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Gun Shy
Author: Lili St. Germain

Prologue

 

 

THE GIRL IN THE CREEK

 

 

LEO

 

 

NINE YEARS AGO

 

 

It’s not every morning you drink dead girl juice.

Wait. Let me explain.

It was the dog barking that woke me. Rox was our built-in security system, not that we had anything of real value to steal.

Technically, the five acres of rock and dirt that backed on to Gun Creek was owned by the State of Nevada. But in a dying town like ours, they didn’t exactly have a use for it.

The mayor of Gun Creek had been friends with my grandfather before he passed, and so he turned a blind eye to the double-wide and assorted makeshift dwellings that my family called home.

The fact that my mother also dabbled in meth production and small-time drug dealing made me realize, eventually, that the mayor’s eyes were being turned not with compassion, but with favors from mommy dearest.

I couldn’t think about that, though. My mother was a fuck-up who’d had too many kids to a somewhat questionable number of different daddies, but she was the only mother I had. I didn’t want to think about some greasy guy in a cheap suit putting his chubby hands on her.

“Rox!” I hissed at the dog through the narrow window, mindful not to wake my girlfriend.

Beside me, Cassie breathed long and even, her chest rising and falling in time. Her hair was covering her face, her expression weary even in sleep. I kept telling her she worked too much, but she just laughed and told me the more she worked, the faster we’d be out of this town. It was one of the reasons I loved her so much.

We’d both been raised to believe that we’d never get out of Gun Creek, but Cassie was smart. She had that spark inside her that matched mine. That’s how I knew, unequivocally, that we’d be the ones who got away.

It was peaceful inside my room. I’d built it myself when I was twelve from an old shipping container somebody had dumped on our property. It leaked in the winter and there were gaps where the corrugated steel sheets attached to the ground. I’d filled the gaps with expanding foam as best I could, but sometimes the mice still chewed through. My dog made quick meals of them if that happened. I didn’t mind the mice. They were less intrusive than my mother in her rotting double-wide up near the road.

Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I walked as quietly as possible from my bedroom to the kitchen. Loose definitions for one long, narrow space that was separated by a hanging bed sheet.

I’d been having a dream when Rox’s bark woke me, but I couldn’t remember it. I just knew that I felt antsy, and I needed to go and shut the goddamned dog up before Ma came down and started yelling.

I went to the makeshift sink, a metal bowl with a hole cut in the bottom that I’d plumbed in myself. It drew water directly from our well, so I didn’t need to pump water manually to make it flow. I even had a shower with heating that I’d made from old PVC piping and plastic sheeting, lifted from the garage where I fixed cars after school for cash. That had come later when I’d decided that if Cassie were sleeping over, she should be able to wash up without having to go up to my mom’s trailer to do it.

I turned the tap on at the sink and filled up an old jam jar. My eyes itched - the pollen was off the charts and fucking brutal in the spring.

After setting the jar down, I splashed cool water on my face. The pipes inside the well made the water smell of metal sometimes, and today, especially so. Eyes itching considerably less, I turned off the water and reached for my jar.

I took an extra long drink of water. I can still taste it now, all these years later. Straight away I knew that something wasn’t right. The taste of rot and pennies filled my mouth, and I almost gagged.

What the …?

I held the clear jar up to the thin streak of sunlight coming through a crack in my homemade curtains. The water was a dirty rust color, still opaque, but stained like someone had taken a dropper of red ink and squeezed it into the liquid.

I looked at the small mirror I’d hung above the basin. My face looked kind of dirty, too. I grabbed an old T-shirt and wiped my face dry as best I could, Rox’s barking reaching fever pitch.

The fucking dog. The fucking well. Fucking all of it. I was so tired of living with shit that didn’t work properly, trash pieced together from more trash. When people looked at us, I know that’s what they saw — pieced together trash.

When I left Gun Creek, I was getting Cassie and I a real house. One with rooms and curtains and a real bathroom. A house without wheels underneath, without foam to seal up the fucking gaps. A house with a proper front door, painted her favorite color, blue.

Winter might have been months gone, but the mornings here still chilled your bones. I hopped into a pair of jeans and threw on a hoodie, unlocking and opening the door as quietly as I could. It creaked in response. I made a mental note to get oil for the hinges.

Rox wagged her tail, curling her body sideways as she made her way towards me, her head and her back end pointing at me as she did her dog version of an excited crab walk.

“Hey, girl,” I murmured, putting my palm out for her. She licked it, right in the center, and when she pulled her pink tongue away, the skin there turned cold.

“What’s up, Rox?” I asked quietly, scratching behind her ear. Rox was a mutt, motley-colored and missing one eye, but she was sharp as a tack. She whined a little, running off in the direction of the well.

I had to check the damned thing anyway. Might as well follow her lead. I backed up a few steps, slipping back inside to grab a flashlight from the ledge I’d built next to the door. Stupid well was always clogging up. That’s the thing about living illegally on land you don’t own — water isn’t exactly an automatic thing to come by, even when you live right near a creek.

I picked my way down the stony sand path that led to the well, the dirty taste still in my mouth. I zipped my hoodie up over my chilled skin as I walked, my feet complaining loudly. Should’ve worn my boots, I thought, but I was too lazy to turn back.

I was three steps away from the well when I heard a twig snap behind me. I jumped, turning quickly, gripping my Maglite tightly and bracing.

Oh. Damn. I saw Cass, shielding her eyes from the flashlight I was shining in her direction as she stood, bleary-eyed and wearing my old snow jacket over the oversized football jersey of mine she insisted on sleeping in. She’d slipped her feet into my boots, far too big for her, so when she walked she had to kind of drag her feet.

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