, 7


Shut up, she said wearily, just shut up, you stupid mean bitch. But of course the stupid mean bitch was right.

Trisha turned back in the direction of the sunit was now orangeand began walking again. She was becoming actively frightened of her thirst now: if it was this bad at eight o'clock, what would it be like at midnight? Just how long could a person live without water, anyway? She couldn't remember, although she had come across that particular fun fact at some time or othershe was sure that she had. Not as long as a person could go without food, any-way.

What would it be like to die of thirst?

I'm not going to die of thirst in the darn old woods...

am I, Tom? she asked, but Tom wasn't saying. The real Tom Gordon would be watching the game by now. Tim Wake-field, Boston's crafty knuckleballer, against Andy Pettitte, the Yankees' young lefthander. Trisha's throat throbbed. It was hard to swallow. She remembered how it had rained (as with her memory of sitting on the end of her bed and putting on her socks, this also seemed like a long time ago) and wished it would rain again. She would get out in it and dance with her head back and her arms out and her mouth open; she would dance like Snoopy on top of his doghouse.

Trisha plodded through pines and spruces that grew taller and better spaced as this part of the woods grew older.

The light of the setting sun came slanting through the trees in dusty bars of deepening color. She would have thought the trees and the orange-red light beautiful if not for her thirst... and a part of her mind noted their beauty even in her physical distress. The light was too bright, though. Her temples were pounding with a headache and her throat felt like a pinhole.

In this state, she first dismissed the sound of running water as an auditory hallucination. It couldn't be real water; it was too darned convenient. Nevertheless she turned toward it, now walking southwest instead of due west, duck-ing under low branches and stepping over fallen logs like someone in a hypnotic trance. When the sound grew even loudertoo loud to mistake for anything other than what it wasTrisha began to run. She slipped twice on the carpet of needles underfoot, and once she ran through an ugly little pocket of nettles that tore fresh cuts on her forearms and the backs of her hands, but she hardly noticed. Ten minutes after first hearing that faint rushing noise, she came to a short, steep drop-off where the bedrock emerged from the thin soil and needle carpeting of the forest floor in a series of gray stone knuckles. Below these, brawling along at a healthy clip, was a brook that made her first one seem like no more than a drip from the end of a shut-off hose.

Trisha walked along the edge of the drop with perfect unself-consciousness, although a misstep would have sent her tumbling at least twenty-five feet and likely would have killed her. Five minutes' walk upstream brought her to a kind of rough groove from the edge of the forest into the gully where the stream ran. It was a natural flume, floored with decades of fallen leaves and needles.

She sat down and hooked herself forward with her feet until she sat on top of the grooved place like a kid sitting on top of a slide. She started down, still sitting, dragging her hands and using her feet as brakes. About halfway down she started to skid. Rather than trying to stop herselfthat would most likely start her somersaulting againshe lay back, laced her hands together behind her neck, closed her eyes, and hoped for the best.

The trip to the bottom was short and jolting. Trisha whammed into one jutting rock with her right hip, and another struck her laced-together fingers hard enough to numb them. If she hadn't put her hands over the top of her head, that second rock might have torn open her scalp, she thought later. Or worse. Don't break your fool neck was another grownup saying she knew, this one a favorite of Gramma McFarland.

She hit bottom with a bonecrunching thud, and suddenly her sneakers were full of freezing cold water. She pulled them out, turned around, flopped onto her belly, and drank until a spike drove into her forehead the way it sometimes did when she was hot and hungry and gobbled ice cream too fast. Trisha pulled her dripping, mudstreaked face out of the stream's cold boiling course and looked up at the dark-ening sky, gasping and grinning blissfully. Had she ever tasted water this good? No. Had she ever tasted anything this good? Absolutely not. This was in a class by itself. She plunged her face back in and drank again. At last she got up on her knees, uttered a vast watery belch, and then laughed shakily. Her stomach felt swollen, tight as a drum. For the time being, at least, she wasn't even hungry.

