Lisa reached behind the stove and unplugged it. Mr. O’Grady was too confused to be trusted with the oven anymore. She dumped the spaghetti into a Tupperware dish and taped a big label with microwave instructions on top.

Somebody needs to be here full-time.

But his kids were good-for-nothings, and the only reason she came in every day was because his wife set up his home care before she passed from cancer last year. She had known he was fading.

I’d stay nights here myself except I’d probably get accused of moochin’ off him instead of tryin’ to help.

Mr. O’Grady was always a pleasure to work with, unlike a lot of her clients. She did pretty much everything around the house for him these days, but he always tried to get her to sit and listen to his stories. He couldn’t remember breakfast, but he told stories from fifty years ago like they happened yesterday.

“I can’t listen to your yarns all day, Mr. O’Grady; I’ve got other clients, too, you know.”

“They’re not yarns; they’re all true!”

She would laugh and listen for a few minutes anyway. His big, glassy brown eyes would glaze over and get this dreamy, faraway look, especially when he talked about his wife.

His good-natured smile was a bright spot in her own bleak existence, which she saw as a string of pointless days and hard years, all adding up to a mostly wasted life. Her own kids were good-for-nothings, too; payment for how she’d treated her own folks, she figured.

Fifty and alone.

It was her birthday—not that anyone who cared knew it—and even Mr. O’Grady hadn’t been able to bring a smile today. She felt particularly worn out and bored and lonely, and seeing Mr. O’Grady only reminded her where she was headed if something didn’t change.

I’ll be seventy-five and alone just like him soon enough.

If only something would happen—if one of the kids would call or she had a friend to meet for dinner or…anything.

Anything would be better than this, I guess.

She stared out the kitchen window and shook herself.

Snap out of it. You’re not gonna make any friends before dinner tonight, so suck it up, buttercup. You got nobody to blame but yourself.

She stuck her head in the living room and yelled over the TV. “Need anything before I go, Mr. O’Grady?”

“Right as rain, dear.” He waved.

“Good night, then. Spaghetti’s in the fridge. See you tomorrow.”

She slammed her car door, and the old Plymouth roared to life, its blown-out muffler only the most obvious of its issues. She sped around the familiar curves, too fast, she knew, but she didn’t care. She just wanted to feel something besides that emptiness.

 

So, she pressed the gas, approaching the next curve—even sharper than the last—at a breakneck pace.

She should’ve been fine—would’ve been fine—if it hadn’t been for that squirrel. She never could bring herself to run over the stupid things. She slammed on the brakes and felt her rear tires lose purchase. The car began to spin. She closed her eyes; there was nothing else for it. She never was any good at controlling a spin.

Are you supposed to turn the other way? Let off the brakes? Or is that driving in snow?

She could never remember.

She didn’t know how many times she spun around, but the rough jarring told her she was no longer on the road. The car tilted precariously before it finally slammed to a stop, throwing her head into the driver’s side window and wrenching her wrist as the steering wheel was yanked from her death grip.

She looked around in shock, breaths coming too fast, hot from adrenaline. The car leaned on its driver’s side—not completely—but far enough.

Won’t be getting out that way.

She raised a trembling hand to the side of her head where it hit the window. She flinched at the tenderness but pulled away dry fingers. She looked down at her lap, her feet, her knees.

No damage. Well, no blood anyway. I’m gonna feel this in the morning, though.

She wriggled out from beneath the steering wheel and crawled upward toward the passenger’s side door, wincing as she tried to use her injured wrist. She had to climb up more than over, making the door difficult to open. She normally thought of herself as a strong woman, but her arms still shook, and it took all her effort to push it up.

Even once she succeeded, the door wouldn’t hold its position. She held it up with one arm while crawling out, then jumped to the ground, fearing the whole time she would lose her grip and slam her hand in the door with the force of gravity behind it. But she managed and sat down on the ground to catch her breath. She looked at the undercarriage of her car, leaning over her like an awning.

Guess I better scoot my little self out from under here.

The leaves crackled on her left as she slid away from the car, and she glanced over to see a squirrel staring at her, not ten feet away.

