PHOEBE HEADS TOWARD THE FOREST
Phoebe walked blindly down the sidewalk, hardly aware of her surroundings. At Main Street, instead of turning right to head home, she crossed and continued down Bridge Avenue toward the forest. Maybe it would be dark and secluded there. She didn’t want to go home. She didn’t want to see Penny. She didn’t want to see anyone.
At the Half Moon Bridge – an old two-lane bridge with continuous sidewalks and thick metal railings – Phoebe stopped her angry flight. Gilligan’s not going to help me, she told herself. He’s too stupid, just too stupid. What am I going to do now?
She of course had known that she might not get the job. But as hard as she tried, she could never find any motivation for second choice. She had spent her whole childhood living and working in the toy store, as if it were the community center of Middletown. She longed to show what she could do there now, as her current self, nearly an adult. Even soccer couldn’t compete with this relentless passion.
She tried to peer into the future, but could see nothing. No toy store, no soccer, no college. What cold she do? How could she face everyone? People would know that Gilligan had turned her down, and they would try to comfort her. It would be unbearable.
She walked out on the bridge and leaned on the upper railing, looking down into the black water gliding by. The Half Moon River was tearing along at the roots of the trees growing out of the steep bank. She stood there for what felt like hours. Gradually her feelings settled into a dull ache. Once again she become aware of her surroundings.
She looked further down the road toward the forest, and remembered the abandoned house. Like iron filings to a magnet, her thoughts began to cluster around a new question: Does Abby actually live in that abandoned house? Could she possibly be there, even right now? Phoebe remembered the way that Abby had stared at her in Glenda’s living room, full of some unknown purpose. Standing there alone near the forest, she felt the fear and attraction of a mystery. Her blood pumped faster. She began limping down the road.
She passed a few houses and trailers in progressively poorer condition, and arrived at the point where the avenue became a dirt road. The streetlights had long been left behind. The dark, dense pine trees grew out over the road, leaving barely room for a car to get by. A sign emerged that said, DEAD END.
The area was deserted. She limped onward through the shadows. Finally the road curved and came to a rusted metal gate. Looking up to the right, she saw the old three-story wooden house sitting on rising ground behind a few sumac trees and the remains of an ancient maple, a house that had last received paint a couple of generations ago. The windows were all broken. The wooden porch had partially caved in. The tallest of the Half Moon Cliffs, called the Horn, rose in the background.
She stared about. Nothing moved. To the right of the closed gate the fence had been torn open, and a small footpath ran up toward the house. The tracks of bicycle wheels were clearly visible in the dirt. Abby had been there since the last rain.
Phoebe limped up the path, and stepped gingerly over the broken porch to the front door. The knob had long since disappeared. She knocked several times, and finally pushed the door. It swung open a couple of feet and stuck against the floor. Phoebe sniffed the air and peered into the darkness. The breath of old, moldy, deserted places blew in her face
“Abby,” she called, as loud as she dared. She was afraid to yell. Who knew what one could awaken? “Abby, it’s me, Phoebe. Are you there? I want to talk to you.”
There was no reply, except an angry squirrel scolding her from a second story window ledge.
She walked back to look for the bicycle tire tracks in the mud. There they were, running through clumps of grass where the water drained off the rising ground. She followed the tread marks back up toward the house. Soon they veered off to the right, and traces of them were visible heading around the house to the back. She walked on, staring at the ground, losing the tracks amid the leaves and fallen branches, but picked them up again in the dirt.
Suddenly, as if a presence appeared in her mind, she looked up, and there was Abby standing about thirty yards away down the slope toward the edge of the forest. Their eyes met.