The bus was already running thirty minutes behind schedule. The delay was caused by worsening weather coming in from the east coast. The snow storm had iced the roads, making it dangerous to go at normal speeds. The driver disagreed with the weather until he slid the bus into oncoming traffic. From that point forward he went under the speed limit, taking his sweet ass time the rest of the way.
The bus lowered on hydraulics, letting out a burst of steam. The doors slid back to reveal Madison Saunders, a thirteen year old girl with black hair and blond roots. As she stepped down onto the lower platform she made sure not to slip on the wet ground. She held onto a grey suitcase as she stepped down into a cold and icy slush puddle. She made a yelping noise anticipating the sting of ice water, but luckily she was wearing water proof snow boots.
Madison’s hair and nails were different shades of black, but done so on purpose. Her black jeans were cut off at the thighs. Below she wore heavy wool stockings, covered in pink neon netting. Over a white t-shirt she wore a grey sweater and a black leather jacket. Around her shoulder she carried a small green canvas bag. She tried to dress punk, but knew her expensive labels gave her away.
She pulled the handle from her suitcase and began rolling towards… wait… she didn’t know where she was going. She looked for street signs, but couldn’t see any in the dark. She looked around for someone to help her, but it was too late for anyone to be out. The whole town was already asleep.
Taking her phone from her purse she tried mapping the area, but the phone wouldn’t get a signal. No way to call or text anyone.
Madison was so occupied in getting to Dumont that she hadn’t figured out how to get to her final destination. On top of that she didn’t plan for her phone not getting a signal. She scanned the streets for any indication of the way to go. It was already 11:00 pm, too late to get a ride from anyone.
Madison remembered there was a water tower north of city hall. She had seen the water tower on the way but couldn’t remember in which direction. She spun around more quickly than she intended and got dizzy. She was able to suppress a bit of nausea and found the water tower in the distance.
Standing still for any long period of time was completely out of the question. She would freeze to death if she didn’t start walking. She checked her phone for a signal again but she had no luck. It hadn’t changed since the last time she checked.
Back at the bus terminal she was more preoccupied with protecting herself against the perverts and weirdos than planning. She was only thirteen, yet her mother had let her travel alone. Even though she was supposed to be traveling to her father in Las Vegas, Madison was beginning to think her mother’s judgement was somewhat flawed. After tonight, Madison promised herself to never take another public bus for as long as she lived. She would have to find another way home, but she would figure something else out later. She had to focus on getting to the Sunnyledge first.
Madison walked through town towards the looming steel tower. At the edge of town she found a small playground, called Reece’s Park. In the corner of an open field stood a dreary looking jungle gym.
Madison was intrigued when she heard innocent sounding voices coming from the shadows. Madison thought the voices sounded young, perhaps around her age. She could smell the cigarettes as she wondered towards the noise.
Leaning her back against the jungle gym was a goth girl smoking a cigarette. On the opposite side were two boys doing the same. Ten feet away from them was a no smoking sign.
Madison stepped forward so the kids could hear her, “Excuse me, can you help me? I’m looking for a bed and breakfast around here. I would map it, but I can’t get a signal on my phone.”
The girl wore a long black top that went down to her thighs. A pair of tight black jeans revealed the girl’s thin legs. Her eye liner was gold and extended over the sides of her face.
The taller of the two boys jumped down from a perched position on a bench and startling her. She stumbled back and went into her main fighting stance she learned at a woman’s defense class at the YMCA. She could kick some ass if need be. She was small, but fierce.
The boys laughed at how bad they scared Madison. The goth girl frowned at her friends in distaste and put her cigarette out on the jungle gym.
“Why do you always have to be jerks?” the goth girl snapped at the boys. She flicked the butt away and pulled Madison by the arm. When they were out of ear shot from the boys she asked, “Why are boys so dumb?”
Madison knew it was a rhetorical question. She assumed all men were really boys, and all boys were really babies. So far, nothing came close to changing her mind.
Madison’s mother and father had divorced before Madison could even walk. She had no memories of her parents ever actually being together. Not one memory of normal parents of any kind. She wondered if Charlie had any fond memories of her dad.
Madison thought Charlie was her mother’s dark secret. Her mother rarely spoke of him, but when she did she could sound emotionally distant. Almost cold. She loved him, but since she was a little girl Madison knew Charlie was a lot for their mother to deal with.
“Sorry about them,” the goth girl said, “They’re good guys when you get to know them, but a waste of space most of the time. You said you were looking for an inn? Which one? Dumont is filled with them.”
“The Sunnyledge,” Madison replied. “I’m meeting up with my brother, Charlie.”
“It’s a couple of miles down that way.” The girl pointed to the opposite direction of the water tower, which meant Madison was going the wrong way.
Madison stomped her foot in frustration. “Great, I’m going the wrong way. This day just sucks,” Madison sighed.
She thought she was having a craving for a cigarette, but wasn’t entirely sure. So far she had only smoked three cigarettes not counting the first. She had thrown up on that one. Each time she thought it made her feel cool, but each time made her feel foolish at the same time. The first time she smoked, she threw up. The second time she got smoke in her eyes, burning her left retina in the process. The third time was easier, almost enjoyable. She decided just then for a forth.
