If you've never pretended to help your best friend find the drugs you stole from her while trying to conceal a high that makes you almost dizzy with happiness––you can count yourself among the more fortunate humans condemned to wander this planet. After digging through her bag in a frenzy, the sight of which forced me to bite my lips to keep from laughing, Luce upended the whole thing right on the counter. Crap went everywhere. When her trusty Altoids tin still didn't turn up, she lifted her head and gazed at me, stricken. "We've been robbed."
And then in rolls this beat-up Volvo 240, same exact year as Luce's only this one is midnight blue instead of green, and a girl with candy-pink hair and a weirdly cool chambray jumpsuit climbs out and starts filling her tank, her head bobbing in time to some private interior music. She also has this giant corduroy purse she hugs close to her body instead of leaving it in the front seat like most people––and this is what tips us off.
–– "J.J. FTW"
I first met Luce at a shady little pool hall on the far side of the Anklewood mountains. She worked the day shift from noon to seven and I came in at seven and stayed till two. All we did was ferry drinks from the bar to the tables. If the crowd wasn't spending enough, we'd put out little saucers of peanuts to make everyone thirsty and if someone was getting too ripped and starting to make trouble, all we had to do was signal the bartender and boom, they were cut off.
He steered me toward a tremendous glass case that dwarfed the kitchen table and which was filled with the oddest plant life I'd ever encountered. Tube-shaped specimens with bristly lace pinwheels. Shuddering pink lumps that made me think of sea anemones. In the far corner, a trio of jellied globes quietly leaked a dark red liquid. Nearby, an octopus-like creature gleamed with a sticky-looking goo.
That night, one by one, the men crept into Dunn’s smokehouse, which the crone had confiscated for her own. She sat on a horse blanket, her robe hiked up, exposing her hairy legs. Two candle stumps flickered, giving the room a yellowish glow. Wands of incense masked the stink of dried meat. A square of black velvet lay on the ground before her and on that lay the gleaming stones.
He appeared among us one cool October, long before I grew used to strange men. No one saw him enter. Somehow he managed to slip through the door with enough grace or cunning that the old horse bell looped to its handle never even had a chance to ring.
From a distance, it looked like a shadowy green mass rising out of the earth. As we got closer, it reminded me of a photograph I’d once seen in a book: an ancient temple, choking with vines and moss, where virgins had been sacrificed to the gods centuries earlier and was now said to be overrun with ghosts.
“There I was. Raw as a baby. Your poor old father couldn’t even move. That was probably the first time I ever felt any real advantage when it came to being a female, and let me say, I made good use of it, too.”
When they finished tying his hands, the two women retrieved their oil lamp and began to prod him at gunpoint through a series of trap doors and chambers. Soon the air grew thick and foamy. His chest developed a strange, crawling feeling as though a sac of spiders had hatched in his lungs. The back of his skull ached with a ferocity that made his eyes water and at one point, as he squeezed through a cramped passageway, the stink of a decaying animal rushed over him and he had to will himself not to puke.