I ran away from home twice.
The first time I was five years old. It was right after my sister was born and I guess I was feeling sorry for myself what with the attention my parents were paying to her and all. I remember I put some plastic dinosaurs in my pocket, tied a cape around my neck (a raggedy old towel, actually) like superman, my favorite superhero, put on my Minnesota Twins baseball hat and left home. My jerk older brother just laughed at me. I got two blocks away before Mrs. Nelson, a kindly kindergarten teacher out working in her garden saw me, figured something wasn’t quite right and brought me home. I don’t believe I could sit down comfortably for a week after the spanking my father gave me.
The second time, seven years later, I should have known better.
“God damn it, you big bully,” I yelled at Sean. He grabbed me in another head-lock and ground his knuckles over my skull, giving me a knuckle rub, just one more torture in his bag of tortures he was forever dishing out on me, his unfortunate little brother. Then he threw me to the ground, punched me in the back, rubbed my face in the dirt and walked away, laughing. It was just another normal day.
Older than me by three years, Sean outweighed me by fifty pounds, was almost a foot taller and was becoming the horror, the absolute terror of my existence – something I certainly didn’t need. Mom had left home with her boy friend the year before, never to be heard of again, leaving me and Sean and my younger sister, Lea, under the care of my poor excuse of a father and his girl friend Sally who my dad, I kid you not, always called Sexy Sal. Geez.
Now when I say that the two adults responsible for taking care of me and Sean and Lea left something to be desired in the parenting department, that would be putting it mildly. Dad worked for some kind of auto parts store and drove a delivery truck between our home in the little town of Long Lake, located twenty miles west of Minneapolis and St. Cloud, seventy miles to the north. Sexy Sal worked at cut rate (no pun intended) hair salon in Brooklyn Center, about thirty miles away. I think it was called the ‘Cut n’ Go’ so you could probably imagine what it was like.
Sexy Sal wore her bleach blond hair in a bee-hive style like it was the year 1965, smoked Kool cigarettes and liked to drink any kind of beer that was available. Dad wasn’t much better, but without the hair. He was a large man – a camel straight smoker with a big beer belly who shaved his head when he started going bald ten years earlier and had grown his beard out so he looked like an outlaw biker. Maybe that was his fantasy. Who knows? All I can tell you is that he didn’t own a motorcycle. I knew that for a fact. Being an outlaw? Well, not that I knew of but you’d have to ask him if you really wanted to know.
I’m telling you all of this to let you know they were gone from home a lot. leaving us to supervise ourselves and let me tell you, the end result wasn’t pretty. Especially that summer. I guess Sean at fifteen was supposed to be in charge but he was a mean little kid when he was young and the older he got, the meaner he got. My belief, from the time I could think at all, was that he was born mean and nothing in my life up to this point contradicted that idea.
I suppose, in the long run, I should have counted myself lucky to be just getting knuckle rubs from him. After all, in the beginning of the summer he had started carrying a Buck 110 folding knife with a four and a half inch blade that locked in place and the things he used to do to frogs and toads and the occasional baby bird…man, it still makes me sick just thinking about it. It was my ever growing fear that he could easily start doing the same to me. Or worse.
Fortunately he didn’t bother with my poor little sister Lea. I guess he thought that being a girl, she wasn’t much worth the time. She mostly stayed in her room and played with her dolls, smart enough to stay out of the way of her two older brothers who fought all the time and, in general, made life around the house pure hell.
Add to that the fact Dad and Sal liked to party a lot when they were home…well, like I said, they weren’t going to win any prizes when it came to parenting, that was for sure. In fact more than once I heard them talking late at night, beer bottles rolling around on the floor, watching some late night talk show and smoking a final bowl of weed. Something to the effect of,
Dad: “God those friggin’ boys are a major league pain in the ass.”
Sexy Sal: “No shit, Sherlock. Losers, both of them. Give me another hit.”
My teacher last year in sixth grade used to read to us from a book the final half hour of the day on Fridays. We ended the year with “Tom Sawyer” and I have to tell you that I liked the main character a lot. The two things I got from the book were: one, even though Tom was a hellion (big word, huh? I might have gotten it from the book), he at least had his aunt who loved him, and two, sometimes running away was a good idea.
So that’s what I did.
School had ended in early June and by the middle of July I’d had it with Sean. He was supposed to be working that summer at Jorgenson’s hardware store, a place near enough to us so he could walk or ride his bike but he kept getting to work later and later until finally Mr. Jorgenson the owner just up and fired him. I heard that his final words to Sean were, “Send Quinn back here when you get home. He’s ten times the worker you are.”
Now, how he knew that I had no idea, but it pissed off Sean to no end and when he got back to our house he beat me up, apparently just on general principles. He must have enjoyed it too, deriving some perverse, sick pleasure in pounding on me because it started him on his campaign of terror, tormenting me every day, beating me up whenever he had the chance and making my life miserable. And for no good reason, I might add, other than I was small for my age and couldn’t fight back. He was just as mean to me as he always had been and getting meaner with each passing day.
I remember the last time he did it very clearly. It was a Tuesday morning and he’d caught me in back by the garage cleaning the spokes of my bike, not paying attention or being on the lookout for him like I normally was. He jumped me from behind and pounded the crap out of me, twisting my arm up behind my back just for good measure while I begged him to stop. When he was finally done with me he threw me to the ground, stomped on my back and left me lying sprawled out in the dirt.
Then he sneered at me and said, “I’ll see you later,” which of course meant he’d beat me up again, and sauntered inside to play on the Atari set up in the living room.
I sat up and wiped the blood from my nose and wondered how I was going to ever survive until school started because now with him not at work, Sean seemed to take it as his new job to torment me a will. Full time! Not a pleasant future for me at all. Fall looked to be a long time away.
You might wonder, ‘Why doesn’t this kid just tell his dad?’ That’s a very good question. I momentarily thought about it that day but had a feeling it would be as fruitless as the approximately five hundred other times I’d told him over the years – about Sean and how he made my life a living hell on a daily basis. But there wasn’t a lot a lot of sympathy for my plight from dear old Dad on that front. ‘Just suck it up and deal with it, Quinn,’ was his basic answer, often followed up with ‘Be a man, for christssake,’ tacked on at the end for good measure. Thanks a lot, Dad. So no, I didn’t spend a lot of time that day thinking about telling my dad anything about Sean and what he was doing to me. I figured I’d just have to find a way to learn to live with it.
