Debbie Lee Wesselmann


Excerpt from Captivity

Dana returned home close to ten at night. The fog was back, shrouding her bungalow with the myths of werewolves and vampires—the sort of night that seemed either romantic or bone chilling, depending on the roil of the fog. She pulled into the driveway and edged up the dark, narrow path to the carport. Her headlights caught the back end of a beat-up Ford. She braked and turned off the engine. Zack. The house was as dark as always, although she knew better than to read anything into it. As she stepped out of the car, her skin felt sticky, and she could not wait to get into the shower.

Even before she flicked on the light, she saw him: long, lean legs outstretched, catching the porch light through the window, the fall of his hair, the concave curve of his body as he sat waiting in the chair. The figure startled her for only an instant because she knew it so well.

“Jesus, Zack,” she said, flooding the room with light. “You could’ve turned on a lamp.”

Her brother blinked in the sudden brightness. Unlike Dana, Zack had kept his baby blondness, and he wore his hair to his shoulders and often loose. Dana’s cat, Humphrey, stretched lazily in Zack’s lap, his back arched like a Halloween icon. “I wasn’t sure you were coming home tonight,” Zack said.

She went to him and hugged him hard, relieved as always to see him alive. “When did you get in town? You could’ve called the sanctuary.”

His jeans were dirty at the knees. It tortured Dana to look at him too closely sometimes because all she saw was missed potential, a threadbare life, a gleeful insistence on going the wrong way. She never knew whether she had lost part of him or whether he had never been there to begin with.

He poked her in the ribs. “You know me. I never know where I’m going to be. After this, I might look for a job in Florida.”

“Doing what?” Dana sat across from him, trying to make her voice as light and inconsequential as possible.

He shrugged. “Whatever.”

“You have a car now.”

“It works.”

“Have you checked in with Mom recently?”

“What for? To get another lecture?”

She leaned forward. “She worries, you know. She never knows how to get in touch with you. I don’t know how to get in touch with you.” As soon as she said it, she knew she had gone too far. Zack’s eyes narrowed. She stood. “Hey, I’m starved. I haven’t eaten since breakfast. Want something?”

“You have any peanuts? I couldn’t find any.” The tone of his voice was almost accusatory.

“I’ll pick some up tomorrow. I was thinking more about dinner.”

He followed her into the kitchen and stood silently behind her as she opened a can of cat food, caught between her and the small table pushed against the window. After she fed Humphrey, she straightened, looking at Zack. “So, you want dinner?”

He shrugged, and she guessed he meant yes.

As Dana rummaged through the refrigerator, she saw he had already consumed most of her orange juice, as well as the rest of the hummus and a large hunk of Vermont cheddar Mary’s husband had brought back for her from a conference in New England. She did not care, though, how much he ate, as long as he ate. Sometimes when he crashed in on her, he fasted, claiming he was in his “purification cycle.”

Dana chopped vegetables for a stir-fry dinner, chattering about nothing of consequence as she tried to gauge the subtleties of her brother’s mood. Zack could explode if she made demands on his attention at the wrong time, so she found it best to be inane. He grunted his responses until she spoke of the fog of the last few nights, and then he became animated. “I love fog,” he said, stepping next to her. “It’s creepy, like you’re flying without a plane.” He reached across the cutting board for a green pepper, and Dana almost sliced his finger.

“Stop that!” she said, swatting him away. “This day has been crap already. I don’t need to spend the night in the emergency room.”

“It would have been a hunting wound. Hunting for chopped peppers.” He grinned at her in his goofy way, looking like a kid again. He flicked the back of her hair. “So why was your day so crappy?”

She hesitated—she should not have let that information slip. Of course he would want to know, and of course she would have to go through the story once more. She wanted to let it go, if only for a few hours. Zack was waiting, his eyes on her but his hand snaking back toward the cutting board. She sighed. “Some asshole set free a bunch of the chimps and . . .” She stopped and watched him snatch another piece of pepper. Their gazes met, and Dana thought she saw a flicker of amusement that vanished too soon for her to fully grasp. His face revealed nothing else, not even a twitch, but its blankness, which Dana knew was a carefully wrought expression for him, alarmed her. She wondered when he had arrived in South Carolina, today or the day before. “You don’t have a key to the sanctuary, do you?”


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