I came down off the moor, half-blinded and face hurting and neck hurting and everything hurting, and headed straight for home.
I wound down through country lanes, blinking faster than a strobe light, face scrunching with pain, and trying not to wipe my stinging eyes. Still I fumbled about, opening every field gate I passed. I’d been doing that for weeks: opening gates, opening up chicken coops (you don’t want to think how any survived: Attack of the Cannibal Chickens). Sometimes there’d been creatures in the fields—horses, pigs, cows, sheep, llamas (those had been real; the herd of unicorns I thought I’d released probably wasn’t)—sometimes not. Still, I opened them.
So I suppose it was probably me that let the sheep out, the one that had nearly killed me.
(See what I did there? I blame it on the sheep.)
First farm I came to, I tried to go in. I wasn’t even thinking “∞.” I was thinking “.” They hurt so bad, and they wouldn’t stop weeping, and I was scared that if I didn’t find something to wash them with immediately, I wouldn’t be able to see at all.
A scrawny sheepdog came out into the yard and barked at me.
I know the type; they won’t attack you. They’re just telling you: this is not your house.
“You good girl,” I said—or tried to. Since the picture thoughts had taken over, I didn’t even speak to myself out loud anymore, and even though I had just shouted at my own shadow, my voice came out all broken up and ragged and weird.
“Good girl,” I tried again, and me and the dog, whose bark also seemed a little strained and peculiar (it could just have been the shock of seeing someone), both stared miserably at each other—except it was getting harder and harder by the second to stare at anything.
“Please…” I begged, but no way was the good girl—who might have been a boy—going to let me in that house.
I drove back home on a tractor. The good girl wasn’t too sure about that either, but she gave me the benefit of the doubt. She even followed me, as if she thought it might be time to go to work or something…but that skinny girl, she couldn’t keep up. She barked at me to stop and wait for her, but I couldn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t even want to hear that bark.
Dogs, animals…people…they’ll break your heart.
I zoomed home on that tractor, so high up on that driver’s seat that over the banks and hedgerows, I could make out blurry fields. I didn’t feel hemmed in and spooked like I normally do, not knowing what might be around the next bend. Even if we smacked into a wall, the wall would come off worse.
Blind Farmer Ruby, rollin’ along. And whatever I might have rolled over, I didn’t see it. I just felt the occasional bump. There is some terrible stuff lying about these days.
I made myself dump the tractor at the end of our road because I was worried if I went any farther, it’d get stuck between the lines of cars and I’d lose an exit route. I dumped it and I ran, my eyes so blind, my hands so shaky I could hardly get the key in the lock.
I stepped inside the house and called, “Dad?!”
Yeah. That’d be the last time.
I slurped cola and washed my eyes with the tiny bit of water I had left. Couldn’t even see anything much in the mirror, just a blurry version of my face that looked like it felt: puffy, red, and busted. I squinted at one particular mark on my cheek. Double circles. Matched my watches. (I wore four: two digital, two wind up—don’t ask.) Perfect imprints of one wrist’s worth on my cheek. But it was my eyes that looked weirdest.
“Love! You look like Joe Bugner,” Grandma Hollis once said to me, at the time when I’d first been told my mom and dad were splitting up and I’d cried so much my eyes puffed up.
I didn’t know who Joe Bugner was; I still don’t. All I ever knew was that he was a boxer.
Yeah, I looked like I’d been in a fight.
There were decisions to be made. I knew that, but all I wanted to do was go to bed. No idea what the time was, no idea what day it was. No idea what I was going to do. The only thing I did know was that I needed to do something. But first, there would be sleep.
It was a very long, bad, and snore-y sleep. It was snore-y because my nose was full of blood. I couldn’t breathe properly, and eventually I worked out this was how come I kept waking myself up—waking myself up but not really waking up—thinking the ghost girl was in the room, speaking some growly shadow language at me. The last time I snored myself awake, I picked out dried blood from my nose (too much information?). It hurt a lot. I guzzled cola and went back to sleep and dreamed the ghost girl in the mist had become a death angel, coming toward me as church bells tolled.
But I wasn’t dreaming.
Finding Virginia online:
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