{This novel has been revised and appears in the trilogy The Hornets' Nest of Our Desires, 2023}

I didn’t mind being alone. I even left the radio off so I could hear the car as it whooshed its way through the warm night air, dark fields stretching away into nothingness at either side of the road. Not a car in sight at that hour. Nothing out there but . . . what? Cows probably, all bunched up in the dark chewing their cud. Maybe a possum or two, a stray dog on the prowl. And somewhere farther back, well off the road at the end of dirt or gravel drives, there’d be families asleep in old farmhouses, ramshackle places surrounded by rickety wood sheds and big old barns with hay lofts that creaked as they cooled.

I didn’t feel like going home. Too keyed-up for that. There was too much of the night left.

Come on, Artie, think of something.

They’d let us go early at the cannery. It was the end of the season on blackberries, broccoli just starting, and one hour into the graveyard shift there was nothing left to do. Everywhere you looked, there were white lights blazing away and then the machines—the feeder bins, washing tanks, grading lines, carton sealers—all rumbled to a stop and the din faded away.

It was strange—all those bright lights and no noise.

For a moment, just before punching the time clock, I’d thought about hiding out behind the stacks of empty crates on the loading dock so I could pick up a few extra hours, but the foreman was standing there eyeing us as we filed out and headed for the parking lot. Short paycheck this week and school about to start. It wouldn’t make dad too happy if I came around later in the year asking him for money. Not that I’d get any.

In the parking lot, Eddy and Glenn were at it again—face to face, each waiting for the other to swing first. It was almost a nightly occurrence anymore. It started when Glenn took Eddy’s girlfriend, Wendy. But that was never what they said; it was always something different if you listened to them. Glenn had scratched the side of Eddy’s Impala or Eddy had stolen Glenn’s lunch from the locker room and dumped it in the trash or . . . whatever. They had to work hard to hate each other, but it seemed to come natural—especially to Eddy.

I stopped about ten feet away and watched. There must have been about a dozen of us by then. The more of us there were, the less likely they’d actually fight. Most of the time it was threats. You had to watch out for Eddy though. He liked to kick. I saw him shift his weight, his knee bending, just so he could smirk when Glenn twitched.

I could see what Glenn was thinking: He’d started to lift his right leg and turn, ready to protect his crotch. But Eddy wouldn’t aim for that; he’d go for a shin—a quick sharp kick before you saw it coming.

I listened to them cussing at each other for a while. Eddy, Glenn, and I had played on the basketball team last year and I thought about trying to say something to distract them. The only problem was, Eddy might take advantage of the distraction to get in a rabbit punch. Leave them alone and they might just shove each other. That way it wouldn’t get too serious, and the rest of the guys could break it up if any blood started flowing. But you could see nothing was going to happen. I’d kind of hoped that Glenn would teach Eddy a lesson. He was big enough—but you had to fight dirty to have a chance against Eddy.

What a waste of time. I finally just walked off.

The Mercury was down at the other end of the dirt lot. On my way there, I kicked through the soft dust, thinking about how much I hated fighting. I never understood what Eddy got out of it. And I doubt he could’ve explained it either. I unlocked the car, knocked my feet on the door frame to clean my work boots, tossed my lunch sack in and slid behind the wheel. My stomach was churning like a washing machine and my skin felt tight as a drum—like all the moisture had been sucked out of the air. It wasn’t hard to figure out why.

I’d had my share of fights with Eddy in grade school—most of the time when we were just supposed to be playing. Freshman year in high school I tried to avoid him. But last year, when we beat Centennial High in the last game of the season, and I’d made the winning basket with Eddy sitting on the bench, he’d rushed out yelling and screaming with the other guys and then raked me down the side with his fingernails. Like he was just celebrating and got carried away. It wiped the smile off my face. Thinking about it now made me feel bad again. I was sure he’d done it on purpose—and why? That’s what I couldn’t figure out. Everybody else was happy. Why couldn’t Eddy join in?

I’d seen his dad one time, sitting in an armchair at their home, eyes open, never moving, metal plate in his head from when they cut out the tumor. But that was no excuse. Everybody had problems. Everyone was angry at the world over something. I mean, a father sitting there saying nothing was better than one who cuffed you on the head, called you a lazy, no-good bum, and beat you if you ever talked back.

I shook my head. I’d trade places any day.

But I didn’t want to think about Eddy when the night was out there waiting.

Before shifting into reverse I looked at my watch in the light of the dash. It was just after eleven. Plenty early.

