I had a few hours to kill until 6, so I went to the grocery store. I was hungry. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, and I’d yarked that up into Shyla Barnes’s toilet.
I bought a pound of ground beef, a loaf of bread, and a Coke, then drove to a park that was close to the flea market. I sat on a park bench and ate my werewolf version of hamburgers and drank my soda. I threw away my trash and walked the paved path that wound around the park. The park wasn’t very big. Six laps on the path equaled a mile, according to the sign posted near the garbage can. I did three miles, then went back to the bench. It was nowhere close to 6.
I ended up going home. I did chores. Watched TV. Forced myself to nap. Showered. Dressed. Ate dinner. Returned to the flea market around 5. The Chevy van was gone, but the Ford was still there. I drove past the flea market, parked the Mustang in a used car lot about a block away, walked back.
The Ford’s back doors were still unlocked. I climbed inside the van, closed the doors, and opened the trap door. I sat there for a few minutes, watching the tarped rear of the flea market, letting the van fill with the smells of Charlie until I was used enough to them that I could drop inside the compartment. If I curled up into the fetal position, on my side, I could close the door and be only slightly extremely frigging uncomfortable. I lay in the hot dark for a few minutes, listening to the ticking of the Timex watch on my wrist, before realizing that the square of carpet above me was out of place.
“Well, fuck,” I whispered. I opened the door. Stupid werewolf. I needed a way to stick that carpet to the door so it’d stay put when I closed the door. Of all the times to not chew gum.
I didn’t chew, but Quilt Boy did: I found a pack of grape Hubba-Bubba in the van’s glove compartment. I chewed two pieces, then used them to stick the carpet to the door. I returned to my hiding spot and closed the now carpeted door.
It was hot and dark. Dark and hot. I counted the beads of sweat I felt sliding down my forehead. I stretched my legs as much as I could.
Finally, I heard the side door slide back. Heard three thumps, that, I discovered later, were three Rubbermaid containers stuffed with quilts. Then a series of clacks and clicks: the quilt racks being loaded in. The door slid shut. I started counting. On 9, a door opened up front. Creak of metal as Quilt Boy settled into the driver’s seat. He shut the door. Started the engine. A few seconds later, the van lurched forward.
I’m not sure how much cutting and customizing he did to the van to build that compartment, but I do know that my body was battered by every pebble we drove over. My ears were deafened by the squeaks and groans of the chassis and shocks. The compartment filled with exhaust. I found that if I raised my head slightly, I could get a little air from the edges of the door. I wondered if Charlie had managed to do that. Or if he’d suffocated in here.
Claustrophobia shuddered over me. I squeezed my eyes shut, desperately tried to focus on the aches and pains and noises I’d earlier tried to ignore. Anything to shut out the fear, the need to get out of here now, now now now right now just open the door and get out of here, get out get out
The van slowed. Turned to the right. Ran straight for a few moments, then slowed some more. Went up a slight incline. Stopped. The engine cut off. Quilt Boy got out. I waited for the sliding door to open.
Waited some more. Started counting. Reached 500 and decided to take a peek. If he went to the flea market every day, he probably didn’t bother to unpack the van every night.
I was in a driveway. Parked in front of a garage that sat separate from a small wood frame house. The house was white with black shutters and a red door. Small yard. It had neighbors. I didn’t like that. There would be some noises that I’d rather went unheard tonight.
I cheered up a bit when I saw the house on the right had a For Rent sign hanging from the curbside mailbox. I could keep things confined to that side. Maybe.
I climbed out of the compartment, closed it up. I duck-walked to the Rubbermaid bins. Opened the one closest to me. Luck: Charlie’s quilt was right on top. I tore off the square of Charlie’s sweater and stuffed it into the back pocket of my blue jeans. Then I slowly slid open the side door and hopped out. I closed it up and ran hunched over to the front of the van, hid in the space between it and the garage door. I waited there for a few seconds, the heat from the engine beating against my face. When no one came out of the house, I crept around the garage, to the side of the house. Large window on this side. Curtains drawn, but I tried peering in anyway. Lights were on. So was a TV; I could hear something that sounded like a cartoon. Lots of wacky voices and sounds.
I wasn’t sure where I was until I reached the tiny back yard and saw the water tower in the distance, the one that had been painted to look like a soccer ball. Ah, yes. I was near the city sports complex. Soccer field, tennis courts, four outdoor basketball courts.
This subdivision didn’t have city streetlights, unlike mine. If you wanted outdoor lighting, you had to contact the electric company. Not many houses in this neighborhood bothered to do that. Everyone had porch lights and lights in their back yards, though. Still, things were fairly dim. I managed to scout the entire house without drawing any attention.
I reached the front of the house, straightened up, smoothed out my clothes, and knocked on the front door. Quilt Boy opened the door a few seconds later. He still wore the shirt and shorts, but he’d taken off the cap. He was barefoot.
“Hey,” I said, grinning, hoping he’d notice my sharp teeth.
If he did, he didn’t show it. He looked confused. “Uh, hey. What, what’re you–”
“I was heading back to the flea market, for that quilt? Saw you leaving, decided to follow you. I hope you still have it. It was the one with the dinosaur on it?”
