“Look, I’m sorry,” he says. “I know this must suck for you. I swear I will give you your body back. I just have to take care of something first.”
He turns away from me and scans the trees slowly before touching the wide trunk of a giant spruce and ducking behind it.
“What?” I shout, following him. “What is so important that you have to hijack my body to do it?”
It only takes two steps into the clearing to get my answer. “Oh,” I say. And when no other words come, I say it again, but softer, the word slipping past the lump in my throat. “Oh.”
“They’re still looking,” he says, extending my hands to the ground where a bright yellow backpack and red hoodie are obscured by autumn leaves. “They won’t find my body, though.”
I know exactly who this is, now. Mackenzie Crumb. Last seen wearing a red hoodie and a yellow backpack leaving school grounds two days ago. He didn’t show up to pick up his little sister waiting at the elementary school just a few blocks away. Police suspected he’d run away. He had a record for petty crime. The newscaster had used words like “troubled” and “at risk” to describe kids like him.
“Why not?” I ask, though to be honest, I’m not sure I want to know.
He pauses and with my own eyes looks up at me with such faraway pain that I shiver.
“Because,” he says, my voice stifled by emotion I’ve never felt. “There wasn’t much left when he was done.”
I don’t know how, but nausea twists in my gut. I’m sure I don’t want to know any more than that, but another question is hot on my tongue.
“If he was so careful, why is this still here?”
“That’s why I needed your help. With the news telling everyone what to look out for, it won’t take him long to figure he missed something.” He swings the backpack over my shoulder. “And this is what’ll get him. I mean, I hope.”
“How?” My voice doesn’t reverberate in my chest. It’s a soft, breathy thing that reminds me I’m not terribly substantial at the moment. That reminder is followed by panic. “Where do you need to take it?”
“Home. The police. I guess.” He starts walking again, in a new direction and as he does adds, “My phone has a camera.”
I follow, noticing again how strange it is to walk without feeling. I’ve never given much thought to what it must be like to exist in a world that basically denies that fact. I feel like a secret or a whisper and I desperately want my substance back. But how do you rush someone who’s trying to bring closure to his own murder? Asking “are we there, yet?” seems crass. Stupid and selfish.
Just ahead of me, my body stops moving. Just stops and grips the straps of the backpack tightly.
“What is it?” I ask, but Mac throws up a hand to quiet me and I realize he’s listening to something.
It doesn’t take much to make my new not-body be still and quiet. And then I hear it too. Someone else shuffling through the leaves. Not far from us. Mac turns slowly. On him, my face is a pale and solid, more serious than I think I’ve ever been. My own eyes focus on a spot behind me, but it’s not fear I see in them. It’s something worse.
When I turn, the first thing I notice is his fat nose and skinny eyes. He’s in a hunter’s jacket and has big, meaty hands. His mouth is wet and his eyes excited or anxious or something else I don’t like at all.
Mac doesn’t say anything. His eyes fall to the ground and all the color drains from his lips. My lips.
“Run!” I yell, but he doesn’t respond. My body doesn’t move.
“Why don’t you give me that bag, pretty girl,” he says, taking a few steps closer to Mac.
“No!” I shout, wanting him to hear me and for just a second, I see their breath – Mac’s and big nose’s – hang in the air.
Mac still isn’t moving. My body shivers, but my hands are limp on the strap of the backpack and my eyes are still cast down. Big nose is grinning now and I’m sure I don’t care to know why. Moving around behind him, I raise my arms and push. A strange feeling passes over me as I move through him, like I’m falling and then bump.
When I open my eyes, there’s a big nose between them. My hands are two heavy clubs out in front of me, nearly resting on Mac’s shoulders.
I take a quick step back, falling to one knee because the feeling of being tall is too much to take right now.
“What?” I hear big nose gasping beside me. His confusion will buy us time.
“Mac,” I say in this new, thick voice. “Mac, it’s me. I have him so would you please RUN already?!”
The resignation flies from his eyes and he nods.
“Thanks,” he says before turning and tearing through the woods quickly, but awkwardly. Running with a D cup is a learned skill and he doesn’t have it.
Big nose is catching on. He’s throwing curse after curse at me and getting too close for comfort. Of course, being inside his skin is about ten thousand steps beyond even that. He comes at me and I run. Not after Mac, but in another direction. I run as fast as this body can take me, but just as running with D’s isn’t an easy feat, running with legs as tall as my usual body is isn’t much easier.
I only need to buy Mac time. Just enough to get to the police, to get that backpack and whatever’s inside it into the right hands, so I run as hard as I can for as long as this body can. He’s in good shape, I realize. My new legs don’t cramp and my new lungs don’t burn even after a few minutes. I keep going. Deeper into the woods. As far from Mac as I can get.
I don’t hear him behind me, but I feel the moment my back goes cold and then there’s a sensation of falling. For a moment, I think that I don’t know if I will survive so far from my body. Will I just disappear? Will Mac be me now? Did I give him enough time?
The falling sensation goes on and on and when I finally open my eyes there’s a police officer with his hand on my cheek and concern on his face. He relaxes a little when I shake my head to clear it.
“We called your parents,” he says, “they’ll be here soon. You just sit tight. Try not to worry about anything.”
“Yeah,” I say in answer, hoping to see my breath and knowing that I won’t.
On the floor beside me is Mac’s yellow backpack, in my lap his red hoodie, and in my hand a note scrawled on a piece of Vermont State Police stationary. It says, “Thanks for the rental. And thanks for everything else, too. –Mac”
Come back on Monday for an (un)Tangle by Valerie!!
Photo found on tumblr. Original author unknown.