“Heel-cowl” by Denise Dooley

From the moment of formation to the time they start to mention it among themselves most of the girls reported a lag of six or seven days.  The older girls were first to notice but last to join the groups.  They had a battery of responses to distraction.  Younger girls sought one another immediately.

The first sensation, they all agree, was that of something rising in the hand.  Faint, the kneading paw of a sleepy cat, then intensifying to a searing bruise.  They looked down to see their hands curled into cups.  It would press, go away, press again, suspended in the palms’ framing bones.  It would not leave them alone.

Our subject reported months of obsessive thought patterns.  Visualizations of a boy-student one year ahead of her – his neck turning into rough chin and the “turkey leg” tendons on his arm.  She walked near him when she could.  She attests they did not know each other well.  She could detect him, she insists.  From the other end of school, through a crush of students, he blinked flocks of birds attacking her.  She describes feeling a phantom presence against her torso.

In the days before formation new arms moved around her: furred and bristling, or soft as the legs of sleeping children, or laced over with runny tattoos.  She did not recognize these hallucinated persons, but admits she let them come at her, that she closed her eyes, and that she allowed herself to respond.

[Surveillance tape, retrieved from Sullivan High School camera 6:   07:25 Visible agitation not unlike the gathering patterns of starlings or locusts:  Jackets are worn, discarded, zipped on again.  Lips are compulsively glossed and lighters flicked.  09:38 a small fight breaks out.  The argument is resolved with dramatic hugging, kissing gestures, campy singing.  The crowd is overwhelmingly female.  10:04 A girl carrying gift birthday balloons cuts them loose and they are batted around.  The numbers of students in the hall increase.  By 10:58 the hall empties. ]

Pressures migrated from their hands to legs, abdomens.  A callous built on the bottoms of their feet.  This “heel-cowl” coincided with the start of the migrations.

Portrayals tend toward the dead serious, as if they were some grave and desperate squad.  But really its to beach movies — about girls in good sunglasses, in open top cars — they bear the most resemblance.

The sum of any triangle of girls is a roadtrip sequence.  Windwhipped and sweet dressed and drifting toward countryside richer in sunshine or cute truckers or sand.  In early afternoon, as the formation crescendoed, their yelps and radio songs moved out into the fields.

Or, in the cities, toward the center of town and the county jail.

Only by weather satellite did the events begin to register.  Only after they were in full swing.

That afternoon the Pizza Huts along the highways swelled with chittering talk, with ethylyne strawberry smells.  Gas stations got beautiful, highway sheriffs grew stunned.  Schools seemed so quiet.

Our subject was compelled downtown with the others.  They were pulled to the roofs of buildings around the juvenile holding tower.  Scorch pain diminished on sight of the facilities.  They hovered, heavenly, convinced of the sound of basketballs slapping on the rooftop court.  They had a desire to enter.  Crowds accumulated until the doors gave and they poured like ants, up into elevators, rising mercurial.  Only a few gained access.  Still witnesses reported no impatience or misconduct.  Shredded poplar leaves were found in piles around the building, and mashed violets bound in grass.  The girls were peacefully dispersed.

[ “Girls.”  By now we know all angles on the “walking girls” misnomer, starting with the obvious – that most of them drove.  We know of the “walking children,” age 10, 11, and the overlooked “walking boys”, a fragile-faced subgroup who manifest all symptoms, who claim sleep apparitions of the thin chest bones of other boys, who nestle the tough large girls under their chins.  But any force needs a name.  “Walking girls” works for us.]

In rural towns, the girls’ former-farmer fathers had the detention center key cards and IDs.  Their brothers had faces to break them in with, when begged.  Those girls had hummed like tuning forks for two weeks.  They were frenzied, their thighs were getting pockmarked, their hands slippery.  They’d heard the call for years at a low frequency, probably since learning what all that fencing meant.

The brothers who assisted with the break-ins had initially resisted.  But as the girls ankles turned blue and the dents started to weep, the young men felt terrified and somehow responsible.  What could have held any of them back.

By 15:00, gates across the state had been shorted or unlocked.  At Oneida they all walked barefoot.  At Chesterton they linked their arms.   Everywhere the school-low buildings were ringed with waves of approaching girls.

[Guard report, Home for Boys and Girls in Lilac:  “They looked at the ground.  Shy.  When they were coming down the hall and into the common room barefoot I thought they were waiting for intake.  So many of them.  Tons of them. They sat on the couches and the floor.  Then I saw they touched the other juveniles on their hands.  That is something we have a strict rule against.  I didn’t realize they were walking girls.  I didn’t know what a walking girl was.”]

About those girls in the first waves who moved through the doors, it cannot be overstated with what daring, in what need.  You could not call them fearless.  Their hearts shone fitful in their throats.  But they plowed steady through glass rooms and carpeted rooms.

The extent of their resources has become a major focus.  A girl whose family owned a nursery used a flatbed to shuttle over three hundred girls to Tacteco.  Others procured rental fleets, pontoon boats, medical documentation (for school excuse), substantial cash.  Many report using their own funds and vehicles, a financial and practical agency that far outstrips previous estimates.  Note, too, their ability to cohere, where they had previously factioned off.  This was a demographic known for “sparse ground and sharp teeth.”  But this pull was exceptional!  In the tow of the buckling present need, they gathered in the ones they knew and the ones they did not know.

It took three days, with the tv stations ribboning updates like the end of the world, to get the girls sorted and returned to their parents.

[In sorting, distinct physical markers were noted.  All of the girls had a dark flush, near their temples, veins of a leaf held to the sun.  Tightened bands in the skin around their ribs suggested rough elastic just removed.  And there were the thumb small “scorches”.  Early reporting of these symptoms instigated the handover from State of Illinois emergency response to CDC pandemic response.  This dispute continues.]

How did all the magnets fail?  All doors opened across the whole state?

Anyhow they entered.  Boys rushed to them, held their faces in a way that messed their hair, sat them down on beds and desks and rubberized floors.  They fell in the young girls laps and broke everything open to cry, and the femurs of the girls were strong, and the tears of the boys and their fingers and thumbs curled into their mouths.  All the boys shook, and the girls were able from some place they never knew to bend their faces so close to the ear, lips not touching its protective coil, saying, oh honey, oh honey I heard you, I’m here.

After a few minutes such proximity was too much.  They so rarely had the chance to be alone with their own breathing, inside the clanging and the fighting, and they grew overwhelmed.  The girls could tell.  Without being asked they filed out, retracting the intrusion, apologetic.

Posted May 24th, 2010

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