Fast Cars

📅 Published on October 23, 2021

“Fast Cars”

Written by Dan A. Cardoza
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.75/10. From 8 votes.
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She woke up again snared in a familiar nightmare.  The horrific content had always been the same, yet different somehow.  Gabby was fastened to this thick leather leash.  The leash was attached to a silvery spiked collar.  She’d been a shadowy tiger, a bear, even a stalking lioness.  Her stomach had felt as though it was a pasty hive knot, her mind a swarm of angry hornets.

Julep and his thirteen-year-old daughter had moved to Trinity County in Northern California.  They’d purchased a home just outside the city limits of Weaverville, a small, wooded enclave in the mountains.  They hadn’t admitted it yet, but their move was to stay a step ahead of their past.

When Gabby was eleven, she and her mother were T-boned at the corner of Crystal Springs and El Cerritos Avenue in San Mateo.  They’d been headed home from Millbrae Square, a local mall.  Gabby needed cooler wheels for her longboard.

A drunken driver had run a red light at over 50 miles per hour, 25 over the speed limit.

Mary, her mom, and the ‘overmedicated’ older man named Kyle Gilliam had been killed in the dynamic collision.  The wrecked cars had skittered over 100 feet into someone’s front yard and into a magnolia tree.  Somehow, Gabby had survived.  She’d been rattled to the core but no worse for wear.  Kids are built with rubber bands for bones.

Like her father, Gabby was technically a genius, but she wasn’t nearly as pretentious as her beloved father.  Julius hadn’t minded swaggering his hefty I.Q. around the other high-tech boys, especially while under pressure, when the real troubleshooters stepped forward.  Julep was how his colleagues refer to him.  His birth name was Julius, as in Julius Caesar.  He’d been nicknamed Julep by his friends because of a drink associated with the Kentucky Derby–the Mint Julep.  Julius had grown up in Louisville, Kentucky, no more than three impoverished blocks away from the famous horse track, Churchill Downs.  The engineer in him had admired how smoothly the thoroughbreds had glided over the dirt.

Upon graduation from Iroquois High School, Julep got him one of those full tilt scholarships to attend Caltech in Pasadena.  It was in Pasadena, California, where he’d received an engineering degree in computer science.  He’d graduated with honors, been offered numerous jobs.

Over the years, Julep had made his mark in Silicon Valley.  He’d become a Jedi at measuring the tensile strength of ultra-thin Silicon chips and how they’d reacted to adhesive energy.

In 2016, Julep was assigned to open the first R&D gig in Japan for Apple.  When he’d returned to Silicon Valley, the powers that be on the board had agreed to his request to work from home, especially since he was a single father.  After all, he’d made a lot of money for his beloved corporation.

And so, Julep and Gabby moved way up to Weaverville, California, where they’d distance themselves from fast cars and Gabby would turn fourteen, a freshman in the fall.

After they’d moved into their new digs, Julep set up an entire lower-level room as his workspace.  When complete, it took on the appearance of a high-tech dashboard in a spacecraft.  It was in this futuristic platform that he’d conduct most of the critical work that needed to get done.  He had all he needed except incidentals and food, things he could drive to Redding to get.  He didn’t have much in common with the locals except a conversation with the occasional farmer about horses.

He and Gabby had done their homework.  They’d discovered this large house that had been stuck in the real estate market for two years.  None of the locals could afford it, and so they’d purchased the beautiful two-story shipboard at the end of Brown’s Ranch Road.  It belonged to the Worthington estate.  At the time, their realtor from Redding hadn’t offered much about the history of their property.  They weren’t concerned about the deeply buried rumors about their new 3,200 square foot home being haunted by a ghost.

It was a spectacular space, the open two-story western expanse.  More importantly, it had a fenceless yard.  In reality, their backyard happened to be a national forest, one of California’s most beautiful topographies.  Both Julep and Gabby loved the isolation, but over time, it had taken its toll on both of them.  Still, they couldn’t see themselves living anywhere else.

The Shasta-Trinity National Forest had a way of imposing itself upon you.  It wouldn’t stand for being ignored.  Up against this modern wilderness, Julius would build a new life for himself and his young daughter.  It would be a place where they would heal.

