A roadtrip in search of everything...
Life is going nowhere fast until the night some freak wanders into the convenience store where Sam and Gilly are hanging out. He lets them in on a secret: The Witches' Carnival is nearby. If they move quick, they might catch it.
It's everyone's glittery fantasy turned real: to follow the Carnival's mystic band of beautiful gypsies as they defy every limit and dance through history-all in search of a good time.
Sam wants to go for it, to cut ties with home and reach for the dream. But on the road, it's Gilly who becomes enchanted.
The girls leave everything behind. In pursuit, they'll have nothing left to lose except each other.
Available nowKindle • Nook
"Readers willing to make the trip with all its strange turns will uncover a surprisingly sweet message about the power of love." - Publishers Weekly
"The fast pace, earnest characters, and philosophical meanders kept me hooked from beginning to end." - Highly recommended by GBLT Fantasy
It was after ten on a nothing-better-to-do Thursday night. Hanging out at the gas station, Gilly sipped a Diet Coke and listened to Sam's recount of the three-way battle she'd gotten into with her mom and stepdad.
Sam crashed on her brother Josh's couch a lot, escaping the ground-glass angers at her own house. She had a key, but Josh's roommate was a thug-wannabe full of crude words and wormy stares. Sam didn't trust him alone, so she went to the Texaco where Josh worked and waited for him to get off at midnight. If she called, Gilly always came up to keep her company.
"Okay, so you pin it up there, and your mom sees it first, right?" Gilly asked, trying to get the details straight.
"Pinned nothing. I glued it up there." Josh had stepped out back to smoke a cigarette, leaving Sam in charge. As she talked, she straightened the rack of charm necklaces sitting on the counter, separating the pot leaves from the Grateful Dead bears.
"You did not."
"Hell, yeah, I did. That mother-"
Both girls looked up when the electronic door chime sounded. The homeless man walked into the store trailing the smell of something gone sour. His skin was burnished brown like antique wood, stretched thin across knuckles and the knots of his collarbone. A tamed crow, sleek blue-black, nestled in the crook of his arm.
His name was Meek. Gilly had seen him panhandling around Birmingham before but only once up close.
After church one Sunday, her family had stopped at McDonald's for breakfast. Meek had been there, the crow perched on top of his battered rucksack. He wanted to get some food but only had a handful of change. The manager kept telling him to go, saying he couldn't be there with the bird anyway.
As Gilly's family walked in, the homeless man turned and smiled at her dad.
"Morning, Officer Stahl."
Her dad stepped into the argument and calmed the manager down. He wound up buying Meek an Egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee while the old man waited on the sidewalk.
"You know that guy?" Gilly's little sister Caitlin asked after their dad came back inside.
"Oh, yeah. Meek's been a legend since before I joined the force."
"What's he a legend for?"
"Says strange stuff sometimes," he said through a mouthful of biscuit. When Caitlin pressed him on what that meant, he shook his head and shrugged. "Just strange stuff. Stuff that gets in people's heads"
Now, as Meek entered the Texaco and approached the counter, Gilly noticed the milky blue cataract eclipsing his left eyeball. He said hello in a soft mumble and asked Sam for a box of Marlboros. She rang him up, stabbing at the cash register keys with one careful finger. Gilly kept quiet, watching the crow watch her.
"That'll be four eighty-six, please," Sam said.
The old man made a show of patting his pockets. He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I don't have any money."
"Well . . . I can't really let you have the cigarettes then," Sam said. "Sorry."
"Suppose I gave you something better than money?"
Sam scowled at him. "Like what?"
"Well?" Meek looked down at his pet bird. "What does she want?"
Gilly glanced at Sam, then the silent alarm button underneath the counter. Sam just tried not to laugh. "Look, man-"
The crow fluttered off Meek's arm and landed on the counter. Both girls jerked back. Talons scratching across glass, the bird regarded them for a few seconds.
"You want to go home," Meek answered.
Sam smirked. "Not quite. Actually, I'm-"
"I know what you want too, honey." He turned towards Gilly.
"What's that?" She wanted him to leave. His eye, like a dead fish's, grossed her out. It made her squirm when he called her 'honey.'
"You'd burn the world down to become beautiful, wouldn't you?"
"What the hell?" Sam stared at him. "You're walking around telling people who's beautiful and not? You don't have any fucking teeth, crackhead."
Meek shrugged. "There's a difference between pretty and beautiful."
The comment made Gilly smile despite herself. She glimpsed someone new beneath the desperation and tobacco-stained whiskers, someone who'd been charming once, someone poetic.
"Whatever," Sam said. "Look, if it was my store, I'd let you have the cigarettes, but it's not. So-"
"I'll pay," Gilly said.
Pulling a five dollar bill out of her pocket, Gilly offered it to Sam. "I'll pay for the cigarettes."
Sam glared at her and took the money, handing Gilly fourteen cents change.
"Thank you." The cigarettes vanished into the pocket of Meek's ratty coat.
"So, now what?" Sam asked. "You read her palm or something?"
He scooped the crow off the counter, cooing to it. "Aruspicy's better," he whispered.
"Reading the entrails of an animal sacrifice."
"Huh?" Sam looked at the bird in his hands, then jumped back, smashing into a rack of cigars and rolling papers. "Whoa! No!"
Hollow bones cracked and popped. The crow screeched. One free wing flapped madly. With steady, calloused hands, Meek tore the bird in two.
"You motherfucking psycho! Get the hell out. What the fuck's wrong with you?"
Kool-Aid bright blood pattered to the floor. It ran down his wrists and stained his fingers slippery black. Intestines and tea-colored organs dangled from the crow's body. Meek dropped the halves of the bird onto the counter and began poking through its guts.
Sam's shouting brought Josh charging out of the back. "Hey, motherfucker. Hey!" Grabbing Sam, he jerked her away from Meek, putting himself between his little sister and the old man.
Meek stirred the crow's guts with his fingers, ignoring the brother-and-sister torrent raging on the other side of the counter. Gilly stood silent against the wall. She stared at the dead bird. Its polished obsidian eyes still watched her.
Meek looked up. "The Witches' Carnival is stopping in Atlanta tonight."
"Get out. Get the fuck out now!" Rounding the counter, Josh snatched Meek by the shoulder of his tattered coat as Meek snatched the torn-apart crow off the counter.
"Yeah! Take your fucking bird with you," Sam yelled after him.
Josh almost had him out the door when Meek raised the mass of feathers, bones and guts to his lips. He kissed them. The bird cawed sharp and angry. It beat its wings. Gilly and Sam both screamed as the crow fluttered up to perch on his shoulder.
