Extra Parts

by Rachel Sudbeck

Baylor’s driving, because he’s the one who saw her. He lives up the mountains anyway, so he’s the one who’s best at navigating those pinwheel turns, the sharp lefts that send Thompson and Connor sliding back and forth into me, stuck in the middle of the back seat.

These things are never as spooky as you want them to be. It’s dark out, because you’ve got to go at night if you want to see ghosts, but it’s just a regular dark, not misty or raining or anything in particular. Baylor’s dad makes sure his kids’ cars are in good working condition to drive them up and down the mountain for school every day, so it’s humming smooth underneath us, and the headlights are doing a better than average job of illuminating the road. It’s a sweaty spring night, and the air conditioning is churning away to compensate for the five sweating bodies packed into the car to see a ghost.

Baylor’s got that Appalachian accent that makes some words twice as long and others half as short, so the story takes a strange rhythm when he tells it. He’d seen her around 6am; he has to get up so early to make it to school on time. She’d just been there by the morning roadside, just for a second before another turn took her from Baylor’s view, but it was clear as anything that she had three legs.

That’s about the story’s shape, the three-legged woman by the road, but it’s one of those tales that has about eight different tellings. Mikey, who gets shotgun by default because he’s so big, says she was a mother whose daughter got murdered and chopped up. She went looking for her daughter’s body in the woods, but all she could find was a leg, which she held and cried over and wept over until it was all her ghost could remember to hold on to.

Thompson, on my left, says she was a girl who murdered her husband and sewed his leg to her thigh, though he doesn’t seem to know why or how.

Connor, on my right, says he bets she has three tits too, and everybody laughs like it’s so funny, even me.

Maybe I wish I had more friends who were girls, but only maybe. Other girls have started to terrify me. That morning I’d caught sight of Misty Thompson’s naked back in the gym locker room and my whole body started to feel like it was steaming, like my pulse was sucker-punching my soul right out of my body. A group of girls were giggling in the corner and I felt like they were laughing at me, like they were seeing the naked me look at the naked Misty. I can’t talk to girls any more than I can speak to the dead.

I tell the car, it’s stupid, just somebody trying to spice up a boring ghost story by adding an extra leg. Baylor pulls over onto a shoulder, says this is where he saw her.

It’s a steep stretch of road, so steep that the car is perched pointing up like a space shuttle. Through the windshield we can see a clear night sky, sparkling through the tree branches. We get out, stretch, stump around in the woods a little, but there’s not anything. Connor does a whistle, calls out to the ghost girl like he would call out to a dog, makes smooching noises like he would for a cat, and I go back to wait by the car.

I’m sitting on the windshield looking through the branches, laced like cursive letters, when I see her, standing by the road like she’s lost. Her hair is a bit of a mess, and I wouldn’t call her dress old-fashioned, just old. The third leg coming out the back of her skirt looks pained and twisted, turned at the corners. It’s part of her, she’s not holding it, it wasn’t sewn on, but it’s not on her quite right. There’s nothing scary about it.

Once, at a sleepover in middle school, Baylor and Mikey and I had waited in a closet to catch Connor’s older sister changing. I told myself that they had talked me into it, but I wanted to see, because there was something about Sara that made me feel scared, in ways I did and didn’t want to know.

We saw her, when she came in to get ready for her shower, slipped off her big army jacket and her sundress, slid the straps of her bra down her shoulders. Through the crack in the door we could see. Her body was blooming with bruises, green and black and paler colors, down her back and the insides of her thighs. There were spots on that had been rubbed raw and bleeding. It was a hurt worse than I had ever seen.

When she left, we all of us ran from the room empty, not quite crying. We didn’t say anything about it. Couldn’t even breathe about it when Sara left home, the very second she was old enough to drive, and never came back. Nobody talked about her after. Their dad had thrown away all the pictures of her. Connor would mention her sometimes, but only sometimes. She wasn’t even a haunting.

The three-legged girl’s eyes are closed, her breaths come shallow. She was hurt and hurting once, and she still is.

I say something to her. I try to say it as gentle as I can. She looks at me, eyes open and wet in the dark. Her cheekbones are so sharp that I find myself thinking that they must be the first part of her face to burn in the summer.

When the boys come back, we pile into the car and drive back down the mountain, so steep it feels like we’re falling. There’s nothing in the car that I would call fear. 

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