Use your head, Artie.

Maybe I could find somebody in town—guys hanging out around the Hood Theater after the late show or necking in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot after running the gut for an hour or two. If I went home, I’d wind up sitting in my room with nothing to do until I got sleepy. And besides, I had the car. Dad wouldn’t need it until time for work in the morning. He’d have to be psychic to call the cannery and find out we’d been let go early. Psychic or his usual tricky self. Sometimes it seemed I had a knack for getting caught. That’s what made it hard to decide where to go—and you couldn’t just do what they said: When you come to the fork in the road, take the fork. No, you had to make a choice.

And that was when it started. That was when I took a chance. Leaving the parking lot, I turned left—away from home. I was betting that dad was sitting in his easy chair watching TV or working in the shop. Either way, he wouldn’t be thinking about me. They didn’t expect me to get off till six in the morning—and sometimes I got in an hour of overtime.

Go left, Artie.

That was what I said and it was like the steering wheel just turned on its own and my hand followed along.


Boy, the air was warm—especially after the cannery; they kept the place pretty cold so the berries wouldn’t rot. I held the wheel between my knees, peeled out of my long-sleeved flannel shirt, and tossed it in the back. Couldn’t help grinning at how good it felt to be free. I had the whole night ahead of me. It was just a question of filling it. Like I said, I didn’t mind being alone but still . . .

For some reason I thought of this girl. Sheryl Lynn was the prettiest girl in school. At least I thought so, though she wore an awful lot of makeup. But it was strange—I never saw her with anyone else. She didn’t have any boyfriends—and none of the other girls used to hang around her either. Maybe because she was so quiet. I never saw her talk to anyone. That just goes to show you. Looks aren’t everything. You gotta have a personality. If they don’t run in your crowd, they might as well be dead.

I know I’d never talked to her. I never even thought about her maybe being a girlfriend. I don’t know what you say to a beautiful girl when you don’t know her. You can’t just walk up and blurt out, "You’re so beautiful it scares me." Which is pretty much the truth—but you can’t just say it. And what would she do if you did?

Probably turn around and walk away.

I can’t even imagine talking to a beautiful girl. I mean, some guys can joke. Just walk up to a girl, throw their arm around them and say something funny. Something to make them laugh and giggle and maybe even blush—but you can tell they like it.

For me, that’d be like trying to lasso a horse with a garland of dandelions. I just couldn’t do it.

I can go home and think for an hour about what to say to someone I like—and it still doesn’t come. It’s like one of those story problems in math. You hear the question and your mind freezes. Two trains start from stations twenty miles apart. Point A and Point B. One is going fifteen miles an hour and makes two fifteen minute stops. The other is going forty miles an hour and stops once for five minutes. Where do they meet? Point C. You hear it and it’s like a big wall in front of you. It’s like all the cells in your brain just went dead. You go dumb. Same with a girl. You can’t tell your tongue what to say. There’s no connection between your brain and your mouth.

And if you could speak, you somehow know you couldn’t pull it off. It would sound fake—like something you’d rehearsed at home.

Just thinking about it, my heart started thumping and my hands got sweaty.


I had to laugh. What an idiot. Eyes wide like a frightened horse’s.

Yeah, that was bad. And it was worse if you were already in love. You’re already in love and you haven’t even said a word to her.

That was usually me, alright. In love and dumb.

Maybe it was time to turn on the radio!

But I didn’t reach for the dial.

I came over a slight rise and the car sank down on its shocks like a flat pebble on its last skip across the pond. The smooth black surface of the road was slipping by below me and off in the distance I could see one lonely green dot—the last stoplight at the far end of town, all soft and hazy at the edges like a period at the end of a dark, moldy sentence. I stared at it for a while, listening to the tires whistle over the blacktop. The light didn’t look like it’d ever go red.

Man, there had to be something better to do than drive halfway to Mt. Hood and back, just to be driving. Maybe take a run through town and see if I could scare up anyone I knew.

It was like I had to say it twice to convince myself; I don’t know why it was so hard to decide—it wasn’t like trying to choose between cherry pie and lemon meringue. It should have been easy: Stay out and have fun or go home and sit in a stuffy room. At this hour, it wasn’t like I’d run into somebody who’d tell my dad in church—Hey, Pastor, saw Artie tooling around downtown the other night.