But neither could fathom the long and winding paths, the twists and turns that lay ahead of them on their journey.  The signs had been there, on the velvety pine-needled floor of the darkened forest as well as in the contour of slopes that were more like swoops.  They loved the melded geological topography, how it appeared prehistoric and daunting.

* * * * * *

Calvin Coolidge Worthington had been destined to achieve wealth.  Not in an Upper East Side sort of way, but through willpower, intention, and charisma alone.

He’d been born on November 27th, 1920, in Bly, Oklahoma.  Cal had grown up on the train tracks of poverty, one of nine skinny children, each child an empty boxcar.  His intent and motivation as a child had been to figure out how to avoid getting run over by hunger and neglect.  Cal dropped out of school at the tender age of 13.  Afterward, he worked some odd jobs until he reached military age.  No one had ever accused Cal of being lazy or disloyal.  He’d loved him some America.

After a stint in the military, around 1949, Cal Worthington moved to Huntington Park, California.  He’d confirmed a hunch – what most had told him for years – that he could sell fireworks to the devil himself if it involved making some coin.  His engaging personality made the stingiest among us part with their hard-earned dollars.  Though money was important to Cal, it would never cure a hungry and wanting childhood, but what he earned went a long way to keep him from rinsing and washing his past, over and over again.

After many years, the West Coast had turned Cal into a multi-millionaire.  Cal Worthington had parlayed his ability to sell cars into the ownership of a multitude of California car dealerships.

Not wanting to escape his Oklahoma roots altogether, Cal established purchased a 24,000-acre cattle spread up near the small city of Orland, California.  Orland had reminded him of his beloved Bly, Oklahoma, a dryer part of the lush Sacramento Valley with plenty of irrigation water for his badly needed alfalfa.  It was there that his life would grow legendary.

Cal had become famous for his unique radio and television advertisements for the Worthington Dealership Group.  Most of his ads began as an announcement, “Hi, I’m Cal Worthington, and this is my dog Spot!”  “Spot” was never a dog.

Spot was usually on a leash.  Depending on the evolving television commercials, Spot might be a Siberian tiger or a large black bear.  In another ad, Spot was a hippopotamus.

Cal Worthington had ridden the hippo in one of his exotic commercials.  He’d always sport his stereotypic cowboy hat, along with his expensive taste in casual western suits.  “Yippee-Ki-Yay!” he’d said, as he charmed his buyers into one of his Chevy Impalas, “Cha-Ching!” he’d said to himself.

As he’d gotten older, Cal’s family had convinced him not to push his luck.  None of his children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren wanted to see their Popo eaten alive on T.V.  by a pissed-off cougar or crushed to death by some overfed rock python.  And so, Cal retired “Spot” in the mid-1980s.

According to a 90s expose published by one of the Golden State’s dinosaur newspapers, the Sacramento Bee, Cal Worthington had grossed a little more than $316 million in 1988.  That made Cal the largest single owner of car dealerships on the planet earth.

He’d sold automobiles from 1945 until his death on September 8th, 2013 at the age of 92.  He’d filled his impoverished belly with one hell of a last meal.

Before Elvis had left the building, he’d established various trusts to share his generosity with his entire family.  It was his grandson, Jeff Worthington, who’d purchased the isolated house next to a teal castle named the Shasta-Trinity forest.  It was the same grandson who’d one day die emotionally impoverished from losing a teenage daughter he’d named Marci.  Human nature is cruel that way.

* * * * * *

At fourteen, Gabby’s life had begun to shut down.  It had only been a few months since they’d moved to the mountains.  She and her father had experienced cultural whiplash in the old sawmill town.  She’d been incessantly teased at Trinity High school.  “You are a silly little city Goth girl,” they’d said.

“What are you doing in a once-thriving lumber town?” the kids would ask.

Teachers had complained, the principal had said.  “Jesus, Mr.  Cunningham, she’s so intelligent, oof, off the chart, but her motivation is in the toilet, sir.  She’s become quite combative with most of our teachers.  She has trouble playing nice and making new friends.”

“Doesn’t this happen in high school?  Kids attempt to express themselves, try out new hermit crab shells?”

“Well, I’m not so sure I’d put it that way, Mr.  Cunningham.  But the changes she’s making aren’t working at school.  Folks in the mountains like their children more vanilla than tangy lemon ice cream.”

“Before I go, what’s with these cruel kids calling my daughter ‘Tops?’”