I was just rousting myself to get to my feet, get on my bike and go for ride just to get away from that big idiot of a brother for a while when something happened that I’ll never forget. Lea quietly opened the back screen door, walked across the thread bare patch of grass we called a backyard and sat down in the dirt next to me. She was seven years old and a skinny little snip of a thing. She had long, stringy blond hair and liked to wear soft cotton dresses that probably were colorful once but were now faded away to gray after so many washings no matter what the color they’d been. And, like I mentioned before, she liked to stay in her room and play with her dolls. Barbie’s. I think she had three of them. She and I were pretty close, maybe because of Sean. I liked her and she liked me and I even gave her rides on my bike every now and then, you know, just goofing around.
Anyway, she never talked much and she didn’t this time either, but she did something then that I later thanked her for over and over and over again in the years to come. She reached her hand into the pocket of her dress, pulled out Sean’s knife and handed it to me only saying, “He left it on the kitchen table. I don’t think he’s missed it yet.” Then she got up, brushed the dirt off her dress, skipped back to the house and went inside. It was the most she’d ever spoken to me in I don’t know how long.
Stunned, I held the knife in my hand. It had a golden brown handle and when I snapped it open it’s shinning, razor sharp blade gleamed in the sun. Sean had brought it earlier that summer at the hardware store with his first paycheck and was as proud of it as anything else in his life. Probably more than the Atari even. I knew it was only a matter of time before he noticed it missing and why Lea gave it to me I could only guess at. Maybe for my own protection. But if I kept it and he found out…man, I pictured him beating me up in a way so bad that I quickly had to erase the image from my mind because it was too disturbing. Then I imagined him coming at me with his knife, using the blade on me like I’d seen him use it on those poor defenseless creatures…
God, why was I thinking about those kinds of things right now? Stop it! I told myself. So I did.
But what I did think about right then and there was this: now is the time to go. Now’s the time to get away from this hell-hole and move on to “greener pastures,” (another phrase I’d heard once in school, maybe in Tom Sawyer). And that’s exactly what I did.
I stood up, put the knife in my front pocket, crept to the back door and listened through the screen. I could hear Sean playing Space Raiders on the Atari so I knew what little mind he had was now completely occupied by his make believe world of outer space aliens and what not. I quietly opened the door, holding my breath when it screeched a little, and tip-toed across the kitchen floor, glad I was wearing my converse sneakers. I crept to Lea’s room and went inside, closing the door quietly behind me. She was sitting on the floor with her dolls arranged in front of her in a half circle. She looked up at me with her big eyes and greeted me with a little smile. I went to her, knelt down and gave her a hug.
“I just wanted to tell you good bye,” I said, holding her tight, “I’m leaving and I’m taking the knife with me.” I couldn’t think of what else to say. I sat back, looked at her once and then hugged her again. She held me close and I almost didn’t go then, not wanting to leave her all by herself, but I forced myself to pull away and stand up. I quickly stepped back before I could think too much about what I was intending to do and maybe talk myself out of it. I went to her door and opened it, looking back once when Lea said, “Be careful.” I waved to her and whispered, “I will,” as I stepped out of her room, watching as she waved to me while I closed the door behind me. With the sound of it latching in place I felt like I was not only saying goodbye to her, but saying goodbye to part of myself, too. I have to admit, it was pretty emotional. But since I now had the knife I had a strong reason to go or else face Sean’s wrath – my desire to runaway stronger than doing the smart thing which would have been to put the knife back on the kitchen table and forget the whole thing.
Lea’s image would come back to me again and again over the course of that day. Dad and Sexy Sal? I never thought of them once.
I snuck across the hall to the room I shared with Sean. It was a mess. I had made the beds that morning and picked clothes and stuff off the floor like I always did because it was one of my jobs round the house, but after pounding on me Sean must have decided to trash the room just for good measure. It didn’t take much to set him off. I looked around, thinking to myself that I should I pick it up and straightened things out again. Then I almost slapped myself on the forehead. Who’s the idiot, now? I thought. Not me. Nope, not anymore. The hell with it. It’s his room now and he can do whatever he wants to with it. And to hell with him, too, by the way. I’m outta here.
I reached under my mattress where I kept my wallet hidden. It had seven dollars and thirty seven cents collected from the odd jobs I did for my next door neighbor and I figured I could use the money on the road. I put it in my back pocket and then glanced in the mirror, choosing not to dwell on my small size and skinny build, concentrating instead on what I was wearing. I had on a tee-shirt that once was white but now was kind of gray (like my sister’s dress) and cut off blue jeans. I wondered if I should maybe bring a jacket. Naw, I thought to myself, it’s too hot out. I’ll get a job somewhere if I need more clothes. The idea of traveling light appealed to me. Just like a hobo or something.
I took one last look around and said good-bye. I was really going to do it. I was really going to run away. I was both excited and nervous, but not that nervous. Good bye forever, I said, and then I was gone.
I snuck out of my room, down the hall, through the kitchen and out of the house. I ran to the garage and jumped on my bike and rode it through our little town out to the highway where I stopped, looking back and forth in both directions. Right would take me past the lake our town was named after and eventually all the way to the big city of Minneapolis. I really didn’t want to go there so I started riding my bike west, in the opposite direction, out toward the country. Besides, there were a lot of cars on the road going that way and I figured I had a better chance of catching a ride.
A mile of riding brought me to the far outskirts of town. I hid my bike a weed filled ditch and climbed back onto the highway. It wasn’t even noon yet but the sun was burning hot and I was already sweating. I stood on the side of the road and put my thumb out, just like I’d seen them do on the television. I had no idea where I was going or what I was going to do when I got there. All I knew was that I was running away for real this time. I felt in my front pocket. The first time I ran away I brought toy dinosaurs. This time I had Sean’s knife. It gave me a sense of security and I liked that feeling. It was a feeling I wasn’t used to. It felt good.
Highway 12 is a two lane road that leads west to the Minnesota boarder with South Dakota and beyond that all the way to Montana and I think eventually the Pacific Ocean. He pulled over after I’d only been standing there for maybe fifteen minutes, long enough to get hotter and sweatier than I already was and to start looking longingly at the Texaco station about a quarter mile down the road, thinking maybe I could find a hose or something and get a free drink of nice, cold water.
He was driving an old, faded red and slightly rusted pickup truck with a big dog kennel in the back but no dog. There was also a roll of dark green canvas tied up with rope. I bent down and peered in the side window as the truck rolled to a stop.
He leaned across the seat toward me, “Hi there, young man. Need a lift?”
