Watermelon Peak is a unique ski resort, and fun for the whole family! The algae in the powder dyes the whole mountain a lovely pink, and we even have an exhibit for the movie studio that used to take advantage of this unique color for many of its special effects!
Only the resort is closed for the weekend. One group makes the trip anyway, to relive their glory days of movie making, leaving crimson trails in the disturbed snow. Behind them comes another figure, clad in black, with sharpened skis mounted on his back. His glory days are ahead of him.
(reading time: 56 minutes) (reading time for entire novel: 5 hours, 9 minutes)
The Night it Snowed Blood
The single runway at the Dutcheny private airfield and hangar would never again be as smooth as it was that night. Filled with cracks, it was never that smooth to begin with, but the weeds were determined to make it so much worse. Stubborn grasses allied with the sorts of plants that don’t look prickly until you grab one and realize fine translucent hairs have embedded in your skin. Every Colorado summer they devoured the sun drawn to the rock, clawing their way up through the cracks, continuing their vendetta against civilization so they could return it to the peaceful meadow it had once been.
And every summer they faced their arch nemesis: Carrie Dutcheny. Armed with nothing more than a spade and a spray bottle of Kiss-my-Asphalt herbicide she had waged a one-teenager war against the vengeful creepers for a full six years, and all simply to earn an allowance of twenty-five dollars a week.
The tyrant was retiring with a perfect record. There hadn’t been a single complaint about the condition of the runway since the start of her watch, but this was the last day of the spade, the last time their exposed green flesh would leak out and sizzle on the hot July rock. Her father’s back would give out if he tried to tackle it, and her mother thought she was too valuable an asset to waste on sweaty yardwork. Plus, they could never afford to hire anybody. The Dutcheny family was effectively crippled in their fight against nature.
You wouldn’t know it by the sounds coming from the hangar that night. All the way at the end, past the tiniest glittering of ripped and wet stalks, the hangar’s metal shutter door was half open. The overhead lights inside were on, the occasional dead moth sliding off the shades and plummeting like a torn shuttlecock.
They mostly struck the upper floor, which was actually a wooden walkway on support stilts, almost like a dock, made by Mr. Dutcheny back when his back was still willing to call itself a carpenter alongside the rest of his body. It spanned most of the hangar’s interior, enough room for five small planes to taxi under and be stored inside.
Mrs. Dutcheny’s hutch of an office was up there, containing most of the communication equipment and the computer where she fine-tuned the frustrating interface of the discount aviation software they used. She was in there, interfacing with something unexpected, while her husband of thirty-five years and her daughter laughed their butts off below.
“You did not,” Carrie accused her father, sitting on the metal desk off to the side of the hangar door, the one that was mostly there for show, so they could lay out all the official paperwork when inspectors came by as if they were actually organized people. Her father sat behind it in an old office chair with a crosshatched leather cushion that would’ve been more fitting in front of a crackling fireplace.
He’d taken to rolling around in it, pushing off the upper floor’s stilts with both legs and gliding across the hangar. There was talk that his back was getting so bad that he might want to consider a wheelchair some of the time, but that talk wasn’t allowed in the hangar, even when the man was zooming around in a true wheeled chair.
“I did it and I can prove it,” he said as his chuckling died down. Out from a desk drawer came a stack of hot pink paper, each sheet containing walls of black text, paragraphs that could be used as doorstops. “The school’s entire flight safety manual, right here.” His daughter squealed and flipped through some of it, legs kicking. Of course he actually did it. Now that she thought about it, was there anything more quintessentially Albert Dutcheny than being not only too cheap to buy a manual, but also too cheap to buy some normal paper and just use the novelty color he had lying around instead?
Most of their business was done with an aviation school, though they were technically separate entities. The school had wanted to purchase their facilities at one point, but one conversation with the man running the place made them settle for rental instead. If need be they could always cut their losses and look for someone else.
Somewhere else would’ve been another matter, given how isolated they were, being perilously close to the Rocky Mountains, which, even among patches of land that wanted to colonize the sky, had a penchant for eating planes when pilots weren’t careful enough.
They had asked Al to keep a copy of their safety manual around for appearance’s sake, and it was lucky none of them had asked to see it. Al brought out his smartphone, saw himself in its dark screen. Maybe he should grow a beard, he thought. The word ‘jowly’ was starting to describe his face too well. Of course if he lost the gut the jowls might go with it, but he feared what his spine would have to say about an exercise plan.
Carrie was lucky; she looked much more like her mother. The only thing he gave her was the round nose, and that was perfect for planting kisses on. It wasn’t as big as his, so it was such an honest button nose. In high school her boyfriends would poke or kiss it and she would always smile or giggle. With an actual happy button it was difficult for people to not like her, which helped her when she did an in-person application for her college. Unfortunately it wasn’t much help with the expenditure.
“This is the app,” her father said, pressing his phone’s own button. Up came a trademarked logo and the date of the program’s inception: January 2019. Carrie wondered about the success of apps. Was staying relevant all the way to July of the same year a success? Probably not. If Al Dutcheny had a handle on it, it was probably too cold to be the general public’s cup of tea. The man was just starting to listen to punk rock, thought they were onto something.
“It’s just a scanner, right?”
“Yes ma’am.” He held it over the pink safety manual and snapped a picture. The app zoomed in, formatted the boundaries, turned it into a document. “Then you can send it to your computer and print it from there. It’s a free app too, which is a hell of a lot better than the six hundred bucks they want us to shell out for your textbooks.”
“The only catch is that I have to steal somebody’s textbook for five hours while I painstakingly scan every page, then make a fake hard cover so it looks like I have the real thing in class, then do that for all of my classes.”
“You don’t have to steal it,” he cajoled with a roll of his eyes. “After orientation you’ll have a pile of friends already. Just ask to borrow them.” She took a deep breath through her nose and nodded, fingers knotting in her lap. “I know it’s not ideal Care-bear, but we just scraped enough for tuition and housing. We need you to do things the Dutcheny way with the books okay? It’s just the last inch of the marathon.”
“Right. I can do it. What’s the app called?” There was awkward guilt in his toothy smile. “What’s it called Dad?”
“PilferPage.” It was so quiet they could practically hear the exsanguinating weeds swearing revenge with their dying gasps. Then they burst out laughing. Al spun in his chair. Carrie nearly fell off the desk, having to roll onto her back to stay up. That gave her a good view of her mother’s stern face and pulled-back hair as she stared over the wooden railing of the upper floor. She also saw a foggy green circle next to her face, and it wouldn’t get any closer until she figured out what it was.
