The VisionCloud cast a spectral light onto the ancient beach of caves and rocks and pirate coves where English raiders were once dashed apart on a shore broken by the waves from slow moving tectonic forces. Now the broadcast of a million bandwidths upturned the shadows on the beach and showed, once and for all, the last grove on the Pacific coast of endangered Monarch Butterflies. Their dead carcasses and weather-beaten wings covered a trail through a coastal woods that took a traveler down to the beach and the sea and the dark, dark secrets that were kept for all time in the watery tombs of old sandy bottoms.
Babz wished it was darker. It usually was, if not for the float-path of the commercial craft. The fucking VisionCloud....Even with screens darkened by regulations, it still simulated a full moon and brightened all the lands beneath its silent cruise. Fuck the thing.
If she ever wanted to hide a dead body again, she'd make sure to check the scheduled path of the VisionCloud.
The dead body.
How soon the technological moonlight reverie made her forget the dead body of the man-boy…the Diversionary…which Babz and Kimberly carried down the trail, towards the beach, where doom awaited, or something to put an end to one thing and begin the next.
The kids had teased Babz for her size, her strength, her ability on and off the field to be faster, stronger, and all around more athletic than the other kids—and all the boys.
But she even had a hard time carrying the body.
The rock of legs and arms, and that head that swung side by side, made it difficult, threw her off. She had broken a sweat no more than 25 feet from her car. Her breath was labored. Kimberly could barely help. Maybe with the arms, and that was all. Babz basically dragged it, dead weight and all.
The VisionCloud passed behind the paper-thin veil of eucalyptus, and the descent grew steeper, until the blackness of the trail hid the ground. Babz guessed where it went, until she could see the stony edge of the beach where the incline ended. She motioned to Kimberly, and they pushed it down the side of the cliff. In no more than a second the weight made a sickening sound.
For a second they stood there. Babz made Kimberly push on. With luck they wouldn't step in a rut and break an ankle. They did not. With a hop and a jump they landed on the rocky beach, the pebbles ground to dust, and crunched beneath their feet. They heaved the body, dragged it towards a group of rocks beneath the cliff.
Babz heard the crash of waves that broke against the rocks, the breath of suctioned water, the mist that sprayed up. A heaving cold sucking sound of wind that got louder and louder. A breathing.
The VisionCloud rose higher in the sky, unobscured by the cliff and coastal woods. Light broadcast down on the pirate's cove.
Babz dragged the dead body towards the edge of the water, motioned to Kimberly. They struggled to pick him up, to swing him, but they did. Finally. Into the water he went. The crash of waves swept him back towards the cliff. The body was pummeled over and over again, until the waves pushed it, dragged it, beneath the rocks. Where it stayed. When it did, they left.
Babz picked the frayed wing of the Monarch butterfly off the bottom of her boot….
-What are we going…?-
Babz pressed the wadded bunch of toilet paper into Kimberly’s face. She wondered where Kimberly’s blood, and the man-boy’s blood, began and ended.
-What are we going…?-
Kimberly seemed to not notice that Babz gave her something to cleanse away the gore. A million other things were on Babz mind now, her mind already three steps ahead. Kimberly could clean up however, whenever, she wanted. For now, Babz saw a mess that no amount of work would clean up. She’d heard of setting a fire to cover up a crime scene, but…
She had to deal with Kimberly first. Then she could go about covering their traces in the place.
-He…started to strangle me…with his hands…he showed me his gun…he said he was…and he could do whatever…and he did…what are we going…?-
Babz carefully leaned in close to Kimberly, a hard thing to do, for she very much wanted to comfort Kimberly’s naked form. But the blood of the murdered man-boy, the gore of a face that streaked across the bed sheets, floor, and clung to the wall with the ballistic path of a gun—she had to be careful of that. Right now, they had to disappear, as if they had never been here.
First, she had to deal with Kimberly.
-Tell me everything you touched in here.-
And Babz began to clean.
