FROM PART 1, AN EARLY LETTER
I’m in Siberia, in a slave labor death camp. I mean it. I just got out of indoctrination—which is why I haven’t written. They call it ‘Program Orientation’, but we spent all our time painting a barn and clearing brush, and then, when there was no more brush to clear, we moved a pile of frozen mud—eight girls with shovels and picks—twice!!! I am not kidding. The wardens told us it was to help drainage, but it’s just part of their ‘therapy’. There’s no therapy here. It’s brainwashing. By the end of the first week, I was so cold and so exhausted I could barely stand, and that’s when they came in and started asking us questions about our families, and why we were sent up, and how we felt about everyone back home. Some of the girls started shaking and bawling as if they’d stabbed their mothers.
It was a bunch of crap, Sammy. They’re tricking us, and it’s lame. If I’m not careful, I’m going to come out a prissed-up, environmentalist zombie and spend all day—not an hour like we do now—‘contemplating’ my place on this earth.
Well my place is a glacier. Everything’s frozen, even the pine needles. It’s the coldest fall in school history, and winter’s supposed to be worse. The wardens were kind enough to give me some extra blankets, and before I left, Mom and Dad gave me some flannel pajamas. (Thanks Mom, they’re really great. I just love yellow.) They should’ve sent me to Louisiana, and they could have if they would have waited. But no, they had to yank me away in the middle of the semester. I barely even got to tell you goodbye. They didn’t want me to, Sammy. Mom was afraid I’d corrupt you with a hug. If they could have, they would have packed me up while you were at Joey’s and had me call from the road. Whatever. So now I’m going to shiver myself to death, and the bitch in the bed beside me will probably let me go on shivering, and take my blankets and boots once I’m stiff. I doubt I’ll even smell. It is that cold, Sammy, and the girls are that heinous. They all want to tell me what to do and how great school is and how I’m going to love it once spring comes, which I don’t think it EVER will. They’re almost as bad as Mom. They won’t shut up some of them—as if I’m a freshman again!—even the eighth graders. All it takes is a day at level three and they become know-it-all hags.
Laurel, my absolute favorite, the one waiting for my boots, she’s already told me how to eat breakfast and what I should do on the ropes. And the first day out of Indo, when they finally let us ride a horse instead of brush one, she comes out like a cheerleader captain and tells me how I’m slouching, and how I need to sit up straight during a trot. AS IF I’d never ridden before! Ugh! Laurel had never even been on a horse until she came to Larchridge.
I hope your conference went well. They really can suck. As long as you didn’t have to sit between Mom and Dad while Mrs. Pathel or some other loser teacher tells them how horrible you’ve been, you should have been okay. So don’t worry.
And think about this—your story rocked. It’s the start of an epic, about a traveling boy and his chocolate sniffing dog. Mrs. Pathel probably only called Mom and Dad in because she thought you were so creative—or perhaps because of the spurting blood. You might want to ease off on the slicing next time and keep to dogs, at least for school. Teachers are uptight about blood, but they like dog stories. And don’t eat too much chocolate, Sammy—it’ll give you zits. Don’t give it to a dog, either—it’s poison. You probably knew that. That’s why Diana was peeling her skin, right? Because of the chocolate? No other reason, right? They weren’t going to start grinding? Tell me, no. And I wouldn’t hang out in caves if I were you. There’s a cave not far from the ropes course that Ms. Jamison, the least witchlike of the teachers, even with her big teeth, says there’s a bear inside. “Never wake a sleeping bear”—that’s what they told us the first day. “They wake up hungry.” So I probably won’t see a bear for a while, because I’m sure as hell not going to go digging around for one.
Send the end when you find it. I want to read it, just like it is—sex and all. And send more letters. And try to ease off on the twitching. I know it’s hard, and I know it’s easier to say than do—a LOT easier—but the less you think about it, particularly the little head shake, the less you’ll do it. It’s been a long time. Try to chill if you can. They’ll lay off if you do.
About the Author
After adolescence survived in the Midwest and a few obligatory years at the university, Idyllwild Eliot embarked on a journey of internal and external exploration. With stints in Houston, Louisiana, and even Thailand, where she studied yoga, Ms. Eliot has become a semi-professional vagabond. Most recently (at the time of publication) she has been experiencing the North American west. If not sipping a cocktail on a deck in the northern Rockies, she might be found bodysurfing in Southern California, watching Bald Eagles in Montana, or in some other picturesque town hiking, meditating, or sitting with her laptop open and, at its side, a stout mug of black coffee. Well Below Heaven is her debut.
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