Emily tried her best not to think of the past when she was awake and she usually did pretty well, most days. It was the nights that were so hard to get through. It was the dreams or rather her memories of the past that kept her from getting a good night’s rest and made them so hard to forget. Dreams that usually started off so nice but quickly turned ugly and terrifying.
For the past few years she had worked hard to turn her life around, to make it better than what it had been and she had finally been happy with the way things were going. She had a good job, a nice apartment, a few friends that she hung out with on her days off.
She had gotten her degree in computer programming and was saving money to go to Europe one day. She dated casually but so far she hadn’t met anyone she was serious about. That was until she met Derrick! Now all she could do was to wonder what had she done to deserve this?
She had learned how to survive on her own from when she was very young. Her father had seen to that. He had been a very controlling and abusive man who was convinced that someday the US would be overrun by “some foreign power” and he was determined to make sure his children knew how to survive.
She and her siblings all did as they were told or faced the consequences, usually with his belt, sometimes his bare fists but either way, you did what you were told or he made you pay heavily for any defiance.
More than once the school had called CPS to investigate the cuts and bruises that were a big part of growing up in their household but all of the kids and their mother had been too terrified to back up the school’s accusations. Her mother had taken a majority of the abuse from their father over the years but she had refused to press charges every time the neighbors called the cops. Because, even as she stood there, bruised and bleeding, with three terrified children trying to hide behind her, they didn’t do anything so Emily’s trust in cops was not really strong.
Her father had been an avid outdoorsman and survivalist and had taught her, her sister, Connie and their brother, Jake to survive in the outdoors. While they had been allowed to attend school so that they could learn to read and write because, in their fathers mind, it was only important because you had to be able to read posted signs and the survival guide, which was more like a bible to him.
That and the fact that the cops would come around more often to find out why his children were not in school and he didn’t want them looking too closely at how he raised his kids. He had insisted that his lessons would teach them how to survive anything that came their way and his lessons had taken priority over school lessons and social obligations.
They hadn’t been allowed video games or TV. Their evenings had been spent either at the firing range or in what he called “survival training”, which included that they had to learn how to build a fire with only sticks, to become expert marksman with both a rifle and a handgun and how to use a knife for more than just cutting bread or spreading butter.
They had to learn to gut and skin an animal, how to salt the meat to keep it from going bad, how to fish and hunt and to build a shelter when they couldn’t find a place to get out of the weather. They had to learn to cover their tracks and to hide from anyone or anything that might be hunting them. Also basic medical training to care for themselves when they got hurt.
Once they turned 10, he had taken them “camping” every summer. But his idea of “camping” was not like what most people would do as a family outing. He was determined to teach them how to survive!
Emily had been too young to remember Jake’s first camping trips but she would never forget the two summers when their father had taken Connie and Jake camping and she had been at home alone with her mother.
She and her mother had had a wonderful time, going to the park or having special treats that they weren’t allowed to have when their father was home. But they had also worried about Connie and Jake. Neither of her siblings had been allowed to talk about their camping trips when they returned home but they had been different when they came back.
When Emily turned ten, two years after Connie, she finally found out what the camping trips were like. They had spent the first two days setting up camp outside the camper attached to the back of their father’s truck. They each had to put up their own tent, build a small fire outside of it and then set traps to catch dinner or catch a fish. She would never forget having to watch her brother kill the rabbit he had managed to catch and had thought she was going to be sick when he began to gut and skin it but she knew better than to allow herself to throw up where her father could see or hear it.
Connie had managed to catch a fish and it was equally disgusting to watch her gut and filet it. She would never forget the look on Connie’s face as Connie stuck her knife in the fish almost with a vengeance and then glanced at her father. It was like she had gone dead inside but the look in her eyes was what had scared Emily.
Emily hadn’t been so lucky in catching anything that first night. A squirrel had managed to trip her trap but didn’t get caught and the water had been so cold that she couldn’t stay in it long enough to catch a fish. “If you don’t catch something soon, you are going to bed hungry tonight. If you want to survive in the woods, you don’t eat if you can’t find food.” Their father had told her.
They’d only had a granola bar for breakfast and nothing for lunch and Emily couldn’t remember ever being so hungry, especially when Jake and Connie had started cooking their food. Neither of them had been able to look at her.
At first, she hadn’t really believed their father would make her go to bed without food when she knew there was food in the camper and all of them had caught more than they would be able to eat by themselves, especially her father.
He had caught 2 large fish, which had been smelling so good cooking on the open fire. But as she had sat shivering, because her feet were wet and cold from the stream, she had tried so hard not to cry and she quickly wiped away the tear that managed to escape as her father panned both of the fish onto his plate and began to eat.
Watching him eat was disgusting. He had no concept of table manners but the most annoying thing was the smacking sounds he made while eating with his mouth open. When he finished, Emily had been hoping he would let her have what was left, which had been more than enough for her.
“Oh that was so good. There’s nothing like fresh fish cooked on an open fire.” He had said when he had his fill and then threw the rest of it in the fire. There had been more than half of a whole fish left and it would have been more than enough to fill her small empty stomach.
