The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon 10


The four days which followed her decision to turn north were like that descent: mostly a cloudbank. Some of the memories she did have she did not trust; by Tuesday night 171. the boundary between reality and make-believe had begun to disappear. By Saturday morning, after a full week in the woods, it was all but gone. By Saturday morning (not that Trisha recognized it as Saturday when it came; by then she had lost track of the days) Tom Gordon had become her fulltime companion, not pretend but accepted as real. Pepsi Robichaud walked with her for awhile; the two of them sang all their favorite Boyz and Spice Girls duets and then Pepsi walked behind a tree and didn't come out on the other side. Trisha looked behind the tree, saw that Pepsi wasn't there, and understood after several moments of frowning thought that she had never been there at all. Trisha then sat down and cried.

While she was crossing a wide, boulder-strewn clearing, a large black helicopterthe sort of helicopter the sinister government conspiracy guys used in The X-Filescame and hovered over Trisha's head. It was soundless except for the faintest pulse of its rotors. She waved to it and screamed for help, and although the guys inside must have seen her, the black helicopter flew away and never returned. She came to an old forest of pines through which the light slanted in ancient dusty beams like sunrays falling through the high windows of a cathedral. This might have been on Thursday.

From these trees hung the mutilated corpses of a thousand deer, a slain army of deer crawling with flies and bulging with maggots. Trisha closed her eyes and when she opened them again the rotting deer were gone. She found a stream and followed it for awhile and then it either quit on her or she wandered away from it. Before this happened, however, she looked into it and saw an enormous face on the bottom, drowned but somehow still living, looking up at her and talking soundlessly. She passed a great gray tree like a hol-172 low crooked hand; from within it, a dead voice spoke her name. One night she awoke with something pressing down on her chest and thought the thing in the woods had finally come for her, but when she reached for it there was nothing there and she could breathe again. On several occasions she heard people calling for her, but when she called back there was never any answer.

Amid these clouds of illusion came vivid flashes of reality like glimpses of the ground. She remembered discovering another berry patch, a huge one splashed down the side of a hill, and refilling her pack while she sang, Who do you call when your windshield's busted? She remembered filling her water-bottle and Surge bottle from a spring. She remembered stumbling over a root and falling to the bottom of a wet lit-tle declivity where the most beautiful flowers she had ever seen grewwaxy-white and aromatic, graceful as bells. She had a clear memory of coming upon the headless body of a fox; unlike the army of slain deer hanging from the trees, this corpse didn't go away when she closed her eyes and counted to twenty. She was quite sure she saw a crow hanging upside down from a branch by its feet and cawing at her, and while that was probably impossible, the memory had a quality that many others (the one of the black helicopter, for instance) did not: a texture and a lucidity. She remembered fishing with her hood in the stream where she later saw the long drowned face.

There were no trout but she did manage to catch a few tad-dies.

She ate these whole, being careful to make sure they were dead before she did. She was haunted by the idea that they might live in her stomach, and turn into frogs there.

She was sick, she had been right about that, but her body fought the infection in her throat and chest and sinuses with remarkable tenacity. For hours at a time she would feel feverish, hardly in the world at all. The light, even when it was dim and filtered by heavy tree-cover, hurt her eyes, and she talked nonstopmostly to Tom Gordon but also to her mother, brother, father, Pepsi, and all the teachers she had ever had, right back to Mrs. Garmond in kindergarten. She woke herself up in the night, lying on her side with her knees curled to her chest, shaking with fever and coughing so hard she feared something inside her would rupture. But then, instead of getting worse, the fever would either fade or disappear entirely, and the headaches which accompanied it would lift. She had one night (it was Thursday, although she didn't know it) when she slept right through and woke almost refreshed. If she had coughed during that night, it wasn't hard enough to wake her. She picked up a patch of poison ivy on her left forearm, but Trisha recognized it for what it was and slathered it with mud. It didn't spread.

