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The bear-creature sniffed delicately all around her face.
Bugs crawled in and out of its nostrils. Noseeums fluttered between the two locked faces, one furry and the other smooth. Minges flicked against the damp surfaces of Trisha's open, unblinking eyes. The thing's rudiment of a face was shifting and changing, always shifting and changing—it was the face of teachers and friends; it was the face of parents and brothers; it was the face of the man who might come and offer you a ride when you were walking home from school. Stranger-danger was what they had been taught in the first grade: stranger-danger. It stank of death and disease and everything random; the hum of its poisoned works was, she thought, the real Subaudible.
It rose up on its back legs again, swaying a little as if to beast-music only it could hear, and then it swatted at her .. . yet it was playful, only playful as yet, missing her face by several inches. The passage of its earth-darkened claws breezed the hair off her forehead. The hair settled back light as milkweed puffs but Trisha did not move. She stood in the set position, looking through the bear's underbelly, where a bluish-white blaze of fur grew in a shape like a lightning bolt.
Look at me.
Look at me!
It was as if unseen hands had grasped her beneath the angles of her jaw. Slowly, not wanting to but helpless to resist, Trisha raised her head. She looked up. She looked into the bear-thing's empty eyes and understood it meant to kill her no matter what. Courage was not enough. But so what?
If a little courage was all you had, so what? It was time to close.
Without thinking about it, Trisha brought her left foot back against her right one and went into her motion—not the one her Dad had taught her in the back yard but the one she'd learned on TV, watching Gordon. When she stepped forward again and raised her right hand to her right ear and then beyond—really rearing back because this would be no lazy offspeed pitch, no eephus; this was going to be the heartbreaker, the serious bent cheese—the bear-thing took a clumsy, overbalanced step backward. Did the squirming things which lent it its dim vision register the baseball in her hand as a weapon? Or was it the threatening, aggressive motion which startled it—the raised hand, the stepping for-ward when she should have been stepping back and turning to run? It didn't matter. The thing grunted in what might have been perplexity. A little cloud of wasps puffed out of its mouth like living vapor. It waved one furry foreleg in an effort to keep its balance. As it struggled to stay on its feet, a shot rang out.
The man in the woods that morning, the first human being to see Trisha McFarland in nine days, was too shaken to even try lying to the police about why he had been in the woods with a high-powered autoload rifle; he'd been in the market for an out-of-season deer. His name was Travis Her-rick, and he didn't believe in spending money on food if he didn't have to. There were too many other important things to spend money on—lottery tickets and beer, for instance.
In any case, he was never tried for anything, or even fined, and he did not kill the creature he saw standing in front of the little girl, who faced it so still and so brave-like.
“If she'da moved when it first come up to her, it woulda tore her apart,” Herrick said. “It's a wonder it didn't tear her apart anyways. She musta stared it down, just like Tarzan in them old jungle movies. I come over the rise and see the two of em, I musta stood there watchin em for twenty seconds at least. Might even have been a minute, you lose all track of time in a situation like that, but I couldn't shoot. They 'us too close together. I was afraid of hittin the girl. Then she moved. She had somethin in her hand and she went to throw it at im almost like she was pitchin a baseball. Her movin like that startled it. It stepped back and kinda lost its bal-ance.
I knew right there was the only chance that little girl had, so I lifted up my gun and I shot.”
No trial, no fine. What Travis Herrick got was his own float in Grafton Notch's 1998 Fourth of July parade. Yeah, baby.
Trisha heard the gunshot, knew it at once for what it was, and saw one of the thing's cocked ears suddenly fly apart at the very tip like a piece of shredded paper. She could see momentary squiglets of blue sky through the torn flaps; she also saw a scatter of red droplets, no bigger than checker-berries, fly into the air in an arc. At the same instant she saw that the bear was just a bear again, its eyes big and glassy and almost comically surprised. Or perhaps it had been a bear all along.
Except she knew better than that.
She continued with her motion, flinging the baseball. It struck the bear dead-bang between the eyes and—whoa, hey, talk about hallucinations—she saw a couple of Ener-gizer double A batteries fall out of it onto the road.
“Strike three called!” she screamed, and at the sound of her hoarse, triumphant, breaking voice, the wounded bear turned and fled, lumbering on all fours, quickly picking up speed, shedding blood from its torn ear as it got into an all-out fanny-wagging run. There was another whipcrack gun-shot, and Trisha felt the slug buffet the air as it passed less than a foot to her right. It dug up a puff of road dust well behind the bear, which veered to its left and plunged back into the woods. For a moment she could see the gleam of its shiny black pelt, then small trees shaking as if in a parody of fear as it passed among them, and then the bear was gone.
She turned, staggering, and saw a small man in patched green pants, green gumrubber boots, and an old flapping T-shirt running toward her. His head was bald on top; long hair flapped down on either side and hung on his shoulders; little rimless eyeglasses flashed in the sun. He was carrying a rifle high over his head, like a raiding Indian in an old movie. She wasn't a bit surprised to see that his shirt had the Red Sox emblem on it. Every man in New England had at least one Sox shirt, it seemed.
