The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon 8


Trisha meant to walk, but found herself running instead.

When she reached the bushes she stopped on her heels, breathing hard, her cheeks flushed in thin lines of color. She reached out with her filthy hands, then pulled them back, still convinced on some level that when she tried to touch, her fingers would go right through. The bushes would shim-mer like a special effect in a movie (one of Pete's beloved morphs), and then they would show themselves for what they really were: just more tangles of cruddy brown bram-bles, ready to drink as much of her blood as they could while it was still warm and flowing.

No, she said, and reached forward. For a moment she still wasn't sure, and then... oh, and then The checkerberries were small and soft under her finger-tips.

She squashed the first one she picked; it spurted droplets of red juice onto her skin and made her think of once when she had been watching her father shave and he had nicked himself.

She raised the finger with the droplets on it (and a little scrap of deflated berry-skin) to her mouth and put it between her lips. The taste was tangy-sweet, reminding her not of Teaberry gum but of Cranapple juice, just poured from a bot-tle kept cold in the refrigerator. The taste made her cry, but she wasn't aware of the tears spilling down her cheeks. She was already reaching for more berries, stripping them from the leaves in sticky bleeding bunches, cramming them into her mouth, hardly chewing, simply swallowing them and groping for more.

Her body opened itself to the berries; basked in their sugary arrival. She felt this happenwas totally down with it, as Pepsi might have said. Her thinking self seemed far away, watching it all. She harvested the berries from their branches, closing her hand around whole clumps of them and pulling them off. Her fingers turned red; her palms; so, in very short order, did her mouth. As she pushed deeper into the bushes, she began to look like a girl who had been in a nasty cutting-scrape and needed a quick patch-up in the nearest emergency room.

She ate some of the leaves as well as the berries, and her mother had been right about them, toothey were good even if you weren't a woodchuck. Zippy. The two tastes com-bined made her think of the jelly Gramma McFarland served with roast chicken.

She might have gone on eating her way south for quite awhile longer, but the berry-patch came to an abrupt end.

Trisha emerged from the last clump of bushes and found herself looking into the mild, startled face and dark brown eyes of a good-sized doe. She dropped a double handful of berries and screamed through what now looked like a crazy application of lipstick.

The doe hadn't been bothered by her crackling, munch-ing progress through the checkerberry tangle, and seemed just mildly annoyed by Trisha's screamit occurred to Trisha later that this was one deer who would be lucky to survive hunting season come fall. The doe merely flicked her ears and took two springy stepsthey were more like bounces, actuallyback into a clearing which was shafted by conflicting rays of dusky green-gold light.

Beyond her, watching more warily, were two fawns on gangly legs. The doe took another look over her shoulder at Trisha, then crossed with those light, springing steps to her kids. Watching her, amazed and as delighted as she had been at the sight of the beavers, Trisha thought that the doe moved like a creature with a thin coating of that Flubber stuff on her feet.

The three deer stood in the beech clearing, almost as if posing for a family portrait. Then the doe nudged one of the fawns (or perhaps bit its flank), and the three of them were on their way. Trisha saw the flirt of their white tails going downhill and then she had the clearing to herself.

Goodbye! she called. Thanks for stopping b

She stopped, realizing what the deer had been doing here. The forest floor was littered with beechnuts. She knew about these not from her mother but from science class at school. Fifteen minutes ago she had been starving; now she was in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner... the vegetarian version, yeah, but so what?

Trisha knelt, picked up one of the nuts, and set the remains of her fingernails in the shell's seam. She didn't expect much, but it opened almost as easily as a peanut.

The shell was the size of a knuckle, the nutmeat a little bigger than a sunflower seed. She tried it, a bit dubious, but it was good. In its own way it was as good as the checkerberries, and her body seemed to want it in a differ-ent way.

The worst of her hunger had been satisfied by the berries; she had no idea how many she had already gobbled (not to mention the leaves; her teeth were probably as green as Arthur Rhodes's, that creepy little kid who lived up the street from Pepsi). Besides, her stomach had probably shrunk. What she had to do now was...

Stock up, she muttered. Yeah, baby, stock up bigtime.

