Previous scene: Elisha scouts her next job from Pisgah Crater.
6 · Burros
Elisha grew frustrated with herself. What was wrong with her? It was the little things that she seemed to be missing. Not bringing food to eat that afternoon, forgetting her gloves in the hotel room, and having only one idea on how she was going to approach a tiny shack that was miles off the freeway in a land without decent cover and general population noise. She should have been better prepared.
It had to be Martha, of course. Elisha couldn’t get her sister off her mind. She felt like she was getting closer to finding her, or at least what happened to her. The memory was still fresh. White clouds rolling in from the East as the two of them played down at the lake. The wind stirring up from a calm day. Before she had run into the kitchen, Elisha saw Martha for the last time. They were supposed to stick together, hand in hand, but Martha had given Elisha a look she would never forget. Martha had been the one to spot the cloud, but for some reason, she decided it was her moment to declare independence. Elisha felt betrayed, as if Martha was leaving her behind in childhood.
What that independence had cost Martha, Elisha hadn’t known. She knew what it had cost the rest of the family though. Mom and Grandma tried to wipe away any notion of Martha’s existence. Elisha was not to bring up her name, and if anyone had asked, she was instructed to tell them Martha had gone to live with their father. Anything that may have belonged to her sister had been thoroughly removed from the house. But there was one trace that could never be wiped and Elisha vowed never to let herself forget the events of that day.
As she drove back toward the crater, the cold desert air whipped through a slit in the driver’s side window. The chill kept her alert, but still she found herself drifting into memories of Martha. How she had been so stupidly steadfast. Had she known more about the cloud then Elisha? If so, why hadn’t she told her? They had told each other everything. And why had Mom and Grandma let it happen? Did they let it happen? Amidst the concern for her sister was a sort of bubbling anger. An anger driven by the fact that even her strange position now, she still seemed to be on the outside looking in, never quite getting a clear picture of the truth. Elisha knew it was part of what drove her forward.
She exited the freeway and circled around to the back of Pisgah. Though the only lights were barely clouded stars and an almost-full moon, Elisha scoured the immediate countryside for a trail or dirt road heading toward the ridge she had spotted earlier. There were often small paths that dead-ended in parts like these, but she knew the general direction. All she had to do was find the one that matched up with the trail she had seen earlier. After several tries, she hit upon one that was just as faint as she remembered. She had to drive slowly in the dark as headlights were out of the question. Elisha leaned in close to the steering wheel, making sure she stayed on track, turning cautiously so as to avoid sharp rocks and thorny bushes.
Elisha drove the car up just before the ridge and parked it. She estimated she was about four miles out from the crater. Hiking the other mile would be no problem, especially if it was mostly downhill. She left the car unlocked and walked over the ridge.
More dirt. More weeds. More rock.
Elisha looked around. It was the only depression in the area. It had to be the spot. She supposed that the shack could have been obscured by a rise in the ground or some other illusion, but if anyone actually lived out there, it was certainly beyond the rational senses at this point. Still, Elisha had to remind herself that strict logic didn’t always apply in her world. The trail continued and so did she, hoping she wouldn’t have to report back that the only thing she found was a pack of sleeping burros.
Elisha was perched in a squatting position behind the largest bush she could see.
There it was. Or what it might be. Elisha’s handler was right. It was more rightly called a shack than a cabin and now she saw how it could have been so easily missed from afar. It couldn’t have been more than six-feet square, built up from thin pieces of wood that had been weathered to match the desert terrain. It was windowless and a thin-looking door stood in the middle. There was no car parked outside, no bicycle, no signs of transportation.
Someone actually lives in that thing?
Either she was way off on where she was supposed to be or there was more than meets the eye. Maybe the shack was a Dr. Who-like Tardis, small on the outside but massive on the inside. She’d seen some strange things, but she wasn’t quite ready to believe that yet.
Moisture began to accumulate in the air, adding to the sharpness of the cold evening. She stared at the shack for what seemed like endless minutes, waiting, plotting. Occasionally she would turn and survey the area, making sure she wasn’t finding herself stalked as she did the stalking, though it was a bit late for that. She was far from the vehicle and if things went sour, her options were beyond limited.
