‘Whoop-dee-do,’ Anna said, eyes locked on her cell phone.
‘Listen, honey. I know –’
She punched a key. ‘Damn, lost the signal again.’
‘Anna, I’m trying to talk to you.’
‘And I’m trying not to talk to you.’
Bill considered pulling the pickup over. But the twists and turns of Highway 42 hugged the Douglas Fir-lined hills and grassy pasture so tight there wasn’t any shoulder to spare. This was the first time his daughter had spoken since they set out for Bandon, leaving Klamath Falls in the dark chill, well before dawn. He cleared his throat. ‘Look, I know you’re not happy –’
‘I did talk to your coach and he promised he won’t be bumping you down to JV. He understands that this weekend is important.’
‘And I’m sure you would have thought my weekend was important, too – if I was a boy starting as a quarterback for the football game.’
She bit her lip and turned away from her father’s beet-red face. There wasn’t any point in arguing. Even if she shoved her father out of the pickup and drove straight back – something she had considered for most of the first eighty miles – they were past the point of no return and she would never make it home in time. So after finally making starting setter for the varsity volleyball team – sacrificing her entire summer to do extra training – she was going to miss her first big game. All because of some stupid berry festival and salmon bake.
‘Look kid, I know right now you don’t think this is important, but it is. When you’re older, you’ll thank me for this.’
Anna’s focus remained on the phone.
Thirty minutes later as they bumped along a gravel road, the inside of the cab was still prickly with silence. Anna tore herself from the phone for a moment to look at the bogs on her Uncle Seth’s property. Cranberry harvest was still a few weeks away, but despite the red blush on the vines there was evidence all around that the berries were having another poor year.
‘I don’t know why he doesn’t ask me for help,’ her father murmured.
‘Were you looking for a written invite?’ She tossed her phone onto the dash.
‘That’s enough from you, young lady,’ her father said, pulling the pickup into the driveway. He gazed through the windscreen and blew out a large gust of air. His brother’s white house was turning grey, with faint patches of moss here and there, and the gutters were full of grass.
Anna rolled her eyes. ‘Uncle Seth doesn’t need your bullshit. You wanna help, take some time off when it would actually be useful.’
A shriek from the front door ripped through whatever he was about to say. Anna sighed as her eighteen-year-old cousin, Leah, pranced towards them, blonde hair bouncing.
‘Uncle Bill!’ Leah squealed.
‘Hey there, beautiful,’ her dad said, popping open the pickup door and engulfing his niece in a bear hug. ‘How’s it going? Nervous?’
Leah pulled back and grinned. ‘Oh, I’m just so excited I could die. Literally die! But I’ve been practicing my world politics and I’ve got my routine nailed and –’ she let out a shriek, ‘ – it’s amazing. To think – I may actually be Cranberry Queen!’
Anna scowled as she slid out of the passenger seat and slammed the door. The sound caught the ear of her uncle’s coonhound, Diesel. He trotted up to Anna and stuck his muzzle under her hand. She sighed as she scratched behind his ears. Damned creature was the most emotionally unbalanced thing she’d ever met on four legs. Frankly, he could be downright scary. But for whatever reason, the beast had loyally followed her around like a lovesick fool at every opportunity.
‘Hey there, smart ass,’ said a voice behind her.
Anna turned to see Uncle Seth dressed in dirty jeans, an ancient Guns N’ Roses T-shirt, and a faded yellow and green baseball cap. She smiled. ‘Hey.’
‘You gonna let your uncle give you a hug, or you too big for that?’
She dove into her uncle’s arms, the blasted dog right behind her.
‘Glad you could make it,’ he said softly. ‘I know you’re missing your big game, but this means a lot to your dad.’
‘You don’t care,’ Anna said, as she pulled away.
Her uncle gave a soft chuckle. ‘Oh, I think it’s nice. Of course I do. But I guess I’ve always been more in line with your great-grandmother’s thinking.’
