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Going Home to Mother

I. This is wonderful, she dizzily thought, taking her car to ninety-five down the remote two-lane desert highway that stretched in front of her. In love with speed, Dara kept the accelerator to the floor. Ears ringing in ecstasy, she glanced through her car’s sunroof. The thin crescent of the late October moon hung overhead, scythe-like, in a sky spangled with stars. Angels, she knew, surrounded her.

Heart flooding with rushing darkness, she plummeted down the highway. Against advice of friends, who over the past years had encouraged her not to travel alone at night, Dara had left Las Vegas and her boyfriend around eight in the evening, well after sun set. “I always drive at night,” she’d assured Rob, a tall, muscular type she’d met in the weight room of the local gym several months before; “it’s in my blood.”

Besides, she reasoned, it wasn’t as if she’d had a choice. A month ago, she’d promised to visit her mother in Twin Falls this weekend. Today paper work had piled up on her desk, and with Amy flying out to see her parents in Omaha, she had stayed after the bank’s closing hours to finish up.

As she drove, she fondly remembered night trips she and her parents used to take from Lincoln to Denver. Typically, any season of the year, they would leave around six in the evening and, her father reaching fantastic speeds as she squealed with delight, arrive in Denver some time after midnight. When her parents had stopped so they could all get out of the car and see the Milky Way, Dara had always felt close to God and, once, had even seen a pulsing glow that she had taken for an angel.

Alone on the Nevada highway, not another car in sight, Dara felt good about herself.

Glancing in the rear view mirror, she was proud of how she looked at thirty. A tall woman, she had large brown eyes, a slightly puckered mouth with beautiful, full lips, and gray-streaked raven hair that fell down to the small of her back. Though she wished for larger breasts, she had been asked just this week to participate in the Miss Nude Las Vegas contest, and she planned to accept. Large breasts, she thought as she turned her eyes onto the road, aren’t that important; working part-time for a Vegas escort service, she had proved to be very popular with kind, good-looking men who came to her in all shapes and sizes. Always preferring to drive in comfort, she wore a light blue top and dark blue baggy pants with huge pockets. Wearing nothing underneath gave her a breathless burst of personal freedom.

Breathless, she pressed the “seek” button next to her radio and found a Christian network. Though Rob hated them, Dara loved gospel stations. The speaker, a nasally southern evangelist-type who called himself Tommy Gillette, was ending his sermon by shouting down the devil. She laughed. Rebuking Satan and his legions was something Dara had witnessed first hand at evening Bible studies when she was growing up. Hearing Gillette repeatedly exclaim, “I bind thee, Satan, in the name of Jesus!” she felt her soul nearly lift out of her body.

Just as Pastor Gillette finished his sermon with a prayer inviting non-believers to accept Jesus as Lord, Dara felt the car’s gentle lurch and heard the engine sputter. Slowing down, she put her black Acura Legend in neutral and coasted to the side of the road. She was out of gas.

When the car came to a halt, she switched off the key, pulled on the emergency break, and stepped into the ice-cold air. Sparsely dotted with pines, the towering mountains around her shone faintly in the partial moonlight. Dragging her feet through gravel, excitedly kicking up dust clouds, she put her hands on her hips. Wind gently buffeting her and reminding her of God’s presence, she looked up in the night sky and said a prayer of thanks.

“Ruah.” She whispered the word signifying God and wind.

Wondering how long she would have to wait, she thought of her father, an occasionally cruel, grinning man who had who had done reasonably well selling used cars before dying years before in a head-on with a semi. She had loved and hated her father until the day he died. Twelve years before, with her mother, she had left the Midwest for Twin Falls. Having frequently wished her father into Hell but knowing she should be praying his soul into Heaven, she walked back to the car, opened the driver’s door, pulled a small lever between the steering wheel and the door, and walked to the front of her car to put up the hood.

A burst of icy wind thrilling her to the bone, she then walked to the back, popped the trunk, and took out the army blanket. Through the course wool, she felt the steel barrel. The shotgun, a pump-action .12-gauge, was wrapped in the folds. Holding the shotgun in her right hand, reassured by the touch of cold steel, and bundling the blanket under her left arm, she walked to the open door and climbed in, careful to place the shotgun in the well behind the front seat.