“Could I bum one?” Madison asked the girl in an odd desperation. The girl handed her a cigarette and offered to light it. It took three times before Madison shielded the flame from the wind.
“I’m Madison,” She said as she held the cigarette low and away, and extended her hand towards the girl.
“Sara,” the girl said. “That’s Stan,” she pointed to the tall kid sitting at the base of the jungle gym. He was skinny, and under his lip was a small patch of facial hair.
“And that’s Billy.” Sara pointed her thumb at the older guy sitting on the stairs. Madison thought he was nineteen or twenty. Billy wore blue jeans, black boots, and a t-shirt covered in skulls. His hair was cut close to his scalp. He wasn’t attractive by conventional standards, Madison thought, but there was something about him that appeared confident and almost vain.
“I can drive you over to the inn if you want,” Sara offered, “I’d feel terrible if you froze to death out here.”
“Sounds much better than walking,” Madison said with a cheerful smile.
Sara had an older Buick wagon that had seen better days many many years ago. “I know it doesn’t look like much, but it’s a real beast in the snow,” she said. “One thing you don’t want to do is get stuck in the middle of nowhere.”
Sara was a junior at Dumont High School, and worked as a server at Perkins some nights and weekends. The wagon was light brown with large thick stripes running down its sides. “It breaks down almost every other week, but the heating still works, so it’s a give and take.”
After a long bus ride Madison didn’t care what kind of car Sara had. All it had to do was get her from point A to point B. She would get in the back of a exposed pick up truck if it meant getting her out of the cold faster.
Madison took a fondness to Sara right from the start. They were into the same kinds of bands and similar styles of clothing. They liked the same tv shows and really into campy horror movies.
Sara was sixteen and dating Billy Brice Jr, the other boy from the park who looked twenty. “He’s the love of my life,” she declared while she turned the knobs on the radio. “He’s the most romantic man I’ve ever been with,” Sara said exposing her soul to a complete stranger. “I go to school with Stan, and Billy graduated last year. He works down at the Food Wheel. You didn’t get to meet Laura, but...” Sara didn’t want to finish the sentence. “Never mind,” she quietly said ending the conversation.
Madison still had the cigarette in her hand pretending to smoke it every now and then. When it burned down she flicked the ash out the window, but didn’t account for the wind. Madison winced when the ash flew into her eyes.
“You don’t have to smoke that you know,” Sara said with a smile.
“What do you mean?” Madison asked half embarrassed. “I love to smoke.” Her hair was flying everywhere. She was a mess, but trying to look cool in the wind.
“I can tell you don’t like to smoke. It won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t finish that. I really hold them for Billy. It’s a nasty habit I picked up without even paying attention. Just one led to two, two to three, and so on.” Madison flicked the butt out and rolled the window up. “What brings you to the wonderful town of Dumont?” Sara asked, and then added, “Did you lose a bet?”
“My brother is staying down here. Well, my half- brother, really. He kind of ran away.”
“You going to bring him home?” Sara questioned. “I didn’t notice it back at the park, but you’re just a kid.”
“I’m fourteen,” Madison lied. Sara shot a look of disbelief and she added, “Thirteen.”
“Why did your brother run away?”
“I’m not really sure,” Madison answered.
“What if your brother doesn’t want to go back with you?”
Madison hadn’t thought about the possibility of Charlie not going back with her. What happens if Charlie didn’t want to leave? She hadn’t prepared for that. How long was she willing to stay in the small town waiting for him?
When they pulled up to the Sunnyledge Sara gave Madison her number. Sara felt like they were kindred spirits and instant friends. They planned on meeting soon at Rosie’s, a diner at the center of town. Madison thanked her new friend as she got out of the car. She felt the cold bite at her ears when she said goodbye.
She could see the Sara’s car much better near the Sunnyledge. The car was worse off than Madison previously thought. The back of the car was covered in scratches and dents. Sara’s left break light wasn’t just out, but completely missing. Duct tape held the muffler in place, and the back left tire was a spare. There was something odd about the back of the car. Madison realized the back bumper was completely missing. Madison was thankful for the ride, but was even more thankful for getting to the Sunnyledge alive.
The moment Madison stepped out of the car, Sara had wanted to slam her foot on the accelerator. The Sunnyledge had always given her the creeps. She never believed in the stories around the Inn, but maybe she should have warned Madison.
She didn’t believe all the gossip about the bed and breakfast. They were just urban legends she told herself, used to draw in the tourists. Still... Sara didn’t feel comfortable around the house no matter what she told herself.
Sara did’t wait for the door to open before she took her foot off the brake. The car jerked forward as it struggled to switch into gear.
Sara sped away as she struggled against a guilty conscious. She felt terrible not at least warning Madison about the Kane family. She had to remind herself that she didn’t believe in those stories, so there was no reason to worry. Nothing bad could happen to Madison because the tales were made up.
Sara pulled out her boyfriend’s pack of cigarettes, lit one, and took a long drag. The smoke filled her lungs and she let out a grey cloud. She tried to push the bad feelings back down to where they had started to swell.