Hi, I’m unable to attach documents to this forum, it’s something to do with Google. So Ana suggested I copy and paste in the forum itself. Edits, changes, etc. will be in parenthesis’s
Faye gasped for breath, limping along the railroad tracks. Dirt mounds laden with sagebrush went on as far as she could see. Through the haze of the dusky sunset, a blocked form appeared in the distance. Another delusion? Yet more false hope? She’d been fooled before, went to what she thought was there, only to discover it to be a trick of the eye. But this time, it didn’t blink away. As if through sheer will, she ordered it to exist.
She would have to wait until morning before proceeding or risk more injury. Not that she had the energy to go on, even if it was fully midday(this sounds awkward), her body drained beyond exhaustion. With the aid of a long walking stick also to be used as a weapon if needed, she left the tracks and struggled toward what became a small house. She stopped beside a tiny grave adorned with a pitiful cross made of sticks twined with knotted yarn. A beloved family pet, she assumed.
Seeing the house up close, Faye cursed under her breath.
The wooden shack’s roof partially caved, the structure was missing the only door and all its windows and shutters. Faye’s heart sank. It was apparent nobody had lived here for some time.
She climbed the rickety steps and entered. The wind swirled the dust inside. A loose board slapped the outside with a constant bang. She coughed and sunk her foot ankle-deep in loose dirt. Shredded and faded red and green check curtains flapped in the wind. Shards of broken dish plates and piles of sandy soot covered the table they’d left behind.
A scratching noise came from a potbelly stove nesting what could be a variety of things—mice came to mind. She shivered. Shadows crept the walls. It would be dark soon.
Faye dropped her case. She searched the corners for something to sleep on top. An abandoned wash basket contained never again to be used baby items. Faye reached in and cupped a dirty knit baby bonnet with embroidered pink flowered petals and mint-green leaves. The detail was exquisite, made with loving hands. A mouse-chewed knit gown and tiny booties had the same design. Scattered at the basket’s bottom lay corroded diaper pins, a small rusted spoon, the remnants of a patched bib, and a crude attempt at first shoes. A metal container was sealed shut. Faye worked the edges and pried it apart. She unfolded a beautifully crafted cross-stitched cloth that read: MY DAUGHTER PETAL BLOOMED MY WORLD.
Heaviness filled Faye’s empty stomach. The grave. A baby. Dear God, her parents(the baby’s parents?) must have been devastated. To lose one’s parents was painful, but she couldn’t imagine the overwhelming grief that would follow the loss of your child. The tomb her parents were buried in was practically a shrine. But this child—no etched name, loving family remembrance, or farewell quote would plaque her grave. She’d remain forever left all alone in this barren place. Soon to be forgotten. (Is she thinking about something from her past or is it about whoever lived her before?)
Faye clamped her hand over her mouth. A dry sob broke through.
The shadows on the wall formed a silhouetted youth with curly hair. A carefree titter of laughter followed. Images of the girl floated through Faye’s mind of the girl helping her mother in the kitchen, playing with her doll, and being read a book while snuggling on her father’s lap. Memories stolen. The warmth of love replaced by the reality of cold, dark emptiness.
The roof above creaked in the wind. Faye knew she couldn’t stay here. It wasn’t safe. With care, she folded the cloth and added it to her coat pocket. “I have to go, Petal. I’m so sorry. I truly am. Your mother held you very dear. I can’t begin to know how she must have felt to leave you here. You see—I have no children of my own. But if I live to have a little girl, I will name her after you and dote on and lavish her with love. You will be remembered.”
A tear trickled (down) her cheek as she picked up her suitcase. Her hearing perked to a rhythmic sound. It grew insistent, joined by an extended hoot hoot in the distance. A train!
Faye glanced back at where the silhouette had been, but the girl was gone. She snatched her walking stick and set off as fast as she could. More tears streaked her face from the pain of putting pressure on her leg, but she could see it now. A real train. Its bright headlights a beacon of hope, an emerging sun cutting through the growing night’s empty darkness.
