Darkness and fear filled my mind. Long, tall things loomed around me, rustling in the wind, their shadows being cast over me, not permitting the dim moon light to reach me. I was running. Not just running, running from something. I was being chased. Something dark and powerful loomed not too far behind me. But I wasn't alone. Someone ran beside me. Ran with me. I didn't know where we were going or why we were running, but we were both together with the same goal of getting out of the grasp of the thing that chased us: it wanted nothing but our demise, and we knew it.
My vision wouldn't focus. I didn't know where I was or what the tall things looming around me were. I didn't know who I was running with or what I was running from. My chest felt tight and my lungs burned as I ran, but I knew that if I didn't get out of there right then and there, I would NEVER get out of there. Not alive, anyway.
Suddenly, something snagged my leg. I was on the ground. I scrambled to get up, but whatever had snagged my leg was not going to let go. I wasn't able to get up fast enough. The thing was upon us. I rolled over onto my back, ready to defend myself if I had to, but something came up and restricted my arms and only free leg, constricting around them like pythons, cutting off my blood flow. The thing was right on me now, it's shadow suffocating me in its darkness. There was no way I'd be able to protect myself. I was done for.
Just as I was ready to accept this fate, ready to accept the fact that this was how my life would end, something jumped in front of me. Not something, someone. And the last thing that I saw was flowing dark hair and glowing purple eyes.
I jolted into a sitting position, gasping for air as if I hadn't been able to breathe, and a burning pain in my chest slowly dissipated. Everything around me was a blur, my vision reduced to nothing but a colorful blob. I knew right away that I wasn't wearing my glasses, but I couldn't help but feel panicked.
Where was I?
Before I even had time to panic, I felt a strong hand on my arm, "Woah there, partner. Calm down."
With a yelp that most definitely did not sound like a little girl's scream, I swatted the hand away and scrambled backwards, nearly falling off of what I was assuming was a bed, but the person beside me grasped my arms and pulled me back.
"Calm down, sonny! It's just me."
Stopping my struggle for a moment, I paused and stared at the blurry face before me. I recognized that voice.
I could hear that hearty chuckle of his as I felt him lean back away from me, "The one and only. What got you all spooked? Got ants in your pants?"
I huffed and closed my eyes, grasping the sheets of the bed that I sat in, "Just a bad dream, is all."
I most definitely did not have insects of any kind in my pants. Well, at least I hoped not.
He made a noise with his throat, "Well you hit your head pretty hard back there. Got yourself a hard noggin."
He knocked on my forehead, bringing back a ghost pain in the back of my head, reminding me of my splitting headache as the memories of the past incidents replayed in my mind.
Oona looking me in the eyes about to tell me her darkest secret.
Ed spazzing out in his stall.
My head hitting the concrete.
Goby being a freaking horse whisperer.
Watching Ed collapse right before I did the same exact thing.
With dozens of questions swimming around in my head and fogginess clogging my brain, inhibiting my memory from before I passed out, I asked the only thing that I could possibly think to ask at that moment, "Where's my mom?"
Cliff snorted, "Downstairs talking to the creepy feller with the bolo. She isn't exactly in the brightest mood."
Creepy. Bolo. He must've been talking about Capribella.
"What are they talking about?" I asked after a moment of hesitation.
"Probably you." He said truthfully, "She dun'n have no one else to blame for all this. Not especially since you been out so long. She damn near had a heart attack when you wouldn't wake up."
Wouldn't wake up…?
"How long have I been out?" I asked.
He huffed, "Take a look for yourself."
I could feel his hand on mine as he turned my palm up and placed an object in my hand; what I assumed to be my glasses. How Cliff knew about my horribly horrible eyesight, I don't know, mom must have told him or something, but I put the glasses on anyway. I didn't like not being able to see. I don't think anyone does.
I blinked my eyes a few times as I took in the room. I didn't recognize anything. Creme colored walls with random portraits of cows and chickens hanging on them. Really old and worn out hardwood floors. A tall door stood closed opposite from the bed. To my right was a wardrobe with chipping white paint, and to my left was a window with its thick curtains pulled back. They looked as if they used to be white. Bright sunlight shone through the dirty glass, seemingly being the only source of light in the room. I felt abnormally clean, considering that the last time I'd been conscious I was laying in a puddle of mud. I was wearing clothes that were most definitely not mine: some jeans that were seemingly brand new, and a navy blue T-shirt with the Rose Petal emblem across the front. Cliff sat in an old floral arm chair that he'd turned towards the bed. On the nightstand to my right was a small alarm clock, red digits blinking on the tiny screen. I squinted at them.
