Page 4 of Conceal

Breathe.

Inhale. Exhale.

In the distance, I see the turn. Holding my breath, I move the wheel and make the right off the road and merge onto the street that will lead me out of this hellhole. In my rearview mirror, I spot the sign.

The town I’m leaving.

Madison Bay, Michigan.

I’m out, putting distance between me and the demons living there. But those thoughts can’t occupy my head right now. No. There is no place for doubt or fear. I have to stay on course.

I keep driving until the words are no longer decipherable in the distance. Until I merge onto another road. And another.

Until the past is behind me, and I can focus on my future. Or at least the foreseeable future.

The road ahead of me is dark with no other light but my headlights illuminating the path I’m taking, which almost feels like an omen. My future is as bleak as this abandoned road.

With a shake of my head, I don’t allow myself to think that. Dark or not, I’m safe and free for now.

An hour later, I think I have gained enough distance to stop safely somewhere, so I do. Pulling over at a gas station, I use the pump farthest from the store, and I don’t bother going inside to shop.

To be honest, I can’t risk it. Plus, I need nothing other than what I packed in the duffel I brought with me. I park at the pump and throw my phone in the garbage, and as fast as I’m there, I’m leaving.

I drive for another thirty minutes, taking turns and gaining more distance before I find the destination for my next stop. It feels surreal leaving . . .

It’s as if with each mile I drove, the haze of the lie I was living lifted, and the reality of the hell I was living in is no longer hiding behind plain sight.

Hell isn’t a place, though; it’s a feeling you carry with you, and I fear that no distance will weaken it or make me safe.

Pushing the thought down, I find a spot in the lot and turn off the car. I swing open the door to leave, but not before I grab my small duffel.

I know in time they will find my car, so I make sure not to leave anything behind that could lead anyone to my future destination. I don’t know where I’ll end up. I know the farther away, the better.

With my duffel in hand, I walk to the window.

“Where to?” asks the woman behind the glass. She doesn’t even bother to look at me, like my talking to her is a huge inconvenience.

Where should I go?

How far until I’m safe.

It’s a loaded question because he’ll travel any distance to find me. The more distance I put between me and him, the better chance I have to formulate a plan before I’m found.

“Ohio,” I respond.

That’s not my destination. No, not at all. But the more locations I go, the better chance I have.

She nods and rings me up, still not looking up as she types away. When she tells me the price, I take out the cash in my pocket and pay.

With the money in front of her, she finally looks up. She looks through me, and I’m thankful for it. The fewer people who notice me, the better. She hands me the ticket, and without another thought, I take it and head for the bus.

At this time of night, the moonlight shines from above me as I wait. It’s strange how in one day my life has changed, yet the evening night stars haven’t. Everything is different, yet it’s all the same.

I can’t believe this is happening. I’m running from the only home I’ve ever known.

Dad.

No. My head shakes back and forth. I can’t think about him. I can’t think about the truth of what happened.

But still, as much as I try to force the newfound knowledge about my father out of my head, I can’t.

How did things go so wrong? I can’t stay. The risk is too great even though my fate is unknown.

The decision to run was not an easy one, but I had no choice. I grabbed some money, a few clothes, and one picture frame.

Nothing more. I didn’t have enough time.

My chest falls as I let out the oxygen I have been holding since I left.

Almost time, almost safe.

I repeat the mantra, breathing slowly until I hear the bus arrive. It screeches to a halt, and then I step up into the unknown. It will be okay, I think as I trudge to the rear, looking for a place to sit.

I pick one, hoping no one sits next to me. I’m too shaky as it is.

Luckily for me, the bus is practically empty at this time of night, and within a minute, it’s already pulling away.

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