Now we were ready for our big turning point where everything got as awful as it could be. We thought it would seem even more awful if Heather did something good instead. No problem -- she could go to church. But we didn’t know enough about evil, hellish beer busts with drugs.
Luckily a transfer student appeared just in time. He was half Sho-Ban and he’d been around. He was the son of a Blackft man and he’d been sent to Heart Butte to cool off after some trouble on his home rez. Maybe he made up a lot of what he told us, but we wouldn’t have known the difference. It sounded pretty wicked to us.
We were more judgmental in this chapter than we had been earlier. Partly I was pushing that because the kids were so into the story that they started thinking it was real or that they should imitate it. But this was the wrong chapter for that -- though the fate of Itzy was “ripped from the headlines.”
A VALLEY OF DARKNESS
Heather was feeling as bleak as she had ever been. It seemed to her that everyone had deserted her, that there was no place for her to go, that there was nothing in the world to hope for. And though her only fault was looking to other people for her own picture of herself, she felt that she had done everything wrong in her life, that she was hopelessly stupid and unlikeable. She stood there in the window watching Che's back, watching Itsy's back, and feeling that the whole world had turned its back on her.
Then she heard the church bell ringing just down the road. It was the Catholic church and the priest had decided to do a vespers mass once during the week, more or less as an experiment. He hoped that people would gather together for a time of peacefulness and then go home together to eat as families, instead of trailing in and out of their houses eating sandwiches and microwave snacks. He believed strongly that people should sit down and break bread together.
Something in Heather heard the bell as a call and she walked out the door and down the road without even closing the door behind her. "I don't care if someone comes along and cleans the whole place out," she thought. Maybe she was a little bit afraid that if she took too much trouble leaving, she wouldn't go on to the church. It was hard to go to a public place when she hurt so much and her instinct was to hide, but at the same time she had always found comfort in the church and something in her urged her to go get help. She slipped quietly inside and sat in the dimness unable to see while her eyes adjusted.
Someone was playing the guitar softly. The walls were a soft apricot and votives flickered up front near the beautiful statue of Mary. The ancient nun who worked for the parish came in and smiled at her. Heather slipped forward onto her knees and prayed fiercely for help. She really meant it but wasn't sure she was heard. Still, she kept it up, even after the mass began. She prayed for Che to love her, for her room to come back to her, for Itsy to be nicer, for her father to come home, for her mother to give up bingo-- and for Che to love her. It seemed to her that if Che loved her, everything would be all right. It was impossible for her to see that Che was just a lost kid, worse off that she was herself. In her mind she had made him a hero, the way her dad once had been for her.
Itsy and Che were in the back of a dirty old pickup, bouncing from side-to-side so hard they began to laugh and then couldn't get their breath again. They hung on to everything, but especially the kegs that were riding in the back with them, not just because they were the point of the party, but also because the heavy kegs would have crushed them if they had rolled onto their legs. Itsy had no idea where they were going, but she was used to that. "What the hell," was her general attitude towards life. She tried to keep herself from sweating about anything. If she were only cynical enough, she thought, it was almost the same as being in control and knowing what she was doing.
Che had stopped thinking about anything but his need to get drunk. He wasn't a very deep thinker at the best of times, but when he was overloaded and baffled, he just didn't want to feel at all. Oblivion was the only comfortable state. And it was familiar.
By the time they got to the party site, a bonfire was blazing. Che knew most of the people there-- the boys more than the women. Itsy looked around and saw that this was her kind of crowd: tough, devil-may-care, scarred from fights and accidents. No one here was going to put on airs. She had perfect confidence in her ability to handle herself on this scene. What she couldn't handle was people who thought they were good, because Itsy liked to feel she was wicked, the WORST, the BADDEST. To her Che was no knight in shining armor: he was just a convenience. If she found someone at the party who entertained her more, she would dump Che in a minute. Or so she thought.
Some girls came over, beer cans in hand, to look Itsy over. As soon as they laid eyes on her, they didn't like her simply because she wasn't from around there, but they didn't say anything. They waited to take their cue from the boys. The boys ran everything at a kegger. Women were just a convenience. Che disappeared somewhere.
Itsy looked around to check out the boys. She was looking for an Alpha, the one in charge. And she figured she'd spotted him, too. He was laughing, throwing back his head so that the muscles and veins in his neck showed and his open mouth showed very white teeth. A tense little girl with dramatic eye-makeup noticed Itsy's interest and was instantly enraged, for she considered that man hers. She began to plan revenge on Itsy for daring to check out "her man."
