Bainbridge Island, Washington
Snug Harbor Motor Court
Snow falls lightly as two motorcycles the color of arterial blood cross the threshold of the Snug Harbor Motor Court: a Kawasaki Ninja 250R and a Honda Interceptor, driven by two nut-brown young men with long black hair, Darius Phillips and Dean Kitsap. Behind them rolls the school bus they call the Blue Beauty, although the blue paint is flaking and the bus is far from beautiful. Windows are shattered, the body tattooed with bullet holes. They have been at war, and will not have long to rest.
Bainbridge Island is the ancestral home of Dean and Darius’s people, the Suquamish Indians, fisherfolk for generations before the first white traders appeared. Now . . . the Suquamish own homes and businesses and fishing fleets and casinos and restaurants. Those who can’t afford better, like Dean’s family, huddle together in places like the Snug Harbor Motor Court. Nearly four hundred people share a hundred seventy trailers.
Dean, who leads the way, was born here. His mother and father and six brothers and sisters still live here, while an older brother is in the army, protecting strangers in a strange land. It is the only true home Dean has known. Still, somehow he cannot remember which way to turn.
There, at the central court—the cleared area houses a barbecue pit and a couple of weather-beaten picnic tables. Normally, children fill the narrow lane, playing in the snow, laughing and waving at the motorcycles and cars as they pass. Today, no one.
But the ground is cluttered with children’s clothes, as if they are fresh from the laundry. Laid out in sets. So strange . . . pants, shirts, shoes . . . and footprints in the snow leading off toward the common play area.
A removable steel-frame barricade blocks the Blue Beauty from going farther. The bus’s doors wheeze open.
First out is Terry Whittaker. Tall, dark-haired, wiry. Then Kendra Brookings peeks out and steps down, her nutmeg-colored, heart-shaped face pinched and cautious. Small, fragile-looking, but with a hidden strength that still surprises Dean. A survivor.
When had Dean learned about her strength? He isn’t sure. And . . . she wasn’t one of the Round Meadow Five, who had been sentenced to a summer of counseling kids at camp as punishment for their sins. How does he know her?
Sonia Petansu follows Kendra—thin, pale, angular. Long black hair with a vertical white streak. Cynical protectee of the largest of them, the big black guy everyone calls Piranha, Charlie Cawthone. Last off the bus is Corporal Ursalina Cortez, alert and serious, watching everything, missing nothing.
Dean moves toward the commons as the others follow him, silent, floating above the new snow, barely leaving footprints.
Dean finally hears an old woman’s voice. Then he sees the children. They sit in the snow, dressed as they might have been to take a dip in the summer ocean, bare brown skin glimmering in the shimmering flecks, which seem to glide around them without touching. Why aren’t the children shivering in the cold?
The old woman is telling stories, as she always has, from the time Dean was small. Everyone calls her Storyteller, and perhaps he once knew her real name, but he cannot remember. Storyteller has always been old. Dean’s grandmother once told him that when she herself was a girl, Storyteller had spun her tales, and even then, she had been old. Storyteller has lived there since before the first trailer was towed to its berth.
Dean sits on the bench near the barbecue pit, where in the summer they roast salmon and beef ribs and enjoy the smell of lush green pine drifting from the Columbia Forest. A boy sitting there looks back and smiles, beckoning him over. His little brother, Raymond. Had Raymond been sitting there a moment ago? Why hadn’t he seen him? Everything seems so strange.
“Years ago,” Storyteller says, “before your grandparents were born, we knew things that you have forgotten, or pretend to have forgotten.”
The children listen, rapt. “We knew not to let the children wander. The old ones would say, ‘If you aren’t careful, children, Kalkalilh will come and take you all away.’
“You have forgotten now, but if we forget, Kalkalilh will return. She is a giant, a huge woman who hides in the woods. Her home is far up in the mountains. In the evening or even in the daytime, but mostly in the evening, she will come prowling around the villages looking for disobedient children playing outside instead of doing their chores. Kalkalilh always has a great big basket strapped on her back, and can you guess what the basket for? She grabs children, throws them into the basket, and scurries as fast as she can back home, up in the mountains. There, she boils them alive and sucks the marrow from their bones.”
The children gasp, frightened. Perhaps Dean gasps with them. Fear whispers across his skin. Has he heard this story before? Has he seen the old woman with the basket with his own eyes?
“Since the children of the village did not want to die, they obeyed their parents, as good children did in those days . . .”
Dean looks down at his brother Raymond, whose hand slips into his. The fingers are small and cold. Dean rubs Raymond’s hand to try to warm him, but Raymond’s skin feels like a block of ice.
“But Kalkalilh was clever, and lured the parents away, so that the children were hungry and crying. Bigger children had been left to watch over the smaller ones, boys who were nearly men, and one of those older children was Dean. He was a great carver. He always had a sharp knife in his possession.”
She looks at him when she says the words, and Dean’s fingers touch his belt. There is indeed a knife there. He doesn’t remember carrying a knife.
He looks around, and doesn’t see the others who followed him here. His cousin, Darius, is gone. And the motorcycles, and the battered bus. No Kendra. No Terry. None of them. All gone. Only he remains with the children in the snow.
“A strange old woman came out of the woods, and in her hands were strips of dried salmon. ‘Come, children, take this jerky.’ And when the smallest girl reached to take the food, the cannibal woman grabbed her and threw her into the basket strapped to her back. And then grabbed up all the other children and headed off to her home in the mountains. Even Dean was trapped in the basket.
“But Dean was clever, and used his knife to cut a hole in the basket’s straw, and one at a time, he pushed out the others and told them to go home. As each child thumped onto the ground, Kalkalilh said, ‘What was that, Dean?’ and Dean would say, ‘Nothing, Gramma. It is only the sound of your feet on the ground.’ And she believed his lie, so she continued walking until she arrived at her home. Dean tried to free all of the children, but a few remained trapped in the basket with him.
“Kalkalilh started a fire in her hearth, melting pitch to seal the eyes of the children, so that they would be unable to see if they dared try to escape.
“And Dean whispered to the children: ‘As she starts to smear the pitch on your eyes, look down so that it smears on your foreheads and will not blind you.’ And they agreed to do as he said, although they were very scared.
“When the cannibal woman finished smearing the pitch onto the children’s foreheads, believing she had blinded them, she laughed while a bleached skull rolled on the ground. Then she sat down and started to paint her face in preparation of dancing to celebrate the succulent feast.
“While she danced on the opposite side of the fire from the children, Dean said, ‘Come closer to us, Grandmother, as you are dancing.’ And she did. When she came between the children and the fire, they all jumped on her and shoved her into the roaring hot flames. As soon as her hair hit the fire, she screamed as the lice on her head went up like a big puff of smoke. Dean used the fire tongs and kept pushing her further into the fire, saying, ‘I am trying to help you.’
“And she screamed, and the children laughed and laughed . . .”
At the trailer park, Dean and the children laughed at the thought of the old woman dancing in the flames. Dean laughed until tears ran down his face while snow drifted to the earth and never touched him.
But Raymond’s hand was so cold that it burned his skin, so he let his brother go. And when he glanced at Raymond’s face, his brother’s eyes were bright red.
The color of blood.