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Dirk: I’m sorry, Mrs. Broke. For everything.
Brandi: There must be something, Dirk. Please. You were there with him. You had to have seen or heard something. He didn’t say anything?
Dirk looked away, no longer able to bear eye contact now that hers were brimming with tears.
Dirk: That town… did something to him, Mrs. Broke. He was fine the first couple of days there, and then suddenly, he wasn’t. He started talking to himself, sneaking around, avoiding me.
Dirk: Hanging out with these other kids, the locals. They seemed nice, but…
Dirk: There was something not right with them, either.
Brandi seized on it, this tiny sliver of information.
Brandi: Do you know their names? The local kids?
Dirk shook his head, a little too quickly. Brandi wanted to push him, to make him tell her everything, but the tremor in Dirk’s voice told her that it wasn’t obstinance that kept him quiet, but fear.
She supposed that was now her burden to uncover.
Realizing that Dirk would not be able to help her further, she slowly stood to leave.
Brandi: Thank you, Dirk. I appreciate your help.
Going into Dustin’s room that last time was like scratching a scab off of a slowly healing wound.
She’d cleaned most of it up in the weeks following his death, putting all the different little pieces of her eldest son’s life into boxes and bags. Carting him off, bit by bit, to the various charity shops that would collect him at the curb.
She’d kept the furniture for Beau, a cold practicality that even grief couldn’t obscure; Beau was still growing. He’d need those things eventually.
And then there were the things she’d kept for herself.
An old green and white tin box, filled with a peculiar assortment of trinkets, and a battered binder, blue, clean but slightly ragged. Old long before it had come into Dustin’s possession. Inside of it, page after page of scribbles.
Strangetown, he’d written.
Strangetown, again and again and again.
Smudged and scrawled, one word buried beneath another, Strangetown, it said, StrangetownstrangetownSTRANGETOWN.
That name had knifed into her, eviscerating her. Time had disappeared as she’d stood there, the room spinning and dripping, and Skip’s face puddling into Dustin’s, and the smell of chlorine and the cold wind on her face as memories writhed and hissed and gurgled, inescapable.
For one fraction of a second, she’d been angry at him, betrayal overriding the grief.
Angry, furious at her son
He had promised he wouldn’t go there
And at herself
Why on earth had she believed him?
And at everything in between.
Now, on hands and knees, she crawled beneath his bed and found the binder and the tin, pulled them back to her.
She might need them in the days to come.
Brandi: I don’t know if you can hear me, Dustin. But I’m leaving tomorrow. Catching the train first thing in the morning.
Brandi: I have to know what happened there. No… that’s not it. I need to know. There’s a connection, somehow. There has to be.
The calm surface of the water rippled gently as the freshly restocked fish searched for insects. She and Skip used to bring the boys here for fishing tournaments. They’d never won anything, but it had been nice, their time as a family. Had she known how brief it would be, she would have done so much more, savored it so much more deeply.
Dustin: Don’t do it, ma.
Dustin: That town is 2 for 2. Don’t try to break its streak; you won’t win. You can’t.
Skip: He’s right, honey. Think of Beau. Of Junior. They need their mom more than she needs answers.
Brandi turned to face her late husband, angrier with him than she could have ever imagined herself being when he was still alive.
Brandi: Do you think it’s been easy? Living like this?
Brandi: First you, and that was bad enough, but Dustin…
Losing Dustin had sparked something in her. Something ancient and primal, a deep, insatiable bloodlust that she could not – would not – control.
Brandi: Beau and Junior… What if they… they’re only just babies now, but someday they might…
The thought of it was unspeakable. That town would take everything away from her, if she didn’t stop it. Skip had to know that.
Brandi: How can I just ignore it?
Skip: Do you think adding yourself to the body count is going to change anything?
Good ole Skip, that placid, dependable asshole. Mr. Be-Reasonable-Honey, Mr. Think-It-Over-Brandi.
Skip: You want answers, Brandi? I don’t blame you; we wanted answers, too. But honey, so will they.
It hurt, then. Almost as much as finding him facedown in their tiny, pathetic little pool.
Almost as much as opening the door for the uniformed officers, with their badges and their pitying eyes, with their gentle request to come inside and talk to her about her son.
He expected her to fail. To follow him and Dustin into the darkness, lighting yet another torch to lead Beau and Junior down the winding path. Destiny.
Dustin: Stay here, ma. In Pleasantview. It’s safe here.
But she had to go.
They knew that.
They had felt it, too.