The flume was too steep and too slippery to re-climb; she might get halfway or even most of the way up only to slide all the way back to the bottom again. The going looked fairly easy on the other side of the brook, howeversteep and tree-covered but not too brushyand there were plenty of rocks to use as stepping-stones. She could go a lit-tle way before it got too dark to see. Why not? Now that she had filled her belly with water she felt strong again, wonderfully strong. And confident. The bog was behind her and she had found another stream. A good stream.

Yes, but what about the special thing? the cold voice asked.

Trisha was frightened by that voice all over again. The stuff it said was bad; that she should have discovered such a dark girl hiding inside her was even worse. Did you forget about the special thing?

If there ever was a special thing, Trisha said, it's gone now. Back with the deer, maybe.

It was true, or seemed to be true. That sensation of being watched, perhaps stalked, was gone. The cold voice knew it and made no reply. Trisha found she could visualize its owner, a tough little sneery-mouthed tootsie who looked only slightly, coincidentally, like Trisha herself (the resem-blance of a second cousin, perhaps). Now she was stalking away with her shoulders held stiffly high and her fists clenched, the very picture of resentment.

Yeah, go away and stay away, Trisha said. You don't scare me. And after a pause: Fuck you! There it came out of her mouth again, what Pepsi called The Terrible Effword, and Trisha wasn't sorry. She could even imagine saying it to her brother Pete if Pete started up with all his Malden crap again while they were walking home from school. Malden this and Malden that, Dad this and Dad that, and what if she just said Hey Pete, fuck you, deal with it instead of trying to be either all quiet and sympathetic or all bright and cheery and let's-change-the-subject? Just Hey Pete, that's a big fuck you, like that? Trisha saw him in her headsaw him staring at her with his jaw dropped most of the way down to his chin. The image made her giggle.

She got up, approached the water, picked out four stones that would take her across, and dropped them, one at a time, into the streambed. Once on the far side, she began to work her way down the slope.

The hillside steepened steadily and the stream grew ever noisier beside her, rolling and tumbling in its rocky bed.

When Trisha came to a clearing where the ground was rela-tively flat, she decided to stop for the night. The air had grown thick and shadowy; if she tried to go on down the slope, she would be risking a fall. Besides, this wasn't too bad; she could see the sky, at least.

Bugs are fierce, though, she said, waving at the mos-120 quitoes around her face and slapping a few more off her neck. She went to the stream to get mud, butha-ha, joke's on you, girlthere was no mud to get. Plenty of rocks but no mud. Trisha sat back on her heels for a moment while the minges executed complicated flying patterns around her eyes, thought things over, then nodded. She scraped the needles away from a small circle of ground with the sides of her hands, dug a little bowl in the soft earth, then used her water-bottle to fill it up from the stream. She made mud with her fingers, taking a great deal of pleasure in the process (it was Gramma Andersen she thought of, making bread in Gramma Andersen's kitchen on Saturday mornings, stand-ing on a stool to knead the dough because the counter was so high). When she had lots of good goo she smeared it all over her face. By the time she finished this, it was almost dark.

Trisha stood up, still rubbing mud on her arms, and looked around. There was no convenient fallen tree to sleep under tonight, but about twenty yards from this side of the stream she spied a tangle of dead pine-boughs. She took these to one of the tall firs near the stream and leaned them against the trunk like upside-down fans, creating a little space she could crawl into... sort of a half-tent. If no wind came up to knock the branches over, she thought she would be fairly snug.

As she brought the last two over, her stomach cramped and her bowels loosened. Trisha stopped, holding a branch in each hand, waiting to see what would happen next. The cramp let go and the odd weak feeling down low inside of her passed, but she still didn't feel quite right. Fluttery. But-terfluttery was Gramma Andersen's word, only she used it to mean nervous and Trisha didn't feel nervous, exactly. She didn't know how she felt.

It was the water, the cold voice said. Something in the water.

You're poisoned, sugar. Probably be dead by morning.

If I am I am, Trisha said, and added the last two branches to her makeshift shelter. I was so thirsty. I had to drink.

To this there was no reply. Perhaps even the cold voice, traitor that it was, understood that muchshe'd had to drink, had to.

She slipped off her pack, opened it, and reverently took out her Walkman. She settled the earbuds into place and pushed the power button. WCAS was still strong enough to listen to, but the signal wasn't what it had been last night.

