Joyland

New York |

Wasted State

by Lena Valencia

edited by Kyle Lucia Wu

It’s the night before Thanksgiving and I’m at the Meals-2-Go section in the Western State University Center Café stuffing saran-wrapped turkey sandwiches into my backpack while the cashier stares at her phone. I was supposed to have driven back home to Colorado Springs that morning before the storm but last night Chelsea stole a handle of Old Crow from the senior suite and we stayed up drinking and watching clips from nineties dating shows on YouTube and next thing I knew it was noon today and Chelsea was shaking me awake to say that her car was here to take her to her flight home to LA. By the time I got my shit together the roads were closed and the snow was beginning to really fall. I lied and told my mom I had a last-minute project that I had to work on for class because I figured it was a better excuse than sleeping in. The truth is I don’t really care that I’m missing Thanksgiving, I’m mostly bummed that Chelsea won’t be around to drink and gossip and watch movies with for five whole days.

I pay for one sandwich and go back outside where ice crystals attack my eyes. Squinting, I trudge on, thinking of the sandwich I’m about to eat and the half-bottle of Old Crow waiting for me. I can just barely make out the path to the dorms. Chelsea’s sleeping bag coat that she let me keep for the break feels like a freaking t-shirt in this weather, and immediately my nose begins to run and my snot to freeze. I take the long way to see if Paul Brewer’s light is on. He’s a transfer student from some East Coast liberal arts school and super-hot, and he told Chelsea he was staying on campus over Thanksgiving. Maybe, I think, this is the weekend to make my move, though I’ve hardly spoken two words to him and am an awkward mess whenever he comes into our room to talk to Chelsea. She says he visits to see me but I know that he’s definitely there for her. I see a light on and call his name but the wind swallows it up. It’s cold and I feel like a loser so I keep on walking.

***

Without Chelsea Hoage around this semester, I would have either dropped out or offed myself. It’s happened a couple of times here already, during my freshman year—students offing themselves. The weather is what does it, they say. And the isolation. Chelsea thinks it runs a little deeper than that. It has to do with the cruel, jagged mountains that loom over us like they’re plotting something. The same angry spirits that terrorized the settlers moving west and the prospectors hunting for gold. The spirits grab on to you, she says, and they don’t let you go. She blames the lore. She’s way superstitious and it’s been getting more intense lately—I came home the other night and she had lit a bunch of sage leaves and was waving it around the room. “To cleanse it,” she said. The room still smells like campfire.

One of her favorite bits of lore is the story about the Trapper. Every so often there are sightings of someone dressed like a nineteenth-century trapper slipping through the halls of the dorms. For whatever reason, maybe because it’s balls-cold, he’s partial to the showers. There’ll be muddy boot-prints on the bathroom tile, mirrors steamed up at odd hours of the night. He always leaves something behind: a bloody rabbit foot in the sink; a goose feather in the shower caddy.

He also takes someone with him: usually a girl. Chelsea says that in the nineties this was happening a lot—the Trapper would be spotted slinking around and in the morning some girl would be missing from her bed. She’d come back a few days later, dazed, with no memory of what had happened to her. Most would drop out soon after.

There were a group of guys that didn’t like the idea of this whatever-it-was sneaking onto campus and taking their girls. Protecting the school from creeps was their duty, after all. They stayed up nights, taking turns patrolling the halls of every dorm. No luck. No Trapper. They got frustrated, decided that maybe if they couldn’t get ahold of him themselves, they’d trap the Trapper with a pretty sophomore: Kelly Jasper.

Of course, Kelly Jasper thought that she was just going to another party with her friends. The boys plied her with alcohol and invited her along for a beer run. She probably thought it was weird that they were taking the long way to the parking lot—the path by the woods—but was too wasted to say anything about it. She probably started screaming when they tied her to a tree, and screamed louder when the boys ran and hid to wait for the Trapper. She probably screamed a lot. She screamed until she wasn’t screaming anymore, and the boys peeked out from behind their trees or bushes or whatever, and she was gone.

When she didn’t show up to class the next couple of days, the administration began to worry, and the police started combing the campus and the town. The morbid whispered that she was probably another suicide. A few days later three cops found her in this tiny cabin in the woods, maybe a ten minute-walk from campus. Some say she was skinning a deer by a roaring fire. Others say she was eating a deer, practically raw, blood trickling down her chin. Everyone remembers what it was she said to the cops when they found her, which was that the Trapper had taken her and made her his mistress. The cops said There is no Trapper, you are clearly here on your own. And she was like, Well where did all these pelts come from? And she gestured to the animal skins that hung from the ceiling, the bed, the wooden chair she sat on. And don’t talk like that or you’ll piss him off and the cops were like Okay, sure but your parents are looking for you just please come with us, and being cops, they forced her to.

