by Sarah Lynne Gibbel
part 1 of 2
“Caa — ssie,” my Mom yelled.
“Get your butt downstairs,” I heard her hollering as I slid down the banister.
“What do you think?” I found her in the entryway, wearing bright red lipstick and a leather jacket with lacy black bra straps poking out. Her socks were mismatched. One of them was brown and slightly mannish; the other was pink and had little pom-poms dangling in back. She slipped them into her boots.
My Mom is a very tall woman. People say I look like her, but I don’t know about that. My Mom is beautiful. She has bright blue eyes, wavy auburn hair, and a strong but soft and curvy body. I’ve got the hair, but I’m short and my eyes are black. I’m not crazy like she is, either.
“I’m going to the store. I should be back in about an hour and a half.” She started reciting the standard speech she gave whenever she went anywhere. “Don’t burn the house down, do your homework—”
“Mom! You know I don’t have homework. I’m not in school anymore.”
“Oh.” She smirked. “I finished high school.”
I’d told her that I was going to drop out when she was in one of her everything’s-peachy moods. Sometimes she got in moods where she teased me about it, but she usually let it go. She never said anything when she was sober, because for her sober was often an I’m-partly-to-blame mood.
My dad wouldn’t have approved, but he has a small house about two hours away where he sometimes goes to spend a few weeks or months when he needs to get away. This was during one of those times. “Well—” I started.
“Don’t roll your eyes. See ya.” She sashayed out the door. When she was gone, the house was too quiet, so I popped a CD into my computer and turned the volume up. I practiced my dancing for a while, until I felt the old, familiar urge for a cigarette creep over me.
I’m a chain smoker. I smoked my first cigarette at the age of eight. I snuck it out of my mom’s purse after she’d slapped me in the face because her Chihuahua made a mess on the couch. It wasn’t until after I turned 16 that I realised how stupid it is to rebel against someone by acting just like them.
Sometimes I try to quit, but I don’t really care most of the time.
I was on my third one, sitting in a cloud of my own fumes, when the smoke started smelling different. I wasn’t sure what it smelled like, but it wasn’t tobacco. The cloud was building up, getting hard to see through. There seemed to be too much of it for just one little cigarette.
One of our $300 living room curtains was burning. I jumped up, gasping. I pulled the curtain to the floor. It made a horrible ripping sound as it separated from the curtain rod. I stomped on it with my red knitted slippers. I got the fire out, but there was a hole in it as big as my head. I think it started when I dropped the end of number two, and it touched the curtain before it reached the floor, where I stomped it out.
Mom had been in one of her jollier moods when she left, but she was still going to kill me.
I thought back to the last time this happened, when I was eleven. I burned a small hole in the arm of the couch. I went outside for a long walk in the woods, to give her plenty of time to find the hole, get the worst part of her anger out of her system and start to get a little worried.
The curtains were worse; they were new. It probably wouldn’t be safe to come back until the next morning. It was a nice, warm day so I didn’t wear a jacket. The sun was out, but the ground was still wet. I could see steam coming off of an old, rotting stump as the water evaporated.
When I came to the western edge of our property, I hopped over the fence and kept going. I found myself going even farther than I had planned, farther than I’d ever been before. Not that it mattered. I knew I could find my way back home.
The trees were thinner here, but I could still only see about twenty yards in any direction.
I tripped over something. I groaned as I planted my face in the cold mud. My clothes were soaked. After I had wiped as much of the mud onto my T-shirt as I could, I opened my eyes. I stood up. I wondered what it was that I had tripped over. There were no large sticks or vines in the immediate vicinity.
“Stupid, stupid clumsy little fool,” I whispered to myself. I took another step forward and fell down again. Something was digging into my ankle. It must have been one of those small berry vines. I cussed and knelt to untangle my foot.
It wasn’t a berry vine. It was a thin brown cord. A snare trap. I tried to loosen it, but the cord wouldn’t go back through the loop. Of all the days to forget my knife. Some people think I’m paranoid, but you never know what kind of sickos are out there and I feel better when I have my knife with me.
I followed the string and discovered that the other end was looped around a gnarly tree, close to the ground. The string had a death grip on the tree, too. I fished around in my pockets. There was all kinds of junk in there. A virgin Kleenex, two sticks of gum, a bobby pin, some stale almonds, the battery door from my cell phone, an old whistle, and a tube of lip gloss.
I blew the whistle as hard as I could. When my air was gone, I frowned. Did SOS start with dots or dashes? What the heck, I’d just try both combinations. A black cloud drew in front of the sun. I shivered. Great, now my clothes wouldn’t dry out. A small breeze picked up too; it was getting pretty chilly.
I was blowing my whistle when something poked me in the back. I dropped the whistle and turned around, almost wetting my pants. It was a creature. Reminded me a bit of a monster from some old horror movie, but I couldn’t remember which one. I didn’t think it was one I owned.
The skin was brown. Not brown like human skin, brown like sweat-stained leather or the bark of a young tree. It had deep creases at its joints, but the skin was unnaturally smooth elsewhere, the way swollen, infected flesh is smooth. Its nails and teeth were long, yellow, and had a strange, slightly twisted appearance.
The amount and placement of the hair was vaguely human, but the hair itself was bear’s hair. It had a black, shiny nose like either a bear or a dog. Its eyes were small and set close together. They showed no whites: an animal’s eyes. “You come,” it growled. It had a weird, phlegmy voice. “You are slave.”
I sat on my hands to stop them from shaking. You usually only have something to be afraid of if you let them see that you’re scared. “I can’t come! I’m caught in this damn trap!”
The creature made a noise in the back of its throat that was thick and heavy, and yet staccato at the same time. I think it was snickering. It grabbed my ankle and cut the string with one of its claws. Then it squeezed both of my hands in one of its own and dragged me through the trees. It was faster than it looked like it would be. I’m fast too, but I was a bit off balance with my hands in its grasp. Several times I tripped. It jerked my arms and grunted.
We came to a shack made out of corrugated metal and rotting, unpainted plywood. It slowed down to a walk, howled, and dragged me towards the door. I realized that I had left my safety whistle by the trap. “Aww damn da-“
“Shh,” it said, head-butting me from the side. We stopped in front of the shack. The door opened and three other creatures came out. Some of them were more grotesque than others, but all four creatures looked basically the same. “New slave,” my captor said proudly. The others howled, slapping their thighs or beating their chests.
“New slave cook dinner,” one of the others said, gesturing towards the door. It had a higher voice than my captor, and sounded shrill and phlegmy at the same time. My captor dragged me forward and threw me into the cabin.
My hands felt weird and stiff. I massaged them. There seemed to be a small amount of thin, watery mud dried on them, but I couldn’t wipe it off on my still-damp pants. My skin itself had changed color where the creature had touched me. The creases on my knuckles were a little bit deeper. I had to escape. I was turning into one of them.
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Copyright © 2011 by Sarah Lynne Gibbel