There was no doubt about it. That was our pickup. I’d seen the busted-up fender on the right side, the lousy paint job—gray primer on light green, the wood stakes in the bed frame. It might as well have said "Crenshaw and Sons" on the side.

I couldn’t breathe. I waited for the brake lights to go red and the tires to squeal. Dad had to have seen me. I couldn’t move.

Caught again.

Why’d it always have to happen to me?

An excuse—there had to be something I could say. What was I doing? Taking somebody home after work? Dropping somebody off at the bowling alley? It’d be just like dad to go back to the place and check.

Another beating . . .

But the pickup kept going! I couldn’t believe it. He’d gone right by me and been struck blind. It was a miracle! I almost laughed out loud.

I watched as the taillights moved away, then suddenly slouched down in the seat in case he looked in the rearview mirror. You could get thankful too quick around my dad—and then disaster would strike. Another week of bruises.

What was he doing out here at this hour of the night? I looked at my watch again. Eleven-twenty. There was a feed store in Boring out this way, but it would have closed hours ago. Had he gone to the cannery looking for me? If so, I didn’t know how I was going to beat him home. Go a hundred miles an hour on some back route?

Not very likely.

I heard a girl yelling then.

I glanced to my left and saw the Chevelle had pulled up next to me. The driver gunned his motor and let the clutch in and out while keeping his foot on the brake. Big deal. I was still shaking and didn’t feel like talking now. My hands gripped the wheel so tight they hurt.

"Hey, you wanna drag?"

I took a deep breath, loosened my fingers, and looked over at her. She had long stringy black hair, a saucy face. She looked like a Senior. Maybe a year or two older than me. Not anyone I’d consider cute.

I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t think straight. I was still trying to swallow—and at the moment that was hard enough.

I tapped the accelerator, left foot on the brake, and stared straight ahead. If dad was looking for me, I’d get whipped no matter when I went home. Scratch the car though and my butt would be sore for a month—and I’d have to pay to fix it.

Everywhere I looked, all I saw was trouble.

But it was tempting. A ’57 Merc against a ’64 Chevelle. A family car against a hot-rod. An automatic against a stick shift. But I’d always thought the Mercury Monterey had good acceleration for its size. This was a chance to see how it would do. I’d never raced anyone before.

One of the guys in the back seat mouthed off, "Hell, he don’t want to."

"Come on," the girl said. "You can see he wants to."

I looked over at her, she was popping the door, half out of the Chevy now. She bent over, her butt to me, tight pants cut mid-thigh, the bottom edge frayed. I could see her back where her blouse was riding up. She had white skin, which looked cool under the fluorescent lights in the parking lot. You could tell she didn’t work in the sun. Probably slept all day and partied all night with these hoods.

"I’ll ride with him," she told them. "He’s by himself."

Yeah, right. The loner dork. How’d I get into these things?

I looked down at my work shirt. It was stained with berries and dirt. I’d been dumping crates on the grading lines until they let us go. I looked a mess, especially with the streetlight at the exit hitting me square in the face. I eased the Mercury forward, hoping to get into shadow. I still couldn’t believe dad hadn’t seen me.

"Hey, wait," the girl said. She opened the door and looked in. Her dark scraggly hair hung down over her chest. "I’ll ride with you. Make the weight more even."

"I just got off work." Jeez, what a dumb thing to say.

She didn’t seem interested. "Follow him," she said, rolling down the window on her side. The Chevy had turned left, out toward the Loop Highway. Away from dad and the pickup.

"Hey, what’s this?" She had her hand on a paperback lying on the seat between us.

I swung out after the Chevelle. "A book." Gosh, now she probably thought I sat in the car and read for entertainment. The book was for break time in the lunch room.

"Oh, yeah? Whatcha readin’? This is big." Like all she read was comic books.

"Of Human Bondage."

"You into kinky things?"



She got me with that one. I didn’t say anything, just shook my head no, trying to figure out if she was joking or just dumb. I mean, we were in high school now, not kindergarten.

The other guy turned right at the intersection with the Loop Highway, and I had to step on the gas to keep up.

"So, you like reading?" She was thumbing through the book, head scrunched down to see in the dim light from the dashboard.

"Helps pass the time at work—during our breaks."

And, yeah, I liked it. That’s one thing you’d think my dad would like, too, but he doesn’t. He’s always jumping on me, asking why I don’t join the family and why I always lock myself away in my room in the other house and read.

I mean, he’s the one who taught me. I could read before I was five. Sure, I talk dumb sometimes, but that’s just for fun, to fit in. When I was growing up we had to read a chapter of the Bible every morning after chores before leaving for school. I could recite the names of all thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and all twenty-seven of the New. You know—hard names like Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah. Start me anywhere—Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah—and I’d rattle them off like a pro—Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. I bet by the time I was in the third or fourth grade, I’d read the whole thing at least five times.

It’s not a bad book really. Sure, there’s parts that are boring but sometimes in church, when I got tired of listening to my dad preach, I’d let my Bible pop open wherever it wanted and just start reading. Usually it was better than listening to my dad. I liked the Old Testament best—Proverbs and the Song of Solomon and Job and Lamentations. Believe it or not, some of that stuff’s actually interesting.

The girl dropped the book after a few minutes and swung around toward me.

"What’s your name, anyway?"


"Not just Art or Arthur?"

I shook my head, then brushed the hair out of my eyes. "A. R. T. I. E. My parents named us all with nicknames. I got two brothers, Richy and Bobby, and a sister, Nancy."

"Nancy . . . that’s not a nickname."

She had me there. "Well, it ends with y," I said.

