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“Hi, Becky.”

She calls every year. If asked, Sam would not have a good explanation for why he picks up; Becky is unfailingly unpleasant and usually manages to call at a bad time.

“Did it really happen?”

Sometimes, when he's had a bad day, or when she's really being rude, or when he's just tired of playing therapist to someone he hasn't seen since they were ten, he considers saying no. “Did what happen?” he might say. Or “Sorry, who is this?” Or, if he really wanted to be cruel, he might just not pick up the phone. But—and here is the thing he cannot explain to other people—he knows why she calls, and he would never do that. If she didn't call, he would probably do it himself. He needs reassurance he isn't crazy as much as she does.

“It did.”


Some years they chat about the holiday for a bit, pretending they have anything in common other than unspeakable trauma. Sometimes there's just a long, strained silence that drags on until Becky starts to cry. But thirty-two years have passed, thirty-two phone calls, and probably seventy percent of them follow the exact same pattern, so Sam expects her to hang up as soon as he confirms.

“I still have nightmares,” she says instead, and this is so startling that he doesn't know exactly how to respond. They have never talked about it, not since they realized no one knew they were gone, that it was indeed the very same night they had left, and made the joint decision not to talk about it ever again. Aside from these annual check-ins, which are their only contact, they've never acknowledged it at all. “I can't keep anything down, either. I'm too damn angry to eat.” This surprises him not at all. He's so angry sometimes he sees red. He'd always thought that was just an expression, until the time a truck cut him off and he punched through his own windshield. He considers the scars left over from that now (his knuckles; they accentuate the long, almost artistic scars trailing up his arm).

“Me too,” he finally says. Becky snorts.

“I find that hard to believe, Sensitive Sammy.” She's trying to get under his skin. He rolls his eyes.

“If you're gonna be—”

“Oh, shut up, I'm just messing with you.” She sounds so tired. “Guess where I am.”

“I have no idea.”

“At the lake.”

Sam realizes he is standing up when the candy bowl clatters to the floor, fun-sized Snickers and Milky Ways scattering everywhere. “Jesus, Becky, why?”

“It looks the same,” she says. He can see it in his mind, even though he hasn't been there since they fought their way back across the bridge, back to the real world. “They painted the bridge green, but it looks the same. Like I could just walk over it and be back there—”


“Why not?”

“You really have to ask that?”

“People cross it every damn day. It's just a bridge.”

“It's not just a bridge; don't be stupid.”

“I'm not. It's been three decades and I'm an adult and I'm tired of being afraid of a goddamned bridge.”

Sam is grabbing for his keys—what the hell is he going to do with his keys? he asks himself. Even if he can get there—“Becky, listen—”

“I go by Rebecca now.”

For fuck's sake. He shoves his feet into his shoes, grabs his wallet, turns off the lights as he tears out into the night, dodging a pack of trick-or-treaters walking towards his door. “Fine, Rebecca.” Maybe if he keeps her talking—what, she'll come to her senses? She'll change her mind? In all the years they were trapped, did he ever once convince her to do something she didn't already want to do? But he feels like he has to keep trying, and he has no other ideas. “It doesn't work for grownups, you know that—”

“Then what are you so worried about?”

This is an excellent point, one he does not have a satisfying reply to except that he knows her, and if she's there, she has a plan. “Okay, but—assuming you can even get through, what are you going to do?” he asks (it's a dumb question—she'll be looking for revenge—but he's desperate) as he starts the car and backs carefully out of the driveway. “What if you can't get back home?”

There's a long silence on the other end of the line. He calls her name a few times before she replies. “It doesn't matter. I never left. Neither did you.”

Sam's throat seizes up and he tastes the metallic tang of trapped-animal panic. “Becky, Jesus,” he manages, but between watching the kids who are all around and fighting the memories that are threatening to overwhelm him, he can't think of how to argue with her.