It made Trisha feel funny to think she had almost walked out of a radio station's broadcast area the way that you drove out of them when you were on a long car-trip. It made her feel funny, all right, very funny indeed. Funny in her stomach.

All right, Joe Castiglione said. His voice was thin, seeming to come from a great distance. Mo stands in and we're ready for the bottom of the fourth.

Suddenly the butterflutters were in her throat as well as her stomach, and those meaty hiccupsurk-urk, urk-urk started again. Trisha rolled away from her shelter, lurched to her knees, and threw up into the shadows between two trees, holding onto one tree with her left hand and clutch-ing her stomach with her right.

She stayed where she was, gasping for breath and spit-ting out the taste of slightly used fiddleheadssour, acidicwhile Mo fanned on three pitches. Troy O'Leary was up next.

Well, the Red Sox have got their work cut out for them,

Troop remarked. They're down seven to one in the bottom of the fourth and Andy Pettitte is twirling a gem.

Oh sugartit, Trisha said, and then vomited again. She couldn't see what was coming out, it was too dark for that and she was glad, but it felt thin, more like soup than puke.

Something about the almost-rhyme of those two words, soup and puke, made her stomach immediately knot up again. She backed away from the trees between which she had thrown up, still on her knees, and then her bowels cramped again, this time more fiercely.

Oh SUGARTIT! Trisha wailed, tearing at the snap on the top of her jeans. She was sure she wasn't going to make it, absolutely positive, but in the end she was able to hold on just long enough to get her jeans and underwear yanked down and pulled out of the way. Everything down there came out in a hot, stinging rush. Trisha cried out and some bird in the dying light cried back, as if in mockery. When it was finally over and she tried to get on her feet, a wave of lightheadedness struck her. She lost her balance and plopped back down in her own hot mess.

Lost and sitting in my own crap, Trisha said. She began to cry again, then also to laugh as it struck her funny. Lost and sitting in my own crap indeed, she thought.

She struggled up, crying and laughing, her jeans and underwear puddled around her ankles (the jeans were torn at both knees and stiff with mud, but at least she'd avoided dipping them in shit... so far, anyway). She pulled her pants off and walked to the stream, naked from the waist down and holding her Walkman in one hand. Troy O'Leary had singled around the time she lost her balance and plopped into her own poop; now as she stepped barefoot into the freezing cold stream, Jim Leyritz hit into a double play. Side retired. Utterly SECK-shoo-al.

Bending, getting water and splashing it onto her fanny and the backs of her thighs, Trisha said: It was the water, Tom, it was the damn old water, but what was I supposed to do? Just look at it?

Her feet were completely numb by the time she stepped out of the stream; her backside was also pretty numb, but at least she was clean again. She put on her underwear and her pants and was just doing the snap on the jeans when her stomach clenched again. Trisha took two big steps back to the trees, clutched the same one, and vomited again. This time there seemed to be nothing solid in it at all; it was like eject-ing two cups of hot water. She leaned forward and put her forehead against the pine tree's sticky bark. For just a moment she could imagine a sign on it, like the kind people hung over the doors of their lakeside and seaside camps: TRISHA'S PUKIN' PLACE. That made her laugh again, but it was bad laughter.

And through all the air between these woods and the world she had so foolishly believed was hers, that jingle was playing again, the one that went Dial 180054-GIANT.

Now her bowels again, tightening and cramping.

No, Trisha said, with her forehead still against the tree and her eyes closed. No, please, no more. Help me, God.

Please no more.

Don't waste your breath, said the cold voice. It's no good praying to the Subaudible.

The cramp loosened. Trisha walked slowly back to her shelter on legs that felt rubbery and unstable. Her back hurt from vomiting; her stomach muscles felt oddly sprung.

And her skin was hot. She thought maybe she had a fever.

Derek Lowe came in to pitch for the Red Sox. Jorge Posada greeted him with a triple into the right-field corner.

Trisha crawled into her shelter, being careful not to brush any of the branches with her arm or hip. If she did that the whole thing would probably fall over. If she was caught short again (that's what her Mom called it; Pepsi called it having the Hershey squirts or doing the outhouse polka), she'd probably knock it all over, anyway. Meantime, though, she was in here.

