A girl trying to escape her past finds an unexpected way out.
“Never trust a vagabond.” her daddy always said. She gave an introspective chuckle thinking what her father would think of her own transient status. The punch line of the inside joke was that he’d never know. It had all been planned out meticulously. The gradual separation from family and friends, living in squalor to save money, all to prepare for the reality that she was living now.
She had wanted this so badly; to get away from everyone who’d ever known her. She wanted to never again see a family member or friend, a teacher or classmate, an acquaintance or lover. And above all away from everyone who knew about what she’d done. She was young, vulnerable and people understood how it had happened. Still it tainted the way they saw her, interacted with her. She could never live it down.
People say that running away from your problems doesn’t solve them. Those people never had to live with the knowing glances or the veiled remarks. They didn’t have to live with the fear. The fear of running into certain someones. The fear that you could never amount to anything more than ‘that girl’. The way she saw it, now she could be free. She could move on.
She wasn’t looking to establish a new life. She didn’t need a job. She had the money. She didn’t need relationships. They only brought judgment. She only needed herself; no limitations, no regrets, no looking back. Yet still in the middle of the night, or during the rare capture of a sunrise she would think of him. But going back now would only bring him more pain. She needed to move on.
It was cold here; still fall but it seemed winter was coming early. That’s why she had come to the old shop. It wasn’t in her day's plan but plans were a thing of the past now. She had nowhere to be, no one to keep waiting. Yet he was waiting for her. He was leaning against the rough weathered wood siding of the little A-frame knit wear shop. He looked unscrupulous, a traveler like herself, just off the bus. He greeted her affably enough although his hungry stare and repugnant odor gave her an uneasy reaction.
She took her time in the store. It was a wonder the place was still open for business. Dirty and in disrepair the décor looked like a grandmother’s attic. She bypassed the beanies and ski hats for the more fashionable styles. Each garment was unique, hand knit by ancient loving hands. She selected a pretty flowered beret and made her way to the counter. She may be a vagrant but that didn’t mean she had to look like one. She looked out the window before handing her desired purchase over to the grandmother who owned this attic.
“Oh, he's alright”, the small wrinkled woman assuaged her. “It's getting cold out there, I’ll be happy knowing that my hat’s keepin’ you warm. Hope to see you again.” “Silly old lady”, she thought. “You will never think of me again and I will definitely never be seeing you again.” Donning her new beret she stepped out into the cold. “You look real sweet in that cap girl”, the repellent man greeted her. Yellow nicotine stained teeth grinning in her direction.
She shot a wan smile in his direction hoping to move past without any further discussion. “I got somethin’ you might be interested in.”, he called out as he took an unbelievably long step placing himself in front of her. “I doubt it”, she rebuffed “I’m not looking for anything.” “I know, that's what I got.” he responded.
He had moved himself from blocking her way and was now matching her quick pace moving swiftly beside her. They now stood behind the old shop. The ground covered in shadows, buildings to each side kept them from the glancing eyes of a passerby. She had thought this was the way she’d taken to get here from the bus station but now it looked utterly unfamiliar. There was no were to go between the awful smelling man and the rough sides of buildings.
She had tried her best to ignore the man when she had noticed him before but now he was demanding her attention. His skin was grey and leathery, crisp crinkles around his faded eyes. He wore an old army green coat unzipped over a stained shirt. His bulging knapsack was pulled from its position over his back to sit in front of his stomach. The patches from around the country seemed to glisten despite their dirt encrusted state as he jostled the baggage.
“Little Sylvia Sussman just you look inside here and see what I’ve got, you might like it.”, he goaded. Her annoyance had long since passed to fear and now he knew her name. It all seemed impossible. “I always liked alliterated names.” He began to unzip his pack, slowly, carefully, lovingly. “I always told myself that if I ever was to name a person I’d give ‘em a nice smooth alliterated name. Something nice like Sylvie Sussman.” She turned her face away; she didn’t want to see what he had for her.
“Now don’t be like that. I promise now, I won’t hurt you. I won’t do nothing without your permission. The decision is yours alone.” Tempted she turned to face him. The sack now hung open, fully unzipped. He had spoken the truth there was nothing inside. Mesmerized by the blackness she stepped closer.
“Never seen anything like this in the fancy shops ‘round Plano, have you?”, it wasn’t really a question. His hands poised around the open bag like an expert salesman showcasing his best merchandise. How, she wondered could he know she was from Texas, let alone the affluent suburb of Dallas? It had been months since she’d let any vague remnant of her slight natural drawl slip through.
“A local?” He had exclaimed surprised. “You don’t sound like a Texan.” “We aren’t all conservative loud mouthed bigots with drawls, you know.” she had flirted back. That was the beginning. He hadn’t known how she would eventually hurt him. Then she was still worthy of pursuit. An easy voice reached through her reverie to pull her attention back to the man and his supernatural bag.
“I can make you disappear.” He explained “no one will ever find you. No worries, no troubles. But you won’t be forgotten. Oh no, you will be remembered forever like a souvenir, a fond memory; like having your name written in the stars.” And she could almost see stars appear in the abysmal blackness. They shinned out of the darkness for a moment trying to spell her smooth alliterated name before being pulled under the black into the depths of the sack. That was what she wanted wasn’t it? To be a fond memory causing no one any trouble while having no worries and regrets for herself.
She continued inching closer to the unfastened knapsack, the front fabric drooping wide like a cavernous mouth. The large sack jostled of its own accord, sensing her nearness. The dark bowels groaned. A faint whisper escaped vanishing into the wind. One voice, then many barely audible languages all talking over each other; a quiet cacophony beckoning her closer.
Then she smelt it, the putrid odor seeping from the chasm like hot filthy breath. Her slow progression hesitated. “Go ahead”, he prompted “touch it.” She reached with apprehensive fingers, simply brushing the air at the mouth of the bag. It was thick and damp and not at all as she expected.
The knapsack was unassuming. It had become tinged a dark ruddy brown from what she assumed was its original fleshy peach color. The rough black zipper lined the opening like uniformly jagged teeth. She recognized the malodorous affront to her senses as something organic. A round stain where a label once may have been fastened was the rusty color of faded blood.
Still the contents of the bag were wondrous. She speculated the vagrants offer. Could she really just disappear and have him remember her forever as he had loved her? She had tried her best to keep herself from being missed by anyone. She wanted to feel the sack again. Just to sample the strange sensation of its insides.
She reached again and searing pain could be felt all along her body. Blood trickled down her arms, legs, face. Every inch of skin tinted red as the names of every person who had ever known her was etched across her skin in blood. She screamed as her daddy’s name, the old woman’s, the girl who sat behind her in geometry and his name big and scrawling across her chest painfully engraved themselves onto her flesh.
Then she tripped, perhaps pushed, lost her footing in the pool of blood quickly amassing around her sneakers. It was seamless, quiet and most of all quick. How the sack enveloped her whole; licking up the blood not even bothering to crunch the bones. And she was gone. Never trust a vagabond.