Meek turned towards Gilly. His blind eye seemed to pierce through her. "Run fast. Leave everything behind. And you can catch them." Stepping around Josh, he shuffled off into the night.
The episode left Gilly so rattled, her hands shook for an hour. She'd been certain Josh would murder Meek. They helped Josh clean crow's blood off the counter and killed another hour until the third-shift girl showed up.
After Melissa finally arrived, Josh started his final check of the store. Gilly and Sam told Melissa about Meek, his crow, and the Witches' Carnival.
Melissa snorted. "My cousin has sworn for twenty years that he met the Witches' Carnival down in New Orleans once."
"You think he really did?" Sam asked.
"'Course not. He just drinks too much."
Gilly started for home around twelve-thirty, the only person on the highway. The image of Meek's eye, the color of a gathering storm, floated through her brain and made her skin crawl. She tried to figure out how he'd made tearing up the crow look so realistic. All three of them had been fooled. She turned up the stereo to keep from falling asleep. Her thoughts drifted towards the Witches' Carnival.
Rock is dead. Punk is dead. Everything's dead.
Hollow-eyed girls and empty-headed boys drifting through neon constellations. Hipster ghosts haunting blacklight dance clubs.
They were in New York before that. There's always something ready to explode in New York. And the San Francisco thing before that, dirty feet and grotty acid rock. They skipped out before it went sour.
And before that, howling nights in Mexico City. Smoke-filled jazz clubs in Paris before that, getting drunk and stoned with black G.I.s who never bothered going home.
Before that, the Great War plunged Europe into darkness, lamp by lamp. But titles and peers held galas beneath twinkling chandelier light, certain the trouble would be over by Christmas.
Before that, Vienna. Before that, London and Berlin. Before that Renaissance Italy maybe or Beijing's Forbidden City or the music halls of the Ottoman Turks.
Nobody knew where they'd come from, but like dragons and angels, the Witches' Carnival tapped deep into myth and appeared in every culture. They were the Council of Spirits in China and the Wandering Lords of the Hindu Vedas. Homer wrote about the Lotus Eaters, Shakespeare about Oberon and his court, and Jung explained the trickster archetype. According to what legends you believed, they might have invented Tarot cards or could turn themselves into foxes.
Nobody knew where they'd come from, but they'd been everywhere, climbing the Jacob's ladder of man's history. They'd borne witness to autumn decrees and October days during the French revolution and had a lovely picnic on a grassy knoll in Dallas.
A band of gypsies tramped across the Earth, sweeping the bonds and boundaries of the modern world away with a brush of a hand. Nobody knew where they came from. Nobody knew where they'd turn up, but the Witches' Carnival were always headed somewhere. They moved on the edge the your vision and melted away like fog the moment you turned to look.
Gilly pulled into her driveway two hours past curfew. She knew she was in trouble and hardened herself to face it. Pushing open the door, she saw her dad sitting on the couch. Gilly didn't look at him. Keeping her eyes forward, she walked through the living room and down the hall.
Her dad followed her into her bedroom without a word. As Gilly flipped on the light, he held out his hand.
"Give me your keys."
Gilly handed him her keychain. It vanished into his pocket.
"When you learn to mind the rules, you can drive again," he said. "Until then, I'm keeping these."
"Fine." Gilly stared at her bed, the blanket twisted and kicked to the floor. Her dad stood behind her for several seconds. Gilly tried not to say anything else. She wanted him to think she didn't care. But as he started to leave, it snuck out. Gilly couldn't stop it.
"We weren't doing anything."
Andy Stahl turned on his heel. "I don't want to know what you were doing, Gilly. It doesn't matter. You're supposed to be home by eleven o'clock. Why can't you manage that?"
Because Sam was upset and needed someone to talk to. Because there were things she could tell Sam that her dad never heard. Because she was hanging out at a gas station, not in the projects buying crack .
"No, it's not okay," he said. Gilly hated when he did that. "I can't figure out how come you're the only person on Earth that doesn't have to follow the rules. I can't figure out how you got so lucky."
"I'm not." If she had kept her mouth shut, he'd be gone by now.
"That's right, you're not." He jingled the keys in his pocket. "And when you think you can be home when you're supposed to be, you can ask for these back."
Gilly still refused to look at him. "Fine. Whatever."
Her dad left, shutting the door behind him.
Afterwards, Gilly couldn't lay down. She paced her room for an hour, yelling at her dad in a voice barely above a whisper. She jabbed a finger at her reflection in the mirror and said all the things she wished she'd said while he was there.
She told her dad that she'd been helping a friend. She didn't care if he punished her; she'd do it again tomorrow if she had to. She told him she was gay, and if he was going to freak out about it, fine, but at least he could admit he was freaked out. Gilly told him that she loved him, and how much she wished that could still be as simple as it had been when she'd been little.
Gilly found herself standing by her window, looking at the road running in front of her house. It connected to the Parkway. Take the 72 interchange, and Atlanta was three hours away. If Gilly left now, she could get there by sunrise.
The Witches' Carnival was the name and shape given to every fantasy of running away and leaving it all behind. It was the fantasy of the open road, the fantasy of motion and speed until all your problems became a blur. But most importantly, it was a fantasy.
Gilly let the venetian blinds drop over the window. Pulling off her clothes, she flipped off the lights and went to bed. The Witches' Carnival wasn't real. That couldn't stop dreams, glittering like sunlight across water, from closing around her as she drifted down to sleep.
The red-faced bluster of morning talk shows spilled out of the car's stereo. Gilly sat in the front seat beside her dad. As they neared the school, Gilly turned towards the student parking lot, searching for Sam.
Sam sat on the hood of her Civic. Colby was beside her, his arm around Sam's waist and one foot on the car's bumper. Alex and Dawn stood hugging belly-to-back. Everyone watched Sam. Forming her hands into a circle, she yanked them apart. Alex laughed. Dawn clapped a hand over her mouth and started walking away.
Sam wore her long-sleeved black shirt. She had on the jeans with the frayed cuffs. Through the car window, Gilly watched Sam brush strands of dark hair out of her eyes, tucking them behind her ear. She turned towards something Colby said and smiled.
Gilly felt her dad glaring at her. She dropped her gaze to her sneakers. "She's just a friend, dad."
Andy Stahl pulled to the curb and didn't answer. "Me or your mom'll pick you up at three."
"I'll get a ride."
"Yeah. With me or your mom."