Chuck Knoblauch hit what Troop called a towering fly ball. Darren Bragg caught it, but Posada scored. Eight to one, Yankees. She was on a roll tonight, no doubt about it.

On an absolute roll.

Who do you call when your windshield's busted? she sang under her breath as she lay on the pine needles.


A sudden spasm of the shivers took her; instead of hot and feverish, she felt cold all over. She grabbed her muddy arms with her muddy fingers and held on, hoping the branches she had so carefully set up wouldn't all fall down on top of her.

The water, she moaned. The water, the damned old water, no more of that.

But she knew better, and didn't need the cold voice to tell her anything. She was already thirsty again, vomiting and the aftertaste of fiddleheads had made the thirst even stronger, and she would be revisiting the stream soon enough.

She lay listening to the Red Sox. They woke up in the eighth, scoring four runs and chasing Pettitte. While the Yan-kees batted against Dennis Eckersley in the top of the ninth (the Eck was what Joe and Troop called him), Trisha gave inshe couldn't stand listening to the daffy babble of the stream any longer. Even with the Walkman's volume turned up it was there, and her tongue and throat begged for what she was hearing. She backed carefully out of the shelter, went to the stream, and drank again. It was cold and deli-125 cious, tasting not like poison but like the nectar of the gods.

She crawled back to her shelter, alternately hot and cold, sweaty and shivery, and as she lay down again she thought, I'll probably be dead by morning. Dead or so sick I'll wish I was dead.

The Red Sox, now down by a score of eight to five, loaded the bases with just one out in the bottom of the ninth.

Nomar Garciaparra hit a deep drive to center field. If it had gone out, the Sox would have won the game by a score of nine to eight. Instead, Bernie Williams made a leaping grab at the bullpen wall and snared Garciaparra's bid. One run scored on the sacrifice fly, but that was all. O'Leary came up and struck out against Mariano Rivera, completing an undistinguished night and ending the game. Trisha pushed the power button on her Walkman, saving the batteries.

Then she began to cry, weakly and helplessly, with her head in her crossed arms. She was sick to her stomach and queasy in her bowels; the Sox had lost; Tom Gordon never even got in the stupid game. Life was the puppy-shits. She was still crying when she fell asleep.

At the Maine state police barracks in Castle Rock, a short telephone call came in just as Trisha was going against her better judgment and drinking from the stream for the sec-ond time. The caller gave his message to the operator and to the tape-recorder which preserved all incoming calls.

Call commences 2146 Hours Caller: The girl you're looking for was snatched off the trail by Francis Raymond Mazzerole, that's M as in microscope.

He's thirty-six years old, wears glasses, has short hair dyed blond. Got that?

Operator: Sir, can I ask you to Caller: Shut up, shut up, listen. Mazzerole is driving a blue Ford van, what I think is called an Econoline. He is in Con-necticut by now at least. He is a bad scumbag. Run his record and you'll see. He'll fuck her a few days if she doesn't give him any trouble, you could have a few days, but then he'll kill her. He's done it before.

Operator: Sir, do you have a license number Caller: I gave you his name and what he's driving. I gave you all you need. He's done this before.

Operator: Sir Caller: I hope you kill him.

Call ends 2148 Hours Traceback put the origin of the call at a pay telephone in Old Orchard Beach. No help there.

Around two o'clock the next morningthree hours after police in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey had begun looking for a blue Ford van driven by a man with short blond hair, wearing eyeglassesTrisha awoke with more nausea and cramps. She knocked her shel-ter over backing out of it, fumbled her jeans and underwear down, and voided what seemed like a huge quantity of weak acid. It hurt her down there, hurt with a deep itching sting that felt like the worst case of prickly heat she'd ever had.

When that part was over she crawled back to Trisha's Pukin' Place and grabbed hold of the same tree. Her skin was hot, her hair was matted with sweat; she was also shak-ing all over and her teeth were chattering.

I can't vomit any more. Please God, I can't vomit any more. It'll kill me if I go on vomiting.