Listen, she told them from the back of the cop car, he’s not just going to go away. Those pelts are keeping him alive. You need to burn them, and the cabin.

The cops told her they weren’t in the business of vandalizing private property and asked her why she didn’t just walk back to campus, didn’t she know that she had only been ten minutes away?

She claimed that she’d tried, but every time she thought she was getting close there would just be more trees and then she’d pass out and find herself back in the cabin.

The newspaper took a picture of her that night that Chelsea and I found online. You can see the tear streaks through the dirt on her face. She has this dazed look in her eyes, like something snapped. “The stare of a doomed girl,” Chelsea said as she enlarged the picture on my laptop screen so that Kelly Jasper’s eyes were gray clusters of pixels. Two weeks after the photo was taken, she’d set fire to her room and died of smoke inhalation.

The kicker of this little bit of lore is that each one of those cops that took her, they all had these terrible things happen to them—one of them shot himself in the throat while cleaning his gun. Another one lost his baby to this freak bacterial infection. And the third, well, he lost everything during the recession. Now he stands outside the Walmart begging most mornings.

The Trapper, though, he’s been spotted a few times around these parts since then, stalking the halls, looking for a new Trapper wench. Chelsea says he’s some sort of supernatural being, others think he’s one of those back-to-nature Ted Kaczynski types who just wants his annual hot shower and co-ed lay, and that all that tragedy with the cops is coincidence.

She’ll tell me these stories as we’re going to sleep, bits of hearsay from other people on campus and things she’s read online. We strategize escape plans in case the Trapper pays us a visit. I do this to humor her because the lore is just lore, I tell myself. She’s given me some beads she got from a meditation retreat last summer in Northern California that are supposed to ward off evils. I put them on my keychain because you can never be too sure.

***

I get back to my dorm just as George, one of our dorm security guards, is zipping up his jacket.

“Still here?” he says.

“I couldn’t get out before the roads closed,” I say. “I’m stuck.”

His pudgy face crinkles into a look of concern as I stand there, dumbly, half-expecting him to invite me home with him and his family where there will probably be a turkey and green bean casserole and dressing and the whole deal. But he just throws his bag over his shoulder. “I think there are some seniors over in The Pinnacles who are celebrating,” he says, “they do it every year. There’s a turkey and everything.”

“Thanks,” I say. I have absolutely no intention of going to The Pinnacles, the campus apartments where the rich assholes Chelsea used to hang out with lived.

“You can call the main office if you need anything,” he says.

“Have a good holiday,” I say, giving him a salute. I’m not sure what the salute is for, it just seems like the proper thing to do.

“You too,” he says, and walks out into the weather.

***

Chelsea’s one of the few here who, like me, doesn’t ski. Skiing’s all that’s done here at Western State University. Skiing when there’s snow, which is practically year-round, and partying all the time, which is why everyone calls it Wasted State. There’s not much else to do in Gunnison, Colorado, unless you’re into studying. It makes the Springs look like Manhattan or something. If I weren’t getting a free ride here then I’d probably just forget college and move to Boulder and focus on my music. Only assholes play music here. I thought I’d at least be able to join some wannabe-Phish jam band but all I’ve seen is these idiot ski-jocks get stoned and try to pick out “Stairway”.

Chelsea and I probably wouldn’t be friends if we weren’t roommates. She’s from Los Angeles and is rich, I’m from Colorado Springs and not. She’s done coke with James Franco, for example. She came to Wasted State because she was super into skiing and her parents have a chalet up here that she used to stay at with her old group of friends off-season but they had a falling out and she started spending more time in the room, with me. Her old friends, she says, were assholes and made her hate anything to do with skiing. She says she’ll never ski again. Whenever I ask her why she changes the subject.

***

Back in our room, I inhale a sandwich and wash it down with some Old Crow mixed with flat Diet Coke from the mini-fridge while streaming Freaks & Geeks on my laptop in bed. I’m supposed to finish my reading for my Lit Seminar, and I should have been slogging my way through Jane Eyre. I really want to finish it—the plot synopsis on Wikipedia made it sound pretty cool with the crazy lady in the attic and stuff but the language is so old-fashioned it just puts me to sleep. It’s a holiday weekend and I deserve to relax. Jane Eyre can wait. My phone buzzes with a text from Chelsea.