Curling her lip into a practiced sneer, Gilly climbed out and slammed the door. Pulling the hood of her sweatshirt up, adjusting the straps of her backpack, Gilly dragged her feet along the sidewalk until her dad was out of sight. Once his car had rounded the corner, she loped across the parking lot towards her friends.
". . . and Josh is just- Hey, G."
Where's your car?" Dawn asked.
"Dad took it away for staying out too late."
"That sucks. How long?"
"I don't know. Until he stops being an asshole."
Sam grabbed Gilly's arm hard enough to hurt. "What the hell was that last night?"
Gilly shook her head and laughed. "Some fucked up shit. That's all I know."
Hugging herself against the steel-grey weather, Gilly listened to Sam tell the story. Sam told stories with a dry intensity. She never edited her own embarrassing moments. If anything, she exaggerated them for comic effect. She even did decent impersonations of Josh and Meek.
Once she'd finished, Dawn said she'd seen a magician do a trick like that on TV. She figured Meek killed one crow and had another hidden somewhere. Colby asked where a homeless guy bought crows in bulk. His guess was that Meek had trained the crow to lie limp then splattered chicken guts around to make it look like he'd killed it.
"He didn't just kill it," Sam said. "He ripped the thing in fucking half."
"That's just what you think you saw. It's power of suggestion stuff."
The seven forty-five bell rang. Alex and Dawn said goodbye and hustled off for class. Sam looked at Colby, her fingers twining with his. "Hey, I need to talk to Gilly for a second, okay?"
"Nothing big." She kissed him. "I'll see you in Mrs. Hammond's class, okay?"
"You won't even tell me what it's about?"
"Shit." Sam jumped off the hood of the car. Taking Gilly's wrist, she pulled her into the bright, chattering stream of people pouring through the school's main entrance.
Inside, students and gossip flowed down every hall. Lockers clanged. Sneakers squeaked across the green-specked tile. A cluster of boys near the Coke machines burst into thick laughter.
Sam leaned close, her warm breath brushing Gilly's cheek. "I'm going to go look for them."
"Who? The Witches' Carnival?"
"Sam, he's just some a sick fuck homeless guy. He pulled the whole thing out of his ass." They stopped at Gilly's locker. She started dialing the combination.
"Did that look like chicken guts to you?" Sam asked.
"No, but. . ." Gilly pulled her algebra book out and shut her locker. They started down the hall again. "The Witches' Carnival is a fairytale."
"C'mon. If they're real and Meek knows where they are, why's he hanging around Birmingham doing magic ticks for cigarettes?"
"I don't know. He's a sick fuck homeless guy. They march to a different drummer."
Gilly looked at Sam. "You're thinking about going. Seriously?"
"I'm not thinking, I'm going."
"Today. Now. I only came to school to see if you wanted to come with me."
The second bell rang. The hallway clamor rose, footsteps scattering off to class. Gilly and Sam stood motionless.
"What about school?"
"What about Colby?"
"Fuck him. There's no way he'd go. Probably whine. I'm not even telling him."
"Sam, it's not real."
"I don't give a fuck." She plucked at the strand of Mardi Gras beads wrapped around her wrist. "One way or another, I'm leaving. I'm sick of living in the same house as Greg. I'm sick of spending every night at Josh's place."
Gilly chewed her lip. "Yeah." It was a sound to fill the quiet, meaning nothing.
"So come with me."
"Because . . ." Gilly didn't have an answer.
"Miss Grace, Miss Stahl, the bell's already rung."
They glanced up. The hall was nearly empty. Mrs. Schiff, Gilly's homeroom teacher, stood beside her door smiling a tight, unfriendly smile. Sam and Gilly looked back at each other.
"You got until the end of first period," Sam said. "Then I'm outta here whether you're with me or not." With that, she started down the hall.
Sam turned, walking backwards and grinning a wicked, sharp-cornered smile. "Remember, G, if you ain't pretty, start trouble." Turning back around, she hurried to class.
"Miss Stahl, do you plan on coming to class today?" Mrs. Schiff asked.
Simplify the following exponential expression. Remember to write it so each base is written one time with one positive exponent.
Gilly stared at her textbook, the page covered with numbers and symbols. She only had hazy ideas what any of them meant. Mrs. Schiff stood by the overhead projector and went on about integer exponents. The classroom's stuffy heat made Gilly's scalp itch. She ran her fingers through her hair, dyed a violent shade of red, and wiped a damp palm on her pant leg. She glanced at the clock then her watch then outside at the rows of cars filling the parking lot.
Gilly knew Sam didn't believe in the Witches' Carnival. Nobody did anymore, not really. But it was too wonderful a story to let go of completely. Sam wanted to believe in somewhere she could escape to, some real home far away from the peeling-paint split level she shared with her mom and stepdad. She wanted to believe in it so bad, she'd fooled herself into trusting a rambling, half-mad crackhead.
The bell rang. There was a clatter of voices and chairs scraping across the floor. Gilly joined the rest of the class streaming into the corridor's din. Lockers were jerked open and banged shut. Kevin Carney bolted past her with two of his friends after him.
Gilly walked with her head down, trying to figure out what to do. She had photography next period in Mr. Byrne's room on the second floor. Instead of heading up the stairs, though, she found herself walking past them. The hallway ended in a steel door with wire-mesh over the window. She stood and watched the student parking lot. Sam appeared a few seconds later, cutting between the cars towards her Civic.
She was really going.
Gilly thought about her dad taking her keys away for nothing. She thought about how miserable school was going to be without Sam around. She couldn't make herself believe in the Witches' Carnival, but Gilly imagined climbing out of days like a labyrinth and breathing fresh air for awhile. The door swung open. Gilly heard the soles of her sneakers beat against the asphalt. A mean October wind scoured her face.
Sam had already ducked into her car. She saw Gilly and unlocked the passenger side door.
"Alright. I'm going," Gilly panted, collapsing into the seat. "What the hell, I'm going with you."
"Fucking bitch." Sam punched her in the shoulder then cranked the engine. "Why'd you act like that in the hall? I almost thought you really weren't coming."
"Sorry. You sprung it on me so all of a sudden, I was kind of stunned."
Steering around the wooden barrier guarding the parking lot's entrance, Sam slung out onto the street. Two wheels popped the curb, and the car's chassis jolted against the pavement.
Winter-bare trees lined the curving road leading away from school. Gilly watched them pass for a few seconds then spoke up. "Hey. Let's stop by my house on the way."
"Cool. How much you got?"
