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1

Everyone loves an earthquake

Scorpio lay splayed across his thin prison issue mattress reading a worn paperback. His leg draped over the edge of the bed, foot tapping the floor as he read. It was almost dinnertime. His cellmate had left for kitchen duty half an hour ago.

“Silverfish, ‘hungry soul,’” he read aloud.

What about ‘angry soul’? What about ‘I don’t belong here’ soul? What about ‘if I ever see Rocco again I’ll kick his ass’ soul?

He shifted on the mattress again and felt the slats digging into his back when the ground beneath the Walla Walla State Penitentiary began to shake. He threw his paperback to the floor, his interest in insects suddenly interrupted.

He lunged for the bars in the doorway of his cell and hung on. The floor heaved like an ocean wave; there was crashing and chaos everywhere. He pressed his face hard against the cold metal, trying to see beyond his space.

Scorpio pumped his arms as he held onto the bars, body rocking, throat constricted, as he let out a howl. He laughed so loud. He loved watching as the earthquake beat the hell out of this old building; God, what a great day this was turning out to be.

The ground swelled and rolled, men hollered throughout the building. A metal railing fell with a clang. Tiles crashed from the ceiling; the wall in the corridor cracked wide open.

Then came the silence.

Scorpio could feel his hands vibrating when he let go of the bars. He turned to survey the small room in wonder. The ceiling was caved in over the bunks, the toilet cracked and flowing across the cement floor. Another tremor hit.

That’s when Scorpio saw daylight through a hole in the wall.

The sirens signaled a full lock-down. Scorpio squeezed through the new hole in his cell wall. He was on the lookout for any patrol that would try to stop him as he continued to move forward.

He saw fallen guard towers, and bodies crushed beneath crumpled sculptures of steel. Oh shit, there was the one-man torture chamber they called “The Mangler”, crushed under his own tower. The Mangler would jump his own mother. He was bug-shit crazy and the guards let him get away with anything.

“That’s what you get,” Scorpio muttered to himself.

He ran past another crumpled tower. Sticking close to the wall, Scorpio crouched as he ran. He didn’t see anyone in the yard and didn’t take time to figure out why. He just kept running.

Dusk was falling on the onion fields around Walla Walla as Scorpio made his fateful journey across the prison yard.

He held his hands splayed, arms out to keep his balance as he kept vigilant on his trip across the compound. Scorpio’s heart beat in his ears, and he tried to keep his head clear and focused. It was curiously silent as he raced for his freedom.

Then he heard the shouting begin from the other side of the cement walls of the prison.

Scorpio ducked and ran, waiting for the impact of the AR-15 shell to hit him from behind. Ignoring everything around him, he just moved forward; if he made it – sweet freedom, if he didn’t, it would all be over quickly.

Cautiously he searched for any opening, any weakness in the wall. If the quake could create a crack in his cell wall, it had certainly made a way for him to get to the outside.

Scorpio’s eyes darted back and forth, searching for a break in the outer wall. His breath was quick and shallow, his legs shook with adrenaline, his mind reeled like a junkie after a slam of crack. He focused all his energy on finding that opening.

Scorpio ran behind one of the fallen towers and discovered his hunch was right; the fence had been dragged and mangled when the tower went down. This was the weakness he was looking for. Scrambling over the maze of razor wire, he slipped through the break in the wall and never looked back.

Keeping to the ditch, he dodged the devastation around him. This was one bad-ass earthquake. Two of the legs of the water tower had buckled. It could collapse at any moment. Scorpio hoped so.

He headed away from the prison and toward the rural farms and fields that were only a few miles away. All he could do was keep moving away from the prison. If they found out he was gone, freedom would be a figment of his imagination.

Maybe it was anyway.

It was getting darker and Scorpio saw barns and houses in the distance. He was rustling through a cornfield, crouching as he went. A huge barn ahead would be his refuge and he made that his first goal. Make it to the barn…make it to the barn. He repeated this to himself as he focused on his first stop, still flinching at the thought of a bullet slamming into his back.

