This story deals pretty heavily with racism- as in, right from the start there's racist language, racist slurs and racist people. There's also homophobia, prostitution, the loss of a child, suicide, ableist slurs, and general cruelty. It's not pretty, but I hope it adds up to something good in the end.
1st May, 1999
Few of the new Camp Green Lake counsellors used their real names, because a lot of them were on the run from the law. The Warden didn't use hers, either.
But she had one, it was Lou- short for Louise. The name Louise means 'famous warrior'. Her parents couldn't have named her more aptly, because she had fought and fought fiercely all her life. Her last name was Walker, inherited from her grandfather, Charles. Charles had been known as Trout- a trout being a type of fish that eats other fish. In this sense he too was aptly named.
He stood before her now.
"Get outta here, you're a ghost," Louise Walker said to him. "Ain't you thinking I got enough to worry about, all these damn kids around, without hauntin's?"
He vanished, and he had probably just been a mirage anyway. Louise Walker hurled her shovel into her station wagon and turned her attention elsewhere. Far off on the horizon, boys were digging.
"What we need ain't a little girl, a stupid little girl with a shovel an' a mouth," her grandfather screamed in her mind as her callused hands rubbed her jeans, "what we need is slaves! We need diggers! With a capital N!" And he roared, inside her head, and took another whisky...
Louise knew that as her car got closer to the boys, she would see the looks of bewilderment and misery on their faces. While she had no particular thoughts on race, she could see even from a distance that many of the boys were black. Her grandfather had, from beyond the grave, gotten his wish after all.
She gripped her steering wheel tightly and shook out her long red hair. Camp Green Lake was open for business.
2nd May, 1878
Katherine Barlow's grandfather had been a keeper of slaves, before the abolition- he had been a vicious master, a tyrannical husband and a cruel father. Today's young people would call him a monster: the men of Green Lake, Texas called him a fine upstanding Christian.
He was long dead, but his ideals loomed large in the Barlow household. Even in quiet, calm Green Lake ("where all manner of people roam the streets"), Katherine Barlow was forbidden to go outside without accompaniment. She was a meek and mild little thing and she accepted this. She would sometimes walk with her grandmother by the lake.
One day, they passed an old man with a cart, a young boy trailing behind him. Nods were passed between the two elders, but Katherine only stared at the boy. He didn't notice, and both groups went on their way.
"He was a Negro," Katherine hissed to her grandmother. "We mustn't be friendly."
Katherine's grandmother laughed. "You're a foolish child if you listen to your father," she said. "All men and women are created equal. Why, a quick glance through the Bible would have taught you that! Have you no desire to learn things for yourself?"
Katherine stared after the retreating man and boy, chastened by her grandmother's words. He did not look so very different from her brother, or her cousin, or the boys she saw in books, she started to realise. Only the skin was different and that meant nothing. She felt rather ashamed of herself.
The boy turned and waved at her. Katherine waved back. Neither of them would remember it in later years, but that was the moment Kate and Sam met for the first time.
3th May, 1867
Madam Zeroni had not begun life as a fortune-teller. She had become an orphan in her first few minutes of life: her father had been killed by a rattlesnake and her mother had died in childbirth. She had been taken in by the Gypsies, and she had lived a long and interesting life, and she secretly (well, not always secretly) enjoyed being much cleverer than the townspeople around her.
But at the age of 97, she was dying, and although she had not expected a single person would come and tend to her someone did. That someone was Myra Barkov. She was much less clever than Madam Zeroni...but her heart was kinder.
"I can say a prayer," she said, as she stroked the old woman's hand.
"Did you curse Elya Yelnats?" Myra asked her. "I never saw him no more, after I got married. People said you cursed him."
"I did," said Madam Zeroni. "But he also cursed himself."
Myra blinked. "Why would anyone want to do that?"
"People are cruel," said the old fortune teller, "and the world is hard. Everyone lives under curses: all I do is make them realise it."
"I don't believe you," said Myra.
4th May, 1991
Zara Zeroni lay on the hotel room bed, naked but for a bra and underpants.
"You clean, right?" the drunk white man asked. "Clean? You speak English?"
"Yeah," said Zara. "An' I speak English."
"Good," said the man. As he struggled to remove his underwear an attack of conscience, of a kind, seemed to strike him. "You gonna be into this, right? You ain't gonna change your mind halfway through? Cos I ain't no rapist, many things but not that."