"I'm broke, but you know my dad's a cop, right?"
Gilly took a deep breath. She was already in trouble, she might as well enjoy it. "Did you know he's crooked?"
Gilly didn't remember Operation Desert Storm ending. She'd been too young to understand the speeches or busloads of homecoming troops that played on the news for weeks. She didn't know about the flags and yellow ribbons that had turned a country into a family. What Gilly remembered, like shadows flitting along the bottom of a deep pond, was watching her dad put on his dress blues.
They stood alone in the early morning still. He talked in a happy, half-asleep voice, asking if she was excited about the parade and if she was going to wave to him when he passed. Gilly helped him button the polished gold buttons of his uniform. She remembered being very proud of that, telling her grandma that she'd helped.
Her dad had joined the Birmingham metro police after getting out of the marines. When Gilly was nine, dressed in a church dress and white panty hose, she'd applauded as he took an oath of office and received his detective's shield. When she'd been thirteen, Gilly had walked into her parents' bedroom and found him stuffing something into a steel ammo box. "Shit!" He slammed the lid shut, fumbling with the latch and screaming at her to get out. When Gilly stalked off, her dad came rushing after her.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell." Kneeling down, he stroked her hair. "Listen, I was hiding your mom's birthday present, okay? So you can't tell her about this, okay?"
Gilly promised she wouldn't. Her dad hugged her and whispered, "That's my girl. I'm sorry, baby."
But sweat glistened across his scalp and he smiled too much. Gilly knew he was lying. A week later, both her parents worked late. Gilly left her little sister watching TV and crept down the hall. After ten minutes of digging through drawers and in the closet, she found the ammo box under the sink in her parents' bathroom.
Bundles lay inside wrapped in black plastic and masking tape. In true Marine Corps style, her dad had made each one neat and square with sharp corners. She knew what they were, but Gilly picked one up and peeled back the tape, anyway.
Four years later, Gilly remembered the musty scent of old bills. She could still feel the heft of that small brick of twenties resting in her hand.
Staring at it, fear had squeezed Gilly's chest. It didn't immediately connect that her dad had done something wrong, only that he might catch her. Shoving the money back into the box, Gilly fixed everything like she'd found it.
For four years, she kept her promise and never breathed a word.
Sam crunched up the gravel driveway, pulling in behind Gilly's red Tercel.
"Sure you want to do this?"
"He stole it first. How come he's the only person on Earth who doesn't have to follow the rules?" Gilly climbed out of the car. "Just relax."
Fall had turned the yard into dead grass and patches of hard dirt. The neighborhood dozed. Houses, porch swings, and cars in driveways sat motionless. Only the wind was awake, trembling through the branches with slow, chilly breaths.
Slipping her hand into her pocket, Gilly stopped dead. Her dad still had her keys. She tried the doorknob, but it was locked.
All at once, the wild adventure hit concrete. There was nowhere to go except back to school. They'd get in-school-suspension for skipping class, and it'd be just another day, a little weirder than most.
Remember that time we almost ran away to Atlanta?
"Fuck it." Gilly kicked in one of the windows. Blue-white droplets of glass splashed across the living room carpet. The sound hit her like ice water, breathless shock, and then a giddy, giggling warmth swimming under her skin.
Gilly started laughing and kicked twice more, clearing out the window frame. It felt great. Grinning at Sam, she struck a bodybuilder pose, then ducked through.
Gilly ran down the hall, past her own closed bedroom door and into her parents' room. Yellow sunlight and rice-paper shadow lay across everything. She slipped into the grimy bathroom and opened the cabinet under the sink. A can of scrubbing powder hit the floor as she reached deep inside and grabbed the ammo box.
A relic from her dad's military career, or maybe just something he'd picked up at a yard sale, the box was olive drab and afflicted with rust. Gilly snapped the latch open to make sure it wasn't full of old tax returns or copies of Playboy. It wasn't. The nest egg had grown over the years. Gilly didn't know, but she guessed there were ten or fifteen thousand dollars inside.
Staring at crisply wrapped sheaves of money, Gilly felt the full weight of what she was doing. Her stomach twisted into a tight knot of muscle. Fumbling the lid shut, she picked up the box and turned to bolt. Suddenly she stopped. Gilly dug her cell phone out of her pocket and placed it in the bathroom cabinet where the money had been.
Gilly ran back through the house. The furniture, the pictures on the walls, all of it looked alien. She'd become an intruder. She didn't belong here anymore.
Gilly let out a startled yell at the sound of her name and whirled around.
"It's just me. Relax." Sam stood in the kitchen. She held up a bottle of Jose Cuervo she'd gotten from the cabinet over the stove. "Since you're stealing that money anyway, it's no big deal if we take some liquor too, right?"
Gilly's heart thudded against her breastbone. "Whatever. Let's go." Heading for the front door, she heard the clink of more glass bottles being pulled out of the cabinet. "Fuck, Sam. Let's go."
"I'm coming. Hey, where's you dad keep his gun?"
Gilly had her hand on the doorknob. She snapped around again. "What? What do you need a gun for?"
Sam shrugged. "Bears?"
Without answering, Gilly unlocked the door and crossed the dead grass. Sam followed close behind. In the car, Sam dumped everything out of her backpack and hid bottles of tequila, vodka, and spiced rum inside. Gilly's eyes darted around the quiet street. She hissed, "Fuck, fuck, fuck . . ." under her breath.
"Relax, G." Sam straightened up in her seat.
"I'm fucking relaxed. Let's go!"
Sam whipped out of the driveway, spraying gravel. She pushed the gas. The engine growled. Gilly turned to watch her home shrink away over her shoulder.
Two hours ago, she'd been joking with her friends before school like she did every morning. She was pissed at her dad for taking her car away. She had English homework that needed to get done during lunch. Now she was driving to Atlanta with ten grand in stolen cash and Sam.
Gilly couldn't get a deep breath. It was the same tangle of fear and excitement she felt creeping up that first immense hill of a roller coaster.
We can go back. Tell Sam to turn around, hide the money again, go back to school, and it'll be like nothing happened.
Then Sam turned the corner. Gilly's house vanished. She felt momentum snatch them forward. They couldn't stop now if they wanted to. Glancing at her, Sam grinned. Gilly grinned back.
"Running out of time! We're running hot. Running out of time. We're running hot."
Not bothering to keep the song's rhythm, Sam and Gilly sang as loud as they could, drowning out the stereo. "Fever's up to hundred and one. Brain's near oblivion. So let's go have some fun. Raise hell and a back beat!"