Anna nodded, her smile widening. Years and years ago when the United States Government was requesting that all Native Americans register, Anna’s great-grandmother had told them to ‘go to hell’. She was famed for saying, ‘I don’t need another white man’s piece of paper telling me I’m something I damn well know.’
But her father couldn’t leave it at that. After years of arguing, Grandpa Alan had finally bowed to pressure from Anna’s dad and registered the family with the Coquille tribe. ‘It’s important people understand that we are still here,’ her father had said. ‘That our story still goes on beyond where the history books stopped.’
‘Dad, I’m one eighth,’ Anna had said. ‘One lousy eighth. I’ve got more Irish in my genes than Native American and you don’t see Ireland rushing out to grant me citizenship.’
‘Being bred out is part of the story, Anna. And knowing the stories, being a living part of the stories, is why this is important. Wait, you’ll see.’
The only thing Anna was seeing right now was that times were tough on her uncle’s farm and his damn coonhound was still inexplicably devoted to her.
Uncle Seth glanced down at the dog. ‘Diesel bothering you?’
Anna smirked. ‘Tell me, have you managed to take him hunting yet?’
Uncle Seth chuckled. ‘Shit no. Aside from keeping strangers off the property, he’s a total waste of space, but we love him anyway.’ He gave the beast a scratch behind the ears. ‘Come on, let’s get you all something to drink before we head out. Nancy should be back soon, she’s picking up Derek from football practice.’ Then he straightened up and began walking towards the house.
Anna was sorely tempted to point out that her sixteen-year-old cousin, who was a starting quarterback, wasn’t being asked to miss the Cranberry Bowl tomorrow for the memorial. But as if Uncle Seth was reading her mind, he abruptly turned around and wagged his finger at her.
She sighed, following him into the mudroom, where everyone began kicking off shoes and boots and putting them on the rack. Aunt Nancy was fond of saying, ‘I may live in the country, but the country doesn’t live in my house.’
They didn’t linger over drinks. Leah had to be at the gym early for the pageant and Anna’s father was eager to show his daughter the site where the monument was due to be unveiled. ‘Dad, I’ll see it tomorrow,’ she said.
‘Hey now, everybody is going out anyway, so we might as well swing by and check on how things are shaping up.’
Anna thought the tribe needed his input about as much as they needed another massacre, but she kept her mouth shut. Her father beamed as they pulled up to the site. She could never understand his enthusiasm for the land. The lot was exactly that, an empty plot covered in grey gravel and weeds, making it hard to believe that it was actually a historic archaeological site. Once upon a time you could have seen the Coquille River’s mouth from here, but now the defunct fish factory obscured it. It was an ugly and abrupt end to the area’s Old Town centre, and the monument wasn’t going to make it any prettier.
Her father rushed over to where the pit was being carefully dug for the salmon bake. She hung back, watching him chat with folks he hardly kept in touch with anymore. Bored, she wandered over to where the monument stood, covered by a tent, waiting for its big unveiling. People were coming from all over to celebrate, including two neighbouring tribes. Anna knew that part of their ‘help’ was to perform traditional dances, as the Coquille’s had long been lost, along with their language. Then people would buy food and trinkets from the booths. This always led to some random idiots sticking feathers in their hair and flashing peace signs. It was depressing.
She heard her father approach from behind. He wrapped both arms around her in a hug. ‘Listen, being part of a tribe is like being part of a family: even if you can’t be there every day you make an effort for weddings and funerals. Tomorrow is a wedding of sorts. Not to show up would make us no better than the people who claim to be part Native American because they think it’s trendy and PC.’
Perhaps he had a point. Not that she wasn’t still angry – she was mad as hell – but maybe…. well, she’d think about it. Although that point was very hard to keep in mind when she found herself sitting in the bleachers next to Derek while Leah warbled on about world peace during the Q&A segment of the pageant. Down below she could see the rest of the family – Dad, Uncle Seth and Aunt Nancy – in their special reserved seating. ‘It’s only for adult family,’ Leah had said, smiling with mock apology.