“This is your fault, you little…” she started, but she trailed off when she noticed how intently it watched her and how still it sat. “Oh, fine. I’m glad we’re both alive, that’s all.”

She took a good look around and realized her car had managed to slide all the way down into the deepest section of the ditch.

Lucky I wasn’t hurt bad. Nobody’ll even be able to see the car from the road unless they happen to look down.

She drove this stretch every day, and she’d always thought it was a wonder more cars didn’t take the plunge in that ridiculous curve.

The curve…. 

She looked up and to the right from the squirrel and saw the remains of a house. She laughed aloud now.  

“I would crash by the creepiest house in town,” she said to the squirrel, who began scolding and twitching his tail at her. “Next time, I’m gonna be more specific when I wish something would happen!”

The word “house” was too generous. It barely qualified as a shack—roof caved in, no glass in the windows, old toys in the yard. You could see clear through it from the front door—which hung open on one hinge—and out the back. To add to its charm, someone had recently placed a man-sized pink pig costume in a lawn chair sitting in the front yard, positioning its arm so it pointed down the road. “Keep going; you don’t belong here,” the gesture seemed to say.

When she finally felt calm enough to stand, she brushed the dirt from her pants and attempted a climb up the ditch to get back to the road. She hadn’t made a bit of progress when a thought struck her.

“Damn it!”

She turned back to stare at the car. She’d left her phone and her purse inside. She evaluated the angle of the car again and sighed then looked at the squirrel who, inexplicably, hadn’t yet moved.

“Well, I ain’t climbin’ back in there.” Her touch of claustrophobia kicked in at the thought. It brought to mind watching astronauts climb out of those tiny space capsules, and she shivered. “Everything’ll be at the very bottom. Somebody’ll come along any minute.”

She turned back to the side of the ditch, looking either way to see if the climb would be easier if she walked down a bit. The ground inclined towards the driveway of the ramshackle house, bringing the sides of the ditch to a more manageable level. She lumbered over the slippery rocks in the bottom of the ditch, nearly falling more than once.

She had just started to boost herself out when a low moan put her on edge. She froze. It came again—faint.

It ain’t in my head, at least.

Her heart, which had just begun to slow, sped up again now.

Did I hit someone?

She looked back towards the car then at the house. She didn’t see anybody. She heard it again and turned toward the sound.       

                                   

Oh, my god.

Her breath came in shallow gasps.

It can’t be coming from inside the pig suit.

She slowly pulled herself up from the ditch, taking cautious steps to avoid the debris strewn through the yard. She had been hot with effort, but a chill swept over her body now and the hair on her arms stood on end. “Is somebody in there?”

An unmistakable answering groan sounded from inside the suit.

Lisa’s hand rose to cover her mouth as she stifled a cry, and the urge to run became nearly unbearable.

But I can’t leave if somebody’s in there. That suit…has been here for days.

Her throat tightened as she drew nearer. “Can you move?”

A double groan in quick succession. No.

A shuddering breath of relief escaped her. She had half-expected the pig to rise up as she approached it, and she thought she may have died of fright if it had.

She crept cautiously toward it.

 

Could this be some sort of joke?

But the pink pig suit had lost all the comedic value it ever held for her.

When she stood directly in front of it, she bent to look through the eye holes. A gauzy mesh clouded her view, but she could still see through.

Human eyes stared back at her, pleading.

“Oh, my god,” she said again. “I’m gonna get you out of there.”

The eyes suddenly flicked to the right, and a muffled, incoherent shriek from inside the suit sent her stumbling back.

But the yell came too late, and something struck her on the back of the head.

When she woke and opened her eyes, only darkness welcomed her. Her head pounded, whether from the crash or the knock on the head, she couldn’t tell—both probably. She could see nothing of her surroundings, and her mouth was stuffed with something cottony and covered with tape. She lay flat, and her body was stiflingly hot, though a slight breeze tickled her face. She could not move, not even to turn her head. Something rigid banded her arms and legs. Cold metal coiled around her neck and forehead.

She pulled with all her strength and managed not an inch. She could only wiggle her fingers and toes, and with nothing there to grasp or feel, that did no good at all.

