We pulled up to the street behind Tabitha’s where the duffel bag was stashed. Two squad cars had been parked in front of her house, but I was thankful to see no police presence on the road. There was no movement near the houses or on the sidewalk.
“Ok, go now before anyone sees you,” Jacob told me. I hopped out of his truck and walked casually toward the house behind Tabitha’s so that I wouldn’t stand out to anyone that might have been looking out their front window. A flash of green foliage caught the corner of my eye which I recognized as the bush with the bag still hopefully wedged between it’s branches. I looked around for anyone who might have appeared on the block, but it was completely empty. A couple of lights were on in the house coinciding with the bush, but I didn’t detect any movement behind the thin curtains in the windows. The back gate was open just a crack. I slipped into the side yard and right up to the bush. My right arm slipped roughly between the branches, leaving small red scratches down my arm. I felt around for the small bag, but grasped nothing. I felt a wave of panic surge inside me. What was I going to do if the bag was gone? The contents of the duffel were all that I had to go on. My fingertips grazed felt. I sighed quietly to myself, pulling the bag out of the branches. The rustling sound was just quiet enough that it couldn’t be heard from anyone inside the house. A low growl reached my ears. I turned toward the back gate, and it suddenly flew open. I jumped back as a doberman came barreling toward me. His growls turned into snarls and upon seeing me. I snatched the bag up and took off running, but his barking stayed close behind me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement in the window. I focused on running straight ahead. I could feel the dog’s hot breath on the back of my legs. Beads of sweat poured down the side of my face.
“Rusty! What is your problem?” a woman yelled angrily, stepping out onto the front porch. Her eyes went wide when she saw the scene before her.
“Rusty, no!” she screamed. The next thing I saw was the green of the grass. Blood left a metallic taste in my mouth. The sound of teeth tearing into flesh overcame my ears, and then a searing pain shot through my calf. Warmth overcame my leg as blood trickled out of my wound. Then suddenly, the weight was lifted off of me. The lady was behind me, yanking the dog back by the collar. I was up before I could see the concerned look on her face.
“Wait, come back!” she yelled. “You’re bleeding!” Her words flew over my head. I made a dash for Jacob’s truck, leaving a trail of red in my wake. I could still hear the dog’s ferocious snarls as she held him back with one hand. I realized in the other hand she had a phone, and was frantically attempting to dial 911. My heart dropped. It would take the squad car around the corner less than thirty seconds to reach us once the call went through. My calf throbbed more and more with each step, but I was more concerned about getting caught.
“Jacob, start the car!” I shouted. He looked beyond me and saw the chaos in my wake. The engine revved loudly as I threw myself into the passenger seat. “Go!” We sped away just as a siren cut through the air. I glanced behind me, afraid to see those flashing lights, but the coast was clear behind us, for now. The police car could come around the corner any second. “Turn here!” Jacob jerked the wheel, and we careened onto a side street. The duffel bag and it’s contents flew into the truck door, making a loud bang that caused me to jump, causing me to hit my head on the roof.
“Buckle up!” Jacob ordered, reaching across me to grab the buckle attached to the ceiling. It clicked loudly as replaced the bag on my lap. The corner of the yearbook dug into my side, and I squirmed uncomfortably. “We’re almost in the clear.” Jacob said. I wasn’t convinced until we had pulled into the garage and shut the doors. That’s when he noticed my leg. “Tyler, what happened?” I looked down at his gray floor, not blotted with dark red stains.
“Their gate was open and their dog was outside. It attacked me.”
“We need to get you inside. My mom can help you.” I wasn’t listening.
“Now the police will know I was there. They will recognize me as the intruder the second that woman gives them my description, and they probably know my bloodtype. My blood is all over that sidewalk.” Jacob grabbed my hand.
“Tyler, I’m not worried about that right now. I’m more concerned about your leg.” I looked down at my calf.
“It’s not too bad.”
“We need to tell my mom. She can help you.”
“No. How am I supposed to explain this?”
“I’ll just say I saw you while we were driving. She doesn’t even have to know that we know each other.” I looked at him cautiously.