Her clearest memories were of lying beneath heaps of branches and listening to the Red Sox while the stars glared coldly overhead. They won two out of three in Oakland, with Tom Gordon getting saves in both wins. Mo Vaughn hit two home runs and Troy O'Leary (one very cute baseball player, in Trisha's humble estimation) hit one. The games came through to her on WEEI, and although the reception grew a little worse each night, her batteries held up well.

She remembered thinking that if she ever got out of this, she would have to write a fan letter to the Energizer Bunny.

She did her part by turning the radio off when she got sleepy. Not once, even on Friday night, when she was wracked with chills and fever and watery bowels, did she go to sleep with the radio on. The radio was her lifeline, the games her life preserver. Without them to look forward to she thought she would simply give up.

The girl who had gone into the woods (almost ten and big for her age) had weighed ninety-seven pounds. The girl who came blundering half-blind up a piney slope and into a brushy clearing seven days later weighed no more than seventy-eight. Her face was swollen with mosquito bites and a large coldsore had bloomed on the left side of her mouth. Her arms were sticks. She hitched constantly at the waist of her loose jeans without realizing it. She was muttering a song under her breathPut your arms around me... cuz I gotta get next to youand looked like one of the world's younger heroin addicts. She had been resource-ful, she had been lucky with the weather (moderate temper-atures, no rain since the day she'd gotten lost), and she had discovered deep and totally unexpected reserves of strength within herself. Now those reserves were almost gone, and in some part of her exhausted mind, Trisha knew it. The girl making her slow, weaving way through the clearing at the top of the slope was nearly finished.

In the world she had left, a desultory remnant of the search went on, but she was nonetheless now presumed dead by most of those looking for her. Her parents had begun to discuss, in a blundering and still unbelieving way, whether they should have a memorial service or wait for the body to be found. And if they decided to wait, how long? Sometimes the bodies of the lost were never found. Pete said little, but he had grown hollow-eyed and silent. He took Moanie Balogna into his room and sat her in the corner where she could look toward his bed. When he saw his mother looking at the doll, he said, Don't you touch it. Don't you dare.

In that world of lights and cars and paved roads she was dead. In this onethe one that existed off the path, the one where crows sometimes hung upside down from branches she was close to it. But she kept on truckin. (That one was her father's.) Her course sometimes wavered a bit to the west or the east, but not often and not much. Her ability to keep moving steadily in one direction was nearly as remark-able as her body's refusal to give in completely to the infec-tions in her chest and throat. Not as helpful, however. Her path took her slowly but steadily away from the larger con-centrations of towns and villages and deeper into New Hampshire's chimney.

The thing in the woods, whatever it was, kept her com-pany on her journey. Although she dismissed a great deal of what she felt and thought she saw, she never dismissed her sense of what the wasp-priest had called the God of the Lost; never chalked up the clawed trees (or the headless fox, for that matter) to mere hallucination. When she felt that thing (or heard itseveral times she had heard breaking branches in the forest as it kept pace with her, and twice she heard its low inhuman grunt), she never questioned the fact of its actual presence. When the feeling left her, she never questioned the fact that the thing was really gone. She and it were tied together now; they would remain so until she died. Trisha didn't think that would be long now. Right around the corner, her mother would have said, except there were no corners in the woods. Bugs and swamps and sudden drop-offs, but no corners. It wasn't fair that she should die after fighting so hard to stay alive, but the unfairness didn't make her so angry now. It took energy to be angry. It took vitality. Trisha was nearly shot of both.

Halfway across this new clearing, which was no different than a dozen others she had passed through, she began to cough. It hurt deep in her chest, made her feel as if there were a great big hook in there. Trisha doubled over, grabbed hold of a jutting stump, and coughed until tears popped out of her eyes and her vision doubled. When the coughing finally tapered off and stopped, she remained bent over at first, waiting for her heart to slow its fearful pounding.

Also for those big black butterflies in front of her eyes to fold their wings and go back to wherever they came from.

Good thing she'd had this stump to hold onto or she would have fallen over for sure.

