Scratchgravel Road A Mystery - By Tricia Fields


Teresa Cruz knew that people watched her. There’s nothing more satisfying than catching a cop’s kid, her mom had told her. Yet here she was, standing in front of a pickup truck an hour past town curfew, with Enrico Gomez, the twenty-year-old guy her mother had forbidden her from seeing.

“No cars past here,” he said, pointing down into the Hollow.

Teresa looked out into the black desert but could see nothing. She had cotton mouth and her eyes stung from the hot night wind. She felt Enrico fumble in the dark for her hand, then wrap her fingers inside his.

“You scared?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

She shrugged, not trusting her voice.

“Stay with me, you’ll be fine. Everybody’s cool. We walk down a slope into the Hollow. Can’t see it from the road. Cops don’t even know it’s here.”

Teresa’s throat constricted.

“Even if she drove by here she couldn’t see the cars from Scratchgravel.”

She turned away from him. He had misjudged her silence.

He dropped her hand and dug into his front pocket. “I got a surprise. Hold your hand out flat.”

She held her palm out and watched him twist open the top of a small container. He laid a round mirror in her hand and she forced herself not to pull back.

She felt suddenly self-conscious, too young in her shorts and flip-flops and tank top. She wore her black hair straight, falling just below her shoulder blades, and worried Enrico’s friends would look down on her—just some sixteen-year-old girl. She had no idea who would be there but was too proud to ask.

“Hold still,” he said.

She held her hand motionless, torn between the fear of getting caught and the thrill of watching.

In his other hand he flipped open his cell phone and shone the dim light onto the mirror, where he tapped out a line from the container. He handed her his cell phone and she held the light over his hand as he tightened the lid on the small vial, stuffed it back in his pocket, then bent over her hand and used a thin straw to snort the powder into his nose.

Teresa felt nauseous. She had crossed a line her mother would never forgive, certainly never understand.

In the pale light Teresa watched him shove his hand back into his front pocket. “Want a hit?”

She shook her head.

“You ever done a line?” he asked.

She said nothing.

“Come on, girl. You’ll feel like Superman. Feel like you can do anything. Just a small one.”

He unscrewed the lid and her skin prickled.

“Let’s just go,” she said.

He hesitated and then replaced the lid and shoved it back in his pocket. She should have told him the truth—she didn’t want it. She liked Enrico, but she didn’t like the person she became when she was with him.

He walked back to the truck’s driver-side door and she listened as he turned the key and rolled the windows up, then locked the doors.

It was a warm July night and the air felt hot on her skin. The sky was wide open with a three-quarter moon that cast a deep purple light, revealing the jagged shadows of desert cactus and low-lying mountain ranges in the distance.

He came back and stood in front of her. “You know anyone who’s been out here?”

Like most high school kids, she had heard of the Hollow but never been. It was a desert hideout accessible by invitation only. A kid didn’t wander into the Hollow without being asked first by a regular. By someone who had already been accepted. Rumors ran through school about what went on: drugs, sex, alcohol, but it was the allure of the unknown that made kids talk.

She shook her head no.

“That’s cool. Just relax. Street etiquette, right?”

“I know.” She did not know. She had no idea what she would say. She felt entirely out of place and wanted him to promise not to leave her side.

Taking her hand again, he laced his fingers between her own and began walking.

Enrico pointed toward the land in front of them. “Look. You don’t need lights now.”

Teresa made out the silhouettes of two small mountain ranges to the north. Creosote bushes, agave, Spanish daggers, and mesquite clumps blended with large boulders that disguised vehicles from view. Enrico was right; her eyes had adjusted and the land spread out before her like a movie screen. It was the same desert she’d grown up in, but everything looked different. The boulders and bushes she wouldn’t have given a second thought to in the daylight