“Champagne!” she cheered, holding out her arms. Kat Dutcheny dropped the bottle precisely. Carrie caught it and tore at the golden foil around the cork. She was still years away from the stuff legally, but the Dutcheny hangar was a sovereign nation as far as they were concerned. It had its own airport. Its own publishing house. A society with an upper and lower class depending on which floor you stood on. They were free to celebrate Carrie’s dawn departure to the best-educated four years of her life as they saw fit.
The bottle was supposed to arrive minutes ago, but Kat had been distracted by a call in the office. Apparently their nation was about to be invaded, and at the least convenient time.
“We’ve got one coming in,” she shouted down to her family to kill the last of the laughter. Carrie’s fingers stalled in the nest of foil. Al stopped spinning in his chair, eyes working to focus his multiple wives back down to one.
“Now?” He checked his watch even though his phone was in his other hand. “It’s 1:30! Is it in distress?”
“Not that I can tell,” Kat said, fingers tapping the railing. “They’re not answering, but they signaled that they’re landing, and we skimped on the AA guns. Hit the lights so they don’t turn into a bonfire on our doorstep.” Al kicked off the desk with precision, as if hit with a giant pool cue, and glided over to the wall. He flipped several switches, the pale lights of the runway answering in pairs, one after the other, into the distant treeline.
Kat descended the stairs, helped Carrie down off the desk, and stood with her before the door, staring out at the dim web of cracks that was their runway under the black sky. Al coasted to their side and waited with them.
Carrie couldn’t remember if she’d ever been present for a night landing before. The instances of anyone other than students using their facility were rare, but when it happened it was usually a firefighting plane or someone desperate to refuel. She kept looking for descending stars, but they never came. Instead they got the growl of an engine. The girl couldn’t help but picture a strange hybrid creature, somewhere between badger and flying squirrel, gliding in just to threaten their garbage cans.
“Bastard’s flying without any lights,” Kat grumbled. The sound grew steadily. There came what Al called the kiss, the sound and moment where tires bounced slightly on the runway, before the plane moved in to seal the deal. It was very quiet this time, not a playful peck on Carrie’s nose, more like a mafia don sealing a screw-up subordinate’s fate by planting one on their cheek.
The small aircraft taxied into view, came to a crawl, and turned toward the hangar door. Its engine ceased and the propeller began to slow. It had lights, but they hadn’t tasted electricity in months. Even without them they could tell the craft was completely black, with a matte finish. The white runway lights lit its underbelly like the countershading of a shark.
“What do we have Care-bear?” Al tested his daughter with a whisper.
“Single engine,” she answered, wrapping gold foil around one finger nervously, “two-seater, high wing, tricycle undercarriage…”
“With one standard issue jackass,” Kat added.
“We don’t know th-”
♪ Rocking through the ni-eee-ight! Our noise is a choice and it’s a choice to fiiiiight! ♪
♫ We worked all week, dreamed all day, punched that clock, played the slave ♫
♪ The weekend’s ours, we’ve got a Saturday flaaa-aaa-aaag! ♪
♪ Air’s so charged your boss’ll gaaaaaaag! ♪
♫ We erased days, smashed those lights, called in sick, rocked all night ♫
The song bombarded them the moment the pilot opened his craft’s door. The pulsing synth beat threatened to put more cracks in the runway. Whoever they were they were even more behind the times than Al. The song was so quintessentially 1980s that the elder Dutcheny pair couldn’t even place its year, even having lived through the decade. The best they could do was pinpoint the singer’s attitude as somewhere between ‘84 and ‘88.
Maybe they could’ve done better if they had longer, but when the pilot stepped down and slammed the door the song disappeared, though it was surely still in there, playing out of something too powerful to be as standard issue as the jackass himself, making the whole plane vibrate.
The pilot approached, stride firm, two long things slung over one shoulder. The physique was quite masculine, but not very large, so it was impossible to tell for sure thanks to his choice of gear. There wasn’t an inch of skin visible anywhere, not even a gap friendly to a mosquito.
A skintight black flight suit. A black motorcycle jacket over it, no lapels, zipped all the way up, so tightly that it looked glued shut. Black boots. Black gloves. Black helmet, black visor, impossible to tell if it was meant for flight or motorcycles. It was like he was hermetically sealed in the idea of looking as cool as possible, with only a little gray trim here and there technically lighting him better than his plane.
The pilot passed under the hangar door and stopped, presumably staring at the Dutcheny trio through the visor. He was too stiff, like he’d been deactivated. Kat tried to wake him up.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” she barked, to no immediate response. “You think you’re a goddamn bat? No lights, no warning, no courtesy? This is a private facility; how did you even know we were here to receive you?”
The pilot reached into a jacket pocket, every crease making the sound of supple leather, like Hephaestus rubbing his temples after a long day at the forge. The pocket looked flat and purely decorative until his fingers slid in, air hissing as if there was suction inside. Out came a wad of smooth crisp hundred dollar bills. He held the green curl up as rebuttal.
“It’s two hundred a night if you want to store it inside,” Albert said, having no trouble staring back at the mysterious figure as long as it meant not turning his head and seeing Kat’s intense bad-idea glare. The pilot peeled six bills away one by one, showed them as a fan.
“Welcome to your new home,” Al said warmly. He touched Carrie with the back of his hand. She rolled her eyes, but obeyed the silent request by putting a foot up on the side of his chair and giving him a strong push back toward the desk. He snagged the champagne bottle out of her hand just as he took off. The flutes were definitely in one of the bottom drawers, though not necessarily all in the same one.
The pilot’s helmet moved slowly as he took the place in, his gaze settling on a small refrigerator with a clear door up against the runway wall. It was there to make a little extra cash off the flight students, who often finished their lessons dehydrated. Sometimes Al swapped out the prices for slightly higher ones if he thought they looked extra nervous before they went up.
Their guest set the six hundred down on the edge of the desk while Mr. Dutcheny was still digging through it and then went straight for the fridge. He took the bundle off his shoulders and leaned it against the wall. It was eighty degrees that night, and the man was wrapped up like a corpse in trash bags just prior to being dumped in the river.
“It’s a buck seventy-five each,” Al said of the beverages without even lifting his head from the drawer. He chuckled when he found the glasses, saved from shattering in the shuffle because they were made of plastic. He popped the cork, which flew and landed on the level above them.
The pilot peeled one more bill off the fold and slapped it on top of the fridge. Then he crouched down and opened it, sticking his head inside, knocking bottles over. He lingered there, but Carrie doubted it was because he had a hard time choosing between orange soda or grape. Eventually he did select one: lemon lime.
