Note: At long last, this is the second episode of a fictional story I've been stewing for a good, long while. Future episodes will appear on this blog under the label "The Sons of Magda Lane." No set schedule, just as it occurs to me. Feedback is welcome.
Read Part I here.
"God, you've killed me!" The words chased Vinnie as he sped blindly down the path along the east side of the river. As fast as he ran, they kept pace, echoing in the blank, red space behind his eyes.
Vinnie's breath came in great, lunging gasps. He fled mindlessly, swept forward by the horror of the vision he had left behind.
The young woman lying, just as he had left her, flat on her back, her head raised to examine the wreckage of her body, the blood running freely out from beneath her onto the sun-scorched pavement at the intersection that came off the bridge. Her face bore an expression of deep, confounding hurt, as if she had been betrayed by an old, dear friend. "God, you've killed me!" she wailed.
A few minutes earlier, she had been a beautiful young woman with a pearly smile and skin the color of fresh milk. Her eyes flashed from shadow under the wide brim of her flower-adorned hat. She smiled at Vinnie as he waited the light, tapping his fingers on the wheel, impatiently, muttering under his breath. Despite his sour mood, he shot back a carnivorous grin as if to say "Careful, girl! I'm a wolf!"
And then, he had seen the low, black sedan slide past, from right to left on the street before him. The driver leaned back in his seat, relaxed, confident, one hand toying with the steering wheel, the other dangling out the window, palm open and facing the wind. The long, hollow cheeks, the sharp chin, the slender neck, and the jet black, lanky straight hair that gathered about the shoulders were as familiar to Vinnie as his own two hands. Stormy!
Vinnie had not seen his older brother for nearly two years. Stormcloud Lane had disappeared in the late fall of 2008. Disappeared suddenly, without warning. Even Magda herself had not known where he had gone. Or pretended not to know. One could never be sure, with Magda. Whistler may have known something, too, but when Vinnie asked him about it, Whistler's face turned to cold ash. "Let it lie, man," he had said. "Stormy'll be back someday. But right now, just let it lie. Let it lie."
And there was Vinnie, waiting at the light so he could drive across the Hawthorne Bridge to collect his mother, pluck her out of whichever of her numberless schemes she was embroiled in: scheming, fascinating, mystic Magda Lane. Vinnie was totake her to the run-down motel on 82nd Street where the family had set up headquarters for the stay in Portland.
Small wonder, then, that the pretty girl with the milky skin evaporated from Vinnie's mind as he saw his idolized older brother passing before him. Driving by, lazily, as if he, Vinnie, did not exist. Small wonder that, when the light turned green, Vinnie stomped on the gas pedal and cut across two lanes to make the left and follow the black sedan.
He felt the surge as the passing gear engaged, the tires shrieked and the car lurched. His eyes were already scanning the street ahead of him, looking for the sedan, so he did not see the girl taking her long loping steps across the street. Then she was bent over the hood of the car, her hat flying up and over the windshield, her arms stretched out, hands grasping. Her eyes went wide with horror; her lips formed an astonished "O." Vinnie's foot was on the brake, his shoulders pushed back into the seat. Somewhere in his mind, a child bade him farewell and fled his soul, forever. Then, the girl was flying away, rising into the air seeming to spring backward like a startled frog.
The car shrieked to a halt and Vinnie exploded out the door. "Jesus! Jesus!" he roared. He ran ahead toward the girl, where she lay. Then, he could not speak.
She was on her back. Her mouth worked for a moment. Her eyes flitted onto him, then back at her body, lying perfectly straight, hands at her sides, feet together. Her midsection appeared sunken, like the dusty, dead pit above a collapsed cavern. "God," she wailed, "you've killed me!"
Vinnie had stood stone still for an instant. Someone nearby screamed. He heard car doors opening behind him. And then he ran. First, he ran to the left, away from the river. And then, blind with terror, seized by a panicked, insane notion, he spun around and ran back toward the river.
And so he ran. He reached the river and turned left, southward, sprinting along the black-topped bicycle path. The day was hot and there were few people. But Vinnie saw no one and nothing as he ran.
In time, though he was young, and lithe, his heart and lungs could give no more without rest, and he slowed. As his body relented, his mind began to wrest control from the panic.
I must hide! he thought. His breath came in ragged gasps. I need time to think!
The path ran along the river for miles, Vinnie knew. Eventually, it would come to the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. But it was too far. He couldn't stay on the path that long.
Sweat ran down into his eyes. He wiped at it angrily with his sleeve. Stop! he told himself. Stop for a minute!
Warehouses stood to his left, the Willamette River slid northward to his right. No one was on the path; he was alone for the moment. As he gasped for air, he listened. No sirens, no shouts. Only the hiss of traffic on the overpass above him. Only the gentle lap of waves against the shore.
He was crying, then. Crying for fear, the way he would cry as a child, with his face buried in Magda's breast. What have I done? What have I done? Mama, Mama save me!
The girl's face, the hurt in her voice, as if she were a a schoolgirl treated cruelly by her best friend, assailed him as he stood in the middle of the path, blubbering. He doubled over, wracked with sobs. He didn't notice the figure who approached from his left.
Her walk was like the prowl of a lioness on the hunt. Her shoulders and hips swayed; her mane of auburn hair brushed her shoulders. Her eyelids hung low over her eyes. Tiny creases at their corners deepened as she regarded the boy before her.
She walked to within arm's length of Vinnie, then stood at his side, arms folded across her middle, waiting for him to notice her.
He jumped when he saw her, his arms rising to cover his face. Then he saw that she was regarding him with a patient, amused expression. No pity, but maybe a hint of compassion in the clear, gray eyes. She was older than he, by a decade or so: in the early bloom of adulthood. One corner of her full-lipped mouth was pulled back in a sardonic smile.
Vinnie calmed, lowered his arms. He squinted at her. "Tara? Is that you?"
"It's me, kid," she said. "I've been waiting for ya. Come with me."
"But how...? But, Mother is waiting and I..."
"Come on, kid," she said. She stepped close, wrapped herself around his arm and pulled him gently in the direction of the warehouses standing off behind her, quiet and dark as mausoleums. "The world is full of mystery. I'll handle your mother."
To be continued...