The girl and the man waded through rumpled meadows as they headed toward the lake. The sky was full of sun and a blue-white light. Papa began to sweat, and he wiped at his brow with his forearm and stopped.
Linnifrid looked at him, concerned. “Papa? Are you feeling all right?”
The man who was too old for his age was panting like a bear in Death Valley. “Just let me rest for a minute. I have to catch my breath.”
Linnifrid helped him to the ground where he slumped in the grass. “Papa,” Linnifrid began as she nuzzled up close to him there. “You’re not acting right. Are you sure you’re okay?”
It was then the man winced and clutched at his arm. The sweat was pouring down his face and dripping into his pained-looking mouth. “I can’t breathe very well,” he mumbled, and then another jolt of pain shot through his arm and chest and he laid down flat.
Linnifrid screamed, “Papa!” She rested her head on his chest and there was no beating heart in there. She put her ear to his mouth and felt for breath but there was none there. The girl touched his clammy face and it had already begun to turn cold. She tried to hold his hand up but it just slumped back down to his side.
Now Linnifrid cried as she kneeled there beside her dead father. She cried and cried and cried for a long time and then the sky was grayed over, and the clouds up above began to softly rumble. She looked down at the man and didn’t know what to do. A girl her size could never lift such a large man. Maybe she could drag him to the church and set him down on the stairs and leave a note attached to him while she left to look for Bucky. The rain started to fall lightly and so she went to work covering her father’s body with long grass and tree boughs until he could no longer be seen. “I’ll be back for your body, Papa. I promise. Then we can have a proper burial for you.”
The girl took one last look at him and then walked away in the direction they had been heading. Even the cool rain wouldn’t keep her from getting to the pub by the lake in hopes of finding Bucky. She was a very determined young lady. Determined yes, but she was still afraid of things — most especially the far distant laughter rolling on the waves of the air all around her head. She stopped and strained her ears to listen. There was nothing but the sound of the wind, the gentle patter of the rain, and some far off unattended drilling. She whipped her head around and saw that the same wind was blowing the coverings from her father’s body and scattering them all about. She sighed and turned away, and then kept on walking.
Linnifrid reached the crest of the hill that overlooked the long shimmering lake and the pub that sat near its far shore near a shaded cove. The red metal roof glistened, now that the sun made another appearance. The girl saw the car sitting out front, the car with the dead man she was presently so unaware of. She glanced over the edge and then leapt down. When she landed, she slipped and flew down the side of the hill on her backside. She came to an abrupt stop and twirled when her legs met the gravel of the road.
Linnifrid looked around to see if there were any people who may have seen her circus act. But of course, she was being foolish; there were no other people around. There were never any other people around. She got to her feet and brushed off her cornflower blue dress and wiped away the pebbles from her knees and the backs of her calves. There was some blood, and she wet a finger and ran it across one of the scrapes and then stuck it in her mouth. “Everyone likes the taste of their own blood,” she softly said to herself. She pushed her raven flying hair back and looked straight up the road. The girl began walking with purpose, but then the heat blossomed once more, and she began to drag. She wiped at the forehead beaded with sweat. And then someone said something.
“Hey you. What are you doing around here? Shouldn’t you be home playing with dolls?”
Linnifrid startled, whipping her head around in all directions to see who it may be. “Who’s there!?” she cried out. “Please don’t scare me. I’m just a young woman all alone looking for her horse.”
“A horse, you say?” the voice came again. “Why, I was just talking to a horse earlier today.”
It was then that Linnifrid saw the great tree just ahead and off the road a bit. She moved toward it carefully and wondered. “Was it you that just said something?”
“Yes, it was,” the tree answered, and Linnifrid was shocked. “I don’t believe it. How can you talk? You’re just a tree.”
“Believe me, I hear that all the time,” the tree grumbled. “I don’t understand why you mammals think you’re so superior. Your species is so egotistical.”
“I don’t care about that,” Linnifrid snipped. “Did you see my horse today?”
“Well, I did see a horse. But I don’t know if it was your horse.”
“What did he look like?”
The tree thought about it hard. He was an old tree and his memory wasn’t as sharp as it used to be.
Linnifrid grew impatient. “Well?”
“He was a big horse, I know that.”
“What color was he?”
The tree scratched at the bark above his eyes. “I’m pretty sure he was brown. Yes, he was brown.”
“That sounds like Bucky. Where did he go?”
“He went to the pub,” the tree said, and he pointed with a twig at the end of one of his branches.
“Thank you,” Linnifrid said, and she began to trot away.
“Wait!” the tree called out. “Just so you know… There’s a dead guy in that car over there.”
Linnifrid scrunched her face. “Eww. Why would you tell me something so horrible?”
“I thought you might want to take a look.”
“No I don’t want to look. I’m trying to find my horse. I don’t have time to look at dead bodies!”
Linnifrid shook her head and huffed before turning and continuing on to the pub. The door was open, and she went in. The place smelled like booze, she thought, and then she stepped in something sticky. “Bucky,” she called out through an opening that led into a long room with a pool table; not a green one, but a red one. “Bucky?” There was no answer and Linnifrid was disheartened, and she walked back out into the sunlight and didn’t know where to go next. Maybe, she thought, he went to the lake for a drink of water. She decided that was her next best move — walking along the shoreline of the lake. The beach was narrow and rocky and when she touched the water it felt cold and somewhat greasy. She looked deep down the shoreline to scan for Bucky. He would surely stand out against the background of the world, she thought. He was a horse, and a horse would be easy to spot.
TO BE CONTINUED