Every time the truck hits a bump, my head smacks the top of the barrel. My legs have fallen asleep. There are needlelike prickles going from my feet to my thighs. I am freezing even though I changed into my pants, socks and shoes before climbing into the barrel. It's like I'm being whipped around on the Wipeout ride at the Boardwalk, only without the strobes, musical accompaniment or my seat belt. It's pitch black, and my brain is fuzzy from the thrashing and the depleted oxygen supply. I can't tell how long we've been driving, but thankfully, the truck jerks to a stop. Doors slam in the front, and something creaks in the back.
"Where do these old barrels go?" says a gravelly-voiced man.
"They're defects," says another man who's voice has the high, squeaky tone of a dolphin. "Get the forklift, and throw 'em into the recycling behind the barn. The boss likes to show what a good guy he is by recycling. How great he is to the earth." The men laugh.
The "boss" wants people to think he cares about the earth? I am so angry that my hair starts sparking orange-red. This "boss" must be the mysterious man from the engine room on the yacht.
There are mechanical sounds, and then something lifts the barrel I'm in. It's clanging against the other barrels. Then the barrel tumbles and hits the ground hard, my shoulder jams against the side. My teeth bang together, and my stomach clenches. Finally it comes to a halt. I am trying to catch my breath and give my hair the opportunity to calm down. After a few minutes of silence, I decide it's safe to get out. I push against the lid. It's on really tight. If I have to force it open, I know it'll make noise, but it can't be helped. I have to risk it.
I push with all my strength. The lid flies off and makes a horrible banging sound, metal on metal. The barrel rolls some more, and I fall out on to a pile of scrap metal. The air smells like metal and grass, manure and a faint hint of ocean. Though I have no idea where I am, it can't be too far from the water.
"Did you hear something?" Squeaks the man with the high-pitched voice.
"Yeah. What was it?"
"Get the flashlight out of the truck." Humans have terrible night vision. Thankfully.
I know I only have moments before the men return. I can either crawl back into the barrel to hide or make a break for it. My body can barely unfold itself. I ignore the strain in my muscles. I stand, and pick my way quickly over the pile. There's a huge barn on one side of a meadow, and an oak tree on the other. Black and white cows lie about the knoll. They see me and start lowing. I speak no cow, truthfully I don't even know it it's an official language. I think they only know one word-Moo, which means everything, but I'm grateful for the noise. Their eyes follow me as I make a run for the tree. I'm hiding behind the enormous trunk when a flashlight beam glances over the spot where I was only moments before. A fat raccoon races over the pile, dislodging debris.
"It was only a raccoon," says the gravelly-voiced man.
I silently thank the raccoon.
"You're welcome," says the raccoon. Wait, I speak raccoon?
"Did you see something over there?" The flashlight beam sweeps in my direction. My heart is pounding, and my hair throws off some orange sparks.
"By that tree. I thought I saw embers just now. Like from a fire."
I stand against the trunk, the gnarled wood pressed against my face, holding my breath, and willing my hair to settle. I clasp it in my hands to hide as much of the sparking as I can. The flashlight beam shines on the matted dying grass next to the tree.
"Must've been a reflection."
"Yeah. Let's get back to the barn quick, or all the whisky will be gone."
YOU ARE READING
Mermaids and the Vampires Who Love Them (Winner Watty Award 2014)Vampire
"Everyone knows mermaid blood is like vampire crack ..." Right before her senior year, mermaid Waverly Marie Fishwater's parents inform her they're moving to the Bay Area in Northern California. She's to attend a cross-cultural experimental high sch...