Chapter 14: Contact
If I go out there, there is no coming back.
The girl sat alone in the park. It was near dusk, and the birds were beginning to fly up into the trees for the night. They didn’t like intruders mulling around below them, making a terrible racket whenever they sensed a disturbance. The girl hoped and prayed that perhaps they’d allow her to stay. She needed to be here, now, more than anything. She knew they wouldn’t be likely to understand. Birds don’t have to deal with the issues she had been dealing with.
She felt ashamed, deeply, deeply ashamed. It shouldn’t get to her like this, she thought, and that made her even more ashamed and guilty. She didn’t think it was her fault, but then again, no one had told her she was free from guilt. Others, however, did seem to think she had a hand in it. Whatever the reason or cause, she felt very unhappy that night, and she hoped the birds would show her some sympathy.
I don’t trust them.
This time she wasn’t in a park – she had ventured to a local shopping mall. She’d blend in well here, since there were others about her same age. She wondered what time the mall closed, and what time security would chase her out. If it closed at 9, she’d probably have until 9:30, provided that she kept moving until finally a guard told her it was time to go. Then she wasn’t sure where her next stop would be. The gas station on the corner wasn’t very reputable looking, and she’d tried that in the past with disastrous results. The park was an option, but perhaps somewhere new would be best.
As predicted, around 9:30 she was asked nicely, but firmly, to leave so the mall could be locked up. She left the bright fluorescent world and went out into the cold. It was around 30 degrees that night. She figured she wouldn’t want to be home until around 11:30, so for 2 hours she looked for somewhere to rest. A bus bench seemed like a good idea. She checked the schedule and found two busses that would be by. She could easily fake that she was waiting for the other, and at this hour, the drivers wouldn’t be back around. They’d be off and back home to their families. That thought, of the tired bus driver heading home to his wife and children made her tear up. She pictured herself as the wife, waiting for her loyal husband to return, tending to her children. It was all so enviable, so desirable. She wanted it to be her so badly.
By the time she came back to reality, the busses had stopped coming by her little bench. It was 10:45, and she knew that without busses coming by, the cops were bound to stop and ask her questions. She looked a lot older than she was, which was why the guard at the mall hadn’t asked her about why she was there alone so late. Cops rarely checked her for ID, which was good, because at her age, she didn’t have one quiet yet, except for her school’s library card.
It was a blessing and a curse to look older at her age. She’d developed early, or at least that’s what her teachers had told her. She knew something had happened as soon as the boys stopped avoiding her and instead began looking at her, staring her down while pretending to look another direction. Some days she wished she looked like the other girls again, to keep the boys at bay.
11:30 – enough time had passed now. She quietly walked toward home. No lights were on, but the key was easy to find. She’d been prepared this time – last week she’d found her dad’s oil can and oiled the hinges so they wouldn’t creak. She even lubed up the lock and handle mechanism so it turned silently. The preparations had paid off, even though at the time, she had hoped she wouldn’t have to make use of them. Silently she crept in, got up to bed, and feel into a restless sleep.
They’ve already seen me – they’ve already decided what they like about me.
Six months later the door had begun to creak again, however by that point, the rope ladder had been acquired. She’d found it out on the curb the previous month, a discarded portion of a child’s backyard treehouse. Each time she climbed it she would think of it’s original owner, wondering how many days he or she had climbed in excitement to get back up to the treehouse. She knew his or her name was Taylor, as she’d found a discarded piece of wood near the ladder bearing the name. Taylor was all grown up now, and didn’t need the treehouse anymore. The new owner of the rope ladder wished she could slide back in time, pre rope ladder, when she wouldn’t have needed it’s assistance.
It was sad that she found herself in this situation – it wasn’t supposed to be like that. She thought back to the trip to the mall, over a year ago, and the bus driver’s wife fantasy she’d had. It was a foolish fantasy of a girl just beginning to notice the effects of puberty. Now that she’d become accustomed to it’s effects as well as the way the world reacted to her transition from girlhood to womanhood, she took a much more jaded view of her future. What were the odds she’d find a decent bus driver husband? Previous experience didn’t seem to predict future success.
Climbing up the ladder, she was grateful it was dark. She didn’t need to worry about anyone nearby, looking up at her (and thus looking up her skirt), and also could climb slowly, careful not to touch too loudly on the outside of the house. Thankfully her window was on the far side of the house from the other bedrooms. She wondered if that was intentional, or just circumstance.
Into her bedroom, she quickly but quietly pulled the rope ladder up. It was getting increasingly hard to find a place to stash it, but she realized that under the mattress still worked pretty well for now. Had to put it in the middle, so that it wasn’t visible when the corners were lifted to put the sheets on, or else Mom would have found it. She carefully stowed the ladder and changed from her clothes into her pajamas. Picking out her clothing for tomorrow (the one day a week she could wear blue jeans, which was fine, since she only had one pair of blue jeans), she settled into her to-do list. Homework had been finished hours earlier. She thought of the essay she was supposed to be writing, but figured that she wouldn’t actually need it’s grade to pass the class. She could still get a D without it. She’d also finished her chores already, leaving her free to work on her own projects. Tonight that included work on removing a loose floorboard in just such a way that it could be easily put back in place. She’d found a tutorial on the Internet that spoke of this, and had the plans committed to memory. She’d grabbed a butter knife from the restaurant they’d been at last Saturday, and used that to gently loosen the edges of the board. Soon the rope ladder would have a new hiding spot.