Zara smiled at the irony. "I ain't never changed my mind. I got a kid needs caring for, so I'll do anything...sugar," she added, spurred on by the thought of her son. "Anything."
The man grinned wolfishly. "Hey, lady. You mean by nailin' you, I'm also puttin' a black boy through college? Affirm'tive action shit?" He roared drunkenly, and flung himself on her. "Baby, I'm like a humani- humanity- humannytarian..."
He passed out on top of her. Zara pushed him away.
5th May, 1977
Stanley Yelnats III felt it was only fair to inform Mandy Donovan about the old family curse before she became his wife. He told her about it on a well-planned date, a midnight showing of Star Wars.
"Would you be quiet, please Stan, I'm trying to watch the movie," was her first reaction. Later, in an all-night cafe, she listened intently...and eventually a worried look began to spread over her pretty face.
"It don't seem like a regular curse," she said. "I mean, you're still alive, and your father...and there's no one in your family died young, right?"
"No," Stan admitted.
"It seems like just plain bad luck dressed up."
Stan told her the story of Kissin' Kate Barlow and Stanley I, but by the end she was smiling.
"See! Don't that just prove it? He could have died, he should've died in the desert, but a miracle saved him! I'd say you actually got someone lookin' out for you, rather than the other thing."
Her smile was infecteous, so Stan smiled right back at her.
"I just thought you oughtta know," he said. "cos it's a big part of my family, and I want you to be part of my family, so..."
Mandy got it right away, and gasped.
Stan dropped to one knee and offered up the ring. "I just don't want you to ever be disappointed," he said. "if you decide to say yes..."
"I won't," Mandy said. "Be disappointed, I mean. Yes."
6th May, 2002
Not many people knew that Zigzag (aka Ricky) had attempted suicide five times. But he had. So he knew another person's attempt when he saw it.
He shuffled over to the adjacent hole.
"You wanna get bit, right?" he asked Barf Bag, as the poor kid stood in the dirt with his foot above a rattlesnake. "You're doin' it all wrong."
"I don't wanna just get bit," Barf Bag said. He kept his voice very low. "I wanna die, I've had enough."
Zigzag didn't know what to say. He found himself thinking of his mother. "You oughta leave a note first. For your parents."
"I don't have parents."
Zigzag hadn't known that. "What about brothers or sisters?"
"I got no-one."
Both boys looked at the snake. It was lazing in the sun, and would most likely only attack if provoked. Zigzag had tried pills, and tried jumping from a building, and tried drowning...but he had never tried being bitten by a rattlesnake.
"Lots of kids get bitten," he said, "and they get a few days off...no-one's ever died."
"I want to."
Zigzag wondered what to do. As long as Barf Bag really didn't have any family, he thought it would probably be okay.
"Take off your shoes and socks," he said.
7th May, 1889
Katherine Barlow, as she grew older, shook off her meek and quiet ways. She became a confident, and beautiful, teenager.
Her mother died before Katherine's sixteenth birthday. Katherine turned to her grandmother for comfort, but recieved surprisingly little, as her grandmother had always hated her daughter-in-law. It was the father of Katherine's mother who had kept the slaves: Katherine's grandmother had hated him in life also.
A note had been left for Katherine in her mother's affairs. You must guard this family's good standing, it read, this is a task that always falls to the woman. Ensure that neither your father nor brother turns to drink; do not be loose with your affections; do not speak openly of your grandmother's history. Katherine knew only that her grandmother had a History; she wasn't quite sure what it was.
The letter continued with further instructions, so many. There were no declarations of love, not a single kind word. Katherine folded it up and clutched it to her chest.
"Father will die soon," she said to her grandmother. "I can tell. Mother was the only thing keeping him alive." Although it hadn't been love doing it: rather a mutual hatred for everything else. Katherine's grandmother nodded, and sighed deeply.
"When I was a girl," she said, "women were not allowed to make choices. I was bewildered when asked even to choose what man to marry."
Katherine twisted the note in her fingers, imagining the letters cracking and crumbling like sand. "Oh."
"Imagine," her grandmother said. "You'll be able to go out on your own soon, take any job you want, do anything you want. To think, my dear, for yourself."
Katherine nodded, although she hadn't wanted to. Her grandmother shuffled towards her, took the note, and threw it on the fire. Both women watched it burn.
"Thank you," said Kate.
8th May, 1997
Zara Zeroni was arrested for prostitution by a large, balding cop who pressed his fingers into her arms when arresting her. When he marched her into the station, something else pressed against her, and she knew full what it was. And he knew she knew.