Anna had come very close to telling Leah she didn’t give a shit, but a sharp knowing look from her uncle had shut her up. ‘Play nice,’ he had said, just before they left.
Leah concluded her monologue and the crowd broke out into enthusiastic applause. Anna wasn’t sure if they were cheering because of what her cousin said, or out of relief that she’d shut up.
‘Does she believe a word of that crap she just spewed?’ Anna whispered to Derek.
He grinned. ‘All she’s been doing this past week is practicing her parade wave.’
‘And that is?’
‘Elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist,’ Derek said, demonstrating the graceful swoop popularised by British royalty.
‘Hey, Derek,’ said a deep voice from behind, ‘you doing that during tomorrow’s game?’
‘Yeah, Alex, it’s part of my plan,’ Derek said, turning around to face one of the best looking guys Anna had ever seen. ‘I thought we could all do it, and then while the other side dies laughing, we score the winning touchdown.’
The guy nodded. ‘Good plan. I’ll be sure to bring it up to coach tomorrow.’ Then he let his gaze linger on Anna and gave her a wink.
Anna quickly spun back round, facing the stage, willing her face not to go red. He’d actually looked at her. Was he looking at her now? How the hell was she supposed to sit here for the rest of the night while he was sitting behind her?
She felt a tap on her shoulder, and turned to see Alex, his grey eyes startlingly close. ‘So Derek tells me you’re his cousin from Klamath Falls.’
Anna nodded, her eyes darting back to the stage. She could tell people around them were getting annoyed.
He poked Derek, ‘You bringing her to the beach tonight?’
Derek glanced at him. ‘Sure, if she wants to.’
Anna raised an eyebrow. ‘You guys are going to party on a game night? That’s just asking for your asses to be kicked.’
‘Nah,’ Alex said. ‘The party’s tomorrow night. You’re welcome to come to that, too, but tonight’s just roasting hotdogs on the beach.’
Anna gave an uncommitted shrug, and turned back round, casually examining her watch. It wouldn’t do to look too interested. The guy had an ego. Besides, it wasn’t like this could go anywhere. But even so, she couldn’t help wondering how those perfectly shaped lips would feel on her mouth…
She was still staring at the band on her wrist when loud applause broke out. Derek’s head sagged into his hands. ‘Oh shit, she’s won. Now there’ll never be any peace.’
Anna gave her cousin a sympathetic pat on the back while watching Leah’s eyes fill with tears. ‘Elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist,’ she said.
Hot breath brushed across her ear, sending a shiver through her body. ‘Lookin’ forward to seeing you later, Anna-from-Klamath-Falls.’ She turned around. Alex was already gone.
Fifteen minutes of being home with the ecstatic Leah and Derek was ready to lose it. He poked Anna in the ribs, ‘I’ve got to get out of here. You coming?’
Uncle Seth gave them a hard stare. ‘Don’t be stupid, now. You’ve got a big game tomorrow. Not the time to be out late.’
‘It’s just hotdogs, Dad.’
Uncle Seth nodded. ‘You taking Anna?’
She shot her father a look that dared him to say no. He shrugged. He was sitting on the old worn sofa, a beer in his hand, looking as relaxed as could be. For all his pontificating about how he was glad to have gotten out of the berry business when he did, Anna knew he missed his old life.
Uncle Seth wandered out with them, pulling out his cell. He pressed it into Anna’s hand. ‘Here, your dad said yours wasn’t getting a signal.’
‘I’ll be fine,’ she said.
‘Of course you will, but I’ll feel better if you took it anyway. I’m not going anywhere tonight, unless it’s to fetch your ass.’
Anna laughed and popped open her uncle’s rusty old Ford pickup as Derek climbed into the driver’s seat. She stopped laughing when Diesel jumped in.
‘Oh hell, no,’ Derek said, trying to shove the animal out.
Uncle Seth reached into his back pocket and handed Anna a leash. ‘Mean a lot to me if you take him. The dog hasn’t been out in a while. He likes the water.’