Her breath came in shallow hitches, and she felt the heat of fear flush her cool face. She began to whimper involuntarily—quavering, child-like sounds she had no control over.

A light flooded the room, and a suppressed yell escaped her. She realized it sounded exactly like the one that came from inside the pink pig just before everything went black.

She strained uselessly, attempting to look around. A mechanical whir filled the air, and her body began to move against her will, taken over by some other power. She slowly bent at the waist, a sort of motorized framework entirely in control. This involuntary motion filled her with a hopelessness worse than the inability to move at all.

What is happening?

She instinctively struggled, but to no avail. Whatever machine manipulated her finally stopped once she reached a sitting position. She could see now, though, and another stifled sound erupted from within her gag. She would never have thought herself capable of laughter at a time like this, but it gurgled up from deep within, and she couldn’t hold it back.

A cow…I’m in a cow costume and somebody’s rigged me up to a remote somehow.

She tried to gather her wits.

At least the head’s not on yet.

She shuddered, thinking again of astronauts in those space capsules and attempting not to think about being closed up in a suit like this for days like that poor woman in the pig.

Time to take stock of your surroundings, Lisa.

Her head still would not turn, but she could move her eyes. A large worktable stretched the length of the building, strewn with parts and wire and springs and…

Toys? What in the world?

She shifted her eyes downward and started laughing again.

I even have the udders! Udderly ridiculous! I think I’m losing my mind!

Her maniacal laughter continued until footsteps echoing from somewhere out of sight replaced her hysteria with fear. A tall, handsome, remarkably well-dressed man rounded the table, eyeing her disapprovingly.

She stared into his eyes then glanced back at the worktable.

When she looked back at his face, a nauseating smile had appeared. He gestured toward the table.

“You are interested in my work?” He strode over and picked up something small and brown, then approached the slab she sat on.

Her pulse raced, but she could only watch.

“This is Gustaf,” he said. “A particularly wonderful name for a gorilla, I thought.”

He wound it up and set it by her leg where it began to jump and beat its chest.

What kind of weirdo is this guy?

She tried to reconcile the serious, smartly dressed figure of a man before her with the cow suit imprisoning her and the toy gorilla. She came up short.

She turned her eyes back up to the man.

He watched her as if expecting a reaction. “He is good, yes?”

His hand closed in on her face, and she drew a sharp, tremulous breath in through her nose, painfully aware of how loud it was.

Don’t let him see you’re scared. Guys like this feed on it.

She did not flinch nor take her eyes off his as he carelessly ripped the tape from her mouth. The wad of cloth remained, however, and as his fingers slid between her teeth to remove it, she did not even think.

She just clamped down as hard as she possibly could, catching his thumb and forefinger. The metallic taste of blood filled her mouth.

He reacted just as quickly, grabbing the hair on the back of her head with his other hand and yanking hard.

She managed to keep her hold on his fingers, but an alarmingly pleasant smile appeared on his face.

“Do you really want to do that? You could bite clean through and swallow my fingers, but it would not free you. I assure you, I can complete my work with eight fingers as well as I can with ten.”

Her eyes filled with tears of rage, and her face flushed, but she released him. He pulled a sock from her mouth, and she spat in disgust, blood splattering his face and pristine shirt.

He walked over to his work table and picked up a scrap of cloth. He wiped his face with it, then chose another, wrapping his finger and thumb as he returned to her side.

She tried to reign in her tears.

Last time I felt this helpless, I’d just fallen off the wagon for the fifth time.

She’d promised herself she’d never be that out of control again, but that had been her own demons—demons she’d invited in.

I didn’t invite this one.

He said nothing until he’d finished. He touched the spatters of blood across his shirt, his expression one of utter disdain.

“This is unfortunate. I do not approve of stains.”

He brushed at the spots as if he could wipe them away, then frowned and looked up at her.

“I have been working on my masterpiece, and I’m afraid you are not it.”

She must have mastered her tears, because a huge belly laugh escaped her then, echoing through the metal building. “Well, nobody ever did accuse me of being a masterpiece, honey!”

He didn’t seem to be in a laughing mood, but her emotions had taken up a mind of their own.

He ignored her altogether and kept talking. “But as you interrupted my work, something had to be done. Did you like my Gustaf?”

