This story was originally published on the Splickety blog in 2016. It was inspired by a field trip to an inactive volcano near our home in northern Arizona. Two Jacks, Arizona is a nod to the town where I live. Our main street is the Deuce of Clubs, and several other roads in the area are named after cards or gambling terms. Wild West for sure. What better way to close out September edge into October (a couple of days early) than with a story of a local legend and twins with an auspicious birthday on the autumnal equinox?
The Field Trip
Gwen cut her sons’ sandwiches while her duties cut at her heart. Jeremy and Jake counted down to their thirteenth birthday. Gwen counted those same days with if onlys. If only the boys hadn’t been early. If only the seventh grade field trip to the Molcadera Volcano wasn’t on their birthday.
“Gwen.” Mike kissed her on the cheek. “Bob says it’s only a formality. I’ll officially be plant manager by the close of business.”
If only her husband hadn’t taken the job at the paint plant. She never would have had to return to Two Jacks, Arizona. Her family had fled when she was thirteen after her classmate disappeared at the very place Gwen and the boys were headed. Gwen volunteered to chaperone. She had to. Because of Jeremy.
From their thick sandy hair to their pale hazel eyes, there was little to distinguish her identical boys. Both were good students and athletes who were neither all-stars nor bench warmers. Jeremy’s trumpet and Jake’s saxophone were their biggest difference. That and the three minutes Jeremy was an only child before Jake showed up. And like the Jacob of history, Jake would take his brother’s birthright.
Unless Gwen could stop the bargain.
Gwen drove herself and the boys to school and remembered the girl. Had twenty-six years come and gone? She’d pushed away that memory until a thirteen-year-old had vanished the day the twins were born. Why did the bargain involve the first twin born on the fall equinox? Steeped in secrecy, no one knew who came up with the bargain. No one even spoke of it until Gwen’s mother told the legend as her family packed up and left the only town her parents had known.
Gwen’s phone rang as they pulled up to Molcadera. “Hello Bella.”
Dr. Zebulon, her boss said, “I’m retiring and want you to buy my practice. I know you’re with the boys today. Come by tomorrow.”
On the bus ride to the Molcadera, Gwen considered the opportunity. Of course it was good news. That was the bargain.
As soon as they arrived at the park, Jake, Jeremy, and their two best friends raced ahead on the winding trail. Jeremy led the pack not knowing the danger he faced. Gwen saw him disappear ahead of the others. Primed from half-marathon training, Gwen took off after him. The others would be okay.
Gwen squinted at the overhead sun. Noon on the fall equinox. It was time. She moved closer to the boys when a park ranger approached Jeremy.
The young man tapped Gwen’s son on the shoulder. “Do you want your family to be successful and have long and healthy lives? Your town to be protected?” His nametag read Luc Zebulon.
Luc pointed to the Molcadera. “Would you like to go inside the cone?” His eyes glinted red.
“Yes.” Jeremy grinned.
“Well, let’s go.” The ranger’s bony hand gripped Jeremy’s shoulder.
“No!” Gwen rushed to Jeremy’s side and pulled from the man. “Don’t!” She should have warned him about the bargain.
“What about your husband’s promotion?” Luc sneered. “Or buying Mom’s dental practice?”
“Jobs are jobs. He’s my firstborn.”
“I need a sacrifice.” The ranger shrugged. “And the economy sucks.”
“I’ll take my chances.” She hugged Jeremy. “And my son.”
“You’ll pay for refusing me.” The ranger hopped the fence and descended into the pit. They peeked over the railing. The ranger was gone. Fire rose from the long-dead volcano.
On the bus ride back, Gwen’s phone pinged to life with multiple messages and texts. Gwen listened to all of them and called Dr. Zebulon first.
“I’m going to have to rescind the offer and let you go.” Bella’s voice turned cold. “You didn’t fulfill your end of the bargain. The deal was my son for yours.”
“That’s okay. We’re moving to Tucson.”
Gwen replayed Mike’s message. “Good news and bad news. I got the promotion, but we have to move to Tucson.” There was no bad news. They were leaving Two Jacks as a whole family.