‘Yeah, and then he reeks of dead fish,’ Derek said, leaning over to the passenger side. ‘You really going to make us take him?’
Uncle Seth chuckled. ‘Why yes, I really am. And if you have a problem with that, then maybe I have a problem with you borrowing my truck.’
Derek groaned as he put his hand on the back of the dog’s neck, shoving him down to the floorboards. ‘Behave, damn it.’
Anna climbed in, already regretting the outing. By the time she arrived at the beach she would smell of dog. Fantastic.
Uncle Seth shut the door. ‘You kids have fun.’
‘Yeah, right,’ Derek said, starting the rig. The minute his hand left the dog’s head, Diesel sat up and licked Anna’s face.
The drive into town was quiet. When they reached Beach Loop Drive, Anna could see all the way down to the sea, lit up by moonlight. Bandon’s beaches were nothing like TV, attracting sunbathers or surfers. No, Bandon’s beaches were famed for their relentless cold wind, grey sand, piles of driftwood, and bizarre rock formations. Local legend claimed the latter were the frozen bodies of actual people and animals, turned to rock by the benevolent spirit of the moon.
Anna had rolled her eyes the first time her father told her such tales.
‘Honey, I know it sounds stupid to your modern ears, but think about it. Bandon’s beaches are infamous for their undertow and there are always tourists getting yanked out to sea by sneaker waves. Parents back then had to warn children of the ocean’s dangers without the aid of modern science. Stories about evil sea demons explained why the water could look calm yet still be deadly.’
After that, Anna had no desire to wade into Bandon’s surf ever again. Even under the silver spell of the moon, the ocean gave her the creeps. She turned to Derek. ‘Your dad ever tell you the stories about these rocks?’
He chuckled, his eyes focused on the winding road. ‘Yeah, Dad has a real knack for it. Great-grandma would be proud. He can still scare the shit out of me with some of those tales.’
‘Hey, no worries. It’s a full moon. We get into trouble, it will save us.’
Anna gave a weak shrug, but her insides were in knots. She knew she was being ridiculous. They were just stories. But when she turned back towards the window she swore she saw Elephant Rock blink.
She jerked her head away as Diesel let out a soft growl.
‘Easy, boy,’ Derek said, turning into the parking lot.
The moment her feet touched the sand her unease turned to dismay. Alex was true to his word; the gathering really was just a bunch of kids roasting hotdogs around a fire. A gust of wind sliced through Anna’s fleece. She shivered, moving closer to the flames, and gave a bored sigh. Back home, her team mates would be celebrating their first victory of the season, and they had better places to go than this. She was happy for them. But what if coach thought the win meant they didn’t need her after all?
This day sucked.
Turning to Derek she said, ‘So, is this what you all do for fun? Just sit around and freeze your asses off?’
He shrugged. ‘What do you expect us to do? Coach will beat the shit out of us if he hears we’ve been drinking before a game. And cow tipping is lame.’
Anna snickered. ‘Nobody literally goes out and shoves over sleeping cows.’
‘Really?’ said a voice from behind. ‘Because that’s what we heard everybody does in Klamath Falls.’
Anna turned around to see Alex. ‘Hey,’ she said, trying not to reveal how happy she was to see him.
Diesel tugged at his leash and gave a low growl.
Alex took a step back and shot Derek a look. ‘Did your dad seriously saddle you with the dog?’
Derek snatched a hotdog out of the pack and tossed it towards Diesel. ‘Yep. Said no dog, no truck.’
‘Shit,’ Alex said, watching as the animal devoured the processed meat. He looked back up at Anna, ‘Well, I suppose if your uncle is so desperate for somebody to take the animal for a walk, then the only thing to do is take it for a walk.’ He held out a hand, ‘Shall we?’
‘You wanna go?’ Derek looked uneasy.
Anna bit her lip, as her eyes darted between her cousin and Alex.
