Chasing the Strawberry Moon
Chapter 7: Daisy
The woman revved the engine and popped the clutch, pitching them back into the horsehair seat. She called, “Hang on! I’m just learning to drive.” Throwing a smile their way, she glanced back. “You two okay?”
Patsy gripped the edge of the seat and nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
The engine pitch rose and fell repeatedly as the driver stepped through the gears. Now she looked straight ahead, totally focused. When they reached cruising speed, she called back, “See? Once I get
rolling I do okay.” Her voice resonated over the fresh air rushing through the wind shield propped open at the bottom. Pulling her eyes from the road, she turned her head and carrot-colored curls blew across her face. “I’m Daisy.” She waved a hand. “From Milwaukee.”
Chapter 12: Revelations
Overcast skies ushered in premature darkness. Another set of headlights appeared in the distance. A gleaming yellow roadster, with a hood ornament shaped like a bird in flight, slowed down. Patsy saw raindrops ricochet off the windshield, hood, and fenders. The automobile pulled to a complete stop.
She pushed Virgie toward the opening door. The wind-driven rain pelted them. Anxious to climb inside before being completely soaked, Patsy danced from one soggy foot to the other. Virgie screamed, jumped back, stomping hard on Patsy’s foot, and slammed the door. The driver gunned the engine and sped away, throwing stinging gravel. She turned, clamped on to Patsy’s arm, lunged for the ditch, and dragged her along. “Let’s get outta here.”
The two girls dashed back to the trees and huddled behind a clump of shrubbery. Patsy threw a questioning look in Virgie’s direction. “He had his wiener out!” Virgie hissed through clenched teeth.
Patsy’s head tilted eyes wide. “Are you sure?”
“I know what I saw. A hairy pecker and balls ain’t a pretty sight.”
Patsy hazarded a peek back to the road and saw two red-eyed tail lights wink over the horizon, mocking them. Too dazed to cry, they huddled in the tall grass. The wind and rain came and went in gusts plastering bangs to her forehead. Slowly, her heartbeat returned to normal, but she kept watch. “Virg, what should we do? It’s getting dark. We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
[—Several Paragraphs Later—]
They emerged from the copse and returned to the road. Patsy looked up and down the highway: not a crow, a cow, or a car in sight. Soon complete darkness would envelope them. Patsy led as they retraced their steps through puddles and mud toward town and their farmhouse sanctuary, making their way once again past the stand of hazelnut bushes and the creek that now ran over its banks and the Guernsey cows huddled near a huge oak tree—back toward civilized society.
The rain lessened, but an occasional drop still patted her face or brushed her arm. Patsy proposed they pause for a short rest. “I think it’s been an hour since we saw Mr. Get-Your-Show-on-the-Road.”
Virgie stood listening. “Sure seems quiet out here now the rain’s stopping. I can hear the cows munching.” Her face was deathly pale in the light from the waning gibbous moon that peaked through thinning clouds. Her gaze lingered on the cows eating. “I’m hungry.”
“Me too.” Patsy could hear faint rumbling in the distance offered by the spent storm. An ominous undercurrent of sound thrummed from the west steadily increasing in volume. She recognized the distant purr of an engine. Shafts of headlight beams from an automobile shifted and swayed as the vehicle negotiated the gentle rise and fall of the roadway. She turned to face the approaching car, her vision blurred by the sudden onslaught of light. She bent to eye level with the car window as the vehicle slowed.
“Run, Virgie! It’s him!” she shouted. Together they fled the yellow hood with the shiny bird taking flight. Once under the barbed wire perimeter of the pasture, she pushed Virgie between the warm bodies of the amassing cattle.
Chapter 23: Deep Woods
Panting, she pulled Virgie behind her onto solid ground, off the ankle-sucking mud bank. A flash over the treetops and a quick thunder clap shook the ground. They sank to their knees, stunned. “Oh no.” Virgie’s voice rasped. “Patsy?” Her head dipped down stream. “We’ve got a big problem.” She pointed to the next ledge about twenty five yards away. Patsy looked and gasped. A large brown bear shuffled and snuffled around a thicket. The animal must have caught their scent. It looked up, eyes blinking inside tufts of shaggy fur.
“Virg, what should we do?”
“My Dad says never run.”
“Okay. So what do we do?”
“Find my knife.”
The bear’s head came up. Pelting rain obscured Patsy’s vision. “Nice bear.” Patsy swallowed, groping frantically in her pack in the shadowed darkness. “Pretty bear.” Another gulp. “Hungry bear?” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Virgie shaking her head, silently warning her to keep still.
The bear took several steps toward them. It stared, as if confused by their presence. Just then, Patsy heard rustling in the bushes behind them.
Virgie grabbed Patsy’s arm. “We gotta move,” she screamed. “We’re between a mama bear and her cubs!”
The bear reared, roared, and tottered in their direction. Patsy wet her pants. She felt her heart thumping against her chest. “Oh God, we’re goners.”
More noise from the bushes behind them distracted the bear. She stepped closer. The girls, wanting to run but frozen with fear, slowly backed away.
The bear dropped on paws the size of dinner plates and advanced. Despite the great bulk of the creature, its approach was silent, save for a low growl that rumbled from deep within. The growl was loud enough to be heard over the stream that roared at their soaked feet. Its head swung from side to side in rhythm with its lumbering steps, its eyes fixed on them.
Patsy continued to search futilely in her backpack for their puny jackknife while Virgie clutched her free arm. Patsy could hear the sound of her own heart pounding over the menacing snarl. Her vision blurred and her breaths came in fits and starts. Her mind went blank save for one thought that this was the way her life would end. In some distant part of her brain she wondered if the beast would kill her first or just start eating her alive. She whispered a hurried prayer for the former. Its enormous claws were now clearly visible; that she’d even considered their puny knife might offer some defense seemed morbidly laughable. The bear stalked to within fifteen feet of them when it reared again and sniffed the air.
Chapter 29: Backward Glances
Women dressed in leather jackets stood leaning over bikes or straddling the seats and chatting, or squatting beside open toolboxes on the sidewalk, fiddling with motorcycle parts. They smiled, waved, and strolled over when Selma maneuvered her bike into line with the others. Selma disembarked and helped Virgie climb out onto the pavement. Next, raucous laughter, shouted greetings, bear hugs, and backslapping exploded.
Selma began the introductions. “Virgie, meet LaVonne.” The woman’s green eyes crinkled when she offered a gloved hand, a perfect image of Katherine Hepburn with her short-billed cap, scarf knotted at the neck, and form-fitting jacket.
Next stood Anne Marie, wearing gray wool breeches with white piping down the leg, white boots, white gloves, and a jaunty cap perched on her head backwards. The woman smiled at her, nodded, and returned to digging in her saddlebags.
Someone named Della strode over and shook Virgie’s hand until her fingers tingled. “Been riding the plank lately?” Selma asked, pushing aside her outstretched hand to wrap her in embrace.
“Would, if I could find some interesting trestles.” Everyone laughed.
These women strutted and oozed happiness with a swagger. No pansy mothers and grandmothers here. Yet they looked dignified, almost sophisticated, dashing. She looked forward to getting to know more about them as soon as this exhausting day ended.