She unshouldered her pack, aware of how radically her energy level had rebounded alreadyit was beyond amaz-ing, actually a little eerieand unbuckled the flap. She crawled across the clearing, gathering nuts with dirty hands.

Her hair hung in her eyes, her filthy shirt flapped, and every now and again she hitched at her jeans, which had been all right when she put them on a thousand years ago but no longer wanted to stay up. As she gathered she sang the auto-glass jingle180054-GIANTunder her breath.

When she had enough beechnuts to weight down the bot-tom of the pack, she worked her way slowly back through the checkerberry patch, picking berries and dumping them (the ones she didn't just dump into her mouth) in on top of the nuts.

When she reached the place where she had stood earlier, trying to muster up enough courage to reach out and touch what she saw, she felt almost herself again. Not entirely, but still pretty good. Whole was the word that occurred to her, and she liked it so well she said it out loud, not once but twice.

She trudged to the brook, dragging the pack beside her, then sat down under a tree. In the water, like a happy omen, she saw a small speckled fish shoot by in the direction of the flow: a baby trout, perhaps.

Trisha sat where she was for a moment, turning her face up to the sun and closing her eyes. Then she dragged her pack into her lap and put her hand inside, mixing the berries and nuts together. Doing this made her think of Uncle Scrooge McDuck playing around in his money-vault, and she laughed delightedly. The image was absurd and perfect at the same time.

She hulled a dozen or so of the beechnuts, mixed them with a like number of berries (this time using her madder-stained fingers to remove the stems with ladylike care), and tossed the result into her mouth in three measured hand-fuls: dessert. The taste was heavenlylike one of those trailmix breakfast cereals her mother always ateand when Trisha had finished the last handful, she realized she wasn't just full but gorged. She didn't know how long the feeling would lastprobably nuts and berries were like Chinese food, they filled you up and an hour later you were hungry againbut right now her midsection felt like an overloaded Christmas stocking. It was wonderful to be full. She had lived nine years without knowing that, and she hoped she would never forget: it was wonderful to be full.

Trisha leaned back against the tree and looked into her knapsack with deep happiness and gratitude. If she hadn't been so full (too stuffed to jump, she thought), she would have stuck her head in like a mare sticking her head into an oat-sack, just to fill her nose with the delicious combined smell of the checkerberries and beechnuts.

Saved my life, you guys, she said. Saved my goshdarn life.

On the far side of the rushing stream there was a little clearing carpeted with pine needles. Sunlight fell into it in bright yellow bars filled with slow-dancing pollen and woods dust. Butterflies also played in this light, dipping and swoop-ing.

Trisha crossed her hands on her belly, where the roaring was now still, and watched the butterflies. In that moment she did not miss her mother, father, brother, or best friend. In that moment she did not even want to go home, although she ached all over and her butt stung and itched and chafed when she walked. In that moment she was at peace, and more than at peace. She was experiencing her life's greatest contentment. If I get out of this I'll never be able to tell them, she thought. She watched the butterflies on the other side of the stream, her eyelids drooping. There were two white ones; the third was velvety-dark, brown or maybe black.

Tell them what, sugar? It was the tough tootsie, but for once she didn't sound cold, only curious.

What there really is. How simple. Just to eat... why, just to have something to eat and then to be full afterward...

The Subaudible, Trisha said. She watched the butterflies.

Two white and one dark, all three dipping and darting in the afternoon sun. She thought of Little Black Sambo up in the tree, the tigers running around down below and wearing his fine new clothes, running and running until they melted and turned into butter. Into what her Dad called ghee.

Her right hand came unlaced from her left, rolled over, and thumped palm-up to the ground. It seemed like too much work to put it back and so Trisha let it stay where it was.

The Subaudible what, sugar? What about it?

Well, Trisha said in a slow, sleepy, considering voice.

It's not like that's nothing... is it?

