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Authors: Lisa Wingate

Tags: #FIC042000, #FIC042040, #FIC027020, #Missing persons—Fiction

Wildwood Creek (2 page)

BOOK: Wildwood Creek
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She blinked, the action completely, perfectly impassive. Her pale eyes were blank, her face android-like. “And you’ve applied for a position with us because . . .” She left the sentence open-ended, as if she were volleying the ball back to me and seeing what I would do with it.

“Film has always been my dream.” For some reason, I decided to go for the personal approach, to see if I could melt the ice a bit. It’d always been a problem for me—desperately wanting to persuade people to like me. Being the odd man out in a blended family, you develop strange quirks. “My father was a director. My earliest memories are of being on set with him. He died when I was eight. I’ve always wanted to follow in his footsteps. Being in Arizona, there weren’t many opportunities.”

“Yes, I see you’ve completed your undergrad degree at some . . . this is a community college, I presume? I’ve never heard of it.”

“I worked my way through. My parents were only willing to finance college if I studied something they considered practical, preferably law school.”

“I see.” For an instant, she and I were strangely, unexpectedly connected. I had the distinct feeling she knew all about having someone else pull your strings. Her eyes thawed momentarily, and there was something behind them, but I couldn’t tell what.

“I have many qualified applicants for the production assistant’s positions. Perhaps your skills would be better suited to one of the lay positions available—something on the cast. No experience in the film industry is required there, this being a reality-based production.”

“I’m not exactly the on-stage type. I was the only fifth grader in the school production of
A Christmas Carol
selected to work behind the scenes, rather than in front. I love the inner mechanisms of a production. I’ve been involved in every way I could with theater—costuming, set design, whatever was needed. I know it’s nothing compared to a full-scale film project like this one, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes to learn. No one will work harder than I will.”

I scooted to the front of the chair, and she lifted a hand in a way that indicated she was accustomed to people freezing in place when she told them to. Her eyes darted toward her earpiece, and there was a quick headshake before her attention returned to me.

The interview questions then took a rapid right turn toward Terre Haute. “I would assume that you are not a superstitious type? There are some . . . myths and legends surrounding the town we intend to reenact. We are
not
looking for ghost enthusiasts, psychic mediums, and thrill seekers. We are also
not
looking for those who might be sniffing after a story or who intend to cash in by leaking details of the production to the media. Cast members
in
the reenactment village are, of course, not a concern, as they will be living on set for the duration, as part of the game. They will have no means of entering or leaving, unless they are dismissed from the cast. The location is remote enough to allow us that luxury. Support personnel, conversely, may be coming and going for months, though they will be housed in an onsite camp prepared for crew members. Confidentiality agreements will be required,
as well as references and background checks. Would any of these caveats be problematic for you?”

Now I was thoroughly confused. Was she offering me a job? Or telling me why I wasn’t qualified for the job? “I’m not superstitious and I have no problem signing confidentiality agreements of any kind.”

Her attention drifted toward the door. Finally she stood, so I did too.

“One final thing,” she added. “Are you familiar with the name Bonnie Rose?”

The interview had taken another hairpin turn. “No, not that I know of . . .”

“Very well,” she said. “We’ll be in touch.”

Chapter 2

A
LLIE
K
IRKLAND
F
EBRUARY
, P
RESENT
D
AY

T
he evening after the casting call, I started having nightmares about the Berman Theater.

I was running through the darkened catacombs, but suddenly there were no doors.

Someone . . . or something . . . was in there with me. Footsteps echoed through the shadows. Closer, then farther away, then closer again, sometimes so near that I could hear breathing. I felt it on my neck, turned around . . .

Over and over and over, I jerked awake, then fell asleep again, compelled to return to exactly the same place repeatedly. Haunted by it. Only twice before had I been plagued by repetitive dreams. The week before my father died, I’d seen him driving off into a bright light. I tried to chase his car, but my eight-year-old legs weren’t fast enough.

The week Grandma Rita was due to fly home from her big Hawaiian vacation, I’d dreamed that I went to meet her plane, but it wasn’t there. She was in the air on September 11, 2001, and the dream suddenly made sense. It was two days before she could send a message that she was fine.

I wasn’t about to let Kim know about the Berman Theater
dream. There was no telling how that would stir the waters. She was a basket case already, waiting for news.

“It’s just . . . I’m going to be heartbroken if I miss this chance.” She actually got weepy over Domino’s Pizza as we sat outside our apartment. Our usual picnic spot was the stairway for our quad.