He seemed nice and polite. He was maybe thirty years old, clean shaven with light brown hair that fell across his forehead. He was wearing tan colored slacks with a sharp crease in each leg and a clean white, short sleeve dress shirt, open at the collar. For some reason I remembered his shoes as being fancy. They had tie laces and were shinny and black. Coming from where I was coming from with a dad who was big, bearded, and scary looking, this guy looked like a choirboy.
I was hot and frankly starting to get bored. “Sure, “I said, happy to get out of the sun and trusting he was as innocent as he seemed. I opened the door. “Where’re you going?” I thought to ask, not that I cared. Anywhere away from my home and Sean was good enough for me. I climbed in and settled onto the front seat.
“Anywhere you want,” he joked, laughing, showing me a row of small front teeth stained brown. He put the truck in gear and carefully accelerated back onto the highway.
His response to my question seemed odd and right then and there my rather cavalier attitude about hitting the road and living on my own began to diminish. I started to get just the tiniest bit nervous. In rethinking my actions that day, I should have jumped out while I had the chance. But I was just a kid who didn’t know any better. I’d made my decision earlier that morning and right now it was up to me to live with it and make the most of it.
Well, what the heck? I finally thought to myself. What have I got to lose? He seems nice enough. Everything should be Ok. I set my suspicions aside and settled in on the bench seat of the truck thinking I might as well enjoy my ride and whatever lay ahead, just like a real adventure.
“What’s your name, young man?” he asked as he brought the truck up to speed. The wind blowing through the cab was hot, but it felt lots better than standing on the side of the highway baking to death. He had a soft voice with kind of a southern accent and seemed very well mannered.
“Quinn,” I told him, wondering if I should tell him my last name was Charles. Naw, I decided not to. I’d taken enough ribbing in my life for having a first name as my last name. “What’s yours?” I asked instead.
He told me his name was Ronny. “Like Ronny Milsap,” he said laughing. “You know, the blind country singer?”
I had no idea what he was talking about. Dad was a big Lynard Skynard fan. Ronny Milsap? Never heard of the guy.
“Don’t know him,” I said.
Ronny just shrugged and grinned with those brown teeth which for some reason were starting to irritate me. How hard was it to take a minute and brush your teeth every day, anyway? Even Sean did that and he hardly had the gumption to get dressed in the morning. Plus, now that I was in the truck, and even though the windows were down (the day being so hot and all), there was a stink inside that was starting to make me a little sick to my stomach. Maybe it had something to do with the dog that kennel was for. But there was no dog around. To take my mind off the stink and my nausea I asked him where he was going.
“Out west, Quinn. Got a job lined up.”
That sounded great. I’d never been further away from home than Minneapolis, and once up north to Duluth. Out west? Never.
“What kind of job?” I asked, just to be polite.
“Anything they want me to do, young fella. I’m a self made man. I do a little bit of this, and little bit of that.”
Well, that sounded good to me and I turned completely toward him, interested. Dad was always complaining about his job and the delivery truck he had to drive. At my young age ‘doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that’ sounded like a pretty good deal.
“Does it pay good?”
He laughed long and hard at that one. “You bet it does, my boy. You bet it does.”
My boy? I shifted a little in my seat. The stink was starting to go away, or maybe I was getting used to it. I looked at Ronny thinking that the guy was definitely a little strange but, all and all, he seemed pretty harmless. At least he wasn’t mean like Sean or ignoring me like my dad always did. That counted for something. I felt myself relaxing a little bit more. My stomach was a little better, too. This ride might not turn out to be so bad after all, I thought. In fact, it might turn out to be pretty good.
Ronny liked to talk. He told me he’d grown up in Oklahoma on a ranch (that’s why his accent sounded so different) and had worked at a bunch of jobs of which I’ll list a few: cowboy on a ranch in Montana, maintenance worker on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, forest ranger in Idaho, gold miner in Colorado and a riverboat captain on the Mississippi River. I think he also had been a bush pilot in Alaska and worked on a lobster boat up there, too. So he’d done a lot, and I remember being impressed – my imagination running away with me, picturing myself in each of those scenarios. Despite my initial misgivings I was beginning to warm to the guy. Not once did I think for a moment that he might be making all those jobs up to impress me, relax me and get on my good side.
Around mid afternoon we stopped for gas in western Minnesota near the town of Benson. I got out and stretched my legs. The temperature had to have been around ninety – the heat reflecting off the payment was rippling and even the tar in the parking lot felt soft under my tennis shoes. I looked west out across a big cornfield toward the horizon. There was nothing out there but more and more corn. The stalks looked shriveled, the leaves faded. The wind blew hot air from the south. The only thing alive were some crows across the highway, feeding on something on the ground. It was pretty humid too. Even though I’d never been in one before, I got that feeling that being outside right now felt like what it must have felt like to be in a sauna.
I was picturing myself swimming in a nice, cool lake somewhere, floating on an inner tube, when Ronny asked, “Quinn, are you hungry?”
His voice startled me. He’d finished with the gas and had come up beside me. He put his hand on my shoulder. I was surprised to see him not sweating at all. But I was. It was running down my back and I could feel it beading up on my forehead. I looked toward the gas station, still conscious of his hand on me. It felt a little strange – my dad never did stuff like that, but to be honest, it didn’t feel too bad either. Next to the gas station was little cafe with a sign that read, ‘Ma’s Place.’ It looked good to me.
“Sure,” I said, thinking suddenly that I really was hungry. Visions of pancakes with butter and syrup dripping off the sides and an order of sausage filled my mind. All I’d had to eat that day was my usual breakfast of a bowl of cheerios and I’d had to eat them dry since Sean had taken the last of the milk. I suddenly realized that I was beyond hungry, I was starving. “That’d be great,” I turned and smiled at him.
Ronny smiled in return and said, “Be right back.” I watched as he went to the truck. I had a sudden clutching feeling inside that he’d take off and leave me stranded in this little town all by myself out in the middle of nowhere. But to my relief he didn’t. He simply started the engine, pulled away from the pumps and parked by the cafe. Then he got out, came over to where I was standing, put his arm around my shoulder and led me inside. I have to admit, I was relieved he had stayed with me.
The cafe was air-conditioned and the cold air hit me so hard it took my breath away. We sat in a booth with red vinyl seats that were slippery but comfortable. I quickly cooled off and entertained myself watching the sweat dry on my arms. The waitress was young and, to my inexperienced eyes, really good looking. She had dark, wavy brown hair that fell past her shoulders, just like my mom used to have. She brought us an icy pitcher of water and I drank down a glass in about ten seconds – the water so cold it made the sides of my head hurt.