"You're hot stuff," he said to her. "You ain't like the other whores we get in here, you still got some life in you. Maybe y'all can share stories, down in the cells."
Zara resisted strongly, and he twisted her hands behind her back.
"You gonna do what I tell you, whore!" the man shouted, as a host of other cops and officals looked on impassively.
"Please," Zara begged. "I have a son. He always waits for me...he'll still be waiting. Please."
"Yeah, there's always a story like that," the cop said sardonically, twisting her arm further, "a kid...a sick kid...an old dyin' grandma...you just go whorin' cos you like it, all of you do."
"Please," Zara begged again. "Please...no-one cares about a black kid on the street, no-one 'cept his mother. Please."
No-one helped her; no-one did a thing. Many years later, the arresting officer was promoted to head of his department.
9th May, 2001
On a particularly hot evening, the boys and Mr Pendanski sat slumped in the cabin, dicussing what Pendanski called "Future Paths and Plans." No-one paid much attention, besides Pendanski himself, who considered himself a force of good sent from a higher plane to educate the poor misguided boys. (As the months dragged on, he forgot this entirely and mostly just hated them all.)
"You're next, Rex," he said to X-Ray. "Where will you go when you've served your time?"
"Back home," said X-Ray. "Oh no, wait, they threw me out."
Mr Pendanski was not a wholey bad person: he felt some sympathy and even some empathy, having been thrown out of his own family home. "What job can you see yourself doing, in a year's time?"
X-Ray just laughed, so Pendanski pressed him some more.
"Come on, Mom," said X-Ray, "ain't no-one's gonna employ a black ex-criminal, not in the land of the free, man."
"It isn't a race issue, Rex," Pendanski said.
"It is, man. Black people are still bein' trodden down."
"Look at all the successful black people out there now. Look at Clyde Livingston! No reason at all that you can't be just like him."
"That's a load of bull," said X-Ray, while some of the others nodded. "Ev'ry so often, yeah, someone does make it, and the white guys are all, ooh, why can't you be more like him? Well you don't say to no white boys, yeah, you've gotta be the next Shakespeare or Mozart or Vincent van fucking Gogh, they're already up there, cos they're white, man."
Mr Pendanski was forced to concede his point, but he was quietly furious about it.
10th May, 1867
Madam Zeroni died on the tenth of May, mere minutes before midnight. Myra Barkov was at her side, as she had been all week.
"I really think I oughta pray," she told her patient. "So that your sins are forgiven."
"God hasn't got enough forgiveness in his heart for all my sins."
Myra Barkov considered this. "You never killed no-one. Ol' John Pendanski, he killed a man over whose land were whose, an' when he got outta jail and died no-one said a bad word 'bout him. Not even at his funeral."
"And does that seem right to you, Myra?" croaked the old lady.
"No," said Myra. "I guess it don't."
Madam Zeroni coughed. When she finished there was blood staining her bedsheets. "You're not so empty-headed as I thought, little Myra," she said. "Sins! I sinned against Elya. I sinned against many. I fear it will rebound on my own family, I fear for my child and his child and hers. But I can do nothing now."
"Why not?" asked Myra.
Madam Zeroni choked as she gave her answer. "I told you. People are cruel, and the world is hard. Everyone lives under curses...all I do is..."
"Make them realise it," Myra finished for her, but the old woman was dead by then. Myra let go of her hand.
11th May, 1990
Mandy Yelnats lay curled up in a hospital bed. Her husband was beside her; her son was with his grandfather.
"Thank god we didn't tell Stanley," Mandy said through her tears. "He would've loved a little brother. He would've loved..." She wept fiercely on her husband's shoulder as he tried his best to comfort her.
"What do we do now?" he asked her, hollowly.
"I can't go through this again," she said. "I can't."
"I know," said Stanley Yelnats III. "I'd never ask you to."
"This is the curse, isn't it?" she said. "The one you tried to warn me about when you married me. The bad luck curse. I laughed at it...I never thought it would take away our baby. My second little boy, dead before I ever got to know him."
"I'm sorry," said Stanley, clinging to her.
"S'not your fault," she said. "But Stanley, little Stanley...he would have loved a brother..."
12th May, 1999
Zara Zeroni had been both right and wrong when she shouted at the cops. People did care about a black kid on the streets, they just didn't care enough. People gave Hector food and money, he survived, but he didn't live. And he missed his mother terribly. Hector's birthday was the 12th May, and for two years he spent the day in cardboard boxes. In 1999, he spent it in a public toilet.