The tough tootsie didn't reply. Trisha was glad. She felt so sleepy, so full, so wonderful. She didn't sleep, though; even later, when she knew she must have slept, it didn't seem as if she had. She remembered thinking about her Dad's back yard behind the newer, smaller house, how the grass needed cutting and the lawn-dwarves looked slyas if they knew something you didn'tand about how Dad had started to look sad and old to her, with that smell of beer always com-ing out of his pores. Life could be very sad, it seemed to her, and mostly it was what it could be. People made believe that it wasn't, and they lied to their kids (no movie or television program she had ever seen had prepared her for losing her balance and plopping back into her own crap, for instance) so as not to scare them or bum them out, but yeah, it could be sad. The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted. She knew that now. She was only nine, but she knew it, and she thought she could accept it. She was almost ten, after all, and big for her age.

I don't know why we have to pay for what you guys did wrong!

That was the last thing she had heard Pete say, and now Trisha thought she knew the answer. It was a tough answer but probably a true one: just because. And if you didn't like it, take a ticket and get in line.

Trisha guessed that in a lot of ways she was older than Pete now.

She looked downstream and saw that another stream came pouring into hers about forty yards from where she was sitting; it came over the bank in a spraying little water-fall.

Good deal. This was the way it was supposed to work.

This second stream she had found would get bigger and big-ger, this one would lead her to people. It She shifted her eyes back to the little clearing on the other side of the stream and three people were standing there, looking at her. At least she assumed they were look-ing at her; Trisha couldn't see their faces. Their feet, either.

They wore long robes like the priests in those movies about days of old. (In days of old when knights were bold and ladies showed their fan-nies, Pepsi Robichaud sometimes sang when she jumped rope.) The hems of these robes pud-dled on the clearing's carpet of needles. Their hoods were up, hiding the faces within. Trisha looked across the stream at them, a little startled but not really afraid, not then. Two of the robes were white. The one worn by the figure in the middle was black.

Who are you? Trisha asked. She tried to sit up a little straighter and found she couldn't. She was too full of food.

For the first time in her life she felt as if she had been drugged with food. Will you help me? I'm lost. I've been lost for... She couldn't remember. Was it two days or three?

.. . for a long time. Will you please help me?

They didn't answer, only stood there looking at her (she assumed they were looking at her, anyway), and that was when Trisha began to feel afraid. They had their arms crossed on their chests and you couldn't even see their hands, because the long sleeves of their robes flowed over them.

Who are you? Tell me who you are!

The one on the left stepped forward, and when he reached up to his hood his white sleeves fell away from long white fingers. He pushed the hood back and revealed an intelli-142 gent (if rather horsey) face with a receding chin. He looked like Mr. Bork, the science teacher at Sanford Elementary who had taught them about the plants and animals of northern New England... including, of course, the world-famous beechnut. Most of the boys and some of the girls (Pepsi Robichaud, for instance) called him Bork the Dork.

He looked at her from across the stream and from behind little gold-rimmed spectacles.

I come from the God of Tom Gordon, he said. The one he points up to when he gets the save.

Yes? Trisha asked politely. She wasn't sure she trusted this guy. If he'd said he was the God of Tom Gordon, she knew damned well she wouldn't have trusted him. She could believe a lot of things, but not that God looked like her fourth-grade science teacher. That's... very interesting.

He can't help you, Bork the Dork said. There's a lot going on today. There's been an earthquake in Japan, for instance, a bad one. As a rule he doesn't intervene in human affairs, anyway, although I must admit he is a sports fan.

Not necessarily a Red Sox fan, however.

He stepped back and raised his hood. After a moment the other whiterobe, the one on the right, stepped forward...

as Trisha had known he would. These things had a certain form to them, after allthree wishes, three trips up the beanstalk, three sisters, three chances to guess the evil dwarf's name. Not to mention three deer in the woods, eat-ing beechnuts.

Am I dreaming? she asked herself, and reached up to touch the wasp-sting on her left cheekbone. It was there, and although the swelling had gone down some, touching it still hurt. Not a dream. But when the second whiterobe pushed back his hood and she saw a man who looked like her fathernot exactly, but as much like Larry McFarland as the first whiterobe had looked like Mr. Borkshe thought it had to be. If so, it was like no other dream she had ever had.