This was when she actually saw Tom Gordon for the first time. He was standing in the woods about fifty feet away, his white uniform seeming almost to burn in the moonlight which fell through the trees. He was wearing his glove. His right hand was behind his back and Trisha knew there was a baseball in it. He would be cupping it against his palm and twirling it in his long fingers, feeling the seams go by, stop-ping only when they were exactly where he wanted them and the grip was right.

Tom, she whispered. You never got a chance tonight, did you?

Tom took no notice. He was looking in for the sign.

That stillness spun out from his shoulders, enveloping him. He stood there in the moonlight, as clear as the cuts on her arms, as real as the nausea in her throat and belly, all those nasty butterflutters. He was stillness waiting for the sign. Not perfect stillness, there was that hand behind his back turning the ball and turning the ball, searching for the best grip, but all stillness where you could see; yeah, baby, stillness waiting for the sign. Trisha wondered if she could do thatjust let the shakes run off her like water off a duck's back and be still and conceal the churning inside her.

She held onto the tree and tried. It didn't happen all at once (good things never did, her Dad said), but it did hap-pen: quiet inside, blessed stillness. She stayed that way for a long time. Did the batter want to step out because he thought she was taking too long between pitches? Fine. It was nothing to her, one way or the other. She was only still-ness, stillness waiting for the right sign and the right grip on the ball. Stillness came from the shoulders, it spun out from there, it cooled you and focused you.

The shivers eased, then stopped entirely. At some point she realized that her stomach had also settled. Her bowels were still crampy, but not as bad now. The moon was down.

Tom Gordon was gone. Of course he had never really been there at all, she knew that, but He sure looked real that time, she croaked. Real as real. Wow.

She got up and walked slowly back to the tree where her shelter had been. Although she wanted nothing except to huddle on the pine needles and go to sleep, she set up the fans of branches again, then crawled in behind them. Five minutes later she was dead to the world. As she slept, some-thing came and watched her. It watched for a long time. It was not until light began to line the horizon in the east that it went away... and it did not go far.



Sixth Inning


WHEN TRISHA woke up, the birds were singing confidently.

The light was strong and bright, the way it looked at mid-morning.

She might have slept even longer, but hunger wouldn't allow it. She roared with a vast emptiness from the top of her throat all the way down to her knees. And in the very middle it hurt, actually hurt. It was as if she were being pinched somewhere inside. The feeling frightened her. She had been hungry before, but never hungry enough for it to hurt this way.

She backed out of her shelter, knocking it over again, got to her feet, and hobbled to the stream with her hands planted in the small of her back. She probably looked like Pepsi Robichaud's grandmother, the one who was deaf and had arthritis so bad she had to use a walker. Granny Grunt, Pepsi called her.

Trisha got down on her knees, planted her hands, and drank like a horse at a trough. If the water made her sick again, and it probably would, so be it. She had to put some-thing in her stomach.

She got up, looked dully around her, hitched up her jeans 131. (they had been okay when she put them on, long ago and far away in her Sanford bedroom, but they were loose now), then started downhill along the course of the stream. She no longer had any real hope that it would take her out, but at least she could put some distance between her and Trisha's Pukin' Place; she could do that much.

She had gotten perhaps a hundred paces when the tough tootsie spoke up. Forgot something, didn't you, sugar? Today the tough tootsie also sounded like a getting-tired tootsie, but her voice was as cold and ironic as ever. Not to mention cor-rect.

Trisha stood where she was for a moment with her head down and her hair hanging, then turned around and labored uphill to her little camp of the night before. She had to stop twice on the way and give her pounding heart a chance to slow down; she was appalled by how little strength she had left.

She filled her water-bottle, stuffed it and the shredded remains of her poncho into her pack, gave a tearful sigh at the pack's weight when she lifted it (the damned thing was all but empty, for goodness' sake), and then set off again. She walked slowly, almost plodding now, and although the going was downhill she still had to stop and rest every fif-teen minutes or so. Her head throbbed. All the world's col-ors looked too bright, and when a bluejay called from a branch overhead, the sound seemed to punch into her ears like needles. She pretended Tom Gordon was with her, keeping her company, and then after awhile she didn't have to pretend anymore. He walked along beside her, and although she knew he was a hallucination, he looked as real by daylight as he had by moonlight.