We sat across from each other and Ronny made small talk with the waitress (her name tag read ‘Annie’). He even turned around and chatted with the people seated behind him – an elderly couple who looked to me like they just stepped in off the farm. I tried not to stare at the ring of white around the farmer’s hairline and forehead that was probably from the hat he wore when he was working outside, driving his tractor or something. The lower half of his face was deeply tanned and he had on plaid, short sleeve shirt and clean pair of bib blue jeans. His wife wore a pretty floral dress and a bonnet. I got the feeling this was a special outing for them. I caught a faint aroma of manure, maybe from the guy’s boots, that I have to say wasn’t all that unpleasant. For some reason, I liked seeing them in the cafe with us.
I ordered three pancakes which, when Annie set them down in front on me (I think she might have even given me a wink along with her smile), blew me away. They took up the whole plate. I drowned them in maple syrup and slabs of butter and wolfed them down along with my side order of sausages (just liked I’d imaged.) Man, they tasted fantastic. Ronny didn’t order anything. He just sat and watched while I ate and smiled at me. I was so hungry it never even occurred to me how strange it was that he didn’t order or eat anything. He barely drank any water.
After I finished I excused myself to go use the bathroom. When I was done, I washed my hands and splashed cold water on my face. As I was drying off I looked at my reflection in the mirror. I couldn’t believe how red my face was and my freckles stood out like crazy. I was a little sheepish about my looks. Most of the boys I knew and went to school with had nice, shinny, longish hair – long enough to blow a little in the wind. Dad had something against that kind of hair, probably because he’d lost most of his, so whenever he used his electric razor to shave his head he also did me and Sean. Buzzed us right down to the nub. So, along with being outcasts in town because of our family situation, we were also outcasts on account of how different we looked because of our hair, or lack of it. Now that I’m on the road, I thought to myself, I’ll let my hair grow out. Smiling into the reflection in the mirror at my great idea, I finished drying my hands and joined Ronny back at the table.
He greeted me with, “All set, there, Quinn?” He had been using my first name ever since he’d picked me up. The fact that he was getting so familiar with me was kind of odd, but not all that bad. At least he was talking to me like a person. Not like my dad, who just ordered me around, getting him beers and stuff, or Sean, who didn’t talk to me all, preferring instead to push me around and, of course, beat me up. Ronny talking to me was different but in a good way, like I was a real person, and that was just fine with me once I got used to it. In fact, it was kind of nice.
“Yeah, I’m good.”
He pointed to my water glass. “Drink up, my boy. We might not be stopping again for a while.”
I dutifully finished off my water and stood up. I noticed Ronny hadn’t left a tip for my pancakes and sausage. I thought about using some of my own money from my wallet, but Ronny seemed in a hurry so I didn’t. He hurried me out of the cafe and hustled me to the truck. I’ve always felt bad I didn’t leave the nice waitress at least a quarter.
We got in the truck and I got settled. Ronny started the engine and drove out of the parking lot onto the highway. I was pleasantly full and feeling really good, thinking that running away was the smartest thing I’d ever done and that life on the road was the perfect solution to all my problems at home. But after a few minutes staring at cornfields, cows and the occasional farm house and barn, the heat must have started to get to me, because I began to feel kind of groggy. I put my hand on my forehead and was surprised that it felt cold and clammy instead of hot which was weird because I was sweating heavily under my tee-shirt again.
“Quinn, are you feeling Ok?” Ronny asked, looking at me with a strange expression. One I can only describe as both concerned and excited.
“Not really,” I said, feeling my words slur.
He patted the seat. “Just lay your head down here, my boy. Rest. I’m sure you’ll feel better soon.”
He sounded like he cared about how I was feeling so I trusted him and did just as he suggested.
“Ok,” I said. And I lay my head down.
The next thing I knew I was waking up. Well, coming to was more like it. I was lying completely stretched out across the front seat of some sort of vehicle with my head jammed under the steering wheel. I was looking at the foot well and saw a brake pedal and an accelerator pedal and a steering column and a bunch of wires. It took a minute for me to work it out, but when I did I remembered I was in Ronny’s truck. Then it all started coming back to me: the hitch-hiking, the truck, Ronny, the cafe. But why was I here by myself? Where was Ronny?
I sat up and rubbed my eyes, feeling dizzy and disoriented. I looked out the driver’s side window and saw cleared spaces on the ground, grass, a few trees and some picnic tables. I looked out the front window and saw I was about fifty feet from a big, muddy river rimmed with brush, bushes and some tall trees and it dawned on me that I had to be a camp ground somewhere. The river looked to be about a hundred feet across and, if I had to guess, I thought it might be the Minnesota River since we’d been heading in that direction the last I knew. I looked to my right and there seated at a picnic table about thirty feet away was Ronny. And of all the things to be doing in a camp ground by a river, the thing he was doing was reading. It looked like magazine. What the heck?
I watched him as I took a few moments getting my bearings. I was really kind of out of it. My head felt fuzzy and it was hard to think. My mouth was dry and felt full of cotton. My eyes were caked with sleep and crap and I rubbed them as clean as I could. My stomach ached too, pretty awful, like the flu. I’d been sick bad in my life before but not much worse than this. Then my stomach heaved once and I fought back an urge to throw up. Thankfully both windows were down, not only because of potential vomiting, but also because it was still hot out and it helped to have a little air movement in the truck. I could see out the front that we were pointing west. The sun was above the trees on the other side of the river but starting to go down, it’s rays shinning into the cab, adding to the heat. I was woozy but sitting up seemed to be helping. I was slowly starting to feel better.
For some reason I had the feeling I should be as quiet as I could be, so instead of yelling out and greeting Ronny with, “Hi there. I’m awake,” I scrunched down and peered over the edge of the window, spying on him and getting a feel for my surroundings. He had set up a tent near to the picnic table. It was of those old fashioned dark green, canvas ones with no windows that looked just plain hot to me and it occurred to me that it must have been what I’d seen in the back of the truck when he’d first stopped for me. From my seat in the cab (which now, with the sun shining in, was starting to burn a little), I carefully looked all around outside, expecting to see other campers. But the eerie thing was that I didn’t see anyone else. Not a sole. Which was really surprising considering it was the middle of summer and everyone in Minnesota knew this was the height of the camping season – even me and I’d never been camping before in my life. So maybe that’s what we were going to do, I thought. Me and Ronny were going to go camping together. That would be fun. But it was strange that Ronny really didn’t appear to be camping. He didn’t have a fire going, or any firewood, or fishing poles, or a cooler or anything. All he was doing was sitting at that picnic table reading a magazine. What was that all about?