Before I could chicken out, I swung off the road onto the Loop Highway, passing just short of the spill of white light from the solitary pole at the intersection with Eastmont. Halfway around the curve, still going about forty-five, I slid the automatic into second. My foot eased off the gas and a grin broke out as the muffler went pop-pop-pop-pop-pop and then began its descent into a long throaty growl.

Man, that was loud. It sounded like a logging rig coming down a muddy pass in the Cascades. With a full load to boot. I was glad dad didn’t have the money to fix the muffler. It had an old, rusty hole getting bigger all the time. I couldn’t let it backfire in town was all. Cops would be only too happy to write me out a ticket. And then dad would wonder what I was doing in town at that time of night.

Coming out of the curve, the first thing I saw was the new bowling alley, sitting by itself in a field off to the right. Right then I knew what I wanted to do. Bowl! It wouldn’t hurt to see if anybody was hanging around and maybe roll a line or two. It was something to do until I was tired enough to hit the sack.

When I pulled into the parking lot the tires crunched over the gravel with a sound that got me edgy with anticipation. To the left, half the lot was paved with fresh asphalt. You could smell the hot oil. A yellow steel-wheel roller sat at the end of the pavement. Swarms of moths fluttered around the light poles.

I saw right off there were only two other cars there, both parked up against the rough rock wall to the left of the double doors. Guys hanging around. The lights inside the bowling alley looked like they’d already been dimmed.

I hit the steering wheel.


"Darn it, Artie, you’re too late." And then I bit my lip.

That was a bad habit I’d fallen into over the course of the summer. Talking to myself. None of my friends worked at the cannery and I was pretty much a loner on the job. Sometimes I spoke out loud just to make sure I was awake and not dreaming. Still, I tried not to let other people see me doing it, especially in town. Like I didn’t have friends or something.

It was too late to turn around without looking like an idiot. Have to play it cool, swing by the cars like I knew what I was doing. I didn’t want to look desperate. I glanced at the guys as I got closer, foot light on the accelerator.

No one I knew. They looked like greasers, the guys in white T-shirts and jeans, the girls in cutoffs and skimpy blouses. Two guys leaned against the hood of a stripped-down ’64 Chevelle, smoking and trying to look tough, with three girls hanging all over them. The other car was a white Ford Fairlane. It looked like it belonged to the owner of the bowling alley. No greaser’d be caught dead in that thing.

"Artie," I muttered, trying not to move my lips, "you made a mistake." They were eyeing me now, like I didn’t belong there. Have to say something. I’d look like a dork, driving in and out by myself.

I tapped the brakes and stuck my head out the window. "You guys know Billy Deater?" Billy was my best friend. "Drives a two-tone Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight . . . green and white."

They stared at me without saying anything. I could feel my face flush. Stupid question. Billy didn’t run around with greasers. They wouldn’t know him if he was the president of the senior class. And Billy was pretty much of a nonentity; he sort of blended into the masses that occupied the middle tier at school between the rich, the intelligent, and the athletes—all at the top, and the poor kids, greasers and hoods at the bottom. And then there were some of us like me, stuck in the middle because we didn’t fit into any of the categories—smart but not an egghead, poor but not a hood, an athlete but not a jock, someone who read books and wrote stories in his spare time—although I didn’t let anyone except my English teacher know that. You would’ve thought I’d have a lot of friends, right? Only I didn’t. Billy was the only one. And that was because I’d known him since grade school.

I tried again. "You seen the car? It’s a ’58 two-door sedan."

They’d probably stolen and stripped a few in their time. You could tell just looking at their car that they knew how to work on them. Front shocks chopped, a blower sticking out of the hood, fiery pin striping down the sides.

One of the guys said something I couldn’t hear and the girls laughed. No one looked too interested in me. I don’t know why I even tried to talk to them. I didn’t like feeling like a moron in front of greasers.

"Yeah, well, thanks anyway."

I turned the Mercury around and spun a little gravel in their direction. I looked at the cloud of dust in the rearview mirror, worried then that I’d overdone it and they’d come after me.

At the exit onto Eastmont, I hesitated. Another darn fork in the road. Same old decision—go right through town on my way home or head out into the countryside for a half-hour ride. I hated having to decide.

One or the other?

I guess having a choice was better than none. It was just that making a choice made you responsible for what happened. And if things went bad, Dad would be standing there with a switch in his hand when I got home. I shook my head and tapped the steering wheel.

Make up your mind, Artie.

