Little Girl Gone – Chapter 1

Reprinted with the permission of Grand Central Publishing.

Copyright © 2011 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 1

Little Girl Gone Cover

Madora Welles was twelve when she learned that some girls are lucky in life, others not so much. On the day her father walked into the desert, she learned that luck can run out in a single day. After that, there’s no more Daddy telling the whole story of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” start to finish, in one minute flat. No more laughing Mommy standing by with a stopwatch to make sure he doesn’t cheat. Lucky girls did not have fathers who changed from happy to sad, easy to angry to tears in the space of an hour, locked themselves in the shed and banged on things with a hammer. No lucky girl ever had a father who walked into the desert and put a bullet in his brain.

Yuma, Arizona: the town is laid out like a grid on the desert flats. Single-story buildings, fast-food joints on every corner, dust and heat and wind, lots of military, and a pretty good baseball team. That’s about it.

Madora’s mother, Rachel, said Yuma killed her husband, said it was killing her too. To save herself she turned on the television, stepped into other people’s stories, and got lost. For a long time she forgot to care about her daughter. Failing in school, drinking, and wading into the river of drugs that ran through the middle of Yuma, Madora was seventeen when she met Willis Brock.

Madora’s best friend was Kay-Kay, a girl from a family with slightly better luck than her own. Instead of using a gun, Kay-Kay’s father had been drinking himself to death for a few years when she and Madora latched onto each other like twins separated at birth. Rachel recognized trouble when she saw it come through the door chewing gum and smelling of tobacco, but Madora had stopped listening to her by then. Rachel fell asleep in front of the television, in the old La-Z-Boy lounger that still smelled like Old Spice.

Madora and Kay-Kay and a boy named Randy who knew someone who knew someone else who had a car drove south of Yuma, into the desert near the border, where they had heard there was a party house and big action. Rachel had told Madora a thousand times to stay away from the border, but in the years after her father’s suicide, Madora’s life was all about escape and rebellion; and the drugs and remote setting excited her. Until the bikers came she was having a good time drinking bourbon from a bottle and smoking grass, taking her social cues from Kay-Kay. Unconsciously, she copied Kay-Kay’s slope-shouldered, world-wary posture, and she was careful not to smile too much or laugh too loudly. Not that there was ever much humor at parties like this; and what passed for conversation was dissing and one-upping, arguments and aimless, convoluted complaints and comparisons of this night to others, this weed to the stuff they smoked the week before.

At seventeen, Madora’s thinking was neither introspective nor analytical, but she was conscious of being different from Kay-Kay and the slackers around her and of wishing she were not. She wanted to eradicate the part of herself that was like her father: a dreamer, a hoper, a wisher upon first stars. At the party that night in the desert she kept to herself the resilient romantic notions that floated in the back of her mind. Never mind the odds against it: a handsome boy would come through the door, and he would look at her the way her father once had and she would feel as she once did, like the luckiest girl in the world.

Instead the bikers came. Voices rose and the air snapped; the music got louder and the run-down old house vibrated to the bass beat.

Kay-Kay put her mouth close to Madora’s ear, her breath an oily whiskey ribbon. “I’m gonna do it.” It was so noisy, she had to say it twice. “Those guys, they brought crank. I’m gonna try it.”

Madora had been drinking and toking all night. Kay-Kay’s words didn’t really sink in, but what her friend did, she wanted to do as well. “Me too.”

In a room at the back of the house, they sat on the floor opposite a bearded man with a gold front tooth who said his name was Jammer. Men and girls—long-haired and skinhead, pierced and tattooed and leather jacketed, all strangers to Madora—leaned against each other, stood or squatted with their backs to the wall. Jammer wore a black tank top so tight it cut into the muscles of his overdeveloped arms and shoulders and chest, and his hands were spotted with burn scabs. He held a six-inch pipe with a bulb at the end and played the flame of a lighter under the glass taking care not to touch it with the fire, rolling the pipe as he did.

