[Read Part Two here.]

Dirt. Crunchy, hard dirt beneath her cheek. It dug into her breasts. There was dirt in her mouth. Arms shaking, neck stiff, she pushed herself up enough to spit. But there was still more dirt and blood, too, so she spit again.

Her finger was still bleeding and still hurt, and her belly was still tight.

Slowly, too slowly, she pushed herself upright.

She blinked, looking around.

It was day and there were trees. So many trees. They grew to either side of her, to either side of this stretch of chunky dirt. They were tall and tangled and leafy, more trees than Jane had ever seen, even in the park.

Honk! And the loud squeal of a vehicle braking.

Jane reared back, ears ringing, head whirling. A vehicle. There was a vehicle on the long patch of dirt — no, not a patch of dirt. This was a road, but chunky dirt. And the vehicle had been traveling along the road, but it had stopped, stopped so suddenly that it had scattered chunks of dirt.

A female climbed out of the vehicle.

A female. A female at the control wheel.

Jane stared, and the other female stared back. The other female with hair on her head and strange clothes and leggings! She was wearing leggings! She was wearing the clothes of a male, not the clothes of a female — and shoes!! She was wearing shoes!!

“Oh my God, are you okay? Are you all right?” The other female stumbled to a halt. “Hold on. Just — hold on. Let me get a blanket. Fred! Turn off your damn video game and call the hospital!” A voice floated out of the vehicle, asking a question that Jane did not understand and the female disappeared around the back of the vehicle, yelling “I don’t know! The closest one! Look it up!”

The hairy female reappeared, a blanket in her hands. She ran towards Jane, then slowed. “I’m going to wrap the blanket around you, okay? You’re not going to bolt, are you? Run off?”

Mute, Jane shook her head.

“Okay, good. Here.” The hairy female carefully draped the blanket over Jane’s shoulders. “Can you stand?”

Mute, Jane nodded. When the hairy female clasped her arm through the blanket, Jane did not flinch. It was a touch of support, of comfort. Jane pushed against the ground with her bare feet. Slowly, she stood. The blanket swished around her, falling almost to her toes.

“I’m going to take you to a hospital, is that okay?”

Word. A new word. “Hospital?”

“Yes.” The hairy female led Jane towards the vehicle, towards a door on one side. “You know. Doctor? Just to look you over. You’re — you’re pretty banged up.” They reached the door and the female unlatched it. Carefully, she maneuvered Jane into the seat, wrapping the blanket around her legs and across her lap. “Are those burn marks? Fuck. Fuck whoever did this to you.”

A voice behind Jane suddenly exclaimed, “Mommy said a bad word!”

Jane started, eyes wide, and twisted around. Two children sat behind her, male and unblooded female. The unblooded female was grinning. The male rolled his eyes, his gaze otherwise fixed on … what was that he held in his hands? It was not a book.

“I did not say a bad word, Susie,” the hairy female snapped. She reached up and around, securing a safety harness across Jane’s belly and shoulders. “Under the circumstances, it is an appropriate word.” Backing away, she closed the door and then ran around the front of the vehicle. A moment later, she was sitting behind the control wheel, her own safety harness in place. “Ready?”

Jane’s mouth was dry, and still tasted of dirt and blood. “Yes,” she managed to say.

The vehicle lurched forward, pushing Jane into the seat. 

“Frederick, hand me one of those bottled waters. And have you got the directions yet?”

“Yeah, yeah.” The male passed a bottle to the hairy female, who in turn handed it to Jane. “I got the route. It’s about six miles north. And I told you that camping this weekend was a bad —”

“Shut it, young man.”

The male dropped back in his seat, scowling. 

The hairy female smiled at Jane, her expression apologetic and embarrassed. “My kids. What can I say? Oh, I’m Harriet, by the way.”

Harriet. Frederick. Susie. None were names known to Jane. None were on the list approved by the Fathers in their wisdom.

What was the bad word that Harriet had used? Fuck. Fuck the Fathers. 

“Jane. I am Jane.” 

“Jane. Nice to meet you. Well, you know. Under the circumstances. Did you —” Harriet cleared her throat, her attention jumping back and forth between Jane and the chunky road and the trees that crowded in on either side. So many trees. “Did you escape from someone? From somewhere?”

Jane tested the word on her tongue. “Escape. Yes. I have escaped. I am free.”

Susie leaned forward, straining against her safety harness. “Is that why you’re bald? And naked?”

“Susie!” Harriet yelled. “Hush!”  

The unblooded Daughter muttered “sorry” and sank back into the seat beside the male.

Harriet cleared her throat, her fingers twisting on the control wheel. “Well, I’m glad you got away.”

“As am I.” Jane frowned at the bottle of water, poked at the cap that sealed the top, pushed at it, and finally twisted it. The scent of fresh water hit her nose and she drank. She tipped the bottle back and drank until there was no water left.

“We’ve got more if you want another.”

“More. I — yes. That would be appreciated. I thank you.”

“Not a problem.”

A second bottle appeared from the back, and Jane drank that one, as well. Her stomach felt too full, and her belly was no longer tight.

“Need to make a right up here, Mom.”

“Got it. Thanks.”

Jane laid the two empty bottles in her lap. “Where is this? When is this?”

Harriet frowned. “Um. Where and when? Well —” 

and then she said a place and a date that Jane did not recognize or understand. Jane knew nothing of the the cities or calendar of the world before. 

Jane rolled the empty bottles in her lap. “I must tell people. I must speak of what I have known. I must write, share through my gift of Letters.”

Harriet nodded. “You have some secrets you need to expose, hunh? Bad people who have done bad things?”

“Yes.”

“Good for you.”

The vehicle turned. They left the chunky road for one that was smooth and the trees spread out, revealing more of the sky above, and the clouds, and the sun.

“Harriet?”

“Yes, Jane?”

“How many numbers are there?” 

[Written by Rebecca Buchanan.]

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