Moonlight peeked through the clouds for only the briefest moment as Adam Durkin made his way down the tree-shrouded trail he navigated so many times in the past few years. Dirt soiled his tanned, tear-stained face, his dark hair matted against his forehead from sweat and the heavy, humid air that typically preceded a July thunderstorm in central Indiana.
While he had been on this trail countless times before, it never was like this – at night, in his pajamas and his bare feet, running from the fear steadily building in his mind for the past year. He was quickly finding it different in the dark. The steps weren’t so sure, the holes and depressions that dotted the trail much deeper than he remembered, and he already fell twice and cut his right foot on either a branch or a sharp stone. He wasn’t sure which, but he could feel the warm, sticky sensation of blood between his toes.
Still he made his way on, moving as quickly as he could without losing his sense of direction, while at the same time trying to keep track of whether anyone was following him. From his experience on the trail, he knew in relatively short time he’d come to the stream that ran through the woods that bordered the back of his family’s property. From there, he could make his way north along the stream until he came to State Road 46, where just a few miles west the small neighboring town of Cullison had a Country Mart convenience store from which he could call for help.
Adam rounded the turn in the path where, to his left, he spent most of his time during the summer. There he built his fort, his safe haven where he could get away on those days where dad got a little too deep into the bottles of whiskey that became all too much a part of his daily life. On this night, though, Adam knew he couldn’t stop here. It was too close, and the consequences of being found could be too great. The creek wasn’t much further ahead when he heard the bellowing voice pierce the relative quiet of the woods.
“Adam, get your ass back here!” Close, it sounded. Too close, making Adam intensify what was already a relatively unsafe pace. “I tolds you I didn’t mean it. I tolds you I was sorry.”
The last few sentences passed through Adam’s consciousness without a thought, for they were words he heard too many times recently, often enough they were becoming hollow and meaningless. He did, however, notice the way his father slurred the word “told.” The more jumbled the words, the further dad was into the bottle, which – in Adam’s mind – meant greater danger. This was the first time dad had hit him. Sure he was spanked a few times growing up, but this was a slap across the face, and the emotional hurt it caused ran much deeper than any physical pain possibly could.
Adam almost face-planted when he hit the creek a moment later, but he gained his balance just in time to turn to his left and work his way quickly along the creek bed. The trail he took from his house continued past the creek, and Adam hoped his father would continue his search in that direction and not along the water line upon which he now moved even more quietly. If that happened, Adam would take to the thick woods that bordered the stream and look for a place to hide.
Behind him, it couldn’t have been more than 50 yards or so, he heard the sound of a splash followed by, “Goddammit!” His father had made the creek. Instinctively, Adam paused and listened, as the decision his dad was about to make would determine the course he would take next. Not more than five seconds passed, and Adam could hear the sound of footsteps, not in the water or the muddy soil that bordered the creek, but on a hard surface and moving away from him over his right shoulder. Dad had stayed on the path.
Taking a sigh of relief, but realizing he was not yet out of the woods – figuratively or literally – Adam continued along the creek bed at a quicker pace. Less concerned now about making noise as he was about gaining distance before his father realized the trail had run cold, Adam paid no mind to the fact his feet ached and the cut he sustained minutes ago was now throbbing.
Some rustling in the bushes ahead startled him briefly before he realized it was just a raccoon foraging, and just a few minutes later, 10-year-old Adam Durkin left the woods and found the busy two-lane road he sought. Turning west, he kept up his pace as he headed toward Cullison.