Serialization Sunday – Hoodoo: Chapter 15
Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel. Our first serialized novel, the taut thriller City of Human Remains, can be found in full here.
Our current novel, Hoodoo, tells a story of visionaries, heretics and lunatics in Utah, centered on the life of Alice Lott, a twelve-year-old girl who believes that God wants her to have an affair with her junior high school counselor.
Find earlier chapters in Hoodoo here.
That year, for Valentine’s Day, I had a real boyfriend in Dr. Bob. Maybe I would get flowers, or even jewelry or a heart-shaped box of chocolate or a poem, something secret and just for me.
I wore my hair loose, all the way down my back, something I’d never done for school before. We had arranged to meet backstage in the auditorium—nothing was going on there for the next few weeks. It was the first lunchtime in weeks I wasn’t in the cafeteria to meet Jane, the new kid, but I didn’t care—I hadn’t seen Bobby for days. I got there early and found a bench back in the wings where a bit of daylight dribbled in from a high window. I sat in the beam of light, smoothing my dress out and crossing my ankles. After a minute, I scooped my hair over one shoulder. No, half in back, half over one shoulder. No, all of it in back, just a tendril or two around my face. There. His heart would come right out of his chest when he saw me. I imagined the gift he might’ve brought, how I’d thank him and say Wow and Really, for me? and then I’d kiss him and he’d hold me and finally he’d say Alice, I love you, I love you, I’ve been waiting to say it until today.
Only, he didn’t come across the stage, like I’d thought he would. He crept up behind me and started talking before he even got close.
“Tell me about that girl you were talking to.”
I turned around and squinted against the sunlight. He was just a shadow.
“That girl, yesterday, in the hall after lunch. The new girl. Jane.”
His voice was quiet. I tried leaning out of the sunbeam to get a good look at him, but my eyes were still dazzled.
“Yeah, she moved here over the Christmas break. She’s pretty cool.”
“You’re awfully close.”
My eyes were finally starting to adjust, and I could make out Bobby’s face. It was shut, blank.
“Have you told her about us?”
He made it sound like something nasty. I coughed out a laugh.
“Ha, ha. What, don’t I get to have a friend?”
He moved close so fast my skin jumped. I felt heat coming off his face. He grabbed my shoulders, hard.
“Don’t,” he said, his voice snapping into my ear. “Don’t laugh at me.”
For a second I was embarrassed for him, his lack of control. How well did I know him? I was sure he was about to haul off and whack me, and I braced for it. It takes a long time to say it, but it all happened in just a second, less: I flinched back from him, my eyes half-closing, my face turning just a bit to the side, and I heard him suck in a quick breath, like he’d burned himself on a match, and when I looked at him again, his eyes were wide open, a fist against his mouth. He shook his head, just a millimeter, and slowly shrank onto his knees in front of me.
“Oh, no. Alice, I’m sorry. I’m not that person, Alice. I’m sorry, I never—I never meant to frighten you.”
And then the most amazing thing. Slowly, gently, he laid his head on my knees.
“Please, forgive me.”
I reached out a hand to touch his head. I’d expected his white hair to be all stiff, like Dad’s stubble, but it was soft as bunny fur. I came all over goosebumps, the hair on my arms standing right up, making a dark halo in the sunlight. I felt damp on my knee.
He slowly sat up on his heels, looking at me. Had I felt a tear? Had my Dr. Bob been crying, over me?
“I haven’t told her anything.”
“I don’t have any right, any place in even asking, Alice.”
“But you do. Look, I’ll never tell anyone. I promise.”
“I—listen, Alice—could you meet me tonight—no, tomorrow night?”
Yes, sure, of course I could. I told Mom I had a special workshop after class, and she said she’d send Denny to pick me up, then, since I’d be late.
That night I dawdled while the other girls stripped off their tights, steam and stink and sweat coming off all our bodies, the Big Girls gossiping about going to the submarine races with their boyfriends, they thought I was too young to understand what they were talking about, but before my fourteenth birthday, I would know more than any one of them. While they slammed out of the dressing room, clattering down the stairs, I slipped out the back way to my rendezvous with Bobby.