The barn would be his place to take a breather while he decided his next move. As he got closer, he saw a farmhouse too close to the barn. Shit. He made it to the back side and touched the rough boards with his hand as if to reassure himself it was not an illusion. Legs bent to make himself small; he froze in the dark for a moment to listen for danger. Peeking around the barn he saw the front porch 50 yards away, the steps were in splinters around the dirt yard, looking like debris from a shipwreck. Through the window, a man was pacing and talking on the phone; a woman was turning the knob on a transistor trying to find some news. The heaving mounds of earth rolled amidst the fields. When he turned his head, Scorpio could see that the east side of the barn had collapsed.

A bright light flashed suddenly from the porch and startled him. Scorpio’s heart skipped a beat and he dove under an orange flatbed. A fat farm cat had set off the auto-light, and he watched as it walked into the kitchen where the front door hung askew. With relief, Scorpio rolled sideways to extricate himself from under the truck and then he saw it.

Oh my sweet Jesus, a clothesline. It couldn’t be! This sort of thing only happens in the movies. No dogs barked, no women screamed, no shotguns rang out as Scorpio grabbed a flannel shirt and jeans off the line, ran to the barn and changed in a hurry. All around him, the fields had heaved from the wave of the earthquake. He tucked his orange jumpsuit under his arm and ran through the jagged field. Finding a crevice in the earth, he buried his discarded clothing. Where would he go? Canada. He would sneak across the border into Canada and never be found. Scorpio fell as the earth began to roll again with an aftershock. This time he rode out the quake flat on his stomach, fists clenching the earth. When it finally passed, he stood and shook himself, running his hands down his jeans to remove the debris, grateful for the darkness.

 

 

 

 

2

Scorpio jumps a produce truck

A produce truck had been on the road for most of the afternoon when the driver felt the call of nature. He pulled off the deserted road; he left the door hanging open as he watered the sagebrush.

Scorpio had finished the last bite of a sweet onion that he had pulled from a field when he heard a truck stop a few yards down the road. He looked up into the night sky and smiled, I’m in a flippin’ movie. I knew it. Sneaking up to the truck while the driver wasn’t looking, Scorpio hopped onto the back bumper. He caught his balance then dove into the load of iceberg lettuce.

How far would this truck go tonight? He positioned himself at the tailgate to watch for the truck to slow at a turn in the road. Not just yet, he thought, he wanted to get as far down the road as possible. The road was broken by the quake, but somehow this truck had managed to get through. There were no lights in the distance; the power was out all over.

 

The truck driver had been driving most of the afternoon, and now it was dark. He had to get his produce to Oregon by morning. Never mind that the roads had been damaged by the quake. Damaged? It was like trying to drive through a war zone. He couldn’t even think of stopping until he got to Pendleton. The hot daytime sun would ruin his lettuce. He should be running a reefer, but he was just a farmer; he couldn’t afford one. Cover the produce with wet gunnysacks, that’ll do ‘er. This load would bring him enough money to live on for a month; but he had to drive four more hours to pull it off. He lit a cigarette and opened the window.

 

 

 

3

How Scorpio found himself in jail

Scorpio waited for his chance to jump. He didn’t want to lose this ride too soon, but he didn’t want to get caught in the city when the truck stopped either. The lettuce was damp and leaves were sticking to his skin. Not that he wasn’t grateful. He still felt his heart pound at the thought of what he had just done. Oh shit, what had he just done? If he got caught, it would be back to prison for him with more time added. But he still had ten years, and what if he got away with it? He didn’t plan to let his guard down. Ever. He would need an ID; he would need a place to live and a way to make money. Well, Scorpio would cross that bridge when he came to it, there were plenty of people who lived on the street and he could spend the rest of his life on the down-low if it meant his freedom.

God, when was the last time he had been under the stars? How long since he had made a plan for his own life, eat what he wanted to eat or go where he wanted to go? He pictured his new life as he rode in the back of the farm truck; a new town, a new house, a woman. His own TV. He would be in charge of his life. He would start smoking. This time he wouldn’t fuck it up. The whole damned world belonged to him.

 

He had gone over that dreadful night again and again. The cops grabbing and cuffing him as they threw him on the ground. There was a knee in his neck. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t move. He didn’t do nothin’, why did they do him this way? Shit. His face was in the rocks, they felt like barbed wire cutting into his skin. Lights were pivoting yellow and red, the sirens never shut up. Damn that Rocco, they were in trouble now. Up shit creek without a paddle.

