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August in the Desert (2)

by Elinor

Blake then turned to me. “So, what did you tell Mom?”

“Movies with Suellen.”


Jay then turned to me. “Blake tells me that you’re a gymnast,” he said.

I nodded. I did gymnastics, yes. Mom and Dad had impressed sports upon us both from the time we were young. Blake’s had been football, and he was gifted. As for me, I wasn’t good enough to win competitions, but staying active helped me keep my mind clear.

Then, Sasha reappeared. “They’re coming,” she told Jay. Then she walked over to us and sat down. That was when she acknowledged me, sitting in between me and Blake.

“You must be Kathryn,” she said, in an overly cheery tone.

“That’s me.”

“I’m Sasha,” she said. “Blake’s told me a lot about you.”

That was when I turned to Jay. I had a lot of questions about everything but I didn’t even know where to begin. How had Blake even meet these people? Why were these three girls, five in total I supposed if two more were coming, all living in the desert. Did they move around? How long had they been in St. George? Jay seemed old too, and his presence made me uncomfortable. Maybe the girls were nice enough, but they all seemed odd. Something was off about Sasha in particular. It was then that Sasha and Blake exchanged a look, and they stood up.

Blake turned to me. “I’ll be back.”

It was then that I saw two girls appear. One blonde, one redhead. Alex and Claire, it seemed. I looked in their direction and waved, but they didn’t acknowledge me. Instead, they joined Helen and Debbie and the four of them began to speak.

I was alone with Jay. We made eye contact with each other, only now his look had shifted. I was terrified, and I realized what it was about him that was off. His eyes were very blue, but they had no light. Just then, he grabbed my arm and pulled me inches from his face.

“You’re being very rude,” he said.

I wanted to leave right then and there. I tried to pull my arm away but he grabbed it. My heart was beating fast. Who did this man think he was to tell me how to behave? “You’re hurting me,” I said.

This made him let go. “Your brother was in a very delicate place a week ago,” he said. “So I’ve given him a home here. And he told me that I just had to meet you. That I’d like you.”

The edge to his voice made me even more scared. I was too terrified to speak.

“Kathryn,” he continued, gesturing to the girls huddled beside us. “These girls had nothing. The world didn’t want them. And I’ve built something for them.”

I continued not to speak. Then, he gestured back towards the entrance of the camp. “I want you to walk down that path, find your bike, ride away, and I never want to see you again.”

My heart was pounding. I looked back towards Blake, who was far away. Jay was giving me an out, but I wanted to talk to my brother first. Tell him what had happened. “Your brother’s not coming back,” Jay said. “Now go.”

I hesitated for a long time before Jay gave me another look. I began to run back the way I’d come. I shook my head, trying to wonder if that had really happened, if I had just been threatened by an older man that I barely knew. I wondered if it was true what Jay had said, that he wasn’t coming back. I was angry that Blake had been in his own world with Sasha and hadn’t come to my defense.

The bike ride back was a blur. I wanted to tell Mom and Dad what had happened, and I didn’t care that I would get in trouble for having lied to Mom earlier about where I was going. But before I could, Mom told me that Blake had decided not to live with us anymore. So maybe it was true.

I went into my room and cried. Everything in my gut told me that something was wrong, that Blake was in danger. If Jay had been like that to me, I wondered if he’d been like that to any of the other girls. But I drowned that feeling that out, telling myself that Blake was an adult. That he seemed happy, and he had every right to make his own life choices. So I tried to put it out of my mind, but I didn’t expect that I would lose contact with him.

As the months went by, I tried not to think about it. A few months later, I biked back to the campsite. I remembered Jay’s threat but wondered realistically what he would do to me if I showed up to talk to my brother. Still, when I arrived, the occupants of the site were different. An unassuming family with two young kids. I stood there, limp, when the husband made eye contact with me.

“Can I help you, honey?” He asked.

“Sorry, I’m lost,” I said quietly.

I wished I had a way to contact my brother, but I hoped that wherever he was, he was happy. That would have been enough for me to know.

In September of 1970, thirteen months after he’d been away, I started my first year of college at UC Boulder. My roommate, Tara, came back into our room one afternoon when I was studying.

“Phone’s for you,” she said. “He says he’s your brother.”

I immediately sped into the hallway and picked up the phone, my hands shaking. “Hello?”

“Kat?” It was him. He sounded good.


“Mom and Dad said you’re in Boulder.”

“Yes,” I said. “You talked to Mom and Dad?”

“Yeah, I’ve been trying to write you. Have you been getting my letters?”

“No.” Letters?

“Huh,” he said. “Anyway, I thought I’d try calling.”

“Where are you?” “I’m maybe only an hour away. You’ll have to come visit.”

“Yes,” I said, figuring that maybe he was no longer with Jay or any of the other girls, that he’d left them a long time ago. 

“Sasha was sad that she didn’t really get to talk to you last time,” he continued. So he was still with them. My heart skipped a beat.

“Listen, I don’t know,” I said. I wanted to tell him what Jay had done. Even all this time later, it still scared me to think about him. But I didn’t know how.

“Think about it,” he said.

I didn’t know what to say.

“Kat,” he said. “It’s so nice to hear you.”

“You too,” I said. Was this really happening, or was I dreaming it? “Listen. Don’t be a stranger. Is there a number I reach you at?”

