The way the trees are bending, sagging with the weight of the incoming snow. The lack of rodents and the sound of stillness... "Winter is coming," I mumble to the sky.
Bug snorts, "Okay, Jon Snow."
"That's not my name." Atleast, I don't think it is. It doesn't sound the slightest bit familiar to me... I am pretty fucking terrified that it is actually Brad.
She looks at me as if I have grown three heads. "I know that! It's just a--" Bug then sighs deeply, depleted, "oh, nevermind." She chews on her thumb nail before adding, "You wouldn't remember if it was your name, anyway."
Bug isn't anything if not blunt.
"I think if I hear it, I will know."
"Why do ya do that?"
"You're always goin' on 'bout I will know... why?" She scrutinizes me, "How do you know you'll know?"
And that's the rub, isn't it?
I can't explain it...
So I don't.
The rickety old truck pulls to a stop at a decrepit gas station on the corner of this abandoned highway and Nofuckingwhere Road. The gas pumps are round and circular at the top, showing their age. They advertise an oil company that is no longer drilling for cash and hasn't been for some time. The roof is partially caved in, which helps add to the ambience the paint chipped wooden walls emit. A lone bird makes an escape through the broken glass window, its flapping wings oddly loud in such a large, open space.
Looking both ways down the road, it's obvious there isn't a soul for miles... just trees.
Lots of trees.
They line the highway on both sides, dark and looming and unintentionally creating the illusion of a tunnel. Just the kind of setting that causes unwarranted fear and anxiety.
And the pounding from the other side of the truck window indicates that this is our ditch point.
When Bug asked where we were headed and I responded with, "Where ever the wind takes us," I don't think she believed me but this is how my life has been ever since I found myself clueless on a deserted beach. It would be idiotic to think I could find one person named Lina in a world that holds over seven billion people... and I am not an idiot. With nothing else to go on but a first name, I had no other choice than to allow Fate to take me where it deemed necessary.
So now, we are here...
On Butt-Fuck Egypt Road in the boondock back country of Fuck All, Pennsylvania.
Fate is kind of a dick like that sometimes.
"My point is," I grunt as we jump out of the rusty old truck bed that squeaks and squeals under my weight, "its going to be getting colder. We can't keep hitchhiking in the back of these open air pickup trucks. We'll need to be on the lookout for semitrucks from here on out."
"Yeah, okay, I ain't lookin' to freeze my balls off anyway," Bug grumbles. Soon, her worn out hoodie will not be enough to keep her little body warm. She is too thin from a shitty homelife and almost a year on the streets digging for scraps. I will need to find her a thick coat. She has yet to spend a winter out in the elements so she isn't as concerned as me. However, that fucking foul mouth of her's is another issue entirely...
She reads my thoughts clear as day.
"Don't give me that look! It's a figure of speech," she grants me the pleasure of one overly exaggerated pre-teen eye roll that's totally unnecessary.
I frown as we start walking, "Not for a twelve year old." I pull my pack over my shoulder and stick my thumb out as a small line of traffic passes by.
No one stops.
And on this lonely highway, I don't expect anyone to.
"Age ain't nothin' but a number," Bug retorts. "Ain't like you're much older than me."
"I could be." I can't exactly argue since I don't know how old I am. I mean, maybe I was gifted some good genes and shit.
"Nah," she kicks a poor, unsuspecting rock with a bit more force than is required. It skids across the road like a skipping stone to water and into the treeline opposite of us, "you don't look older than twenty-five... if that."
I haven't looked in the mirror in quite some time but I know I feel older than twenty five. This could be the result of being homeless or it could be this bug is fucking annoying the youth right out of me... either one is probable. "That's more then half your age, Doodlebug."
She blows a loose strand of hair from her face like always, "Its not triple or nothin'." As if three times her age makes more of a difference than twice. She doesn't notice the strange looks we get while traveling together. A big guy with a little girl--obviously, not related--people talk.
In a world that was never all that innocent to begin with, their minds go straight to the nastiest place possible and I become demonized while Bug is blissfully none the wiser... I carry a heavy burden by trying to keep her safe.
"I'm hungry, B.G," she suddenly whines.
I look to the sun and realize she should be. We haven't eaten in almost twelve hours and it falls on me to locate food because a hungry insect is an angry one and no one has the tolerance for that, least of all me. I wish I could say patience was my virtue but I don't think it is.
Not in this life or the forgotten one.
I motion towards the treeline, "Follow me." The road stretches for miles and I scent no food in either direction which leaves me with only one option.
In warmer months this wouldn't be such a problem but with the colder weather coming in, most critters have gone underground.
When I feel we are far enough inside the forest to not be spotted by passerbys, I sit her on a log. "Stay here," I demand, knowing she probably won't but hoping she does. I can't search for game when her loud mouth is spouting attitude and if she wanders off and gets lost, we will lose precious time. A storm is coming and we need to find shelter.
She only nods.
I tread lightly through the underbrush, well aware that I am too good at this type of thing. I discovered very early on that I have a natural ability for hunting.
My ears hear everything.
My nose smells anything.
My eyes see it all.
I am abnormally stealthy for such a large man.
And I do not need weapons to kill game.
It's beyond fucking disconcerting if I think on it too long.