Don't tell me, Trisha said, you come from the Sub-audible, right?

Actually, I am the Subaudible, the man who looked like her father said apologetically. I had to take the shape of someone you know in order to appear, because I'm actually quite weak. I can't do anything for you, Trisha. Sorry.

Are you drunk? Trisha asked, suddenly angry. You are, aren't you? I can smell it from here. Boy!

The Subaudible guy gave her a shamefaced little smile, said nothing, stepped back, raised his hood.

Now the figure in the black robe stepped forward. Trisha felt sudden terror.

No, she said. Not you. She tried to get up and still couldn't move. Not you, go away, give me a break.

But the black-clad arms rose, falling away from yellow-white claws... the claws that had left the marks on the trees, the claws that had torn off the deer's head and then ripped its body apart.

No, Trisha whispered. No, don't, please. I don't want to see.

The blackrobe paid no attention. It pushed back its hood.

There was no face there, only a misshapen head made of wasps. They crawled over each other, jostling and buzzing. As they moved Trisha saw disturbing ripples of human feature: an empty eye, a smiling mouth. The head hummed as the flies had hummed on the deer's ragged neck; it hummed as though the creature in the black robe had a motor for a brain.

I come from the thing in the woods, the blackrobe said in a buzzing, inhuman voice. He sounded to Trisha like that guy on the radio who told you not to smoke, the one who had lost his vocal cords in a cancer operation and had to talk through a gadget he held to his throat. I come from the God of the Lost. It has been watching you. It has been wait-ing for you. It is your miracle, and you are its.

Go away! Trisha tried to yell this, but only a husky whining whisper actually came out.

The world is a worst-case scenario and I'm afraid all you sense is true, said the buzzing wasp-voice. Its claws raked slowly down the side of its head, goring through its insect flesh and revealing the shining bone beneath. The skin of the world is woven of stingers, a fact you have now learned for yourself. Beneath there is nothing but bone and the God we share. This is persuasive, do you agree?

Terrified, crying, Trisha looked awaylooked back down the stream. She found that when she wasn't looking at the hideous wasp-priest, she could move a little. She raised her hands to her cheeks, wiped away her tears, then looked back. I don't believe you! I don't

The wasp-priest was gone. All of them were gone. There were only butterflies dancing in the air across the stream, eight or nine now instead of just three, all different colors instead of just white and black. And the light was different; it had begun to take on a gold-orange hue. Two hours had gone by at least, probably more like three. So she had slept.

It was all a dream, as they said in the stories... but she couldn't remember going to sleep no matter how hard she tried, couldn't remember any break in her chain of con-sciousness at all. And it hadn't felt like a dream.

An idea occurred to Trisha then, one which was simulta-neously frightening and oddly comforting: perhaps the nuts and berries had gotten her high as well as feeding her. She knew there were mushrooms that could get you high, that sometimes kids ate pieces of them to get off, and if mush-rooms could do that, why not checkerberries? Or the leaves, she said. Maybe it was the leaves. I bet it was.

Okay, no more of them, zippy or not.

Trisha got up, grimaced as a cramp pulled at her belly, and bent over. She passed gas and felt better. Then she went to the stream, spotted a couple of good-sized rocks sticking out of the water, and used them to hop across. In some ways she felt like a different girl, clear-eyed and full of energy, yet the thought of the wasp-priest haunted her, and she knew her unease would only get worse after the sun went down. If she wasn't careful, she'd have the horrors. But if she could prove to herself it had only been a dream, brought on by eating checkerberry leaves or maybe by drinking water that her system still wasn't entirely used to...

Actually being in the small clearing made her feel ner-vous, like a character in a slasher movie, the stupid girl who goes into the psycho's house asking, Is anybody here? She looked back across the stream, immediately felt that some-thing was looking at her from the woods on this side, and reversed direction so fast she almost fell down. Nothing there. Nothing anywhere, as far as she could tell.

You dingbat, she said softly, but that feeling of being watched had come back, and come back strong. The God of the Lost, the wasp-priest had said. It has been watching you, it has been waiting for you. The wasp-priest had said other things, too, but that was what she remembered: Watching you, waiting for you.