He slept the entire day in there, because when night fell there were things he needed to steal. Food was running low and his clothes were torn- he stole because he needed to. His first target was an old man, a backpack dangling precariously from his shoulders. Hector reached for the back pocket of the bag- but he was caught.
"You're trying to steal from me!" said the old man in surprise, gripping Hector's arm and then letting go. "Hands off!"
Hector backed away. He was about to run, but the old man held out a twenty-dollar bill.
"Here. Look at you, you're tiny! Take it."
Hector took it without a word; it was rare to recieve so much money in one go.
"Watch what you spend it on," the old man said. Hector thought of the food he could now afford, and unwittingly thought of a birthday cake, and almost started to cry.
"I don't have anywhere to sleep," he found himself saying. "It's my birthday. Please, I need somewhere to sleep...I need more money...anything."
The old man looked guilty and depressed. "I'm sorry," he said. "I am. But I don't have no more money, and my house, my son's house, it's too small, there's no room." He reached into his pocket and handed a few coins to Hector. "I'm sorry..."
Hector just nodded.
The old man went on his way. He was actually Stanley's grandfather, Stanley Yelnats II- he wouldn't remember the incident, in years to come. He was a geniunely good man. But, through no fault of his own, he hadn't made much of a difference.
13th May, 1889
Katherine's father had died in the cold winter of 1898, and not long after her brother had married a rich woman. Now only she and her grandmother lived in the house. But one of them was soon to not live there any longer.
"Soon I will die. It's inevitable, it will happen today," said Katherine's grandmother. "Others might give you instructions to uphold the family name, or some such nonsense, but I think the only name you should care about is yours. Always."
"Yes, Grandma," said Kate. "I will."
Katherine's grandmother's own name was Myra.
"I've left everything to you," Myra said. "Your brother would only drink away what I gave him."
"You won't die anytime soon, Grandma. Not today. I'm sure."
"I'm afraid we all must go in the end. And all my belongings, they must go to you. Even old things from my life in Latvia."
Katherine hadn't even heard of Latvia. "Grandma..."
"My dearest," said Myra, "you must continue on your own now. You are the brightest creature I have ever known- how such a glowing star came from such a dark sky, I'll never know. Perhaps you should go now, and send the doctor in."
Myra's death was painful, and Katherine heard a little of it as she wept behind the door. She heard the words "curse" and "forgiveness" and "Madam Zeroni." But then it was over, and she heard no more, and her grandmother was dead.
14th May, 2002
"Lewis's condition is now described as 'stable'," Mr Pendanski said. "His parents are by his bedside. Thought you all might want to know."
"Barf Bag hasn't got parents," Zigzag said.
"His foster parents, Ricky," said Pendanski. "He was in a very bad state. Also..." The room, as one, looked up. "Also, it appears Lewis took his shoe and sock off before the rattlesnake bite. Anyone know why that might be?"
"Man, are you saying one of us did it?" X-Ray spoke up. "Took off his shoe? No way, man."
"No, Rex, I don't think you're murderers," Pendanski said testily. "I just need to know if anyone spoke to him, before he did what he did. Or noticed him acting strangely at any point."
"We diggin' holes in the dirt every day," Armpit said. "S'all strange, man."
"I didn't notice anything," said Magnet.
"Me either," said the others in various tones of voice. Only Zigzag and Zero were quiet, but Pendanski either didn't notice or didn't care.
"He'll be in hospital for a good long while. Replacement's coming soon."
He left, and gradually the boys filed out too.
"Ain't no-one gonna replace Barf Bag," said Armpit.
"He was the bomb," said Squid.
Finally only Zigzag and Zero were left.
"Did you do it?" Zero said. It was the only sentence Zigzag had ever heard him speak. "Did you tell him to take his shoe off?"
"Shut the hell up, you little retard," said Zigzag.
15th May, 1990
Mandy still played with her little boy, but even at his young age he could tell something was wrong.
"Mommy, why are you sad?"
"It's nothing, darling," she told him, but when she lay awake at night she heard Stanley singing the moon song, and she cried again.
"If only, if only," she sang to her husband when he came in. She had never sung the song before.
"Mands," Stan said, voice full of concern. "What is it?"
"I don't really believe in the curse, I don't," she said to him. "Ain't no curse got control of my life, so that just leaves me, our baby died because of me."
