Part 6: Whetted Appetites
From my hiding place beside the highway I heard someone approaching along the road.
The footsteps were slow and even, coming from way off in the distance. I sat up and stretched my back, making sure to keep low enough so that I would still be concealed behind the gully's rocks and brush.
It was dawn.
I was still cold, but not as miserably cold as I'd been all night. The sun was about to rise over the plains. I could see now that the leaves of the cottonwoods I'd been sleeping under were beginning to turn from green to an autumn yellow. But as I peered through the branches and searched the highway, I still couldn't see who was coming. The person was still on the far side of the bend in the road and concealed by the hillside.
But they were definitely getting closer. Now I could hear what sounded like something being dragged. With every other footstep came the sound of a chain clinking across the road's dry asphalt.
Finally a tiny figure emerged from around the bend. I looked around at my hiding spot in the gully, making sure that I was still concealed from the highway now that it was daylight. I was sitting within a few steps from the road, but I was pretty sure whoever was coming wouldn't be able to see me behind the cover of sage and low cottonwood branches.
It was a girl.
This came as a surprise, because the dragging chain sounded heavy. She was walking with a slow, even pace. She didn't appear to be struggling at all. She just took one step accompanied by the dragging sound, then another quiet step, followed again by another step with the dragging sound.
As she drew closer, I could tell that she was only about twelve or thirteen years old.
I didn't recognize her. She must have been someone from out of town. She had long brown hair, pulled back behind her ears, and she was wearing a dress. The dress looked like something she could have worn to a wedding, or maybe to church, except that it was filthy. What had once been white fabric was now a soiled, dull gray, closely matching the color of her equally filthy skin.
This uniform filth was probably why I didn't notice immediately that her dress was torn. The entire front section had been ripped away, revealing everything bellow her belly button. And she wasn't wearing any underwear.
My heart started to race. . .
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