Sunlight filters through the leafless trees and yet it is still not enough to warm the ground, better yet the air around me. The atmosphere stills and the birds become silent, almost as if they know a predator is amongst them.
I follow suit, listening.
Sniffing the air...
Abruptly, twigs snap in the bush to my left and in a flash I am on the hunt.
The rabbit is fast, but I am faster.
Jumping over logs and ducking under tree limbs, I am still quieter than a field mouse. I flank it on the right cutting off its exit path and it is nothing for me to snatch the rabbit by the neck, snapping it quickly. Its pretty hefty for its size but it will not make near enough food for both of us.
It will shut Bug the fuck up for a bit, though.
The thought of the peace and quiet I am about to experience for the next few hours has me distracted. As I walk back to Bug, I overlook the bear trap covered in leaves and laying in wait like a snake in the grass...
And I step square into it.
Needless to say, the tranquility of the forest is no more.
I suppose most normal men would scream or yell or even cry but as I already know, I am far from normal and instead of any or all of those resounding from my throat, a primal, almost animalistic roar erupts from deep within my chest.
As much as I would like to analyze such a phenomenon (and I am being fucking sarcastic), the only thing that currently demands my focus is agony in my lower extremity.
The metal trap has my leg in a vice grip, twisting it into an odd angle. "Fuck!" I curse because who fucking knew that partially severing a limb would hurt like a bitch, "Son of a mother fucking wh--" The pain is sharp, shooting up my leg and into my hip before it becomes a dull burn and I can finally catch my breath.
"B.G!" Bug screams, crashing through the woods louder than her little body realistically should because she has no clue what the goddamn definition of "stay" is. And when her eyes land on me, they widen in terror and panic, "Oh, shit."
It would be entirely hypocritical of me to scold her for her French right about now, but that doesn't fucking stop me. "Language," I growl.
Her eyes meet mine and I can see the tears starting to puddle within them. She covers her mouth with her hands and shakes her head, obviously unsure of what to do. All I know is my bone is crushed and I can't stay locked in these iron jaws for the rest of my life, so I need Bug's help.
"Arabella," I speak as softly and calmly as possible. While this hurts like a motherfucker, I need Bug to settle down so she is coherent enough to help me. Showing her I'm in an emense amount of pain will only cause her more anxiety but she is too focused on my wound to listen to what I am about to say.
"Look at me, Arabella," I try again. "Up here," I point to my eyes, "do I look scared?" She vehemently shakes her head no, which is good since I am definitely fucking scared. I try not think of the possible repercussions of this injury, especially in this specific location.
"You see those," I point to the metal levers, one on each side of the trap, "I need you to place one foot on each lever, straddling the trap, okay?"
I slowly and very fucking gingerly, lower myself to the ground, "Hold onto my shoulders for stability and be careful. I don't need you falling into this death pit after I open it."
If I can open it...
Bug isn't heavy enough to release these jaws on her own so I will have to also try to pry them open.
And it's going to hurt.
Cautiously, she steps on one lever. Ever so carefully she places her tiny hands on me and swings her leg onto the opposite lever. "You ready," I ask and I only do this because I am definitely not fucking ready and that makes two of us as she shakes her head again, tears streaming down her dirty cheeks.
But I can't think of that right now.
I can't think of what might happen to her if I am not around...
If I am not quick enough when something happens...
If I am too preoccupied with an impairment to notice danger...
I can't think of that.
So, with a deep inhale and clenched teeth, I pull as hard as a can. The release of pressure from my leg is only temporarily relieving as the real pain begins. Throbbing, I have to move it. Even though I'd rather fuck a porcupine six different ways, I cannot risk the trap snapping closed on me a second time as it is sure to amputate my leg entirely. The bottom half of my calf dangles loosely from the rest of my leg before it goes numb completely.
"Ugh," Bug grimaces as I gradually maneuver my leg out and around her. She closes her eyes and looks away, "that's purge worthy!"
"Swallow it," I demand through gritted teeth. Clearly, I am already having a bad day and I don't need kiddie vomit on my head like a literal metaphorical cherry on top.
With the trap now reset, Bug is safe to move away and I am focused on nothing but tearing my pants from my wound--I need to access the damage.
But it is when the injury is exposed to us that I really (like really) wish I hadn't.
Terror-stricken astonishment is what keeps us silent. It steals the breath from our lungs and twists our stomachs into anxious knots. The only sound within this large forest is the wild beating of our hearts as even the woods seem to understand that what's happening is not right.
It's not natural.
I am not natural.
The torn skin and shattered bone in my calf comes alive, weaving and mending and sewing itself back together in a grotesque dance of blood, skin and muscle... none of which I even feel. My wound reanimates within mere seconds leaving smears of dried crimson as the only evidence it was ever punctured in the first place.
Now the air is charged with awkward energy full of disbelief and amazement from Bug and horrific shame from me.
Slapping my arm, she doesn't miss a beat, "I knew you were fucking weird!" She grins ear to ear like witnessing my body repair itself from a potentially life threatening injury is just another Sunday morning and now I'm wondering exactly who the weird one is here.
I grab the rabbit and clear my throat, ready to forget this ever happened, "You still hungry?"