. I really liked this one.”

  It was a blue-and-gray-plaid shirt from Old Navy, the only one like it she’d found at the mall.

  Maybe Glory can sew it back together again, she thought.

  She’d arrived at the edge of Bugs Bunny World, where the kiddie rides were located. She and Dylan had grown to love this part of the park because the rides were small and harmless. They could make the rides move without much risk of being seen, because the rides were so quiet and low to the ground and because Bugs Bunny World was hidden away, deep inside the park, below the big rides that dominated the night sky.

  “Dylan?” Faith searched with her voice. “You in there?”

  She felt nervous, never having gotten totally used to the idea that she couldn’t be harmed, not by a big cat or a piano falling on her head. She kept walking, past a boarded-up concession stand and the WONDER WOMAN Lasso of Truth, a glorified fair ride guarded by a twenty-fo
ot-tall wooden Wonder Woman. She had a very serious look on her face.

  “I know exactly how you feel,” Faith said. “Weight of the world on your shoulders, right?”

  She saw movement ahead, but it didn’t worry her. Faith knew the soft, whispery sound of a ride being operated without the power of electricity.

  “Sorry I’m late,” Faith said as she saw Dylan glide by inside a teacup, turning circles as he spun the wheel with his hands.

  “It’s okay; I’ve been having a pretty good time all by myself. Good ride.”

  Dylan leaned his head back, staring up into the night sky as the cougar screeched from its roost far overhead, the sound echoing through the park.

  “You didn’t,” Dylan said.

  Faith, a little embarrassed that she’d imprisoned a giant cat, turned around so Dylan could see her shirt in the dim light.

  “The crazy thing attacked me. It’s not helpless. It’s a monster.”

  “Whatever you say,” Dylan said, half smiling, as the ride carried him away and back again. He brought the ride to stop with his thoughts and held out his hand. His gaze fell on Faith. It was a look that pushed the rest of the world into shadow, leaving only the two of them in a place that was just their own. Belonged only to them. When Dylan looked at Faith with a smile that told her she was his everything, her prickly mood melted away.

  “Come on,” he said. “Let’s ride this crazy thing.”

  Faith climbed into the same cup in which Dylan was sitting, the Pepe LePew’s Tea Party, and sat down, laying her head heavily on his shoulder.

  “You okay?” he asked, slowly starting the ride and letting it turn the teacup in a gentle circle. They’d decided it was one of their favorites, because it was easy to make it move and it made them feel like kids again. Faith lifted her head and pushed the dark strands of thick hair away from his forehead. He kissed her, and she closed her eyes, feeling the softness of his lips and the spinning of the teacup as one unbroken sensation. She couldn’t say which was making her light-headed, the kiss or the turning of the ride.

  “Do you ever wonder what this place was like before the States?” Faith asked, pulling away as their eyes met.

  Dylan put a hand on Faith’s knee and let his mind send the cup spinning in circles.

  “They have better theme parks than this in the States. Disneyland West is supposed to be a million times better. I don’t think humankind is hurting for rides.”

  “But this is different, isn’t it?” she asked.

  “How?”

  She couldn’t figure out how to put it into words, so she just sat there, feeling a slight faintness as the teacup moved around and around. A theme park outside the walls of the States was different from one inside. It just was. Like the library they used to go to. The books were different from the stories on the Tablets.

  “You wouldn’t understand,” she finally said.

  “I’d like to fight you on that, but I think you’re probably right,” Dylan said. “Magic Mountain is the same inside or out. They have a Magic Mountain inside the States. The difference is, this one is empty and the rides aren’t as good.”

  Dylan let the ride come to a stop.

  “In there we’d be fighting off an army of five-year-olds trying to get inside one of these teacups,” Faith said.

  “Yeah,” Dylan agreed. “And they’d be making a lot of noise.”

  “Some of them would be crying for their moms.”

  Dylan looked up into the night sky and thought about what the park might have been like. “But most of them would be laughing. People would be crowded around, eating cotton candy and taking pictures. And the big rides would be going by, making everyone look up. Our friends would talk us out of these dumb kiddie rides, and we’d work our way through the crowds until we found ourselves standing in line for Goliath. I’d be nervous, but I wouldn’t let it show; and when we got on, we’d all be laughing. We’d go up that first long climb, all of us looking over our shoulders at the people and the lights down below. And then we’d reach the top, flatten out for a few seconds, and you’d squeeze my hand really hard. Then we’d start screaming.”

  This was one of the reasons Faith loved Dylan. He found his way to what she was trying to say without her having to say it.

  “It’s lonely out here sometimes,” Faith whispered. She hated crying, but she was so angry and sad about so many things the tears were starting to form.