She glanced down at the gorilla standing, now lifeless, beside her leg. “Well, if I’d run across him in a toy shop, I might’ve been impressed,” she said, startling even herself with the conversational tone of her voice. “Under the current circumstances? Well, you’ll excuse me if I’ve got other things on my mind.”

“Well,” he said, wagging a hand dismissively, “that cannot be helped. But you thought him realistic and entertaining, no doubt?”

She found it difficult to control her anger now.

The only thing I’d find entertaining right now is puttin’ you in this suit and pourin’ a bucket of fire ants over your head.

But she took a deep breath and said, “Why, if you put Gustaf in a tiny zoo, I wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a whole herd of gorillas.” She attempted to sound indulgent but only succeeded in sarcasm.

He frowned. “There is no need to be patronizing. I know he’s still lacking. That is why my work continues.”

Lisa tried to feign encouragement. “Honest, he might be the best one I’ve ever seen. They normally move like little robots, all jerky-like, you know, but his jumps were real smooth.”

He turned and paced in front of her now. “But look at him now. Pointless! I have never captured life! I need them to be real.” He roared the last word, and it echoed in the nearly empty room.

Great. A psychotic Geppetto.

“And you think you’re gonna make something real by letting that poor woman rot in a pig suit?”

His expression darkened, and she wished she could take her words back.

“I have not let her rot,” he said, punctuating the words formally. “Disgusting accusation.” His grimace of distaste showed he was actually offended. He strode to his table and picked up a roll of tape and the same blood-soaked sock he’d removed from her mouth. “But I might let you.”

Oh, I don’t want that sock back in my mouth. Gotta build a rapport like on all them crime shows.

She turned on her waitress voice—the one she had always used to soothe particularly riled up customers. “So, what is this masterpiece you’re workin’ on?”

He sneered. “As if I would tell a nobody like you.”

Arrogant little monster, isn’t he?

He came at her with the tape and bloody sock in hand.

She tried again. “Well, I’m just sayin’, if it’s anything so good as this gorilla, I bet you could win some awards or somethin’.”

If anything, he looked even angrier. “Talent has to be noticed before it can win awards. That’s what the pig is for, and you’ll make my display even more memorable. I’ll get their attention.”

“Oh, I certainly hope so!” Lisa said, meaning every word. “I hope the whole world notices this display, and soon!”

He turned his chin towards her sharply. “Thank you.”

Guess he and I have different reasons for wantin’ it noticed.

“And then what are you gonna do?” she asked. “And what’s your name? I feel silly talkin’ to somebody like this when I don’t even know his name.”

“You can call me Mr. Jenkins.”

She furrowed her brow as a fuzzy mental picture appeared.

The mailbox of that shack? Does it say ‘Jenkins’?

 “Jenkins? Like on the mailbox where…I crashed?” She’d almost said “…where you hit me,” but caught herself.

“That’s none of your business, either,” he said.

All right. Doesn’t want to talk about history.

“So, is this what you do, Mr. Jenkins? Make toys?”

“They’re not toys!” he said, approaching her again, this time pointing a finger dangerously close to her eye. “They’re art and mechanics and electronics and form and dance! And I’m going to be the first to make one good enough…a robot so far beyond the best animatronics you’ve ever seen, it will be indistinguishable from its human counterpart. It WILL be real by every outward measure.”

“And puttin’ me and Miss Piggy in the yard is gonna help with that?”

Before this, his emotions had ranged from indifferent to passionate to annoyed, but now full rage seemed to take him over. His face turned red, and the expression made her fear he’d just go on and kill her right there.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Despite his obvious fury, his voice came in an evenly measured tone that chilled her right down to the bone. “I don’t know why I attempted discussion with someone so clearly uncivilized.”

“You’re right, Mr. Jenkins. I’m sorry. But I’m sure you’d like to tell me all about it. I’m really interested in….”

But it was no use. He shoved the sock so far into her mouth she gagged and feared she would vomit.

Oh, dear Lord, don’t let me puke. I guess I’d choke on it or maybe I’d just have to swallow it down, but, oh, Lord, let me keep it down.