I watched him turn a page. The magazine looked worn out and old. I thought most people went fishing or something when they went camping. And how he was acting seemed doubly odd to me, now that I thought about it, because I hadn’t seen any luggage or camping gear or anything like that when he’d picked me up other than that roll of canvas which turned out to be the tent. Then I saw he’d put the big dog kennel next to the tent. He must have moved it there from the back of the truck. Maybe he had camping stuff in the tent, but if he did, where had it come from? I was confused and beginning to get both nervous and suspicious. What was he up to?
Just to be sure, I cautiously turned around and looked out the driver’s window and then out the back, and then it dawned on me – not only were we all alone, but I was here with this guy who all of a sudden was starting to seem kind of creepy, just like when he’d first picked me up and I’d gotten in his truck. That feeling I had back then was coming back to me all over again. My heart thumped a little in my chest. Something wasn’t right.
I scrunched down again and went back to watching him over the edge of the window. For a few minutes he just read, turning the occasional page. Nothing strange about that. I started feeling a little better about my situation. Maybe I was making things up in my mind. Maybe it was only my imagination getting the better of me. After all, he’d been nice to me, getting me lunch and all. He’d been friendly the whole time I’d been with him, and he’d even talked to me like I was more than just a kid. Like I was a real human being. Maybe things really were Ok.
I was about to call out and greet him and get on with this camping business, when all of a sudden he reached down, ran his right hand along his right thigh and began moving it back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Then he casually moved it into his crotch, massaging and rubbing it, keeping his hand there for a long time – like he was playing with himself or something. Then it hit me and a feeling of dread washed over me that made my entire body go weak. My friends at school sometimes talked about weirdo’s who played with themselves and other stuff. I wasn’t sure if that’s what he was doing right now but whatever it was it didn’t seem right. And I’ll tell you what, it scared the hell out of me. My heart jumped and started racing. Call it a gut feeling or a premonition or what have you. It was same feeling I’d get when Sean looked at me a certain way, just before he started to chase me hoping to catch me and beat me up. But this feeling I had now toward Ronny was a thousand times worse. It was a feeling of stone cold fear.
I quickly ducked down. My heart started pounding away and a wave of terror washed over me. I had to fight back an urge to scream. Then it occurred to me that if I screamed no one would have heard me anyway and, I couldn’t help it, but knowing I was so alone just made it worse. I was so scared, so terribly scared. I didn’t want to anything bad to happen to me and I made myself hold back my fear and tried to think. I had to do something, but what? My whole body started shaking. I kept my head lowered below the window and searched in my mind for what I should do next. I came up with nothing. Absolutely nothing. I realized I was trapped. The shaking got way worse after that.
And who knows…I might have lost it right then and there and surrendered to my fate with Ronny except for one thing. My mind went to the safest place I knew, my home. I saw Dad and Sexy Sal and Sean and Lea. I focused on Lea, my sweet little sister who I cared for more than anyone else in the whole wide world. Then I remembered: Lea had given me Sean’s knife. I had it in my pocket. And it wasn’t so much the knife (all though that was certainly comforting in a totally bizarre kind of way) but it was the thought of Lea giving it to me that helped calm me down. I centered my mind on my last vision of her – my little sister playing with her dolls, nice and safe in her bedroom, and I made myself keep that vision in my mind as I tried to reason out what I should do. There was one thing for sure. Ronny was some kind of weirdo, there was no doubt about that, just like my friends at school used to talk about. I wasn’t safe and it was only a matter of time before he came for me. I had to figure out how I could get away.
My first idea was this: maybe I could just climb out the opposite window on the driver’s side, slide to the ground and make a break for it. But then where would I go? And what if he saw me? What if I couldn’t outrun him and he caught me? Then what? Oh, man, ‘Think Quinn,’ I told myself, ‘Think.’ But I was so scared my mind was starting to go blank.
I took a chance and snuck a peek over the edge of the window frame to check on him and that was my undoing. Ronny suddenly looked up from his reading and, seeing me staring at him, grinned and closed his magazine. I froze.
‘Well, well, well. Look who’s awake,” he said, smiling and standing up, “It’s my little pal, Quinn. How are you doing, young man? Sleep well?”
He took a last look at his magazine and then started walking slowly toward the truck, all the while staring straight at me.
My mind started racing, grasping for an idea. Any idea. I had to do something. My fear was so overwhelming I almost wet my pants. But I didn’t. Instead, I did the only thing I could think of. I put my hand in my pocket and took out Sean’s knife. I carefully held it below the sight line of the window and opened the blade, waiting, watching as Ronny came toward me, his smile confident. But, I have to say, holding that knife didn’t help all that much. I had no idea what I was going to do with it.
And that creep took his time coming for me, that was for sure, one step after another, slow and steady, while my heart pounded in my chest like a kettle drum. And with every step he took my fear grew and grew until my mind almost went blank. But it didn’t, although I almost wish it had, because instead I was left with watching him while my mind whirled out of control, knowing that if didn’t do something there was no doubt that this guy who had once been so nice and kind to me, now was going to do something bad to me.
As he walked he kind of sauntered, swinging his hips a little, which freaked me out even more. Then half way to me he took a length of thin rope out of his back pocket and dangled it from his right hand, twirling it in a circle. With his left hand he raised it a little and started moving it back in forth like he was waving at me.
It took him maybe half a minute to all total to cross to me. Both the shortest and longest half minute of my life, and as he got closer, my fear turned to panic. I knew for sure I was going to die. When he was a few steps from the truck he started beckoning to me with his index finger like that witch in The Wizard of Oz. I’m coming to get you. God, I couldn’t help it – I started shaking all over again.
When he reached the truck he put his right hand on the handle, rope dangling from it while he paused waiting, toying with me I guess, looking at me to see how’d I react. We were less than three feet apart – my only protection the door of the truck, but with the window down that wasn’t much. I took a deep breath to try to quit shaking without much success. He was so much bigger than me and he acted so confident. Like he could do anything he wanted to me. My eyes welled up and I fought back tears as I tried to get myself ready.
“Here I come, Quinn,” he said, smiling with those brown teeth. “I’m glad you finally woke up.”
With his right hand he pushed in the latch, opened the door wide and held it there. He suddenly seemed to grow taller right before my eyes, growing until he was gazing down upon me, looking me over while I crouched and cowered. And he just stood there, silently tormenting me with eyes that now started to look like some sort of weird, slimy reptile’s eyes. I tried not to faint dead away with the worse fear I’d ever felt in my whole life – I knew he was going to kill me.
