Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: Two
Title: The Whole World Went Insane - Part 12
It had been a good two weeks. Valerie and I laughed a lot, swam a lot, took a lot of walks, and spent a lot of time together. But, all good things eventually end, and so did our vacation. The three-day trip back to the camp was quiet. I enjoyed walking with my love, holding her hand, the times she decided to kiss me.
Near sunset on the third day, we reached the camp. I’d expected Jessica to greet us, but she didn’t. Instead, Kelly met us. We both knew from Kelly’s appearance, something was horribly wrong.
She grabbed me, her arms wrapped around my neck, and her head found my shoulder, and she came apart. I’d say her tears fell like rain, but that’s an old cliché. Disturbed and distraught described her well.
“What? What’s wrong?”
She looked up, and tried to speak, but broke back down, and buried her face on my shoulder again. Not knowing what else to do, I let her cry a bit, then asked again, “What’s wrong?”
Kelly still couldn’t talk about it. But, Kelly wasn’t waiting for us by herself. Gina was with her. “It’s Beth.”
I felt like I’d walked off a cliff, and was watching the ground racing toward me.
“Beth’s missing. We can’t find her.” She took a half step toward me. “Frank. She left a note.”
I didn’t need to hear what the note said. “Damn.”
Kelly finally found her voice, “We’ve searched everywhere. We can’t find her.”
“The gangs?” Valerie asked, even though she knew the answer.
Gina nodded, “The wolves howl every night.”
I grabbed Valerie’s hand, “I’ll need my pack.”
We raced to our home, and put a few necessities in my backpack. All I could do was hope I found her in time.
“How long’s she been gone?”
Damn. Two days. That was too long. I knew that. I knew what I’d find when I found Beth.
I started with the standard search I’d learned from books. Go in a circle until you find what you’re looking for. I needed to find the path Beth had taken when she left. I’d told Valerie, “She didn’t take a normal path. They’d have found her.”
“I know. Frank. Find her. However long it takes.”
The rest of that day, into that night, I searched in expanding circle around the camp, looking for any signs of where Beth had gone. Disturbed brush, footprints in the dirt, broken twigs. Anything I could find.
I was numb, and terrified. How do you find a person in a forest that covers hundreds of square miles? Especially when you don’t know what direction they went. When you don’t know which way they , and when they’ve got at least a two-day lead on you.
That night, I tried to sleep in my little tent. I failed. I kept thinking about Beth. Wondering where she’d gone. Why she’d gone. I had nightmares with my eyes open. I saw an endless string of ways for Beth to escape our world. To escape her agony. To be free.
Yeah. I knew why she’d left. I knew what was in the note she’d written.
She wanted to die.
I couldn’t blame her for that. Life hadn’t been kind to her. Hell, I had no idea how many times she’d been raped, or how many men had used her. No idea what they’d done to her, or made her do. No idea how long they’d had her staked to those posts at the stables. No idea how she’d been treated while tied to those posts. “Hi. Here’s a free sample. Try this one out, and if you want, we’ll talk about the others.”
I wondered if any of the girls could sleep at night.
I pushed myself into the search at dawn. I kept expanding the circle. I kept wondering if it was useless, like trying to find a blade of grass in a field of weeds that covered everything you could see in all directions. It would be a miracle if I found any sign of her.
But, I couldn’t give up. I just couldn’t.
On the third day of my search I found a broken limb on a bush in the undergrowth. And that led to another broken limb, and another.
I followed them. One led to another. I found some disturbed leaves and twigs on the ground. I found a smoothed bit of ground, like someone had laid down for a while. I followed the signs. Few, and far apart. They made a fairly straight line, headed north. I picked up my pace.
I didn’t want to stop at night, but I had no choice. I couldn’t follow Beth’s trail in the dark. I’d miss something. I’d get lost. I couldn’t afford that. I had to wait until sunrise.
The fourth day, I found a footprint. I knew it was hers. “God, let me get there in time!”
I knew I wouldn’t.
I found her on day five. An hour after sunrise. She was ghostly white, her eyes glazed, and empty. Her body rested on red ground. The greens, browns, yellows and golds of the ground were all red. I saw the cuts on her wrists.
I saw the note she’d left. “I’m sorry.”
I sagged to my knees, and tried to feel anything. Everything was numb. Nothing was real. I couldn’t ask, “Why?” I knew why.
The whole world had gone insane.
Beth had found a way to escape the insanity.
When I could breathe again, I carefully pulled her body from the ocean of blood surrounding her. I cleaned her up, using water from my canteen to wash off any dried blood. I wrapped her in my bedding.
I carried her home.
It took two days. I didn’t care.
Gina and Kelly were waiting when I got home. I placed Beth on the bench beside the main fire.
“We’ll have a funeral.”
Kelly and Gina spent the night cleaning up Beth’s body.
Valerie and I spent the night digging a hole in the ground, and making a wooden cross.
Hannah found flowers. I never asked where Hannah found anything. She always did. That was enough to know.
The others made a blue gown for Beth. “It was her favorite color.”
At sunrise, we gathered. No one spoke. Each of us hugged Beth. I kissed her cheek. She looked so calm, in that blue gown, with nail polish, and lipstick, and her hair done up, holding those flowers.
Then, we lowered her into the ground. The others left, Valerie and I buried her.
I hammered the wooden cross in place in the ground at the head of her grave. Valerie squeezed my hand, then nodded, and left me alone. I stood at the foot of Beth’s grave.
“I’m sorry.” What else was there to say?
“You’re free now.” I looked at the sky above. “You take care of her.”
Then I cried.
I watched over Beth until the sun set.
The whole world had gone insane.
And now, maybe so had I.
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Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.