Are you losing it yet? Do you have enough food? Did you hook up with Paul? Are you losing it?

No. Yes. No. No. I reply. George tried to get me to go to a Pinnacles party.

There’s a pause, then a reply. You should go if you want.

She’s testing me, I know it.

No way I would hang out with those ski-tards , I write back.

Miss you already, She says. Gotta go out to dinner with the fam. Vom-fest.

Miss you too, bb. Will call later.

I watch a few more episodes and drink some more til I get bored and decide that it’s a good time to give Chelsea a call but my phone is dead and I realize that I lent Chelsea my charger and it’s in her purse which is with her in Los Angeles.

“Noooo…” I say out loud, to no one. Maybe I am losing it. The Victorian-looking woman on the cover of Jane Eyre on the floor near my bed stares up at me, pleadingly. I’m not going to read it. I’m too drunk anyway, and too sleepy.

Then there’s a gust of wind and the lights flicker out and there I am alone in the room with no light except for my blue laptop screensaver, pulsing like a breath.

The stories that Chelsea tells all start whirling through my mind and I start to get a little jumpy and take another sip of my drink but it doesn’t seem to help. If my phone had some juice at least I could text Chelsea, tell her what was going on, and it would be like someone was there with me. That’s when I remember Brewer’s window, how his light was on, and maybe he has a backup battery or something, and how I’d rather be with someone, anyone, right now than by myself.

I get out of bed and feel around on the floor for a pair of jeans and slide them on. I run my hands through my hair. I briefly consider putting on some eyeliner but decide that it’s better to show up makeup-less than with makeup applied in the dark. And then I’m off, down the hall, imagining what will happen when I knock on Paul Brewer’s door.

He’ll let me in, I decide, and we’ll sit in candlelight and play each other songs on guitar. I’d been working on a cover of “Where is My Mind?” by the Pixies that Chelsea said would snag any boy who was remotely indie. I’m going over the chords in my head when I approach Brewer’s door. I turn my hands to fists to keep them from shaking. I channel my inner Chelsea and knock.

“Who is it?” he says.

“Lily.”

“Who?”

“Lily!” I say again, louder, “from down the hall.”

He cracks open the door.

“Oh,” he says, “Chelsea’s friend.”

He’s wearing a Western State t-shirt and basketball shorts. The smell of weed wafts from the doorway.

“What’s up?” he says.

I haven’t rehearsed this part. What the hell was I supposed to say—that I was afraid of the dark?

“Can I come in?” I say.

“Do you guys mind?” he asks to the concealed guests in his room.

“Whatever,” says a girl.

“Is she hot?” a boy says, followed by some giggling.

Brewer rolls his eyes at me. “You can come in if you don’t mind hanging out with these idiots.”

Inside, Rob Briggs and Amanda Johnson are sitting on the floor. A camping lantern burns in front of them, casting dramatic shadows on their faces. My panic level is maxed out now. These are Chelsea’s old friends. The ski-tards. The ones who snicker every time they see us like it’s fucking eighth grade and call her The Hog behind her back (a variation on her last name, which I guess they think is real clever).

“Guys, this is Lily,” Brewer says. He puts his hand on the small of my back and gently guides me into the room. I’m tingling.

“Lily, these are Rob and Amanda.”

“Hey,” says Amanda.

“Sup,” says Rob, “cool hoodie.”

I’m wearing the Radiohead Amnesiac sweatshirt I’d found at a thrift store on one of my daytrips to Boulder with Chelsea.

“Thanks,” I say. Brewer sits down next to Amanda.

“Sit down,” says Brewer, “have a beer, while they’re cold.”

“We’re trying to convince Brewer here to come out to the slopes with us,” says Amanda.

“But he’s being gay about it,” says Rob, “aren’t you Brewer.”

I sit down next to Rob, who is leaning against Brewer’s bedframe. Amanda smiles as she hands me a can of beer from the fridge.

“I’ve got a screwed up knee, I told you,” Brewer says.

“Riiight,” says Rob, then coughs out “pussy.”

Brewer turns to me. “What are you doing all the way over on this side of the hall?” he says, his blue eyes dancing in the lantern light.