Staring through her sunroof at the Milky Way, she knew she might have to spend the night miles from the nearest town, a little farming dump consisting of a feed store, a gas station, houses, and a Mormon church. Leaning her seat back, forcing herself to relax, she replayed in her mind a story about central Nevada that she’d recently heard from Amy over lunch at Burger King.

According to Amy, a father and son had been killed in the area south of Ely and Elko several months ago, news reports confirming that the pair had been decapitated. The murderer had yet to be found, but authorities knew whoever had committed the savage act must live somewhere in central Nevada. But even before she had heard this story, Dara was familiar with the series of grisly murders that had occurred in the past ten years in central Nevada; the stories generally appeared in section B of southern Nevada’s newspapers. She knew that most of the victims were adult males, whose bodies had been found torn apart by bullets from a semi-automatic rifle that had been traced to a gun shop in North Dakota.

Dara smiled as she sat in the car; she loved dark and bloody tales. She sighed, consoled by the thought that the night before, she had loaded the .12 gauge and that this evening, before leaving, she had strapped her own large serrated hunting knife around her waist. In the tradition of her family, a hard crew that had survived incredible adversity, she was ready (“Can’t be too fuckin’ careful these days, Dara,” her Bible-thumping mother Melody had told her a week ago this very night. ”Murderers prowling the land like snakes,” the old woman had hissed over the phone.) Drifting now into the comforting, almost tangible darkness of sleep, Dara pictured her mother: a tall, bony woman with long gray hair and a ready smile, Melody carried with her a small pearl-handled pistol that had been fired only twice.

II. Waking with a start, Dara sat up. She wiped the sweat from her brow and looked out her front windshield. In front of her car, just off the highway, sat a pickup that hadn’t been there before. Straining, she couldn’t identify the exact model, but new it had an early ‘80s GMC look to it. Then, she turned her head and looked out the side window.

At first she could barely make out the face. Gradually, like something taking shape just below the surface of swirling, murky waters, the features materialized. The man’s eyes, big as saucers, were less than a foot away, and as Dara stared, heart racing and mouth dry, she saw the dark, bushy eyebrows, the bent nose, the gap-toothed grin and the blotchy beard.

This is it, she told herself.

At first she didn’t speak as the face stared and grinned. She counted to fifty, while the face at the window remained motionless. When she surprised even herself and blew him a kiss, the man blinked.

“What do you want?” Dara asked, her voice a dull monotone. Her mind clearing, she slowly reached into the backseat for cold steel.

For a minute, there was no answer. Finally, the face pulled away and she saw that the man, wearing a parka, blue jeans, and a cowboy hat, was tall and thin.

“Old Sweet Pea here asks what I want,” the man chuckled, dragging his feet through gravel. “What we want, big brother?”

“She knows what we want,” came the low, chuckling reply from somewhere in the darkness. “She shouldn’t be out here anyway.”

Dara breathed deeply and hoped that God would steady her nerves. Tell me what to say, Lord, she silently prayed; just tell me what to say.

And just like that, she had the words.

“You guys wanna fuck me out here, don’t ya?” she said loudly, slight mockery in her voice.

The men didn’t answer right away.

“Why, hell, no, Swee’Pea,” the tall man said after a minute or so. “We wanna help, don’t we, brother?”

“Yeah,” joined in the other, still chuckling, “we’re here to help you out, little one. C’mon and open the door.”

As powerful blast of wind rocked the car, Dara felt the dark courage and conviction flowering within her. She looked through the front window and up at the milky swath of stars filling the sky. Mind ticking, guided by a presence she could not see, she turned the ignition on, pushed a button on her door, and brought the window down two inches.

“You two,” said Dara. “Why, I bet you two country boys are just the kind of assholes who’d do anything for a bit of fun, huh? Fuck a dog. Fuck each other. Fuck a hog. Rape and fuck a harmless and beautiful woman. Maybe even kill innocent people who come by, huh?”

The tall man stopped kicking gravel and put his face down next to the driver’s window again. He snarled, then grinned. Dara considered bringing the window all the way down and biting off the man’s nose. It would be easy and fun.

