The battered girl stumbled through the woods with tears in her eyes. She cried for the loss of her savior, she cried for the guilt she felt at being alive when so many others were dead. As far as she knew she was the only person to get out of the reformatory alive. She was right.
She didn’t even know the name of the man who had set her free. She was very confused, how long had she been in that cell? She couldn’t answer, she had nearly died there, The only human contact she had had for a month had been her captors and one other. The blurry image from her memories the one who had fed her and tried to nurse her back to health. “But who were you?” She whispered.
All she knew was that she was supposed to be dead, but somehow she wasn’t.
She couldn’t gather her thoughts. She was starving, dehydrated, and freezing. She was nearly naked in the middle of the woods somewhere outside of Pittsburgh. The last year was like a twisted nightmare.
“A disease,” she was barely audible to herself. The man who set her free had said there was a disease. Anna couldn’t be sure if he said that or if she had dreamt it.
“He said I’m alive for a reason,” she told the silent trees. She was all but naked, save the tattered and torn gown. She had no socks, no shows, and no panties. In her mind she heard, “Whores don’t wear panties!” Who had said that she wondered, it was so hard to remember. She knew she had been raped, on numerous occasions, but couldn’t even remember who had done it. Why was it so hard to remember?
She continued on feverishly mumbling to herself, not knowing where she was or where she was going. She continued on until she heard the crackling of a fire. The terror of this unexpected noise brought her out of her daze.
She was almost relieved, they had found her, now they would kill her. She waited for what seemed like an eternity. She had no idea how long ago she had left that place, nor did she know how far she had walked. Her feet were numb stabbing at her ankles like dull razors. Her entire body ached, she prayed her misery soon would be over.
Still she heard the fire crackling and popping, the sound was so inviting. She decided to get a closer look. Nearly a hundred feet away she could just make out the little tent beside the dying fire. Needing the heat she crept closer.
“Hello,” in little more than a whisper she said as she approached the fire.
She saw movement from inside the tent. “Who’s out there?”
“I need help,” she wheezed.
“Are you a cop?” Asked the startled voice.
“No please help me.” The girl cried and fell to her knees.
Mark popped his head out of the tent, still wiping sleep from his eyes. He almost didn’t see the half-naked girl, “what, what happened to you?” Then he added, “you’re not infected are you?” Mark retreated back a little.
“No, I think I have a fever, I have been out here like this for nearly two days. I think I have anyway,I’m not real sure how long. “Please I am freezing.”
Mark snapped out of the trance he had fallen in, wondering would something like this have ever happened had it not been for the virus. “One second,” he said and crawled back into the tent. He exited a few minutes later, there was now light spilling out, he told her to go in and put on the clothes he had put out for her.
She did as she was told, it took her quite a while to get dressed, while she was inside Mark had built the fire up really high. She came out and sat by the fire, he brought her water from behind the tent, then went about making her some soup.
“Thank you,” she said then lost consciousness. Anna nearly fell forward into the fire. She would have had Mark not seen that it was about to happen. He grabbed her by the back of the coat he had given her and halted her forward momentum. He carried her to the tent, got her inside, and checked her pulse it was weak, but steady.
Mark spent the next two days feeding her broth, and aspirin, her fever finally broke the middle of the second day. He was glad to have someone with him, but the dreams she had made her scream, a blood curdling scream. Hearing it for the first time mark peed on himself just a little, he had been asleep at the time. He had to wake her to make her eat, she seemed to sleep almost endlessly. Mark thought that if he weren’t here to do this she would never wake up at all.
He got in the habit of building multiple fires and had scavenged up enough wood and branches, by destroying 10 picnic tables to build a windshield encircling the tent. He then built his fires inside this block he had built to keep her warm. He had barely slept since the night she had arrived. Afraid she would turn for the worse when he wasn’t watching, or possibly setting the tent on fire.
Two days after her fever broke she startled him by saying. “You look like you could use some sleep pal.”
“Oh geez you scared the hell out of me.” Answered mark startled.
“Sorry, that’s a hell of a way to treat my host.” She blushed, then added. “My name is Anna.”
“My name is Mark, pleased to meet ya, how are you feeling?” He asked as he stuck a thermometer in her mouth and grabbed her wrist to take her pulse.
“I’m a bit tired, feel like I have been laying down for months, my legs are sore as hell, I must have walked a hundred miles.” She answered, with the thermometer hanging out of her mouth.
She noticed her feet were bandaged, “they were a bit rough when you got here, I should have checked them first thing. Sorry.” Mark said shame faced.
“Don’t be sorry, you saved my life, I was on the verge of collapsing when I found your camp.” She told him sincerely.
Mark blushed at this.
“How long was I out for? Feels like I slept a whole day.” She inquired.
“Well you‘ve been out the better part of four days.” He stifled a yawn as he answered.
“Oh my god, so you’ve been taking care of me all this time?” She had tears in her eyes.
“I know this may not sound very brave, but I was scared to death for you. You were running a high fever for the first two days. I was waking you to feed you broth, and dissolving aspirin in water to break the fever. I’m afraid you are still terribly dehydrated and malnourished, here.” he handed her a Gatorade and two vitamins. “Take these.”
She looked at him in amazement, it made him feel a bit uncomfortable. “You’re my hero, thank you just doesn’t seem good enough, but it’s all I can do for now.”
“You are more than welcome,” he said, again stifling a big yawn.
She drank the Gatorade a bit too fast and had to run out of the tent to throw up. Mark ran out behind her scared she was not out of the woods yet. “It’s ok, I just drank it too fast, I am ok, just hungry.”
He walked behind the tent and to her surprise there was a second tent he had been using as a mini storage building. It was full of food and camping gear. He grabbed four kinds of soup, and a can of beef stew, crackers, bread.
“What you in the mood for?” He asked, he saw her smiling showing a brief glimpse of the girl she had once been. He returned his own battered smile in return.
“Beef stew please sir.” She giggled.
They were both still feeling the pain of what physically and mentally had been done to them, but they were both alive and that was what mattered. She helped with the fire despite Marks protests. She had a bit of trouble walking, but she felt better than she had in months. Just when she was sure she was dead the kindness of two complete strangers changed everything. She had a whole new perspective on life, and no matter what came her way she was going to enjoy it.
She ate more than Mark could have hoped for. He redressed her feet and they looked bad. Having her conscious he was as gentle as he could possibly be. He ate well himself and they took a long nap.
They spent the next five days telling each other their stories They shared each other’s pain and joy and fell fast and deeply in love. Theirs was a nonphysical relationship. Anna had never known the touch of a man in any other form than brutality.
They were joined together beyond any earthly bonds. He had saved her in the quite literal sense, but she had saved him as well from the loneliness he had felt since his father’s death. Mark felt she had done the greater deed.