My flats pound against the wet floor in tempo with the raindrops. They fall onto my hair like black ink onto a piece of white paper. My hands clasp the shoulder straps holding my brown backpack tightly against my thin back. The path dissolves into the pitch dark night. Without a place to go or a view of the road, I keep running. I don’t dare to stop, peek back, or even slow down, fearing something will drag me back. Nothing chases me; it is my fear of stopping that keeps me running.
I look down at my watch. The luminescent green lines form numbers on my wrist. It is 2:56 a.m. I’ve been running for an hour now. Running will only get me so far before I have to take a bus, then another bus. And from there it is up to me. What I do, who I am, nobody can tell me that anymore. I quicken my pace. The bus leaves at 3:10 and there is still some way to go. My heart beats against my chest so intensely I am afraid it might explode. I push that thought to the back of my head. It is the least of my worries now.
The worst-case scenario pops into my head. What if they catch me before I even make it to Atlantic City? What if the police find me drag me back to those people? What would he do to me? A thought of surrender enters my mind. He’s probably still asleep. Maybe he hasn’t noticed yet. I shake my head, erasing that thought. No, I’d rather die than go back to that prison filled with villains and tyrants that for sixteen years I’ve been forced to call home. I can’t take one more second of living in that place.
In between the fog of the raindrops, lights illuminate the streets. At first they appear to be a rotting yellow, like the color of the pages of a worn down book. As I get closer, I realize that their glow is actually orange, leading the way to the bus station. I sprint through the street, the lights warming my skin ever so slightly. The raindrops fall like frozen needles against my skin. I have to get out of the rain.
I count the seconds in my head. Five, ten, fifteen. My desperation might be causing me to count faster, counting more seconds than are actually passing. It takes me three minutes and seven seconds to get to the door of the station. The station is almost deserted, as one would expect as this hour of the night. Only a handful of people walk in an out of the station, rolling their suitcases behind them. I slow down and take a step inside.
Catching my breath, I scan the bus station. The heating hits me almost by surprise, drying my skin and hair. It is quite small, with a waiting room and three ticket offices inside the station. Water drips from my hair onto the muddy floor. I slide off my backpack and place it on the floor. It is completely soaked. It is no longer the light brown it was when I left the house, but a muddy dark, almost black brown. I slide the cold zipper around my backpack and dive my hand in. The insides aren’t as wet as I would have expected, but they are still damp.
I pull out my wallet. The brown leather is damp, but the insides are completely dry. I count the money in my head. Eight hundred dollars. That was all I could steal from him without him noticing. Not sure how long it will last. I’m probably going to have to pawn her jewelry at one point or another. I pull the ticket out of my wallet before placing it back into my backpack.
Reading the ticket again, my hands shiver. What if I am not doing the right thing by running away? Am I being selfish? Is it the only real choice? His words echo in my head. “Tell anybody and I will kill you.” I clasp the ticket in between my fingers. It is the only way. I have to do it. I walk over to a counter, holding my ticket tightly as if the second I let go it would disintegrate.
A woman stands behind the counter right next to the door leading to the bus. My escape. She stares at me for a second. Bags fall under her dark blue eyes. Her skin is gray, covered in a light layer of dust. Her red lips pop out like a bloodshot red rose in the middle of the desert. She smiles with her mouth, but the second I look into her eyes I know she is forcing that smile. I hand her the ticket. Her clear, long fingernails rip it away from me.
“Emily Beckerson.” The woman reads, “Do you have an ID?” I nod. It is not my real name. It would be too easy for them to find me if I used my real name. I simply stole the school ID of a girl with similar features and purchased the ticket at her name. I zip open my bag and pull out a plastic school ID. I look at the picture of Emily for a second. The black and white lowly lit picture makes the few differences that distinguish us almost unrecognizable. She has dark brown hair while mine is jet black. Her eyes are a light blue while mine are a much darker tone of copper. My nose is softer than hers and eyes are wider. I am like a porcelain doll while she is just another girl. I brush my hair behind my ear, just like she has it on the picture.
I hand the plastic card to the woman. She looks at it for a second and then looks back at me. I try to remain motionless, staring into nothingness just like the girl in the picture, but I am afraid my nerves might betray me. The woman nods and breaks the edge of the ticket. She gives me back the torn ticket and tells me to walk through the glass door to the bus.
I obey her instructions, taking the ID back. The rain patters against the thin tin roof. The bus is an elongated oval, completely gray except for a single strike of red paint. I can’t tell if it was graffiti or intentional. I walk over to the front door of the bus where a man asks me for my ticket again. I climb onto the bus, three stairs up, as he reads my ticket. He tells me to go to the back, that I would find my seat there. He hands me back the ticket. I read it again.
My seat is 24d, all the way at the back. My eyes want nothing more than to shut down and take a few minutes to sleep, not caring about the nightmares that might await them. I make one final effort to walk to the back of the bus. There are not many people in the bus. I only spot a couple holding hands, two sisters sleeping on each other, and a family of three gleefully laughing. I find my seat and take off my bag, throwing it onto the floor. I collapse onto my seat and close my eyes.
For a second, every thought in the world invades my mind. I can only hear desperate screaming and then his voice. The voices fade and my mind is left a blank. Rare are these moments when there is nothing in my head, no fear, no anger, no thoughts, just emptiness as if I was in the eye of the storm. It isn’t too much longer before I feel the bus moving forward. The sound of the wheels against the gravel floor sounds like the tune of a bird about to take flight. No turning back now. No turning back ever. Not again. Never again.