Trisha went to where she was pretty sure she had seen the three robed figures and looked for any sign of them, any sign at all. There was nothing. She dropped to one knee to look more closely and there was still nothing, not so much as a patch of scuffed needles which her frightened mind could have interpreted as a footprint. She got up again, turned to cross the stream, and as she did, something in the forest to her right caught her eye.

She walked in that direction, then stood looking into the tangled darkness where young trees with thin trunks grew close together, fighting for space and light aboveground, no doubt fighting with the grasping bushes for moisture and root-room below. Here and there in the darkening green, birches stood like gaunt ghosts. Splashed across the bark of one of these was a stain. Trisha looked nervously over her shoulder, then pushed her way into the woods and toward the birch. Her heart was thumping hard in her chest and her mind was screaming at her to stop this, to not be such a fool, such a dingbat, such an asshole, but she went on.

Lying at the foot of the birch was a snarly coil of bleeding intestine so fresh that it had as yet collected only a few flies.

Yesterday the sight of such a thing had had her struggling with all her might not to throw up, but life seemed different today; things had changed. There were no butterflutters, no meaty hiccups way down deep in her throat, no instinctive urge to turn away or at least avert her eyes. Instead of these things she felt a coldness that was somehow much worse. It was like drowning, only from the inside out.

There was a swatch of brown fur caught in the bushes to one side of the guts, and on it she could see a spatter of white spots. This was the remains of a fawn, one of the two she had come upon in the beechnut clearing, she was quite sure. Further into the trees, where the woods were already darkening toward night, she saw an alder tree with more of those deep claw-marks slashed into it. They were high up, where only a very tall man could have reached. Not that Trisha believed a man had made the marks.

It has been watching you. Yes, and was watching again right now. She could feel eyes crawling on her skin the way the lit-tle bugs, the minges and noseeums, crawled there. She might have dreamed the three priests, or hallucinated them, but she wasn't hallucinating the deerguts or the claw-marks on the alder. She wasn't hallucinating the feel of those eyes, either.

Breathing hard, her own eyes jerking from side to side in their sockets, Trisha backed toward the sound of the stream, expecting to see it in the woods, the God of the Lost. She broke free of the underbrush and, clutching small branches, backed all the way to the stream. When she was there, she whirled and leaped across it on the rocks, partly convinced that even now it was bursting out of the woods behind her, all fangs, claws, and stingers. She slipped on the second rock, almost fell into the water, managed to keep her bal-ance, and staggered up on the far bank. She turned and looked back. Nothing over there. Even most of the butter-flies were gone now, although one or two still danced, reluc-tant to give up the day.

This would probably be a good place to spend the night, close to the checkerberry bushes and the beechnut clearing, but she couldn't stay where she had seen the priests. They were probably just figures in a dream, but the one in the black robe had been horrible. Also, there was the fawn.

Once the flies did arrive in force, she would hear them buzzing.

Trisha opened her pack, got a handful of berries, then paused. Thank you, she told them. You're the best food I ever ate, you know.

She set off downstream again, hulling and munching a few beechnuts as she went. After a little bit she began to sing, at first tentatively and then with surprising enthusi-asm as the day waned: Put your arms around me... cuz I gotta get next to you... all your love forever... you make me feel brand new...

Yeah, baby.



Top of the Seventh


AS TWILIGHT thickened toward true dark, Trisha came to a rocky open place that looked out over a small, blue-shadowed valley. She surveyed this valley eagerly, hoping to see lights, but there were none. A loon cried from some-where and a crow called crossly back. That was all.

She looked around and saw several low rock outcrops with drifts of pine needles lying between them like hammocks.

Trisha put her pack down at the head of one of these, went to the nearest stand of pine, and broke off enough boughs to make a mattress. It would hardly be a Serta Perfect Sleeper, but she thought it would do. The coming dark had brought on now-familiar feelings of loneliness and sorrowful home-sickness, but the worst of her terror was gone. Her sense of being watched had slipped away. If there really was a thing in the woods, it had gone off and left her to herself again.