“What if she wants me to go to the hospital?” He paused for a moment, deep in thought.
“That’s just a chance we are going to have to take.” He sensed my hesitation, and leaned closer to me. “Look, I’m not going to let anything happen to you. We will figure this out together.” It was sweet that he thought he could control whether or not the police were going to arrest me, but I nodded. “Okay?”
“Okay.” We walked up slowly to his front porch and he cracked open the door.
“Mom?” There was no answer. “She’s probably still asleep. Come on.” I followed Jacob to his mom’s bedroom door. He cracked the door. “Mom?” A sleepy voice answered.
“What is it, honey?”
“I have a small emergency.”
The bandage felt cool around my calf.
“How did you say this happened again?” she asked. Jacob quickly responded for me.
“She was attacked by a dog. I saw it happen as I drove by, and ran out to chase the dog away.”
“Where is the dog now?”
“We don’t know.” She reached for the phone, but I quickly pulled her arm back.
“Please don’t call the police,” I pleaded.
“They need to know what is going on,” she frowned.
“They do.” Jacob answered. Confusion flooded his mom’s face.
“Don’t they need her statement or something? And why did you guys just flee the scene?” I wracked my brain, but could find no valid excuses.
“She’s afraid of police.” Jacob blurted.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, honey. They just want to help me.” She reached for the phone again, and I knew there was nothing I could say that would keep her from calling. Jacob and I exchanged glances.
“Run,” he mouthed to me. I looked quickly around the room.
“Can I use your restroom?” His mom looked up from dialing.
“Sure. Jacob, can you show her where it is?” She looked right at me. “I promise everything is going to be fine. What’s your name?”
“Uhhhh….. Jessica.” I followed Jacob into the hallway near the back door.
“What should we do?” he whispered to me. I could hear his mom’s concerned voice talking into the receiver now.
“I’m going to take off. I will contact you later.”
“Ok.” he said. “But Tyler?” He looked directly into my eyes.
“Be careful.” I could only nod as I slipped out the back door with the duffel bag bumping silently against my side.
There were no sirens in the air. Jacob’s house was well behind me, and I felt as if I had been walking for ages. I had no phone and no way to communicate with anyone else. I wondered how my parents were feeling right now. How angry and worried were they at this instant? I thought about trying to contact them, but it was too risky. Any phone I could use was located in the public’s eye, and I’m sure some version of my story was all over the news. It wouldn’t take much for them to connect the wild-eyed lost girl to the one on their screen. The police could also easily trace the phone number back to it’s location, leaving them hot on my trail. For now at least, I was in this all alone. I reached the edge of a neighborhood, and realized that I had to cross a busy intersection. Cars crowded around the light. I walked casually up to the cross walk and pushed the walk button on the nearest post. A maroon sedan across the street caught my eye. A man sat in the front seat, looking at his phone, and there was something familiar about him. As if he could feel me staring at him, he glanced up and we locked eyes. It was Detective Howell. A look of recognition crossed his face, and he brought his radio up to his face. Panic arose in me, as I thought of how I could outrun his vehicle. He looked as if he was going to drive towards me despite the red light, but a line of cars came streaming across the intersection, blocking his path. He banged his fists against the wheel in frustration, then I lost sight of him all together. This was my chance to escape while he couldn’t see me. I glanced around for the nearest escape route. I backtracked into the woods, pumping my arms as fast as I could. My feet flew over the rough terrain, covered with roots and logs. My calf throbbed, but I paid no attention to it. Driven by adrenaline and fear, I weaved hastily in and out of the dark tree trunks. I had lost sight of the road, but the police sirens sounded close. I knew that half of the force was most likely converging on these woods at this exact moment. How long would I be able to hold them off? I needed to cover my tracks quickly, because a dog would be able to track my scent if the canine unit was after me. Slow motion caught my eye. I looked to my right to find a small river. The water moved slowly, but I could swim with the tiny current. I glanced behind me, but the rest of the woods was completely still. I waded into the water, my socks squishing loudly in my shoes. The cool water was up to my stomach. I took a deep breath, and thrust my feet off of the bottom. The small current tugged me along. Once I started to swim, I began to move much faster. The band aid around my calf was beginning to loosen around the edges, and the water threatened to tug my shoes off of my feet. I held the duffel bag on top of my head to keep it dry, and sputtered as I struggled to keep my head above water. I swam until I felt like I was ages away from where I had got in, and then set my feet down on the rocky bottom. I emerged onto the land dripping wet, my clothes sloshing against my body. The sun was just starting to set. Small lights were visible through the green foliage, and I walked until I had broken through the tree line. I had arrived at one edge of town where there was only a few restaurants, a gas station, and a motel. I reached my hands in my musty pockets, but found to my dismay that they contained no money. A good amount of cars were parked around the hotel, and a few people milled about the entrance. If I couldn’t pay for my own room, then maybe I could find a key to one. I walked up to the sliding doors, and the people near the entrance glanced at me. I waited for them to scream that I didn’t belong, but they went back to their conversation after a few seconds.