  “I’m not going anywhere,” Dylan said, taking her hand as Faith made the teacup spin around in a soft circle. She closed her eyes and imagined them at the top of the roller coaster, the wind just about to start blowing her hair back, her best friend, Liz, in the front seat. She imagined Liz leaning back, the curls of her dark hair flopping over her shoulder. And reaching out to her, she held on to Liz’s outstretched hand, like Liz had always liked.

  The cup started spinning faster, and the ride was moving along its usual route again. The ride kept going around and around, faster and faster. In her imagination, they were all flying down the roller coaster, laughing and screaming. Faith leaned back, let her hair fly in the wind, and then her little fantasy turned dark and terrible. In her imagination she looked down at the ground, but it was too late. The hammer was already flying through the air; Clara Quinn was already smiling up at her. The two parts of the hammer—the ball and the chain—slammed into Liz’s head. She didn’t even see it coming, so the last thing Faith heard in her mind was Liz laughing. Liz’s head moved violently sideways, an anvil carrying the rest of her body out of the ride, because of course they weren’t wearing seat belts—who wore seat belts in a nightmare? The last thing Faith felt was the soft skin of Liz’s hand as it pulled free.

  “Faith, I’m going to slow this thing down now,” Dylan said.

  Faith couldn’t feel the tears leaving the corners of her eyes as the wind pushed them back into narrow tracks. She couldn’t see that she had let go of Dylan’s hand, that she was groping in the air, trying to hold on.

  When the ride came to a stop, Faith rolled over into Dylan’s lap and took a deep, exhausted breath. She was like a girl with a split personality: either sad beyond all hope or trying to hold back a furious rage. Both threatened to destroy her, and keeping them in balance was wearing her down.

  “Take me to the Looney Bin,” she said. “I need to lie down.”

  Dylan kissed her cheek softly and then took Faith in his arms; and, rather than lift her up in the air, he walked like a normal sixteen-year-old. He wanted to feel his body heating up from the effort, to match the heat of frustration and tears coming off this girl. He passed by the darkened rides—Elmer’s Weather Balloon, Taz’s Trucking Co., Tweety’s Escape, Yosemite Sam’s Flight School—and imagined the echoing, distant sound of small children laughing.

  “We need to fire up Foghorn Leghorn’s Railway one of these days,” Dylan said. “I think you’d like that one.”

  He used his mind to open the door to the area called the Looney Bin, which was actually called the Looney Tunes Lodge, and carried Faith inside, closing the door behind him.

  “Don’t forget to let the cat out,” Faith said, half asleep already.

  Dylan turned back with Faith still in his arms and looked up through the grated metal fence that surrounded the Looney Tunes Lodge. The cougar was a predator he should probably let fall to its death. It could take out a single-pulse drifter, and they were down to so few. Every person counted. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it once he had the big cat moving through the air. Besides, there were thousands of wolves and big cats out there. Killing one wasn’t going to make much of a difference either way. He flew the beast in close, a few feet away, letting it hover in the air like a helpless rag doll. Then he looked it in the eye and it looked back, confused and afraid. He dropped the cougar the final ten feet, where it landed on all fours.

  I could have killed you, Dylan thought as the two stared at each other. Don’t forget that.

  The animal turned and darted away
with dazzling speed, disappearing around a sharp corner.

  “I was just thinking you and me, we’re like cartoon characters,” Faith said. “That’s why we like this place so much.”

  “Are you saying I look like Elmer Fudd? Because that’s not cool.”

  Faith yawned, smiling softly, and Dylan carried her into the darkness. The Looney Tunes Lodge was, essentially, a glorified McDonald’s play place. Larger, and with a few more plastic balls, but otherwise filled with the same kinds of slides and ladders and secret rooms.

  “You do look a little like Fudd,” Faith said as Dylan set her down on a wide trampoline.

  “Be thankful you’re not a wascally wabbit,” Dylan said. “I’d have to shoot you.”

  Faith rolled forward and Dylan lay down beside her, curling around her and smelling the rose-petal scent of her hair.

  “I mean we can’t get hurt,” Faith said. She was drifting away, Dylan could tell. “Like earlier, I was thinking a piano could fall on my head and I’d just pop right up, like nothing happened. Like Daffy Duck.”

  Dylan wanted to remind her that Daffy Duck was, more often than not, gravely injured before he shook off the damage and charged ahead. But he didn’t see what good it would do. And besides, Faith had rolled over in his direction, unexpectedly more awake, and there were far more enjoyable activities to attend to.

  They kissed, long and passionately, and Dylan’s hand found the softness of skin through Faith’s ripped shirt.

  “I’ll have to thank that tomcat when I see him again,” Dylan said, moving his hand along her spine until it rested on her bare skin just below her neck.

  “You boys are all in this together,” Faith said. They kissed again as he pulled her close. “I should have made you leave him up there.”

  “He’s got a lady friend somewhere around here,” Dylan joked. “Think of the trouble he’d be in if he stayed out all night.”

 
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