Babz smelled the bleach on her hand. She had an extra bottle in the car, which she used on her hands after the sheets and towels were tossed in a dumpster. She had used a cloth to heavy with the stuff to wipe the door handle and steering wheel.
She lit a cigarette, saw her reflection in the driver side window. Cabbage fields streaked by her sight, the moonless night dark and heavy with coastal gloom. Her car wound down the highway. Kimberly sat in the passenger seat, and said nothing. No music. The bumps of her car over highway media reflectors kept her awake.
Then more silence.
Kimberly played with the cloth patch on Babz hoodie, which Kimberly had over her, with her knees pressed beneath her chin, fetus style. A small ball leaning up against the door. She ran her hand over the patch sewn onto the front pouch pocket of the hoodie. Saying nothing. She looked at the patch, then at Babz. It became the only thing she would say until the sun rose.
Babz looked at the patch. A silk-screened image of a woman’s head with snakes for hair, her mouth agape in fury. Typeset words read Gorgon.
The sun rose over the farm fields, little irrigation canals were white lines drawn across the black headless stalks of some lettuce crop, and the sound of dirt kicked up by the tires of fast vehicles, now hidden by the clouds of dust they’d stirred up.
Kimberly jolted Babz awake. An old flannel sleeping bag covered their naked bodies. They both lay in the back seat.
Babz sprung up, unconsciously with her arm around Kimberly, who looked ghoulish in the light of fallen mascara, hurriedly cleaned up. She was right. Babz saw a swirl of red lights through the dust, in rapid approach towards them.
They had slept in the car behind some stunted oak trees in the middle of the field. A small arroyo clutched at the grove’s roots, and tumbled down into a sometimes wash of winter rains. All around, the bleak richness of valley agriculture. All it lacked was the factory in the fields.
The red lights approached. Babz could see the silhouette of a truck through the dust cloud. It was parked nearby on the other side of the trees, nearly in the middle of the field. Men leapt from the back of the truck, darted in every direction. One ran towards her car, just past the trees. For a second, he turned into the wooded growth and saw the car. Through the windshield, Babz met his eyes. Not even a man. A boy. He was dressed for work. Thrift store specials from nearby Santa Maria.
He thought better and darted away.
More men ran by their car. More workers in flight. The sirens and lights chased them, their vehicles now bumped and skidded over rows of dirt plowed aside from the fields. Dust clouds leapt up from the touch of brakes, and men in uniforms jumped out of the vehicles.
Babz heard functional Spanish, yells and threats and commands. The only language they needed. Running men were hurled to the ground by the thrusts of nightsticks into the backs of legs, then handcuffed, and led away.
Babz had forgotten what time of the year it was. Deportation season. The california drought would continue.
-I don’t understand how the gun went off.-
A far away woosh-woosh with no discernible rhythm accompanied Babz silent reverie, as she watched Kimberly drink her soda, the only thing either of them had eaten since the road ate them up and spit them out at a fuel station. A sign read: SONORAN HOTDOGS! ICED CREAM! PANANGA FOOD! $500.
-I told you, he turned me over, and I couldn’t see anything. And while I lay there…-
-He took it out. Geez-louise. You’re filling my head with too many images. How did you get your hands on the gun?-
-I didn’t. He had me from behind…and held my throat, like this!...-
And Kimberly clutched the bottle of her soda with one hand. With the violence she gave that little helpless bottle, it nearly popped. This was not the first time her reenactment made Babz think Kimberly almost enjoyed the performance, reliving it. Sick pleasure lay here.
Babz saved the soda out of her hand, drank some nearly flat syrup, waited for Kimberly.
-He must have taken the gun out of his dresser door near his bed, or something. Maybe it was under the pillow. Don’t know. But he held it up against my head, real hard. And then, I felt him…-
The soda had begun to make Babz ill.
-I get it, I get it.-
Kimberly’s eyes, recently washed of the rest of her mascara, had a clear quality that Babz had never seen before, until now.