She closed her eyes and tensed her stomach, trying to push the sock forward in her mouth and swallow down the rising bile in her throat at the same time.

The thought of his blood sitting in her mouth and that sock—who knew where it had come from—did not help, but she managed to keep it down. He taped over her mouth and all the way around her head this time, more tightly than before.

He ripped the tape violently as he finished, jerking her head forward, and the sharp edge of the metal restraint bit into her forehead.

She felt hot blood drip down the side of her face and tried to keep calm.

Well, now I think about it that ‘buildin’ rapport’ thing almost never works on the TV, either.

“Now,” he said, turning and straightening his shirt as if glad to have completed an unpleasant task, “let’s put the rest of your suit on.”

He walked out of view and returned with the head of a cow in his hand. Somehow, that head closing in around her the worst thing yet. It seemed to be like burying her alive and leaving her windows to watch. Her claustrophobia kicked in immediately.

She began trembling and attempted to control her breathing—the only thing left to her.

She closed her eyes.

Oh, God, if I haven’t prayed in twenty years, let you hear me now. And that poor woman, too. This is no way for anybody to go. I can’t stand being stuck in here.

She found it easier to cope with her eyes closed, but when she felt herself spinning, she opened them in shock. He had turned her so her legs stuck out over the side of the table. The whirring began again—she could see the remote in his hand now—and her knees slowly bent to hang down.

Jenkins picked her up carefully, even tenderly, and moved her. She felt him reach around her and heard a click.

A buckle.

She still wasn’t sure what was happening until she started rolling.

A wheelchair.

It went over a bump and through two sets of open doors. His hand reached around her to open the third, and they passed into the night. The cool air flowed through the eyes of the cow head, and the leaves crunched under the wheels of her chair. A chorus of frogs sung in the distance. The suit didn’t feel quite so oppressive now that she was outside.

The wheelchair jarred her painfully as it passed over the uneven ground. The belt holding her in position already pressed and rubbed uncomfortably. They hit a big bump, and the metal brace reopened the cut on her forehead, sending more blood trickling down the side of her face.

God, that tickles.

She could see nothing but trees.

At least the moon’s out.

They came to the top of a rise, and the ramshackle old house appeared at the bottom of the steep hill before them. He began the descent, and she slipped forward. Only the strap held her back now, her dead weight pressing into it uncomfortably and making it difficult to breathe.

When they reached the bottom and the chair leveled, releasing the pressure on her abdomen, she gasped a grateful breath.

The moon illumined the pink pig costume as soon as they rounded the back of the house.

I wonder if she’s still alive in there?

She didn’t wonder long, for Jenkins left her chair and removed the head of the pig costume. The woman’s eyes stood open and terrified.

He ripped the tape off Miss Piggy’s mouth as carelessly as he had Lisa’s. She noticed ruefully that the tape over the other woman’s mouth did not round the back of her head.

Guess she had enough sense not to try talkin’ to a maniac.

He revealed a water bottle and gave the woman a few drinks, which she took in greedily and without question.

When the rag he’d removed from her mouth reappeared, she began to mutter pitifully. “No, no, no, please, no.”

And then it was back in her mouth, and only her whimpers continued as a new piece of tape replaced the old one.

He turned back to Lisa. “Now, where to put you?”

He stood in front of her and surveyed the scene, for all the world looking like a man rearranging furniture or planting a new tree. He walked further on and stood in the driveway, taking in the whole view.

Lisa hoped a car would come by, but immediately realized the futility. For one, the man would hear it coming. Sounds echoed in these hills. But even if someone saw them, what would they see?

Just a man puttin’ out a costume. Weird, but not a crime.

He walked back up to Lisa and unbuckled her without a word. She didn’t even attempt a sound. She could see from the other woman’s actions that all her energy would be wasted even if she could speak as clear as day.

A grunt’s not gonna sway him.

He laid her on her side, the frame of the suit keeping her knees bent in front of her as if she were still in the chair. Then a robotic hum buzzed around her, and she felt her legs begin to straighten, then her back. As the suit stretched completely, its bend no longer kept her stable. Her useless arms remained neatly folded across her abdomen, and Lisa slowly rolled onto her back with a thump. Her breath came shallow, but the sight of the clear night sky through the trees had a calming effect.