I’m sure he was thinking that I was just a small for my age kid so I’d be easy prey for whatever sick thing he had in store for me. Still holding the door open he put his left hand out toward me, reaching for me, thinking god only knew what unthinkable horror he had planned for me.
But I wasn’t going to wait. I had kept the knife in my right hand hidden behind me and I didn’t hesitate. I fought through my fear as adrenalin took over. I screamed as loud as I could as I lunged out at him, stabbing out at his hand with my knife. I might have been small, but I was quick and I must have startled him because he moved at just that same moment I lunged and I missed his hand and instead slashed that razor sharp blade right across his forearm. Deep.
He stopped, startled, and looked at the cut. So did I. For an instant nothing happened and I remember thinking, Oh, my god, I’m in for it now. What did I do wrong? Why wasn’t he bleeding? But then the blood came. In torrents, flowing out of the gash, running out of his arm, covering it like he’d dipped it in a bucket of red paint. Big drops started falling to the ground, followed by a river of blood. Ronny screamed in shock (and, hopefully, pain) and fell back against the wide open door of the truck as he tried to stop the flow of blood with his right hand. He wasn’t having any success. His knees sagged a little and he looked at me with disbelief as he tried to collect himself. But only for a moment. Then his eyes pierced me with an anger and hatred so deep I almost froze again. But I didn’t.
In an instant I slid off the seat and hit the ground running. He tried to grab for me but I was able to push his bloody arm away and he screamed again. I bolted to the back of the truck, around it and then ran like hell to river. I slid down the embankment and jumped into the muddy water thinking for some reason how refreshingly cool it felt. Then I fought my way out to the middle where I started swimming and floating downstream with the current. Was Ronny yelling and screaming and running after me? I don’t know. My world had closed in and all I thought about was survival. But I’ll tell you this: I never looked back. And I didn’t know where I was going, either, but I didn’t care. I was getting away and that’s all that mattered.
It was many minutes later I realized I still had the knife griped in my hand. I rolled to my back and floated, closed it and managed to stuff it in my front pocket, thinking that Sean would kill me if I lost it. Funny what can come to your mind sometimes. Anyway, once the knife was safely put away, swimming became a lot easier.
I stayed in that river for as long as I could, my fear that Ronny was going to catch me becoming less and less the further I dog-paddled and swam. But I was still frightened and might even have floated in that muddy water all the way across the state of Minnesota to St. Paul if a farmer hadn’t been tending to some cattle on the shore and seen me, called to me, and waded out into the water to drag me to safety. I realized then that I was close to being drowned, my thoughts of Ronny and what he might do to me if he caught me the only thing that was keeping me going – keeping me afloat so to speak. The farmer was old, strong, and kind enough to bring me up to his farmhouse (in fact he carried me most of the way in his arms). It was a big two story white home with a wide porch – just like you see sometimes on the television.
He brought me through the back door, right into the kitchen and set me down on a rug by the door, saying, “Greta, look at what I found.”
Whether he was making a joke or not I didn’t know but his wife, who was stirring something on the stove, took one look and ran straight to me, smacked at her husband with her wooden spoon and told him to get some towels which he did. She took over, helping me to the kitchen table where she sat me down, knelt on the floor and began drying me off and fussing over me which, I have to admit, even to this day the memory of still makes me feel really good.
The farmer looked on, his eyes topped by white eyebrows that I swear stuck half way up his forehead, giving me the once over while his wife worked on pampering me.
At one point she looked over her shoulder and said, “For pity’s sake, Clive, don’t just stand there dripping on the rug, get a towel and dry yourself off. I’m sure not going to do it for you.” And he did.
When he was finished he took a pipe out of his overalls and filled it with tobacco and lit it before asking, “Your name wouldn’t be Quinn by any chance?”
What the…? “Yes sir, it is.” I told him, wondering how the hell he knew that. Then I immediately got suspicious and frightened all over again. After what I’d been through, who wouldn’t? “Why?” I looked toward the back door as I wondered if I’d stepped into another bad situation and I’d have to make a run for it. Again.
“Clive, quiet down and don’t bother the boy,” his wife told him. “Can’t you see he’s frightened enough.”
She turned to me and smiled, reassuring me, “Don’t let him scare you, young man. His bark is way worse than his bite.” She looked past me toward the old farmer and I could almost see daggers coming out of her eyes.
Clive, I guess that’s what his name was, shuffled his feet on the rug, shook his head and said, “Didn’t mean anything by it.” He sucked on his pipe some more and conscientiously blew the smoke outside through the screen door. By this time got the feeling his wife pretty much ran the show in that household.
She made sure I was comfortable in my chair at the table, and after she’d dried me off she went and got a big quilt that she wrapped around me. It smelled clean and fresh, just like the out of doors. Then she went to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of milk. “You’re all over the news,” she said, pouring me a big glass.”We’ve been listening on the radio. The police have been looking for you. We heard you’d been kidnapped.”
She brought me the milk and a heaping plate of chocolate chip cookies and set them in front of me. Suddenly I was famished and I started eating them right away. They were the best cookies I’d ever tasted. Then or since.
While I was eating, Greta stood next to me, watching over me with a concerned expression. She was a large woman with her gray hair pinned up on top of her head and she wore an apron over her dress. Then she knelt down and felt my forehead. It didn’t bother me at all – her attention felt kind of nice. She had blue-green eyes that I especially noticed when she peered closely and asked softly, “Are you Ok, Quinn?” Her breath smelled sweet, like peppermint.
“Yes, maam, I am,” I told her, swallowing after finishing off my third or fourth cookie, “I’m fine. I really am.” And for the first time since I’d run from the truck I truly believed I was and, I have to say, with the relief I suddenly felt, my eyes filled with tears and I almost started to cry.
She pulled me to her bosom and hugged me tight.
Well, I never…
Then she released me, like she’d had a sudden thought and turned to her husband, “Lordy, Lordy, Clive,” she exclaimed, “What in heaven’s name’s the matter with you? What are you waiting for? Get on the phone right now and call Sheriff Nelson. Quick. Tell him we’ve got that boy they’re looking for. Tell whoever answers that he’s Ok and that he’s sitting right here in our kitchen.”
Clive, who I got the impression wasn’t the fastest man alive, moved pretty darn quick under his wife’s command and made the call.
That night I spent in the hospital in Ortonville. The next night I was home and I’ll tell you this, after all I’d been through, even seeing Sean felt pretty good.
The morning after I got home and Dad and Sexy Sal had gone to work. Sean and I were alone in the house for the first time since I’d been back. Everybody wanted me to rest so he’d had to sleep that night in the living room on the couch which I don’t think he minded too much because he could be close to his precious Atari. I’d given his knife back to him the evening before and received nothing in return but a menacing scowl.