“It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t happen. You only found out about this thing . . . what . . . a week ago?” Sometimes Kim could be so dramatic.

She ignored me completely. “I hope they saw how much I wanted it, but I don’t know if they did. But I made it past the front table after Chase slipped my paperwork to the top. Of course, in the second room there were five people behind the table, and there was, like, a mirror
behind
them. I think it was a two-way mirror. I think
he
was back there watching them ask me all those psychological profile questions about whether I had any outdoor survival experience and what I thought would be hardest about living frontier style. It’s all up to
him
, really. The committees are just a front. I did a great job on the psych profile—if there’s one thing I know after all these counseling classes, that’s it. I had that psychologist behind the table totally convinced I could tough it out as a wilderness pioneer. I just hope I convinced
him
.” Kim was on a roll this evening, full of wild theories about Rav Singh again.

“Your OCD is showing.” When Kim got her mind on a must-have, she could not, I mean
not
, think of anything else.

Maybe it was selfish, but I was starting to hope she wouldn’t be offered a spot on the cast. There was something about my interview that still bothered me. I couldn’t shake the sense that the android woman had wanted to warn me off, but was afraid to.

Kim stuck her fingers in her ears and started humming, as in,
La-la-la, I can’t hear you.
Her face narrowed, and she
squinted at me, her round, cherub cheeks and pert nose scrunching up. “Don’t swat flies near the gravy, Allie. You’ll ruin it.” Kim came from my grandmother’s little Texas hometown, which was how we’d met and become summer friends over the years. Just like Grandma Rita, Kim had more creative phrases than you could shake a stick at. Conversation wasn’t just conversation, it was an art form.

I took a bite of my pizza. “Well, not to add to your gravy or anything, but weren’t you the one who was looking forward to heading down to Galveston to hunt for hot guys on the beach again this summer?”

Kim frowned, setting down her pizza and resting her chin on her hand. “Yeah, whatever. We went there last summer, Allie, and what did it really get us? No guys and terminal sunburns. One of these days, we’ll end up side by side, sharing a room in the nursing home, covered with Band-Aids where we’ve had sunspots lasered off.”

“Well, now, there’s an appealing picture.”

Kim pushed her paper plate away, looking uncharacteristically somber. “I’m serious, Allie. I’m twenty-seven years old. I’m almost through grad school. Everyone I know is getting married. I’m so sick of wedding showers, I could spit. And what’s gonna happen when I
do
graduate? I’ve put it off almost as long as I can. Eventually, unless I want to go for my doctorate in education, they’ll give me a master’s degree and kick me out of here. And then I’ll be in some school where
95
percent of the teachers are
women
, and the other 5 percent are coaches. And coaches want
skinny
girls. Girls who look like they only eat Purina Rabbit Chow. I wanna
find
somebody, and this summer’s my chance. I can
feel
it. There’s the whole cast of the show, and then on top of that, there’s the crew—all the grips and production assistants and stuff—
and
on top of that, there’s all the people who eventually watch
the show when it comes on TV. That’s
a lot
of potential right there, my friend.”


That’s
why you want to do this so badly?”

Kim answered with a nod, her silky blond hair falling over her eyes. “And the whole idea of living like you’re back in time for three months is kinda cool. Don’t forget, I was a history teacher for two whole years before I went back to grad school. Just
think
about it. This thing is perfect for me. I love history, and those big ol’ skirts totally hide the ba-donka-donk. I’m gonna look good in 1861. You should see the pictures of my great-grandmothers. They were some corn-fed German women, and they were both married before they turned seventeen. I’m living in the wrong millennium, that’s all.”

“I think you’re getting way too wrapped up in this.” For all her bubbly personality, Kim could go off the deep end in the worst way, then end up floundering when her plans went awry. Those periods of depression were not pretty. They scratched the dust off the times with my father that I didn’t want to remember. Despite his brilliance, there was a dark side that drove him to his studio and kept him inside for days on end. The door locked, even to me.

Kim nudged me as Stewart Mulder exited the apartment next to ours, soundlessly as usual, his hat-rack-thin frame bent under the weight of an enormous backpack bulging at the zippers. Stewart was a second-year law student who worked in the campus library and clerked at the DA’s office.

Communication with him was always a little hit or miss. He was just as apt to walk by without saying anything, his face blotchy red with embarrassment under his unkempt mop of brown hair, as he was to stop and have an awkward conversation. Lately, he was into sharing the details of bizarre cases at the DA’s office.