"I’m Reta Jane."

Hey, what could you say about that? Pleased to meet you, I guess, but I didn’t think of that in time.

We drove for about fifteen minutes without talking much then. I was lost for one thing—started paying attention when it was too late. Scrubby trees and saplings stalked through the darkness to each side, with big empty fields behind them. We were on a county road somewhere between Boring and Sandy—two small towns that were dead at night and didn’t have much to see in the daytime.

The Chevelle slowed to a stop when we turned on to a straight stretch near some fresh-plowed fields with a stand of tall dark fir trees in the distance. At the last second, as I was coming up behind him, the driver pulled to the left into the oncoming lane. It was pitch black out, no cars in sight for miles, a long, straight road.

I eased up next to him.

"You ready?" the girl in the other car asked, her head and both arms hanging out the window.

I nodded. I’d thought the other guy might try to lay a bet on the outcome.

"Okay, I’ll give a countdown." She paused, and I looked ahead at the road. I couldn’t see very much. Four cones of light from the two cars illuminated the asphalt, with faded splotches of white showing where the lanes had been painted years ago. My foot caressed the accelerator.

"You know how to do this?" Reta Jane asked.

I nodded, concentrating on the other car. Hey, it wasn’t like trying to hold a popsicle in your mouth with no hands.

The girl in the other car went through a ready, set, go, and I hit the pedal. For a few seconds we were side by side, although actually I thought I’d beaten him to the punch, and then he started to pull away.

Reta Jane had her right hand on the dash, tangled hair whipping around her face. "Wait a minute," she yelled. "Slow down."

I hit the brakes, fishtailed, and then managed to come to a stop. I looked over at her. She sounded impatient like she was angry at something.

"Pull up next to Carl," she said.

The other driver had come to a stop ahead of us, sitting off to my left still.

I didn’t know what she wanted. When the cars were side by side again, she scooted over and leaned across me. I could feel her breast on my arm.

"Carl, he didn’t even rev up. Give him another chance."

She turned to me. "Look, you ever done this before?"

I just stared at her.

"You gotta hold the brake down and accelerate. You took off from a dead stop with an automatic. Give it some gas. He’s got a Holley four-barrel carb and over three hundred cubes under the hood."

I didn’t know much about motors and less about cubic inches. A V8 was a V8, wasn’t it? If I’d been smart, we’d have stopped right then, but I wasn’t, so we tried again. This time, I held the brake and stepped on the accelerator, hearing the motor whine, hesitant to rev it up too much for fear it would throw a rod or whatever it is cars do when they blow up. If I ruined the motor I could forget a beating; dad would kill me.

When the countdown reached "Go," the other guy must have been ready because the Chevelle surged out ahead of me. I’d done better without trying so hard. This time I tried to keep up for a bit and then realized it was worthless. He was pulling away, red lights growing smaller by the second, and I was already up to seventy. He had to have hit a hundred.

I eased off the accelerator and started tapping the brakes, while the hood dipped and rose and my head started swaying like an old man’s rocking chair. When the needle hit twenty-five I took a deep breath and glanced at Reta Jane. The wind was whipping her hair into an angry black mop. "Didn’t help," I said, easing finally to a stop. I had to breathe through my mouth, short quick gasps, my heart thudding in my chest as loud as the car’s pistons.

"He beat you fair and square."

Like I needed to be told.

I tried to swallow, my mouth as dry as a dusty cow path after a long hot summer. I was thinking about going home, starting to get anxious again like a bunch of heifers ready to hoof it that last fifty feet to the water trough. Only thing was, it might be a switch waiting for me.

"Listen," she said, pulling a strand of hair from the corner of her mouth. "Can you take me some place?"

It took me a moment to absorb what she said. I stared at her face, pale in the dim light from the dash, wondering what she meant. Around us all was dark, the only sound the quiet hum of the motor, at rest now, the soft rustling of the breeze. The other car had turned around and I could see its headlights coming toward us.

"I need to stop by my uncle Fred’s house. It’s not far from here. Just over the line in Clackamas County."

I wanted to ask what was wrong with her asking her friends for a ride, but she must have read my mind because she said they were going back into town for something to eat. She’d join them later if I didn’t mind dropping her off at the Polar King on East Powell. Fine by me. I was thinking of going back through town anyway. I was still bored—in an antsy way, if that makes sense—and it didn’t look like being with Reta Jane was going to change that.

Five minutes later she’d said her good-byes, arranged to meet her friends in an hour, and she was directing me down roads so dark I had no idea where we were. It looked like a time warp had picked us up in Oregon and set us down in Africa.

The terrain was uneven, the road rising and falling, and when we were at the crest of one slope she said, "There’s a creek at the bottom. Turn right just beyond it."

I slowed when we were over the culvert, trying to find a cutoff, and then saw a break in the barbed-wire fence that ran alongside us, and just beyond that a gravel road with a cattle guard.

The tires shuddered on the cattle guard and then crunched over the gravel. Grass grew window-high to each side. When the gravel ran out, the road turned to dirt and the track grew more rutted. I could hear the dry stalks of grass swishing on the front bumper and smell fresh-cut hay. A moment later, just ahead and off to the right, I saw an arc lamp on a pole and then the lights of a trailer and a low, flat-roofed house.

"That’s it," she said. "Stop there by the house."

I pulled up next to an old Plymouth. The car was set up on blocks. Its bare rims glinted in the Mercury’s headlights. I cut the engine. In the silence, I could hear the motor ticking away. Somewhere in the distance, maybe in the trailer, a radio was playing. What now? I thought.

"Come on in," she said. "I won’t be long."

—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.