Sadie Jane Ballard
I am absolutely obsessed with Sadie Jane Ballard.
I just don’t know if I should ever see her again.
Have you ever met someone so ground-breaking, so awe-inspiring, that they question the very concept of who you are? Call it love. Call it lust. Call it admiration or friendship or whatever shitty nondescript term you want to use. Or just call it the game changing pursuit to be noticed by the object of your desire. Regardless of the reasoning, you start out one way, at the beginning; and then quickly, or slowly, even… become someone else.
I can remember the day I met Sadie better than any other.
It was on the school quad, at eight thirty in the morning, to be exact. My mother had just dropped me off. My dad usually handled that responsibility, but he was sick, and Mom said he couldn’t take me anymore. I thought about that a lot. I also shivered through every second while waiting for classes to start and cursed myself for not bringing a sweatshirt.
So, instead of worrying about the weather and my at-home problems, I tried to pass the time by people-watching. It was a harmless, if not creepy, habit. That habit led me to her.
I knew she had to be new. Maybe it was something about her confidence, or the the way she dressed, just seemed… different. She wore this dark leather jacket, and a tee shirt with the Stones logo. You know… the one with the tongue? She had brown hair, brown eyes, and these black boots… you know, the ones that go all the way to the thighs? White jeans. White gloves. White hat. She wore a Jansport backpack that was perpetually covered in cat hair. She looked like she had to be in my grade.
I introduced myself as we waited for the doors to open. It was the bravest thing I have ever done.
She shook my hand gently and introduced herself as Sadie. She said she was new in town. She said she didn’t know anybody and didn’t even know how to get to homeroom. She laughed and smiled through the whole conversation and her every movement infatuated me. I stared and grumbled like the dumbfounded teenager I was. I directed her happily to room 203. I showed her all the rest of her classes. I teased and guffawed and did my best not to look like an absolute idiot.
But it was another few weeks until we saw each other again.
Sadie’s classes were never the same as mine and I wondered why. But that only added to my obsession. I found myself drawing pictures of her in my spare time. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Black boots. Leather jacket. White jeans. White snow cap. You know, the one that goes past your ears?
One day, I was sitting in the cafeteria working on my art. It was a stupid thing to do. Any passerby could have seen my drawings. And none other than Sadie herself slid up to the table and asked what I was working on. She grabbed the papers and immediately recognized herself.
“Wow, you’re quick to crush, huh?“
I felt my face go red. But she just smiled. A secret smile. You know, the type meant only for me? We talked for an hour. About drawings, classes, parents; anything we could think of. An hour quickly turned to two. A janitor came in, at one point, and tried to tell us to get back to class. So we snuck out of school instead. Sadie knew this place down by the creek that nobody else went to. We kissed for the first time. I asked her to be my girlfriend. She said fine.
We had only been together a week when my father passed away.
I was not easy to be around. But Sadie still stuck with me. I asked her to go to the funeral, but she said she didn’t like to be around death, and I told her that was fine. We still met in our spot by the creek every night. We still stayed up for hours. We still cut class.
And eventually, my life without Sadie felt like a bore. She was like a drug. I went into withdrawal without her. I didn’t eat. I didn’t talk. I lost weight. I lost friends. I spent more and more time away from home and more time by the creek. My friends wanted to meet her. My mom did too. But Sadie always came up with one excuse or another.
“I have to get groceries that day,“
“My mom is sick.“
I didn’t really believe her. But I didn’t care either. All I cared about was keeping our relationship alive. I had a plan. Graduate high school, get a job somewhere far away, and marry the hell out of Sadie Jane Ballard. Nothing else mattered in my mind more than the plan.
But the plan came crashing down on the night we were exposed.
Sadie and I had been talking and laughing in our spot by the creek for hours. No one seemed to have noticed. No one ever seemed to bother us down there. But at one point, Sadie heard a noise in the trees. We both got down to our feet and tried to hide in the leaves. But three big pairs of boots stepped through the snow and right on up for the show.
“I fucking found him. I told you my dad heard something down here! It’s that weirdo from school and his granny.“
I recognized the voice immediately as a kid from my grade named Brian. He had made my life hell the first three years of high school. Sadie and I spent most of our days and nights talking shit about this asshole and his stupid little rat tail haircut. And there he was, smack in the middle of our only little sanctuary. Seemingly ready to cause problems.
“What the fuck are you doing out here alone in the woods, Mike?“
I stared at him and got back up to my feet. He had brought two of his buddies with him. They were laughing to each other and whispering under their breath.
“What are you talking about. Sadie’s with me,” I turned and gestured dramatically to my right.
Sadie shrugged and walked off into the woods.
“Chasing the old ladies these days, Hemingway? Did you rob the retirement home together too?”
