You can't run from guilt
|“Baby! Baby, get back here!”
The little girl pulled back her feet just in time to escape the clamp of the dog’s jaws, causing the woman to laugh harder. The girl’s forehead wrinkled as she frowned at the cruel sound, before flicking her gaze back to the snarling teeth. She pulled a foot back, then kicked it out with as much force as her small body could muster. The evil creature let out a pained yelp, followed by an inhuman shriek from its owner.
“Oh, my Baby!”
The girl scrambled to her feet and fled the kitchen, scraping her arm on the cabinet’s corner in her haste. She bounced off the hallway wall, all but throwing herself into the hazy twilight of the living room while the man on the television announced with excitement:
“...for the first time in twenty-seven years a World Series game will be played at Candlestick Park. The Battle of the Bay continues, Game Three…”
A quick glance at the old man parked in front of the glowing screen showed no signs of refuge: his feet were propped on the low table, body lazily reclined into the cushions. A large hand clutched a brown bottle of that icky adult drink, almost empty and soon to join the others lined up neatly along the sofa.
The yelping and shrieking followed her from the kitchen. “I’m going to beat that fanny, you awful little-”
“Now you’ve done it,” the man grumbled at her with a tired sigh.
At the sound of heavy feet and small paws storming down the hallway, the little girl ran.
She ran from the woman’s horrible laughter and her precious Baby’s sharp teeth. Out the door she ran, not listening to the startled yip when the metal screen slammed into the small hairy bundle of snarling vengeance, or the man’s irritated voice yelling, “Watch that damn dog!” Down the steps and across the pretty green grass she ran, ignoring the red-brick path and a further admonishment to “Use the walkway, goddamnit!” Her bare feet slapped against the rough asphalt as she sprinted away from the terrible yellow house as fast as her little legs could carry her. Near the end of the street she stopped, panting, hidden behind the large blue mailbox which marked the edge of her farthest escape.
Peeking back around the metal corner, she saw the woman standing on the front porch, clutching what looked like a tan and grey mop to her chest. Her sobs of “Baby, Baby, are you okay?” carried down the street. She met the girl’s eyes it with the snarl of a cartoon villain.
“I’m going to get you, you ugly, selfish brat!”
The little girl wrinkled her nose in anger and took off again, more afraid of staying within range of the house than straying from it.
Three streets later she finally slowed, shaking and breathing fast. She was in unfamiliar territory, far from home and it’s tall trees and clean smells and fresh wind. It was too hot here, too loud, and the air didn’t move. The cool, damp dirt there never hurt her feet like the hot, gritty roads here did, the girl thought, hopping with a wince onto the smoother pavement of the sidewalk.
“I want to go home,” she sobbed earlier into the phone, refusing to relinquish the handset until she heard her mother’s voice say don’t worry sweetie, we’re coming back to get you right now.
She didn’t quite understand time yet nor how to measure it’s passing, but they should be here soon - they promised - and then she would be safe from scary dogs and laughing old women, home among the trees and her parent’s arms.
The street beyond the turn ahead looked incredibly dangerous to her young eyes, dark and wide and busy with at least two cars moving on it at all times. Near the corner, however, was a green bench with some shade and the perfect spot to keep watch. The girl turned her feet toward it.
A distant rumble made her eyes snap back to the road, her tiny chest swelling with hope before quickly deflating. No, Daddy took the car today, not his motorcycle...
Then the ground moved just like the water had under her mommy’s surfboard, and the girl pitched forward, landing hard on her hands and knees. The wave continued through the earth, and she tried to hold on by grabbing the stem of a scraggly dandelion growing through a crack in the pavement. Her eyes widened when the crack opened further and the earth swelled beneath her with a terrifying roar.
The girl closed her eyes, clinging desperately to the weed and counting, just like Mommy did when she was scared. “Onetwothree…”
She couldn’t remember the numbers past ten, so she started again and after reaching “eight” three times, the shaking and the noise stopped.
“-nine-ten,” she finished, keeping her eyes shut until she was sure the ground would stay still and the air became quiet again. She opened them to see the dandelion crushed in her hand, it’s roots torn and trailing from the crack which was once more it’s original size. Knees burning, she sat back on her heels and inspected her stinging palms. She watched in horrified fascination as a red wetness began oozing from the torn skin.
A dog barked nearby and she spun around into a crouch, eyeing the street leading back to the yellow house. The mop of terror was nowhere in sight. The large dog scrambling and crashing against the tall wooden fence nearby barked again, before letting out an eerie howl which was picked up throughout the neighborhood.
The girl turned back to watch the no longer busy road, shoulders sinking with the weight of unquestionable certainty she would never go home again.