Mack trucks lumbered under their cargo like pack animals, stirring grit and gas fumes into the cold air. SAABs, Malibus, and pickup trucks flashed orange in the morning sun.
"Sorta, kinda feels like flying. Or maybe we're just falling. Who cares- We're hauling. Raise hell and a back beat!"
Gilly slouched in the passenger seat, beating her sneaker against the dashboard and watching the plain gray earth roll past. She glanced up at the billboards for Burger King and car dealerships that lined Interstate 20.
"Running out of time! We're running hot!"
Pulpy, scraped-raw guitar cords came faster and faster as the lyrics collapsed into unhinged shrieking. We're running! We're running! We're run- A sharp cut left nothing but the soft static hiss of the speakers.
Gilly leaned forward and began skipping through tracks. "Man, that's like Pins and Needles' one decent song," she said.
Sam nodded. "Yeah. I bought that because I heard that song on TV and it kicked ass, but then they whine through the whole rest of the CD." Her phone rang. Glancing at the number, she mumbled, "Fuck."
"Who is it?" Gilly found another okay song but turned the volume back down to a normal level.
"Mom. School must've called her."
Gilly felt a pinch in her guts. They'd call her parents too. In a few hours her dad would come home and find the money gone. She and Sam were already in Georgia, though. Fatalism dulled her fear.
Sam's phone kept ringing.
"Gonna answer it?"
Sam curled her lip. "She can go to Hell. Why should I care?"
"It was Greg's porn. Your mom didn't do anything."
"I know. She didn't do shit." Sam grabbed her cigarettes tucked above the sun visor and cracked the window. "I mean, my stepdad's a pervert. Okay. He's also an asshole and motherfucking white trash, so it's not a real big surprise. I can almost forgive him since he's probably missing a chromosome or something. But Mom didn't care. She's just, like, 'whatever.'"
"It's fucked up," Gilly said.
Yesterday, Sam had found a magazine called Barely Legal in her garage. Creeped out and pissed off by pictures of girls her age taking it up the ass from guys her stepdad's age, she'd glued the centerfold over the living room couch. Her mom found it and yelled at Sam for going through Greg's things.
That's how Sam wound up at the Texeco last night, and she'd told Gilly the whole story there. Gilly didn't have any more answers for her now than she'd had then.
"I mean, what the fuck am I supposed to do?" Sam started yelling. "Just walk around the house, my motherfucking house, and pretend like he's not jerking off thinking about shit like that?"
"He's probably sniffing your dirty underwear right now."
"Jesus, Gilly. Shit."
Gilly snorted. "Well?"
"Well? What am I supposed to do?"
"I don't know. It's fucked up."
Sam blew smoke from the corner of her mouth. "Mom's like, 'That's what you get for snooping.' What the hell? She's my fucking mom. She's supposed to keep people like that away from me. Instead, she fucking marries him."
Gilly pounded her fist against the armrest. "And there's a Nazi goat eating your scrap metal!"
They both laughed. Sam pushed her sunglasses up to wipe her eyes and calmed down some. The story about the Nazi goat was long, confusing, and not that funny, anyway. Or at least, the chief reason it was funny was how pointless the comment seemed to everyone but them.
Their conversation switched course and turned strange, sudden angles innumerable times. They stopped at Arby's for lunch then got back on the road. Sam drove the whole way. Gilly manned the stereo, flipping through Sam's CD case.
Gilly kept playing Running Hot. The song was a bounding, boisterous war cry. It was nihilism you could dance to.
We're running hot! These kids are losing their minds. They can't see the signs. Raise hell and a back beat! Running out of time! We're running hot. Running out of time. We're running hot!
Finally, Atlanta's glass and steel bulk rose up ahead of them. Sam took an exit at random, and they descended through canyons of brick, jostling with traffic past fast food places and shopping centers.
"So what now?" Sam asked.
"Let's get a hotel room first, so we're not looking for one at two o'clock in the morning. We can figure out what to do from there."
"Sounds like a plan."
After another half-mile, Sam pulled into a Days Inn. Gilly carried the ammo box hidden inside her backpack. Full of bottles, Sam's bag clinked and rattled with every step.
The lobby had sagging green furniture and a map of Atlanta on the wall. The place was empty except for an Indian woman wearing a flowing gown and a red dot on her forehead. She sat behind the front desk watching a soap opera.
"Can I help you?" The only accent she had was a southern twang worse than Gilly's. Surprised, Gilly lost her train of thought. Sam spoke up.
"We'd like a room, please."
"All right." The clerk began typing on her computer. "How many nights?"
"The weekend, at least. Two nights."
A few more taps at the keyboard. "Smoking or nonsmoking?"
The woman's eyes flickered from Sam to Gilly, then back to her computer. She typed and didn't say anything else.
Gilly stood stiff beside Sam. She tried catching her attention with a sideways glare, but Sam yawned and pretended not to notice.
The woman slid a carbon form across the desk. Sam filled it out and paid with her debit card. "You can pay me back," she whispered to Gilly.
The clerk handed them two magnetized key cards. "Room two twenty-eight. Back out the door, up the stairs, turn left, and it's almost at the end of the breezeway."
Following Sam outside, Gilly experienced the familiar sensation of only half-understanding what was going on.
Gilly was gay. Sam was straight. It should have been that simple, but nothing ever was. They'd had sex a few times- a friendship with benefits.
The first time was during a party at Ben's house, both of them drunk, groping in the dark, quickening breaths and nervous giggles. Ben and the others had heard them upstairs and tried to break into the room. The night had become legendary among their friends. The other times had all happened while Sam was dating Colby. Nobody knew about them except her and Gilly.
Each time, everything tumbled back to normal immediately afterward. Sam pretended nothing strange had happened, and Gilly found herself following suit. Once, they'd come downstairs and eaten dinner with Sam's mom while Gilly's hair was damp with sweat and Sam's bra was gone.
The little box of a hotel room had been designed for anonymity. The air smelled blank, the ghost of every past guest scrubbed from the carpet.
Collapsing facedown onto the bed, Sam stretched her limbs and groaned. Gilly checked out the view of the construction site next door.
"So where's the Witches' Carnival?" Sam asked.
Gilly turned away from the window. "You remember Dawn talking about some neighborhood with all sorts of bars and funky stores and stuff?"
"Yeah. Little Five Points. I've been there once. It's pretty neat."
"Maybe we should start there. If the Witches' Carnival really is here, that seems like the kind of place they'd hang out at."
