Dragging her feet, Terra trudged slowly up the outdoor stairs, careful not to make any noise. Maybe if she was quiet enough, the punishment would be minimal. Wishful thinking. It was the only thing that had her coming back home.
Terra’s heart sank as she saw the living room light still on. That meant one of two things—Savannah forgot to turn it off when she went to bed or Father was waiting up for her.
Terra knew better than to expect the first.
Most young adults had to deal with groundings or getting their cars taken away with their fathers. Well, they were lucky. She wasn’t most teenagers. She had to worry about how much he was drinking and whether or not he was going to hurt her this time.
She pressed down ever so slowly on the handle and eased the door open without so much as a creak. Terra pushed the wood only far enough for her to squeeze through, trying to eliminate any possible noise-maker. Slipping through, she moved the door back just as quietly and only let go of the doorknob when it was flush with the trim. A light ’click’sounded when she released the handle.
Terra tensed. She knew in any other household, it would be a miracle to have something as quiet as that. But her dad was used to listening for small noises. He had the keenest hearing and she was sure that one small noise in such a quiet house sounded like a gunshot.
Heavy footsteps sounded from the living room on her left and she squeezed her eyes closed, trying to block out the images. The stench of alcohol burned my nose and she knew her father was near. She held her breath and braced herself.
“Where have you been all night!?” Her father roared so loud the pictures on the walls vibrated. Terra released the breath she was holding and squared her shoulders to him. It was only then she dared open her eyes.
Terra’s father was a huge man, standing just shy of seven feet and weighed easily two-hundred of pure muscle, making him the perfect officer. He had on a button-up shirt that was now hanging out of his jeans. The top two buttons were undone and his shirt was wrinkled. In his right hand, he tightly clutched a vodka bottle and his eyes were bloodshot around the dark, dark black of his iris. Heavy red bags sagged under his eyes from the years and years of repetitive drinking.
Terra shook her head, ridding the memories from her mind. That was no longer her life and even though she was going back to New York, she couldn’t let that be her life anymore.
Not for the first time since she stole this rusty old car, Terra wished the radio worked. A little bit of noise could take her mind off everything instead of sitting there thinking about how real her nightmares are becoming. It has been the one thing she ever focused completely on in her life—keeping Noah safe. And now he was in danger and she had no idea where he was thanks to her. Instead, Terra tried not to think and let the highway be the only thing on her mind.
The car started to sputter and Terra looked nervously down at the gas level. The dull red light pointed to a faded ‘E’ on the bottom of the gauge. She growled and glanced at her clock. It was just past nine in the morning.
Terra sighed, ignoring her blinker as she turned off the road and into a small town. She rounded the corner to the quaint town, quickly locating the gas station. It was the first thing visible out of the six buildings. Next to the gas station was a motel, diner, grocery store, hardware store, mechanic, and a small clinic. Besides that, there were a handful of buildings huddled tight around the small buildings, which she assumed to be the homes of those who took care of these run-down buildings.
Terra pulled up to one of two gas pumps and got out. Fishing through her backpack, she grabbed her baseball cap and a few bills and trudged over to the small adjacent building.
It was the smallest place she’d ever seen. There was only enough space to take five steps in the tiny building. The only shelves were on the exterior of the walls, filled with various junk foods and beverages. The walls were small and confining, trapping her in the small space with very little room to move.
A tall, frail man stood huddled behind the counter, rubbing his hands together for warmth. He looked at Terra strangely and Terra assumed it was due to her sudden appearance. She handed him her money and rushed outside, worried about staying there too long.
After pumping more gas into her car, Terra climbed in and turned the key in the ignition roughly, itching to get back on the road.
She felt a ‘snap’ before fear and disbelief ran her blood cold.
Terra pulled the key from the ignition and held what was left of it into the air and stared hard at it. The end was bitten off to only leave the wide grip of the key. She dared herself to look into the hole and felt her stomach drop in disappointment. The brass shined dully from the small slot in the ignition.
She growled lightly, furious at her carelessness. She needed to be more careful; this old piece of junk was extremely frail.
Terra stomped back inside the gas station, too tired to be angry anymore. She leaned on the counter, slightly from exhaustion, and spoke carefully to the thin man. “Do you know where the mechanic is?”
The man, whose name tag said Stewart studied her for a second as if amazed she was still there. He looked out the only window in her car before looking back at her. “He is out on a call right now, but I can call and check when he will be in.”
Terra nodded as he reached for the phone. He pulled the handle was Terra was amazed he still had one attached to the wall that still worked. She listened as the old man asked some short questions then threw that phone back at the wall.
The clips barely held the plastic in place when he spoke to her. “He will be around here at two. You can keep your car here if you would like, nobody comes around here anyway,” he said grouchily.
“What the heck is going to take him so long? It’s nine! I only need a new key.”
The old man scowled. We have out of city calls because we are the only town in the middle of nowhere. He will swing by the gas station at two and pull your car to his garage.” The old man slid his hand under the counter, lowering his head with it so he could see what he was searching for. “This card has his number and location if you have further questions.”
Terra nodded and turned from the small room, not bothering to say ‘Thank you’ as she ran back over to her car sitting by the pump. She slung her backpack over her shoulder before following the children’s backpack and making sure the doors were locked securely. She figured that if she was going to have to stick around for a few hours, she might as well clear her head with some sleep.
The building looked almost like the gas station, but thankfully bigger. Still, there looked to be only ten rooms in the small building. Terra pushed the door open and a small ’ding’ rang from above her head.
A young lady perked her head up from behind the counter. Her brown hair was pulled into a messy bun at the top of her head and she had big, brown eyes with slight bags under them, indicating a sudden lack of sleep.
She smiled at Terra from behind the counter as she came closer. “How can I help you today?”
A baby started crying from behind her and it was then Terra realized the infant. He sat in a bouncer with toys hanging above him. A thin, blue blanket covered its frail body, protecting him from the cold.
The lady ignored the small crying and looked at me expectantly. “Just a room, please.”
She ruffled through a few papers before pulling out a sheet. “For how long?”
“Today.” Terra had no intention of staying longer than that. She was going to drive until she had given her brother his new life.
“Can you sign in here?”
She placed a clipboard in front of Terra on the counter. She looked at it for a second, wondering what name to put. Terra knew she couldn’t use her real name. If anyone came looking for her, she wanted to make sure she stayed missing. She scribbled a fake name ’Mariah Smith’ on the paper and slipped it back to the lady.
The attendant didn’t bother looking at the name written on there and handed Terra a key. “You’re going to be in room 106 on the east side. Thank you for coming and I hope you enjoy your stay here,” she offered a small smile before turning around and tending to her baby.
Terra walked out, aware of the small bell above the door again. She clenched the key in her fist and walked around the building until she saw her room. When she walked in, she almost collapsed with relief.
It was a rather large room. The walls were clean and the carpet, although cheap, looked well taken care of. There was a bathroom on the far side of the room, which sadly wasn’t that large.
Terra walked in and placed her backpack on the small bed before walking over to the windows. Terra didn’t close the door until all the windows were securely opened and there was a steady breeze flowing through the room. The stale air in the room started circulating and Terra couldn’t help how long it had been since a customer had slept here.
She didn’t bother to change before collapsing to the bed and letting her exhausted body fall asleep.