“Hey girlie!” he screamed. “Hey girlie, Jesus, are you all right?
Christ almighty, that was a fucking BEAR, are you all right?”
Trisha staggered toward him. “Strike three called,” she said, but the words hardly reached beyond her own mouth.
She had used up most of what she had with that last scream.
All that remained was a kind of bleeding whisper. “Strike three called, I threw the curve and just froze him.”
“What?” He stopped in front of her. “I can't make you out, honey, come again.”
“Did you see?” she asked, meaning the pitch she had thrown—that unbelievable curve that hadn't just broken but snapped like a whip. “Did you see it?”
“I... I saw...” But in truth he didn't know what he had seen. There had been a few seconds in that frozen time when the girl and the bear had been regarding each other that he hadn't been sure, not entirely sure it was a bear, but that he never told anyone. Folks knew he drank; they would think he was crazy. And all he saw now was a delirious little girl who looked like nothing but a stick-figure held together by dirt and ragged clothes. He couldn't remember her name but he knew who she was; it had been on the radio and the TV, as well. He had no idea how she could possibly have gotten so far north and west, but he knew perfectly well who she was.
Trisha stumbled over her own feet and would have fallen to the road if Herrick hadn't caught her. When he did, his rifle—a . 350 Krag that was the pride of his life—discharged again, close to her ear, deafening her. Trisha hardly noticed.
It all seemed normal, somehow.
“Did you see?” she asked again, not able to hear her own voice, not even completely sure if she was actually speaking.
The little man looked bewildered and scared and not espe-cially bright, but she thought he also looked kind. “I got him with the curve, froze him, did you see?”
His lips were moving, but she couldn't tell what he was saying. He put the rifle down on the road, though, and that was a relief. He picked her up and turned her so fast it made her dizzy—she probably would have thrown up if there had been anything left in her stomach. She began to cough. She couldn't hear that, either, not with that monstrous ringing in her ears, but she could feel it, way down in her chest and ribcage, pulling.
She wanted to tell him she was glad to be carried, glad to be rescued, but she also wanted to tell him that the bear-thing had been backing away even before he fired his gun.
She had seen the bewilderment in its face, had seen its fear of her when she went from the set to the motion. She wanted to tell this man who was now running with her one thing, one very important thing, but he was jouncing her and she was coughing and her head was ringing and she couldn't tell if she was saying it or not.
Trisha was still trying to say I got it, I got the save when she passed out.
SHE WAS IN THE WOODS again and she came to a clearing she knew. Standing in the middle of it, by the stump that wasn't a stump but a gatepost with a rusty ringbolt embed-ded in the top, was Tom Gordon. He was idly flicking the ringbolt back and forth.
I already had this dream, she thought, but as she approached him, she saw it had changed in one particular: instead of the gray road uniform, Tom was wearing his white home uniform, with Number 36 on the back in bright red silk. So the road trip was over. The Sox were at Fenway again, back at home, and the road trip was over. Except she and Tom were here; they were back in this clearing.
“Tom?” she said timidly.
He looked at her, eyebrows raised. Back and forth went the rusty ringbolt between his talented fingers. Back and forth.
“I know you did, honey,” he said. “You did a good job.”
Back and forth, back and forth. Who do you call when your ringbolt's busted?
215. "How much of it was real?”
“All of it,” he said, as if it didn't really matter. And then, again: “You did a good job.”
“I was stupid to get off the path like I did, wasn't I?”
He looked at her with slight surprise, then pushed up his cap with the hand that wasn't flipping the ringbolt back and forth. He smiled, and when he smiled he looked young.
“What path?” he said.
“Trisha?” That was a woman's voice, coming from behind her. It sounded like her mother's voice, but what would Mom be doing out here in the woods?
“She probably doesn't hear you,” said another woman.
This voice she didn't know.
Trisha turned. The woods were darkening, the shapes of the trees blurring together, becoming unreal, like a back-drop.
Shapes moved there and she felt a momentary prick of fear. The wasp-priest, she thought. It's the wasp-priest, he's com-ing back.
Then she realized she was dreaming and the fear passed.
She turned back to Tom, but he was no longer there, only the splintered post with the ringbolt in the top... and his warmup jacket lying in the grass. GORDON printed across the back.
She glimpsed him on the far side of the clearing, a white shape like a ghost. “Trisha, what's God's nature?” he called.
To come on in the bottom of the ninth, she wanted to say, but no sound came out.
“Look,” her mother said. “Her lips are moving!”
“Trish?” That was Pete, sounding anxious and hopeful.
“Trish, are you awake?”
She opened her eyes and the woods rolled away into some darkness which would never entirely leave her now—What path? She was in a hospital room. There was a thing up her nose and something else—a tube—running into her hand.
