The trees, the sunlight, grass, sky, clouds, brush, sprinting, huffing, tears—all of it a blur to Skinny, panicked in a zig-zagged motion through the woods. Through the swirl of shock, Skinny could hear Egger and Pa drawing closer to her, could envision them behind her with their guns drawn, waiting for the perfect moment to unload into her back, reuniting her with Mikey and the others, maybe.
“Where did they go after they were buried?” A strange thing to think about while being hunted, but Skinny had never thought of the children after the others buried them. Their existence ended there, at a lump in the ground not to be tripped over when carrying the next body for burial. After some time, flowers or grass might grow over some of the lumps—one of the only things in her life to make Skinny feel comfortable.
Skinny wondered where she’d go after all this. She pictured the others carrying her blood-soaked body, a mixture of hers and Lansing’s, behind the house. They’d get screamed at and beaten by Egger while Pa watched with his gun at his side. Maybe Pa would take a hit at one of the kids. Maybe they’d have so much fun with their punishment there’d have to be a second hole dug in the day. Everyone would forget Skinny as they dug the second hole, crying instead for someone who deserved their tears. Maybe, while beating a kid into a hole, they’d forget to watch and somebody would toss her teddy bear in with her. The thought relaxed her as much as it could.
Skinny came out from her thoughts after hearing branches crunch under her feet, but not behind her. She felt branches whip around her, but couldn’t hear them scatter from Egger’s presence. Birds chirped the first she’d heard since she took off. When Skinny looked around her, a death grip on her teddy bear, she only found silence in the woods. She stood behind a tree, her back hitched to it like Lansing’s, and cried. “This isn’t like the porch” Skinny thought. Though the sun peeked through the trees just like under the porch, and there was nothing but dirt beneath her, she could run. When Egger’s gnarled hand came reaching under the porch, she and others could only shimmy so far back before he caught a shirt, pants, wrist, or ankle. The porch wasn’t fair—not like out here. Skinny could outrun them both, she could outrun them all. Egger, Pa, the pigs—nothing could stop her from escape.
Shooooom It was a strange sound, but familiar to Skinny. She couldn’t picture what the noise was, but it was something she knew, something she’d heard before. She walked towards the noise’s proximity, an end to the tree line in sight. Before long, Skinny was standing on a boundary between two sides of the forest. Black, with yellow down the middle. Skinny wondered if Egger and Pa constructed it, a trap, or a way to tell where they were in all these look-alike trees. The boundary stretched on as far as Skinny could tell, and horror rushed over her body. “There’s no way out.” She thought, watching the hard black ground extend beyond her vision, convinced it to be Egger and Pa’s doing, while pressing down on it in her shoes, testing for traps.
In the horizon, Skinny saw an object racing down the blacktop in her direction. Skinny disappeared from the black top to a tree nearby. Behind her, Skinny could hear soft thwapping of branches—Egger was closing in on her location. Closer, the object looked like a truck, but not like Egger’s and Pa’s, one Skinny’d never seen before. Desperate to get away from Egger and the forest, she ran towards it, her hands high in the air.
The truck stopped, an older man with Pa’s gapped mouth pulled next to Skinny smiling until he got a good look at her: pale, almost white, shaking uncontrollably. Long black hair, tangled and knotted, covered lonely green eyes: puffed, bloodshot, and bruised. Dirt and blood smeared her face, and the driver assumed it was dried blood covering her clothes, not motor oil. He couldn’t tell if dirt or bruises covered Skinny’s arms, but he needed to get her the hell out of whatever trouble she was in.
“What are you doing out here all alone, little girl? Are you with anybody?” He said, opening the passenger’s side door for Skinny.
“I want my mommy.” Skinny said, breaking out into tears at the man’s question.
Egger watched from the forest behind a tree near the truck, the man, and Skinny. He raised and steadied his aim. After his blast, the last of the birds took flight far away from the woods.