"Cool with me." Sam pulled the Jose Cuervo out of her book bag. She unscrewed the cap, thumped it into the corner, and took a swallow. "Oh, shit." As Sam laughed and coughed at the same time, her shirt rose up. Gilly's eyes traveled across the inch of soft pink belly and the curve of Sam's hip.
"Maybe we should get a newspaper, too," Gilly went on. "See if it mentions anything that's big enough for them to show up for."
Sam nodded. "There was a newspaper box in the lobby."
"Cool. You have any change? Dad never thought to steal a roll of quarters."
"Fuck it. We'll get one later." Another sip. Another coughing chuckle. Sam wiped her mouth and stared at Gilly. A smile spread across her face. "Why are you standing over there?"
Gilly realized she had her back pressed against the windowsill, putting as much space between herself and the bed as possible. She tried to think of a lie but couldn't.
"Because you scare me sometimes."
Sam laughed out loud. "I scare you?"
Gilly had once called Sam at two o'clock in the morning. Crying, she wouldn't let her off the phone until Sam told her if she was straight or not, if she was only goofing around or wanted to start dating or what. Sam told Gilly that she was straight, just not exactly. She promised Gilly she loved her and would never hurt her. She told her that their relationship was whatever it was and Gilly shouldn't worry so much.
"Poor baby," Sam giggled, holding out her hand. "Come here. I promise I won't scare you anymore."
There was nothing Gilly could do. Their warm fingers lacing together, Gilly climbed onto the bed and straddled Sam's hips. Neither of them moved. Then Gilly broke their gaze and took the bottle from Sam. She tilted it to her lips, an ice-cold heat spreading down through her stomach.
Sam watched her. Her fingers ran along the waist of Gilly's pants then hooked themselves into the front pocket of her hoodie. "Wanna know a secret?" she asked.
Sam grinned her sharp-cornered grin. "I knew you were coming with me."
Gilly's true, unguarded laugh was a rare thing. When it did come, the sound burst into the air like a flock of birds. "I almost didn't. When you told me this morning, I almost just let you go."
"No." Sam shook her head. "I knew you'd come with me, even before I told you I was leaving."
"Well . . ." Gilly took another sip. She made a face and forced the stuff down. "We're friends, right?"
Sam nodded. She tugged on the pocket of Gilly's sweatshirt, and Gilly leaned down to kiss her. The soft resistance of Sam's lips, the soap scent on her skin and tequila on her breath, Gilly's heart thumping like a rabbit's- it felt like a flying dream.
Sam laughed and pulled away. She stared up at her, green eyes shimmering under dark makeup. She traced a finger down Gilly's throat to her collarbone. The touch brought a tiny gasp.
"Tell me we're going to find them," Sam said.
"We're going to find them. We're going to find the Witches' Carnival and leave everything behind us and never have to worry about it again."
"Never, ever. It's going to be the easiest thing in the world." And at that moment, Gilly was certain it would be.
A hand shook her shoulder. Gilly grunted and tried to burrow deeper into the covers.
"Wake up, G."
Sam yanked the blanket and rumpled sheets back. Jerking upright, Gilly felt syrup-thick drunkenness slosh inside her skull. She was in a strange bed. Her mouth was sticky and dry, and she was mostly naked. Pushing thickets of licorice-colored hair out of her eyes, she remembered they were in Atlanta.
Sam plunked down on the bed beside her, the bottle of tequila in her hand. "There's fifty-three thousand, two hundred dollars in that ammo box."
Gilly stared at her with blank, half-asleep eyes. "Huh?"
"Fifty-three thousand, two hundred dollars."
"Fifty-three . . . No. It was a lot, but. . ." She turned. The hotel room was buried under money. Stacks of twenties, fifties, and hundreds covered the floor, the bureau and the top of the TV. "We're screwed," Gilly whispered.
Taking a sip from the bottle, Sam admired it all. "Where'd your dad get so much money?"
"Don't know. It's probably from bribes or something." Gilly started getting dressed. She had to walk across a carpet of bills to grab her black hoodie. "We are so screwed."
"Stop saying that."
"Well?" It was true. In that minute after waking, with thoughts still as vast as dreams, Gilly knew she'd taken the money to get back at her dad as much as anything else. She'd gone too far, though. Gilly had no clue how she'd talk her way out of this one.
"What are we going to do with it?"
Gilly shook her head. She was terrified but didn't want Sam to see that. "Let's throw it at each other like in a snowball fight."
"I'm serious, G."
"When are we gonna get another chance?"
Stooping down, Sam grabbed some fifties and tossed them at Gilly. The money smacked her in the face, then fluttered back to the carpet.
"No." Gilly dropped to her knees. Sam dove, scooping up piles of cash in her arms. They rolled across the floor, shrieking and pelting each other with fistfuls of bills.
A sharp buzz made them freeze. Sam's cell phone vibrated on top of the bureau. Money rustled around her ankles like autumn leaves as she went to grab it.
"It's Colby. He's called twice already." Sam waited for him to leave a voice mail. As she listened to it, she kicked the bed. "Fuck, he's such an asshole."
"What'd he say?"
"He's pulling that guilt-trip shit, like he's my daddy or something. But I don't care because he's in Birmingham, and I'm gonna be in the Witches' Carnival. Gonna have boys like Colby served to me a dozen at a time. Gonna slurp their hearts down like raw oysters." Sam watched Gilly sweeping the money into one big pile. She swayed as if the hotel were a ship at sea. "It'd be so fucked up if the maid walked in right now."
"C'mon, bitch. Let's get this picked up and go to Little Five Points."
"And let's get something to eat. I'm fucking starving."
They got directions from the desk clerk. Sam wasn't quite drunk, but she was feeling pretty damn good, so Gilly drove. After missing a turn, driving around for twenty minutes, stopping at a gas station and getting a totally different set of directions, they finally wound up at Little Five Points.
Warrens of old brick and sagging porches housed thrift stores, holistic medicine practices, and six-table restaurants. The neighborhood had a scruffy, sun-bleached complexion. There wasn't anything slick there except the clothes in the windows.
Gilly pulled the hood of her sweatshirt down despite the cold; she liked the wind brushing the back of her neck. She'd tucked three thousand dollars in the front pocket of her backpack and had given Sam a few grand too. They bought gyros from a mobile grill hitched to a pickup truck, eating as they threaded through the crowd.
It was the cusp of evening. Some older boys smoked cigarettes on the curb in front of a comic book store. One of them had a metal spike jutting from below his lower lip. A pack of Harley-Davidsons growled past, chrome gleaming in the purple twilight. A patrol car prowled the street like a shark.