One arm shifted now, the mechanics of the suit twisting and angling it for some unknown purpose, then repeating the process with the other. It seemed like hours had passed, her arms tilting and raising and lowering without her permission. She wanted to scream at her powerlessness but couldn’t even do that. She tried to ignore the robotic treatment of her own body and focus instead on the stars twinkling between the branches overhead.

Jenkins finally stopped and approached, his dark silhouette leaning over her. He lifted her into a standing position and tilted her body forward, bracing it against a tree branch.

He stood back and began to work his remote control again. The machinery around her arms whirred and hummed, and her puppeteer seemed happy to continue arranging her all night. When he finally stopped, the arms of the cow costume wrapped the tree branch, holding her securely in place. She couldn’t see the pink pig lady from her position.

Jenkins didn’t say a word as he rolled the wheelchair away. Lisa could do nothing but listen to his retreat as it faded into the distance.

This is not the position I would’ve picked.

For one, she’d already been on her feet all day at work, and standing in one spot would bring out the pain faster than anything else. She wriggled her toes to stretch them a little, but it wouldn’t soothe the fire kindling in her arches. And the branch Jenkins had leaned her against dug into her arm painfully, with most of her weight settled on her right bicep.

Plus, she had to pee. He hadn’t given her any water—she guessed he was punishing her and maybe he’d give her some later—but that didn’t help with the liquid she’d already consumed that day.

She sighed.

Might as well get it over with.

She let her bladder go. Maybe it would short out this stupid suit. She doubted it since Miss Piggy had presumably done so and still sat right over there.

Plus, it rained yesterday. Whatever he is, I don’t think he’s fool enough to let a little water ruin his show.

She closed her eyes and tried to think.

OK, don’t concentrate on what hurts. Try to get yourself out of here.

She flexed every muscle, hoping maybe something in the suit had worked itself loose with the activity. No luck.

She thought about people passing on the road. A car would come along; someone would see them. But she remembered how she had seen the pig costume and shrugged it off. She’d been curious enough to notice it, but not curious enough to stop at that dump with ‘no trespassing’ signs everywhere.

Tomorrow, all those people just like her would drive by—and keep on driving. She imagined the conversations. “Hey, Jeanie, look! They added a cow today.” Insipid laughter would follow. They would move on to another topic.

The hours wore on, and she tried to maintain hope, but everything hurt. All the pressure points in the suit felt like little nails pushing into her skin. Her feet practically screamed at her.

Dogs are barkin’, indeed.

Her head still throbbed. Her stomach growled despite everything, and her mouth was damnably dry with that stupid sock in it. The suit stank of her urine. Sleep did not come.

It might be days before my body agrees to sleep like this.

Every rustle in the leaves worried her. Bear, fox, coyote—could be anything out here—or could be him coming back. She felt tears fill her eyes and could not keep them from falling. As morning approached and the sky lightened, she almost felt her spirits rise.

Anything is better than this.

She found herself laughing at that, though.

That’s pretty much what I thought yesterday, and this change is definitely not for the better!

The birds chirped their morning songs, and more frequent scampers and rustles sounded from every direction. A few cars passed on the road, lights glaring directly at her, then moving off into the distance, the sound of their fading engines feeding her despair. The hope they’d be able to see her eyes through the mesh dwindled after the seventh car.

As the seconds dragged by, her body sagged more and more inside the costume, but relaxing only made the metal framework of the suit dig further into her muscles. She envied the pig.

At least she’s sitting down.

A close flutter of leaves beside her head startled her, and a series of scratching sounds rushed closer and closer to her head.

Something is on my branch.

 

She tried to look.

Ahh, heads are useless if you can’t turn them!

She held her breath for no reason at all, knowing whatever it was would be in her sightline in seconds. With one more scurry, a squirrel stood directly in front of her. She laughed a muted laugh in nervous fright, and the murky sound made the squirrel jump, but he did not run away.

You little stinker.

She knew it probably wasn’t the same one. But it could be.

It just stood there staring at her, inches from her face, tiny nose twitching. It came closer and put its little paws on the mesh of her suit’s eye-holes. For the first time, the mesh seemed like a blessing instead of a curse.