"What day is it?"
I just sat there like a loon staring at him with my mouth agape. There was no way that was true. No way.
"Are you telling me I've been out for 20 hours?!"
He shrugged, not seeming as concerned about the topic as I was, "More or less. Like I told'ya before: you hit your head pretty hard back there."
I tried to process that. So much must have happened while I was out. What was everyone thinking? Did they think the same thing had happened to me that had happened to Avi? Hell, I didn't even know what happened to the guy, but honestly I would be thinking the same thing if I were on the outside of the situation. Everyone seemed pretty set on the fact that whatever the hell happened to him was certain to happen to me.
I glanced around the room and my eyes landed on the curtains hanging dully around the window. Thick. They looked as if they had been designed specifically to keep the eyes of the unwanted out. Dirty. Old. Falling apart at the seams. They looked so familiar, but I couldn't quite put my finger on where I'd see them before. My brain didn't seem to want to function properly after having been smacked on the concrete by a fully grown stallion. Plus I couldn't think of anyone who'd be able to think straight after 20 unnecessary hours of sleep.
I assumed that I was still in the ranch somewhere, considering Mom was talking to Capribella of all people, and the decor of the room nearly mimicked that of the lower level of the ranch house. I mean, who else would decorate with portraits of livestock? No one I knew.
That's when it hit me.
Images of worn walls and dirty windows flashed across my mind. Cowhide rugs and strange portraits of animals. Long hallways and the sound of yelling echoing through the walls. A harsh breeze and a rusted weather vane pointing west. A horrible ringing in my ears that made me want to claw my ear drums out. Thick curtains that used to be white hanging closed, hiding whatever horrible secrets sat inside waiting from the world.
I was in the ranch house.
I was suddenly seized with panic. I don't exactly remember what happened. I remember continuously repeating that I needed to leave. I remember tears. I remember the sound of yelling or maybe even screaming. Who the screams came from, I don't know. It could have been me. It could have been someone else. There could have been no screams at all. It's very likely that it was all in my head. But the next thing I knew I was on the floor with a pair of bright green eyes looking down on me.
"Nonny listen to me! Concentrate on my voice! Concentrate on my eyes! Breathe Nonny!"
I was still. My breathing was labored and my lungs were on fire. My chest felt tighter than the Kardashians' faces. My head was throbbing again. My ears were ringing. My vision came into focus as I concentrated on the face hovering over me. Green eyes. Red hair falling around a beautiful face. A worried expression.
The sight of my mother calmed much of the panic still built up inside me.
I blinked at her for a few moments.
I said the first thing that came to my mind.
"You cut your hair."
That couldn't have been more irrelevant. Her hair used to be just past her shoulder blades, but now it hovered just below her jaw. It looked healthy. She looked younger. Of all the things I could have said, I don't know why I chose that.
She groaned and sat up, pushing her hair out of her face. She was nearly sitting on me, "You just nearly gave me a heart attack, and that's all you have to say?!"
I glanced around. Cliff stood behind her looking as if he'd had an actual heart attack. Capribella stood behind me with his arms crossed; no emotions shown on his face. And behind him stood a girl with dark hair that I didn't recognize. She looked about 12 or 13, and she held a cell phone in her left hand, ready to call someone at a moment's notice. She was shaking. She wore a Rose Petal uniform, but she wasn't wearing shoes for some reason; just plain black socks. The name on her shirt read 'Amisha'. After glancing around once more, I realized that none of us were wearing shoes, including me. I had no clue why.
"What the hell happened?" My voice sounded hoarse and airy.
"Ya damn near jumped out the window!" Cliff exclaimed. His own breathing was labored and he clutched his chest. I noted that he had a small gash on his left temple and blood trickled down his face, "Ya had one'a them blackout thangs that'cha do and I tried gettin' yer attention but ya freaked out on me!"
I realized that the window now sat ajar.
I stared at them for what felt like ages.
"You don't remember any of that, do you?" Mom asked quietly.
After a moment of hesitation, I shook my head in silence.
"Do you still want me to call the police?" The girl, Amisha, asked. She was still shaking.
"No." Capribella responded, no emotion. He looked pretty pissed that I threatened the life of his precious window by nearly jumping out of it, "He will be fine. It's just a minor head injury."
"Should we take him to the hospital?" Mom asked, not removing herself from her personal chair, AKA me.
"The medics at the first aid hut said he'll be fine. Sleep was what he needed and he got plenty of that." Capribella retorted, uncrossing his arms, glaring down at me, "He'll be going back to work now."