“‘Tops?’ I haven’t a clue, Mr.  Cunningham.  You know kids, how cliquish and secretive they can be when using their oily alphabets.  It’s their job to make it as smooth as possible to move the gears and sprockets of words around.  I give you that.  Some are hurtful if you don’t fit in.”

“But calling her, ‘Tops,’ that’s some lame bullcrap.  Gabby and I will explore other options.”

After he’d spoken with the principal, Julep committed to home school Gabby.  And like most things in his life, he’d intended to jump into it with both feet.

By the end of freshman year, Gabby was ready for college, at least in terms of academics.  She wasn’t entirely happy that she’d missed out on the entire shitstorm of craziness that was high school.  Unlike college, at least in high school, you can learn a hell of a lot about the human condition.

Julep had learned a lot.  He’d played him some football and ran him some track in high school.  He was fast, drank a lot, and dated some wild-ass girls.  At least his Gabby was safe at home, or so he’d thought.

* * * * * *

“Wake up, Gabby, wake up!” Julep shouted.  Gabby was in one of her two beds.  After all, she had most of the second floor to herself, including both bedrooms.  Since Julep worked late, he’d claimed most of the downstairs, except the grub in the kitchen that they’d shared.

She’d thrashed and pushed Julep away.  Her hair was wet and matted as if she’d been in a wrestling match with the devil herself.  She gasped, opened her eyes, and sat straight up as if she’d been drowning.

“Holy shit, the box!” she’d bellowed.  She inhaled deeply and looked up at Julep.  It was as if he’d just removed an external defibrillator or electroshock paddles.

“Clear,” she’d screamed up at her father, half-delirious.

She lay back down and quickly sat up again.  She commenced banging her head against the wooden headboard, “Clear, clear!” she’d said again, palming her long dark hair away from her eyes and over her ears.  She rubbed sweat away from her brow using the back of her forearm.  It was as if someone had placed another person’s soul into her being.

“Holy crap, are you okay?” asked Julep as he stepped back in panic.

After a long pause, Gabby had said, “Hell no, dad, I need a shower.” It was then Gabby laughed a forced sort of laugher, like when one of the kids at the beginning of freshman year school had hurt her feelings.

“Why are you so obsessed with boxes?  I know how creative you are, but…?”

“You mean the box?” Gabby asked her concerned father.  Gabby’s eyes focused.

“Yes, you know what the hell I’m talking about.  I’ve seen the images all over the house, more so lately, Gabs.  You know, the sticky note art, in charcoal and ink, the coffin-looking etchings on the gravel beyond the back porch?”

“I’d be lying, dad, if I offered an answer.  I haven’t a clue.  It’s like my hands and fingers, and sometimes my mind is not under my control.  It scares the shit out of me, too.”

“But there has to be a logical answer.”

After a long pause, Gabby spoke truth to power.  “Ok, Dad, it’s like this.  If I knew what the hell was going on inside me, do you think I’d be pissed off at the world most of the time? It’s just that I have these feelings spinning around in my head that I have no control over, all the scratching and clawing.”

“You make it sound so murky, Gabs.”

“Well, it is murky, Dad.  I’d say it’s more dark than murky.”

“I can’t imagine,” Dad said in response.  Gabby knew he’d be supportive as usual.

“Thanks, Dad, you never make me feel crazy.”

“Ok, Gabby, let your freak flag fly.  You owe yourself that after what you’ve been through.  I’m going to leave you to your wake-up shower.  I guess I can’t replace your mother after all.”

Julep gathered his butt-hurt feelings and dragged himself in the direction of Gabby’s bedroom door.  Before he could exit and swing it shut, Gabby spoke.

“Dad, don’t be a little bitch.  Mom is Mom.  I’ll never stop loving her.  But, she’s gone, I get that.  No one can replace her.  I’m getting good at appreciating her more each day now.  It’s all good.  So, don’t mop the floor with your long lower lip.  You’re best at being my father.  Never forget that.  Now, get the heck out of here.”

Julep slowly shut the door, paused, and took a wrecking ball to his petty hurt feelings.  It felt good.  He hadn’t been able to wear one of his classic Cheshire grins for some time.

* * * * * *

“Julep, it’s hot, especially for October.  So how short do you want your hair?”

Pappy, the Puerto Rican barber on Esplanade, was worth unwinding down the mountain to Redding for any day of the week.