Her chest felt very heavy, very full. Standing by her bed was her father, her mother, her brother. Behind them, looming large and white, was the nurse who had said she probably doesn't hear you.
“Trisha,” her Mom said. She was crying. Trisha saw that Pete was also crying. “Trisha, honey. Oh honey.” She took Trisha's hand, the one without the thing in it.
Trisha tried to smile, but her mouth was too heavy to go up, even at the corners. She moved her eyes and saw her Red Sox hat on the seat of the chair by her bed. Smeared across the visor was a dim blackish-gray shadow. Once it had been Tom Gordon's signature.
Dad, she tried to say. Nothing came out but a cough. It was only a little cough, but it hurt enough to make her wince.
“Don't try to talk, Patricia,” the nurse said, and Trisha could tell both by the nurse's tone and posture that she wanted the family out of here; in another moment she would make them leave. “You're a sick girl. You've got pneumonia.
Her Mom seemed to hear none of this. She was sitting on the bed beside her now, stroking Trisha's wasted arm. She wasn't sobbing, but tears welled steadily from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Pete stood next to her, crying in the same silent fashion. Trisha was touched by his tears in a way she wasn't by her mother's, but she still thought Pete looked quite remarkably dorky. Beside him, beside the chair, stood her Dad.
This time Trisha didn't try to speak, only fixed her father with her eyes and mouthed it again, very carefully: Dad!
He saw and bent forward. “What, honey? What is it?”
“I think that's enough,” the nurse said. “All her signs are up, and we don't want that—she's had all the excitement she needs for awhile. If you'll just help me out, now... help her out—”
Mom got to her feet. “We love you, Trish. Thank God you're safe. We'll be here, but you need to sleep now. Larry, let's—”
He took no notice of Quilla. He remained bent over Trisha, fingers lightly tented on the sheet. “What is it, Trish? What do you want?”
She moved her eyes to the chair, to his face, back to the chair. He looked puzzled—she was sure he wasn't going to get it—and then his face cleared. He smiled, turned, picked up the hat, and tried to put it on her head.
She raised the hand her mother had caressed—it weighed a ton, but she managed. Then she opened the fingers.
Closed them. Opened them.
“Okay, hon. Okay, right.”
He put the cap in her hand, and when she closed her fin-gers on the visor, he kissed them. Trisha began to cry at that, as soundlessly as her mother and brother.
“All right,” the nurse said. “That's it. You'll really have to—”
Trisha looked at the nurse and shook her head.
“What?” the nurse asked. “What now? Goodness' sake!”
Trisha slowly transferred the cap to the hand with the IV needle in it. She looked at her father as she did it, making sure he was looking at her. She was tired. Soon she would sleep.
But not yet. Not until she had said what she had to say.
He was watching, watching closely. Good.
She reached across her body with her right hand, never taking her eyes from her father, because he was the one who would know; if he understood, he would translate.
Trisha tapped the visor of her cap, then pointed her right index finger up at the ceiling.
The smile which lit his face from the eyes down was the sweetest, truest thing she had ever seen. If there was a path, it was there. Trisha closed her own eyes on his understand-ing and floated away into sleep.
FIRST, I TOOK some liberties with the Red Sox's 1998 schedule... small ones, I assure you.
There is a real Tom Gordon, who does indeed pitch in the closer's role for the Boston Red Sox, but the Gordon in this story is fictional. The impressions fans have of people who have achieved some degree of celebrity are always fic-tional, as I can attest of my own personal experience. In one particular the real Gordon and Trisha's version of him are the same: both point skyward after the final out of a suc-cessful save has been recorded.
In 1998 Tom “Flash” Gordon recorded forty-four saves to lead the American League. Forty-three of them came con-secutively, an American League record. Gordon's season came to an unfortunate conclusion, however; as Bork the Dork says, God may be a sports fan, but He doesn't seem to be a Red Sox fan. In Game Four of the Divisional Playoff against the Indians, Gordon surrendered three hits and two runs. The Red Sox lost, 2–1. It was Gordon's first blown save in five months, and it ended the Red Sox's 1998 season.
It did not, however, detract from Gordon's extraordinary 223. accomplishments—without those forty-four saves, the Red Sox probably would have finished fourth in their division instead of winning ninety-one games and compiling the American League's second-best record in 1998. There's a saying, one that most closers like Tom Gordon would prob-ably agree with: some days you eat the bear... and some days the bear eats you.
The things Trisha eats to stay alive can indeed be found in the woods of northern New England during the late spring season; had she not been a town girl, she might have found lots more supplies—more nuts, roots, even cattails. My friend Joe Floyd helped me with this part of it, and it was Joe who told me that fiddleheads grow right into early July in the marshes of the northern backwoods.
The woods themselves are real. If you should visit them on your vacation, bring a compass, bring good maps... and try to stay on the path.
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-15; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 5; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