Monday, February 14, 2011

Hart's Ridge (Part 1 of 3)

In Hart’s Ridge, there is no crime, or traffic accidents. It never rains on soccer games, weddings, or parades. With it’s beautiful pine-covered bluffs overlooking the winding Red River, Hart’s Ridge is, in fact, the perfect place to live. But that perfection comes at a price, and every February 14th for the last one hundred and fifty years, that price has been paid in blood.

The story goes that sixteen-year-olds Jed Macon and Camilla Hart were secretly in love. So secret that no one had any idea until the echo of a gunshot brought the townspeople out to the ridge where they found Jed, dead, the shotgun still in his mouth, and Camilla bloody and broken on the rocky shore of the Red River below. Each had one half of a locket clutched in their hand. To this day no one knows if Camilla fell, jumped, or was pushed.

Now, every Valentine’s Day, one boy and one girl from town end up dead the same way. This year it’s my turn.

Oh, if you ask anyone from town they’ll tell you they have no idea who it’s going to be. It’s always a surprise. The curse has its own mysterious methods of choosing. But if you listened in to their whispered conversations you’d hear what they really think. Cami Hart is going over that cliff and she’s taking that curse with her.

The good people of Hart’s Ridge have been waiting for this moment ever since the day I was born, Valentine’s Day, sixteen years ago. A particularly tough year on the town, since we lost the star quarterback and the first girl ever to get early acceptance to an Ivy League school. My parents named me after my great-great-great Aunt Camilla in that hopes that honoring her would keep me safe, but all they did was fuel the town's hopes that getting rid of Camilla meant getting rid of the curse for good.

This year, while all the fathers lock up their shotguns and the mothers clutch their bibles in their sleep, I sneak out my bedroom window to the place I love most even though I shouldn’t.

If it’s my last day on earth, I want to watch the sunrise from the bluff. In the early morning light, the Red River really does look like blood running through the snow. I think I should feel sad, but I don’t. I hate this place. It’s hard to miss people who won’t even talk to you. Not that I blame them. Who wants to be friends with someone they know is going to die.

Up on the ridge, the pine trees have kept the ground relatively snow-free. I throw rocks over the edge wonder how it will feel to be possessed. Will I even know what’s happening? Will the fall hurt? Or will I already be gone by that point, taken over by another Camilla and her never-ending heartache.

“Cami!” My name echoes through the trees. Faint at first, but it grows louder as it repeats. I don’t recognize the voice. Male, but not my father. I wonder if it’s starting already.

I stay silent, whoever it is will find me soon enough. I watch the last of the streaks of color fade from the sky and wait. I want these final few moments of peace.

The crunch of footsteps behind me doesn’t make me turn, but I can’t ignore the wheezing sounds.

I turn around to find scrawny Nate Beckstrom hunched over, one hand on his knees, the other clutching his asthma inhaler. He peers up at me through his longish red hair, and says the first words he’s ever spoken to me in my life. “Oh thank God, I thought I was too late.”

Come back Wednesday to see part two by Natalie!

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