“Yeah, yeah I still have it. But it’s late, could you maybe meet me there tomorrow?”
“Well, I’m here now. Is there any way that we can do this tonight? I have to work tomorrow.” I raised my eyebrows. Tried to project an image of friendly, unthreatening whatever.
He looked put out. He exhaled. His breath smelled of sour cream and onion potato chips.
And fuck this.
I shoved him in the chest. He flew back a few feet, landed on his back, skittered back a few more inches on the hardwood floor. I stepped inside the house and shut the door. Locked the knob and the deadbolt.
Keep things to the right-hand side of the house, I reminded myself.
He was getting to his feet. “What the hell? Get out of my house, you crazy fucking bi–”
One quick move, and he was on his back again. I was straddling his chest, my knees pressed in against his ribcage, my hands holding down his arms. His biceps flexed under my palms. “Listen to me,” I said. “Are you listening?”
He nodded. I swallowed blood. Became aware of a familiar ache in my gums. My teeth were trying to move out. It was the start of my transformation. If they moved too far out, the change would start, and I’d be unable to stop it. I wouldn’t be able to speak. I wouldn’t be able to ask him what had happened to Charlie, to his body. And I needed to know that. I wanted him to have a proper grave.
“Charlie Barnes. Does that name ring a bell?”
He shook his head. Then stopped. Switched to nodding. Licked his lips before he said, “That was the boy went missing a couple months ago.”
“He was abducted.”
More nodding. “Sure, yeah. I remember that.”
“You should. You took him.”
The nodding turned into head shaking. “No, no, not me. White van, right? I got that a lot after it happened, but it wasn’t me, I swear to God–”
“Shut up.” I took out the square. “I tore this off one of your quilts. This is from his sweater. He was wearing it the day he was abducted.”
His eyes flicked to it for a second. “I bought that from Walmart.”
“You buy all your quilt shit from Walmart?”
“And Target. And garage sales. Shit, they’re just shirts, God’s sakes, I didn’t do anything!”
“Shut up.” I shoved the material back into my pocket. My hands were shaking. I had never tried to hold back the change for so long. I didn’t know how long before I lost control. “Name. What’s your name?” Good. Now concentrate on his answer.
“Zach. Look, I didn’t do anything to any kid!”
I stood up. He stayed put. “Tell me where he is.”
“I don’t know! I didn’t take him!”
I reached down, grabbed fistfuls of his shirt, lifted him to his feet. “You built that hole in your van for grins? Most guys pimp their van, they put in shag carpet and fold-out couch. You. You–” calm down calm down you’re slurring your words losing it–“put in a whole new floor. Why did you do that?”
“I . . . I . . . just to . . . for extra storage.”
“Padlocked door to keep the quilts from running away?”
His hands curled around my wrists. Squeezed hard. “Put me down!”
Yeah, okay. Good idea. I spun around, threw him against the wall. The wall closest to the For Rent house, I owed myself a cookie for remembering. He hit the wall, two framed pictures that had been on the wall hit the floor. Then he hit the floor. Groaned and rolled on his stomach, started getting to his feet. I was on him before that happened.
I don’t remember much between that and throwing him into the kitchen. The house had an open floor plan. The kitchen had a breakfast bar that acted as separation between it and the living room. There were cabinets mounted above the bar. I threw him into those. His back hit them. I heard a cracking sound, but the cabinets stayed mounted to the ceiling. Things rattled and fell over in the cabinets. Glasses. Dishes.
Zach dropped to the counter, bounced off it to the floor. He landed on his right side, and he stayed that way, groaning softly. His face was bloody and swollen. I came back to myself and stared at my hands. I had blood grimed into the knuckles. His blood.
Still had my blood in my mouth, though. Sprayed in a fine mist when I spoke. “Tell me where he is!”
It was almost over for me. Hard to speak. Teeth were in the way. Hands were shaking, knees were shaking. Back was throbbing. Never delayed the change like this. I didn’t like this. Didn’t like feeling this way. Better to give in. Fighting what was now so natural to me was stupid.
He groaned louder. I advanced on him.
“Tell me where he is! Tell me where you buried him!”
The groaning turned into chuckling. He put a hand to his face. Started laughing. His whole battered body shook with it. “Okay, okay,” he managed after a few seconds. “Okay.”
I took off my shirt. Unbuttoned my jeans.
He spat out a tooth. “He was a sweet boy.”
“Where did you bury his body?” I kicked off my shoes.
“I didn’t bury him. I put him in the marsh.”
“Marsh. What marsh? Where?”
“On Mustang Island.”
Oh God. Last year, the body of a boy about Charlie’s age had been found in the salt marsh on the island by an off-duty Nueces County sheriff’s deputy. The body had been badly decayed, but an I.D. eventually had been made. The boy had been abducted a few weeks earlier from his house. On his way to school. By a white van.
I wondered which quilt contained his shirt.
Zach tried sitting up. His right eye was swollen shut, but the left eye saw me naked. “What’re you doing?” He spat out another tooth.
I tossed my clothes on the couch in front of the television. “Giving in.”