Her eyes went to the stump and her thoughts abruptly ceased. The first to come back was I'm not seeing what I think I'm seeing. It's another make-believe, another hallucination. She closed her eyes and counted to twenty. When she opened them the black butterflies were gone, but the rest was the same. The stump wasn't a stump. It was a post. On top, screwed into the gray and spongy old wood, was a rusty red ringbolt.

Trisha grasped it, felt the old iron reality of it. She let go and looked at the flecks of rust on her fingers. She grasped it again, flicked it back and forth. That sense of deja vu swept her as it had when she had turned in a circle, only it was stronger now, and somehow associated with Tom Gordon.


You dreamed it, Tom said. He was standing about fifty feet away with his arms folded and his butt leaned up against a maple tree, dressed in his gray road uniform. You dreamed we came to this place.

I did?

Sure, don't you remember? It was the team's off night.

The night you listened to Walt.

Walt...? The name was only vaguely familiar, the sig-nificance of it totally lost.

Walt from Framingham. The El Dopo on the cell phone.

She started to remember. And then the stars fell.

Tom nodded.

Trisha walked slowly around the post, never taking her hand off the ringbolt. She looked carefully at her surround-ings and saw that she wasn't in a clearing at all, not really.

There was too much grassthe high green grass you saw in fields or meadows. This was a meadow, or had been once, a long time ago. If you ignored the birches and the bushes and let your eye see the whole thing, you couldn't mistake it for anything else. It was a meadow. People made meadows, just as people planted posts in the ground, posts with ring-bolts on them.

Trisha dropped to one knee and ran a hand up and down the postlightly, mindful of splinters. Halfway around it she discovered a pair of holes and a twisted pring of old metal. She felt below it in the grass, found nothing at first, and dug deeper into the wiry undergrowth. Down there, caught in old hay and timothy, she found something else.

Trisha had to use both hands to rip it free. It turned out to be an ancient rusty hinge. She held it up to the sun. A pencil-thin ray fell through one of the screwholes and put a brilliant pinhead of light on one cheek.

Tom, she breathed. She looked toward where he had been, leaning back against the maple with his arms crossed, thinking he would be gone again. He wasn't, though, and although he wasn't smiling, she thought she saw a hint of a smile around his eyes and mouth. Tom, look! She held up the hinge.

It was a gate, Tom said.

A gate! she repeated rapturously. A gate! Something made by humans, in other words. Folk from the magic world of lights and appliances and 612 Insect Repellant.

This is your last chance, you know.

What? She looked at him uneasily.

It's the late innings now. Don't make a mistake, Trisha.

Tom, you

But there was no one there. Tom was gone. Not that she had seen him disappear, exactly, because Tom had never been there in the first place. He was only in her imagination.

What's the secret of closing? she had asked himshe couldn't remember exactly when.

Establishing that it's you who's better, Tom had said, her mind perhaps recycling some half-heard comment from a sports show or maybe a postgame interview watched with her father, his arm around her shoulders, her head leaning against him. It's best to do it right away.

Your last chance. Late innings. Don't make a mistake.

How can I do that when I don't even know what I'm doing?

To that there was no answer, so Trisha once more walked around the post with her hand on the ringbolt, as slowly and as delicately as a Saxon girl in some ancient courting rit-ual of the Maypole. The woods which enclosed the over-grown meadow revolved before her sight the way things did when you were on the merry-go-round at Revere Beach or Old Orchard. They looked no different from the miles of woods she'd already been through, and which way? Which way was the right way? This was a post but not a signpost.

A post, not a signpost, she whispered, walking a little faster now. How can I know anything from it when it's a post, not a signpost? How can a numbwit like me...

She had an idea then, and dropped back onto her knees.

She banged one shin on a rock, started it bleeding, hardly noticed. Maybe it was a signpost. Maybe it was.

Because it had been a gatepost.

Trisha found the holes in the post again, the ones where the hinge-screws had gone. She located herself with her feet to those holes, then crawled slowly away from the post on a straight line. One knee forward... then the other... then the first Ow! she cried, and yanked her hand out of the grass.

