Seven Days – Part 1
It had only been fifteen minutes, but Karen was already wiping a layer of dirty sweat and humidity from her braless chest. She had run from the house while still in her pajamas, her eyes bruised from last night’s makeup, hair a mess, and head pounding from her alcohol exploits. It was the phone call at 11:15 am that sent her straight from bed to the car within seconds…the phone call asking if Connor and Kenny stayed over last night. It was that phone call that let her know that her daughter Elizabeth was not at Connor’s where she said she would be. By 11:45, the parents, along with police and what seemed to be the entire neighborhood, were trudging through the woods a mile away. Boots slapping and sticking in the earth that was trying to dry after the seven days of rain had finally ceased.
It was a night alone with Tom, and now she felt guilty. She cherished the nights Elizabeth would stay with a friend. Freedom. Sex with Tom the way it used to be, alcohol, maybe a joint, staying out until she damn well chose to come home. Whenever the opportunity arose for Elizabeth to stay at Connor’s Karen took it. She knew it had been raining for days, but refused to count how many. Because if she had counted, she would have known it was seven, and that it would have been safer for Elizabeth to stay home that night. And now Elizabeth was missing. This was her fault. Her selfish fault.
Everything in her body told her Elizabeth was gone. “Elizabeth! Connor! Kenny!” She yelled every so often into the woods that surrounded her. Every time she yelled, she felt the squeeze of emptiness grow tighter around her body, strangling her with the thought of never seeing her daughter again. The “reassurance” from people walking around her was not reassuring at all. The three best friends have pulled stunts like this before. But they have always been sure to be home on time, if not early, to minimize the scolding.
She saw something blue in the distance. The top of the kiddie tent Elizabeth used when she was younger.
“Tom!” Karen could barely yell out as she ran toward the tent. “There!”
Tom and the mob followed Karen’s direction until there was a sudden stop. No one moved, and silence echoed between the people and the trees that surrounded them. A crow cawed in the distance. The police were the first to move toward the body. Only the sounds of their mud-smacking boots and rustling, pocketed pants filled the air. Karen couldn’t move, didn’t want to move. It was Elizabeth. She recognized her brown wavy hair and the Detroit Tigers pajamas. She was face down with her arms sprawled out as though she were lying in their king-sized bed. Her legs…her legs were… She moved up just a little, just enough to see that Elizabeth’s legs were missing. No, that wasn’t right. She moved a little closer. They were in the ground as though Elizabeth had been standing and the earth had formed around her, stopping mid-thigh. And the rest of her body, toppled over the earth silent, still, lifeless.
A loud bang stopped Kenny from finishing his story about why his mom took his phone away for the day, something about ignoring her when he was on it. Him and Elizabeth looked up to see a muddy handprint on the window, raindrops already creating trails that ran through it. The camper door opened, and Connor stood in the doorway with his face covered in mud.
“They’re coming!” he growled. “They’re going to eat us alive! First our feet.” He stomped into the camper. “Then our legs!” He did his best decrepit walk towards Elizabeth. “Then our…ouch!” He rubbed his head where the basketball bounced off, courtesy of Elizabeth.
“You’re an idiot, Connor” she said.
“It is day seven,” Kenny said, bouncing closer to Elizabeth on the couch before grabbing her in his arms. “I’ll protect you!”
She looked down at him. “Yeah, if anything happens, more like I’ll be protecting you two.” She rolled her eyes while pushing Kenny off of her. At age eleven, it was only natural that she was the tallest of the three. She was also better at basketball, baseball, and throwing crab apples at the other neighborhood kids.
Connor pulled her to her side, looping his arms around hers from the back and pulled her to the ground. “Get her!” he yelled to Kenny. Kenny straddled her and began tickling her stomach.
“Stop…”, she laughed, “…stop…I’m gonna…”, she screamed and kicked. “Stop it!”
Kenny stopped and held his hands above her, taunting her. She felt like she was going to vomit, but in a good way. She threw up once after going on the most amazing carnival ride ever, and compared her feelings for Kenny to that. Nauseating, yet amazing. “Get off me!”
Kenny and Connor looked at each other for approval before letting her go. She pounced on Kenny, knocked him to the ground and then straddled him, holding both his shoulders down.
“Help?” he said to Connor who was in the corner of his parent’s camper, laughing.
She sucked together a wad of spit and let it slowly drip from her mouth, then slurped it back up right before it landed on his face. Drop, slurp, repeat…it was a loogy-yoyo, and a pretty fine one in her mind.
Connor interrupted the torture with, “We should sneak out to the woods tonight. See if the Murmer Men come.”
“What?” She climbed off Kenny. “Are you serious?”
“It’s been seven straight days of rain. If the stories are true, they will come out tonight to feast on human flesh. I want to see what they look like.”
“They aren’t real, Connor,” Kenny said. “It’s just a fairy tale. There is no such thing as men made out of mud that eat humans. That’s ridiculous.”
“Oh yeah? Then there should be no problem hanging out in the woods then.”
Elizabeth could see a flash of fear in Kenny’s eyes, and felt one in her own. Unwilling to play the girl, Elizabeth said, “Done. I’ll grab my tent from when I was little that my mom refuses to throw away. We tell our parents that we’re staying over each other’s houses?”
“Yep,” said Connor. “Kenny?”
“Yeah, why not. Nothing’s going to happen anyways.”
Elizabeth reached to the bottom of her nightstand drawer and pulled out the picture of Kenny that she cut from last year’s year book. Her cheeks rose high as she took a breath in and held it to her heart. With an exhale, she pulled it from her chest and took in every last pixel of brown hair and brown eyes before placing it back in the drawer.
“What are you doing with that tent?” her mom asked. Elizabeth did realize it was a little odd, grabbing her tent she hadn’t played with since she was five. And, honestly, what would an eleven-year-old do with a baby tent anyway.
“Oh, I told Connor I was going to give it to his little sister.” Her mouth lifted with a charity-filled smile. In her mind, she heard a ding while a sparkle formed on her teeth…an Orbit commercial at its best.
“Are you sure? You may want to play in it again one day.”
Elizabeth smirked while raising her eyebrows. “Really, Mom?”
Karen sighed. “Go have fun. You sure you don’t want me to drive you over?”
“Nah, I can walk. It’s just rain.” She slipped into her poncho and threw the tent over her shoulders before leaving the house.
Kenny and Connor were waiting at the corner of Lindell and West Street. Each had their own items to lug. Kenny carried a backpack filled with sodas, cookies, jerky, flashlights and any other small items of necessity. Connor carried a garbage bag that held two blankets. Based on the size of the tent, though, they would only be using one.
They learned from their last adventure to take side streets to the woods. Last time they were caught walking down one of the main streets after dark, a concerned citizen thought it would be helpful to question them and then call the police to escort them to their homes. Their homes, of course, had very angry parents to greet them. That mistake would definitely not happen again.
The steady raindrops hitting their ponchos chilled as the night sky crept in, letting the children know that it was only a few hours before midnight. A few hours before the Murmer Men would finally rise for their feast.
“How far in should we go?” asked Kenny as they stood just outside the forest.
“Right to the middle. I want to make sure we see them rise from the mud,” said Connor before seeking his way ahead.
End part 1.