When Heather came out of the church the few people who had been there stopped to visit and she tried to slip past them.. Father lifted a hand and winked at her. It seemed to her that several people looked at her and laughed, but she hurried off. When she walked into the trailer, which had not been invaded after all, and then into the bathroom, she looked at herself in the mirror over the sink and had to burst out laughing. She had gone off with only half of her hair up in curlers! The rest of it hung straight down the side of her head. She looked very funny indeed.
At first she felt humiliated, and then she started to laugh. That's when she knew she wasn't going to commit suicide after all. At least not now. She got busy to set the other side. "I can't BELIEVE I did that!" she said to herself.
When her mother came home, Heather was watching television and reading one of Itsy's magazines at the same time. It made her feel better to go into her OWN old room and steal one of Itsy's dumb old magazines. She enjoyed reading it, though she really didn't care about it.
"Where's that girl?" asked her mother. She didn't like her name and tried never to use it.
"I dunno," said Heather truthfully. After all, she didn't know where the kegger was.
"When is she going to be home?"
"Big help you are. What are you watching?"
"I dunno." Both of them laughed. "Well, shove over and I'll watch it with you. Is that one of that girl's magazines?"
"Yup." Both of them laughed again. Heather pitched the magazine onto the floor. "Mom, I sure wish things were like they used to be before she came here."
"I know. But it means something to your dad and she doesn't seem to have anyplace else to go."
"Well, neither do I." For a while they watched the television without really seeing it.
Then her mother said softly, "If only your brother hadn't died in that car accident. That's when the devil got in the door." Then she seemed to grab hold of herself. "Want some supper? There's a frozen pizza."
They ate the pizza on the bed, laughing at the television shows, and Heather felt as though she were just a little girl again. She slipped into sleep and dreamt of herself on a tricycle and her parents joking happily while they watched her pedal around and around. But where was her brother?
She woke with a start. Her mother was walking up and down the hall. "Mom, what time is it?" The television was off the air but the set was not turned off.
"You'd better put on your pajamas and brush your teeth. Where's that damn girl? Didn't she say anything about where she was going?" Heather didn't answer. She didn't want to think about it.
The girl with the painted eyes knew exactly how to get Itsy. "Hey, Itsy. Have another beer. Or, here-- I've got a bottle of something stronger. You ever drink Creme de Cacao? Good stuff! Here, have a pull." Itsy's head began to spin and she knew she ought to slow down to stay in control. She knew her limits with beer, or even with hard stuff like whiskey-- but liqueurs? Where she came from no one could ever afford them. The taste deceived her: sweet, thick... and deadly. Her last thought was, "Oh, God! I hope I don't pass out." But she did.
Che was experimenting with something new, too. The big hard-bitten Alpha fellow who had come with the girl with painted eyes had some tabs of LSD. "Take this stuff, man. It's like peyote. It'll put you in another world." Sounded good to Che. He'd heard of the stuff. He'd take anything-- anyway, peyote was ceremonial, wasn't it? His grandfather might even approve. He dropped a tab. For a while nothing happened. Then things began to bulge and buckle. "Have another one, kid! They're small."
They were laughing. And their faces began to turn into snouts, their eyes filled with fire, their hair rose up and sprouted into antlers. He was looking at beasts, swirling in sunsets and great convoluted caves. They flickered and flamed and fluttered and then he was gazing into the wall of fire and his mother was screaming and ... then he was screaming, too.
The shadows around him laughed and threw more wood on their bonfire. It was fun to watch this tough guy writhing on the ground and crying for his mother. It was nothing to them, just a spectacle. They were tough, they were survivors, they had already seen everything. They drank more and looked around for other fun. That's when they noticed how drunk Itsy was getting. It looked as though the evening was going to get pretty interesting.
The girl with painted eyes laughed and poured more of the chocolate syrup for Itsy. It wouldn't be long now before she passed out. She knew how much her man enjoyed "pulling a train." Of course, he would never let it happen to HER, because she was his girl-friend and he was bad enough to protect her. He was the baddest dude there and she was proud of him. She felt chosen and special, never doubted that she was safe.
The police called Heather's mother in the middle of the next morning. Itsy had been thrown out of a car along a side road. She had been gang raped and was bleeding inside. Her pelvis and one arm was broken. No one knew that Che was missing or had been with Itsy-- except Heather.