Elisha felt a pang on her bladder. The urge to pee hit her. She liked to stay hydrated but may have drank a little too much water that evening. The facts weighed on her mind. There was no indication of anyone out here other than herself and whatever insects occasionally buzzed by her ears.
From where she hid, there was ten yards of ground to the shack.
Time’s a’wastin’. Shit or get off the pot. No one’s coming and you have a job to do.
And just like that, Elisha made up her mind. She moved cautiously, not quite fully erect, engaging all of her senses. Mere feet from the shack, she examined the door and saw it had a wooden handle that was hanging loosely. In any other situation, she would have bet her bottom dollar that this was just another random structure in the desert, not too rare. For all she knew, it may have been an outhouse for some long abandoned mining operation.
Fantastic. Well if I had any aversion to peeing in the bushes, someone has provided me a comode.
Elisha was really starting to wonder if she had interpreted the instructions correctly. She thought this was the right place, not far from the crater. Maybe she should have gotten more concrete details, but her handler rarely divulged more than he had to.
On instinct, she walked toward the nearest bush and searched the ground. Once she spotted it, she picked up a crooked, yard-long branch that had fallen. Makeshift tool in hand, she hooked it into the door handle and stepping to the side, opened the door slowly. It creaked and Elisha cringed as it echoed loudly against the quiet valley. She realized that until then, the loudest sound she had heard for the past twenty minutes had been her own breathing and boots pressing down into the gritty sand.
The moon was on the wrong side of the shack and she could see nothing past the entry.
What was that?
She held her breath.
There it was. A small ticking sound.
Elisha knew that certain sounds didn’t have happy endings and somewhere along her strange travels in life, small, repetive ticking sounds were included in that category. Without even thinking, she dove behind the nearest bush and hit the dirt, covering the back of her head with her hands.
And she waited.
After what seemed like hours, but had to have been only thirty seconds, she pulled her hands off and listened intently. The ticking had stopped, or at least she couldn’t hear it anymore.
What the hell am I doing out here? Something is not right.
Now Elisha was getting angry. She didn’t like feeling deceived and whether it was the assigned target (assuming he ever existed) or her handler, someone would have to answer for this nonsense.
In a huff, she pushed herself up and wiped the dust off. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a tiny flashlight. Elisha was throwing caution to the wind now. Most people have a point where they just don’t care anymore. Elisha’s threshold seemed to drop more and more each day.
She turned on the light and pointed it at the cabin. Her Dr. Who theory was thrown out the window. The inside looked to be exactly six-feet deep and her light reflected off something on the wall. It was a tiny yellow clock, it’s face an actually smiley face like you see on the t-shirts.
She stared at it and began to laugh. It stared back and continued to smile, it’s hands motionless. A frown formed on her face.
Elisha reached a finger into her left ear and jiggled it. Then her right.
She thought she had laughed quietly to herself, but realized she had indeed laughed quite loudly. She did so again.
She had gone deaf.
No matter how much poking and prodding she did with her fingers, her ears would not cooperate and hear again.
Desperately, Elisha tried to remember the last thing she heard. The car. Insects. Her boots. Her breath. The ticking.
Something hit the top of her head.
And then two things.
Elisha reached up and wiped something wet from her scalp. She looked up and drops of water began to come down rapidly now. Where there had moments before been stars and a moon was only black. Clouds covered the sky.
She whipped her head around toward the cabin.
It was faint, but it was something. Elisha breathed deeply. Her hearing was coming back.
But that faint sound soon grew louder. And louder. It sounded like a woman screaming. It wasn’t coming from the cabin. Elisha whipped around in different directions. It was coming from all around.
It rose in volume until it passed almost painful into full blown misery.
Unable to think, Elisha ran. The drizzle had long since gone and a torrent of rain was pouring down hard. She screamed in order to try and drown out the sound. Pressing her hands against her ears, she raced awkwardly toward the hill where her car waited patiently for her on the other side. She had to get away from this place. The pain had grown so intense, Elisha squeezed her eyes shut. Both dead and living branches crunched beneath her boots as she tried to maintain her balance.
Elisha took step after step, expecting only the ground–until suddenly there was none. She found herself tumbling forward, her arms shooting out to break her fall. They found only dark air and dust. Elisha felt her self flipping forward until her body and face slammed into what she presumed to finally be the ground. She was unable to stay awake long enough to find out.