“Yeah,” he said in a high country twang, “that just might be us. Now let us in.”

Dara shook her head. She hated that grin.

“You guys are pigs,” she replied. “Oink, oink, oink. Fuck both of you.”

Silence. Strangely, laughter welled up inside of her and she fought to control it.

“Look, honey, we just wanna know if you need help,” whined the second voice, feigning sympathy. Looking beyond the face, Dara could just make the other figure standing on the road. That must just be the devil, Dara thought. “Whyn’t you roll the window all the way down or unlock the door and step out so we can talk?” the second one said in a harsh tone.

Grinning back at the face in the window, Dara reached across her lap and slightly behind her with her left hand and, fist over fist, brought the shotgun up to her lap. The tall man gave kept his grinning face to the window. Maybe, she thought, he hadn’t seen the gun.

“Think I’m outta gas, boys,” she said, still grinning. “Want to fill me up, huh?” Gripping the barrel with her left hand, she brought forth the weapon and, as she put the barrel against the window, gently put her finger around the trigger. Squeeze, Dara, squeeze, a voice in side of her said.

“Jesus H. Christ, lady!” exclaimed the tall, thin man, moving away from the window and to the side, “Put that thing away or someone’s gonna get hurt. Me and my brother Paul here were just driving by and seen your car with its hood up and figured as how a pretty little lady like yourself needs some help. We’re the Lord’s helpers, lady, regular fucking saints, so put the damn gun away.” To Dara, he seemed more angry than afraid.

Gazing at the two figures in the darkness, loathing them, Dara wondered how long they had stood next to the car before she had awoken.

“Kinda slow, aren’t you slim?” Dara asked after a minute. “I coulda blown you to kingdom come.”

Hands in pockets, framed in darkness, the men said nothing.

“Can’t be too safe these days, gentlemen,” she added loudly. “You know how it is: innocent people getting killed right and left. Besides,” she added, “saints don’t use bad language.”

She waited for a response. These two, she realized with something bordering on disappointment, are pure dolts.

“Well, sure,” said one of them; she didn’t know which. “We know how it is, people getting murdered and cut up here. We ain’t saints, but I don’t think we’re the ones killing either. Just out for a little country fun.”

Hands trembling in eager anticipation, she considered opening the door, stepping out, talking to the men at gunpoint, and pulling the trigger.

That would be stupid, Dara told herself.

“Yeah, guess I could use some help,” she finally said, lowering the gun. “I wanna get this over with and move on.”

“Well, look, then, lady,” the second voice said. She could now see Paul, a short, squat man with a huge bushy beard, a farmer’s cap, and glasses. “We’ll be back in a jiffy. We get you some gas from our farm about ten miles away, ok? We get you some gas, you put the gun down, ok?”

“Sure,” she said, actually laughing, “You do that. In a jiffy. I’d really appreciate that. Get me some gas. Please. I’ll put the gun away. It’s not loaded. Hell, I was just scared is all. I’ll be right here.”

But the men were already walking rapidly towards their pickup, and Dara wondered if she’d ever see them again.

III. Alternately thrilled and bored, window still open enough to prevent the inside of the car from fogging up, she waited for hours, two or three cars passing by but none stopping or slowing down. Occasionally, to pass the time, she sang some old hymn and even found herself muttering her favorite childhood jingle:

“Fishy, fishy in the brook,

Daddy caught you on the hook.

Mama fried you in a pan,

And baby ate you like a man.”

It was something her father had taught her in one of those rare moments when he had treated her with the affection of a normal father. She didn’t know where the song came from.

Impatient, she turned her mind to the brothers. These fuckers aren’t gonna return, she thought to herself, trying to remember where she had packed some food. She was hungry. Then, peering down the ribbon of highway stretching in front of her, she saw the headlights.

Judging from the size of the beams, she knew the pickup was moving slowly. That would give her time, and figuring that enough darkness lay between her car and the two men she opened her door and, gripping the cold steel barrel of her shotgun, ran into the line of sagebrush, bushes, and scraggly pine trees that began just feet from the highway. The sliver of the moon concealed by clouds, she knew the covering would be sufficient. Squatting next to a pine tree, animal heat canceling the cold, she positioned the shotgun across her lap and waited.