Once a month, Julep would do Costco on Dana Drive and then get him a clip.  Pappy had turned into the cool grandfather that Julep never had.  Julius’s own dad had died when he was eleven and was the closest thing he had to a grandpa.  You never dared Papa to do anything ‘cause he would.  Papa and Julep had danced on the top of a table once at a wedding, giggled until they’d nearly pissed their pants.  Julep’s relatives had never let him live it down.

“Pappy, you’re my Edward Scissorhands.  Just feel it.  Do your movie magic, guy.” They’d both laughed.  Pappy made the buzzer dance over Julep’s scalp.  His sharp scissors did the tango, like in the old country.

“Mano, I got your back.”

“Jesus, Pappy, tell me that’s not your 2000 hardtop Chevrolet Corvette out front, the one with the blistering red hardtop?”

“Dude, you know me and fast cars.”

“Yup!” Honest to God, laughter from both shook the dusty vintage wooden floor.

For some reason, during all the fun and banter each enjoyed, Julep happened to mention the street he lived on.

“No shit, Chip.  Not the house on the end, right?”

Pappy chose to call Julep ‛Chip’ because of his technical wizardry with Silicone chips.  Julep liked the nickname.  It was genuine.  If the locals in Weaverville had their choice, more than likely, they’d call him Woodchip.


“Jesus, mother of God, that house is haunted, Mano!”

“Excuse me, what?” asked Julep.

“Haunted like a three-legged dog looking for a spare leg, Mano.”

“Pappy, you’re creeping me out.  What’s the story?”

“Well, Chip, it goes like this.  This big shot grandson of a wealthy car dealer had lost a daughter there.”

“What, wait, so this girl died in our house?”

“She was only sixteen.  She was a dark-haired beauty, Chip.  She was kind and smart as hell.  She was kidnapped and killed somewhere else.”

“What in the hell are you talking about, Pappy?”

“Mano, it’s a long story.  This teenage girl named Marci was kidnapped at a local restaurant in Weaverville.  Before the F.B.I could get involved, Marci’s rich great grandfather, Cal Worthington, had paid off the – Madre de Dios, forgive me – the bastards.”

“Seriously, she lived in my house?  Where did they find her?”

“They never found her.  The authorities presumed she was killed and buried somewhere in the mountains.  Those two devils got away with murder.”

In this crazy mixed-up, beautiful state of California, it’s a requirement to disclose if there has been a death in a living space once it’s put on the market.  But for some strange reason, it’s not required after three years prior.  Should a buyer ask, time doesn’t matter; you have to disclose it.  Since they’d never found a body, none of this really mattered when Julep purchased his home.

“Two?  How do you know there were two?”

“This little boy, Chip, the one they’d paid to retrieve the ransom money that was placed in a cardboard grocery box.  It was behind Costco, in an alley by I-5.

“This young boy, Larry, was questioned by the F.B.I after his father had taken him to the sheriff’s department a few days later.  That’s all I know, other than the two men stunk and were unshaven.  They’d given him $50.00, the little boy.  That’s a lot of money, all those years ago.”

“Holy shit, Pappy.”

“Yup, based on all the searching they’d done, they’d failed.  But to be fair, they left no stone unturned.  Could it have been anyone’s lovely daughter.  The crime tore up the community.  They’d used psychics, the authorities, Chip, bloodhounds, even a helicopter with FLIR lighting all over the countryside–nothing.  They’d looked behind your house, up and down the mountain.”

Later at the cash register, Julep tipped his friend $20.00.  Pappy was one of the only true friends Julep cherished in Shasta and Trinity Counties.

On his way home, with a full cooler in the trunk, Julep sped up Highway 299 into the silken folds of night.  He rounded corners 65, 75 miles per hour.  He mulled over his past, his daughter’s obsession with boxes, a future that appeared before him like an empty vault.  He hadn’t come upon a car he hadn’t passed.  He assumed speed and the gorges below might somehow salve his grief, but he had a young daughter to raise and grow old.

* * * * * *

Marci worked at the Nugget Restaurant on weekends and slow weeknights.  On one particular weeknight, near the end of her shift, two of her so-called friends dropped in for some late grub.  They’d waited until everyone had left to order.  They knew what time it was and volunteered to walk Marci to her car once she’d closed.  Bad boys can be gentlemen when they want to be.