Pssht, the bottle hissed as he opened it. With a flick of his gloved hand his visor went up. He tilted his head back, all the way, like he was ready to drink rain. Carrie stood on the tips of her toes, leaning, but she couldn’t see past the helmet to his face. Her father whistled at her, waving his hand over three full glasses of champagne. She cautiously fetched two, handing one to her mother. The two women sipped. The smallest sips possible. Somebody had to show some restraint, and the visitor sure as hell wasn’t.
He poured the entire soda bottle into his open visor, holding it several inches above his head. First drop to last. No moving. No swallowing. Nobody could drink like that, so she waited for it to stream underneath his jacket and wet the legs of his flight suit. She took another tiny sip to encourage it. Nothing. He didn’t so much as drip on their floor. He grabbed an orange bottle. Pssht. The process began anew.
“You sir are lucky you caught us,” Al said jovially, propping his feet up on the desk, and a little further up on the pink safety manual. “We’re celebrating. Our little girl is off to school in the morning, and you just paid for her textbooks.” The pilot had finished his second bottle, smacking the empty thing against the top of the fridge just like the first, just like the hundred he used to pay for them. Pssht. “Care-bear, what do you say to the man?”
“Thank you,” she muttered, finally finding a reason to take a bigger sip.
“What are you doing out this late anyway?” Kat interrogated him.
“That’s easy,” Al answered for the man. He pointed at the two sleek black objects leaned against the wall. “He’s here to ski.”
“It’s July,” Carrie pointed out. “They’re all closed for the season.”
“No, there’s one place might still be open. If your elevation is past ten thousand feet you can keep some pockets of snow year round, and there’s one at thirteen thousand. Our friend here is going to Watermelon Peak. Well, am I right?” The pilot lowered his visor back over his face, closed the fridge door. “You don’t need to say it; I know I got it.” Al chuckled and swiveled toward his family.
“I guess we should clear a space for his plane,” Kat said, downing the rest of her champagne in one gulp.
“Sweetie come over here and let me top you off,” Al offered. “Can’t have Care-bear hogging it a-” Ffyut. It was such a strange sound, like a giant sewing needle pulled through a parachute. Al Dutcheny looked down just as he felt it. His blood didn’t show against the black, but it glistened as a crimson outline, like an angry dawn peeking over a fence post. It looked a little funny, and he knew he should point it out, have a laugh about it, but the laugh never got loaded into the cylinder.
The ski, hurled as javelin, had gone straight through the back of his chair and then his heart. The last of the properly pumped blood reached his head, but it wasn’t enough to give him the power to lift it and see his family one last time. The man went limp in his chair, but the black skewer kept him upright.
They dropped their glasses. As they rolled away the pilot was already on his way toward them, the remaining ski in his arms. It glinted under the light, too aggressively their stunned minds now realized. He had sharpened them. Never meant to be held as a weapon, he held it that way all the same. His fingers conformed to its flat shape too comfortably, grip too tight. Holding it like a spear should’ve filled his hands with pain, but nothing radiated off him but determination.
“Daddy!” Carrie cried out, but if there was anything left of him it was already clearing the runway and ascending into the starry sky. Her mother had her hand, was dragging her away, shouting with inarticulate panic and fury. They were headed for the back exit, which led straight outside, which was close to the road, which might have a car passing by-
The second ski sailed through the air and struck one of the upper deck’s wood columns. It stuck deep, impregnated with so much force that it didn’t even wobble afterward. All it did was scare them, force Kat to veer away and take the stairs up. How was he so strong? Nobody should’ve been able to throw a ski through a chair like that, through one of the nicest men in the world like that…
His footsteps followed up behind them. Her mother planned to get into the office, lock the door, use the equipment to call for help, but as the mass of squeaking leather surged behind them she realized they would never make it that far. The woman spun, pushing Carrie behind her. They were right next to the railing, and through the posts she saw Al slumped in his chair below. A cold spike of anguish passed through both branches of her lungs, but she couldn’t let it pin her down for even a second. The pilot was right in front of her, no hesitation, no mercy.
“You stay away from us you bastard!” she snarled, hands up, ready to take him on like a mongoose. The words were barely out of her mouth when he was inevitably, and yet all of a sudden, inches from her. She clawed at the collar of his jacket, pulled, saw turtleneck but no skin. Then he grabbed her by the hair, his arm whipping so hard that her head was a yo-yo on the end of it.
The railing splintered and broke as her head collided with it, pieces of wood stuck in her cheek, one pushed horizontally through her left eye. It filled with blood as she fell, hitting the desk in front of her husband’s body and sliding off, taking half the safety manual with her.
Carrie mewled as she looked over the side, but her mother was completely still, had died from the head trauma alone. The pilot only spared a glance to make sure she wasn’t getting up, then he resumed toward the last Dutcheny.
“Why!?” she babbled, legs collapsing under her, crawling backward. “We didn’t do anything!” Her mind raced down so many different paths that her thoughts became incoherent, but one of those paths deduced something correctly. The man was not hostile until her father had said the name Watermelon Peak.
He was going there, and nobody was allowed to know, no matter what he had to do to keep the information secret. Rural landing. No lights. No records. Not so much as a voice crackling on anything that might be recorded. A mask for every last inch of him. Understanding erupted within her, catalyzed by the vices inside his gloves grabbing her shirt, pulling her to her feet.
“I won’t tell anybody!” she wailed, squirming like a much smaller child, like a damp bug forced from under its rock. “Please! I was leaving! I wasn’t here! I swear I wasn’t here!” She wasn’t making sense, as every last inch of the place could testify to her constant presence.
They threw birthday parties in that hangar, children running around with their arms out making airplane noises. Al had laid on his back fixing a car engine in there, only to roll out from under it and find he couldn’t get up. He’d stared at the ceiling like it was a galaxy for hours until his family found him. They didn’t know he was in distress at first, he looked so content. Kat had gone into labor there back before they built the upper floor, so they had counted their daughter as a natural born citizen of the Dutcheny hangar. She absolutely was there, and she knew too much.
With terrible strength he hoisted her up, like he was carrying a kayak down to the river, and threw her off the side. The girl was launched directly into the hangar door at high speed, scream ending as she slammed into it and left a bloody smear. Like thunder the door rumbled, covering the sound of her second impact on the floor.
The glistening eyes of cut weed stalks stared at her from over the threshold. Finally she was on their level, feeling what it was like to be deemed a mere obstruction. Celebrations, goals, memories. All were nothing against a single-minded impulse to destroy.