Around noon, Trisha stumbled over a rock and sprawled full-length in a brambly snarl of bushes. She lay there with the breath knocked out of her and her heart hammering so hard it made white lights in front of her eyes. The first time she attempted to drag herself back to open ground she couldn't do it. She waited, rested, tried for stillness with her eyes half-closed, and then went for it again. This time she pulled herself free, but when she tried to get up, her legs wouldn't support her. No wonder, either, not really. Over the last forty-eight hours she'd had nothing to eat but a hardboiled egg, a tuna sandwich, two Twinkies, and a few fiddleheads. She'd also had diarrhea and vomiting.

I'm going to die, Tom, aren't I? she asked. Her voice was calm, lucid.

There was no answer. Trisha raised her head and looked around. Number 36 was gone. Trisha dragged herself over to the stream and had a drink. The water didn't seem to be bothering her stomach and bowels anymore. She didn't know if that meant she was getting used to it or just that her body had given up trying to rid itself of the bad stuff, the impurities.

Trisha sat up, wiped her dripping mouth, and looked northwest, along the course of the stream. The terrain up ahead was moderating, and the old forest seemed to be changing once again, the firs giving way to smaller, younger treesyour basic forest clenches and tangles, in other words, with plenty of underbrush clogging up any easy way through. She didn't know how long she could continue in that direction. And if she tried to walk in the stream, she guessed that the current would bowl her over. There were no helicopters, no barking dogs. She had an idea she could hear those sounds if she wanted to, just as she could see Tom Gordon if she wanted to, so it was best not to think in that direction. If any sounds surprised her, they might be real.

Trisha didn't think any sounds would surprise her.

I'm going to die in the woods. Not a question this time.

Her face twisted into an expression of sorrow, but there were no tears. She held out her hands and looked at them.

They were trembling. At last she got to her feet and began to walk again. As she made her way slowly downhill, clutching at tree-trunks and branches to keep from falling over, two detectives from the attorney general's office were questioning her mother and brother. Later that afternoon a psychiatrist who worked with the state police would try to hypnotize them, and with Pete he would succeed. The focus of their questions had to do with pulling into the parking lot on Sat-urday morning and getting ready to hike. Had they seen a blue van? Had they seen a man with blond hair and eye-glasses?

Dear Christ, Quilla said, finally giving in to the tears she had until now largely held off. Dear Christ, you think my baby was kidnapped, don't you? Snatched from behind us while we were arguing. At that, Pete also began to cry.

In TR-90, TR-100, and TR-110, the search for Trisha went on, but the perimeter had been tightened, the men and women in the woods instructed to concentrate more fully on the area near where the girl had last been seen. The searchers were now looking more for the girl's effects than for the girl herself: her pack, her poncho, articles of her clothing. Not her panties, though; the A. G. 's men and the state police detectives were pretty sure no one would find those. Guys like Mazzerole usually kept their victims' undergarments, holding onto them long after the bodies had been tossed in ditches or stuffed into culverts.

Trisha McFarland, who had never seen Francis Raymond Mazzerole in her life, was now thirty miles beyond the northwest perimeter of the new, tighter search area. The Maine State Guides and Forest Services game wardens would have found this difficult to believe even without the false tip to distract them, but it was true. She was no longer in Maine; at around three o'clock that Monday afternoon she crossed over into New Hampshire.

It was an hour or so after that when Trisha saw the bushes near a stand of beech trees not far from the stream. She walked toward them, not daring to believe even when she saw the bright red berrieshadn't she just told herself that she could see things and hear them if she wanted to badly enough?

True... but she'd also told herself that if she was sur-prised, the things she saw and heard might be real. Another four steps convinced her that the bushes were real. The bushes... and the lush freight of checkerberries hanging all over them like tiny apples.

Berries ho! she cried in a cracked, hoarse voice, and any last doubts were removed when two crows which had been feasting on dropped fruit a little farther into the tangle took wing, cawing at her reprovingly.

: 2015-09-15; : 9;

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