“There’s not much to do besides serving coffee and frying a few hamburgers, guys,” she’d said.

“You sure?” they’d said.

She’d leave the small mess for the afternoon crew to clean up the next day…once they’d pulled down the crime tape.  It had been slow.  Seated directly in front of her at the counter were two paying customers.

The next day, management would discover that those two hadn’t eaten.  Whoever these elusive customers were, they were ghosts and hadn’t paid their tickets.

The 21-year-old classic bad boy was named Ronnie.  He made it his mission to be viewed as the town’s proverbial asshole, though he hadn’t lived in Weaverville.  He knew how to channel some old western cowboy snake oil salesman shit, and this mental cosplay fit him tighter than an O.J.  Simpson glove.  He’d worked the local cattle ranches since he’d flunked out of high school in neighboring Siskiyou County.

His buddy Jeff had volunteered to be his flunky, a Shakespearian Jester, Ronnie’s audience of one.  He was as thick as a Nugget pork chop.  Jeff was only 19, a follower.  He was the brand of kid in high school that felt compelled to make fun of a classmate with glasses.  He’d call them four-eyes.  Having an inferiority complex wouldn’t begin to describe him.

If Ronnie was anything, he was smart and devious as a black back jackal.  Lost Jeff was just another poor hinterland boy on the fast track to nowhere.  It was no surprise that it had taken both of them to come up with their brilliant scheme, which was to kidnap their friend Marci.

“Let’s kidnap her,” Ronnie had blurted out while setting choker cables out in the Cascadian woods.  After, they’d used a crane to load up the company’s logging trucks.  It was the kind of work that got you killed or wishing you were dead too soon from getting worn out and used up.

“Wait, Ronnie,” Jeff had said, “Her dad works at the Trinity River Lumber Company in Weaverville.  He’s broke as hell.  He couldn’t rub two dimes together to pay for a cigarette.”

“Listen, silver pants.  Her great grandfather is Cal Worthington, the car company millionaire.  Listen up, here’s what we’ll do.”

They’d make arrangements to pick up the two suitcases full of $100 bills in nearby Mt. Shasta City, California.  It would be left behind the Lai Lai Chinese restaurant, under the lid of a dumpster.  It would be dropped off after 3:00 A.M., once the help had gone home.

The heartless young men had eaten there, known the rhythm and shadows of the neighborhood, and checked CCTV cameras.

Cal Worthington had a ton of money at home in cash, they were certain.  2.5 million was a drop in the bucket to pay for his life-sized great-granddaughter.  They’d counted on Cal’s grandson bungling things up or doing something stupid, like inform the F.B.I.  Ronnie and Jeff had considered the gamble worth the opportunity to be flush for the rest of their pathetic lives.  After all the dust settled, the two amateur crooks would head in different directions, one or the other to the Bay Area, away from each other’s futures.

Ronnie would give Cal Worthington three days after he’d placed the phone call on the burner phone, or else.  Should anything go wrong, the girl in the box would die from the lack of water.  The family would be given a clue in the form of a hieroglyphic riddle to show the F.B.I.

Ronnie explained to Jeff how it would be impossible for Marci to get free once in the box.  They’d tie her up like a mummy using duct tape.

The men rehearsed how they’d wrap her body, leaving only her elbows, hands, and finger free.  Ronnie assured Jeff that once Marci woke, she’d figure out how to perform the needed acrobatics to get jerky out of the two open plastic bags and use her 2 feet of 1/4 inch aquarium tubing to suck water from the plastic bottles.

They’d also install a 1/2 inch diameter tubing, 15 feet in length.  The larger tube would act as the coffin’s breathing lifeline and enter the box through the coffin cover through a drilled hole over her feet…that way, she wouldn’t be tempted to use it as an exotic bullhorn.  The setup might buy Marci three weeks, maximum, short of the F.B.I agents being thick as mud.  Once they’d found her, each of the young men would be long gone and headed in the direction of brand new futures.

Thick Jeff had agreed to go along with the plan under one condition…Ronnie had to promise that Marci would be allowed to live.  After the cash pick-up, Ronnie had to make it appear as if he’d carelessly dropped a notepad with the written clue, a sketch that resembled the large box-looking rock above the house.  He was certain the F.B.I. would figure things out in a few days, max.  Ronnie assured his naive friend that he intended the authorities to find her buried and waiting there, maybe a little pissy-pantied but alive, and so Jeff relented.  Ronnie was a man of his word, after all.