-He…he wanted me to play with…his gun. But you know what I mean, right?-
-This is fighting, this is for fun.-
-Yea! That’s exactly what he said!-
Figures. These Diversionaries recruited the best of the shell-shocked veterans of America’s latest world adventure. And the home of the brave.
-That’s when the gun went off. He was making me hold…his gun…and…he got excited…he wanted me to be excited…he got on top of me…and I still sorta had the gun…kinda…-
Babz jumped up. She saw scrubland of beach bushes and cow pastures burned brown by the decade of a sun that would not relent. Cars buzzed the highway as motion flashes, the horizon highlighted, just a little bit more defined. Every now and then, a semi truck and trailer. There weren’t so many these days.
-He was a sick fuck. That’s the fine citizens the state governments are arming. Give them guns, why not?-
Babz looked around. They meant to travel one more hour. North, to Kimberly’s friends, or someone like that. To hide out, to think.
Babz had already done enough of that.
She thought it was strange that the gun they tossed into the ocean wasn’t one she’d ever seen before. Not one she would expect a mandated-officer to have. But what did she know.
The butterfly wing flew out of a vent on the dashboard. Babz thought it was the smoke from the end of her cigarette, the sun’s bands coming over a hill and the cliffs underneath them. Late day. Pretty soon it would set, and still Babz would think of the conversation her and Kimberly should have.
She tried to think back to why she had come to the Women Majick Clinick.
Why did you decide to come here? What was it? Why do you feel so sick?
Babz didn’t see the butterfly wing as it fell in her lap.
The small house seemed to throb with the light inside of it, a red illuminated beacon in some far off corner that produced a scream that Babz heard as soon she stopped the car, stepped out into the agricultural dust, and walked with heaviness towards the direction of the noise that got louder with every step.
She imagined it at least. The last hour with Kimberly had been filled with silence. She heard a lot of conversations in that time. Things said, things wanted....
-We can stay here. Just let me do the talking.-
Babz watched Kimberly begin to slowly put distance between the two of them. The gulf frightened her. Babz heard music come from the small house. She heard the door swing open and boots on the wood floor of the porch, before she saw the dark figure stand in the doorframe. Behind the dark silhouette music that she at once knew, but could not be sure. Just frantic drumming and shouting and no one who could play a guitar, or sing for that matter.
-Did you bring any beer, because if you brought any beer we might let you stay, or least be nicer to you than we usually are. Just because you're Jason's sister and all.-
-Shut up dumb ass.-
There was a porch light that belonged on the end of a gun or something, for such was the ferocity of its glare, that Babz had a hard time looking into the light, until the man on the porch stood directly above her. Kimberly had already bounded up the steps. Home again, almost.
-Awesome. You brought a chick.-
Babz stepped up onto the porch. She could see the tall man with boyish shoulders slumped forward. He was bare-chested, except for the red suspenders that kept up his Sta-Prest slacks.
Babz grin was a grimace for the guy. He barely had any hair, except for the furrowed black eyebrows the lifted his forehead up into wrinkled folds. She got a look at a few things about him, her mind playing back over the suspenders and buzz cut hair.
She didn’t stick out her hand. He looked down at her from more than six feet.
-Did you bring any beer?-
Kimberly stepped between them, grabbed Babz hand, and walked into the house.
-Dumb shit, I know you have a beer.-
Kimberly followed her into the living room. The place smelled like moldy food. There were gutted out couches with their insides ready to pop out, each of them lined against the wall. And above them, a flag of some kind that Babz couldn’t identify. Black, red and gold.
-Flaghead and Booger went to town to get some beer. If I had any I’d be drinking it…-
Kimberly had already entered a kitchen with no tables, no chairs, nothing but a refrigerator. A small little guy. She pulled it open and stole a beer. The cap bounced off the tile floor before Dumbass could say anything, and she came back in the living room.