‘Yo, Derek, I saw Shelly over there waiting for you.’ Alex gestured with his chin to the large rock formation on the other side of the fire. ‘Why don’t you go say hi? Besides, your cousin’s got the dog.’
Derek still looked uncomfortable.
Anna glanced at Alex. He gave her such a sweet boyish smile that her misgivings melted. She shrugged. ‘I’m good.’
‘Okay,’ Derek said, but then he stepped forward and gave her a big hug. ‘Careful,’ he whispered. ‘Alex is a player. You should hear the shit he says about girls in the locker room.’
She gave him a pat on the back. ‘I’ll be okay.’
‘Relax,’ Alex said, taking her arm as she pulled away from Derek. ‘I’ll take care of her.’
They walked in silence for about ten minutes. Anna let Diesel off the leash to sniff around and Alex occasionally tossed a stick. Sometimes the dog even brought it back. Then there was a large gust of wind. Diesel barked. Anna could have sworn the roar of the sea grew louder. She thought of those old stories of the rocks, making her skin crawl. She quickened her pace.
‘Hey, you okay?’ Alex asked.
She nodded. ‘Not the warmest night.’
Alex kicked a rock, sending it skidding into the waves. ‘Yep, this is Bandon. But don’t you worry, we’ll get you warmed up soon.’
She felt herself blush. What was she doing? Maybe she should go back.
He took her hand. His was so much bigger than hers. Stronger too. She glanced up at his face. He gave her a sheepish look. He looked so sweet. Anna felt herself relax, pace slowed. They strolled along, fingers entwined, until Alex stopped at a tidal pool.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked, straining to see, as Alex reached into the water.
He gave her a cocky grin as he triumphantly pulled out a six-pack of beer. Cracking one open he took a gulp then offered it to her. ‘Only good thing about this damn freezing water is it keeps the drinks ice cold.’
Anna stared at the can, the moonlight giving its metal surface an eerie green black sheen. ‘Thought you had a game tomorrow.’
‘That I do, and a couple of beers won’t hurt my performance.’
‘Says who?’ she asked, accepting the can.
‘Says the captain of the football team.’ He popped open another. ‘And that’s me, by the way.’
‘Oooh, am I supposed to be impressed?’ Anna took a big swig. The icy sensation spreading through her lungs and belly was the last thing she needed, but at the same time, there was something nice about how her shoulders eased as the beer settled.
Diesel came up and pressed his smelly wet head against her thigh. Before she could shove him off, Alex tossed another stick into the waves. The dog barrelled into the sea.
Alex laughed, as he turned back to Anna. ‘Hey, now why don’t we do something about warming you up.’ Taking her hand, he guided over to a dry rock, where they settled next to each other. His arm, surprisingly heavy, went around her, pulling her close. She tensed for a moment, uncertain where he was heading with this. But his hand did not stray. Gradually she curled up against his chest. He was very warm. It felt nice, cosy.
‘Want another?’ he asked, passing her a can.
She popped it open and took a mouthful. Two beers wasn’t exactly going to give her a hangover.
Alex watched her swallow, then let a finger travel slowly down the column of her throat. She warily lowered the can.
‘Derek tells me you missed your big game tonight.’
‘I’ll bet it does.’
She shrugged. ‘You know, at this point, I think I’d rather not talk about it.’
His cocky grin returned. ‘I know just the thing to take your mind off your problems, kid,’ and his mouth came down on hers. A thrill shot through her, bringing an unaccustomed tingle to her belly. The kiss deepened, and Diesel shoved his wet nose in their faces.
‘Shit, dog,’ Alex yelled, springing back from Anna.
The animal was dripping with seawater and stank like a fish cannery. Alex grabbed the stick from the dog and sent it flying back into the sea. Diesel paused for a moment, tipping his head to the side. Wiping the dog’s drool from her cheek, Anna motioned for him to go, and the dog went charging into the water.
‘Now,’ Alex said, cupping her face, ‘tell me, Anna-from-Klamath-Falls, where were we?’
