Chapter no 41

A Flicker in the Dark

I turn on my blinker and take the next exit. Breaux Bridge. A place I haven’t seen since I left for college more than a decade ago; a place I never expected to see again.

I wind through town, through the rows of old brick buildings with moss-green awnings. In my mind, this place seems to be separated by a crisp, clean line: before and after. On one side of the line, the memories are bright, happy. A small-town childhood filled with gas station snow cones and consignment store Rollerblades; the bakery I used to duck inside every day at three p.m., picking up a complimentary slice of sourdough, still warm from the oven. Melted butter dripping down my chin as I walked home from school, jumping over the cracks on the sidewalk, picking a bouquet of flowering weeds that I would present to my mother in a cloudy juice glass.

On the other side, a bloated cloud hovers over everything.

I pass the empty fairgrounds where the festival takes place each year. I see the very spot where I stood with Lena, my forehead pressed against her warm stomach, the dampness of her sweat sticking to my skin. A metallic firefly glowing in my hands. I look across the field, at the spot where my father stood in the distance, staring at us. At her. I drive past my old school, past the dumpster where a senior boy had slammed my head against the metal, threatening to do to me what my father had done to his sister.

Daniel has been driving this same route for weeks, I realize, disappearing into the night before coming home again tired and sweaty and full of life. I approach my street and pull over onto the side of the road, just before my old driveway. I eye that long path I used to run down, kicking up dust before vanishing into the trees. Running up the porch steps, slamming into my father’s outstretched arms. It’s the perfect place to take a missing girl: an old abandoned house situated on ten acres of discarded land. A house that nobody visits, nobody touches. A house that’s considered

haunted, the very place where Dick Davis buried his six victims before ducking into my bedroom and kissing me good night.

I think back to that conversation with Daniel, both of us stretched out across my living room couch. The conversation when I had told him everything for the first time—and how he had listened, so intently. Lena and her belly-button ring, a single firefly glowing in the dark. My father, a shadow in the trees. The box in the closet holding his secrets.

And my house. I had told him about my house. The epicenter of it all.

After my father went to prison and my mother was no longer able to care for the property, the responsibility had landed on us—on Cooper and me. But just like we had abandoned my mother to Riverside, we chose to abandon this place, too. We didn’t want to deal with it, didn’t want to face the memories that still lived inside. So instead, we just left it here, sitting empty for years, our furniture still arranged in the exact same way, a thick layer of cobwebs probably coating everything inside. That wooden beam in my mother’s closet still snapped from the pressure of her neck, the ash from my father’s pipe still staining the living room carpet. All of it—a snapshot of my past, frozen in time, dust particles suspended in the air as if somebody had simply pressed Pause. Then turned around, closed the door, and left.

And Daniel knew. Daniel knew it was here. He knew it was empty— ready and waiting for him.

My hands clench the steering wheel, my heart pounding in my chest. I sit in silence for a few seconds, wondering what to do. I think about calling Detective Thomas, asking him to meet me here. But what would he do, exactly? What proof do I have? Then I think about my father, making his way through these very woods at night, a shovel slouched over one shoulder. I think about myself, twelve years old, watching through my open window.

Watching, waiting, but not doing anything.

Riley could be in there. She could be in trouble. I grab my purse, a shaky hand opening the lip to reveal the gun nestled inside—the gun I had grabbed from the closet before leaving on my trip, the gun I had been

looking for that night of the alarm. Then I take a breath before easing myself out of the car, closing the door with a silent click.

The air is warm and damp like a boiled-egg burp, the sulfur from the swamp oppressive in the summer heat. I tiptoe toward the driveway and stand there for a while, peering down that road toward home. The woods on either side are pitch-black, but I force myself to take a step forward. And then another. Another. Soon, I’m approaching the house. I had forgotten how absolute the darkness is out here, with no lights from the street or neighboring houses—but with that perfect, inky contrast, the moonlight always shines so bright. I look up at the full moon above me, totally unobscured. It beams on the house like a spotlight, making it glow. I can see it now, perfectly—the chipped white paint, the wood siding peeling under years of heat and humidity, the grass growing wild beneath my feet. Vines crawl up the side of the house like veins, giving it an otherworldly appearance, pulsing with devilish life. I start to creep up the stairs, avoiding the spots that are prone to creaking, but I notice that the blinds are open— and with the moon this bright, if Daniel is inside, I know I could be seen. So instead, I turn and walk around back. I eye the junk cluttering the backyard the way it always has—there are piles of old plywood stacked against the back of the house along with a shovel and a wheelbarrow with other gardening tools loaded inside. I imagine my mother on her hands and knees, soil pushed into her skin, a streak of dirt swiped across her forehead. I try to peer through the windows, but back here, the blinds are all closed, the lack of light on this side of the house making it impossible to see anything through the gaps. I try twisting the doorknob, jiggling it slightly, but it doesn’t open. It’s locked.

I exhale, resting my hands on my hips.

Then I have an idea.

I look at the door, summoning that day with Lena to the forefront of my mind—library card in hand, breaking into my brother’s bedroom.

First, check the hinges. If you can’t see them, it’s the right kind of lock. I dig into my pocket and pull out Aaron’s badge, still wedged in my jeans after I had found it buried beneath the motel room sheets. I bend it in

my hands—it’s sturdy enough—and insert it into the gap at an angle, just like Lena taught me.

Once the corner is in, straighten it up.

I start to wiggle the card, applying gentle pressure, moving it back and forth, back and forth. I push it in deeper, my free hand twisting the knob— until finally, I hear a click.

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