I cared what she thought, so when she dared me, I knew I was in trouble. I turned to her with my objection poised and ready, but there she sat, stiff, silent, disapproving. Her ever more toothy sneer taunted. Her eyes threatened retribution. I never could ignore a dare.
“All right, then.” I snapped, resigned to the fate she had conjured for me.
I knew it to be precisely 230 metres, including three fences, from the house to the general store – as the crow once might have flown. I have never seen a crow. And I doubt he would be concerned with fences.
From our front window I could see a bunch of the others meandering along the street. They had begun collecting in groups last Spring. It made my ventures outside a little easier than skulking through a random scattering of individuals.
Fifteen minutes and I was creeping out the front door. I called out that I would return before dusk.
It was three months before I made it home. I made the general store in good time, having avoided the wandering others. I found the dress she had dared me to fetch. Smaller than her size, but she had lost weight over the two years we had been together.
That last fence had been my downfall. Weakened through years of neglect, it failed under my weight. I bit the dirt and a thick splinter penetrated my left shoulder. My cry didn’t attract the others, but the smell of my blood did.
I ran like no man could run, in the only direction that was available to me, but away from home. I clutched the dress to my chest; it was more important than my life. I made Main Street – at least I remember sighting the smashed windows of Baker’s Hardware – when something hit me from the side.
I woke from dreamless dark into bright lights, white walls and the stench of sterility. I could not move nor speak. I heard hushed discussions about my condition, others about my recovery, still more about who I really was. Despite their persistence, I never told them; I couldn’t. They would visit home, find her sitting there, and never, ever let me out. I escaped the day after they removed all my plaster.
Avoiding marauding others on the three week journey home became easier as my injuries continued to heal. Though I still drag my right leg and the left side of my face looks like it has melted. But they just help me blend in.
I anticipated a chastising when I returned without the dress. She had deteriorated in the time I was away. A heavy layer of dust covered everything. It dulled her hair (I had more in the cupboard). It faded her eyes (fixed with a little of spit an polish). Her jaw had dropped off and lay at her feet. Two teeth had loosed and slipped between the floorboards. They were going to be trickier to replace.