Carrie tried to breathe, but was met with a feeling like swallowing a brick wall. Sensation retreated on all sides, but she could still feel something. A vibration. A rhythm. We erased days, smashed those lights, called in sick, rocked all night…
The song was still blasting inside the airplane, shaking it, sending signals through the ground to her fingertips and cheek flat against it. That was the pilot’s whole world for a time. His only stimulus. No calls, no peace. He hurtled through the sky, every molecule shaking with the rapid pulse of the music, mistaking motion for life.
What a miserable lonely creature, she thought as she finally set off on her flight.
My Family’s Alien Zoo
High in the Rocky Mountains, above thirteen thousand feet, there was a great stain upon a peak, like god had wandered by with a minor would, dripping permanent blood into the snow. There was always snow. It moved in season-long tides, growing and receding, but never receding out of existence.
Sometimes it retreated back to the three icy caves that were its final strongholds, but as soon as the temperature dropped in the fall it would creep back out in three tendrils eager to join together again and spill down the mountainside. None of these three tendrils ever lost their vibrant color, though sometimes the shade varied.
When it was pink people marveled and children squealed. It looked like cotton candy that, after a long life of frivolity, had finally settled into a truly solid retirement. Many of them foolishly tried to taste it and got something far fouler than mere snow. Still, their fascination persisted, and since the color was limited to that one summit it earned the nickname Watermelon Peak.
It could get much darker though, even past the shade of mortal blood, into a red so deep that it looked like a popped blood vessel in the devil’s eye. The culprit behind every shade was Chlamydomonas nivalis, an unusual algae adapted to cold environments. It occurred in many places, but none so stubbornly and intensely as Watermelon Peak. People didn’t always know it was there right away, sometimes the concentration was low enough that the snow still appeared white, but as they trudged through they would discover the truth.
As the snow compacted the carotenoid pigment was concentrated, leaving bloody footprints in pristine snow. Looking back and seeing the carnage produced was deeply disturbing to some, akin to realizing how much damage their life of luxury did to the world in terms of pollution and privilege.
Eventually someone capitalized, building a ski resort right on top of the natural wonder, under the premise that the vibrant colors would make the experience market itself, and they weren’t wrong. Skis darkened the red color, so there were countless images and videos all over the internet of Olympians hitting the freshly powdered slopes, their trails visible behind them like a dancer’s ribbon.
There were a variety of trails available catering to everyone from novices to daredevils. It even carried extra appeal to those who just wanted to sit outside and drink hot chocolate while the rest of their family hit the slopes, thanks to the movie studio exhibit and the screening rooms.
Their extreme elevation meant they could keep enough snow, especially if they supplemented it with the artificial snow from the cannons, to stay open nine or ten months of the year. That year was a particularly valiant effort, with the last tourists checking out on July seventh, all the lights turned out two days later.
Some of them came back on the eleventh. Watermelon Peak was still dim, but awake, bleary-eyed and yawning. It wasn’t allowed to rest quite yet. The parking was significantly lower on the mountain, guests driven to and from the main resort building with hulking snow shuttles on treads, which left the darkest trails of all.
From the air the newest single trail was a determined rivulet of blood somehow traveling uphill, flowing back into an old wound. The shuttle stopped just short of guest check-in; its driver and passengers disembarked, only two of the six stopping to marvel at the facility.
The exterior was entirely paneled in wood, the simple steepled roof befitting a much humbler building. Rows upon rows of windows marked hospitality suites, but the back half where the studio was later built was largely bereft of them, to allow better control of lighting conditions.
Several stumps lined the path to the double door entrance, colorful life-size resin statues standing on them, one the identical twin of one of the visitors. She stopped to wipe the snow off her twin’s face. Yes, the painted lipstick on it was still runny and terrible.
“Is that you Ms. Bandle!?” the youngest of the party, just seventeen, asked in her light Puerto Rican accent.
“It’s supposed to be,” the middle-aged Fidelia Bandle sighed. The hair at least still looked blonde as ever, while the real thing stuffed under her woolen cap was fading like old straw. The cold made her small nose extremely red, but none could see it under several layers of make-up. “Dad put it up one year for my birthday.”
“All of us got one,” her brother Percy added, trudging forward and knocking the snow off of his own statue. The figure was dressed as a colorful ninja, something straight out of an arcade game. Its mask was pulled down to reveal a teenager’s sneer. If the real Percy tried to reproduce it he would’ve looked like a gleeful pervert telling a sex worker what she now had to do because he had paid upfront.
Rather than try the small, short-necked, mustached, bespectacled man went a little further and knocked the snow off another one. She was the tallest of the three, hair, lips, and clothes black, wearing what appeared to be a ‘sexy psychiatrist’ Halloween costume. If it wasn’t resin it would’ve barely been able to contain her staggeringly large breasts. Percy went to brush off the snow they had collected on their own, but thought better of it.
“Dr. Morbisha,” the girl identified correctly, causing her boyfriend to wrap his arm around her shoulders proudly. Percy told her she was right. “Charlie gave me a crash course. We must have watched twenty movies.”
“That’s only about a quarter of them,” the third teenager, best friend to Charlie Bandle, said. He couldn’t help sounding a little snotty. Nobody was a bigger fan of Red Summit Pictures than Drew Sailor. He truly deserved to be there, not like her. Eight months ago she was just Antonia Cordero, another girl in their history class. Six months ago she was Toni and she was always hanging around. Five months ago Charlie knocked her up, and now she was automatically part of the family Drew had sometimes prayed to god would adopt him.
Charlie was Fidelia’s son, and Percy had no children. Drew had thought about asking him for everything from an internship to adoption papers, and he had thought about it so much that he convinced himself it was reasonable. If the right situation for each arose during their extended four day weekend at the resort he would go for it.
A thought occurred to him as he looked the beautifully trashy statue of Dr. Morbisha up and down. She didn’t have any children either, but he’d never had a chance to meet her. She was swallowed up by another continent, never coming back for any of the commentary tracks or behind-the-scenes documentaries. The movies were her offspring, and she had abandoned them to this cold peak as if banishing a disfigured monstrosity.
“Let’s get you settled in,” the driver of their shuttle said, trudging past them all, through the rows of statues with a distinct lack of reverence. He was Micah Long Friday, older than Fidelia by three years, an Arapaho man who had spent the better part of his life in and around the Rockies, and who was thoroughly defeated by them. Only someone so humbled could move through them as unobtrusively as he did. Despite being the heaviest his footprints weren’t as deeply red as those of the others.
He was through the doors first, ripping off his gloves, stamping pink snow into the mat. He was already on a different floor, flipping light switches and adjusting thermostats, by the time the others got inside and started unbundling.