IV. Twin Falls was less than twenty miles down the road as the first rays of the sun ignited the clear morning sky. Radio turned to a full gospel station, Dara felt cleansed, ethereal, even angelic. This is what it’ll feel like when I die and my soul leaves my body, she thought, still clinging in her mind to the expressions on the brothers’ faces.

She’d been clever, she thought, now driving toward the rising sun. Kneeling next to a pine, she had watched with cat eyes as the pickup had pulled onto the gravel off the road and stopped, head-on, five feet from her car. For a time, nothing had happened. Then, the passenger and driver’s doors had flung open and, murmuring in low voices, the men had stepped from the pickup. She’d wondered if they were armed.

In a burst of inspiration, sure the men would neither see nor hear her, she had run silently, swiftly north through brush and trees, just parallel to the road. Then, she had doubled back to the highway, jogging towards her car. She’d made sure to keep the pickup between her and the men. Empowered by the cold night air, she had gripped the gun with both hands, next to her chest, as she ran.

Approaching the back of the pickup, she had heard the men talking and, with a thrilling surge she had once felt while shooting up, had known they were headed her way.

“That fuckin’ little bitch,” one had said, probably the short, stocky one. “Where could she have gone? Jesus. Shit, little brother, she wouldn’t have fired the gun. We blew a chance, you ask me. What we gonna do now?”

“Fuck if I know,” the other had responded; “I’d like to find her and fuck her brains out for this. Leave her out her to run around and die naked. Making fools of us. Shoulda dragged her from the car.”

“Making fools of us”—the words had just been uttered when she stepped in front of them feet from their own pickup.

The men had halted, frozen in their tracks.

“Uh oh,” the tall one had said.

“Yep,” she had laughed, stopping dead, maybe fifteen feet from them, “uh oh.” She pumped the gun once and heard the shell click into the chamber.

The men had stared at Dara, then at the shotgun, and then back at Dara. She had heard them breathe, both suddenly laboring to get oxygen into their lungs.

“Shouldn’t fuck with little girls,” she’d said, dark rage welling inside her. She had felt her brain swelling.

“Lady, what you heard is just talk,” the short one had said. “We wouldn’t have done nothin’.”

“Really?” she’d replied, pulse banging in her brain. “Promise?”

The men had said nothing.

“Which one of you fine gentlemen wants to be the first to meet your Maker?” she had cooed, putting the stock snug against her right shoulder, fingering the trigger, pushing the safety off, and pointing the weapon at the tall thin one. “How about you, Bill?”

Bill had moved away from his brother, his legs shaking through his pants.

“Lady,” Bill had stuttered, “we was just talkin’ is what you heard. We got your gas if that’s what you want.”

She had laughed. “Jesus, fellas, I don’t want the gas. “Whaddya want then?” the short one had asked.

“I want your souls, boys, your everlasting souls,” she had said with the solemnity of a funeral preacher, thinking at that moment of Tommy Gillette.

Frozen in fear, the thin one had taken a quick step in her direction when, with confidence and grace born of endless hours of practice, she’d pointed the gun at his stomach and fired. Screaming like a wildcat, Bill had flown backwards and landed on the road with a scraping thud.

As Bill lay on his back, gasping and kicking, Dara had turned the gun on the other.

“Got one more shell in the chamber, big boy,” she had said, “and this one’s got your name on it.”

The short man had dropped to his knees. Panting, he had whined, “Jesus, lady. Shit, please, lady. That’s my brother you shot. That’s my only brother.”

Smelling shit and urine, Dara had pumped the gun again, realizing these two didn’t have the cunning to rob a candy machine.

“Why you doin’ this?” the kneeling man had wheezed.

“Why do I do this?” Dara had mused, the barrel aimed at the man’s chest. “Good question. Because it feels good, maybe. To cleanse the earth. Who the hell knows? Who cares? Just doin’ my job.”

The man had leaned over and, bracing himself on both hands, vomited onto the gravel. Then, he had slowly righted himself.

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, please, lady,” the man had sobbed. ”Please, for the love of God.”