"Don't you ever say that, ever," said Stan, his heart breaking. When Mandy finally went to sleep beside him, he cursed his no-good dirty-rotten pig-stealing great-great grandfather, cursed him in a different sense, wished the most agonising of afterlifes upon him. And when he fell asleep he dreamed of holes, because there would always be a hole now in his and Mandy's lives.
16th May, 1867
After Madam Zeroni's death the townspeople buried her in a pauper's grave. Her caravan stood empty, and before long rumours spread that it was haunted, that even from beyond the grave Madam Zeroni wished to see her curses bear fruit.
Myra Barkov, inbetween cleaning and cooking for her husband and father, observed the people in the village. She had never done so before and was surprised at what she saw. In the space of only one day, a small group of children broke into the caravan and broke out again, arms loaded down with precious loot. A boy no older than herself kicked the chickens that still pecked on the ground nearby. And the grandson of ol' John Pendanski merely walked up to the door, and spat on it. When he saw Myra looking, he nodded at her, taking in her beauty and her empty blue eyes. "The witch is dead," he said to her. "Why not join me in a party?"
"No," said Myra.
"You are married to Igor Barkov, no? What else have you, but floorboards and soapsuds and scrubbing and pain? Join me in a party."
"No," said Myra. She was sad.
17th May, 1891
Sam's father had introduced him to God's Thumb, the place on the high mountain where the best onions grew. It hadn't been a family secret passed down through generations: Sam's father had just been a very clever and resourceful sort of man. But Sam hoped he would be able to show his own son, one day.
Hardly anyone in town knew Sam's last name (or more likely didn't care to find out), but he had one, a good one, a fitting one: Laker.
Trasping through town with his bags of onions, he came across Katherine Barlow. She was looking beautiful, which he expected, but she was herding a row of children, which he hadn't expected. He tipped his hat to her as she passed with them.
"Morning, Miss Katherine."
"Hello there, Sam," she said sweetly. Sam was about to go on his way, but Katherine gathered the children around.
"Children, you know Sam. Sam sells onions."
Sam tipped his hat to the children as well, because he was afraid their parents would complain if he didn't.
"Sam," said Kate, "why don't you tell the children all about the onion plant? You've always known so much about it."
"I'm no teacher, Miss Katherine," said Sam.
"Everyone's a teacher, Mr Laker," said Katherine with a smile. She reached over and touched his arm, and suddenly Sam was back on God's Thumb, at the high mountain, near the sky.
18th May, 1990
Mandy and Stan sat on their bed. Mandy had been crying, but she had slowly stopped.
"What would we have called him?" she asked her husband. "We couldn't call him Stanley."
"No," agreed Stan III. "And we couldn't call him 'Elya'."
Mandy reached under the bed and retrieved a baby naming book, which had lain there many days. "There are lots of nice names...but I wanted to see him, Stan, I wanted to meet him before I gave him a name."
"I know," said Stan.
"We could have named him after my father."
"His name was Augustus," said Stan. "You can't call a baby that."
"I know," said Mandy. She leafed through the book. "Perhaps we could have called him George, after the President."
"Or 'Sam'," Stan said sadly. "I always liked Sam."
19th May, 2002
Jeff Pendanski was gay. He had known he was gay since he was fifteen: it was a part of him he couldn't erase no matter how much he wanted to. Throughout his life, he kept it secret, even from his friends. He wanted to work with kids, and he knew full well that a gay man who wanted to work with kids was assumed to be a pedophile.
The Warden knew, and Mr Sir knew, but only one other person knew. That person was Zero.
Zero had arrived at Camp Green Lake at roughly the same time as Noel, a young counsellor who Pendanski quickly discovered was also gay. Although Pendanski had hated himself for it both before and after, the two men kissed behind the cabins, kissed a lot. Zero, looking through a window, had seen.
Two months later and the boy had said nothing to anyone- Pendanski had threatened him and he had seemed to listen. And Noel had left...but as long as Zero remained, the secret wasn't safe. Pendanski had hoped to bully him into silence, but insults rolled off Zero like water off a duck. And every night Pendanski woke in a cold sweat, imagining the insults that stood to be headed his way-
The Warden might well decide she had no choice but to kick him out, and then he would be homeless and jobless.
Zero mentioned the matter only once, two months and five days after the incident, when him and Pendanski were the only ones in the room. "You don't have to worry," he said, fiddling with his hair. "About the thing you did. It's alright. I won't tell anyone."