But sometimes you don’t even realize you have a choice—you just continue along the same old path like an ox heading for slaughter. And why? Because you’re dumb and it’s easier to do nothing. I didn’t want to be like that. I had a chance for freedom and I was going to take it.

Anyway, a ride in the countryside was starting to sound better now. Out there under the black velvet sky with its tiny polka dots of mother-of-pearl, the car cutting through the night like an arrow, the only sound the gre-gre of thousands of frogs and the purring of the motor. And if I got lonely I could listen to KISN—"Ninety-One-derful on your radio dial," broadcasting strong from Portland, thirteen miles to the west. Hey, it was better than sitting in a little room going out of your mind with boredom.

"Don’t want to go home yet, Artie," I said.

If dad was still up, he’d want me to come in and watch TV with the rest of the family. My older brother Richy and I were staying upstairs in a separate house on the property—a two-story fake-colonial mansion. The main floor was used as a church on Sunday and for Wednesday night prayer meetings. But other than that, Richy and I had it to ourselves—and I hardly ever saw him because he was working days as a carpenter’s assistant and I was working nights at the cannery. We each had a separate bedroom upstairs. Mom, dad, my younger brother Bobby and my sister Nancy were living in a smaller one-story frame house a stone’s throw away from the church. The house used to be a chicken coop—no lie—and the church used to be an old folks’ home. It had five big white Ionic columns on the front porch.

For all they knew, I was still at work. Why waste the chance for some fun? I was free!

Freedom—that was a double-edged sword! The night shift always got the worst of it, it seemed. None of us had any seniority. The day shift got most of the work.

And there was something else I didn’t like. A lot of the farmers were switching from berries to broccoli. That didn’t make me happy. You could snack on a good sweet berry—a nice, plump boysenberry, say, but who ever heard of munching on a sprig of broccoli? And if you were lucky and could swipe a whole can of something—like Grade-A Bel-Air raspberries—you had a real treat. And sweet, sticky syrup to dip your fingers in afterward. It made my mouth water to think of it. I had a can of strawberries in my lunch sack. Frozen solid an hour ago. I’d grabbed it off a damaged tray in the drive-in freezer when the foreman sent me in there to tell the Hyster driver we were shutting down.

I reached over, opened my lunch bag, and squeezed the can. The berries were already starting to thaw. It wouldn’t be long before I could eat them.

"Artie, you should head in to Dea’s before they close. Get some fries."

Yeah, right. Bounce from the greasers at the bowling alley to the rich kids at Dea’s. They hung out there with their fancy cars, bought for them by their parents. They parked nose out along the sides near the drive-by window, then stood around in creased slacks and dress shirts, with their sweaters tied around their shoulders and their hair neatly trimmed. They probably went to the barbershop once a week and I’d only been once in my entire life. My dad cut my hair—when he got around to it, which, fortunately, wasn’t more than once every four or five months. I hate short hair, just like I hated most of those guys.

Okay, it wasn’t really hate, I didn’t even know them, but I rarely stopped at Dea’s In and Out. I didn’t like looking like a country bumpkin while they talked about me behind my back.

But the hamburger stand was probably the only place open at that time of night.


Dea’s was a weird place. They fixed their hamburgers on these strange rectangular buns, with the meat in the same shape. The rich always had to have things different. Made them feel special, I guess.

It’s not that I have a chip on my shoulder, going on about those guys, it’s just that me and my friends don’t have money to throw around. And it’s not even that Dea’s is expensive, because it’s about the same as anywhere else. Maybe a dime or two more on their hamburgers is all. It doesn’t even look special—a square frame building with an overhanging roof on all four sides, a pole out front with a round Coca-Cola sign on it and at the top a big arrow pointing in with neon letters—SHAKES • BURGERS • FRIES—and on top that Dea’s In and Out, and a yellow barrel for trash at one corner of the place.

I was still sitting at the exit from the bowling alley’s parking lot and had just about made up my mind to go to Dea’s when I looked up and died. It was like a bullet had gone straight through my belly.

Our Chevy pickup was flashing by, barely twenty feet away!

The second I saw it, my heart dropped about a foot, bounced into my stomach, burst into flames like a marshmallow on fire, ricocheted back to my throat, clanged like a horseshoe round an iron stake, and sucked the air right out of my lungs. It was that bad.

I knew right off I was done for. Dad had caught me. The son of a bum had done it again.

I couldn’t believe how sick I felt.

—Reprinted from The Turning by Ron Terpening by permission of Desert Bloom Press. Copyright © Ron Terpening, 2001. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.