She had chuckled. “For the love of God? Is that what you said? For the love of God?”

“Yes, ma’am?” the man had answered. “You religious, too?”

This one actually thinks he’s going to live, Dara had thought.

“Mister,” she had said, “it’s for the love of God that I do this shit: cleanse the earth of dirty fish like you.”

Struggling to rise to his feet, the short man had held his trembling hands in the air. “Lady, please….”

As the man had awkwardly lunged and nearly fallen, Dara had stepped back and waited for the man to straighten up. After she had fired into his huge chest, he’d fallen like a bag of cement.

Taking two more shells out of her pocket, she had inserted them into the chamber and, pumping once, looked down at both men. They lay about ten feet apart. Speechless, shivering uncontrollably in the cold night air, the tall one had looked over at Dara, eyes wide open, and tried to speak. Walking over to him, she’d shoved the barrel of the shotgun into his face, watched him squirm, then backed away. In a painful spasm that reminded her of a praying mantis in its final struggle, the man had kicked wildly and then, suddenly, gone motionless.

Next, she had walked over to the other brother. This one is probably dead, she had told herself, and kneeling leaned over, put her ear an inch from his nose and mouth and listened. Dead is as dead does, she’d thought.

Placing the shotgun against the pickup’s front bumper, she had grabbed the men by the feet and, one by one, dragged them off the road and into the covering of sagebrush of scraggly pine. Returning to the pickup, she had picked up the shotgun, looked at the huge blotch of blood covering the gravel next to the road, and walked back to the bodies.

She had knelt next to the tall one, laid the gun against a tree, and removed the huge serrated knife from its case.

“Hell, you’re still alive, little fish,” she had whispered, and as the man had faintly gasped for air she had unbuttoned and pulled down his pants, cut through his underpants, and then, gabbing and stretching the man’s member, had sliced off his manhood with the knife. Morbidly curious since childhood, vaguely aroused, she had examined the head of the appendage before dropping it into some brush at her feet.

Rising, she had slowly walked to the other man, knelt, and gone through the same routine that she had performed on his brother. A bit thicker, this one had taken a bit longer, but when she had finished, she had examined it and then flung it into bushes several feet away.

Standing, admiring her work, she thought briefly of her father, who had created a nasty tear in her flesh before he died. Glancing at the moon, lower in the night sky, she had removed her T-shirt and pants. With a religious conviction born of years of prayer and meditation, she had dipped her hands in the wounds of each brother and had covered every inch of her lithe, thin body, head to toe, in blood. Exhilarated, knowing now the spirits of the two men could not come against her or her family, she had stood, shouting, “I bind thee, Satan, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost!” Like an eagle in flight, she felt borne out of herself.

Carrying the shotgun in one hand and her shirt in the other, she had returned to her car. After dressing, she had popped the trunk, set the shotgun inside, then taken out a can of gas, and refueled her car. Once she had emptied the can and put it back into the trunk, she had opened her small green ice chest, taken out a pastrami-on-rye sandwich and a can of Pepsi and finally eaten. Climbing back into her car, she had uttered another prayer and started the engine.

IV. Now, in the early morning, she could see the houses of the latest new tract. Hello, southern Idaho, she sang to herself. Having learned to love this state and its people, Dara had sworn long ago that she would never kill an Idahoan.

Hands and face caked with blood, her body sticky with it, she knew that she was coming into Twin Falls. She remembered these tract houses from her last visit three months before. Her blood, brains, and heart singing praise for all good things, she knew she would surprise her alcoholic mother, who expected Dara around noon.

Dara knew that Melody always slept late on Saturdays, and that was perfect. After washing the blood off in the basement shower, paying particular attention to cleansing the area between her legs, and then changing her clothes, Dara would go upstairs to the kitchen and make her mother and herself a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast. Before they ate, her mother would surely lead them both in a word of prayer.

Dara knew that it was going to be a glorious day with mother in Twin Falls. That night, they’d go out to eat, get a bit drunk, and visit some friends from the church; just maybe, Dara thought excitedly, some have heard of Tommy Gillette. Tomorrow afternoon, after church, they’d talk about moving to North Dakota to live with relatives they hadn’t seen in over ten years.

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