"You're a criminal, Zero," Pendanski snapped back. "You and the rest of these damn boys, why should I trust any of you? You're all disgusting. Get on out of here."
20th May, 1892
Sam Laker and Kate Barlow only had one day together as lovers. They slept with each other in Sam's modest cabin, unaware that outside Trout Walker and Hattie Parker were rounding up a mob. While torches were lit by angry men and horses were released from the stables, Sam and Kate kissed in the dark.
"This is dangerous," Sam whispered. "If anyone finds out about us, they'll..."
"I know," Kate whispered. "We should leave. Soon as we can. I'll appoint a new teacher. Maybe Hattie, she always loved children."
"Where would we go?"
"Maybe to my brother's. We're blood. He would stand by me."
"But if he doesn't..." Sam said quietly, "I know a place where we can go."
"Up on the mountains," Sam told her. "Where the onions grow. There's water...and we could raise pigs and chickens. We could build a cabin." He paused. "We could have children."
"I'd like that," Katherine said. "I'd like that very much."
"But down in Green Lake..." Sam said sadly. "Down in Green Lake, none of them fine upstanding souls would give any child of ours the time of day."
"We will fix that," said Katherine fiercely.
21st May, 1867
Madam Zeroni had once said of Myra Menke that her head was as empty as a flowerpot. But flowerpots aren't meant to stand empty: they're supposed to hold things that grow. And just as Madam Zeroni had never planted seeds in her flowerpots, so had no-one had ever planted an idea in Myra's head.
But now they had.
She went to her father. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life cooking for Igor. I want to help the sick and needy."
"There is no-one more sick and needy than Igor!" roared her father, and dismissed her. So she went to Igor himself.
"You need to start cooking and cleaning for yourself, Igor. I want to help around the village now, I want to take care of the sick."
"No," said her husband.
So on the 21st May, as the sun was setting, Myra Barkov stole a horse and left home.
22nd May, 2000
When Zara Zeroni got out of prison, she searched for her son. She visited all the places she and Hector had ever visited, even asked total strangers on the street...but to no avail. She figured that her only child was almost certainly dead.
One day, in desperation, she even returned to the home of Hector's father. He was still living there, with another woman- and another child, now. Zara Zeroni looked into her ex-boyfriend's eyes and begged him for help.
"I thought I told you to get the hell outta town a lot time ago," he replied. "I gotta wife and kid now. We don't want the likes of you around."
"Please," begged Zara. "Just tell me if you saw him."
"I never damn well met the kid," said Hector's father. "Only when he was a baby. He's yours, he ain't mine. Get the hell out, whore."
Zara Zeroni left in tears, but her cruel ex-lover turned back into the house with a black eye and a subdued expression.
23th May, 1895
After Sam's murder, Kate never again kissed another living man.
She personally killed over fifty. She kept a tally in her head. She indirectly killed at least six- whether by abandoning them in the desert, or by just simply not looking where she was shooting. Members of her gang killed others, putting the total well over one hunded.
But she had only ever killed one woman: Hattie Parker. In the three days between Sam's death and the sheriff's, she had learned who it had been who'd reported her. One day, as close to the anniversary of her boyfriend's murder as she could make it, she arrived at the town where she'd learned Hattie now lived. She ensured Hattie's children were out of the way, and then she went to her house and shot her. Hattie was allowed one chance and only one to beg for her life.
"Please," begged Hattie, "It was God's will. I saved you."
"You did a wonderful job," Kate said.
"Katherine died when Sam did- I'm Kissin' Kate Barlow," Kate whispered. Then she killed Hattie Parker, kissed her face, and left.
24th May, 2002
"What're you doing?" said Armpit.
"Writing to Barf Bag," said Zigzag.
"He's in a coma or some shit, man," said Armpit. "He ain't gonna read it."
"Whatever. Maybe his parents could read it to him."
Armpit shrugged and sank down on his bed. It creaked a little beneath his weight. Squid came wandering in.
"New guy's here," he said.
They all went out to meet the new guy. Zigzag saw he was big: bigger even than Armpit. He looked terrified and bewildered.
"This is Stanley," said Mr Pendanski. "Stanley Yelnats."
Zigzag wondered how long it would be before this one took off his shoe and sock.
25th May, 1868
Myra Menke arrived in America almost a year after she had left Latvia. It had been a long hard journey, but not as long or as hard as she had expected. It was as if she had had someone watching over her.