(When they had finally dragged each other across the bridge, covered in blood that was only partly theirs, he had thought—well, that they were safe, and it was over. And sure, they were safe. But it wasn't over. It's damn near impossible to acknowledge what happened, even having done it, and the part of him that will always be a terrified kid shies away from the thought even as he thinks it, but—how do you go through that and ever expect to recover? He's been trying, God knows. All his relationships have fallen apart, even with his parents, and he's still in therapy for anxiety and the gephyrophobia—fear of bridges, hah fucking hah—that he can neither sufficiently explain to other people nor control, and he has panic attacks and can't sleep without a weapon to hand and probably drinks too much given the medication he's on, but he has a degree and a job, he has a 401k, he has a gym membership. He's doing okay. Other than the scars, and the phone call every Halloween from the stranger who is his closest friend, and the night terrors that plague him even after he wakes up.

She's right. Of course she's right.)

“I'm going after her.” Becky's voice is high-pitched and sing-song, and he remembers her reading aloud from the ancient tome that described the horrifying things they needed to do to get home—Jesus—he shoves the memory aside, but it's sticky, it clings like the stench of blood—

“She's got to be dead by now.” He's on the highway. He needs to get gas if he plans to go anywhere.

“She's still alive.”

“How do you know?”

“I can feel her watching me.” He shudders so hard he almost drops the phone, almost swerves out of his lane. “You can too.”

Sam opens his mouth to tell her that she's being ridiculous. “All the time,” he whispers instead.

“It's a blood moon tonight,” Becky says. Sam glances out the window, but he's not seeing the view from his car. He's seeing the bridge. He's always seeing the bridge. “I've got nightshade. I've got cold iron. We're not kids anymore. I'm going to bleed her out slow and bathe in it, like—like she—” Her voice breaks before she can keep going, before she can continue to destroy the mutually-agreed upon silence that is all that has kept him going, and Sam grips the steering wheel until his knuckles turn white.

“You'll never make it.”

“So come with me.”

“The hell I'll go back there,” he says immediately.

“I've got gear for you too.”

“You're never going to get to her, nobody—”

“Nobody ever escaped before us, either! Don't be such a fucking coward, Sammy!”

You're the coward!” he yells, swerving abruptly across two lanes to get to the exit. “You can't live in this world, can't live with what we did—”

“What she did to us!”

“What we did.”

She's silent for a bit. He pulls into the gas station, shuts off the engine, but he's shaking with rage and with fear and he doesn't get out of the car just yet. “She made me this way.”

“You were already a bitch.”

“Yeah, but she made me a murdering bitch.”

He closes his eyes. “Becky, don't do this.”

“Why not?”

“You'll fail.”

“I might not.”

“You will. She'll kill you.”

“So what?”

He doesn't know if she manages to hold down a job. He's never asked if she lives somewhere nice or sleeps in her car. He can't tell her that people will miss her, because he doesn't know that either, but if her life is anything like his, there probably isn't anyone else who will, not for long.

And even if she does have a beautiful home and a dazzling career and a great marriage and wonderful children and dozens of friends, it doesn't matter.

He draws in a deep breath, holds it for the count of five, lets it out. He figures that's when she knows.

“Sam,” she says, so quietly, “the eclipse lasts for another three hours.”

Sam finds himself doing the math in his head, like he doesn't always know exactly how far away he is from the bridge. “I can be there in two.”

“Don't be late,” Becky says, and the line goes dead.

Rykie Belles lives in Atlanta, where she has received many traffic tickets and lost two separate bouts on the Write Club Atlanta stage. In her other life she is a musician at renaissance festivals across the Southeast. Her first name rhymes with “sticky.” Find her on Twitter @withaykie.
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16 May 2022

we are whispered into this new land, this old land, whispered anew
i tuck myselves under coffin nails. and then i am the sun like a nairobi fly, burning spine and skin.
The last deer in heaven flees, and Sestu pursues.
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