Babz just stood against the wall. She felt if she moved or tried to sit down, the house would collapse, or something. Kimberly sat down on a couch between the rips and tears and padding, and motioned to Babz to sit down next to her. Things got slow, as she made her way over, thinking to herself—how long would she stay? It was already too long.
Dumbshit walked in, closed the front door, reached over to the wall where some cannibalized entertainment player sat, and turned up the volume. Now. Babz could hear the song. Angry men who tortured their instruments. Thick British accents. She began to listen to the lyrics.
-Flaghead IS not gonna like you drinking his beer. That’s a craft beer, you know. He really likes those craft beers.-
-Tell him to buy American.-
She passed the beer to Babz. Her throat was dry, she eagerly accepted it. She had a hard time making out the words.
Dumbshit put his hands through his suspenders. He couldn’t be more than 21 or something years old. His grin looked dumbfounded, even when he tried to sneer at Babz.
-What the fuck is that supposed to mean?-
Babz knew he looked at her hoodie and the patch on her pouch. Gorgon.
-It means—do you want to get stoned?-
The beer tasted good now.
Dumbshit ran his hands down the suspenders, pulled them out, let them snap back against his naked chest.
-It ain’t native. That patch.-
Babz knew great thoughts were coming. He could see them whirl inside the mind of Dumbshit.
-Sheeeeeeeett….figures Kim fuckin Banner would bring a punk rocker with some cult patch. Man, your brother’s right you know. But you know what I say? This has to go back some, to when I shared a place with some punks—just like you! And thing didn’t work out. Nice guys. These were punks that did their dishes too. We even liked some of the same music. But it the end, it didn’t matter, and it all went to shit. Had a few throwdowns with those guys. And they moved out, left us holding our dicks when all our landlord wanted was the rent. I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t work out. But it was your brother, he told me. He’s a smart guy, you know. And he said, Dave, it didn’t work out because this house had too many different people here. Like take those boys. Those punks. You cant live with them. They’re too different. They aint like you. Punks gotta live with punks, and…-
The door opened. Dumbshit wagged his tail.
-Hey Flaggie, what took you so long?-
Babz saw five men who were much older than Dumbshit, not by much, but much harder in a way. Not boyish. Severe. They stomped in wearing their Sta-Prest slacks and military style jackets, maybe civ-corps, maybe not. Everyone was an army now.
The young man with the shaved head and the American flag tattooed on his neck looked hard. At Babz. He didn’t even look at Kimberly. A wall of grunts stood behind him.
-Kim. Outside. Help me get the beer.-
Babz realized she had seen this guy before. At the show. Before they had taken off with the two boys.
As the beer bottles began to cover the surface of the coffee table, there was more than enough time for Babz to get in her car and leave. She thought it over, how she’d do it, thinking, while she absently pulled the label off her beer. California Independence Brew.
Flagneck…the name made more sense…sat in a recliner, his lieutenants sprawled around him against the walls and crouched on the floor. Babz and Kimberly sat like two prom dates, deep in the cushions of the couch with their drinks. Before Kimberly had gone outside with Flagneck to get the beer, Kimberly had reached over and grabbed Babz by the hand. With a promise that she would be right back. Babz had felt better. She believed her.
Babz bided her time. Thinking. She remembered how she’d strained her ears to listen above the sounds of musical angst, and come away with nothing but fragments of conversation between Kimberly and Flagneck. There’d been some shouting. Nothing Babz could make out.
Dumbshit now told a story about his sister, some princess of Abyssinia by the sound of things. Babz tried to figure this guy out. While the rest were Valhalla nobility, Dumbshit seemed a tad too exotic for this part of the Occident.
While he talked on, the music cranked on…and time ticked for Babz. Even when Flagneck talked to Dumbshit, she still looked at Babz. He never took his eyes off her. When he spoke, all went silent. Even the angry English beat on the music-player.
-Your sister is African, man. Everything else you say isn’t making any sense.-
Dumbshit spilled the beer in his hand.
