The highway goes on forever, and where the highway isn’t, there’s corn. It obstructs her view so that all she can see is straight ahead to where the highway meets the horizon. She hasn’t looked back because of the swimming feeling in her stomach and the pain in her head. Besides, she already came from there.
One change has occurred in the last five minutes, though. When she looks up from the dashed yellow centerline, she can now see a copse of trees beside the road ahead. The road has been mostly flat but now she realizes that she is descending an almost imperceptible grade. The trees are at what seems to be the bottom of that grade. A low spot? A creek? She continues to put one foot in front of the other.
As she nears the trees, she is again struck by the peculiarity of the absence of traffic on this road. She has walked for what seems like hours yet she has seen no one. No cars. No houses. Only corn, and of course the trees ahead. It seems as if she has been dropped into an empty world, one she finds unfamiliar, the only sign of civilization the road itself, the wires stretched between poles, and the endless cornfields.
When she is close enough to the trees that she can see beneath them, a queasy feeling comes over her. “Not again,” she thinks. She has already thrown up too many times this morning. There’s nothing left in her stomach now. But she soon realizes that this is a different feeling. This isn’t the feeling she gets before being sick. Instead, it’s the feeling of being watched, of your privacy being invaded, of being sized up. It makes her feel sick.
She finally looks back, and sure enough, her head is swimming with the motion. The highway stretches nondescriptly away and there is no one there. She looks forward again, slowly, and finds the same view. The sun is nearly straight above her now and, because forward looks so much like backwards, she would only know which way was which by the trees beside the road.
Those trees. She’s abreast of them now. The grassy ditch has given away to a sloping embankment. It descends into darkness beneath trees which still hold most of their leaves. That feeling of being watched, is it stronger here?
If she looks closely enough, she can see a narrow game trail entering the trees. It seems to manifest itself out of nothing in the road ditch and then descend the embankment to meet and cross the border of the trees. There, it winds lazily along between tree trunks and brush until it is lost from sight. She strains her eyes to see where it goes.
Suddenly she’s feeling the game trail beneath her feet. The grainy texture of the sandy trail makes a relatively loud crunch with each footstep compared to the sound of her steps on the highway. It doesn’t seem nearly as dark down here as it did from the highway. She can see a little way in each direction into the trees and underbrush, but she still must strain her eyes to see very far.
One foot in front of the other, she walks deeper and deeper beneath the trees, farther from the highway, from the electrical poles, from any semblance of civilization, from help.
Help. That word has caught hold in her head and caused her to pause. She looks around for what seems like the first time, almost as if she has awakened from a dream, yet she does remember walking here. She is far beneath the trees now and she can no longer see the embankment near the road. The feeling of being watched has intensified. There is a whispering noise which seems to come from every direction at once. It comes from the darkness that is down here—how did she miss that?—the darkness that seeps in and seems to block her view beneath the trees. The whispering is louder. It drowns out her thoughts, all thoughts except one.
“Help!” she screams. She turns to run, hoping it’s the way back from where she’s come, and she runs smack into someone standing right behind her. Landing on her back with her eyes clamped shut, she crosses her arms in front of her face and cries out indistinguishable syllables.
“Miss! Miss, calm down,” says a man’s voice, gentle but persistent.
She stops flailing at the touch of his hands on her arms. They are somehow rough and soft at the same time. She opens her eyes and sees a man about her own age standing over her, taking her by the hand, helping her to her feet. Unable to hold her weight, her legs buckle and she falls, surrendering herself into his embrace. She starts to cry but then stops herself, listening.
“What is it?”
She’s listening for that sound, the whispers, but they’re gone. There is only the sound of the breeze in the treetops now. Curiosity motivates her to stand on her own, and she turns to look at her surroundings. There are only trees and underbrush. There is no darkness. She can see through the trees to the cornfields in both directions, and she can follow the game trail back to the embankment beside the road with her eyes.
“It’s gone,” she says.
Now uncertain, and with the headache of detox returning, she puts her hand to her forehead. “I’m not sure. I think it was all in my head. I haven’t been feeling well and I think I just got lost down here.”
The young man smiles. “Let’s get you back to the road, then.”