She ended up in Lousiana, and took a job as a barmaid. She met all manner of people, most of them a lot more interesting than Igor had ever been. She spoke with women and men of all different races and backgrounds, and she learned far more about the world than she would ever have learned had she stayed home.
One day a man called Barlow came to the bar...and then again the next day. Eventually he started showing up every day, and he and Myra would talk for hours after the other customers had left. He was fascinated by her stories of life in Latvia, and fascinated by her. He was a good man, compassionate and noble. (Although he would fail to pass these qualities down to his son, by some fluke of nature or nuture his granddaughter would recieve them instead.) On a beautiful day in spring, he asked Myra to marry him. She said yes.
"Where shall we go, when we are married?" Barlow asked her. "My beautiful bride-to-be, she must choose."
Myra took a map of America from the wall. "I'll close my eyes and point. Wherever my finger lands...we will go." She closed her eyes and raised her finger.
"Green Lake, Texas," Barlow read.
26th May, 2001
Mandy never told her son about the miscarriage. It always hurt her heart to think about it, but Stanley's problems hurt her heart too.
He started high-school and was bullied relentlessly. Coming from the poor side of town, being overweight, and being shy all counted against him. He often came home with his books wet, or his gym socks stolen, or his pencils broke. Mandy despaired, but there was little she could do.
"It's the curse," Stan said. "Bad luck catchin' up with us again."
"It's not the curse," said Mandy. "It's kids being jerks! If you say it's the curse, that's just absolvin' them of responsibility!"
Stan considered this. "I guess," he said.
"Sometimes I reckon we're all cursed," Mandy said, "and stories like yours just make us realise it."
She went out shopping, to take her mind off things. Halfway back, carrying her bags, (she couldn't afford the bus) she came across a homeless woman crouched in an alley.
"Please," said the woman. "Anything."
Mandy gave her two dollars. She felt bad for her; she wasn't much older than she herself was. "I got nothing else, sorry."
"It's my son," whispered the woman. "I lost him."
Mandy felt her heart turn. "I'm sorry."
"He's almost certainly dead," she said, weeping. Mandy took her hands in hers.
"No," she said. "There's always hope. D'ya want me to take you to a police station?"
"No," cried the woman. "I've had my fill of police. Just...please...I want him back."
"You'll find him," Mandy said desperately, eager to comfort her. "I swear, you'll find him..."
27th May, 1910
Kate returned to Green Lake an old woman, her hands hardened by digging and her heart hardened by hate. She had intended to stop at her grandmother's grave, before dying by herself in the dust. But before reached the graveyard she had another thought.
She began building a grave for Sam. He had never had one, his body had been left to float in the lake. One more thing the people of Green Lake had denied him.
She dug a hole, dug it deep- as far into the ground as she could go. When she had done that, she buried all that was left of her: her treasure and her lipstick tube. The lipstick tube was the last to go. She kissed it and threw it in, before she began to cover it up.
The world would remember her: it would not remember Sam. So Kate Barlow, alone and ready to die, left a mark on the world. She went to her cabin and searched for the thing least likely to degenerate in the heat- she finally settled for the battered lid of a jar of peaches.
She carved into it with a knife. SAM LAKER: I DID IT FOR HIM, it read, when she had finished. She was about to carve KISSIN' KATE BARLOW into the back, but she remembered what her grandmother had said a long time ago, about her name. Instead she signed it KB, and then she buried it half into the sand, so the words could be seen.
But, after only a few days, a yellow-spotted lizard mistook it for lunch and scurried away with it. It was actually a good thing. Had Trout Walker ever seen the marker, he would have known instantly where the treasure was buried.
28th May, 2002
Pendanski sat in the Warden's cabin, watching her check footage and delete files.
"It's a damn good thing no-one looked too hard at the kid-rattlesnake-suicide thing," she said. "We'd be in trouble for sure."
"You wanna watch out, Pendanski," said Mr Sir. "You know what they do to gays in prison."
"Shut the hell up, Marion," said the Warden.
Pendanski looked at her in puzzlement. Mr Sir shifted in annoyance.
"We're gettin' close out there," the Warden said, ignoring them both. "I've been here over three years with nothin' to show for it. Something's gotta happen, soon."
"I just want something to happen to that damn kid," said Pendanski. Both the others knew who he was talking about. "Can't one of you organise a rattlesnake for him?"
"No, that's murder," said the Warden. "We ain't in the murderin' business."
