The Packing House

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Chapter 11 | The Offer

There are no cars on this stretch of road. I stop to adjust my pack. To my left, trees are clustered more densely. To my right, a sign says there’s a town two miles ahead: Sanderville. I head in that direction and hope it has a bathroom.

A rumble sounds behind me coming from what must be a large vehicle downshifting in my direction. It rounds the bend, the word “Mack” on the front of its shiny silver grill. I turn back around and keep walking. He’s gotta be making a delivery nearby. Maybe he’s looking for a gas station. I know I am.

Feeling downward pressure and the need to take a dump, I clench my cheeks together and hope two miles goes by fast. As the truck passes me, it shifts gears; the brakes release with a hiss. The passenger window whirs down.

“You headed into town, son?” the driver asks loudly and kind of slurred.

“I’m fine,” I say back, loud enough for him to hear. “Thanks.” I turn and start walking.

“Now, wait a minute,” he hollers.

“I’m not from around here, if you’re lost.”

“Help a fella out and I’ll make it worth your while.”

Hell to the no.

“Sure,” I say. “Only, my mom needs me right away. Love to help, but I can’t.”

“Why don’t you get your ass in this truck, and I’ll give ya a ride into town?” He’s practically shouting. Maybe he’s hard of hearing. I don’t know. But my “creepy-old-guy” radar is sending me a signal loud and clear: get away now.

I don’t think twice. I dive for the cover of the woods. He lays on the horn, and then, after a minute or so, I hear him drive off.

I run, sufficiently weirded-out. I didn’t get a good look at him, but I saw his white hair and saggy face. I don’t know what he wanted, but I sure as hell wasn’t about to find out. Now I’m shivering and sweating. “Maybe running away wasn’t such a great idea.” Damn. I was this close to a bathroom and a hot meal. Another wave passes. I reconsider the woods. Nope, not happening.

I should call my mother. She has a prepaid TracFone. It’s a wannabe cell phone, but I could call her. What would I say?

Maybe I can tell her I went to find the library. I asked someone for directions but got lost somehow and ended up in Sanderville. She might even buy it. I could tell her I was bored and didn’t want to wake anyone, and I just needed a new book to read. I’d probably get into some trouble, but not “I decided to run away” trouble.

What is it about that guy that creeped me out so bad? It wasn’t his plaid shirt. He could be someone’s grandfather. Why do adults think they can talk like that? Something’s not right.

A bell rings in my mind, too distant for me to put my finger on. Something tells me there’s a connection to these nightmares. I need to talk with Jonathan to figure it out and hope he doesn’t catch on. I may have to give up on running away.

I cup my hand at the river and take a tentative sip then decide to fill up. After a good ten-minute wait, giving the scary truck driver time to get what he wants from Sanderville and leave, I head back up to the road.

I’m not ready to go back home just yet. I am serious about the gambling thing, not wanting a part of that again. If I say something, though, she’ll know I looked through the papers. But then, if she knows I looked through her papers, she’ll be less likely to continue, knowing I’m watching for it. She could hide it from us better, but there are other giveaways. Maybe we can reach a stalemate. But where do I begin?

It’s got to be afternoon by now. I head up to the road as the sun continues a downward arc toward the horizon. I keep a close watch for every vehicle and make sure none are of the Mack Truck variety. I don’t want to end up on the evening news. I just want to get away from my mother’s gambling and her constant turmoil that’s pulling me down.

Maybe I can get her to trade up to smoking. I don’t want to kill her—well—she does infuriate the hell out of me. Still, she’s my mother. I don’t want her dead. I just want her to keep her shit to herself.

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