There’s a draft coming in from the window above Brewer’s desk, propped open with a crushed beer can. A candle near his laptop sputters out. I take a long sip of my beer. Rob packs a bowl.

“What kind of question is that?” says Rob. “The lady clearly wants to partake in the inhalation of the dankest weed this shitty campus has to offer.” He passes me the bowl. “Greens?
He asks me. I shrug and take a hit. It’s just okay.

“Thanks,” I say, exhaling and passing it to Amanda.

“So,” says Brewer, “did you see him, too?”

I have no idea what Brewer is talking about. “See who?” I say.

“The Trapper,” he says.

My stomach turns a little and I wonder if they’re playing some sort of trick on me.

“Oh my god,” says Amanda, “stop.” She hugs her knees.

“You know who the Trapper is, right?” asks Brewer. “Apparently it’s a thing here. But it sounds like bullshit to me.”

“Yeah,” I say, playing it cool, “I’ve heard of him.”

“Rob here claims to have seen him in the bathroom down the hall,” says Brewer.

“I swear,” says Rob, slapping the floor to make his point, “he was taking a shower. I saw his boots. I saw his pelts. You know that’s his M.O. before he steals a chick.” I realize then, from the frown on his face, that this is no joke, that Rob actually thinks he’s seen the Trapper.

“Why does it always have to be a chick?” says Amanda. “Maybe you’re next.”

“Don’t be fucking stupid,” snaps Rob, “the Trapper isn’t into dudes. The whole reason he goes after chicks is because the guys he was with on his prospecting expedition ate his wife or whatever. He wants to replace her.”

“Sounds like a romantic ghost,” says Brewer.

Amanda scoffs. “He’s not a ghost. He’s a zombie, or something.”

“Zombies eat brains, babe, they don’t steal women,” says Brewer.

“Ghosts can’t kidnap people,” says Amanda.

“Ghosts aren’t real, and neither are zombies, so it doesn’t really matter,” says Brewer.

“Whatever, you guys,” says Rob, “I know what I saw.” He turns to me. “You believe me, right?”

“I guess,” I say, using the same non-committal tone I use with Chelsea when she tells me about this kind of stuff. I feel kind of bad for him, really. Was he the one who started Chelsea’s Trapper obsession, or was it the other way around?

“See?” He says, “She’s the only smart one here.” He slides his hand onto my back and I get a chill.

“How much of that dank weed did you have before you came over here?” Brewer says to Rob. Then his eyelids lower and his face softens as he takes a hit.

“Lay off him, Paul,” says Amanda, before nestling up against him.

So much for my chances with Brewer, I think, as I watch him give Amanda’s shoulder a squeeze. I’d need to tell Chelsea that Amanda had basically called dibs.

“Can I charge my phone?” I ask.

“Totally,” says Brewer. I hand it to him and he stands up and plugs it into his laptop.

He sits back down and looks at me, grinning.

Rob notices. “Why are you looking at her like that?” he says.

“I was just thinking,” he says, “that maybe Lily can go with you and confirm what it is you think you saw.”

“If you’re the one who doesn’t believe him, why don’t you go and see for yourself,” I say to Brewer. I’m surprised at the harshness in my voice.

Brewer looks at Rob, who is making cartoon ghost “Oooo” noises with his mouth and wiggling his fingers. For a moment I think that Brewer is going to snap at me, kick me out of the room.

“Nah,” says Brewer.

“Too scared to ski, too scared to prove me wrong,” says Rob in a sing-song voice. Brewer throws a balled up sock at him.

It goes on like this for a while. I relax a little, and realize that it’s actually kind of nice to be around people. Brewer pulls out his guitar and lets me play my Pixies cover and Amanda and Rob are super nice about it and ask me to play them some old Sublime songs and I realize that I’m actually having a good time. I start to think that I know nothing about the ski-tards, that maybe Chelsea has the wrong idea.

While Brewer and Amanda play blackjack, Rob puts his arm around me, which I think is a little weird but it’s been forever since I’ve been, well, touched like that, so I kind of like it. He’s not Brewer but he’s got a clean-cut rich-kid look going for him so why not. The WSU boys have never paid me that much attention. I don’t rock a pushup bra and smoky eye makeup like Amanda. She has clearly planned to look dressed up and dressed down at the same time, since she’s wearing sweatpants and a tight pink sweatshirt with all that makeup. Rob, with his arm around me, makes me feel a little less jealous of Amanda, who is leaning closer and closer to Brewer with each hand he deals. Rob starts asking me about my music then, which I have only talked to Chelsea about, and about the shows I like to go to. He tells me he has tickets to see his friend’s band at a club in Boulder next weekend and that I should totally come and I say maybe because all I can think about is what Chelsea would think.