She smiled, feeling stupid and doe-eyed, wishing she had some witty comeback on hand to give his ego a knock. He was a bit too smooth, too sure of himself. She rather missed the earlier Alex, the one capable of sheepish looks. But the fuzzy feeling in her head was interfering with her brain, making her tongue-tied.
His lips touched hers. It started off sweet, gentle. Anna sighed. But the kiss changed, became darker, rougher. Harder. Suddenly his hand was under her shirt and he pulled her bra up roughly. Her nipple was engorged from the cold, and he pinched it, hard.
‘Hey!’ She tried to shove his hand away. ‘Slow the hell down.’
‘Hey, nothing,’ he said, kissing her again.
The kiss was back to being soft, nice. He was a very good kisser. She felt herself relaxing into him. But then his hand was back; pinching her nipple so hard she saw more stars than were in the sky.
‘Ouch,’ she said, smacking his arm, but this time he kept his hand where it was. ‘Hey! You’re hurting me. Knock it off!’
‘Now, now, little wild cat. I can take it rough and dirty.’ He squeezed her breast again, and with his other hand he pressed her down, trapping her on the hard, cold sand.
‘What are you talking about?’ Her earlier pleasure vanished, and she began to feel afraid. Gathering her strength, she shoved him as hard as she could. ‘Get off me now, you asshole.’
‘Get off? Oh, I plan to,’ he said, and Anna felt him forcing down the zipper to her jeans. Then he slammed his mouth onto hers. She did the only thing she could think of – she bit him.
‘Bitch!’ He pulled back. She gave him a huge shove, executed a perfect volleyball roll to her feet and ran. Reaching into her back pocket as her legs sped, she grasped her uncle’s cell phone. But a heavy weight tackled her, bringing her crashing down onto the wet sand at the shoreline. As the phone bounced into the sea, Anna was flipped onto her back. She stared into Alex’s grey eyes, which now looked like dark hard coals in the pale light, and dread consumed her.
‘Dieseeel!’ she screamed.
Barking filled the air, but it sounded so very far away as she fought. He was so strong. He yanked her jeans to her knees.
A fist slammed into her face. But her ears could hear the dog’s vicious snarls closing in.
‘Fuck,’ Alex yelled, as the dog attacked.
Anna shifted her weight, trying to squirm free from the frenzy of flesh and fur. Alex lashed out, his kick sending Diesel reeling with a yelp.
Then silence. Anna still trapped, with only the moon as witness to her plight.
She fought, but he easily caught her wrists, pinning her arms down. She heard the rip of her panties as the edge of the tide came up to lick away the tears streaming down the sides of her face.
He thrust his knee between her legs as his hand tore her thighs apart.
A suffocating hush descended onto the beach. His actions no longer contained sound. Her screams were voiceless. As if the sky was sucking away the evidence of her pain.
Moonlight filtered down into her throat, spreading across her belly. The stars seemed to brighten as moonbeams reached down. She kept her tear filled eyes fixed on the glowing orb, allowing herself to be drawn into the light until it was the only thing she felt or saw. Coldness and pain vanished as the beams embraced her. It was if she had begun to float. Her awareness of Alex flickered and faded, until all she knew was the moon.
Sound returned to the beach as Alex pulled away. Tucking himself in, he glanced down. A scream ripped itself from his bowels. Anna was gone. In her place was a rock so hard, no man would ever be able to penetrate it. He tried to run, but he tripped over Diesel, now stone. Struggling to push himself up, an icy wet hand grasped his ankle. His final shrieks fell on the empty shore, until they were swallowed by the depths of the sea. The only sound that remained was the soft rhythm of the ocean’s endless parade of waves.
Hours later people began to worry about the missing teens. All through the night members of the football team, Anna’s uncle, aunt, and distraught father, walked up and down the sandy shore calling out the young people’s names. At daybreak two new rocks were spotted, the largest capturing Anna’s unmistakable profile, her face upturned to the moon forevermore. Alex has never been seen again. But Anna and her faithful dog Diesel remain there to this day.