Ronnie had known about the mountain behind the Worthington property.  It’s where he and Marci had spent some late nights during the sweetest summer.  He’d charmed her into sneaking out of her parent’s house in the dead of night.  She thought it was so fresh and exciting.

She’d called the huge rock on the mountain her sundown boulder, a place that they could meet up and fall in love, over and over again.

Marci was such a sweet, dreamy girl.  She’d often go up to the site, sit on the large box-shaped rock and watch the sun disappear into someone else’s world.  She was a deep feeling jewel.  It was just under the large rock where they’d made love.  She thought she owned him, her blue-eyed, badass Ronnie boy.  She’d been so vulnerable and innocent, so trusting of this monster that had schemed to dine on a very dead soul.

It would be at the cash pick-up site in Mt. Shasta City where Ronnie would carelessly drop the notepad with the sketched clue of a box.  In truth, Ronnie had no intention to leave any evidence.  Marci knew who her captors were.  And about betraying Jeff?  As if Ronnie cared two shits about any of that.  What would Jeff do after the fact, raise his hand and ask the cops to take him to the High Desert Prison in Susanville?

And so, Ronnie and Jeff prepared the wooden enclosure as planned long before the hamburgers.  They’d carried the lightweight plywood structure up the ridge behind the Worthington place and lowered it into a deep hole they’d already dug.  It had taken them until near dawn to bury the box and make the ground appear undisturbed.  The trap had been set.  Marci would feel nice and cozy.

Once they’d dropped Marci in the coffin, Ronnie had jumped into the hole.  He’d rolled her on her back, positioned the food and water.  He climbed out.  They buried her under the hooded executioner moon.

* * * * * *

“How about we have some juicy ass hamburgers, fries, and two milkshakes?” Ronnie had ordered for he and Jeff at the restaurant counter, hands in their pockets.  Marci had flushed the color of blood on a peach.  Her flat tummy had felt like steel wool pulsing electricity.  After all, she was in love.  She might have this man’s baby.

“Coming right up, handsome,” she’d said to the beady-eyed scavenger.  Marci thought Jeff invisible, other than the smell of his boots.  The plan had been set in motion.

“It’s ok for you guys to take off your medical gloves.  I can see them.  I know you are both crack mechanics and have been working on fast cars.  I’m impressed without them.”

After she’d placed their hot food on the counter, Ronnie and Jeff insisted they walk the poor little lamb to the slaughter.  She’d been paralyzed from fear, the blue doctor gloves and all.  She’d been bent psychologically speechless, turned into a lightweight rag-doll.  The Chloroform hadn’t been needed, but it gave the heartless young men confidence, confidence that she’d sleep through their total betrayal and the burial process.

* * * * * *

By the time Julep arrived home from his trip to Redding, the house was dark.  Gabby was fast asleep with her lights out.

Julep jumped on his laptop.  He’d looked up the evidence in the Marci Worthington kidnapping case and the details about her subsequent disappearance.  There wasn’t much to go by.  From the looks of things, Marci’s case was an ice-cold file.

Julep poured a shot of bourbon.  He could feel the seasons changing.  Electricity had coursed through his veins and arteries, running red lights in his synapses.  It had been a long day, but something was trying to get through.

He’d gotten himself another shot of bourbon and headed out to the back porch, making sure to quietly shut the back door.  Julep placed his elbows on the porch railing and looked out into the darkness, having turned off the porch lights.  In the pitch blackness, there is an image of a monolithic boulder that existed no more than a mile up the mountain behind their house.  Gabby had said the local kids had called it the box rock.  There was something in the inky night that was calling out to him.

It was as if the ground had shivered into a vibrating thrum, the mountain’s tree roots fiber optic nerves, attempting to short circuit his mind into the past.  The acoustic frequency he’d felt surge down the ravine was silent of decibels.  A new form of electricity had hitched a ride on the wings of the late-night wind.  The unworldly communication reminded Julep of the stormy day when he’d last visited his dead wife.

The wind hissed and snapped through the Douglas firs and pines.  The undulations of the woodland floor had turned the thatched pine needles into electronic wire.  Then the silence grew deafening.

