I knew the way back to Clearview. I also knew the many miles that lay ahead of me.
When I reached the highway, I didn’t slow down. I popped up a thumb and prayed for someone to pick me up. No one stopped.
After walking for nearly three hours my stomach complained of being hungry. I was well into the countryside and had passed several cornfields. It was three weeks past July fourth and the cornstalks were barely above knee level. Rain had been scarce this year, but a storm was brewing somewhere nearby. The humidity smelled ripe with impending thunderstorms as the white sky grayed and became bruised. I glared one last time with all the hate I could muster at the town of Odinwood and that bitch Julie I’d left behind.
My stomach yelled at me, so I scanned the area for food. It was too early in the summer to find any ripe fruit, berries or nuts, and I had no clue as to what lay inside the woods on either side of the highway. I spotted an apple tree with green apples along the edge of a field. The ones on the ground were hard and dry and bitter. I climbed the tree and found softer, juicier apples there. They were sour but helped ease away the thirst and soften my hunger pangs.
I ate and for the first time since moving into that creepy Odinwood house, was able to think with a clear mind. I looked out over the countryside, enjoying the view and the coolness of being wrapped within the dark, fingerlike branches. Canada Geese honked from a pond just beyond a grove of pine trees. I could see glimmering water from where I stood and I knew I needed to go there and replenish the liquids I’d lost during my walk if I planned to—
What? What did I plan to do? I had no plans, only a longing desire to get to Clearview before nightfall. And to do that I would need someone to offer me a ride. Someone who would stop for a pretty teenage girl, let her inside their car, and…
I realized then that I was on my own until I reached Clearview and the friends I had left there.
A crow cawed from a nearby pine and caused me to catch my breath. Suddenly, the branches seemed to take on a sinister feel, like fingers with claws closing around me. I scrambled out of the apple tree and nearly ran toward the water.
A hawk screeched from overhead, scaring me and causing my skin to prickle. The air outside the tree felt hotter than before, so I lifted my T-shirt as I went to let in the tiniest of breezes.
I staggered through the tall grass and scratched at the dust and flies settling on my sweaty neck and arms. I slapped at the flies biting at my arms, then stumbled upon a wide footpath. It led toward the pines, so I followed it to a small log bridge someone had built over a narrow and shallow creek. The air was cool here and I practically swallowed it into my lungs. Beyond the bridge and between the trees and scrub I saw the pond. The footpath continued from the bridge to the pond, so I hurried to it and headed on it with a deep desire to rid myself of the sweat and dust and flies that fouled my body.
There were no thoughts of snakes or quicksand or any other danger as I raced to a deserted clearing at the water’s edge. The pond was small and except for a group of Canada geese swimming in the middle, the place was deserted. Green brush and willow trees surrounded the area and there were large crops of rush along the shore that served as refuge from the highway behind me. I hurried out of my clothes and draped them across the rush. I enjoyed the cool air as it pleased my exposed body. Then I strolled into the cool summer water until it covered my breasts. My feet sank into the dark ooze of the muddy bottom, clouding the water as it rose all the way to my chin.
I stayed there for several minutes and let my body relax and go with the gentle push against me. I felt my body come alive and I wept. I sobbed away more of my anger, hatred, and frustration until a fly bit at my face and forced me to submerge and scrub away the dirt and sweat. When I surfaced, a gentle wind rustled in the trees. The cool breeze prickled my skin. My exposed body became adorned with crystal jewels of water that glittered like diamonds when I returned to the shore, and the cooling air brought relief to the welts made by the biting flies. I sat and stretched out in the grass at the water’s edge and basked under a willow tree until I could no longer deny my fear of Julie. I had to get to Clearview and to Annie Freemont’s. The Freemonts would let me stay for a day or two, and then I would have to work hard at convincing mother we needed to either move back to Clearview or find another place to live. More than anything, I had to make sure I was far away from Julia Stillman. I couldn’t stand any more upsets in my life.
I managed to dress into my underpants without too much difficulty of sliding the cotton over wet skin. I was about to hook into my bra when a knife’s long silver blade flashed in front of my eyes. I turned and stared wildly at the blonde-haired girl who smiled at me with a beguiled look that twisted from ice blue eyes.
I screamed at the sight of Julie Stillman and the hunting knife gripped tight in her right hand.
Julie put a finger to my mouth. “You’ll scare away the geese,” she said. She wore a blue cotton shirt and low-cut blue jeans, and her black hiking boots were covered with dried mud. She smiled too kindly as she held the knife at my chest.
“Is this yours?” she asked.
I covered my breasts even though Julie looked at my face, stared into my eyes and locked our gazes. My jaw had turned rigid and my mouth became useless. I shook my head no when she asked again if the knife belonged to me.
Then she said, “Found it lying here, of all things. A real beauty with no rust or nicks or any blood on it.” She held the blade close to my face. “If it isn’t yours, I think I’ll keep it.”
I tried to speak, but my mouth stayed closed.
“I could use a knife like this,” Julie said.
I thought of running until Julie pressed the tip of the cold blade against my throat and backed me against a willow tree.
“Finders keepers,” she said.
I looked up from the knife, into her gaze, and wished her away.
She laughed. “Cat must have your tongue.”
I pleaded with my eyes.
“Lucky cat,” Julie said. “I love tongue.”
I tried to scream but my voice was gone. I clenched my jaw as Julie stepped closer and touched my right breast with her left hand. She pinched gently at the nipple. “Hell of a shock I gave you,” she said. “Did I scare you?”
Her words felt numb to my ears. I glanced down again at the knife and wondered if Julie would actually kill me. The point of the knife pricked my skin. I stifled a cry and watched the geese swim on the pond, felt the wind breeze by, and saw it ripple over the water’s surface.
Julie took her hand away and held up a fat aquatic worm. “Can’t believe you didn’t feel this bloodsucker feeding on your tit.” She tossed it toward the pond. “That nipple will get sore. Why don’t you come back home and let me take care of it for you?” She wiped the blood from my breast with long fingers. “You do want to be friends, don’t you?”
Tears flooded my eyes. “Wh-What do you want?” I managed to ask in a raspy voice.
She finished licking my blood from her fingers. She said, “I came to see if you really think you can run away from me. That’s all.”
“Please leave me alone.” I struggled to breathe properly. The words felt dead as I watched the pond disappear from a wall of tears covering my eyes. I felt my mind leave. I was somewhere in grayness where nothing existed. I was unafraid in the grayness. In the grayness I could move again, breathe again, speak again.
In the grayness I screamed.
The pond hurried into view as I opened my eyes. I found myself leaning against the willow tree, naked. Julie was gone. I bawled uncontrollably as I hurried into my clothes.
Across the pond, a goose honked. It sounded like mocking laughter.
Then the first rumble of thunder traversed the sky.