That morning as soon as Dad and Sexy Sal left, he came into the bedroom. I immediately got nervous, my stomach tying itself all up in knots.
“So you stole my knife, huh?” he asked, sitting down on my bed and moving close.
I didn’t answer right away. If I said No, he might find out Lea took it and gave it to me and I didn’t want her to get in trouble. If I said Yes, well then…my imagination took over, leaving me with nothing but an unhappy ending. But hell, I’d had to deal with Ronny and I got through that all right. I figured I could take on anything – even whatever Sean had to dish out.
I puffed up my chest a little, “Yeah, I did,” I told him, trying to sound tough, “So what?”
I looked at him and he looked right back at me. Two days ago the next move would have been me trying to get away and probably not succeeding, suffering Sean’s version of justice with him proceeding to pound me into a bruised and battered, bloody little pulp, then walking away with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.
Sean surprised me by doing nothing violent. Instead, he put his hand on top of my covers on my leg, but not in a mean way. I only flinched a little.
“You don’t have to lie for her,” he said. “I know what happened with the knife. Lea told me.”
“What?!” I screamed. “Is she all right?”
I tried to get up, but he held me back. I pictured my sweet-natured little sister submitting to his wrath. The image was more than I could bear. Then I had a thought. Wait a minute. I’d already seen her when I got home. She’d been perfectly fine. She’d even given me a big hug and everything before retreating to her room with her dolls for the rest of the evening.
“Relax, man, she’s Ok,” he smiled. I accepted that Lea really was unharmed, but now Sean was smiling at me, which was creepy in and of itself. He never smiled at me. What was up with that?
“Seriously, she’s just fine.” He sounded almost like he was trying to reassure me. Like he knew I cared about Lea and he didn’t want me to have to worry about her. Weird, was the word that popped into my mind. He was acting really weird.
And he was also confusing me. Big time. He was right about my sister, of course, she truly was Ok, but his behavior was so different from how he normally acted that I have to admit I was stunned. I looked at him like he was nuts and he must have seen the disbelief in my eyes because he waited for me to say something. But I didn’t. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I was speechless.
Maybe a minute went by before he continued, “I admit I was mad. Pissed off is more like it. I really was ready to kill you.” I involuntarily shuddered. “But then you were gone and no one knew where you were and someone found your bike up on the highway and called Dad who got mad and worried and he called the cops and…” he stopped and shrugged his shoulders, “And everything else happened and I just sort of forgot that I was mad at you.”
What the hell? Was this real life or had I stepped into a fantasy world where nothing bad ever happens and there’s unlimited ice cream and hot dogs every night for dinner and a happy ending?
I was pondering the significance of such a world and finding it to my liking when I sensed a movement at the bedroom door. I pulled myself back to reality and looked. There was Lea, peeking around the doorframe. She was safe and unharmed and she looked great. She took a tentative step into the room. “Hi,” she said, shyly.
“Lea,” I grinned and almost shouted, “Come here.” I patted the side of the bed as I moved over.
She smiled back and ran to me and hugged me so tight that for a moment I wondered where she got the strength for such a little thing. It almost hurt. Almost. And it felt great.
Sean stayed and sat on the bed with us and it suddenly came to me that it was the first time we all three had been together in our room before in I didn’t know how long. If ever. And without fighting or anything. Like a normal family. I have to say it felt pretty good.
We talked a lot. Sean couldn’t hear my story enough, especially the knife part, and he had me tell it over and over again until I finally got tired. I had been through a lot and it was still catching up to me. Finally, he stood up, telling me that Mr. Jorgenson from the hardware store had called the night before and offered him his job back. “Yeah, he told me that when he’d heard what you had gone through and what you had done to get away, he thought maybe there was something in me that he’d missed. What do you think he meant by that?”
I had my own idea that Mr. Jorgenson hadn’t missed anything, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell Sean that so I said only, “Maybe he was just being nice.”
Sean shrugged. “Maybe. Anyway, I’m going down there now, he glanced at the clock on the night stand by my bed. I followed his gaze. It read a few minutes after nine. “Shit. I’m late. I’m supposed to be there right at nine. See ya’.”
I watched as he ran out of the room. Then I caught Lea’s eye. We looked at each other for a moment before my little sister pointed to Sean’s disappearing back, then pointed to her head with her finger and twirled it around like ‘he’s crazy’ and rolled her eyes. I couldn’t believe it. She was making fun of Sean and it was funny! I laughed out loud for the first time in I don’t know how long. It was then that I had this thought: it was actually great to be back home.
You know what? They never found Ronny. When the sheriff came and picked me up at the Greta and Clive’s place, he talked to me on the way to the hospital. I was able to give them an idea where I had been and he immediately sent some deputies to search the area. The car, the tent and the dog kennel were all still there and surprise, surprise, no camping gear. But Ronny was nowhere to be seen. They searched the river, sent out hundreds of police type bulletins, dragged the river, everything they could think of. They never found him. My fervent hope is that he followed me into the river, the current got him and he drowned and was eaten by some big ugly fish with dull teeth. It would have served him right.
Dad and Sexy Sal pretty much acted the same as ever to me after I came home and I don’t really want to talk about them.
But Sean and I got along better with each other. A lot better. I think the job at the hardware store helped – made him feel older and more responsible maybe. Anyway, he didn’t pick on me so much afterwards, only sometimes joking with me, pretending like he was going to hit me, but he never did. I guess he just started to grow up some.
Lea and I became closer. I couldn’t then, and still can’t now, ever thank her enough for giving me Sean’s knife that day. But maybe I was able to in some small way. She got me to play dolls with her a lot the rest of the summer right up until when school started (and even after that) and I didn’t really mind. She was fun to be with and she had a really good imagination, especially when it came to using her dolls to play a game she called Family. I never did understand why she never ever had a lot of friends. Well any, actually. Maybe she just liked being by herself. But she was a sweet kid and I figured playing with her and being kind of a friend to her was the least I could do after what she’d done for me, even if it had been inadvertent (another word I learned about in school.) I’m positive I wouldn’t have escaped without her .
Next year in seventh grade in the fall my teacher, Mrs. Rademacher, had us studying ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.’ Now there’s a lot of fancy imagery and stuff in the book that I didn’t understand, but there were some other things that I kind of got what she was saying. Like at one point she talked about how at the end Huck sort of is rescued from his life on the river and ends up living with his Aunt Sally and everything is fine for him. But he doesn’t like being civilized and decides light out for the west. One of the points she was trying to make was about how life sometimes works in mysterious ways and there’s no accounting sometimes for why things happen the way they do. Huck was rescued and had the good fortune to have the easy life all laid out for him: good food, clean clothes, a roof over his head, someone to love and care for him, and he chose to give it all up.