An icy chill meandered up Julep’s spine as if his vertebrae were a snake looking for a place to hibernate.  He shivered about what might be discovered.

In an instant, an upper story window shattered.  Then a second window crashed.  Shards of glass rained down over the graveled yard beyond the porch.  Had it been lightning, had it been thunder, a gas explosion?

Julep cracked open the door and leaped up the long stairway to the second floor.  Gabby’s door had been locked, and she was screaming behind it somewhere.  The wailing and cries were not her own.

“Look under the boulder!” she shouted.  Had Gabby finally broken the spell?

Using an old football move, Julep threw his right shoulder into the bedroom door.  The door splintered, nearly flying off its hinges.  Then he stepped into his daughter’s room.

Standing before her, she’d placed the stool back down and began to sob uncontrollably.

“I know where she is, dad.  She told me or at least communicated it to me.  I don’t care if anyone thinks I’m crazy.  She’s dead and buried up there below Coffin Rock.  Coffin Rock is what the kids call it.”

* * * * * *

It had taken a week to convince the F.B.I. and the local authorities to take a second look.  They’d already swept most of the wooded area behind what was the Worthington home, and they’d thought Julep and Gabby crazier than shithouse rats.  But Gabby was a chip off the old block.  Her mother was like that.  She never let up on the gas.

It was three in the morning.  The search team had taken another break.  The weather had turned bitter cold.  They’d all stood under a giant cedar tree.  Besides, the iconic tree and the large boulder were near a path that insisted on meandering deeper into the woods.

The detectives had been wrapping their hands around a cup of coffee from a thermos that Julep and Gabby had prepared.  In the moonlight, Gabby had seen it first.  It was an out-of-place length of plastic tubing.

Deep tree roots and time had made the digging difficult.  But, by daybreak, a planked wooden enclosure had been unearthed.  The poorly constructed box was fairly intact after being underground for so long.  The F.B.I. had allowed Gabby and her dad to stay and watch but, from a distance.  A body had been discovered.  After that, they’d been asked to wait at home.

It had taken the crime scene investigators over twelve hours to remove and categorize all the evidence.  Late the next day, the team leader had met with Gabby and Julep back at their house.  They’d explained how they’d found her with empty bags of jerky and a dozen plastic bottles, how her fingernails had been worn away, exposing her boney metacarpals.  They’d revealed how she’d been wrapped in duct tape, except for her forearms and hands.

Some rugged guy with the F.B.I., a man named Jenkins, had cried when he’d said she’d written a note in blood.  It read, “Thank you for letting me free,” on the inside of the wooden enclosure lid.  After, the authorities left for their hotel rooms, a hot shower in Redding, and some badly needed sleep.

Gabby had broken down and cried after they’d gone.  Julep had held her for the longest time until she’d finally uttered how exhausted she was, that she needed rest, too.

Julep had joked about covering her windows with sheets so the cave bats couldn’t get into her room through the broken bedroom windows.  They’d both chuckled.  It had been such a long time.

* * * * * *

Ronnie Kimbell had made himself a wealthy man.  He’d moved to a lumber town in Sterling City, California.  He made sure his new life involved keeping a low profile.

His friend Jeff had no such luck.  In fact, he’d been murdered in an alley in Oakland before he’d received his split of the kidnap money.

Ronnie Kimball’s family included a loving wife and four children.  His world was golden and perfect.

The oldest son had discovered Ronnie, or what remained of his dad.  It was difficult to believe it was actually him.  At first, they thought he might have been killed by a cougar, the way the entrails had led them all into the woods up behind their house.

They’d discovered his head on a pole.  The words ‛Box Rock’ had been sliced deep into his forehead.  It took a few days before the authorities could collect all of Ronnie, his liver, his kidneys, his dried-out heart.

Shortly after the trauma, Ronnie’s entire family had moved to Seattle and damper weather.  Afterward, inexplicably, their former large house and adjacent structures had caught fire and burned to the ground.  In fact, most of the forest that had sopped up Ronnie’s blood spontaneously combusted.

Some say the fire was so hot and crazy that the flames spelled wicked things in the sky.  But no one living could figure out the fire’s alphabet.

Rating: 9.75/10. From 8 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Dan A. Cardoza
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Dan A. Cardoza

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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