"So did Ben keep his dick in his pants at least, or did he whip it out and come all over the seat?" Sam asked through a mouth full of pita bread and steak.
"Goddamn. I'm eating." Gilly tossed her empty Coke can into a construction Dumpster before adding, "You're so sick."
Ben had started dating Tracye two weeks ago. Gilly had heard from Alex that the relationship bloomed after Tracye gave Ben a hand-job at the movie theater.
Ben was cool, but he could act retarded sometimes. Neither Gilly nor Sam liked Tracye much, except Tracye was best friends with Dawn, who dated Alex, who'd been Gilly's friend for years and had dated Sam before she broke up with him and started going out with Colby. Colby's best friend was Chad, who dated Stephanie Penn, who Gilly liked, but her cousin Jessica Penn was a bitch.
Everybody was everybody's business at Folsom High School, and the shifting sands of hook-ups, breakups, fights, and make-ups always provided something worth talking about.
"Look, I don't want to go to the movies and sit in Ben's crusty spooge, okay?"
Gilly tipped her head back and laughed. "Next time you go, and the floor's sticky, right? And you think it's just Coke . . ."
"Fuck, G. You're the sick one. I'm never going to the movies again. We're burning that place down."
All the time they walked along, discussing the particulars of Tracye and Ben's relationship, a second, more desperate conversation raced through Gilly's head. They'd had sex a few hours ago. That didn't necessarily mean a thing, but Sam wasn't talking to Colby now and maybe that did.
They watched some kids practice skateboard tricks on a bus stop bench. Two girls plastered the brickwork hulk of a club with band flyers, each one heralding MERRICAT! FRI & SAT. Gilly's hand swung by her side. She let her fingers brush Sam's skin so gently, it might have been accidental. "So you're never talking to Colby again?" she asked.
"Not if we really find the Witches' Carnival."
"Yeah, but if we don't. I mean, have you like officially broken up with him?"
"He'll be so pissed off, I don't know what the fuck he'll say. Or Mom. Mom'll probably lock me out of the house for pulling this shit."
"It won't be that bad."
Sam deflected the question twice with a flick of her wrist. Asking a third time would sound pathetic, so Gilly gave up.
Sam talked about her mom and Greg. Gilly listened to the melody of her voice shot through with obscenities. She liked the way Sam jabbed fingers in the air whenever she spoke.
"It's nice out tonight," Gilly announced.
Sam glanced around. "Yeah. This is a pretty cool place."
Gilly grabbed Sam's hand. Warm palms touched. "I'm glad we did this," she said, desperate to fill the sudden silence between them.
Gilly felt Sam's pulse. One beat. Two. Then Sam squeezed Gilly's hand gently and pulled hers free.
Once, Sam had promised Gilly that she loved her and would never hurt her. What Sam didn't understand was, mean to or not, she could hurt Gilly easier than anyone. She could tear Gilly to pieces without a cruel thought against her.
Stupid bitch. Gilly's inner voice laughed at her. All at once, she didn't want to be here. She wanted to be home, alone, in her room.
"So how do we find the Witches' Carnival?" Sam asked.
"Fuck. How should I know?" Gilly pulled her hood up and sunk her hands into the front pocket of her sweatshirt.
Always fucking up. Always lying to yourself until you believe it, then making an ass out of yourself. Goddamn fat fucking stupid bitch.
"Come on. Don't be like this, all right?"
Gilly scowled. "I'm not being like anything."
"Please? Don't be like this."
Gilly wished she could make it Sam's fault, but it wasn't. She hadn't done anything Gilly hadn't hoped for all the way to Atlanta. Now, after Gilly had tried forcing things to go where they weren't allowed to go, Sam wouldn't hold it against her. She would speak softly and wait for Gilly to get over it too.
Gilly sighed. "Yeah, okay."
"We cool like Elvis. We cool like four Elvises stapled together." Gilly left a hundred things unsaid, but for the most part she told the truth.
"So seriously, what do we do now?"
"I guess we just keep our eyes open."
"That's it?" Sam asked.
"Yeah, but the Witches' Carnival isn't exactly real, so reality kind of warps around them. Like, they come into town and it'll rain flowers or frogs. Or all the cats start dancing on their hind legs. Weird stuff like that."
"So all we can do is wander around and hope something fucked up happens."
Gilly shrugged. "Pretty much."
"How do you know all this?"
"I read some books about them."
Gilly's mind touched on the cheap paperbacks about the Witches' Carnival, Wicca, and vampires that she'd binged on through middle school and the first years of high school. It was embarrassing, remembering how she'd carried those books hidden in the bottom of her backpack like protective amulets, praying they could make her someone magical and beautiful, someone else. Finally, she shrugged. "I don't know. Long time ago."
They kept walking in no particular direction, letting the street scenes flicker around them. The last, branding-iron-bright sliver of sun vanished behind the buildings leaving the sky seared red and gold.
"Wish I'd brought my coat." Sam rubbed her arms. "It's getting cold."
"Buy a new one. We've got plenty of cash."
"Yeah." Sam's pace slowed. "But it's really your money, G."
"Actually, it belongs to the Birmingham Police Department. But my dad stole it, see? And then I stole it fro-"
"Gilly. Fuck." Sam punched her in the arm, then waved her hands around the busy street. "Inside voice when you're talking about stolen money."
"Ow. That actually hurt."
"Sorry. But it's really cool? You don't care?"
"No. I mean, it's not like- like I'd hold it over your head or anything. If you want anything, get it."
"Well, hell. Let's go buy stuff."
"Buy stuff! Buy stuff!" Gilly and Sam jumped up and down, yelling in unison. They dashed across the street toward a store called The Junkman's Daughter. Stepping though the door, Gilly blinked against the harsh florescents. The musty-sweet smell of incense made her nose itch.
They wandered past racks of vintage rock shirts, got lost among leather and vinyl, looked at displays of body jewelry and CDs and 78s heaped into bins, and explored shelves stuffed with weird toys, candles, bongs sold as "water pipes," funny stickers, perverted refrigerator magnets and more clothes.
"Damn," Gilly said, staring at a row of Texas Chainsaw Massacre lunch boxes. "It's kind of like Wal-Mart except everything's got a skull on it."
Sam fell in love with an army jacket bearing the German federal eagle on its sleeve. Gilly picked up a pair of earrings. Stepping back onto the now-dark street, they felt like they owned the night.