That had hurt worse than barking her shin. She looked at her palm and saw little beads of blood oozing up through the caked dirt. Trisha leaned forward on her forearms, pushing aside the grass, knowing what had stabbed into her hand, needing to see it just the same.

It was the ragged stump of the other gatepost, broken off about a foot out of the ground, and she'd really been quite lucky not to hurt herself any more than she had; a couple of the splinters sticking up from that post were a good three inches long and looked as sharp as needles. A little beyond the stump, buried in the white and wiry old grass underlying this June's aggressive new green, was the rest of the post.

Last chance. Late innings.

Yeah, and maybe somebody expects an awful lot from a kid, she said. She unshouldered her pack, opened it, yanked out the remains of the poncho, and tore off one of the strips.

This she knotted around the stump of the broken-off gatepost, coughing nervously as she did it. Sweat ran down her face. Noseeums came to drink it; some drowned; Trisha didn't notice.

She stood up, reshouldering the pack, and stood between the remaining upright post and the blue strip of plastic marking the downed one.

Here's where the gate was, she said. Right here. She looked straight ahead, in a northwest direction. Then she about-faced and gazed southeast. I don't know why any-180 one would put a gate here, but I know that you don't bother unless there's a road or a trail or a riding-path or something.

I want... Her voice trembled toward tears. She stopped, gulped them back, and started again. I want to find the path. Any path. Where is it? Help me, Tom.

Number 36 didn't reply. A jay scolded her and some-thing moved in the woods (not the thing, just some animal, maybe a deershe had seen lots of deer over the last three or four days), but that was all. Before her, all around her, was a meadow so old that it could now pass for just another forest clearing unless you looked closely. Beyond this she saw more woods, more clenches of trees she could not name.

She saw no path.

This is your last chance, you know.

Trisha turned, walked northwest across the open space to the woods, then looked back to make sure she had held a straight line. She had, and she looked forward again.

Branches moved in a light breeze, casting deceptive dapples of light everywhere, creating what was almost a disco-ball effect. She could see an old fallen log and went to it, slipping between the closely packed trees and ducking under the maddening interlacing branches, hoping... but it was a log, just a log and not another post. She looked further and saw nothing. Heart thumping, breath coming in anxious, phlegmy little bursts, Trisha fought her way back to the clearing and returned to the place where the gate had been.

This time she faced southeast and walked slowly once more to the rim of the woods.

Well, here we go, Troop always said, it's the late innings and the Red Sox need base-runners.

Woods. Nothing but woods. Not so much as a game-trail at least not that Trisha could seelet alone a path.

She pushed in a little further, still trying not to cry, knowing that very soon she wouldn't be able to help it. Why did the wind have to be blowing? How could you see anything with all those little puppy-shit dots of sunlight spinning around?

It was like being in a planetarium, or something.

What's that? Tom asked from behind her.

What? She didn't bother turning. Tom's appearances no longer seemed especially miraculous to her. I don't see anything.

To your left. Just a tiny bit. His finger, pointing over her shoulder.

That's just an old stump, she said, but was it? Or was she just afraid to believe it was a I don't believe so, said Number 36, and of course he had baseball player's eyes. I think that's another post, girl.

Trisha worked her way to it (and it was work; the trees were maddeningly thick here, the bushes heavy, the going underfoot littered and treacherous), and yes, it was another post. This one had rusted nips of barbed wire running up the inside like sharp little bowties.

Trisha stood with one hand on its eroded top and looked deeper into the sun-dappled, deceptive woods. She had a dim memory of sitting in her room on a rainy day and work-ing in an activity book Mom had bought her. There was a picture, an incredibly busy picture, and in it you were sup-posed to find ten hidden objects: a pipe, a clown, a diamond ring, stuff like that.

Now she needed to find the path. Please God help me find the path, she thought, and closed her eyes. It was the God of Tom Gordon she prayed to, not her father's Subaudible. She wasn't in Malden now, nor in Sanford, and she needed a God that was really there, one you could point to when ifyou got the save. Please God, please. Help me in the late innings.