-Nah, brother, its totally different. Totally different…you see, Africans have a totally different perspective. They’re actually embarrassed by Americans who go back to Africa and try to get all pagani.-
Flaghead looked at Babz, drank his longneck beer for Californian independence.
-You’re just talking shit, and you know it.-
The other brothers laughed at Dumbshit. He seemed to take it with all the grace of a beauty queen, comfortable with the use of the word, motherfucker.
Babz could feel Flagneck ask the question before he even spoke.
-You’re from Samoa.-
-You know, I was in the Merchant Marine for a bit. Stopped at Tonga a few times. Got some rum from there. Something like that, anyways.-
Babz picked at her bottle.
Flaghead picked shit out of his teeth.
Babz picked at the last of the gummy adhesive.
-I don’t think I’ve ever had Tongan…alcohol. I’m sure it’s just like everything else from Samoa. Same thing.-
He smiled, indifferent to her sarcasm.
-It’s actually in the shed in back. Where I keep some stuff…Kim…-
Kimberly had her head down. Flagneck continued to speak.
-Kim. Take your friend out there. To the shed. It’s in my old footlocker.-
Kim still looked down. Flaghead didn’t care.
Babz looked at Kim.
-I’ll go with you. Come on.-
Flagneck finished his beer.
-Hurry up I want to drink with our Polynesian Pocahontas.-
Babz couldn’t get up fast enough. Kim lagged a little. They walked through a silent room where even the British hardcore stopped for them to cross to the door and exit.
The night never felt so good. Babz could see a million stars accompanied by the soundtrack of the distant highway. A horn bleated far away.
Babz couldn’t even wait for her footsteps to echo off the porch to talk shit.
-Fuck him. Lets get the fuck out of here.-
She looked at her car. It was only 20 feet away.
-Lets have a drink first. Then we can go.-
-Are you fucking crazy?! He’s a stupid scumbag racist. I can’t hang out with these people. I don’t agree in this.-
Kimberly walked off the porch. She seemed to leave Babz alone for a long second.
-That’s not a good idea.-
-What’s not a good idea? Sectism? Nativism? Leaving?-
-Because I told Derek…Flaghead…what happened. He said he’d help.-
Babz shit her pants.
-I really wish you wouldn’t hadn’t done that!-
Kimberly grabbed Babz hands.
-You don’t understand. My brother finds out everything. He would have known.-
Babz remembered the night at the show. Her memory of seeing Derek…Flagneck…Flaghead.
Who really knew what?
-I don’t want their help.-
-Please…please Barbara. I’m in a bind here. I need your help…-
Babz began to laugh. So many things went through Babz mind all at once that she couldn’t make out anything.
-Please, Barbara. Lets have a drink. Then leave. I can talk to Derek.-
Babz believed her. She kicked herself. But she believed her. She had grown indifferent to the feelings of needles in the back of her head, long since meeting Kimberly Banner.
-One more drink in the führerbunker.-
Kimberly led the way to the shed. Babz ignored the feeling in her head. She saw a shooting star, almost asked Kimberly if she’d seen it too, but knew she hadn’t.
It was impossible to miss the silhouette of the shed against the agricultural oblivion. The lights of nearby Santa Maria had risen hours ago. It was still too dark here. Kimberly guided her hand to the rope-handle and the risen cold air of the opened chamber.
Babz felt refreshed from the cold air. She stopped at the door. Waited for Kimberly. Slits in the boards of the wall stood frozen. Kimberly’s effort turned up the item. They went back where the night was brighter, warmer.
Babz looked at her car. Only 20 feet away. When she’d knocked the dust and salts from her boots, she followed Kimberly back into the den of noise.
She didn’t notice there was something wrong until she saw that the room was empty. And Kimberly—Kimberly yelling.
-You’d…you’d said you help us! You said…-
Then someone hit Babz over the head. The last thing she saw was the butterfly wing fall off her jacket, and someone saying…
-But I am helping you! I told you we had to kill her…-