I turned around and searched the trees. What Brian said about her age didn’t make sense. Sadie didn’t look old. Hell, she looked younger than me. I searched for the white hat. For the white jeans and white gloves that I knew so well. But they were nowhere to be seen. Sadie disappeared. I called out to her hopelessly, but that only made Brian and his gang giggled louder. One of them piped up from the peanut gallery.
“Hey, Hemingway, ever hear of Most Dangerous Game?“
I stared. Brian finished the thought.
“Most Dangerous Game. It’s a book. ‘Hunting man is the most dangerous game…’“
I nodded and smiled uncomfortably.
“Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of it.“
Brian grinned wider.
“Great, let’s play. You’ve got five minutes head start.“
These guys had fucked with me in the past. But this felt heavy. Even for them.
“Look, I’m just going to get in my car and go home. You guys have fun out here.“
Brian smiled again.
“Right, well, you’ve got five minutes!“
I started to walk towards my car as the group ran past me, chortling like hyenas. One of them bumped me on the shoulder. I fell and smacked my head on a rock.
“Ooooh, early shot! Sorry about that, champ,” Brian shouted.
I got up and shook off confusion as the group of assholes disappeared into the woods. The walk to my car was a short one. I glumly threw my key into the door and then into the ignition. I expected Brian to find my spot eventually. It wasn’t far from his house. But I never expected Sadie to ditch me.
I tried to turn the engine over. It sputtered a bit. I took out the key and tried it again.
I sat there stupidly for a couple minutes. I knew nothing about cars. I even pulled the little manual out of my glove compartment and tried to look for errors. Eventually, I got out of the car, and inspected the exterior for damage. And, of course, damage I did find.
Four slashed tires. The latch to the front hatch looked compromised. And, beautifully, a cracked windshield. Which I somehow missed. I screamed out at the bullies hiding out in the woods. They laughed hysterically back. I pulled out my phone to call 9-1-1 when an enormous arrow zipped through the trees and landed in the dirt next to me.
I panicked. I know I should have ran away from the woods. Towards the road. But my instincts told me to find whoever the fuck did this to my car and punish them. I sprinted through the trees like a wild animal trying to find its prey. I never expected a metal bar to jump out and smack me in the head.
“Welp, that was quick, boys, what now?”
It hurt to open my eyes. My forehead felt as though it were on fire. But I could still feel their punches hitting me in the stomach. I could still feel the blood running down my face. I wondered whether I would die there. In the woods, all alone. My mother would not even know why.
I tried to fight back. I raised my arms over my face and rolled over onto my stomach. The dirt was cold and some of it got in my mouth. But the punches stopped.
I looked up to see three dumbfounded teenagers staring at a figure in the distance. It looked massive. Like a bear, perfectly capable of standing on its own two feet. When it spoke; its tone was deep and guttural. The boys didn’t take it well. I could see the piss leaking down Brian’s leg and wetting his pants.
“I want to play a different game.”
I did not have much time to react. My first instinct was to run away, like the rest of the group, but my forehead ached so terribly… I could not seem to find a sense of direction. I got up and fell right back down. It didn’t matter, anyway. The beast was quicker than anyone else. And it never paid much attention to me.
Brian’s friend, Jamie, was the first to go. He tried to scale a tree, like people tell you to do in bear attacks, but the beast we encountered was not a bear. It latched itself onto the bark and immediately climbed right up after him. I heard a moment’s struggle. Then Jamie’s blood covered carcass fell from up above. It landed next to me with a sickening thwap.
The next to go was Timmy.
Tim had tried to hide. There was an enormous tree near us with some hollowed out roots. I could see him cowering inside them like a child. The beast leaped down from the tree and sniffed the air quietly. Even through my limited vision, I could see horns sticking out from the top of it’s head. It lowered to all fours and sprinted off after him. Once again, there was a brief struggle, but that ended with the audible sound of a throat being cut.
I screamed for the beast to stop. I tried to get up and run away but tripped again and again. My body felt as though it were on fire. Pain enveloped every inch.
Then Brian did something really stupid.
I ran away.
I ran away through the woods and to the nearest bus station. I ran away when the cops reported a triple homicide in the woods. I ran away when my mom called my cell phone nonstop for six months, and I ran away from school, from my family, and the very few friends I had left.
I even ran away from Sadie.
I live in a different city now. Thousands of miles away from the most horrible encounter of my childhood. But I still see her. On a crowded city street, in a bank, on the highways, in the shadows. I wonder often whether she’s watching me.
The truth is that I am still absolutely obsessed with Sadie Jane Ballard. She’s like a drug. And the withdrawal has eaten away at me for the past two years. I know that she saved my life. I know that she never meant to scare me.
I just don’t know if I should ever see her again.