She opened her eyes as wide as she could and looked without looking. Five seconds went by, fifteen seconds, thirty. And all at once it was there. She had no idea what, exactly, she was seeingperhaps simply a vector where there were fewer trees and a little more clear light, perhaps only a suggestive pattern of shadows all pointing the same waybut she knew what it was: the last remains of a path.

I can stay on it as long as I don't think about it too much, Trisha told herself, beginning to walk. She came to another post, this one leaning at an acute angle; one more winter of frost and freeze, one more spring of thaw and it would fall and be swallowed in the next summer's grass. If I think about it too much or look too hard, I'll lose it.

With that in mind, Trisha began following the few remaining posts of those planted by a farmer named Elias McCorkle in the year 1905; these marked the wood-drag trail he had made as a young man, before the drink got him and he lost his ambition. Trisha went with her eyes wide, never hesitating (to do so would give thought a chance to creep in and likely betray her). Sometimes there would be a stretch where there were no posts, but she did not stop to hunt through the heavy underbrush for their remains; she allowed the light, the shadow-patterns, and her own instinct to guide her. She walked in such steady fashion for the rest of the day, weaving through heavy clumps of trees and high bramble-chokes with her eyes always on the faint trace of the path. She went on for a good seven hours, and just when she was thinking she'd be sleeping again beneath her poncho, huddling there to keep the worst of the bugs at bay, she came to the edge of another clearing. Three posts, leaning drunkenly this way and that, marched to the mid-dle of it. The remains of a second gate still hung from the last of these posts, mostly held up by the thick twining of grass around its lower two crossbars. Beyond it, a pair of fading ruts grown over with grass and daisies headed south, curving back into the forest again. It was an old woods road.

Trisha walked slowly past the gate and to where the road seemed to begin (or finish up; it all depended, she supposed, on which way you were pointing). She stood still a moment, then dropped to her knees and crawled along one of the ruts. As she did it she started crying again. She crawled across the old road's grassy crown, letting the tall grass tickle beneath her chin, and went up the other rut, still on her hands and knees. She crawled like a person who is blind, calling through her tears as she went.

A road! It's a road! I found a road! Thank You, God!

Thank You, God! Thank You for this road!

Finally she stopped, slipped off her pack, and lay down in the rut. This was made by wheels, she thought, and laughed through her tears. After a little while she rolled over and looked at the sky.



Eighth Inning


A FEW MINUTES LATER, Trisha got up. She walked along the road another hour, until the dusk was thick around her. Off in the west, for the first time since the day she got lost, she could hear thunder rumbling. She would want to get in under the thickest clump of trees she could find, and if it rained hard enough she would still get wet. In her present mood Trisha hardly cared.

She stopped between the old wheelruts and was begin-ning to unshoulder her pack when she saw something ahead in the gloom. Something from the world of people; a thing with corners. She resettled her packstraps and crept toward the right side of the road, peering like a person who has grown nearsighted but is too vain to wear spectacles. In the west, thunder rumbled a little louder.

It was a truck, or the cab of one, rearing out of the mat-ted undergrowth. Its hood was long and nearly buried in woods ivy. One wing of the hood had been flung up, and Trisha could see there was no engine inside; ferns grew where it had been. The cab was dark red with rust, tilted to one side. The windshield was long gone, but there was still 185. a seat inside. Most of its upholstery had rotted away or been chewed away by small animals.

More thunder, and this time she could see lightning shiver inside the clouds, which were advancing rapidly and eating the first stars as they came.

Trisha broke off a branch, reached through the open space where the crank-out windshield had been, and beat at the seat's stuffing as briskly as she could. The quantity of dust which rose was amazingit came drifting out through the windshield cavity and window-holes like mist. Even more amazing was the flood of chipmunks that came boil-ing up from the floorboards, squeaking and fleeing out through the lozenge-shaped rear window.

Abandon ship! Trisha cried. We've hit an iceberg!

Women and chipmunks fi She got a lungful of the dust.

