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“Déjà vu alright,” muttered Dylan, kicking his spade into standing position and putting his gloves on. The soil was crumbly, softened by a downpour that had left the cold air wet with the mulchy smell of disintegrating leaves, the daggers of the thorn tree dripping. Now in the dead of night the sky was clearing, and the moon peered down but, with a slice of its anemic face lopped off since last time, the yard’s wilderness seemed less alive in its own light and my phone burned more brilliantly in the deeper gloom.
“A bit wetter and darker this time,” I said, refraining from pointing out to him this was hardly déjà vu since we had been standing right here at this exact spot, spades in hand, just a few days ago. The only other difference was that instead of searching the house, Phoebe and Dani were now keeping watch at the top of the yard, the bobbing red glow of Phoebe’s cigarette as they paced back and forth the only indication of their presence. I had to shake away the picture of a night sniper taking aim at it from a rooftop perch on the sleeping mill. Then it struck me it was precisely these distinctions from our first escapade, including the way Dylan had said, “Déjà vu alright,” that funny little ripple down his jaw, which had me in the grips of real déjà vu. So intense was the sensation this was all a repeat, I felt almost reincarnated. Sent back to do what we were about to do, only properly this time? I went colder than I already was.
“You sure you’re up for this, Paul?” asked Dylan with a steadying hand on my shoulder, the zigzag stitching in the glove I’d never seen before pulsing with uncanny familiarity.
“I’m having serious déjà vu about déjà vu,” I said, a hollowness in my voice as the words echoed through the continuum.
“I didn’t really mean déjà vu, you know. We were just here a few days ago is all.”
“That’s exactly what I was going to tell you when it started! Fucked if it’s not still happening. I swear I’ve had this conversation about not having a conversation with you before.
Dylan turned away and stared intently at something big and mesmerizing, like giants striding across the horizon, only he could see. I could tell if the task at hand wasn’t so personal to me, he would be poking at my agitation with a sharp stick. Finally licking the obnoxious half-smile from his lips, he turned back and said in overbaked seriousness, “Okay, so then tell me what I’m going to say next.” I glared at him, probably with the same kind of resentfulness Melanie reserved for me when I paved over her anxieties with inadvertent glibness (“Your freckles are a sign of uniqueness, the sassy dot on an exclamation mark, like Mom’s and just look who she pulled, huh? Huh?!”)
“You just said it, smart guy. Besides, déjà vu isn’t the same thing as clairvoyance.” Dylan opened his mouth but simultaneous bings from our phones closed it again.
Phoebe: Are you two going to get Lena or just stand there chit-chatting all night???
Me: For the record Dylan, I knew Phoebe was about to text us.
Dylan: Give me a break.
Me: Not the exact words, but the gist.
Dylan: Didn’t you just say déjà vu isn’t clairvoyance?
Phoebe: I can’t believe this. Standing right next to each other.
“We’re on it, woman,” said Dylan with authority, closing his phone and grabbing his spade by the neck.
“You know you just said that and didn’t text it, right?” I said, tapping out the message for him, replacing “woman” with “ladies” in a rare spasm of chivalry which, coming from me, would only be interpreted as sarcasm anyway.
About to hit send, Dylan hissed, “Get a light over here, Paul, there’s something strange.”
I tilted my phone to where he was leaning over, his nose pinched as though the strangeness of what he was looking at was emitting an odor. Now I could see it. The ground appeared much more broken up, almost tilled, than how we had left it. “What the?”
“Looks like– ”
“Right. Like someone else has been here,” I said, and the bitter expression Dylan wore needed no translation: I wasn’t the only one The Thing had sent directions to before his execution. So much for I can’t start a whole new note now because these cocksuckers only gave me one sheet of paper. Was this how he’d amused himself on his last day on earth? Dispatching different people off on the same morbid treasure hunt as payment for some contrived favor? Perhaps hoping, if the stars aligned just so, they’d converge on the spot at the same time and there’d be a good old Mexican standoff ending, as one always should, in bloody massacre. What fun! The jackal. Then again, he’d also sent me his ashes. I–
“Still got déjà vu?”
“No, I’m fully cured. Thank you.”
“Let’s get her up and get out of here,” said Dylan, unwrapping the body bag Phoebe had swiped from the funeral home, his head swiveling side-to-side like a cyborg’s, “Before anyone else shows up.”
The digging was easy, and the hole deepened quickly. Deeper and deeper until, when we were up to our armpits in hole, Dylan finally broke off and exhaled vapor into a sky with no answers. “What’s the problem?” I said. He turned away and preoccupied himself with his giants once more. I knew damn well what the problem was. “Well?” I demanded anyway.
He clapped another steadying hand on my shoulder and said in a voice marbled with pity, “She’s not here, man.”
“How can she not BE here?” I snapped. “It’s not like she stepped out to get some milk!” But the answer was obvious. Whoever had been here before was after the same thing we were and had beaten us to it: Lena’s bones.
To be continued…
*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at: http://bit.ly/2u7rqcL
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