If a critter got in here, I think I’d die!

It continued staring, and she found herself mesmerized by its beady little eyes. It seemed to be gazing into her soul, and it brought to mind Mr. O’Grady with his big brown eyes.

Oh, who’s gonna take care of him? Who knows how long it’ll be before somebody notices I’ve been missin’ my rounds. It could be days!

The squirrel finally backed away and looked around. She couldn’t regret its freedom, but hearing it run off down the limb sent a pang straight to her heart. She even felt a bit lonely.

The sounds and the cars continued, but somehow, she couldn’t be interested in the outside world anymore.

This suit is my whole world for now.

She set her mind back on puzzling a way out, though she’d gone over and over it a thousand times already.

If this was a movie, me and Miss Piggy would start grunting in Morse code or something and talk ourselves out of this somehow.

But it wasn’t a movie, and neither she nor Miss Piggy seemed to be Houdini.

She closed her eyes again.

Lord, just take us now. If we’re gonna die in these suits, don’t waste any time on it.

“You’re not done yet, Lisa.”

She opened her eyes in shock.

I heard that clear as day!

Her eyes flicked back and forth, but she didn’t see anything.

That don’t mean nothin’; I can only see straight in front of my head.

But only silence surrounded her. She’d have heard if anyone had come close.

Well…either God’s real or I’m losin’ it. Both just as likely at this point.

The words of the voice—wherever it came from—calmed her, and she breathed easier despite the pain. She felt like somebody had picked her chin up off her chest and told her to keep fightin’.

All the fightin’ I can do is in my head, but I’m gonna do it anyway.

She took a deep breath and started humming a song.

Amazing grace…. If that one don’t chase away the demons, nothin’ will.

She sang the words in her head, and when she got to “and saved a wretch like me,” her eyes filled again. “I once was lost….”

God, I am lost…and in more ways than one.

The squirrel dashed across the yard now and distracted her from the song. He climbed a tree and stopped at a limb about halfway up.

I don’t know why I’m so interested in that squirrel. Guess I saved his life, so now I’m invested.

She reminded herself it probably wasn’t the same one. Chances are, you’d see five at once if you looked in any direction. But she couldn’t shake the notion it was the same one from yesterday. She watched it run down the branch and fiddle with something in true squirrelly fashion.

But what is that it’s got?

She squinted. Thankfully, her eyes were still pretty good at seeing far away.

A camera! Why, it’s fiddling with that monster’s surveillance! So, that’s how Geppetto knew I was here yesterday.

She watched as the squirrel turned the camera sideways, then climbed on top of it. She gasped.

It’s not, though!

She laughed through that bloody sock once again. The squirrel was peeing on the camera just like it knew what it was doing. After that, it stood behind where she couldn’t quite see for a minute, and she couldn’t be sure, but…

I think it just chewed through the wire! That man can’t be watching 24/7. Maybe he won’t know yet. Or maybe he saw it was just a squirrel and won’t run down here.

The next thing she knew, the squirrel skittered out of sight. She couldn’t help the disappointment that overtook her, but moments later, a scuttle down her branch alerted her that he was back. She started laughing when his tiny face popped up in front of hers again, but from pure delight this time rather than nervous fear.

I’ve never been so happy to see anybody in my whole life!

He acted as much like a squirrel as ever, but she already thought of him as more.

You just do what you gotta do, little fella.

With no fear whatsoever, she watched as he gnawed the mesh in one eye-hole, slowly creating an opening. She’d been horrified by the idea of him getting inside before, but now, the prospect thrilled her.

Saved by a squirrel! What a story that’s gonna be!

A crashing of leaves in the distance broke into her celebration—footsteps running their way from behind. The squirrel disappeared so fast she couldn’t even tell which direction it went. Her heart pounded, and her fear swelled as strong as her joy had only seconds before.

Don’t you go soft now, you ninny. Keep it together.

She steeled herself for whatever may be coming.

Jenkins charged into the yard and grabbed her head, peering into her mask. He did it so fast, he didn’t notice the ragged threads in one eye. He ran to one side, and she imagined him doing the same to Miss Piggy. Then he appeared in her field of vision at the base of the tree with the camera and began to climb.