"And we're just gonna ignore the fact that the kid just tried to throw himself out a three story window?" Cliff asked. That was probably the most logical thing I'd heard him say in the three or so days that I'd known him. I mean, spontaneous suicide isn't exactly something that you can just laugh about and move on from.
"He obviously wasn't in the the right mind." Capribella grumbled, "But he is now, and he is to go back to his post."
Mom looked as if she was about to protest, but I grabbed her hand, "I'm fine, Mom. If anything wasn't then I would know."
Oh I wasn't fine and I knew it. But I wasn't going to tell her that. I just wanted to get out of that damn house. Not enough to jump out a window, mind you, but enough that I was willing to make myself fine enough to convince her that I was okay. Enough.
She sighed as a strand of hair fell across her forehead, "Okay. If you say so. I trust you."
She didn't trust me.
"Amerie." Capribella spoke to Amisha, calling her the wrong name, not taking his eyes off me, "Show the boy to the door. I need to speak with his parents alone."
"Parent." Mom corrected, rigid, "Singular parent. Just me. Not him. He just followed me here."
Cliff looked offended by this, but he said nothing.
"Mom, I won't-" I began, but she cut me off, already knowing what I was going to say.
"It's alright, dear." She spoke quietly, habitually fixing my hair like she always did, "I'll come visit you tomorrow. I'll be fine."
I looked at her for a few moments as we silently conversed with our eyes. Finally I exhaled through my nose and nodded in agreement.
My lungs were still on fire.
After leading me downstairs, Amisha explained to me how shoes were not allowed on the upper levels of the ranch house. Apparently no one knew why, but it was a pretty strictly enforced rule that everyone knew about. Although, she also explained how a majority of the employees at Rose Petal had never even seen the inside of the house at all, more or less the upper levels.
When I pointed out that she seemed a little young to be working there, she stated how she got special rights because she was the niece of the founder's grandson's cousin's ex-wife. Or something like that. But she was even then too young to work a usual ranchy job (yes, she used the word "ranchy") because you had to be 16 to do so. So instead she worked as Capribella's assistant. The poor girl. But she was the only person besides Capribella who had access to the entire house with an exception of the basement. She explained that Capribella was really butthurt about the basement and making sure that no one ever went down there. There were apparently jokes that he kept the bodies of all his ex-wives down there.
After Amisha ushered me out the front door, I realized that I honestly had no clue where I was supposed to be going. It was a Saturday. The ranch was bustling with visitors and just as busy as the previous day. Capribella had said that I was supposed to go back to my "post". Wherever that was, I didn't know. I remembered what Gil had said about the animal department and how they were never in the same place two days in a row, but that only meant that I REALLY didn't know where I was going.
Stepping off the front porch, I glanced back and forth. Maybe if I could find someone…
Or someone else can find me.
I turned to my right to see Goby riding up on Flicka. He smiled brightly as they approached, circling to a stop in front of me. Flicka whinnied happily. Or at least I think it was a happy whinny. I don't exactly speak horse.
"He lives!" Goby laughed jokingly as he hopped off Flicka, still grasping her reigns in one hand, "You've been gone for a while, we all swore you were dead."
I shook my head, awkwardly shoving my hands in my pockets, "Nope. I'm still alive for the most part. You're gonna have to try harder than that to get rid of me."
He laughed softly and nodded, "I'm thinking we're going to keep you around for a while."
Something about the way he said that warmed my heart. Like, people actually enjoyed having me around? Since when?
"I was just about to head to the cafe to grab lunch for the others." He said, nodding his head toward the path, "Wanna come with?"
I shrugged and gave a silent nod, "Sure."
As we walked, he didn't get back on Flicka, but besides just walked beside her, holding loosely onto her reigns. He seemed pretty confident that she would stay by us and follow.
"How's Ed?" I asked, scratching my arm.
Goby hesitated before answering, "He didn't make it through the night."
Oh gee that killed the mood.
"I'm sorry." I responded with a frown.
"Don't be." He shook his head, "It wasn't your fault… He was old anyway. It was his time. You did great, Nonny."
If you consider getting knocked out cold 'great' then I'm sure I did amazing.
"So, what exactly happened last night?" He asked cautiously, "If you don't mind me asking. I'm sure you just got an intense interrogation up there."
"Actually, they didn't ask any questions." I answered truthfully, "They didn't seem very concerned about any of it."
He nodded silently. It seemed as if something was bothering him.
I decided not to ask about it.
"I'm actually having a little trouble remembering what exactly happened last night." I noted out loud, "I hit my head pretty hard apparently."