“The bunny slopes are all clear,” he said loudly, cutting across the carpet of the upper lobby to reach the next bank of switches, “and so is Terror Trail, but that’s it. Keep to those. And you kids stay off Terror.” Fidelia’s head whipped toward her son, her glare letting him know that warning was for him specifically. He only smiled in turn. The young man looked like his uncle Percy, but clean-shaven and with enough of a chin to stretch out the features and make him significantly more handsome.
“I won’t be doing much skiing,” Drew assured the off-season manager. He knew there was much more to Mr. Long Friday’s story, some of it was in the documentaries, but given that he was usually throwing up his hand to keep the camera from seeing his face the boy guessed he wasn’t interested in being questioned.
“Me either,” Toni said, taking off her coat to reveal the bump underneath her sweater striped with maroon and peach. She was short and petite, thin hair barely to her shoulders, with a sun-kissed cherubic face. She radiated harmlessness and comfort, like a brownie with the crusty corners cut off. She looked around for a coat hook, but Percy snatched it from her and strode forward, throwing it onto a nearby couch.
“The palace is ours!” he declared in his nasal voice. “Don’t worry about being neat and tidy.” He ran up the stairs to Micah’s level, not catching the man’s side eye, and went to the panel windows that made up the back wall of the lobby. Out them he could see the end of several slopes, dark tiger stripe swaths of fir trees on the mountain’s rippling pink shoulder, and the chairlifts strung above it all.
“The VIP suites, the kitchen, the exhibits, and the two screening rooms are open,” Micah told them, half-descending the stairs to give Toni a hand up them.
“What about the studio?” Drew asked.
“It’s condemned. Not safe to play around in there.”
“Are you sure you won’t stay with us Micah?” Fidelia asked. “You know you’re always welcome.”
“I wear that welcome out most of the year, and it wears me out too. I’ve got a family barbecue this weekend besides.”
“I can’t believe it’s July!” Toni squeaked, rubbing her shoulders. “It feels like six months passed on the drive up here.”
“Speaking of the cold, I’ll head downstairs and check all the water heaters,” Micah said. “We don’t want you trapped up here if anything’s on the fritz. Remember there’s no cell signal and the wifi’s down because we’re changing providers this season. There’s a radio and a satellite phone in the audio closet next to the studio if you need to reach anybody.” He headed for another set of descending stairs.
“The chairlift?” Percy shouted after him, after noticing the lines out the window were bare.
“I’ll string up a two-seater before I go,” his voice echoed back up to them. The five guests lined up under the windows, taking a quiet moment to just see the strangeness of the place. The natural pink tint of the watermelon snow enhanced the last remaining dregs of sunset color.
“I can’t believe you guys own all of this,” Drew uttered. He put his hand on the cold glass. His reflection in it was the same as always: squinty-eyed, goofy-smiled, and more neck than anything else. He tried to look through it, to the place where countless adventures and wars had been recorded. “This is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me.”
“You wouldn’t think it was so cool if you saw how thin the profit margin is,” Fidelia grumbled. “Dad didn’t foresee how bad climate change would hit this place when he left it to us. Filling in the gaps with the artificial snow isn’t cheap, and the gaps are bigger every year.”
“Don’t sour the mood before we even get started,” Percy chastised his older sister. She looked past him to her son and his accessories.
“Charlie, why don’t you take them to the exhibit?”
“Oh yeah, that’s a great idea Charlie,” Drew said giddily, nudging his taller friend. The teenagers took off to the right, disappearing down yet another short flight, leaving the siblings to talk.
“She’s late,” Fidelia snapped.
“So were we.”
“Which makes her extra late. She’s not coming. She did that thing where she cancels on us last minute and doesn’t bother to tell us. This whole trip is for nothing.”
“She texted me that she was on her flight before we lost signal. You can’t turn back in the middle of the ocean. Not even Dee could get the pilot to do that.”
“There’s nothing stopping her from landing, buying another ticket with her husband’s money, and just heading back. She did that a couple Thanksgivings ago, remember? Made up some bullshit about a sudden stabbing pain in her foot. As if you need to stand up to stuff your face with turkey.”
“She’ll be here. She always comes at least once for every three times she doesn’t. We’re on a fourth one now. What we need to focus on is you being nice. She’s not even going to listen to us if you’re biting her ears off every time she turns her head.”
“Oh god I know,” Fidelia groaned, rubbing her face as if hit with a terminal diagnosis of general bitchiness. “We need this Percy.”
“I’m right there with you sis. The convention circuit isn’t paying what it used to. It’s full of kids buying creepy body pillows now. Nobody’s seen our movies. I wish Dad was still around. He’d have something up his sleeve.”
“He’s gone precisely because he reached up there and found nothing for the first time in his life,” his sister said. “He freaked and he bailed on us. Or died. Or both. Probably both.”
“He’s still just missing.”
“For fifteen years Percy? He’s been legally declared dead. I notice you’ve stopped hiking up here every year to look for his body.”
“That’s because I’ve narrowed down my theories. I thought maybe he fell somewhere up here looking for new filming spots, or that he ran off to Acapulco. Now I just think it’s Acapulco. I’ve been going there, snooping around Carpini’s place a little.”
“Ugh, do me a favor and don’t mentioned him to Charlie and Toni. They still think this place is cool. That dweeb Drew is probably telling them right now, but just in case.”
“This place is cool,” Percy insisted. “We were cool.”
“We were spoiled. Now we’re stuck waiting for the most spoiled one to deign to appear.”
In another lower section of the resort the three teenagers strolled through a dim hall, though Drew was much closer to skipping. The lights were rigged up like spotlights, the walls covered in posters, the ground divided up into haphazard island tributes to the characters and creatures that used to roam the mountain in the far off decade of the 1990s.
Many of them were resin statues like those outside, but a few were much larger. They had to be to accommodate the horrific girth of such monstrosities. Toni cowered under one of them, even with Charlie’s arm still around her shoulder: a dragon of flesh bound in fetishistic leather armor. Its pink lips and gums snarled under its tight black blindfold.
“The sin dragon,” Drew identified in awe, “from Punishing Angels.” Another one caught his eye and he was magnetically drawn. It was a tall purple figure, glistening with a slimy sheen, long torso held awkwardly up by dwarf limbs. A swollen misshapen head lolled to one side while a lengthy umbilical cord hung limply off its platform and traveled a ways across the floor. “And that’s the seven foot fetus.”
“What’s he from?” Toni asked.
“Seven Foot Fetus. The guy they had wearing the suit was actually seven feet tall.”