"What if he tells the boys?" Pendanski snapped. "What if their parents complain?"
"Most of 'em ain't got parents in any condition to complain," said Mr Sir. "Most of 'em ain't got parents."
"I ain't firing you, Pendanski," said Louise. "I don't answer to no-one's Bible talk."
29th May, 2005
X-Ray had not expected to remain acquainted with Stanley after Camp Green Lake closed, but by some lucky fluke he did. X-Ray had been neutral towards Stanley for a while...but after the remaining boys of D-Tent (those who hadn't drifted off) started hanging out every few months, X-Ray finally grew to geniunely like him.
He liked Stanley's association with Clyde Livingston, too. X-Ray had always been a fan, but now he had the chance to meet and actually befriend his idol. Eventually Livingston, impressed by X-Ray's charisma and intelligence, offered him a job at his company.
X-Ray accepted, and he thought his first day of the job would be the best day of his life. He was wrong- the best day of his life came two days later, when Clyde Livingston introduced X-Ray to his daughter.
"This is Katie," he said.
Katie was the daughter of Clyde and his first wife- she was mixed-race, stunningly beautiful, and incredibly intelligent. Not many people knew it, but she had been named after Kate Barlow- her mother, who was with her ex-husband a sponsor of Sploosh, had been a fan of the old Wild West legend.
"Hi," she said to X-Ray. "I've heard a lot about you. Wanted to get to know you. How you doing?"
One look into Katie's eyes, and suddenly every terrible thing that had ever happened to X-Ray suddenly seemed easier to live with.
30th May, 2007
With her son all grown up and with money no longer a problem, Mandy Yelnats decided to start a career. She trained to be a counsellor- and she was rather good at it. She comforted the dying, and found homes for the homeless, and helped the sick and needy.
She worked from home, in her own office. Stanley and Hector would often walk past, hanging out. Both had girlfriends now, long-term girlfriends: Stanley was dating a woman called Ruth and Hector a woman called Li.
"Rex and Katie will be around tomorrow," said Hector. "She's gotten huge! The baby's due next month."
"Wow," said Stanley. "Awesome!"
"And guess what? I've got us all tickets for Clyde's big game...and an engagement ring. For Li!"
"Really?" said Stanley. "Oh man, that's great! I love you, bro!"
Mandy smiled widely, and was almost brought to tears. She took a moment to compose herself, and then called in her next patient. A tall boy with blonde hair came in. He looked nervous, but also quite determined. Mandy gestured for him to sit down.
"How can I help you, Ricky?" she asked.
31th May, 2019
Zara Zeroni started working for the Girl Scouts- she had been one herself as a child. Before long, she began working at the Girl Scouts camp at Green Lake. She disliked being away from her son- and at the very same place where he had been imprisoned- but he had reassured her it was fine. She spent two days there every week, helping the girls.
One day she came across something half-buried in the dirt, near one of the new cabins. She picked it up, and was about to throw it away when she realised there was something written on it. She started cleaning it with her sleeve, and soon realised she had stumbled upon something very important.
She sent it off to a museum, where it was soon confirmed that the handwriting was Kate Barlow's. People who had been interested in the legend (such as Katie Livingston's mother, who had riches enough to fund all sorts of historical research) were very interested in the new development. A census revealed that there had indeed been a Sam Laker in Texas at that time, and a check through old newspapers revealed what had become of him. People were appalled at the story- appalled enough to keep Sam alive. A plaque was set up at the refilled lake: Zara and her Girl Scouts unveiled it. Her son, his son, and their adopted family applauded from the crowd.
"S'only one plaque," X-Ray said, although he did applaud. "One, outta thousands. An' I ain't convinced we won't need more, right up until the end of time."
Katie bounced their baby daughter on her knee. Off in the distance, other children were running down to play in the lake- Stanley's child, Hector's child, and her own first child among them.
"We will fix that," she said.
There was one woman present at the unveiling who no-one really noticed. She only arrived once most of the others had left. She was a red-haired, sad-looking woman in a wheelchair, and she had done many terrible things in her life. Less terrible things than Kate Barlow had done, but then Kate had had nobler motives. Maybe it all balanced out in the end.
Two men were on hand to assist her, but she eventually shooed them away. The men held hands as the woman rose from her chair and struggled towards the plaque. She laid a hand on it.
"I'm sorry," she said.
She walked back to her chair, the men walking down to help her, as the sun set over Camp Green Lake.