"What do you remember?" He asked. The look in his eyes and tone in his voice said that for whatever reason, he needed to know. He needed to know what happened there in those stables, because this might be his only chance at getting answers. I knew exactly what he was thinking.
"She said she misses him." I answered quietly.
He looked at me for a moment, "What?"
"Oona." I spoke, not making eye contact, "She misses Avi."
"Is this your way of saying that you don't think she did it?" He asked.
"That's not at all what I'm saying." I shook my head, "I'm saying that if she DID do it, I don't think she meant to cause any harm."
He was silent.
"She cared a lot about him."
"You don't think I know that?!" He snapped, stopping and turning to me, "That boy cared more about her than almost anything on this planet. No, I don't think that she meant to cause any harm. No, I don't know what happened that night or whether it was even because of her. But what I do know is that she was there when it happened, and she knows what happened no matter what she may say. So the least that she could do it just TELL US something. Tell us anything."
I could see tears building in his eyes.
Oh no please don't cry.
He wiped an escaped tear from his cheek as he turned away from me. Flicka nudged him with her nuzzle, seemingly knowing that he was upset.
"My poor baby has to go through this and the least that she could do is tell us why."
God dammit don't do this to me.
I just kinda stood there awkwardly. I didn't really know what to say.
"I'm sorry." I spoke, barely audible. My voice was still hoarse.
"Don't be." He responded, sniffling, "It's not your fault."
We stood in awkward silence for a moment.
"Do you want to come with me tomorrow to see him?" He asked suddenly, almost as if he was trying to push his sad facade away.
"Who, me?" I asked, shocked by the sudden question.
"No, the other person who I am so clearly talking to." He laughed sarcastically, "Of course you. Gosh, you sound like him right now."
He began walking again. I followed.
"I do?" I asked.
He nodded, smiling, "Anytime anyone asks him anything, his immediate response is always 'who, me?'. Sometimes I think he does it just to annoy me, but honestly I think it's cute."
I was tempted to smile. Goby seemed as if he could talk about Avi all day if you let him. It was refreshing to see someone be so passionate about another human being.
"So what do you say?" He asked, "Wanna come?"
I shrugged and nodded, "Sure."
He squinted at me, "Are you always this un-opinionated about things?"
I shrugged, "Probably."
He smiled and shook his head, "I figured you could meet him, since you haven't yet. There are a few rules but we can go over them on the way there."
"Rules?" I asked, raising an eyebrow, "What for?"
He stopped, and spoke after studying my face for a few moments, "Can I trust you?"
Oh dear where was he going with this? I didn't want to get pulled into the middle of something that wasn't any of my business, which I doubted this was my business. I mean, the two of us barely knew each other. We had met just like two days before. Although, I guess that applies for every other person that I'd come in contact with in that horrid place. I didn't even trust myself, so why everyone suddenly felt the need to pour their hearts out to me and seemingly want to just let me into their lives, I didn't know. I was new. I was mysterious APPARENTLY. I didn't know who they were or even who I am, so that was the real question: could they trust me?
Despite all of those thoughts ramming themselves into my inner skull, bringing back the throbbing pain of my head injury, I nodded anyway, "Of course."
I'm probably trustworthy, right?
"Well," He began with a hushed voice, "We've never really told anyone about Avi's… current predicament. Not specifically, anyway."
After a moment of hesitation, I spoke, "What do you mean?"
Why was he telling me this?
He kept his eyes on me for a few seconds too long as if he was contemplating whether to back out or not.
He exhaled through his nose, his dark eyes twinkling as if there was more running through his mind than he was letting on.
"Avi's in a coma."
He stared at me expectantly, waiting for me to start throwing questions. To question him. To ask why. To ask what he knew. But in all honesty, I wasn't sure how to respond. If you think about, it kind of made sense. It made some of the nonsensical banter on the subject that I'd been hearing for the past few days seem more clear.
He was in a coma.
"I mean," he continued, fiddling with Flicka's reigns nervously, "It's not a full on coma. He wakes up sometimes, he's just not aware of his surroundings. Or that's what the doctors have said at least. He just kinda stares blankly at the ceiling… And every once in awhile if you try hard enough you can get him to maybe look at you. It's like his body is awake… but HE'S not."
I nodded, "The lights are on but nobody's home."
He nodded back solemnly, "Basically."
More awkward silence.
This damn town just can't stop throwing stuff at me, can it?
"They're not sure he'll ever come out of it." He spoke quietly, "It's been a year already. They said that if he's not showing any signs of recovery by the three year mark-"
He didn't have to finish his sentence. I knew what he was going to say.
