Under the porch, Skinny had gone days without food. A dead squirrel or two might find its way under and the others would tear it to bits. They were the shaky hands of children who thought they’d someday escape, to keep nourished for their inevitable rescue. Skinny knew she’d never leave—it’s where she came from. She’d wait until the meat was near bones to savor a bite or two, it really didn’t matter to her.
She’d felt the stings and pain that come with a bloated, empty belly. She knew what it was like to be weak, but she never had a reason to stand when trapped. The days she spent writhing in pain over her slow death were much more palatable to those chained in Egger’s room. Out here in the woods though, the pains were so much different. They were unbearable, and as Skinny tried to make her way anywhere, she’d double over in pain, holding her belly, moaning and crying. From the warm dirt and grass, she’d watch the squirrels tease her, chasing each other a few feet ahead of her and up trees. She wondered if they acted like people before Egger killed them—if they squeaked for mercy the way Lansing did, or the kids, or the adults. She wondered how Egger and Pa could ever even catch them, as quick and little as they were. Finally, Skinny pictured herself shooting a squirrel in the belly, tied to a tree, and blacked out.
What should we do?
Give her water, wrap her up, here. Does she have a pulse?
Where’s the water?
DOES SHE HAVE A PULSE?
In her darkness, Skinny couldn’t make out most of the words spoken by little and big voices. She felt two fingers press her neck, and she immediately snapped out of her faint, though she was too weak to do anything other than open her eyes.
“She’s alive!” One hollered to the others, knelt on the ground and reaching through bags. “Water! I need water!” His hand reached out, beyond Skinny’s sight, and a bottle appeared in his hand. “Can you sit up?” He asked Skinny. Skinny silently watched him, opened and closed her dry mouth a few times, and came to understand he didn’t seem to be a threat. His hand behind her head, he propped her head up and poured water into her, restoring for a moment her energy—and the pains of her empty stomach.
“uunnngggg” Skinny moaned, doubling over in waves of pain.
“Do we have food? No, no! Stay back, give her room, guys. She needs air. She needs food! Burt, grab me the trail mix from my bag.” And suddenly, a baggy appeared in his hand. He reached in, took a handful, and showed it to Skinny. “I need you to eat some of this, sweetie. It will make you feel better. Can you understand me? Try to nod if you can.” She remained prone, petrified in a near-fetal position.
This girl’s been through hell, he thought to himself—unaware of how right he was. “Look, look.” He said, taking some of the items in his hand: pretzels, raisins, cheerios, and flax seed, and popped them into his mouth, trying to earn Skinny’s trust. “We’re here to help.” He’d repeat every few seconds. Without other options, Skinny buried her face in his hand and ate. “Good. Good. You’re doing great. Can you tell me your name, little girl?” Skinny stopped and looked up at him, kneeling before her. “Bitch! Stupid bitch! Stupid, stupid bitch!” She said, slamming her fists into the dirt with her regained energy. “Whoa! Whoa! No, we don’t talk like that here. What’s your name?”
“Skuh…” She started, struggling to find her voice.
“Go ahead.” He encouraged.
“Skin…” She stopped, it’s all she could make out without heaving heavy breath.
“Skin?” He repeated, taking a look at her and noticing a necklace dangling around her neck. Thinking it might hold a secret to her identity, he took it in his hand, Skinny still wearing it. The rope felt strange, looked odd, too. Everything came together when he noticed the stone dangling at the end was actually a tooth drilled through the middle, clumps of blond hair wrapped tightly around.
“Jesus Christ.” He whispered, shocked, releasing Skinny’s necklace after realizing the rope was human skin.
“We need to get this girl out of here, NOW.” He barked, while Troop 86 was busy preparing a makeshift gurney for Skinny’s escape.