Excerpt from A Fire in God’s Bathtub, Book I, Kizzy Creek Mysteries
Casey listened to Hank Williams bellowing Why Do You Drink?
Ignoring Jay Bird’s gravelled surface sliding dangerously beneath the truck’s tires, he did what he always did, kicking back and feeling the road’s familiarity, the thick pines on each side cocooning him in. But tonight, unlike all those other Friday nights when he’d driven up Jay Bird drunk, his Coke can full of Johnnie wedged between his legs, he was jolted from his relaxed daze by headlights bearing down in his rear-view mirror. Like solid glaring yellow discs, eyes on a monstrous grasshopper, they were threatening to overtake him from behind.
Casey gunned the accelerator, slamming the F-250 nose-first into the ditch. The Ford lunged to a halt, nose smacking the ditch’s embankment. He never swore–against his religion–but this called for hard-core expletives.
He cut the engine, unlocked his seatbelt, left the headlights on, and sat staring ahead, his lips clamped tight. What was the matter with teenagers nowadays? “I’ll be fair with them, but their parents are darn well going to hear about this.”
Seconds later, the big boat that herded him off the road backed up, tires squealing, exhaust belching smoke. When it pulled alongside, Casey groaned. Instead of the blasted teenagers, he recognized VeeVee’s fusty old pink Caddy she’d won selling Mary Kay cosmetics. What could she possibly want? He watched her spill out and then trip and nearly fall. When would she learn to wear sensible shoes?
She’s supposed to be at Ecogenix. The thought registered the second she yelled his name. He shoved his door with his shoulder, but it stuck, whapped shut from impact. Climbing across the console, he tried the other door, also smushed shut. He rolled down the passenger’s side window, mindful of the rain pelting his face, its cold slap-slap. He didn’t need it to sober up. Hitting the ditch had jolted him awake, events flashing around him in surreal pulses, the way film tore and movies broke up when he was a little boy.
Unable to open his door, he watched her stumble to him, wading through mud ankle deep and panting hard. He reached a hand out the window to help, and she grabbed it, but he was already winding up to demand an explanation. “Vee, do you realize you just ran me into the ditch?”
He’d never seen her bawl like this. “Vee, what on earth is wrong?”
“Something awful’s happened to Jesse! Oh, Case, oh, God.”
He stared, catching and holding his breath inside his tightening chest. Nothing was wrong with Jesse. How could it be? He was on his way to Jesse’s this minute. His eyes wandered over her hair, a thick, coppery red and strikingly ornate mop; his treasure. VeeVee told everyone she was a Hopewell Indian descendant. Tonight, he believed her. Backlit in her Caddy’s headlamps, she looked every bit the wild mysterious Hopewell shaman she claimed to be, death’s demonic harbinger, summoning. Come.
“Casey, didn’t you hear me? Jesse’s dead!”
He focused on her face, mascara pooling in cracked hollows below her bulging blue eyes, Apache red lipstick smearing her chin and cheeks. What a chilling apparition.
Reaching for him, she broke into another round of howling sobs, gasping so hard he thought she’d throw up.
“He’s dead. Jesse’s dead.”
Before he could stop it, the lurking sadness pounced. Casey plummeted inside–fearful and cowering–crashing into the void, the darkness that possessed and gnawed pieces of him, pieces of an interior he dared not face nor even admit existed. Not Jesse, he argued, frowning. Not Jesse.
Casey exhaled, slowly began monitoring his breathing. He needed to get control. This was all a big mistake, had to be. He’d have to see Jesse’s body to believe such a cruel lie.
“Where is he?”
“Tower 8.” She pointed toward Cherry Mountain, her shaman’s face a painted death’s mask.
Tower 8 was the Kizzy Creek State Forest’s fire tower, and it was on fire, flames shooting into the sky above Kizzy Creek’s wooly head.
His numbed hands flew to the steering wheel and, performing their function with disembodied ease, shifted the F-250 into four-wheel drive and then reverse.