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An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Fourteen-year-old Angel wakes up one morning at her desert trailer home to discover her mother has been murdered by a lowlife named Scotty, who has vanished. Angel has no water, no weapon, but she knows that Scotty, an expert tracker and hunter, will surface soon in order to eliminate her as a witness. She has to run, to disappear, if she is to survive and tell the world what happened. Her flight takes her through a harsh landscape to places she never expected to be, forcing her to trust others for the first time...
Fourteen-year-old Angel wakes up one morning at her desert trailer home to discover her mother has been murdered by a lowlife named Scotty, who has vanished. Angel has no water, no weapon, but she knows that Scotty, an expert tracker and hunter, will surface soon in order to eliminate her as a witness. She has to run, to disappear, if she is to survive and tell the world what happened. Her flight takes her through a harsh landscape to places she never expected to be, forcing her to trust others for the first time and strengthening her in ways she doesn't even anticipate . . . until it's time to take a stand.
The fight started after midnight, Scotty drunk, Angel’s mother shrill on crystal. When it didn’t die down, Angel left the trailer to sleep nearby in a small draw where one of the drainage creases made a cradle. Screened from night winds, cut off from the yelling and threats, Angel could nestle in her robe and watch the stars. She no longer made wishes. Fourteen was too old for wishes. Sleeping outside was just one more thing that had to be done. When she awakened at dawn, the truck was gone and the trailer was empty. The inside wall by the door was bloody.
* * *
LATER ANGEL WISHED SHE’D CHANGED CLOTHES, shed her robe and put on jeans and a jacket. Wished she’d grabbed her daypack and taken the bread and a couple of water bottles. But no. She had to find her mother. Couldn’t think of anything else.
The pickup tracks went north, away from the westbound dirt ruts that connected their squatter camp to Dillon Road. Maybe she’d noticed that before she went into the trailer. Maybe that caused the rush. Angel knew there was nothing north except cactus and yucca and tall scree ridges that bordered the California desert.
She had walked twenty minutes or more when she stopped to slip off a shoe and shake out an annoying piece of gravel. In that quiet moment she heard the drone of Scotty’s truck bucking terrain in compound low and found his line of dust on the horizon. She stepped out of her sweatpants, used them to erase her footprints as she scrabbled several yards from the track to flatten behind a creosote bush.
She waited until he passed before looking up. Seemed like he was alone in the cab. She didn’t pay any attention to the brief flood of sadness. Sorrow can make its own desert and Angel’s tears dried a long time ago. If anything, she would occasionally notice a knot of anger burning somewhere in her chest. When the truck was out of sight, she stood, shook her pants out, put them on, and resumed walking.
Four months ago, Angel and her mom had been running from a guy named Jerry, another in a long string of abusive boyfriends picked with the accuracy of a heat-seeking missile. They’d hitched out of L.A. heading for Arizona. Supposed to find a cousin in Phoenix. A ride they caught in Ontario let them off at a truck stop in Cabazon. Angel’s mom struck up a conversation at the lunch counter while they waited for their burgers. Scotty was an easy acquisition.
Clever Scotty. In the truck stop he told them he was a hunting guide. Wrong. Turned out to be a gun dealer who trapped eagles and tortoises for quick money. He drove them east into the badlands. Big old GMC pickup towing a twenty-foot American Freedom trailer, both painted camo. Past Desert Hot Springs he took some dirt ruts into the flats and stopped at the jagged ridges bordering Joshua Tree. From a distance their camp looked just like more sagebrush. The beatings didn’t begin until the third week of the new relationship. Scotty didn’t climb in bed with Angel until the fourth week.
* * *
FOLLOWING HIS PICKUP TRACKS AND, finally, the drag marks, Angel found her mother’s shallow grave before noon. She pawed through the loose dirt until she uncovered a wrist, pulled till she cleared the hand. Her mother’s fingernails were broken. Scotty had torn the rings off. Angel pictured her mother clawing at Scotty’s eyes. Scotty. Angel had no weapon to kill him. That would have to wait.
Her mother. Lila Lee Dailey. Gone to dust. Angel could feel the cry coming, bad, huge, and it scared her. What if she couldn’t stop? What if she broke apart? She pushed the sadness away. Got hold of it. Wadded it up. Made it tiny. Put it down deep. She could bring it back later if she wanted to. Right now there were other things.
Sitting beside the grave, Angel knew she couldn’t leave until she fixed it. Piled rocks on it high enough and wide enough to keep the coyotes out. She would roll in the dirt around the mound to mask any blood residue with her scent. She didn’t realize she might have learned that from Scotty. But first things first: a good place to hide if he came back.
She scanned the area. A climbing rock? A cave? Nope. A patch of scrub? Too obvious. She would have to dig. Fifty yards farther north, past a mesquite thicket, she scooped a shallow depression behind one of the yucca plants dotting the valley floor. If Scotty returned, he’d see the rock mound over the grave. He’d look for her. Might check nearby bushes, the obvious places, in case his arrival had surprised her, but he wouldn’t walk far. He wouldn’t guess she’d go to much trouble to hide. He accused her of being silly and lazy. He would figure she’d run. Head west to Dillon Road, to Thousand Palms, maybe on to Cathedral City. Well, she would. Later.
The search for heavy stones required care. Rattlers. Scorpions. An eroded ledge nearby offered some heavy sand clods at the top, several loaf-sized stones along the bottom. It took her a couple of hours to carry them and cover the grave. When she finished she was seriously thirsty. She thought for a moment but found no solution. She collected her robe from the graveside, and used its hem to brush footprints back to her burrow. Nothing else to do but lie down, pull the robe over her, and wait until dark.
Copyright © 2011 by Charlie Price
Posted November 4, 2013
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