I was in the car, my head safe below the dash by the time he turned out onto the street. It felt like we were headed in the usual direction, toward the next town, but when I thought it was about time for us to be turning in to the café parking lot, Bobby made a right instead. We went straight for what seemed to me a long time, stopping at lights I could look up and see swinging overhead, then moving again, after awhile I could feel we were heading uphill. The streetlights were thinning out, and Bobby told me I could sit up. We were going straight up into the foothills. I turned around and saw the streetlights marking a straight line where we came from, the lights of the town in the valley. In front of us, several buildings came into view.
“You’re taking me to the insane asylum?”
“Not quite. It’s a surprise.”
We were going slower now, between the buildings, signs saying things like “Administration Building” and “Women’s Facility” and “Recreation Hall.” I was glued to the window. We were still climbing up, above all the asylum buildings now, into the very last parking lot. He pulled into the absolute last spot, right up against the hillside, where the parking lot broke up into rocks and snow. Above us was the toe of the mountain, scrub oak and evergreens.
“Close your eyes,” he said as we got out of the car, “We’re not there yet.”
I closed my eyes and he took my hand.
“Okay, walk slowly, don’t trip. We’re going up a path.”
I felt the ground under my feet turn rocky, then I was crunching through a thin crust of snow. He led me up a slope. I heard his breath, his voice telling me to watch my step, there was a rock, or a branch. I peeked out through my eyelashes, but all I could see was snow under my feet.
The ground turned hard again, and Bobby was leading me up stairs. We came to the top, and I felt the air change, open out, like we’d just come out of a cave.
“Okay,” he said, “Now.”
I opened my eyes.
The whole valley was sparkling below me. The lake, at the other end of town, reflected the moon. Beyond that, mountains showed as black cutouts against the lighter shade of the sky.
Bobby pointed out toward the valley. “I was born over there, in the hospital. Do you see? I went to college there.”
“Where’d you go to junior high?”
He smiled quickly. “Laban hadn’t been built yet. I went to Heber J. Grant, down by the steel mill.”
“How old were you when I was born?”
I heard his breath catch, and he shot me a sidelong glance, a tiny smile. “That would give the whole game away.”
He was having fun with the idea. I breathed in the sharp air through my nose and felt it light up my whole brain. We were co-conspirators.
Just in front of me was a low cobblestone wall, coming up to my knees. I turned around. I was standing in a stone amphitheater, with turrets—no joke, turrets!—to either side, and giant steps rising against the slope.
“That’s where the audience sits,” Bobby said, pointing at the steps. “We’re onstage, and those,” –the turrets—“are the wings. This was a WPA project in the ‘thirties.”
“Do they still put on plays here?”
“Not so much anymore, but they used to. I saw Midsummer Nights’ Dream here a long time ago. They also used to do a haunted house here, every Halloween. The asylum put it on, with the staff, and even patients playing monsters and ghosts, or famous murderers. It was the scariest haunted house I’ve ever been to.”
“Why don’t they do it anymore?”
“That’s a story: One of the patients attacked a girl who was going through the Haunted House. Folks thought it was part of the show, at first—she’s pleading for someone to help her, and they’re all thinking ‘Wow, this is great—so realistic.’ One of the girl’s friends recognized her, and started screaming. What with all the other screaming going on it was quite a while before anyone realized it was serious, and then by the time police, or any other emergency people got there, it was too late, she was dead.”
“Wow,” I said, taking Bobby’s hand. Again I wondered how much I knew Bobby and my stomach lurched like I was standing on the edge of a cliff. I stepped closer to him, keeping one eye open for the dead girl’s ghost, still crying for help. Bobby closed his arms around me, and as we looked together over the valley, he whispered in my ear.
“I love you, Alice.”
Founder of the Portuguese Artists Colony in San Francisco, Caitlin Myer regularly reads her work at Why There Are Words, Quiet Lightning, and other established reading salons in California. Her one woman show on Simone de Beauvoir was produced in Seattle.
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