“Pick one to take home: A puppy or Paul Ortez?” She held a rope candy at the side of her mouth, waiting for me to answer, but my face betrayed me with a rashy blush. “I knew it,” she laughed, pushing my shoulder in a friendly but hard-enough way that I fell backwards from my knees. We were sitting on the peeled linoleum of her kitchen floor when a sallow looking woman came in without knocking. Sabrina looked at me, her own face soured. She said, “That’s my aunt.” She raised the back of her hand to her mouth and whispered in my direction, “She forgot her baby in the car,” as if to explain the dense feeling of dread the woman pulled into the trailer with her.

            I felt my stomach drop; I told myself it was the potato chips and chocolate syrup chasers we just dug out of the back of a bottom cabinet. 

            She led me over gravelly carpet, through the plasticky, wood-paneled hallway, to the almost last room on the left. It was the size of my bathroom at home; the air was thick and musty and it gave me a headache to breathe through my nose, but Sabrina didn’t seem to even notice. She pulled out an extra-large vinyl CD case from under her bed, on its top the name “Eric” was written in lightning-bolt letters with white-out.

            “Alice in Chains,” she said, grinning. The CD was black. The cover in the sleeve showed four long-haired men, old and ugly. I was still thinking of Sabrina’s aunt. Was her baby dead?

            She pulled me up by the hand, squeezing for longer than felt normal. “Let’s dance!” she said. We watched ourselves gyrate awkwardly in front of her body mirror. A single framed picture jumped against the wall behind us, then we dropped at the sound of pounding on the door.

            “Sahbreena!” her mother’s voice slurred.

            The trailer stilled, but the song whined on. Sabrina winked at me, a snicker just reaching the surface. Thuds as her mother walked back down the hallway, Sabrina’s face sinking. I didn’t smell the smoke anymore and all I could think was that I wanted to go home. So I did.

That was the night Sabrina went missing.

When I left that night, her aunt and mother were sitting in two armchairs that were really meant for outside. The aunt never spoke, but Sabrina’s mother lit a cigarette, said: “Ever seen smoke rings?” She blew blobs of smoke in my direction that looked more like a chimney stream than circles, then laughed. I saw her yellowed, buck teeth. I remember thinking that’s what horse teeth look like. “Your mom’s on her way, honey. I called her already. Sahbreena!”

            Sabrina was sulking in her room, miserable and mad that I wanted to leave. All the kids probably did, when they came. Even the ones who lived here. Sabrina especially. Mad because I could and she couldn’t.

            Mom drove me back a few weeks later, parking the SUV half in the grass, careful not to get too close to where a tire-sized trench had formed from the unusually high number of visitors. I leapt over the trench, feeling especially the power in my muscles, me—still alive. It had filled up with muddy rainwater, a small moat. Sabrina’s body had been discovered only a mile away, by an eighteen-year-old boy with the volunteer fire department, wearing camouflage and crying. I heard the 911 call on the news. Beside the piles of rain-sogged teddy bears and candy and ballerina jewelry boxes, I left a teddy bear and a card at the front steps, but I knew that Sabrina would have rathered a CD or a pack of candy cigarettes.

It was dusk, but early in the day. That time when the sun sets too early, when you’re not prepared and you think you’ve got more light still but the shadows insist on covering the parts they hadn’t yet touched. A scream in the voice of Sabrina’s mother escaped the trailer suddenly, and I knew I had heard that exact scream before—at home, an early winter dusk, Daddy told me it was the scream of a red fox, but I knew better now. Now that I had really heard it, up close. It was the scream of a woman dragged by her hair up the hills, of unmuzzled mourning. It stringed itself through the trailer door that was more like foam board with a lock. “Sahbreena! Oh God, Sahbreena!” The door padded open and Sabrina’s mother pulled herself onto the small porch. She stared at me, frozen and silent, and she looked a lot like the still-lifes on Sabrina’s Alice in Chain’s CD and I wondered if it was in there just now, through the hallway to the almost last room on the left.         

            “Hey kid,” she said, leaning over the wood railing. I heard the driver’s side door thud open, my mom getting out. “Sahbreena’s not home.”

            She really looked like she had been dragged up the hills by the hair. “She didn’t like any of this shit.” She flicked her half-smoked cigarette toward the tire trench and when she opened the door I saw Sabrina’s aunt, sitting on one of those indoor lawn chairs. The cloud of dread was everywhere, now.


The End


Stacey Lounsberry


Stacey Lounsberry is a full-time mother and writer, and her work has appeared in The First Line and Inscape. She earned a BFA in Creative Writing from Morehead State University, and later an MAT in Teaching Special Education. She lives in Eastern Kentucky with her two sons and husband.

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