“I’m glad you stopped by,” he says, hugging me tighter. His sweatshirt smells like weed and incense. My phone begins to buzz on Brewer’s desk but I just leave it. I must have flinched though, because he asks me what’s wrong.

“Nothing,” I say.

“You can tell me,” he says, playing with a strand of my hair.

“Why did Chelsea stop hanging out with you guys?” I blurt out.

“Oh man,” he said. He puts his hands in his lap, shakes his head. “It’s a long fucking story.”

“What do you mean?” I say.

“I can’t believe you haven’t heard. It’s chick drama,” he says, “but basically Amanda and I used to date—we’re just friends now. Anyway, Chelsea and I hooked up and Amanda got all pissy about it, and the two of them had a falling out, and I was just stuck in the middle. I sided with Amanda, because Chelsea was kind of a bitch about the whole thing, no offense.”

“A bitch how?” I say.

“She started spreading all these rumors. Just immature BS.”

“Chelsea did that?” I say. But part of me isn’t that surprised. She can be vengeful when she wants to be.

“I can’t believe you didn’t hear,” he goes on. “It was like the biggest drama a couple months ago.”

“What was she saying?” I ask.

“That I took advantage of her. Like I said, total BS, but we still had to had to have a fucking campus judicial hearing about it.” I feel his body tense up, like he’s annoyed just thinking about what Chelsea had done.

I think back to a couple of months ago and remember how all of a sudden at the end of September, Chelsea started staying in at night, how she’d come back to the room looking tired, how she’d hole up and watch Sex and the City and sometimes cry while I tried to focus on studying. That was when we started talking.

“I remember now,” I say. He begins to squeeze my shoulder again.

“You’re a lot more down-to-earth than she is, I can tell.”

“Thanks,” I say, feeling uneasy all of a sudden. My leg has fallen asleep and I stand up, take my phone from the desk, and sit on the bed, above Rob.

There are a string of texts from Chelsea, asking if I’m all right.

The power is out and I’m chilling with Rob and Paul and Amanda . I write.

What???????????????????? Rob Briggs?????????

Yes.

I want you to be careful around him, seriously.

This is what I expected. She was so possessive sometimes. I decide to press her a little bit.

He’s nice, I don’t know what the big deal is .

Just trust me .

Drama queen. I’m about to text it but know that it will just lead to her blowing up at me.

Why can’t you just tell me?

“What’s going on up there?” says Rob, swiveling his head to look up at me.

“My mom’s texting,” I say, “she’s worried about the storm.”

“Tell her you’re with friends,” he says. Friends. I smile down at him.

There’s a long pause, as I watch the dots that signal Chelsea typing blink on and off. Rob takes another hit from Brewer’s pipe.

I’ll tell you when I get back, she writes, finally.

I look at the back of Rob’s head. My leg is in a position where if I pull my knee up and slide my foot forward fast enough, I can give him a good kick. Or I can slide down next to him and keep talking about bands. I set the phone back on the desk and put my hands in my sweatshirt pocket, where my keys are, and fiddle with the beads Chelsea gave me. It feels like a million years since the first time we hung out, when she triumphantly burst into the room with a box of wine and told me that I needed to help her finish it if I didn’t want her to get alcohol poisoning, but really it had only been a couple of months. Before that she’d been a stranger, spending weekends and some weeknights at the chalet, leaving me alone in the dorm with my books and my computer and my guitar and my stupid, stupid thoughts. When she started talking to me, the weekends became something to look forward to, instead of to dread. But still, there were some major question marks about her. Like why is she just now telling me about Rob? What happened with the ski-tards, really?

Rob pulls himself up on the bed next to me and leans into my shoulder. Just then a crash from outside makes us both jump. Brewer and Amanda, who have been making out by the closet, stop and look in the direction of the noise.

Brewer starts cracking up. “It’s the storm, you idiots,” he says, but he takes Amanda and pulls her closer and they start kissing again.

Reaching around my back, Rob grabs the extinguished candle from the desk, re-lights it, and puts it down next to my phone. “Now I can see you,” he says. I stare at my sneakers as he leans in closer and whispers in my ear: “I want to show you the Trapper. They’ll believe you.”

