Hey, hand me that thing over there.
What thing? A young girl beside him looked around in earnest, her flowered dress twirling in the breeze.
That one. Arthur stood up and pointed at a small screwdriver before diving again beneath the hood of the vehicle. In a few moments, he felt cold slick metal in the outstretched palm of his hand.
She had been watching him work for the better part of two hours. She had been scared at first- being stranded God knows where with no way to call home- but now a crawling boredom had taken root beneath her skin. She began to wander down the road, stopped for a minute, and called over her shoulder.
Hey, I’m going to walk around a bit and see if I can find a signal.
Alright, but try not to go too far- stay within shouting distance, will ya? Arthur’s voice resounded authoritatively in the small confines of the engine compartment.
She didn’t answer.
Yellow and withered leaves covered the grey cracked asphalt. A recent storm had enshrouded the fallen undergrowth in darkened moist silhouettes and flooded the nearby ditches. She walked gently and warily- the overgrowth clinging to the edge of the rood encapsulated all- more than once she fancied herself in the train tunnels she had read about in books.
She neared a curve in the road and found a portion of the asphalt that was particularly damaged. Without thinking, she knelt down and studied the intricate pattern of fissures with her fingertips. They settled on a piece and deftly stopped.
She pushed on the piece gently- then harder- then harder still. Nothing. The mud had seeped into the crevices and effectively cemented the shattered roadbed back into place. She sat down in the middle of the road and thought for a moment. Then, with surprising ferocity, dug both sets of fingertips into the small handholds created by the rain and pulled. Still the piece did not move. Frustrated, she fell into a mindless rhythm, pulling and pulling until the mud made a soft sucking sound as the chunk of asphalt rocked uneasily. Unaccustomed to such work, she stopped the efforts for a moment and gasped in the cool evening air. Wet leaves plastered themselves to her skin.
It wasn’t until she had caught her breath and brushed a sweaty strand of hair from her face that the vulnerability of her position struck her. Spooked by a combination of her realization and the silence, she whipped her head around, a delightful fear running through her. The tunneled road continued down until turning in the distance. Finding nothing to fear, she laughed aloud.
She had yet to receive a signal.
From her vantage point she could just make out Arthur. Only his legs were visible- the rest of him was partially devoured by the large machine before him. Her eyes settled on the image for a moment. Then, hopping up with newfound energy, she walked quickly along the edge of the road.
The ditches, pregnant from the storm’s fury, did not drain. The water sat stillborn in massive stagnant pools. She spotted a partially submerged piece of rusted metal. The visible end rested on the far bank of the ditch.
She kicked off her shoes and took a few steps back. The pool was about two feet wide- not terribly far when playing with friends but far enough when alone and in a strange place, particularly for a young girl. She stood there for a long while, weighing her options. The image of Arthur beckoned to her. She could just turn around, grab her shoes, and forget about the chunk of asphalt. That was it- she had made up her mind. Without turning, she ran.
She landed forcefully on the far side of the bank, her feet pushing deep within the wet bank. So steep was the side that only by grasping onto a handful of bush branches was she able to keep from falling into the brackish depths. The wet leaves sent constant cold stings against her face, and she had to either look straight down or close her eyes against their assault.
Feeling down without looking, her hand rested on the metal pipe. Thankfully, it was not buried in the ground and rose easily. Noting the weight of the tool and her disadvantageous position, she realized that crossing back over the ditch would be next to impossible. Having little choice, however, she launched herself back across. The young girl hit the near bank, but the weight of the tool sent her sprawling backwards into the ditch. In an instant, fear and water surrounded her whole- then there she was, rising and standing in the gigantic puddle she had tried so hard to avoid.
Like a prehistoric beaver, she climbed out of the ravine covered in mud and water and- finally- a sense of purpose. There was no more fear. She dug the pipe deep into the crevice and pulled back on the other end as hard as she thought she could. The asphalt chunk budged.
Then she pulled harder.
Just as she pried it up (but before it hit the ground with a satisfying thud) her hands slipped, and the rusty pipe cut a jagged gash the length of her right forearm. She yelped out of both pain and excitement. The blood seeped out in a gentle rhythm tied to the quickening beats of her heart. She stared at the injury in wonder.
Sarah! Let’s go! Arthur’s voice rang out.
Sarah slowly clutched the rock and rose, walking toward the car. Blood flowed freely down her arm, formed crimson highways on her fingers, and dripped softly on the ground below.
What the hell happened to you? Arthur asked calmly, shaking his head.
She was, indeed, a pitiable mess. Her dress was irrevocably stained, the once bright pattern now muted. Her shoes were missing. Her hair and face was covered in mud, leaves and twigs. Her right arm, which held the rock, shone a brilliant and alarming red.
In another time and another place, he would have cared.
Come on, get in.
She climbed in, clutching her rock and smiling profusely.
He glanced at her furtively. You’re crazy. Always doing this kind of stuff when we go out. He began to stare at a small screen on the otherwise empty console.
I am? How do you know that?
I checked the computer backup logs one time. If you only knew what you’ve done, you’d be amazed.
Oh, she said thoughtfully, her right arm throbbing now in excruciating pain, Imagine that.
Alright, we’re ready. In about fifteen seconds from now your arm will be good as new and it’ll be like none of this ever happened.
The vehicle slowly rose into the air, quiet as a whisper. Sarah looked out the window one last time.
I think I’d like it here, she said, a note of finality wavering in her voice.
Like I said, you’re crazy.
Two seconds later the ship was over a million miles away. It flashed like a star over the darkening twilight sky before disappearing completely.
The autumn leaves shuddered in the silence.