Trisha went back to the stream, knelt, drank. She had had little stomach-cramps off and on all day, but she thought her body was adapting to the water, nevertheless. No problem with the nuts and berries, either, she said, then smiled.

Except for a few bad dreams and such.

151. She went back to her pack and her makeshift bed, got her Walkman, and settled the earbuds into place. A breeze puffed by her, cold enough to chill her sweaty skin and make her shiver. Trisha dug out the ruins of her poncho and fluffed the dirty blue plastic over her like a blanket. Not much in the way of warmth, but (this was one of Mom's) it's the thought that counts.

She pushed the power button on the Walkman, but although she hadn't changed the tuner's setting, tonight she got nothing but wavers of faint static. She had lost WCAS.

Trisha worked her way across the FM dial. She got faint classical music up around 95 and a Bible-thumper yelling about salvation at 99. Trisha was very interested in salva-tion, but not the kind the guy on the radio was talking about; the only help from the Lord she wanted right now was a helicopter filled with friendly waving people. She tuned further, got Celine Dion loud and clear at 104, hesi-tated, then kept on rolling the tuner. She wanted the Red Sox tonightJoe and Troop, not Celine singing about how her heart would go on and on.

No baseball on the FM, in fact nothing else at all. Trisha switched to the AM band and tuned up toward 850, which was WEEI in Boston. 'EEI was the Red Sox flagship station.

She didn't expect perfect reception or anything, but she was hopeful; you could pick up a lot of AM at night, and 'EEI had a strong signal. It would probably waver in and out, but she could put up with that. She didn't have a lot else to do tonight, no hot dates or anything.

'EEI's reception was goodclear as a bell, in factbut Joe and Troop weren't on. In their place was one of the guys her Dad called talk-show idiots. This one was a sports talk-152 show idiot. Could it be raining in Boston? Game canceled, empty seats, tarp on the field? Trisha looked doubtfully up at her piece of the sky, where the first stars were now shining like sequins on dark blue velvet. There would be a zillion of them before long; she couldn't see so much as a single cloud. Of course she was a hundred and fifty miles from Boston, maybe more, but The talk-show idiot was on the line with Walt from Fram-ingham.

Walt was on his car phone. When the talk-show idiot asked where he was now, Walt from Framingham said, Somewhere in Danvers, Mike, pronouncing the town's name as Massachusetts people all didDanvizz, making it sound not like a town but something you'd drink to settle an upset tummy. Lost in the woods? Been drinking straight from the stream and shitting your brains out as a result? A tablespoon of Danvizz and you'll feel better fast!

Walt from Framingham wanted to know why Tom Gor-don always pointed to the sky when he got a save (You know, Mike, that pointin thing was how Walt put it), and Mike the talk-show sports idiot explained it was Number 36's way of thanking God.

He ought to point to Joe Kerrigan instead, Walt from Framingham said. It was Kerrigan's idea to turn him into a closer. As a starter he was for the birds, you know?

Maybe God gave Kerrigan the idea, did you ever think of that, Walt? the talk-show idiot asked. Joe Kerrigan being the Red Sox pitching coach, for those of you who might not know.

I do know, numbwit, Trisha murmured impatiently.

We're mostly talking Sox tonight while the Sox enjoy a rare night off, said Mike the talk-show idiot. They open a three-game set with Oakland tomorrowyes, West Coast here we come and you'll hear all the action here on WEEI but today is an open date.

An open date, that explained it. Trisha felt an absurdly huge disappointment weigh her down, and more tears (in Danvizz you called them tizz) began to form in her eyes. She cried so easily now, now she cried over anything. But she had been looking forward to the game, dammit; hadn't known how much she needed the voices of Joe Castiglione and Jerry Trupiano until she found out she wouldn't be hearing them.

We've got some open lines, the talk-show idiot said, let's fill em up. Anybody out there think Mo Vaughn ought to stop acting like a kid and just sign on the dotted line? How much Mo' money does this guy need, anyway?

Good question, isn't it?

It's a stupid question, El Dopo, Trisha said pettishly. If you could hit like Mo, you'd ask for a lot of money, too.

: 2015-09-15; : 6;

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