His breath on my earlobe makes my whole body vibrate. He begins massaging my knee, moving his hand up my jeans. I push it away, smiling to show that it’s fine but to maybe dial it down just a little bit, but he moves it back.

“I don’t think so,” is all I can muster.

“Come on,” he says. He starts kissing my neck. I stiffen and he senses it, because he stops and hisses, “You like to watch?” gesturing with his chin at Amanda and Brewer on the floor. It takes me a second to realize what he means and I’m glad that the lights are out because I can feel my cheeks turning bright red.

“It’s cool,” he says, “I’m just going to go take a leak. Then we can pick up where we left off.” He gives my knee a squeeze as he stands up.

Once he leaves and shuts the door behind him I stare at the writhing pile of limbs on the floor and decide that maybe I should just make a run for it, and wonder why I didn’t just ask Rob to walk me back to my room like a normal sane human being but then I remember what Chelsea had said about Rob and wonder again whether or not to believe her.

I step out into the hallway. With Brewer’s door closed, it’s almost completely dark, but I can make out the source of the crash: a branch has broken through the hall window and snow and wind are blowing in through the hole in the glass. I realize I’ve left my phone on Brewer’s desk and knock softly, but no one opens it. I try the handle but it’s locked.

I sit down on the floor.

What kind of shithead fuckup doesn’t go home for Thanksgiving? My mom and dad and little sister are probably sitting down together in front of the TV, watching Twilight Zone reruns which I used to think was so dorky but right now I’d give anything to be there on our hideous tan sofa with the cat purring on my lap.

I sit there for a little while and then I realize how cold I am and stand up. I’m not going to let Rob or Amanda or Brewer see me have a breakdown in the hallway. I’m better than that. I start back to my own room, one footstep at a time. I make Wolverine claws with my keys like they’d taught in self-defense class, thumb the smooth beads that Chelsea gave me, hope they do their job. The wind howls through the broken window and I can hear glass crunch under my feet. I stumble and fall into a wall. But it isn’t a wall. It’s leather, and smells like tobacco and mud and whiskey and rot, and it reaches out two arms and grabs my shoulders.

They say there are two sides to every story. But sometimes, there are two stories. There’s the lore, and there’s the truth.

There’s the Trapper, draped in furs, smelling like death.

And then there’s Rob, sweatshirt hood draped over his head, smelling like incense and weed.

There’s the Trapper’s icy calloused hand on my wrist.

Then there’s Rob’s warm, smooth one, shoving me into the wall.

There’s the Trapper’s tassels flapping as he grabs me by the waist.

There’s the clink of Rob’s belt unbuckling.

I can’t run, because moving would mean admitting to myself that this is happening. I squeeze the keys in my hands tighter until the serrated edge of the metal stings the skin between my fingers and I scream at myself in my head and miraculously I spin around and I feel the keys make contact with flesh and there’s that smell again and then the sound of fabric falling and what I see is the Trapper getting smaller and smaller, deflating almost, his clothes billowing around his shrinking body. Then my feet are freezing all of a sudden and when I look down I see it’s because I’m standing knee-deep in a pile of snow in the middle of the hallway, and the Trapper is gone and then the snow disappears and I hear Rob slapping his hand to his bloody cheek and shouting “You crazy fucking bitch!”

But I’ve forced my feet to move and I am down the hall by then, the key finds the lock, the door opens, and I’m back in our room with the door shut and locked behind me.

My laptop’s screensaver is on, its dim blue light makes our tiny dorm room look like it’s underwater. Chelsea’s desk is an art installation, with piles of books and tubes of lipstick and tiny balls of foil from the Dove chocolates she allows herself to binge on while studying. I pick up the Old Crow and take a swig. I drop the keys on my bed. My right hand throbs. It’s wet with blood—not mine—gleaming black in the blue light of the screen.

I touch the windowpane. The wind is quieter now, and the snow has stopped falling. The power is still out but there’s the moon and the campus looks like a damn Christmas card, with globs of white all over the evergreens. Ice crystals are beginning to form at the lip of the sill on the inside of the room. Outside, a svelte and hooded shadow with his hand to his face trudges across the snow, toward the Pinnacles. I think of Kelly Jasper, wild-eyed in the firelight of the cabin in the woods, as I lick the blood off my fingers.

Author photo by Ryan Spencer