The resultant coughing fit wracked her until she sat down heavily with her beating-stick in her lap, gasping for a clear breath and half in a faint. She decided she wasn't going to spend the night in the cab of the truck after all. She wasn't afraid of a few leftover chipmunks, not even of snakes (if there were snakes in residence, she guessed the chipmunks would have moved out long since), but she didn't want to spend eight hours breathing dust and coughing herself blue.

It would be great to sleep under an actual roof again, but that was too high a price to pay.

Trisha made her way through the bushes beside the truck cab and then a little way into the woods. She sat down under a good-sized spruce, ate some nuts, drank some water. She was getting low on food and drink again, but she was too tired to worry about that tonight. She had found a road, that was the important thing. It was old and unused, but it might take her somewhere. Of course it might also peter out as the streams had, but she wouldn't think about that now. For now she would allow herself to hope the road would take her where the streams had not.

That night was hot and close, the humid edge of New England's short but sometimes fierce summer. Trisha fanned the neck of her grimy shirt against her grimy neck, stuck out her lower lip and blew hair off her forehead, then resettled her hat and lay back against her pack. She thought of digging out her Walkman and decided not to. If she tried listening to a West Coast game tonight, she'd fall asleep for sure and trash whatever was left of the batteries.

She reclined further, turning the pack into a pillow, feel-ing something which had been so solidly gone that its return seemed miraculous: simple contentment. Thanks, God, she said. In three minutes she was asleep.

She woke up perhaps two hours later, when the first cold drops of a drenching thundershower found their way through the forest's overlacing and landed on her face. Then thunder cracked the world open and she sat up, gasping.

The trees were creaking and groaning in a strong wind, almost a gale, and sudden lightning flashed them into stark news-photo relief.

Trisha struggled to her feet, brushing her hair out of her eyes and then cringing as more thunder banged... except it was more of a whipcrack than a bang. The storm was almost directly overhead. She would shortly be drenched, trees or no trees. She grabbed up her pack and blundered back toward the dark, tilted hulk of the truck's cab. Three steps and she stopped, gasping in the wet air and then coughing it out, hardly feeling the leaves and small branches that spanked her neck and arms in the gusty wind. Somewhere in the forest a tree fell over with a rending, splintering crack.

It was here, and very close.

The wind changed direction, spattering her with a faceful of rain, and now she could actually smell itsome rank wild odor that made her think of cages at the zoo. Except the thing out there wasn't in a cage.

Trisha began moving toward the truck cab again, hold-ing one hand up before her to ward off whipping branches and the other clapped to the top of her Red Sox cap to keep it on. Thorns tore at her ankles and calves, and when she came out of the sheltering woods to the edge of her road (so she thought of it, as her road), she was instantly drenched.

As she reached the driver's door of the cab, which hung open with vines twisting in and out through its socket of win-dow, lightning flashed again, painting the whole world pur-ple.

In its glare Trisha saw something with slumped shoulders standing on the far side of the road, something with black eyes and great cocked ears like horns. Perhaps they were horns. It wasn't human; nor did she think it was animal. It was a god. It was her god, the wasp-god, standing there in the rain.

NO! she screamed, diving into the truck, unmindful of the dusty cloud that puffed up around her and the uphol-stery's rotting, ancient smell. NO, GO AWAY! GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME ALONE!

Thunder answered. Rain also answered, drumming down on the cab's rusty roof. Trisha hid her head in her arms and rolled over on her side, coughing and shivering. She was still waiting for it to come when she fell asleep again.

This sleep was deep andas far as she could remem-ber dreamless. When she awoke, full daylight had returned.

It was hot and sunny, the trees seemingly greener than they had been the day before, the grass lusher, the birds twitting away in the depths of the woods more complacently happy.

Water rustled and dripped from leaves and branches; when Trisha raised her head and looked out through the tilted glass-less rectangle where the old truck's windshield had been, the first thing she saw was sunlight glaring from the surface of a puddle in one of the road's ruts. The glare was so brilliant that she raised a hand to her eyes, squinting. The afterimage hung in front of her even when the real thing was gone: reflected sky, first blue, then a fading green.

: 2015-09-15; : 6;

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