It was coming closer. Faye used the stick, jamming it into the ground to absorb the brunt of weight from her left leg. The pain was excruciating, but she gained ground. The train’s whistle blared louder, the clatter of metal against metal rumbled with the beat of Faye’s heart.
It was moving so fast. Too far away. She threw the stick and attempted a sprint, full pressure on both legs. Blinding pain filled her left leg and shot through her hip. A crushing cramp made her leg give out. She cried out in anguish and toppled toward the ground. No, no, no.
She rolled over and stared up at the nothingness, listening to the train move away. A sense of hopelessness overwhelmed her. This is how I die. Alone in the wilderness. Not even a stick-marked grave. My body vulnerable, to be devoured by wild dogs and ugly birds. No one will know what’s become of me. No one will eventually care.
Faye cracked an eye as something wet and coarse moved up her cheek.
A gray and white furry head blocked the sun. She remembered how it clamped its jaws around the alpha’s neck. At the thought, her body shook uncontrollably. She did not want to die this way. While her mind envisioned the attack to come, the wolfdog stuck its nose under her wrist and licked her hand.
With caution, Faye turned her head.
A few feet away, a little girl sat on the ground. She wore dirt-stained trousers and had her legs crisscrossed in front, partially covered with a parka that looked three sizes too big. The girl’s black hair seemed in terrible need of brushing. Big ebony eyes blinked against the sun. A serious mouth gave no indication about what she was thinking.
Beyond the girl, an older boy dressed in a ragged coat and worn overalls rummaged through Faye’s case. He held up one of her undergarments and gave it a quizzical look.
Faye eased up on her elbows and rolled her head side to side. She relaxed her body, now confident that she was going to live. Just seeing people, even small ones, made her heart lighten (maybe say this a different way?). But why was he going through her things instead of offering help? She creased her forehead and lowered her jaw (creased would move her forehead up, lowered would move her jaw down, is that what you want?) with an indignant gasp. She was being robbed—again.
“Hey, you.” Her voice came out as a froggy croak. The boy did not respond, so she tried harder. “Hey, you there.”
The boy jerked up, apparently startled. His eyes squinted her way.
Faye coughed from her efforts. Her mouth was dry as dust and her throat scratchy as a cactus. “There’s nothing in there worth stealing.”
The boy lowered his brows and frowned. “We thought you were dead. Can’t steal from a stiff, ’cause a stiff don’t need nothing.”
“Well, your dog figured out I wasn’t”—she sniffed through her nose—“a stiff, that is, so I suppose that makes it more observant than you.”
The boy’s lips drew into a smirk. “Maybe he is, maybe he ain’t. But one thing I’m sure of”—he chuckled—“S’unka never fell off a moving train.”
Faye made her way up, testing the weight on her left leg. Nope(nope what?). She steadied herself on her right with her arms out for balance. “Have you been following me? How did you know I came from the train?”
His eyes gave her another perusal. “Anyone smarter than a farm-raised tom turkey could figure that out. I’ve seen mangy disease-ridden foxes in better shape than you.”
Rude. Self-conscious, Faye reached up to her hair. If she looked as bad as she felt, she must be a fright, but it was so unchivalrous for him to point that out. She ran her tongue over her dry, cracked lips. “Do you, by chance, have any water to share?”
The boy slung upon his shoulder a bundled blanket tied to a stick. He dropped it beside her and dug through his belongings, pulling out an old canteen.
Her first taste noted rust and grit, but it felt heavenly. She held the second sip in her mouth so her gums could absorb it and had to restrain herself from gulping the rest. She mourned its loss when she passed it back.
The boy squatted beside the little girl, and they both stared up at Faye like she was a freak circus attraction.
“Where is this?” She swept her arm and immediately regretted the broad movement.
Faye pressed her fingers to her temple and took a deep breath. Was she ever to be rid of this hellish state? “Nuts. How close am I to a town?”
The boy pointed in a direction, but she couldn’t see a town. “Union Junction,” he said, “about a day’s walk from here.”