As she worked, she thought of her former friends. She reasoned that at one point, she had actually been popular. But those days were long past. Tears dropped to the floor as she went about her task.
Why not, it’s better than going crazy watching them.
She decided to head out right after the sky brightened up for the day. The boy was off – she’d watched him long enough to realize that he left for awhile and then came back. The less the better. The two older women were sitting and talking, and the two girls were sitting conspicuously far from each other. She wondered why they didn’t get along, but drawing on her own past, could come up with a number of plausible reasons. She’d been in that situation before, she knew how relationships could look innocent and friendly on the surface, but in reality be deeply dysfunctional and hurtful. Same old story, just new people playing the roles.
She knew she was going to regret this. She always did regret opening up to other people – they never bothered to care about her anyway. Once she had tried talking to the man sitting next to her at the bus stop. He seemed friendly, and interested in what she had to say. He also seemed different than the others – he didn’t make lewd comments or ask her if she was one of ‘those kinds’ of girls. At least he didn’t initially. But after about 20 minutes he showed his true colors. Thankfully the bus came at exactly the right moment, and she hopped on board, begging the driver to simply drive off without fare, who did so, recognizing the look in her eyes and the situation before him.
But this place was too weird to stay away. She’d been hiding just over the hills for awhile now, circling to stay out of sight, moving quickly in and out of their midst as she could. She’d knocked over the girls shoes that last time she rushed by, and hastily put them back differently than they were. She knew that they noticed this, but could do nothing about it. She was surprised they didn’t bother to come look for her after that one. It was a sign, she was sure, that they didn’t care already. Otherwise they’d come find her on their own, right? Or maybe this strange place was inhabited by stranger people.
She meticulously planned out how she would approach them. What she would say, or more appropriately, what she wouldn’t say. They were going to ask questions. People always asked a lot of questions. At first she thought they asked the questions because they wanted to help her. But over time she realized they just wanted lurid details for their own use. She wasn’t into giving details, even if they weren’t particularly interesting. Best to keep some distance. She was going to need answers that wouldn’t arouse suspicion, so she quickly came up with some.
She also wanted answers – she’d been here for about a week and had no idea where she was. This place was really weird, and she hoped they had a better clue as to what it was than her guesses. Her guesses were that she was dead (unlikely, since nothing seemed to happen to her – no afterlife – no life at all actually), or that she was held captive (also unlikely, nobody would want to kidnap her). With her guesses falling flat, she was prepared to open up just enough to get the answers she wanted, without opening up too much. With answers prepared, she stood up and began to walk toward the group.
Before she was within sight, she stopped and paused – she hadn’t thought about if she should talk first or they should. In the past, whenever she had appeared friendly, people would behave the same way even if they weren’t to be trusted. She figured she’d let them make the first move. See how they reacted.
A few moments later, she got close enough they could see her. What they saw was a five foot seven inch young woman who looked to be around 16 years old, but in actuality was only 13. Slightly overweight, but by no means fat, and dressed in a black v-neck blouse and her only pair of blue jeans, she looked out of place within the rest of the group. Her black rain boots and long matted black hair further made her stand out among the group of women. Over her shoulder hung a black purse. On her face, dark makeup accentuated wrinkle lines not typical of someone so young in age, but typical of one so old in experience. She walked quietly and purposefully toward the group.
G-ma was the first to notice her and immediately they locked eyes. G-ma smiled, trying to put the new person at ease. As the others talked to G-ma they realized she was no longer listening, and turned to see what G-ma saw.
And while all four women knew it was impolite to stare, they had a hard time looking away. She just looked so different than them. For one thing, she really had a thing for the color black. If anything, this group had a love of grey and red, black wasn’t a color they saw often.
“Hello”, Mrs. Corum said, in a tone that wasn’t meant to be too cheerful and yet was also meant to be welcoming. Mrs. Corum had been in these situations before – approaching new children on the first days of class. She knew she’d have to be gentle.
Following her lead, G-ma spoke next “Hi dear, welcome”. G-ma referred to everyone as dear, but noticed the clear wince that the new visitor had to the term. She mentally made a note not to use it again.
They all looked at her, unsure what to say next.
Finally one action seemed to diffuse the tension. Sara Beth got up, holding her most precious possession, Sonic, in her hands. She walked over to the visitor and smiled.
“Hi, My name is Sara Beth, and this is my friend Sonic”.
The visitor looked down at the squirming hedgehog.
“I’ve never seen a pet hedgehog before”, she said in a low voice.
“They’re super fun – you just have to know how to hold them, and don’t get your fingers too close to their teeth.” Sara Beth then gave a quick lesson on how to hold little Sonic, and passed him off.
As she held Sonic, she almost let her guard down. These people seemed nice, and one of them even trusted her with her pet. But she’d been burned before. She briefly thought of jamming the hedgehog back into Sara Beth’s hands before running as fast and as far away as she could. This was too much and way too fast. She was holding another person’s pet! What happened to her plan to stay aloof, to learn what she needed to learn, and then decide purposefully if she wanted to stay with this group or if she wanted to go off on her own. She had plans that apparently she was breaking already.
But, alas, she was already here. Already committed. So instead, as she held Sonic (Who appeared to be fine with it), she simply looked at the group and spoke softly.
“My name is Mara”