When they threw him into the cop car, his clothes were torn and his face was wet with blood. He thought again of that moment when he could have changed his mind, do it all over again with a different outcome. Where would he be now, in his parallel life? The one where he didn’t follow Rocco into the liquor store.

They had been in Rocco’s car, cruising and partying, listening to Metallica, same as every other Saturday night, then Rocco was bored and he had to have his way. They pulled up to the store and opened the door.

“Come on, guys, we’re gonna get us some tequila.”

Rocco laughed and the guys followed along.

Rocco was the one with the gun in his pocket, he wouldn’t have used it, but the judge didn’t buy that.

Scorpio wandered to the back and began looking at the collector bottles; picking them up and putting them back down again.

He set down a decanter and had just begun to turn around when he was tackled from behind.

What The Hell?!

Cops filled the joint, and then he was grabbed and thrown outside.

Scorpio was an innocent bystander; Rocco had never even told the boys his plan. Now he was sentenced to 15 years. 10 more to go.

 

The truck slowed and Scorpio heaved his body over the high tailgate and held on, waiting to jump. He tensed his body and looked for a place in the ditch to roll but the farm truck turned onto the highway and sped up. Hanging on, he vaulted back over the tailgate into the pile of lettuce and laughed to himself. The farther away from Oniontown the better, he thought, and settled back for a ride. He was wet from the produce, but he felt safe for now.

 

4

Cricket gets invited to a contest

Cricket was checking the mail when his cell phone rang.

“You want me to do what, now?” he asked the man on the line. He handed his wife, Angeline the mail as he came into the house.

“Let me look at the calendar,” Angeline was waiting to see who was on the phone.

“Should be a good weekend for us to come over, can I call you back?” He ended the call and stared at the phone for a minute before he realized his wife was asking him a question.

“That was a guy in Oregon. He wants me to come to his fiddle contest in August.”

“But honey, you don’t play the fiddle.”

“I know.”

“Why are we invited to a fiddle contest?”

“He’s read my book and wants me to judge his Giant Insect Contest.”

“Will you get paid?”

“Money, lodging, food, giant insects. Sounds like a perfect weekend.”

She turned to the calendar and marked it down on the next page.

“Where are we going?” she asked as she wrote.

“Utopia, Oregon.”

She raised one eyebrow and looked at him, “Okay, August 24, Utopia, Oregon.”

“Hey, Cricket. I have an idea.”

He looked at his wife over the sink full of dishes, hoping it had something to do with helping him in the kitchen.

“Let’s go early to this Bug Contest and I’ll see if I can do some tattoos and we’ll get a little publicity for your book.”

“It’ll be like a vacation,” he responded.

“That’s what I thought!”

“Where are we staying, by the way?” she asked.

“Brad said they have a group of cabins on the festival property and we can stay in one of them.”

“Call and see if we can go down early!”

“You finish these dishes, and I’ll go get the phone,” he said, drying his hands with the dishtowel.

 

5

How Angeline got kidnapped

At the age of 12, Angeline lived in a treehouse with her mom and Garcia. And she had never been to school. They lived near Chicken Creek in The Independence Mountains in Northern Nevada. She spent her days wandering the trails and beading jewelry to trade at Rainbow Gatherings. Angeline was home schooled because they moved a lot. They tried to stay away from Granny, but Granny found her wading in the water one afternoon.

“Hey, Angel,” she heard her name before she realized someone was on the riverbank.

She turned and wondered how this lady knew her name.

“I just saw your mom; she told me you were here.”

Angeline watched her from her place in the creek.

The lady in the jeans and white t-shirt sat down like she had all day.

“Do I know you?” Angeline asked her, already knowing.

“I’m your Granny.” Of course she was.

Angeline had to get to her mom, fast.

Granny watched her. They smiled at each other.

“Well, it’s good to see you. Let’s go back to our place and you can see my jewelry,” she climbed up the dirty creek bank and squeezed the water from the hem of her skirt as she spoke.

“Okay, I’m parked right at the road up there, you can ride with me back to your place.”

Now Angeline wondered if Granny had really been there, did her mom say it was okay?

Was this her Granny, really? She walked to the car, intending to run at the last minute.

“I have some sandwiches in the car, we can eat before we go if you want.”

Angeline thought it should be safe to eat a sandwich.