Faye groaned as walking was becoming her least favorite thing. To think, she used to do it for fun. “Hmm. Would your parents be so kind as to let me use their telephone? I need to report a crime to the police and have them come get me.”
The boy and little girl exchanged a look.
Faye noticed the interaction. “No phone?”
“What’s a phone?” the boy asked.
“Oh my.” Faye carved her hand through her hair and held it back. “Could you take me to where you live then?”
“You’re looking at it. Here.” He pointed(in?) a direction, “There. Everywhere.”
Faye’s breath caught in her throat. She had barely made it two nights. She could not imagine anyone, let alone children, living out here all alone. Where did they sleep? What did they eat? How did they keep dry in a storm or warm on a cold night? They should be in school. “You should have an adult with you. What do you say that we go to Union Junction together?”
“Who’s the adult?”
“Me. I’m nineteen.”
The boy scoffed. “Age is just a number.”
Faye crossed her arms. She tried a different tactic. “The way I see it, you need me, and I need you. So, if you have nowhere particular to be, would you be so kind as to take me to Union?”
The boy’s eyes brightened. “We’ll take you all the way to Garden City if you want. Depends on what you have to offer for our services.” He dug into her case and lifted out a tea-rose-colored silk brassiere made in France.
Faye raised her eyebrows high. “Why on earth do you want that?”
“Rabbit trap.” The boy fingered the material.
Faye lifted her chin, opened her mouth, and then closed it again. She gazed at him appalled. “No. Absolutely not. Put that back.”
“This?” He picked up her girdle, eyeing down the strap and pulling on its give.
“No. You should want to help without anything in return. A good deed.”
The boy made a funny face. The little girl giggled. When the boy turned back to Faye, his face was expressionless. “Why would I do that?”
“To make you feel good”—Faye stumbled her words—“because, you know, to feel good about yourself by helping someone in need.”
The boy picked up his belongings. “Tell it to Sweeney, lady. The sheriff in Union told me that the next time our paths crossed, he’d lock me up and throw away the key. Him and me had a misunderstanding. You’re gonna need to throw in some cabbage and bits to make it worth my while.”
Faye chewed his words, but then it dawned on her. “Oh, you mean money. But I left my handbag and coin purse on the train.”
“Have it your way,” he said and turned to the little girl. “C’mon.”
Faye glanced at her surroundings as they walked away. The thought of being alone out here another day and possibly night was unimaginable.
The wolfdog barked up at her and tilted its head.
“I’m thinking,” she said to it.
The dog rolled over and played dead.
“Good point.” She took the bra out and snapped the case closed. “Wait. Please. We can work something out,” she called after the kids and limped to catch up.
Panting more than the wolfdog, Faye dropped her case and plopped down on it. Behind her, a leafless tree offered no shade, but it made a good backrest. She took off the shoe with the heel still on and rubbed her foot.
The boy—Chaska, he’d said his name was—stopped his sister. They came back to join her.
“I could take care of that stilt for you. Make it match the other,” he offered.
Faye narrowed her eyes. “What’s that going to cost me?”
The boy chuckled. “Nothing. I’m wantin’ this good feeling you promised. At this pace, it’ll be harvest by the time we get there.”
“Sorry. I just need a quick rest.” She handed him her shoe. “How close are we now?”
“About halfway. We won’t make it by night.” He hit the shoe’s heel to the side of the trunk and popped it off. He stared at the tree.
Faye looked up at the area but saw only bark. “What are you looking at so intently?”
“Here.” He pointed with the toe of her shoe and traced over an image. “We roamers carve marks in trees to help each other. Shows if a place is safe, worn out of charity, and where goods may be.”
Faye stood to get a closer look. “All I see is some squiggles and an X.”
Chaska nodded. “It means we’re in luck.” He traced the squiggles with his finger. “Shows a creek. Water is scarce as hen’s teeth out here and we’re almost out.” His expression clearly stated they were almost out of drinking water because of her. “The X in the middle of these two circles means a camp. If they share, we eat tonight.” He tossed back her shoe.
Faye would never take the simple convenience of food and drinking water for granted again. She hefted up her suitcase and followed them.