I couldn’t believe Julie had followed me. And she actually thought her display with the knife was going to scare me to go back. Did she think I was stupid?
I stumbled to the highway. I couldn’t go back. I had to get away.
More thunder growled. The storm was getting closer. A car passed me before I could hold out a thumb. I spewed forth angry words aimed at myself and my stupidity. In my haste from the house, I’d forgotten my cell phone. I could have called Annie to come get me. She would have found a way to rescue me.
I turned toward Clearview and the purple-gray sky. Escape from Julie would mean going into the storm.
The thought of Julie following me caused more angry words, these ones directed at her. Her muddy boots were evidence she had come from the swampier part of the pond, which meant she had kept herself hidden by the woods on that side of the highway.
I scanned the woods for any glimpse of her. A crow perched atop a pine cawed. Then it lifted into flight with bulky wings. It rose into the sky as the first drop of rain struck my face.
The crow banked left, soared across the highway, and perched atop another pine. It pranced on a branch and positioned itself so it was facing me. Then it stared down at me.
I yelled at it, told it to fly away.
It cawed at me.
I thought of the crow in the dream I had about Susie.
“No such things as ghosts,” I told the crow.
It ruffled its feathers as though it had shrugged its shoulders.
I was wasting precious time. A few more raindrops fell on me as I started up the highway. I had gone about twenty yards when the crow flew past my head and landed a few feet in front of me. It turned, faced me and stood defiant.
I refused to stop. As I passed to the left, it pecked at my right leg.
“Son of a bitch,” I yelled as pain shot below the back of my knee.
It struck my leg again with that chisel-like beak and sent more pain shooting through me.
I jumped away from it, then kicked at it as it came for another peck. It dodged my foot, spread its wings, and danced along the shoulder of the road as it squared off with me.
I turned and ran. More rain fell and struck my face. As I wiped rain and tears from my eyes, the crow flew again past my head and landed in front of me. Then it turned and charged.
I screamed and kicked at it as it attacked my legs. Its beak made some direct hits as I kicked and screamed at it to leave me alone.
My legs throbbed in pain. The crow tore at my pants legs and at my tender flesh beneath the jeans. My head swam and my knees nearly buckled. My stomach lurched and I staggered to escape. Rain fell harder. A vehicle passed dangerously close. The driver blew its horn as the car whizzed past and continued on.
The crow continued to attack me. I kicked blindly, erratically, and uselessly, lost my footing and tumbled crazily onto the highway. When I caught my balance and looked up, a pair of headlights bore down on me, lit up my eyes in a painful, fiery red.
I dove out of the way and heard the crow take flight, its wings flapping like someone shaking sand from a beach towel.
When I turned, the truck had stopped. Dr. Bisbee came around the front where a powerful engine chugged noisily.
“Lola? Is that you?” he asked.
I nodded my head and began to sob.
“Whatcha doing out here on the highway?”
“The crow,” I said in a bullfrog’s voice. “It’s trying to hurt me.” The pain in my legs caused me to stagger.
Dr. Bisbee took me by the shoulders. “Where’s your mother?”
Thunder rumbled. Cold rain fell. I opened my mouth to quench my thirst. The rain tasted good but icy in my throat. I began to sob.
Dr. Bisbee led me to the passenger door, away from the truck’s warm grill, and helped me climb into a dry seat. The allover warmth inside swallowed me immediately. Before I went, though, I heard the crow caw from somewhere outside before Dr. Bisbee got into the truck and my world turned to deafening darkness.