Chapter 35


Waking Beauty

… in which Kelly is on the run.

Ironically, addiction gave Kelly Rogers one advantage. The cookie she put in her mouth contained a strong sleep agent from the benzodiazepine class. Kelly had abused that drug for years.

First, in the postpartum nightmare immediately after the twins, she took just one sleeping pill, to put her under, fast. Even two hours of escape felt like heaven.

After some time, one pill was not enough, so Kelly took two. Then she gobbled three, and finally little dangerous handfuls.

After the fateful incident, she tore at the pill bottle lid on nights her small twin demons screamed and screamed in the hot, guilty car of her memory.

More than once, Kelly slept 30 hours at a time, waking numb and half-blind, hurricane dizzy. She opened her eyes nauseous, urine soaking her bare mattress, her sweat pants heavy with reeking feces. Those times, even the roots of her hair hurt. When Kelly put her shaking hand up to feel it, the clumped black knots reminded her of snakes on the head of that she-monster, Medusa.

Mrs. Mock’s cookies carried a potent load of sleeping powder. One bite held enough drug to knock out a linebacker. But Kelly’s body had fought a long war against that potion of somnolence. Her resistance had mounted for years.

She woke abruptly at the Rogers’ breakfast table, gagging, snot-slick cookie dough extruding from her nostrils, eyes weeping. The room spun giddily, a musicless merry-go-round of cabinets, refrigerator, sink, battered couch, window, new Christmas tree from the woods, open front door…

Open front door!

Jolted, Kelly pushed her chair back noisily and clumsily. She felt herself fall backward, arms flailing for support, her foot noisily kicking over the breakfast table. Three saucers and uneaten pieces of cookie went flying.

Kelly banged the floor. Her chair’s back splintered. She couldn’t catch her breath. She saw sparks dance in the air around the Christmas tree. Wolves … or something vicious … howled, very near, surrounding the house.

Kelly knew that if she didn’t get up from her floor, those terrible beasts would come skulking right through the front door, jaws dripping, eyes red.

The open door.

Ignoring a new goose egg on the back of her head, Kelly struggled onto her elbows. She felt a wet trickle down the back of her neck.

Elmore. Where was Elmore? Will and Mary?

She made it to her feet, taking a knee only once.

Will. Mary.

Mary. Will.

Mama’s coming. I’m coming.

She staggered across the room to the house telephone, brittle arms stretched out in front like a blind woman’s.

For one horrible second, Kelly thought she’d gone deaf. She picked up the phone. It gave no dial tone. The cold silence of the universe breathed in her ear.

She looked at the white numbers on the dial. Unreadable.

But coming from the phone, something made her hair stand on end.

The telephone cord was cut. A butcher knife stabbed the Formica of the kitchen counter. Pieces of severed cable lay to either side.

Kelly felt an explosion of deep fear now, mortal, dreadful.

Mary! Will! Elmore!

She didn’t remember getting there, but Kelly stood in the dreamy solstice night beside the green Volkswagen. A full moon poured cream over everything. The winter evening, so cold, actually relieved her spinning head.

Then, a new shock.

Kelly found it on the driver’s side of the faithful little vehicle.

An open door yawned wide. It looked like a broken bird wing.

The VW’s overhead light still burned, against all odds, after its dozen years.

Kelly could see clearly inside the cab.

No keys.

The keys had been snatched from her ignition.

Kelly belly-flopped over the front seat.

Damn. Damn. Damn.

Numbed fingers fumbled through the glove compartment, wildly scraped the dirty floorboard.

Her keys were here two hours ago.

Not now.

Someone had taken them. Who? Why?

Mrs. Mock?

The thief hadn’t even bothered to close the car door.

A spasm shot through Kelly, an electric jolt.


Oh, sweet Jesus. What’s happening to us? To me?

Kelly clambered backward from the cab and staggered when she rose. She caught her balance on the door and fought back a scald of nausea.

Then, she didn’t fight, and a yellow rope of vomit leaped out of her. It spattered the window, the door handle, the gray upholstery.

Kelly desperately clutched her long black hair, holding it back in one hand. Her other hand iron-clenched the door frame over the splashed VW window.

Kelly teetered, holding it together. She rallied. She managed one spasmodic breath, then a gasping deeper one.

She steadied, steadied.

Kelly’s clenched hand gripped the door. She gave it a silent command.

Let. Go. Fingers, open. Let go now.

The hand obeyed.

Kelly stood on her own.

She all at once could make out familiar sounds of the night around her. A train whistle. A dog barking far away on a farm.

Her head hurt. Inside, so badly. Outside on the back. So badly.

Even so, Kelly gave the rest of her body a stern order.

Don’t shake. Stop shaking.

After a moment, she ordered her left leg to take a step.

The dry leaves answered.

She forced another, then another, hobbling down the driveway in the cold night.

Stop swaying.

Kelly made it out onto the county road, its surface as silver as snow under the big bright full moon.

Now she even made herself trot a little, or what seemed to her a trot. She stumbled more than once, but did not allow her legs to stop.

Kelly came to the Wragg house. Pitch black. Not a single vehicle in the yard.

It took forever to reach the front door. She pounded and pounded with both fists, and her head pounded too. She tried to turn the doorknob.

Locked. No one home.

She retreated across the perfect lawn and back onto the county road.

Seven miles to Lafayette, she remembered. Once upon a time, I could run that far in 45 minutes…  

Kelly sought help at the next two houses she reached. She repeated the ritual. Pound the door. Pray. Try the door. Push against it, shoulder it, ram it, butt it, slap it with desperate palms, sob against it.

No answer. No lights. No cars.

The whole world sang and cheered in downtown Lafayette tonight. The Jolly Holiday could not be missed.

Kelly reached the road once more.

She ran.

She remembered high school, the track, the cheerleader training.

She stopped to vomit one more time, wiping lips and chin on a dirty sleeve.

Kelly ran again.

She splashed forward down the liquid silver of the highway. The stars shone too bright, like little explosions, flashes of bared fangs, glints on honed knives.

The moon rose over a pecan grove, and a V of birds crossed it.

Mary. Will.

Kelly ran.

She wanted the forlorn little highway to have a white stripe that would guide her unsteady path.

Once, her legs stopped obeying her, and she stumbled into a ditch. Her legs punched through a thin skin of ice around cattails there.

The cold water thrilled. It chased even more of the sleeping potion out of her mind.

Kelly ran under the full moon.

She ran toward Dan Neeley at the police station.

Good old Danny would help her find her babies, find Elmore.

She just knew it.