“Welcome!” the lady at the front desk beamed. I looked around the lobby. Chairs sat around a large television, and tables sat in the corner that I imagined were for breakfast time. “How can I help you?” she asked.
“No ma’m.” I replied. “I’m just going to my room.”
“You don’t look familiar. When did you get in?” She frowned at my small black duffel bag.
“Late last night,” I quickly replied. “I got up really early this morning too.” I pointed to the bag. “I did a little bit of shopping, and I don’t like to use plastic bags. It harms the environment.
“Oh.” she laughed. “Well, enjoy your stay!”
“Thank you. I will.” I was sure she could see my heart beating through my chest. If the police came around here asking about me, she would remember me for sure. I was relying on the fact that I wouldn’t be in her system registered under a room, and so she wouldn’t know what direction to point them in. I walked up to the big brass elevators and pushed the up button. The doors opened loudly, and I had to step past a couple exiting the elevator. The doors finally closed, leaving me alone with my own thoughts. I adjusted the duffel bag on my shoulder. How was I going to find a key? Was I just hoping that I would be able to get one of the rooms open? I wasn’t sure if I had a plan or that I had thought this through at all. The elevator went all the way up to the top floor and stopped with a ding. The hallway was completely empty. I stepped onto the old carpet and gazed at each door as I passed it. Each one looked exactly like the last, with the numbers increasing as I got closer to the end of the hall. Then I noticed the last door had a door marked maintenance. I gave the door a slight push, and it swung open. A maid’s cart sat in the far corner and I imagined that most of them had gone home for the night. I pulled the curtain aside from the cart, and peered at the shelves. It was filled with cleaning supplies, from Lysol to Clorox. Among the bottles sat a black lanyard with a card dangling on its end. I read the words imprinted on it aloud to myself.
“Master key.” I couldn’t believe that I had found it so easily. The maid must have accidentally forgot to lock the closet door, or she just wasn’t worried about anyone coming into the closet in the first place.It seemed pretty irresponsible of her to leave the key that could unlock every room in a place where anyone could find it, but I was thankful that she had. I ran my fingers over the black letters. They read of safety and shelter from the outside world. I placed the cart exactly as I had found it and slipped back into the hallway. Now how would I know which rooms were vacant? I imagined that most rooms on this floor were empty, seeing as most guests preferred to stay on floors closer to the ground level. I pressed my ear against the door of the closest room and listened for movement. Nothing stirred inside the room. This was it. If I unlocked the door and someone was on the other side, I was completely busted. I eyed the stairs near me, and unlocked the door, prepared to make a fast getaway if I needed to. The room was completely still. The bed was freshly made with white sheets, and the bathroom counters were gleaming. A light green lamp sat atop a black desk, and small painting hung on the wall above the bed. Pure exhaustion suddenly overcame me as the weight of my actions came crashing down on me. I tossed the duffel bag onto the desk and resolved to examine it’s contents in the morning. The thin sheets felt soft against my rough skin. Little specks of blood from my calf bled into the sheets, but I was too tired to even care. My eyelids felt heavy, and before I knew it I was fast asleep.