Hope he stains his prissy shirt.

He reached the limb with the camera and reached over. He drew his hand back, shaking it off with a cry of disgust.

The laughter bubbled up in her now, and her chest shook with it, but she made not a sound. The gag probably muffled it enough to keep him from hearing, but she didn’t trust it.

He looked at the camera more closely, and a string of expletives reached her ears.

Enough to make a sailor blush!

She just laughed harder but made herself stop when he began his descent.

I don’t think his ego would take kindly to bein’ laughed at!

Thankfully, he didn’t come check on her again. He tromped back the way he’d come, and for a few minutes, a dead silence overtook the forest.

Then a scratching scramble signaled her little friend’s approach once more, and she smiled. The tape cut into the corners of her mouth painfully every time she did so, but she didn’t care.

The squirrel resumed nibbling at the mesh, and as quickly as he finished, he jumped through, scrambling neatly around her neck first thing.

Lisa couldn’t figure what he planned on doing, but she wasn’t scared a bit. She did jump when his little hands touched her face but only from surprise. He pawed around a minute, and she felt the tape stretch against the opposite side of her head.

Little thing’s gonna take my gag off!

The cow head magnified the sound of his little teeth working, and his whiskers tickled her cheek. She thought it was the sweetest touch she’d ever felt. She started crying again at the sheer wonder of it.

He gnawed through the tape on one side, then froze as if considering his next move.

When he started up again, a wave of disbelief started her giggling once more.

He’s actually pulling at it!

As he came around in front of her, the tape pulled away bit by bit. When he reached her other shoulder, his little paws brushed against her face in a little flurry, and, finally, the tape fell, hanging from one side of her mouth. The blessed feeling of being able to relax without that tape cutting into her skin flooded her with relief. She started to work at the sock with her tongue when the little paws snatched it out before she even had time to realize what happened. And just like that, he skipped out the hole he’d made in the mesh. He stopped in front of the eye—bloody sock in his mouth now—and stared at her just like he wanted to say something.

“Thank you,” she said aloud, her voice hoarse and dry. “Even if this is as far as you take me, and I don’t get out of this, I’ll never forget.” Her voice cracked now from emotion rather than thirst, and another tear fell. “You’re maybe the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

He scurried off and appeared again by the side of the road.  

“Well, what’s he doing now?” It hurt to talk, but it made her feel so normal compared to everything else. “Looks just like he’s waitin’ for the bus.”

She watched and waited, but he just stood there. A car engine revved in the distance, and he perked up.

“No…” she said.

The car rounded the curve, and he dashed out in front of it, zig-zagging wildly. The car swerved and kept going.

“Get out of the road, little fella!” she yelled.

He did the same with the next. And the next.

Tears flowed freely down her face once more, and she pleaded with it. “Stop doing that, you little idiot. Gonna get yourself killed!”

A fourth car came, and he repeated his performance, only this time it ended with a screech and a tiny thud.

“No!” she yelled. She sobbed uncontrollably but saw the driver’s window was down, and a man peered through into the yard.

He can hear me cryin’. That squirrel gave me my only chance.

“Help!” she called through a voice full of grief. “Help us, please! Call the cops. A crazy man put is in these costumes, and I don’t know when he’ll come back! His camera went dead, so he don’t know you’re here, but he’ll be back!”

The car door opened, and a man stepped out. “Is this some kind of joke?” He seemed to have forgotten the squirrel altogether.

“Not a joke, mister! Please! I’ve only been here since last night, but Miss Piggy’s been here for days! Don’t stop here, though; I’m afraid he’ll come back and get you, too. Go on down the road and call the cops. It ain’t like we’re goin’ anywhere.”

He jumped back in his car hurriedly. “I will; I promise. Don’t you worry!”

He sped off, tires squealing in his wake.

Lisa could see the squirrel’s little body in the road.

“Saved by a squirrel…” she sobbed.

And when the first cop car pulled into the driveway, she started singing again, but she could form the words this time.

“…I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.”

Dark Geppetto

C.W.M Publishing

© 2017 by C.E. White

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