BY JANET GARBER
Copyright is held by the author.
THE BED was empty. Marlee took a running dive onto it, then made like a snow angel, whipping her arms and legs up and down. She hadn’t done that since . . . well, never practically. She picked up her head and howled, “This whole bed is MINE!!!”
She lay there on the not-so-white sheets. After a few minutes, she flipped herself over onto her back to think big thoughts at the ceiling. At some point, she had the scary idea that maybe she was in a dream and propped herself up on her elbows. She squinted at the door to the room, which was open, but did not see what she needed to see. So she inched down to the end of the bed. “There it is,” she said aloud when she spotted the arm. She inched back up, and put a thin pillow under her head.
She must have dozed off because when she next looked around, the room was darkening. She scrunched down again to look out into the hallway. Same scene. This time she noticed that the linoleum in the hall looked like it had gotten a bit dirty. Oh, well.
She was feeling hungry. She slipped out of bed and tiptoed to the window. There was the old Ford in the front yard where it belonged. The damned raccoons had gotten into the trash again last night — dirty cat food tins, whiskey bottles, and coloured wrappers were spread all around the dirt and grass. No cars were passing. No one knew what was going on. She smiled to herself and clambered back on the bed.
She thought she saw a movement out of the corner of her eye and screamed. She looked at the open doorway which she could see now from the top of the bed. The arm — she was sure it had moved! Oh boy, if he was still alive, was she gonna get it!
Marlee knew she was 14. Before Mams left, she told Marlee, “When the tomatoes ripen enough to eat, that’s the time I had you and that’s the time you have to leave.”
The tomato patch was long gone. Marlee figured six years gone. She wished Mams were here now so she could be the one to go into the hallway and check on The Man. Then Marlee could ask her if the time had passed for her to go. Mams had always said, “Get out fast when you see the first drop of blood in your undies. Real fast. And don’t let him see you.”
Was that a groan or a truck passing by? She wasn’t sure and squiggled down under the thin coverlet Mams had crocheted for her all those years ago. “Mamsy, Mamsy,” Marlee whimpered. “What do I do now?” She knew she was small, “too small for the real world,” said The Man. She had bony wrists and ankles and not much in between. “Nothing there to chew on,” he said. But she hadn’t been too small to chop up those filmy pink blossoms Mams had told her about or mix them into The Man’s plate of mush this morning. Though she’d never seen him eat anything, she’d watched as he swallowed a spoonful out of curiosity, falling off his stool onto the floor, white bubbles on his mouth and chin. Every few seconds he’d twitched and shouted. Marlee took the wood crate the cat food came in, lifted it up as best she could, and smashed it down on his head. How many times? Zillions, she thought.
She scrunched down on the bed to get a better look at him. “AI!” she shrieked, running to the window. His arm was clawing at his face, leaving bloody tracks on his cheeks. “Stop!” she commanded, a word she hadn’t dared to utter last night when his dirty hands were on her button chest, his “monster” jammed inside of her, nailing her to their bed. “StopStopStop,” she pleaded now.
Desperate, she looked out the window. She was too short, wasn’t she, to go out the window, too afraid to break her thin bones? How could she get away? She could see no other dwelling in sight. And she’d never been allowed beyond their dirt yard. “How far must I go?” she asked Mams. She got no answer, never got any, but she kept trying. “Why did you go without saying bye-bye?” she asked, as she had daily. She never understood how Mams could do that. She slumped on the floor and after a while, dared to crawl closer to the doorway. He was still there, lying in a puddle of brownish liquid. “AI!” she screamed. She had to get away. Trouble was he was blocking the door. She wasn’t sure what to do about that.
Marlee stacked up her bedding under the window, climbed on top and slid out, feet first, landing on a pile of garbage. Pain like a bolt of lightning shot through her left ankle. She righted herself and examined her foot. The ankle was facing the wrong way!
A loud noise behind her made her jump up. The Man’s body took up the whole window frame. As she tottered away on her short candlestick legs, dragging her foot, she spotted tracks of red going down her legs and almost doubled up from the sudden cramps in her belly. “Am I too late?” She wanted to ask Mams. She turned back as The Man let out a howl and put one foot out the window.
She’d never outrun him; she needed to hide. Where could she find a hide-y-hole? She went around the side of the house where there was a door built into the ground. She pulled and pulled but was too weak to budge it. Leaning against the door to catch her breath, she felt it give way and down she fell onto a damp dark dirt floor. She could hear him just outside starting to climb down the steep stairs.
“Hurry,” she ordered herself. She scrambled on all fours over to a corner, pulling apart a pile of smelly rags, looking for a way to burrow in.
Her hand touched another hand!
She stifled a scream and looking towards the door, could see he was in the cellar with her, moving so slowly, trying, it seemed, to get his bearings. She knew she needed to act fast before she was cornered. But first she had to see who was under the pile of rags. She rummaged around and pulled out a whole arm. Mams’s black scorpion ring was on the hand!
“Horrible, horrible,” she cried. “How can I find you now? You never left? How can I get away? Who’s going to help me?” She had trouble drawing her next breath.
The Man popped up like the jack-in-the-box she once had, looming over her, both his hands wrapped tightly around a huge rake. She was in a tight corner with no room to roll away. Without thinking, she lunged for his left ankle and bit off a chunk, which came away easily in her mouth. She spit it out. She looked up at him, her body shaking, no longer under her control. Wait . . . was he smiling?
“That’s my girl.”
The pile of rags moved. Mams was going to help her escape! A skeleton head emerged from the pile with sharp pointy teeth and bulging bloodshot eyes. “Kill The Man. Kill The Man,” Mams muttered.
Marlee obediently took another bite and accidentally swallowed some. She was so hungry . . . and it tasted like cat food. Better.
“None for me?” said the skeleton.
Marlee looked at her mother. “So we’re . . . zombies?”
Marlee made room for Mams on her side and Mams wasted no time in attacking The Man’s right leg. He fell slowly to his knees. Surprisingly, he winked at Mams and croaked, “I know when I’m beaten. So look, tomorrow night it’s my turn again. Marlee can have Tuesdays and Thursdays. And you, you don’t require much so anytime you need a pick-me-up. But before we go too far, while we’re still able, we need to take the Ford and see what’s on offer at the homestead down the road.”
Mams was nodding. Marlee looked at her parents. She nodded to her mother and they fell on her father and didn’t stop until their feast was done.
“Let’s go for a walk,” said Mams, tentatively.
Marlee thought this over. “Nah,” she said, pushing Mams away. “Skinny pickings here from now on out.” She crawled up the ladder and before she closed the door, she leaned back in to say, “Going to check out the homestead The Man mentioned. I gotta get out fast, like you advised, Mams. I’ll miss you . . .”
With that, she closed and locked the cellar door, and took off down the road.