“Hey, Stew,” Kim said as he checked and rechecked his door locks.

“It’s
Stewart
.” The thin cupid’s bow of his lips compressed, the emotion impossible to read. “Stew comes in a can. I don’t.”

Kim wagged a finger at him. “That’s a good one.”

His mouth twitched a bit. He seemed pleased.

Kim swept pizza crumbs off her sweats. “So what’s new at the DA’s office?”

There was the strangest thing about Kim: Maybe it was the counseling classes, but she always had to engage people. It frequently garnered dating offers she
didn’t
want. I had a bad feeling she was headed there with Stewart.

“We have been issuing warrants for outstanding parking tickets.”

Kim’s eyes widened. “Seriously?” She was famous for parking in places she wasn’t supposed to.

I leaned over and stared at her. Sometimes Kim could be blond all the way to the roots. “Kim, parking tickets are city, not state.”

Even with the hint, it took her a minute. “Oh, that’s really a good one, Stew. That was kind of cold, though. You scared me.”

An awkward smile teased Stewart’s lips, and then he stood there looking uncomfortable before finally checking his door locks again.

Hooking his thumbs under his backpack straps, he exited down the stairs.

I turned to Kim after he was gone. “You know he has a crush on you. You know you’re encouraging him, right?”

“What?”

“Just don’t be surprised when Stewart asks you out for a date.” In reality, Stewart had probably been sitting inside his apartment listening to our whole conversation about lack of
male interest. I had a feeling that Stewart listened in on a lot of our stairway conversations.

Kim tipped her chair onto the front legs so that she could peer down the stairwell as Stewart lugged his backpack across the parking lot, his long, thin legs made even thinner by the black skinny jeans he always wore. Weaving through the cars, he seemed to sag beneath the weight of the books, or the weight of the world, or both.


Puh-lease
.” Kim looked a little scared now. “I’m just being nice. What do you expect me to do, be
mean
?”

“I’m just saying don’t flirt.”

“Okay, okay. I feel kind of sorry for him, that’s—” Stopping mid-sentence, she pulled her cell phone from her pocket. “Holy cow! Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” She flailed a hand in the air, then pressed it to her chest and took a few deep breaths.

“What?”

“It’s
them
,” she whispered, giving the screen a fisheye. “It’s them! It’s them! It’s them! It’s an LA area code.”

Something lumpy and uncomfortable formed in my throat as Kim answered the phone, then quickly began taking instructions for a callback. Gesticulating wildly, she made writing motions and mouthed the word
pen.
I ducked in the door and grabbed one for her, and she furiously wrote details on the pizza box. When the call was over, she stood up, patting her chest
.

“I made the first cut . . .” She stared at her bedazzled phone case, dumbfounded. “They really want me. Nine a.m. tomorrow, I go back in, and we do some more interviews, a medical profile, and some other . . . stuff. Oh my gosh, I can’t even remember what they said. Some . . . something about a meeting again with their psychologist and doing some readings . . .
and they’re going to look at us, put us on camera and stuff. And then pick a second-round group.”

The heaviness in my chest thickened. “That’s really great, Kim. That’s awesome.” Why did this feel so . . . wrong?

Kim didn’t catch my lack of sincerity; she was too busy squealing and running hamster circles around the landing. When she finally skidded to a stop, she noticed the stricken look I couldn’t quite hide, and her face fell. “Oh . . . oh . . . they’re going to call you too, Allie.”

She had no idea that wasn’t at all what was on my mind. I was thinking about the nightmares. The ones that seemed to come when I was worried about someone close to me. Were they a warning? “Kim, it’s fine.” All of a sudden I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like I was trapped in those endless catacombs again. “You know that Lloyd and Mom would kill me, anyway. Maybe they’re right about it being time to come home.”

“The production is gonna
call
, Allie. Chase promised to do everything he could to keep your résumé at the top of the pile too, and besides, I’ve been having one of my
feelings
all week.”

So have I.
But the feelings I’d been experiencing had tied my stomach in knots.

Inside the apartment, my phone belted out an electronic jazz riff.

“There it is!” Kim squealed.

As I crossed to the door and answered my phone, the fine hairs on my skin rose, as if the cool air of the Berman Theater had found me from far away.

Perhaps, in a sense, it had. I recognized the voice on the other end of the call. “Hello, Miss Kirkland, this is Tova Kask, calling from Razor Point Productions. . . .”

BOOK: Wildwood Creek
10.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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