“I don’t know,” he said. I could feel him getting ready to hang up.

“Talk to you later, Kat.” Before I could say anything else, I heard the line click.

I took a minute to compose myself. He said he was an hour away, but an hour away could mean many different things. I wondered if I’d made a mistake. Maybe he’d call me back. Still, that call never came.

Still, it ended up being the last time I ever spoke to him. It would be another year before I saw his mugshot on the news and learned what he was involved with. The question I kept going back to was why. Because it didn’t make sense. Blake was sad but he wasn’t violent. He had a good heart. Or at least, that was the Blake that I knew.

If I had been any older and wiser during my interaction with Jay, maybe I could have sensed things. Gotten Blake to leave with me. He was of age so maybe we could have gotten a place of our own. And things would be very different now. But of course, it was far too late for any of that. 

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373 Reviews

Points: 46106
Reviews: 373

Sun Aug 04, 2019 1:59 am
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PrincessInk wrote a review...

Okay wow that ending was kind of shocking but I'm also not surprised too?? Yep, certainly VERY unsettling story so well done with that!

I'm still reeling from the end aaahhhhh dear

So Blake joined some kind of gang or cult group? I suppose the leader is Jay. He appears to control everyone there. I'm morbidly curious as to what Blake did...but also I don't want to know too. #conflicted

Okay. Back to reviewing.

Sooo one thing I really liked about your short was how unflinchingly honest the narrator was with herself. It's like she was really talking to me about it and that was one thing I really loved about this story. If you're curious, the other thing was just the premise and the setting of the story. It's unlike anything I've ever read in historical fiction with a very fascinating viewpoint!

I still believe that this is the like the story bones and that this can be fleshed out more (though this by itself is still very good and gets everything across very well.) I somehow feel as though the ending was a little rushed. Like after that incident everything piled on one after another and gave me no time to suck in the detail. I think in the way, you pulled off the shock of the impact excellently. In the other, I'd have wanted to see how it affected her that moment, how she reacted, how she changed because of this (I like to see character arcs) Like I said, a little rushed so maybe you could try and see what you could to un-rush it out. I'm terrible at this rushed conclusion thing too so I can't exactly help much here other than talking about what I'd like to see.

Jay is indeed scary. He's the quietly threatening kind that creeps me out and I think you did a fantastic job with him...if fantastic is an appropriate word for creating a creep. Also, Blake's distance and all made total sense. He was pretty deep into that group as far as I can tell. I heard of this adage that silence speaks and your story harnesses this strength.

I wonder why Kathryn didn't talk to her parents? But then again this sounds like a very dysfunctional family...Blake moving into this group and all and Kathryn not being able to tell them. It must have been so hard for her to carry that incident all her life and wonder what she'd been able to do. The realization of not knowing, the guilt, it must have been so hard. That's the reason I liked her honesty - it truly hit hard.

So. Well done with it! I think I might check out your other stories soon, being a binge-y type of reader :P


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1394 Reviews

Points: 76307
Reviews: 1394

Thu Jul 11, 2019 7:49 pm
JabberHut wrote a review...


That last sentence gave me TEH GOOSEBUMPS.

I lovelovelove that she addresses the guilt she feels, the what-ifs from being so young at the time and not acting on her suspicions. It absolutely addressed everything that I was wondering after she ran away, and it explains everything well, too. Of course she wouldn't have said anything because she was young. It was only a couple years, but at that age, a couple years of maturing can make a huge difference.

This also leads me to wonder if perhaps her relationship with her parents was also not very strong because she didn't have the heart to tell either of them what she experienced with Blake's new friends. I think this could be something to mention in the first part. It might have been VERY SUBTLY hinted at, but I don't think it was enough because it was mostly about Blake's relationship with their parents, not hers. But her relationship with their parents totally affects why she wouldn't tell them in the first place.

So just a little character building there, I think.

I am so happy that she managed to get away. I really am omg. And as time goes by, she naturally would think it was too late to do anything. She seems rather timid that way, so I think it works and is understandable. But she still always worried about him, and the poor girl had to carry that concern and guilt all by herself. <3 <3 <3

I like the reaction she had at hearing the phonecall was from her brother. Curious that it wasn't a second of hesitation, like "wait is she serious". Kathryn is wasting NO TIME because she has been SO FREAKING WORRIED.

It's interesting, though, how she hesitated during the phonecall. Like at the mention of Jay, she suddenly didn't want to meet up with her brother maybe some place else (or at least try, I'd imagine he'd say he couldn't). ALSO INTERESTING that he couldn't get a hold of her parents. Did she ever tell her parents that she talked to Blake? Did they want to do anything about it? It seems like probably not, she kept this phonecall to herselef too. So come one year later, she's regretting all those decisions to keep secrets. Hmm... that would be an interesting theme to incorporate into this! :D

I do like this spin a lot on the story, though. What an intriguing character, and it adds a new twist to Jay's perspective too, allowing guys to join his little band as well. Very strange. Just allowing him to be with Sasha like that. He's not as possessive as I figured. BUT HE'S DEFINITELY EVIL. SO.

Keep writing!!

Jabber, the One and Only!

Stupidity's the deliberate cultivation of ignorance.
— William Gaddis