“Yeah, and he sued grandpa Jeff because he got heatstroke in it while they were filming,” Charlie chuckled.
“But,” Drew countered, “the lawsuit was dropped when Jeffrey Bandle negotiated for him to star in Seven Foot Fetus: Second Trimester, promising they would only film him outdoors in the snow while he was suited up. He went on to star in Seven Foot Fetus: Third Trimester and Seven Foot Fetus: Labor Day.”
“Nobody ever actually finished suing grandpa Jeff,” Charlie explained to Toni. “Everybody said he could convince a frog back into a tadpole.”
“I’m glad we didn’t watch that one,” Toni said with a grimace and a cringe as they walked under the stubby grasp of the premature monster. “That thing’s too creepy.”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” Drew warned her. “The fetus is just kid stuff.”
“Literally,” Charlie joked. Toni lightly slapped his chest over the morbid jab. He still didn’t get it. Of course she didn’t want to see such a deformed thing when its inspiration was currently growing inside her. It was no surprise though. Charlie could look directly at something and not fully understand that it was happening. His head was so completely in the clouds that he would suffocate in anything other than cirrus.
“There should be an announcer lady, right?” Drew questioned his own memory.
“The button over there,” Charlie said, pointing. “That’s where she starts.” Drew jogged to the other side, where there was a matte painting of Watermelon Peak and the resort. He jammed his finger against the shiny black button beneath it. She spoke from overhead.
“Red Summit Pictures was founded by visionary director and entrepreneur Jeffrey Stocks Bandle, right here at Watermelon Peak. Tourists have long been amazed by the natural red pigment in the snow, caused by algae, often referred to as watermelon snow.
Jeffrey saw a hundred other comparisons. From just the right angle red moguls looked like blistering sand dunes. Or perhaps they were the rolling hills of the planet Mars. In the pinker places it might be a beach in the middle of a paradise dream. Capturing these possibilities became imperative.
With little to do during the off season, Jeffrey and his wife Helen, who acted as the head of the studio, set to work filming their first movie in this surreal landscape: The Citadel on Mars. Larger film companies showed little interest in distributing the picture, so the Bandles took it upon themselves, selling copies directly to local theaters and video rental stores.
Initially called Rainbow Summit Pictures, the first few outings had limited success, though later went on to achieve massive cult followings. Mr. Bandle had a dream of cutting out the middleman that was the theater, cheaply producing science fiction and fantasy epics using the unique scenery on this property to create special effects rivaling premium cinema.
But, ironically, it was when they released their cheapest product yet that they really found their audience. The Night it Snowed Blood was a horror film in the slasher subgenre, and quickly became a Halloween renting staple. After that Rainbow Summit Pictures produced far fewer family and epic films, changing its name to Red Summit to pursue audiences that preferred horror on the cutting edge of acceptability.”
They were much deeper into the exhibit by the time she finished, cornered by a biomechanical wyvern with helicopter wings on one side and a shopping cart full of body parts on the other. Drew had talked over her several times, providing a little more context. Red Summit couldn’t actually match contemporaneous special effects, only the ones from about two decades earlier. The colored snow did a lot of work, but so did the stop motion animators, the matte painters, the makeup artists…
“You know I was in one of the last ones,” Charlie mentioned.
“Really? You were what, two years old?” Toni asked.
“Yeah. I was the baby in Zombie Volleyball Squad. It was taking care of me that really convinced those undead hotties that they should stop serving people’s heads off their shoulders and settle down.” He smirked as if he’d actually helped them.
“That was 2002,” Drew added. “Red Summit Pictures closed forever in 2003, and the world never knew happiness again. This is now the dark times, an endless wasteland of reboots and corporate slide presentations turned into cinematic universes.” He sighed, just as genuine as Charlie’s previous comment.
Some of the statues and props were reproductions, but many were original, foam crumbling, paint fading, as they were never meant to last longer than a fourteen day shoot. Another black button informed Toni that the average Red Summit filming schedule was in fact just nine days. That made sense, as she doubted many actors could stand spending entire days in some of the absurd make-up and suit configurations they walked by.
One pair of connected statues was labeled ‘the Silence twins’. It was two young men with dead eyes, each with an arm reaching across their chest, the palm of the hand fused over the mouth of the other sibling. Perhaps they had sued Jeff Bandle as well, after a week of being literally silenced and probably encountering great difficulty breathing.
They went by a resin statue mimicking a melting wax one, the image of a crazed obese opera diva. A bear body with the head of a cockroach. A neon demon fresh from a rave. An asphyxiated angel with bloody shower curtain wings. A cobra that disappeared into the wall because it couldn’t live up to the word ‘endless’ on its plaque.
“Why did you stop making movies?” she asked her boyfriend, only for Drew to answer.
“The rental market died. Then streaming showed up and everybody got their movies in the mail, then stopped getting anything physical at all.
Bandle was a genius with the video stores, because he would commission VHS and DVD covers, and posters, that looked just as good as the theater stuff. That way when people browsed casually they didn’t even know a Red Summit movie was cheap and they would give it a shot. But online they could just search the company or the director in five seconds, and if they hadn’t heard of them they didn’t bother.”
“Could they start their own streaming service? They could do one just for Red Summit movies and then release new ones on it.”
“There’s no point without Grandpa Jeff,” Charlie said. “Maybe he would’ve tried that if he stuck around long enough, but he was really depressed after they closed the studio. He went missing. Everybody thinks he’s dead, except me and Uncle Percy.”
“And me!” Drew added. They all came to a stop at the final piece of the studio exhibit: a mural that took up the entire wall. It depicted every single creature and colorful character from more than a decade of film making, each taking up one seat in a movie theater, unless their unusual physiology required an extra chair, or in the case of the endless cobra, an entire row and the open emergency exit.
Even among the monstrosities one of them caught Toni’s eye, sitting comfortably between a bulldog werewolf and a giant velvet worm with the face of a supermodel. She was the same as the busty statue out front, sitting in a miniskirt, her crossed legs visible since she was in the front row. She was pulling her glasses down onto her nose, staring seductively.
“When do we get to meet her?”
Back upstairs, in the dim and quiet, the front doors opened once more. A figure dressed mostly in black slipped inside, closing the door with such elegance that it clicked quieter than the chattering of a mouse’s teeth. A pair of black skis was set against the door with the same caution.
At the top of the stairs their black helmet tilted around, taking in the high ceilings and window-wall. Gloved fists clenched. This was the place. It didn’t feel like it, because it was so dead now, but back then it was like a swamped office with people up and down the stairs so much that they should have put in escalators.