Drifting through boutiques and thrift stores, Gilly and Sam laid down cash for anything that caught their eye. A hundred and fifty dollars went to CDs. They stopped at RiteAid pharmacy for toothbrushes and other essentials. At another store, Sam bought a set of adult-size Underoos, bright blue with Superman's scarlet 'S' on the front.
They paced around the door of Exxxcite Video and Novelties, peering at the mannequins in the window dressed in lingerie and bondage gear. A sign read: NO ONE UNDER 21 MAY ENTER! ID REQUIRED!! Sam wanted to go in. Gilly chewed her lip and dragged her heels.
"Sam, you're here because Greg had one magazine. Now you want to check out a whole store full of porn?"
"I'm not going to buy anything. I just want to look around. C'mon, G."
A man came out while they argued on the sidewalk. As he pushed the door open, Gilly glimpsed the concrete floor inside and shelves of videos. Women stared out from posters on the walls, Asian girls and tanned, gasping blondes.
She chickened out. Sam groaned but dropped it. They wandered down Euclid Avenue and into a clothing store called Lunar.
"Sam, I need your help." Gilly walked sideways down the cramped aisle, two different-colored sneakers in her hands.
"What's the matter?" Sam stood in front of a mirror, holding up silk print skirts with wrap-around images of Vishnu and the Lady of Guadalupe.
"New shoes. Now everybody expects me to wear black, right? So the obvious choice is pink. The problem is everyone expects me to expect them to expect black. Therefore, they expect pink, so the obvious choice is black. Except everyone expects black, see?"
"Poor baby. It's hard being ironic these days, isn't it?"
"It is," Gilly wailed. "It really, really is, and nobody understands."
"Get them in blue."
A second of thought and Gilly's face lit up. "You see?" she squealed, hopping up and down like an excited five-year-old. "This is why I love you. This is it. Right here. Nobody'll see blue coming." She darted back down the aisle.
The spree lasted for hours. By the time the stores closed, Sam and Gilly had managed to spend a thousand dollars on everything from jewelry to a stuffed octopus.
The crowds of people had dwindled, leaving a few laughing silhouettes propped against cinder-block walls. Bars switched on their neon signs. Music seemed to spill from every other door. Stray cords of garage rock, blues, and honky tonk stumbled arm in arm into the night.
Not swept up in the speed and noise of the neighborhood anymore, Sam and Gilly could hear the scuff-slap rhythm of their shoes on the cold pavement. Sam lit a cigarette and started playing with the box, turning it over in her fingers. Whenever she got some cigarettes, Sam took them out of their package and put them into a box Josh had bought at a tobacco store. From a specialty brand called Coffin Nails, it was matte black with a grinning silver skull on the front. Sam had loved it the moment she saw it and begged Josh until he gave it to her.
"Let me bum one," Gilly said.
Sam pulled out another cigarette, lighting it with the one already smoldering in her hand. Waiting, Gilly breathed warm air into her fist. October's damp chill had soaked down into her muscles and bones. She was tired, her feet hurt, but Gilly didn't care. Her skin was electric. Her senses felt vulture-acute. The night was mysterious and filled with music.
It'd been stupid to get upset a few hours ago. Sam wasn't in love with her. She would never slip letters gooey with frosting-sweet words into Gilly's locker the way Colby did for her. Gilly would never get roses on Valentine's Day or little teddy bears holding satin hearts for no occasion at all. But she would get a few nights like this, and that was good enough.
"This was one of your best bad ideas," she said, taking the cigarette from Sam.
"Yeah. Still haven't found the Witches' Carnival, though."
"Well, you get your information from a crazy bird guy, you take your chances."
"I'm supposed to be at work right now."
"Domino's can probably manage without you."
"Hey, bitch, I put the toppings on the pizzas. That's a very important job. I had to watch a video and everything."
Gilly laughed. "You did not."
"Bullshit, I didn't. And there's a test-" Sam's phone started vibrating. "There's a test afterward," she finished, checking the number.
Sam shook her head. "Josh," she said, pushing the talk button. "Hey, big brother."
. . .
"Don't cuss at me. I'm fine."
. . .
. . .
. . .
Sam sighed. "Atlanta, all right? Don't you fucking dare tell Mom."
. . .
"Why do you think?"
. . .
"Yeah, well, I decided to go, anyway. Who knows?"
. . .
"I don't give a shit. I'm not going back to that house as long as Greg's there."
. . .
"Because he's a crackbaby. Why do you think?"
. . .
. . .
"No. I've got a place to stay. I'm fine."
. . .
"No, it's not with a guy. Chill out, okay?"
. . .
. . .
"Josh, there aren't any guys anywhere in the fucking picture. Not even Colby. Relax, okay?"
Gilly walked along, listening to Sam's conversation. Her parents were probably panicking about her, too. By now, they'd know she'd taken the money, and they'd murder her the moment she stepped through the door. Gilly tried not to think about it. She tried not to think about what might happen between her and Sam, either. The moment felt too perfect. Whatever happened would happen if she fretted about it or not.
"No. But I got some shopping done at least."
. . .
"I don't know. If we find the Witches' Carnival, then never."
. . .
"I don't know. I need a couple days to think about stuff, all right?"
. . .
"C'mon, Josh. I wouldn't-"
"What the-" Gilly stopped dead and spun around.
The quick motion made Sam jump. She flashed startled glances up and down the empty street. "What? What is it?"
Gilly stared at a lamppost molting layer after layer of pictures of lost pets, advertisements for palm readers, and offers to make twelve thousand dollars a week from her own home. With a shaking hand she ripped a band flyer off and showed it to Sam. "That's us."
"Huh?" The flyer looked like every other band poster Sam had ever seen. Printed on blood-red paper, a collage of disparate pictures had been forced into semi-coherence. Across the top was written: MERRICAT! FRI & SAT in Magic Marker, two opening acts listed underneath. The same flyer hung on walls and lampposts all around Little Five Points. "What are you talking about?"
"Goddamn, Sam. Look." Gilly pointed at two small photos bookending Merricat's name. Smiling into the camera, they were Sam's and Gilly's class photos from last year's yearbook.
"What the fuck?" Sam squinted at herself. The pink blouse she wore in the picture still hung in her closet back home. Her hair was pulled back because she'd tried to highlight it the day before picture day and it hadn't come out right.
From the distant end of the phone call, Josh continued to lecture her.
"Uh, Josh? I'm. . . I have to go now. Something weird just happened."
. . .
"I'm not sure. I think we just found the Witches' Carnival. Bye."