My jaw lowered. Don’t do what I say, and I’ll have to break my promise. Do you understand?
For a second, I’m sure he’s going to tell me he parked it at the mall, and I’m going to have to walk my ass up the highway for an hour to get there. Instead, he shrugs and says finally, On the north end of Wheeler Park. On Birch.I slide down from my stool, finishing off the pint I just paid fifteen bucks for. Hutch is still watching me with these eyes like I can’t describe. He pauses, then says, But I’m telling you now, you ever find someone who likes the job, you better goddamn run the other way because you’re looking at the real monster. You’re looking right at him.
I take my time walking to downtown—excuse me, Historic Downtown, they call it, like it needs that distinction because there’s another, more important downtown in Flagstaff, with skyscrapers. I take my time because the sun is out and it’s a beautiful blue-sky morning—the kind that usually makes everything beneath the sky seem that much shittier in comparison, but not today.Out of the corner of my eye, I see the old train station where my dad and I used to lay pennies to be mauled on the tracks. For the first time in years, I consider crossing the street to sit on one of the benches, just because I know I’ll never do it again. I don’t know how I’d pass the time besides sit, though—what few trains are still running don’t take this route anymore. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Sitting around, doing nothing, thinking about work but not finding it. I think that’s the problem, all that sitting; it leads to thinking about all this bullshit, about the parks they had to turn into graveyards, about Dad’s restaurant’s still being empty after all these years, about the fact that we had to move to a new trailer because we couldn’t get the blood off the walls of the old one.Damn Hutch, I think. The only thing Dad wanted was an out.
I head past the boarded-up shops. When I was a kid—I use that phrase a lot, when I was a kid. That was, what? Fifteen years ago? Are you still a kid when you’re ten? I guess it doesn’t matter, but it was right around then that this part of town was done up nice for the tourists. The buildings are practically ancient by Arizona standards. Dad told me most of them, including the red brick one with the white turrets, used to be old hotels. Now they’re bead shops, or they sell mystic crystal bullshit from Sedona or fake petrified wood. Those are the shops that survived the economy’s face-plant.There’s no one out wandering around that morning, and little traffic. That’s the only reason I can hear the chanting three blocks from where the protest is taking place. I think about cutting up a block and going the long way, but the city commissioned this horrible memorial wall mural there that makes my skin crawl every time I pass it. In it, there are these five kids all running around this flower field. One of them is on a swing hanging from a cloud. It’s called Their Playground Is Heaven, if you ever make the trek up to Flagstaff and are in the mood to hate humanity that much more.
The mom squad is out in full force in front of City Hall. Of course. It’s a day that ends with y. Back a few years ago, I thought they might accomplish something just by the sheer number of bake sale goods they were producing and selling to raise money for the BRING THEM HOME fund. Now it’s obvious that was never the point.
I keep my head down and my hat pulled low, ignoring the squatty woman who rushes up in her too-tight mom jeans and bright yellow MOTHERS AGAINST CAMPS shirt, shoving her clipboard in my path.Etta had never been to the Tiger’s Nest, let alone Bhutan, but she knew someone beside her mother who had.
She and Nicholas walked side by side, her eyes trained on the ground, his on the path in front of them, until more of the dark stones and statues rose out of the foliage and marked their path forward. From her mother’s apparently half-true stories, Etta knew that both cities—Angkor Wat, and their present location, Angkor Thom—had, in her time, been largely cleared of the jungle’s ever-reaching overgrowth to allow for tourists to explore the spread of temples and structures. But whatever year or era they were in, it was clear it was after it had been abandoned by the Khmer Empire, but before it had come to the attention of Western civilization.We’ll need to swim, Nicholas said, the first words he’d uttered in nearly an hour. They’d come upon what Etta thought might have been part of the moat that surrounded the remains of the grand city. The moat had naturally filled up with earth and wildlife over the years, but with the rain lashing down around them, the water level was high enough that they couldn’t wade their way across.
No, my mom talked about some kind of a bridge…at the southern gate, I think, Etta said. She doubted it looked anything like the modern causeway that existed in her era, but it was worth finding, to avoid whatever was living in the moat.To fill the silence and stop thinking about the way the rain made the trees rattle like angry snakes, Etta asked, Where did you travel with Julian?