There was still a shred of that kind of life, as Micah came up the stairs once more, freezing when he saw the black figure, the blood choking in his veins like someone squeezing a hose. The figure slowly put both hands on their helmet, breathed, lifted.
Ultra-white hair, like teeth in dental commercials, cascaded down and over her shoulders. She was nearly fifty, but her face had known the skilled scalpel and needles of some very expensive plastic surgeons, her wrinkles tucked away in the corners under her hair. Her black eyebrows had a gloss and edge rivaling her skis.
Her blue eyes were paled to stainless steel, her lipstick white with just a hint of pink, not unlike the snow outside under single fallen leaves. When she unzipped her tight jacket her ample chest spilled out. For a moment they stared at each other, one too afraid to show emotion while the other barely seemed to have any in reserve.
“Hello Micah,” the woman eventually offered. His face collapsed into a smile; his hands rubbed his thighs.
“Diamond. I didn’t know if you’d show.”
“Neither did I…” She looked around again, making sure there was nothing on the ceiling that was about to break free of its wires and crush her, or perhaps pounce. “But I rented a snowmobile, got on it, and it took me here. So I suppose I’m here.” Micah made a small sound, as if to say ‘isn’t that a heck of a thing’. Diamond Bandle smiled to show that her mouth was too busy to bite. “Is that any way to greet an old friend?”
“Not that you look it,” he quipped nervously, walking up to her. They embraced, brief but tight.
“Getting old is the same as getting sick; there’s medicine for it. I see you’ve applied the same principal to this place. It looks the same as the last time I saw it, just emptier.”
“We’ve got more melt every year, so water’s creeping into some of the low places, but other than that we’re solid.”
“I can’t be the first one here.”
“No, no. Delia and Percy went to put their bags in the suites I think. The kids are down in the exhibit.” He rubbed the back of his head. “I was actually hoping to get a moment alone with you- to talk that is.”
“My ears are numb, but I think I can manage to listen,” she said softly. Micah looked; her ears weren’t red. Either she was lying about how sensitive she was or the redness was caked under foundation. While she waited for him to talk she wandered over to the bar. When the resort was open the area behind the window-wall was filled with seating for those who just wanted to watch their loved ones come down the mountain, and the bar had to cater to every taste from hot cocoa to cognac.
Diamond grabbed two patterned glasses from under the bar and a bottle of vermouth, pouring out half a glass for herself and a third of a glass for Micah. He sat on a stool opposite her, feeling uncomfortably short.
“I hate to dredge up the past, but with Jeff long gone I think I can finally get some things done around here. I know we can’t offer you anywhere near as much as whoever you three are talking to, but I’d like you to consider it anyway. We can put together an offer of at least ten million, and I’m hoping what we’ve gone through to get to that point has earned us some consideration.”
Rather than answer, Diamond plucked a large ice cube from a hopper and popped it in her mouth. She crunched it to slush effortlessly, without a hint of discomfort, and then poured the vermouth in to mingle with the crushed ice as a sort of instant smoothie. It was her signature drink, and not a single person had ever taken her up on the offer to try it themselves.
“You already know I want to close it down; that hasn’t changed. We’ll do it slowly, over the course of a couple years. Our plan is to reduce the number of bookings, but charge more for each one, until bragging about the luxury of staying here is outweighed by the expense. Then we shutter, call it mismanagement, and everybody forgets about this place. We’ll convert it into an indigenous cultural center.”
Diamond leaned forward, breathing through her nose, considering something about what he said, but definitely not the suggestion itself.
“And you have no idea what I’m talking about do you?”
“Not a clue Micah.”
“Shit. I thought Delia told you already. They’re going to have my head.”
“I think they need your head to drive them back down when the weekend’s over. It sounds like I was right after all. This isn’t just a friendly reunion.” Micah nodded, drained his glass. The alcohol didn’t make him wince, but Diamond destroying another ice cube did. She always made it so clear that she could handle the truth, whatever it was, whoever it was about.
“They want to sell this place,” he admitted. “Started talking about it a few months ago. Of course, they need you and your signature since your dad gave each of you a third of the holdings. There’s a bonus for me when I finally quit, but no stake in it. And of course he knew that’s what I wanted.”
“Of course,” Diamond agreed. She took the glasses and rinsed them, returned them to their appropriate places.
“I wanted you to consider selling to the Arapaho. The land has always been ours. Even those who have died still remember it.”
“It’s a sacred place; I remember too. You took my father to court twice to try and take it back. Then you worked for him for fifteen years.”
“But he was never the reasonable one. It was always you Dee.”
“I came back, so apparently not.”
“Listen, could you not tell them that I bla-” The three teenagers stomped their way back up into the lobby, laughing loud enough to fill the space. Toni and Drew stopped as soon as they spotted the final Bandle sibling, but Charlie didn’t lose a step.
“Auntie Dubs!” he greeted. She responded with a sudden wealth of warmth, shuffling out from behind the bar with her arms outstretched as if getting measured for a gown. She took him into an embrace and shook him back and forth. The boy was only about an inch taller.
“Little Charlie boy! How’s drifting through life and doing absolutely no work treating you?”
“Still pretty great. I want you to meet Toni.” He beckoned her over; she approached shyly with one arm holding the other.
“They can get acquainted while you two help me string up the chair. It can’t be done alone,” Micah told the boys. He grabbed his coat and pulled it back on. Drew looked distressed, like he was standing with a fountain pen and conspicuously unautographed paper.
“But I wanted to pick Dr. Morbisha’s brain,” he complained weakly.
“Not if I pick yours first,” Diamond told him, referencing a line from her old character, part of a sketch where she threatened a ‘patient’s’ skull integrity with a pickax. It produced the giddy fan smile she knew it would, one she’d seen countless times.
“You’ve got four days to do that, come on.” He grabbed their jackets and tossed them at them so they couldn’t argue further. Once they were bundled up he led them way like a herding dog, leaving the two women alone.
“Get off your feet,” Diamond suggested, patting a bar stool. The older woman descended the stairs back to the entryway, grabbed a large black duffel she’d brought with her. “I have a present for you.”
“For me? But we’ve never met.” Toni hopped up and put her elbows on the bar, clearly signaling her words didn’t matter and she would be happy to take whatever it was.
“I heard plenty about you,” she said, careful not to say how friendly what she’d heard was or wasn’t. “You’re going to be part of the family, which means you get gifts from me on your birthday and during the holidays. We’ll say this first one’s for your baby shower.”
