The Packing House

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Chapter 10 | Runaway

I open the door and close it behind me as quietly as I can. Jonathan would stay, anyway. He’s too chicken to take off like this, too much of a momma’s boy to break free. He wants to know what’s for dinner.

We went through this before, and I didn’t like it then. We were at the shelter, and my mother was at work. It was my job to get us breakfast, so I poured Jonathan and me bowls of cereal. It was as I poured the milk that I saw them rising to the surface, and not all of their bodies had drowned on their way up. The bowls clattered out of my hands, spilling onto the countertop as I watched the roaches climb over flakes, and I’d screamed. The lady behind me had suggested I just flick them out and eat the cereal anyway. I grabbed Jonathan and dragged him out of there. He couldn’t understand why we weren’t eating. I just couldn’t. And I have no intention of staying this go around. Besides, she can’t afford to take care of one child, let alone two.

I can take care of myself.

I haul ass for the main exit and out to the road. Instead of going left toward the highway we usually take, I veer to the right as far over along the tree line as I can. It’s a one-lane road, going in both directions. The posted speed limit is forty-five mph, but I’d guess the locals go fifty or sixty.

The sun creeps up the sky and throws shadows down from the branches that sway gently overhead. Keeping my focus on the ground, I watch the wind blow in the outline of gray splayed across the blacktop. My eyes begin to water. Must be my allergies kicking in.

I try not to think about it too much, but I’m so effing mad, I can’t even see clearly. If I thought it would help, I’d scream, but attention’s the last thing I need out here on the road. I want to disappear.

Why can’t she just… grow the eff up? She’s so friggin’ selfish. Maybe Jonathan will finally wise up and follow my example. I wonder if she could take care of herself if she was all she had left.

Seriously doubt it.

This reminds me of Montag’s wife, the same self-destructive spiral. Funny, I’m on the run like him. At least lethal robotic dogs won’t hunt me when they notice I’m gone.

What a mess. My mother is a train wreck, I’m effed up, and my brother screws anything with boobs and a pulse. At school, I’m the butt of the joke—hell, all the jokes. What will this next school be like? How long until it starts all over again? I can’t get away from these damn nightmares. I don’t want to face where they’re coming from or what’s made them come back recently. It makes me tired.

Amber is the only thing that’s right in the world. If I didn’t have her to hold me down, I’d uproot and let go of the earth, floating off into the sea-colored sky.

I stop to hitch my backpack, retie the coat at my waist, and keep going. I won’t be anywhere nearby when my mother and Jonathan get up. If they follow me, I want to be far enough away they can’t figure out which direction I went. I’m not going back there with her. I’d torch the place first.

The road crests at the top of a hill and curves to the left up ahead. Tall trees line either side, with pastures and farmland sprinkled here and there to break up the monotony. It’s a nice walk. I should flee more often.

I gulp at the kerosene-free air, the loser-mother-free air. At least I won’t end up on YouTube. I walk faster. Silence, except for my teeth grinding and the pop of my jaw clenching.

Maybe an hour goes by. It’s still early. Not many people are out yet on a Sunday. I must not be near the church-going crowd. Sunlight dances across my arms and clothes, even my shoes. I’m reminded of the path of freckles Amber has spattered on her smooth cheeks and how I’d like to kiss each one. I shudder. Would she let me, if she knew all I’ve kept from her?

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