Mrs. Rademacher looked at me when she talked to us about that but didn’t mention me or refer the class to my story from last summer about how I’d run away from home and what had happened and that I’d returned safe and sound. (Thankfully most people didn’t talk to me too much about it.) But when she said it and I thought about, I had to agree. I think I might even have nodded my head at her because I think what she meant was this: if Sean hadn’t bought the knife and if Lea hadn’t stolen the knife and given it to me, I wouldn’t have been able to use that knife to get away. Weird, huh? Or lucky. But yeah, I think I got what she was saying. Sometimes life does work in mysterious ways.
By the way, Mrs. Rademacher was really nice to me that whole entire year.
And that knife. Later that first day I was home, Sean came in from his first day of working at the hardware store and sat down on the bed next to me and woke me up from a nap.
“Here,” he said. He handed me his knife. “I’ve been thinking about it all day.” Which was surprising to me. Was I still dreaming? I actually pinched myself a little. No, I was wide awake. I’d never thought of Sean as much more than a bully. A thinker? I didn’t think so. Maybe he was changing. In one day? I doubted it but I guess stranger things could happen. He looked at me like he meant what he was saying, “Seriously, I want you to have this.” He reach over, gently took my hand and put his cherished knife in it.
I was shocked. I watched him to see if he was kidding, but he put his hand over mine and said, “Really. After all you went through, I want you to have this. You deserve it.”
I took his knife and held in my hand. I opened the blade. The sheriff’s department had wiped it down for traces of blood before they gave it back to me. They must have cleaned it too because it was gleaming. I looked at it and saw my image on the blade reflected back. I looked tired. Real tired. Then the image changed and I saw something else. For the briefest moment I thought I saw Ronny smiling at me with those ugly brown teeth of his. Grinning at me like I was all his and he could take me and do anything he wanted to me. It freaked me out. I might have screamed. I don’t know. But I do know that I quickly closed the blade and handed the knife back. I swear it felt hot to my touch like maybe it was possessed or something. I knew one thing. I didn’t want to touch it again. Or have anything to do with it again. Ever.
I tried to compose myself and told him, “That’s Ok, Sean. But thanks. I think I’ve had it with knives for a while.”
He looked at me for a moment or two before putting the knife in his pocket.”Ok. I think I get it.”
Well, that made only one of us because I certainly didn’t. In fact, I just let the matter drop, but sometimes still to this day an image of Ronny will appear in my mind. And when it does, it’s scary. People tell me that it’s normal for that to happen, especially after all I had gone through. But I have to say, others have been through a lot worse. A way lot worse, and for the rest of my life I always counted myself as among one of the lucky ones. I got away.
Now I’ll tell you one last thing. In the summer three years later Sean started driving a delivery truck for the company my dad worked for and I began working at the hardware store. Even though I was still small for my age, Mr. Jorgenson was happy to have me, saying, “Sean turned out to be a good worker, but I’ll bet you’ll be lots better.” Well, Sean had changed and actually gotten to be a pretty good guy and I didn’t want say anything against him so all I did was to tell Mr. Jorgenson that I’d do my best.
The first thing I did with my first paycheck was to take my money and go to the knife display case. I’d spent many long and enjoyable hours looking at the knives in there in those three years since Ronny, picturing myself having one of my very own. One like Sean’s except a little bigger. I knew exactly the knife I wanted and so I bought it, snapped open the blade a few times, getting the feel of it and the balance of it. It felt good. Finally, I closed it up and put it in my pocket, said goodbye to Mr. Jorgenson and went outside to get my bike.
Now, I’m not sure I really understand it all that much, but ever since I escaped and came home, Lea started to not like to go outside the house alone. She took the bus to school and it was hard for her, but she was able to build up her courage and do it, but that was about it. Once she was back home she pretty much just stayed inside. So I sort of made a commitment to myself to be with her as much as I could. To be a friend to her. After all, if it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t be here to tell my story. So I told her that morning that when I got home from work I’d take her to the park, which was referred to by the locals as the City Park. It was located a short bike ride away on the shore of Long Lake and it was something we had started doing pretty often over the last three years. We liked to go there and goof around and play. She liked swinging on the swings and so did I. As I rode my bike home that afternoon I looked up at the sky. It was bright and blue with a few puffy clouds. A perfect day to play outside. I rode faster and got home in record time.
Lea was standing at the back door waiting for me. She ran outside, jumped on the back of my bike and we rode down to the park. We spent an enjoyable hour, swinging on the swings, playing on the merry-go-round, climbing on the jungle-gym and running up and down the slides, acting silly and goofing around. We had a fun time. She even laughed out loud a few times.
Before we came home we found some purple and white wildflowers that Lea liked so I cut a bouquet of them for her with my new knife. She carried them carefully in her hand all the way back to our house and then put them in a small juice glass that she filled with water from the kitchen faucet. Then she took them to her room and set them on her window ledge.
“My dolls like them, Quinn,” she told me. I was standing at her door watching, happy that she was happy. She looked at me and said, “So do I.” And then she smiled and waved as I closed the door. Standing in the hall and listening, I heard her saying, “Come on now girls, let’s play family.”
I went into the kitchen, got an apple and went outside and sat on the back step to eat it. I used my knife to cut it up. It sliced really good. Tasted good, too. When I was finished, I cleaned off the blade on my jeans and put it in my pocket. I’ve kept it there ever since.
After all these years I’m not sure if it helps or not, but I have to say that I like having my knife with me. It gives me a sense of security that I just can’t explain. But when those images of Ronny appear and I start to freak out a little, I put my hand on my knife and they go away. I like knowing that I can do that – that I have a some control. And it gives me a little sense that I might not be a victim after all. Or ever again. But, I carry it with me every day. Just in case.
And you know what? I never once thought about running away from home again.
DECEMBER 2019 AUTHOR OF THE MONTH at Spillwords.com
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared online in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet, Nailpolish Stories, Ariel Chart, Potato Soup Journal, Literary Yard, Spillwords, The Drabble and World of Myth Magazine, and in print publications: A Million Ways, Mused Literary Journal, Gleam Flash Fiction Anthology #2, The Best of CafeLit8, Nativity Anthology by Bridge House Publishing and Gold Dust Magazine. You can also check out his blog to see more: THE VIEW FROM LONG LAKE.