Madora watched in fascination as the pale amber cube in the bulb dissolved. Her lip hurt and she realized she was biting down on it. I shouldn’t be here, she thought, and looked at Kay-Kay. One sign that her friend wanted to leave and Madora would have popped to her feet in an instant. But Kay-Kay was mesmerized by the pipe in Jammer’s hand. She leaned forward, watching avidly as he turned and rolled it. A drop of saliva hung suspended from her lower lip.

The others in the room passed a joint and spoke softly; occasionally Madora heard someone laugh. The door to the rest of the house was shut, but beneath her Madora felt the beat of the music. In the smoky room her eyes watered and blurred. A man crouched behind her, pressing his knees into her back. He held her shoulders and urged her to lean back.

“Relax, chicky, you’re gonna love this.” Jammer held out the pipe to Madora, and Kay-Kay elbowed her gently and grinned encouragement. Madora thought of a birthday party, the expectant moment just before the lighted cake and the singing began.

The man behind her stroked her arm, running his fingers along her shoulder and up into her hair. He whispered, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll take care of you.”

She took the pipe between her fingers and put her lips around the tube. She started to inhale, but just as she did, the image of the birthday party came back to her, and she saw her father holding the cake; and she was six again, and no matter what, Daddy would always take care of her. Her throat closed; her hand came up and dashed the pipe onto the floor. Someone yelled and her head exploded in white light and there was no yelling or talking, no music anywhere, just a burning pain as if her head were an egg and someone had thrown it against the wall.

She struggled to her feet, fell to her knees, and stood up again. Someone grabbed her and pushed her against the wall. Hands groped at the front of her T-shirt and she flailed and tried to scream but her throat and her lungs had frozen shut. More hands grabbed her arms and dragged her across the floor; her ballerina slippers came off her feet, and her bare heels tore on the broken linoleum. A door opened and she fell forward into a wall of fresh air. Someone shoved her into a chair and she sat down hard, gagging for air.

A voice growled. “Stay with her.”

Kay-Kay’s voice came from far away. “Holy shit, are you all right?”

Madora’s left cheek jerked as her eye blinked crazily.

“You want me to call your mom? Oh, Jesus, Madora, I can’t get her to come out here.”

Madora wanted to stop the twitching, but her hand couldn’t find her face.

“No one’s gonna stop partying to drive you home.”

Her hands and feet and head were attached by strings. She bobbled like a puppet.

“Jammer said you only got a whiff. Lucky, huh? Are you listening, Mad? He says like only one in a trillion people react bad like you. It might’ve killed you. I can’t believe how lucky you were.”

Someone was stirring her brain with a wooden spoon.

“No one wants to leave yet, and anyway, Jammer says you’ll feel better.”

Then she was alone on the porch outside the house. A coyote padding across the yard stopped to look at her, moonlight reflected in its yellow eyes. Kay-Kay returned and sat beside her for a few moments, holding her sweating hands, and then she went back in the house.

The desert temperature dropped, and the air, cold and dry, lay over everything. The sweat dried on Madora’s body and she shivered, and her teeth rattled like bones in a paper bag. She dragged her feet up onto the chair and wrapped her arms around her knees. She rested her face on her knees and tried to close her eyes, but the lids bounced as if on springs. In the house someone had turned up a CD of an old Doors recording. The keyboard riffs scored her senses and the beat got down inside her, deep. Her muscles ached with it.

Car lights streaked across the cholla and prickly pear. For a moment she was sightless, then bleary-eyed, and the figure coming toward her seemed to emerge out of water like something blessed, a holy vision. Without knowing why, she tried to rise from the chair where she’d been cowering. Her legs wobbled under her and he reached out, helping her to balance.

“Hey, little girl, you better stay down.”

She saw two of him, sometimes three, floating like a mirage, but his voice was clear and strong. Under it, the pounding beat and the keyboard riffs grew fainter until they seemed to come from far out in the desert, where she knew there must be a party going on but nothing that concerned her anymore.

“Don’t be afraid, little girl. Willis won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

Read Chapter 2

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Reprinted with the permission of Grand Central Publishing.

Copyright © 2011 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

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5 Responses to “Little Girl Gone – Chapter 1”

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