Diamond was behind the bar again; she set the bag down and unzipped it, carefully laying out several small cardboard boxes and opaque plastic bags with windows revealing the metal chains bundled inside. One by one she opened them and pulled out the pieces, setting them down neatly for the girl to examine.
She’d never seen such expensive jewelry this close, not without a piece of museum glass separating her from them. Silver, gold, platinum. Diamonds and rubies. They came in all manner of styles and ages.
“Charlie told me that you sold jewelry,” she said with a suddenly dry mouth. “And that you live in a literal palace in Thailand.”
“It did used to be a palace, yes.”
“Your husband’s like super rich, right? Why do you bother doing anything?”
“I like to pretend I’m keeping busy.” She lowered her voice. “It makes people despise your success less.” Her hand glided across the selection, her clear nail polish shinier than some of the pieces. “Now pick one and it’ll be all yours.”
“Hmmm,” the girl pondered, eyes darting back and forth. “Which one is the most expensive?”
“Whichever one you would pay the most for.” Toni took that in stride, examining them even more closely. Diamond could practically see the girl’s heart racing through her sweater. Her little hand hovered over a set of earrings for more than a minute, but finally snatched them off the bar. Black pearls.
“Elegant choice,” Diamond assured her. Slowly she started wrapping the others up and returning them to the bag.
“I don’t want to know about each one… but how much is the whole bag worth?”
“Over thirty thousand.”
“Woah. Aren’t you worried it could get stolen?”
“It wouldn’t be a huge loss.” That statement intimidated her the most. Rather than put the earrings on she tucked them between her palms underneath the bar.
“So, umm… Charlie had me watch a bunch of the movies you guys made, but I didn’t see you in any of them.”
“Technically I was in a lot of them, but just as an extra. Delia and Percy were the ones that wanted to be stars.”
“But you had, like a TV show right?”
“It was called Tell me your Nightmare,” Diamond elaborated. “I played Dr. Pox Morbisha, the seductively sadistic psychiatrist. Basically we would film cheesy skits and introductions to our studio’s movies, usually with me delighting in someone on my cobweb-covered couch recounting their worst fears.
It was just a framing device for a double feature of our older movies, usually edited down to versions for TV that were a little under an hour each. We filmed that abomination for four seasons, nobody watched it, and then people too young to remember it properly talked about it for twenty years.”
“Because everybody thought you were really hot,” Toni pointed out with a giggle.
“All the weather girls were hot too. They liked that I was cold, commanding, dominant. Characters like mine are an acceptable outlet for men who secretly wish that a woman would just take care of everything in their life, even hurting them a little so they don’t hurt themselves a lot.”
“It sounds like you didn’t like it.”
“I didn’t have a chance to like it. Being on camera took the place of doing chores in our family. That tiny waistcoat with the single button and the miniskirt were just the ruler and calculator I used for my homework.”
“I remember one time, in like sixth grade, some guys in my social studies class got into a really loud argument over whether or not your boobs were real.”
“You know, none of that show was ever officially dubbed in Thai,” was all Diamond had to say in response. She wouldn’t have blamed Toni for asking that most irritating of questions once more, but they were interrupted by Fidelia and Percy coming down the stairs next to the elevator. As soon as Percy saw his eldest sister he snickered and hurried down the rest, nearly falling twice.
He circled around the bar and gave her a hug before hopping up on it and sitting the way someone much younger might. Fidelia just took a stool.
“I was worried you weren’t coming,” she said stiffly.
“Have no fear,” Diamond offered. “Maybe I wouldn’t have, but I was drawn by the magnetic smile of young Miss Antonia here. No union is official until the cool aunt gives her present.” She pulled another ice cube, but Fidelia reached over the bar and snatched it away.
“Thanks,” she said, putting it to the back of her neck even though she wasn’t hot. “So how many carats did she give you?” Toni presented the earrings in her cupped hands like she might a captured fledgling. Fidelia sighed through her nose, as if saying ‘now that you’ve touched it its mother will never take it back and no we can’t keep it.’ “Jesus Dubs… you walk in the door and the first thing you do is rip her off?”
“What?” Toni asked, enthusiasm fading. “I picked them out.”
“I’m sure you did sweetheart, but she always does this. Charlie once picked out a train whistle for his birthday instead of a silver bolo tie worth several hundred.”
“It’s about realizing what you want, not what could be yours,” Diamond defended. “It’s not a choice we had a lot. I want to make sure these kids get to have it.”
“Yeah, but with a baby on the way she probably wants something she can sell for five thousand bucks instead of two fifty.”
“Oh I wouldn’t have sold it,” Toni chimed in, but the look she received from Fidelia convinced her the subject had to be changed immediately. “Hey, what’s with the nickname Dubs? Charlie always calls you that.”
“Oh she’s got more nicknames than she does servants back in Thailand,” Percy joked, twisting around to look for a bowl of mixed nuts or something to snack on. All he saw was ice, so he just sucked his mustache with his bottom teeth for a second instead. “Dad called her Diamond in the first place, and you know how people are uncomfortable saying weird names.
She had a reputation in high school as a cold badass because she kneed Terrence Borvonik right in the groin after he tried to hit on her. So everybody started calling her Black Diamond and Double Black Diamond, which are the hardest kinds of ski slopes.”
“Dubs is from double black diamond,” Fidelia added.
“And some just call me Dee,” Diamond said, grabbing the reins of the conversation. “You can take your pick Toni, whatever you like most.” She was just about finished putting the jewelry back in the bag, but when she tried to zip it back up a white corner of something got caught sticking out.
Toni grabbed it and pulled it free, thinking that what she would like most was knowing what it was, but her impish grin faded when she saw Diamond was not amused. The girl looked down. A paperback book. White cover, black text. The font looked like a fireplace grate with holes that were too wide, big enough for curious children to stick their hands through and get burned. There was the red figure of a reclining woman on the cover, a devil’s pitchfork planted in her lower stomach. Toni read the title aloud.
“Fuck who you Hate: Turning a Profit on your own Rape. Woah. That’s intense.” She looked at a shocked Fidelia. “Sorry about the F bomb, but I was quoting. It’s okay if you’re quoting.” The younger Bandle sister took her turn snatching the book away. She held it like every individual page offended her, like dog-earing one was tantamount to getting flashed by a guy in a trench coat.
“Jesus Dubs, what is this?”
“Fifteen bucks. I got that copy for free though.”
“Hardly seems like a good message! Maybe ‘how not to get raped’ is more important? And I bet this is for people who have, you know, actually been assaulted.” Diamond took the book back and sealed it away in the bag without saying anything.
“So,” Percy said to crush the ice forming between them, “what’s first on the agenda? We hitting some fresh powder?”