Excerpt: Devil’s Crosses

by Jayelle Cumblerledge

August 9th, 1994

Somewhere East of Charleston, West Virginia

The bark of the tree was poking the softer tissue of Lydia’s ass, but all she could do was hope for no splinters and hold her position. Jeans and panties entwined around her ankles, she was thankful for the greasy teenager’s suggestion of super sizing her combo, the extra large diet cola that had come with it, and Julie’s unwillingness to stop again until they were well over West Virginia’s boarder.

The pressure in her bladder slowly subsided. Pushing her hips up away for the tree she gave them a quick shake, followed by the tiny test in her hand. She didn’t dare look at it yet. Hiking her pants back up around her waist instead, she headed back to the pick-up truck. In the gravel parking lot she found Julie leaning against the open tailgate, waiting. Their rotten pick-up was the only vehicle in the lot, and dew was just beginning to melt off the tin roof above the gas pumps in the wake of the rising sun. Puddles had begun to collect in the corners of the truck’s bed, but Julie had flattened out their map there anyway.

Julie’s face was serious as she eyed Lydia over the plastic lid of her Styrofoam coffee cup.

“What’s it say?” she asked, nonchalant though her shoulders were folded forward, as if to protect herself from the oncoming blow of a reply.

“Haven’t checked yet,” Lydia admitted, holding the test in question at her side while she glanced over the map. “Did you figure out where we’re headed?” Her eyes glanced into the gas station window, to find the attendant perusing an old copy of Field & Stream intently.

“Welp—“ Julie exaggerated the pop of the ‘p’ as she turned herself and leaned down to get a better look at the map. Her index finger slid along the back road they had just come down, tapped on the town they were headed for, then slid a little further down. “My momma always said it’s not a real devil’s cross unless it’s never been paved. I asked the clerk inside. She said there’s an old mining road—” her finger deviated from the main road, plowing through green space on the map. “Just a little ways further down. We could probably get there in about an hour.”

In the city, Lydia reflected, “a little ways further” meant a block—maybe three—tops.

“She also says,” continued Julie, “there’s a town back there. Or, what’s left of it. She doubts anyone’s living up there anymore, but none of those Mountaintop Mining Companies have moved in on it yet.”

“So?”

“So,” Julie emphasized, annoyed either by Lydia’s lack of comprehension or lack of trust in her, “gotta be something up there protecting it, right? Men are greedy, but they’re not dumb, usually. They know when a place is sacred.”

“Or cursed,” suggested Lydia.

Julie grinned wide, a sort of crooked thing that revealed just the right amount of tooth and gum. “They’re even more likely to listen then,” she agreed.

“You’re sure about this?”

“You heard the cop, Lyd. There’s not a damn thing anyone is going to do to help you, unless you press charges. Fifty-fifty chance the judge’ll call you a liar and tell your dad, your mom, the rest of your family that you made it up just to make them feel better.” Julie’s eyes fell harshly to the white plastic held so loosely in Lydia’s hands. Just an index finger and thumb kept it from toppling into the dirt, being lost under the gravel of their spinning tires as they tore out of the gas station. She made it look so easy to leave it all behind. Julie nodded to the test in question. “That comes back positive, and he could fight for custody if he wanted, Lyd.”

Lydia’s fingers tightened around the stick.

“We don’t even know if this test is legit or not,” she argued, licking her lip where the soft skin had broken, puffed, and hardened with blood.

“We’ll get you a real test when we get back to the city.” Julie folded up the map, looking away from her companion’s broken features.

“Julie. Do you really think this is the right thing to do?”

Julie was silent, shutting the tailgate and moving to the front of the truck. Lydia followed. “Julie. Please…”

Swinging the door open, Julie didn’t get in. She turned back to Lydia instead. Her hand rose to push back the messy strands of hair that lined Lydia’s temple. Julie’s thumb was careful as it traced the tender eye socket. “If it were me—” she said, leaning closer, “I’d know it was.” She stepped back and nodded her head to the truck. “Hop in.”

Lydia did, sliding across the bench seat and resting her hands in her lap. She stared down at the test, wondering how something so delicate could indicate something so important, as Julie started the truck.

Julie swung the truck around next to a trash bin, and Lydia leaned out the window to toss the little stick inside.

Julie waited until the gas station was out of sight before asking.

Lydia sighed. “It’s positive.”