>Chapter Three Continued — Susanna

>There is never any damn parking spaces in downtown Athens so Dewayne had to park his truck two blocks away from the restaurant by the Methodist church playground.

Playground. What the hell about the playground? His thoughts began to crackle in his head like static-y AM waves from a far away radio tower.

He tried to temper his long strides. Merri trotted beside him, refusing to be anywhere but in his face. She kept her eyes tight on his as if to burrow into his brain.

His black F150 waited between the neatly painted lines on a small hill, looking down to a sandbox where two unkempt, tired moms conversed while their toddlers waddled about, shoving fistsful of sand into their curious mouths. All this blood dripping out of their fat baby lips.

No, that’s not right! No blood in their mouths! What the hell?

“Dewayne, are you alright?”

His hands shook so bad, he could barely press the remote to unlock his truck.

“I’m fine, honey.” He sounded off-tune, like his old man, drunk on Mad Dog, stumbling over the metal baby playpen Mom had kept in the den and loaded with the laundry she didn’t put up.

“You’re not. What was that phone call about?” Merri said, hurrying around the truck. She climbed inside, dropped her purse on the floor. Her pentacle flashed in the light coming through the windshield.

Dewayne turned the ignition and reached behind her headrest, incidentally trapping her long hair under his arm.

“Ouch, Dewayne!” She pulled her hair free.

It took forever for an entwined college couple, looking very post-coitus, to amble past his truck. Then he ripped out of the space. The tires squealed as he hauled out of the church parking lot. He tried not to look back down at the sand box, but he had to. Heat shot up to the top of his spinal column, a place a college professor once told him was the most primitive part of the human brain. That distant radio signal was breaking through the monotonous roar of air space. Dried blood dripped from her mouth onto the white, soft sand. Sand that a million of years ago shifted on the sea floor.

He fumbled for his phone. It slid off the seat onto the floor beside Merri’s feet.

She snatched it up. “I’ll dial, you drive.”

“Press #8 and ask for Reverend Terrell. Say it’s me.”

Damn Athens and it’s grids and senseless one-way streets.

He could hear the phone ring and Annie, Terrell’s assistant, answered, “Jesus has a home for you at Bethel Baptist. Can I help you?”

“Say you want to talk to Terrell!” He shouted, even as Merri was doing just that.

“Yes, it’s Dewayne, well, Dewayne’s beside me, driving. He said to call.”

Annie said something then there was a shuffling noise and Terrell’s prerecorded voice came on, “Jesus loves you. Lay your troubles, your burdens down before Jesus and let him give you peace in the goodness of his word-“

“Dewayne?” the same deep, reassuring voice answered.

He grabbed the phone from Merri. “I need help Terrell. I cain’t talk much now.”

Merri’s blue eyes widened, then narrowed. She fiddled with that pentacle of hers.

“Where are you?” Terrell asked.

“I’m driving back from Athens. I got a call there’s—shit, I cain’t talk.”

“The Karps called me a few minutes ago. Little Letisha is missing. I’m praying for them now.” Terrell offered up what Dewayne couldn’t say.

Dewayne cut his eyes to Merri. “I done seen her,” he said carefully, “or someone. I done seen a little girl.”

Terrell let out a deep guttural breathe, like he was leaning forward in his seat. Dewayne could almost see him clasp his powerful hands together. The same hands that use to throw a straight, hard pass into a receiver’s hands in the inzone of Texas A&M. “What did you see?”

Dewayne looked at Merri. She quickly averted her eyes. But she was still listening. “Not much. Sand. White sand. Low, like downhill, but it ain’t a ditch. It’s open like.”

“Nothing else?”

Dewayne didn’t say blood, he couldn’t with Merri beside him. A beat of silence and Terrell understood.

“Some dried river bed maybe?” Dewayne thought aloud. “What’s out there by the Karps?”

“The limesinks,” Merri said. “Where we used to play quicksand behind Gram’s house.”

Published by laura

I'm the author of two short story collections, a story cycle, and a collection of short memoirs. I am an educator, literary translator, journal editor, and writing coach.

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