If he didn't show signs of recovery, they were going to have to let him go.
That was a heavy thought.
I placed an awkward hand on his shoulder, "Don't beat yourself up about it. You've done everything that you can."
He gave me weary smile, as if the thought was too wishful, "You're a good dude, Nonny."
Well, I tried.
I forced an awkward smile back at him. This whole PEOPLE thing. Yeah, I wasn't very good at it, clearly.
"So how about those sandwiches?" He urged, seeming to want to get away from the topic.
I retrieved my hand from his shoulder and nodded quickly, "Sandwiches sounds good."
After everything, I figured Oona would be happy to see me. But apparently neither her, nor the pigs were very thrilled about my return.
After eating lunch with Le Squad behind the gift shop, I was informed that after horse day was the all glorious pig day. What a coincidence that I must return to the place that I lost my last drop of dignity so soon.
"Look who's still alive."
I rolled my eyes as I trudged through the dry dirt of the pig pen, making an effort to avoid another run in with the mud. The pigs snorted and snuffled as I walked past. I was positive they were laughing at me.
"Yeah, I'm surprised, too." I huffed, "Everyone and their mother has tried to kill me since I've been here."
I couldn't help but feel flustered as I approached Oona. Her silky hair hung loose around her shoulders, the front pinned back with bobby pins. She wore the typical Rose Petal attire as she leaned on a shovel. She seemed to have been shoveling slop into the pigs' little feeding box thing. Her dark eyes watched me as I came to a stop in front of her. They glittered in the sunlight as if they could hold the whole sky within them. Have I ever mentioned how much I admire her eyes?
Jesus, when did I become such a sap?
"Are you ready for tonight, mud master?" She asked with her arms crossed. She seemed agitated.
"First of all," I lifted a finger, "Don't you even dare start calling me that. And second of all, what's tonight?"
She huffed and shook her head, "So no one told you, huh?"
I raised an eyebrow and shook my head inquisitively.
She sighed and closed her eyes agitatedly, "Capribella assigned us corn duty."
I did a double take, "...Corn duty."
She nodded and uncrossed her arms, returning to her slop-shoveling. I looked around for a second shovel to help her, but saw none, "That's right. Capribella is putting the blame for everything that happened last night on us."
"Naturally." I huffed, scratching my arm, "What exactly is this 'corn duty'?"
"It's the most undignifying punishment they have to offer here." She grumbled, wiping a drop of sweat from her forehead, "It's where you have to sit in the corn field all night, and watch the corn."
I blinked at her, "Watch the corn?"
"Watch the corn." She repeated, dropping the shovel as a pig came scrambling between her legs to eat some of the slop. She seemed unphased by it, "Make sure no animals come along and mess stuff up. No thieves try to steal the harvest. Stuff like that."
"But who does that on a regular basis?" I asked, watching the pig that stood beneath her as it ate.
"No one." She stated bluntly, "That's why it's a joke. It's not a necessary job. You come back in the morning dead tired and your body itching from having turned into a mosquito feeding ground. And not to mention how dirty you can get from spending an entire night sitting out in a corn field. And we'll have all of that to flaunt to the entire ranch tomorrow."
"You say that like you've been assigned to watch the corn before." I noted.
She looked away from me and rubbed her arm thoughtfully, "Avi and I have gotten into a few situations before."
I nodded. No further explanation was needed.
"What was it that you were going to say last night?" I asked, changing the subject almost too abruptly.
She looked up at me, seemingly in a moment of panic, "What?"
"You were going to say something last night." I continued, "You know, before Ed went berserk."
She shook her head and laughed, in that cute giggly way that she does. She bent over and picked up the shovel, leaning it against the wall of the sty, "I don't think so."
"No, you were definitely going to tell me something." I urged, stepping in front of her.
"Maybe that your fly was down or something, but definitely not something worth noting." She shook her head as she stepped around me.
I scoffed and turned to follow her, "I beg to differ. Try telling that to yourself last night."
She flashed me a cocky smile as she skipped across the pen with an empty slop bucket, "Hm. That's funny. I can't seem to remember."
Of course she would deny it.
You don't get that kind of opportunity twice.
"You little booger!" I shouted after her, a genuine smile creeping onto my face.
"What, are you eight again?" She laughed from across the pen.
I shook my head, "Might as well be."
She giggled again. I liked that playful side of her. The cute and adorable side that didn't come out as often. She wasn't all that bad as people made her out to be. I could see myself being friends with THIS girl.
And for a moment, things almost seemed alright.
The corn would ruin that.
Author's Note: It's been a year.
I'm not sorry.