You run, staring straight ahead, not daring to look behind you, expecting the pop of gunfire any moment. As soon as you duck beneath the first row of vines, you see Ruth and Joanne waiting for you in the next row. “Keep going,” you whisper as you scramble beneath the twisting limbs, careful not to trip on the irrigation tube suspended ankle high between the vines.
The three of you move from row to row without speaking. The going is rough. Your shoes quickly fill with dirt, small rocks, and sticks, and the old growth vines claw at your neck and shoulders as you crawl beneath them.
You don’t know how long you’ve been moving or how far you’ve come, but when you see Joanne ahead of you stumble and fall to her knees trying to free the sleeve of her blouse from a clingy branch, you know it’s time to rest and try to get your bearings.
“Wait,” you say. “I need a minute.” Sitting in the soft earth, you take off one shoe, shake out the sand, replace it, and then do the same with the other. When you look up you see that Joanne is doing the same, her black flats offering even less protection from the elements than your worn-out Topsiders. Ruth is standing over you, breathing heavily, but still not speaking. Her sandaled feet are dark with dirt, scratched, and bleeding. “Oh, fuck,” you gasp. “Ruth, your feet.”
“I know,” she says. “I’m trying not to think about them.”
“Oh, God.” Joanne is suddenly standing. “I think I saw a snake.”
You quickly get up. Shit, you think, everything looks like a snake in here.
“Where?” asks Ruth.
Joanne points to the base of a nearby vine.
“It’s kind of late in the season for snakes,” you say, not knowing if that’s true or if snakes even have a season. “But maybe we should keep moving.”
“We can’t stay in here forever,” says Ruth.
“Well,” you say, pointing up the row. “The road has to be that way.”
“Are we far enough?” asks Joanne. “What if he sees us?”
You look down at Ruth’s battered feet. “I think we are. Maybe we should risk it.”
Joanne looks back and forth between you and Ruth, her eyes going wide. “I left my purse, in the car,” she says, her lower lip starting to tremble. “What if he finds it? My license. What if he—”
“Joanne,” says Ruth, taking her by the hand. “He won’t.”
Minutes later, you are on the road. Behind you, the top of Timo’s cottonwood tree is just visible in the distance. Not far enough. “Come on,” you say. “If we stay on this road we’ll eventually get back to town.” You look at Ruth. “Won’t we?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention, but yeah,” she says, scanning the horizon. “I think so.”
“There has to be a house around here somewhere,” you say. “All we need is a phone.”
The sun is warm, but the patchy clouds overhead leave you mostly in shade. A beautiful afternoon on any other day. You take the lead and start walking, followed by Joanne and then Ruth. You pass young bell pepper stalks, the fuzzy stems of carrots, and the wide, dark leaves of broccoli. You’ve been walking for at least an hour, and still there is nothing but farmland in every direction.
You look back often to check on the girls. Joanne seems to be in a kind of stupor. She does not meet your gaze when you turn, her eyes unfocused as she shuffles along after you. It’s hard to tell with Ruth. Her features are tight, anxious, and she too keeps looking over her shoulder.
You can’t close your eyes, even for a second, without seeing Tony’s head jerk back, his body fall, and the frozen plea on Bobby’s face. Even though you saw it happen, it still doesn’t seem possible. What about Ruth and Joanne? Something tells you Ruth would go back if she could, to be certain all of this is real, to see for herself, to not feel like she had abandoned the man she loved.
“Matthew,” calls Ruth. “Someone’s coming.”
You look past her into the hazy, liquid distance and see a vehicle approaching. Joanne turns and sees it too. “It’s a car,” she says. “Thank God.” She starts to wave. You walk back to stand beside her. Ruth does the same.
As the car draws closer, you see that it’s actually a truck, a white truck, an old beat-up, white truck.
The driver slows to a stop in the middle of the road, rolls down his window, and drapes his tattooed arm outside the door. “Well, hello ladies,” Timo says, not bothering to look in your direction.
Go to next episode.
THE MISADVENTURES OF MATTHEW VAN DER BOOT is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental … no matter how many times you ask.