After they ate, Granny showed Angeline some pictures of when Angeline was a baby. She showed her pictures of her mom when she was a baby, too.

“Oh, honey, your mom was so smart! She always got the best grades in science. She wanted to be a nurse.”

Angeline had never heard this.

“Let’s go to the store and get some food to take to your place. We can have dinner together.”

Angeline felt more comfortable after they had talked about her mom and all that. She got in the car and off they went to the store.

“I have a surprise for you, Angeline!” said Granny.

“You get to come to my house for two days and we can visit and bake cookies and you can play with my dog.”

Angeline was excited and worried at the same time.

“Where do you live?”

“Not far.”

They kept driving and driving.

 

 

6

     In which Scorpio acquires a dog

The 1986 Ford 350 one-ton hummed down the highway, now that the highway was smooth, somewhere just the other side of the Oregon border. The power was on, the roads unbroken; the driver had finally gotten past the earthquake damage. The bulletins on the radio were continual; the quake was 7.0, with the epicenter being outside Walla Walla. The prison was damaged and a convict had escaped. The high school was destroyed beyond repair; however, there were no people in the school because it was after hours. The fatality count was already 112 and growing; there were rescue workers in the downtown area searching for survivors in the rubble. The truck driver’s property was far north of Walla Walla; he wasn’t worried about his farm or family.

Scorpio sure wasn’t worried. The longer the truck went down the road, the safer he was. The destruction of the earthquake meant his freedom; he never deserved to be in the State Pen.

The truck slowed and Scorpio could see the sky become brighter with the city lights. Standing up to stretch in the back of the truck, he arranged the wet burlap around the lettuce and heaved himself back over the tailgate, looking for that final place to jump.

Low on the tailgate, hands steady on the truck, he crouched and held on. He had seen this done in the movies; you kept your body as low as possible and rolled when you landed. A cinch.

The road turned from asphalt to dirt as the driver took the farm-to-market road past fields and farmhouses. Lucky for Scorpio. When the farmer slowed to take the curve in the road he launched himself toward the side of the ditch bank and rolled. The landing was like crashing into a wall. It wasn’t like you see in the movies. This was brutal. His body bounced and somersaulted in the soft dirt and flew over the ditch into a cornfield, dust flying. When he finally stopped careening down the edge of the field, he slammed into a barbed wire fence with a No Hunting sign.

 

Scorpio lay for a few minutes in the dirt, cheek pressed against the earth, breathing hard. He rolled over onto his back and looked at the night sky. It was hard to breathe. He knew he had at least one broken rib, but that didn’t matter; nothing he could do about it now. His ankle was tender, too, probably a sprain. He ran his hands around his ribs and down to his ankle. Time to get up and get going. His arm was scraped up and bleeding. It was all just superficial, though. Life was still good; he was still free. But God, he hurt all over. It was time to figure out where to spend the night. Scorpio heard a scrabbling through the cornfield and froze to listen. He crouched down and made his breathing shallow.

The cornstalks rustled as whatever it was moved down the row. He could hear snuffling now. He reached slowly down and felt for a large rock that was glinting in the faint moonlight; he would bust it in the chops. The noise was coming closer in the dark but he couldn’t figure out how to get out of the way without alerting the creature that he was there. He wasn’t going to wait to be attacked, that wasn’t his style. Scorpio winced as he held his hand up with the rock in his fist, poised to protect himself.

There was a burst of noise as the animal shot from the stalks and Scorpio saw a flashing of teeth as the creature launched itself onto his chest.

He lost his balance as he swung his fist at the dog’s face. It backed off and was growling a warning, but Scorpio was too.

“Get the HELL out of my face!” he snarled at the dog in a low warning voice.

The dog sat suddenly on his haunches three feet away from him, looking at Scorpio with interest.

“Get AWAY. Go HOME!” he hollered and feinted with his rock fist.

The dog reared up as if to fetch.

“You IDIOT I’m not PLAYING with you!”

Pant, pant, slobber. It was a hound, but he didn’t know much about dogs; he had never had a dog.

Relieved that he wasn’t going to be attacked, Scorpio got up and brushed off his clothing then limped off to find a barn to sleep in.

Hound followed.

Order Utopia, Oregon now

Copyright 2013 Eileen Pinkerton

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without prior written permission of the author/publisher; except in the case of brief quotations embodied in review.

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