"These dead men walk on water Cold blood runs through their veins The angry river rises As we step into the rain" - T. Burnett ~ It was the hooks that bothered Stevie. At one time in his youth, during a summer in Nebraska, he spent an afternoon fishing with his grandad. They stood knee-deep in the water with fishing rods in hand, waiting... waiting for something to happen. A few tugs later and Stevie had the herring wriggling in his grip. The hook glistened with blood and now his pale little fingers were slick with it too. He could see the sharp point emerging from the herring's tender cheek-meat. That was the best-tasting part of the fish, his grandad told him, but now he had to let the herring go. They had caught too many that day and the fish and game folks would hit grandad with a fine if they caught any more. Stevie stared at the woman lying on the wet grass as the rain fell all around him. A forearm over his mouth, his stomach roiling like a ship caught in a storm, the spoiled-fruit scent of her expiring filled his nostrils. The sharp points of the hooks emerged from the hollows of her cheeks, broken veins crisscrossing like red fault lines on scarred earth. "Take off the hook and toss it back in," his grandad had said. Stevie tried. He gripped the hook with his tiny hands but the herring was too slippery. Growing impatient, he pulled at the hook and watched as it tore through the herring's cheek and ripped open its stomach, the herring's pained wriggling intensifying as a shower of the the animal's purple intestines fell into the water. "What did you do?" "It was an accident." Stevie stared at the woman on the grass. She said nothing. This was no accident and he wouldn't be letting her go. He got to his knees, touching his dirty cargo pants to the wet earth. He tied the ropes to the hooks and pulled. *** Q U I N N Rain. Always fucking rain. In San Francisco a day like today would be cause for block-parties and scantily-clad girls coming out and partying in the streets, but here in Shitsville, Oregon-- it was different. Since the Meadows family moved to the town of Bridgewater two years ago, it had rained incessantly. This tired little town was a half-drowned corpse clinging to land and it filled him with a stagnant, hateful depression. He despised it here and he despised most of the bored and dead-like people who called this place home. Above all, he hated the slate grey skies and how the rain made his hair look. Quinn pulled out of the driveway of his parents' off-the assembly-line McMansion and drove his car, a Jeep Wrangler the color of rotting corn, down the pretty streets of the Shields. All around him identical mansions and summer homes stood sentinel over the pristine roads, their sad-looking transplanted Royal Empress and Leland Cypress trees crowding above backyards and empty swimming pools. He lit a cigarette and drew it to his thin lips, trying to ignore the smell of chlorine. The rain was falling heavy now, but strangely, the sky was a dull orange, as if an artist had just given up adding in the clouds to this painting. Still bright, still dull. Quinn yawned and glanced at the rear view mirror, where a young man's face was framed in the glass, staring blankly ahead with what could best be described as a look of utter nervousness and apprehension. "Sorry about making you sit in the back seat, Nick. But Mal's gonna be in the front and well... Y'know it'd just be kind of awkward to get up and move around when we get to her place." Nick nodded and Quinn could hear him swallow. "Don't be so fucking nervous man. It's just a party," Quinn said to him light-heartedly, coughing a bit. He drove past a golf course and thought about running through it when the storm arrived tomorrow. They said golf courses were prime real estate for getting struck by lightning. Maybe he'd get lucky. Quinn smiled a dark lazy grin and banished the thought from his head. He wasn't that depressed, and well, tonight had potential to be fun. Quinn stole a glance at his phone. 7:02 PM. He was late, and therefore Mal would be late. He didn't care if she was, but wondered whether her dumb shithead of a boyfriend would be angry when his girlfriend arrived late to the Crane Club's little bonfire party. In a way, Quinn felt sorry for Jason Chavez, who wasn't allowed in the Shields since people up here would call the cops on anyone who wasn't white and wearing a worker's uniform. At the same time, he didn't care for Jason's dilemma. Jason didn't play Quinn's games, and that annoyed him. In any case, he wondered how long Jason and Mal would last. Not long, he wagered. They were too different. The car reached a red light. Quinn picked up his phone and pressed his finger down on Mal's smiling face. He brought the phone to his ear and waited for his cousin to pick up. The phone rang for a while. Quinn began to wonder whether he should hang up when he heard Mallory's voice. "Hello. Hi. Yes, I'm almost there." "No... I was busy. The Lion King was on." "Yeah, okay. I'm sorry I'm a bit late. Look, I'm pulling in next to your place right now. Don't tell your parents I'm outside." Quinn parked his car a corner over from a large house, in front of the entrance to a beautiful park. He didn't loathe his aunt and uncle, but he hadn't showered yet and still smelled of cigarette and pot smoke and he knew that they'd want to invite him inside. Showing up to the Neals' house smelling like a horse race track wasn't something that deeply interested Quinn. Nick and Quinn sat in the jeep, an awkward silence filling the air as they waited for Mallory to come out and join them.