She’s on the ground next to me, breathing hard. As worried as I am, I bet she’s feeling worse. She’s the one whose muscles won’t react to the signals her nervous system is sending to them.
She strains to get away from me, crawling a few inches on her knees and falling. She doesn’t trust me. I wouldn’t trust me, either, considering I’d just tied her up and stabbed her in the neck.
“It’s okay, Mol-Mol,” I say, rubbing her back. Let’s be honest, that’s more for my comfort than hers. I dread the dark and it’s almost here. Silhouettes of a few remaining leaves are black against the dark sky. The fear is illogical, I know. There’s nothing at night that doesn’t exist in the light. Still.
I can’t see her rust red fur or the wild edge she gets in her eyes after calving. That’s why we’re here, hidden among the trees on the wrong side of the fence line. When Molly has a baby, she WANTS THAT BABY. She’ll trample, maul or murder anyone who gets between her and it. Unfortunately, she also has a piss-poor sense of direction. This is not the barn. He’s not here.
My phone rings at last. I bite my glove off numb fingers and dig into my pocket. Knife. Hypodermic needle. Hay. Phone. The screen’s brightness is somehow unexpected, as is the number,
“Hey, Drew!” I say. This is not a good time, but it is. Don’t leave me alone out here.
“Yo, Reba. What’s happening?” Just to be clear, these are not our real names, but variants we created in college to annoy one another.
“Oh, you know. The usual. I have a cow down in the woods with milk fever. I already put a bottle of calcium into her and it’s done shit. I’m waiting for help. It’s fucking dark and fucking cold and I’m all fucking alone out here.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t sound too good.” Andrew has a cadence that belongs to no one else. There’s a rhythm to his voice that matches the cock-of-the-flock strut he has, a stride built from his shoulders down. He doesn’t walk like a guy who admitted his greatest fear is extremely attractive women.
“No, no it’s not. A bow hunter came to get me while I was making yogurt. It’s still in the vat. Probably ruined by now. Did I mention it’s dark?”
“Yeah, you happened to mention that.”
“Cause it’s SO NOT COOL.”
“Hey, Rebecca.” He’s ready to get off the phone. I can feel it. I’m yelling in his ear like I always do when I panic.
“Say, uh, not to bother you or anything…” I can almost see him, scratching nervously at his chest. “But, um, have you heard from my brother?”
If I wasn’t already scared, that question would have done it. “Phil?”
“Not recently. I’ve been busy.” Poor excuse for being a poor friend. “Why?”
“Well, uh, he didn’t come home yesterday and he didn’t show up at work today, so my mom wanted me to call you. He works near the farm, so she thought he might have stopped by.”
“Wait, hold on. Phil is missing?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” says the master of burying-the-lead. He’s talking fast now, like he does when he explains that he’s quitting his job because he’s allergic to the factory, but also because he fucked up that last promotion and it’s time to move away from Philly anyway because… girls… I know this voice. “My parents went to the township police and they put a track on his credit card. It was used once at a gas station in North Carolina today.”
“Yea,” Andrew says. “So, uh, if you do hear from him, just tell him to come home. Mom talked to people at both his jobs and they understand. He’s been under a lot of pressure lately. She isn’t mad at him, just wants him to come home. No questions asked.”
“North Carolina,” I repeat because it seems like the only thing to say. Because I’m seeing Phil, desperate and alone, responding to some CraigsList ad and having his skull bashed in, car and wallet stolen. This isn’t the first time Phil has gotten in a bad place for being in the closet. There was that computer issue in college. Then, that thing with his roommate the first time he dropped out. Now, I’m seeing some beefy psychopath pull my friend’s golden Toyota into a gas station in North-fucking-Carolina to buy a goddamned Mountain Dew.
I sit on Molly. She snorts, trying to attack my legs. I scratch behind her pole.
“Uh, yeah, so. If you hear anything, give us a call? I’m sure my mom’s freaking out over nothing.”
“Right.” The psychopath is too big for Phil’s front seat. I wonder where his body is hidden. Trunk? “When you get any news, let me know, okay?”
“Sure thing, Reba-Dawg.”
“I love you, Drew.”
“Awww, you too. Bye.”
I stare at my phone. I should call my husband and let him know. He and the twins were friends long before I was dragged into the fold. They rode the same school bus and played Legos together.
Just beyond the treeline, I see headlights bouncing as someone speeds through the pasture.
The light brings no relief; there are far worse things than the dark.