None of them had eaten since breakfast that morning and Emily was so hungry. Emily finally stood up and walked into the woods. She started picking up pine cones and using the field guide, she managed to find some wild strawberries and blueberries. She sat on a log next to the stream and ate her findings and while it didn’t really fill her up, it did manage to take the edge off of her hunger. She just hoped that Connie would save her part of her fish and would be able to get it to her without their father seeing.
Emily picked some more of the blueberries and carried them back to camp and offered to share some with everyone. For some odd reason, her father didn’t like that and had slapped them out of her hand then back handed her across the face. The blow had nearly knocked her out as she fell to the ground.
“Why did you do that? She managed to find food on her own. She wasn’t asking for anything from you but offering to share what she had found!” Jake had tried to stand up for her. Her father had been furious, knocking her brother to the ground. “You had better learn this and learn it right. The wilderness shares nothing. You take what you need to survive and share nothing!” Her father had shouted back. Emily had crawled into her tent and quietly cried herself to sleep.
The next morning, she had been hopeful that the camping trip was over and he was going to take them home when he told them to get in the truck. They hadn’t even had breakfast and it was barely light out when he had woken them all up.
She had started to ask about why they weren’t going to take their camping gear home when Connie shot her a look that told her to keep her mouth shut or she would get more of what she had gotten last night.
The side of Emily’s face was still sore from where her father had hit her last night, so she had sat quietly in the back of his truck as he drove away from their campsite. She didn’t know that her cheekbone was turning purple from where he had hit her.
She remembered Jake trying to argue with him that if their father wouldn’t let him stay with them, that she and Connie at least be allowed to stay together but her father had told him to keep his mouth shut and hit him hard enough to knock him down.
Her father had made them get in his truck and drove through the woods on the old fire road for about an hour. Then he stopped and told Connie to get out. While they were gone, Jake had tried to prepare Emily for what was about to happen but she had been so terrified that very little of it sank in. When her father had come back to the truck without Connie, Emily couldn’t hide her fear and began to get hysterical.
“Where’s Connie? What did you do to her?” She had screamed at him. “Don’t you dare question me!” He had yelled at her and then hit her so hard that she blacked out for a while. She didn’t even know which direction they had gone but when she woke up Jake was gone too and her father was behind the wheel again.
They drove down another dirt road for about half an hour, then he stopped and told her to get out. She wasn’t sure her knees were going to carry her but she was almost certain he was going to kill her and leave her body in the woods for the bears to eat, like she figured he had done to her brother and sister.
She hadn’t been able to stop crying as he had walked her into the woods. “Quit your sniveling. Crying is a weakness and if you want to survive out here, you can’t be weak!” He handed her a small pack and told her where north was and then told her she was to stand at attention for one hour and then she could come back to camp.
What he didn’t tell her was where the camp would be and when she tried to ask, he hit her, knocking her to the ground and told her “that’s what you have to find” he had laughed as he disappeared into the woods. When he was gone, she pulled herself into a sitting position and looked inside the pack. There was a knife, a pack of matches, a string with a hook on the end of it, a granola bar and the survival guide.
Emily had used the survival guide and had lived off of berries, wild onions and pine nuts for two days, finding food as she went while she walked back through the woods, looking for the road that she prayed would take her back to her brother and sister.
She had found a hollowed out log, and after making sure there wasn’t a snake inside, she crawled in to sleep the first night. The second night she had slept under the stars next to a stream and the small fire she had managed to build.
Nothing had ever tasted as good as the water from that stream nor the fish she had finally managed to catch. She thought she was going to throw up when she had stuck the knife in the fish to gut it but she had been so hungry that she almost ate it raw.
She hadn’t had anything to drink in over 36 hours and had been getting very dehydrated until she had found the small stream. On the third day, Jake had found her and together they found Connie later that day. None of them wanted to find their father but they knew of no other way to get home.
Every year after that, they all agreed that they wished the school year would never end or that something would happen so that they did not have to go on that yearly camping trip. Every year, their father would take them to a new area, somewhere they had never been before. A place that offered new challenges he had called it. They had to learn to live off the land, to hunt for food, how to find a safe place to sleep and to hide to avoid danger. But Emily would never forget the first time her father had taken her camping.
Emily would also never forget the summer that Jake had gotten fed up with their fathers “survival” training and had hitched a ride back to town from some campers. It had taken both her and Connie two days to find their father’s campsite. The new area he had chosen had been almost devoid of anything to eat and they were so hungry! They were both covered in mosquito bites and Connie had gotten into some poison ivy so she was covered in hives and kept crying which had earned her a beating.
Their father hated it when they cried, and said he would not tolerate their weakness. He had told her that if she didn’t shut up, he would drop her off in a new area and that she could find her own way home from there.
They had waited for two whole days for Jake to show up, and their father finally began to show some concern that maybe something had happened to him. She and Connie had begged him to take them back to the rangers’ station, hoping that Jake had at least found it because the tower was visible from almost anywhere in the area.
Her father had been so pissed and was even more so when the authorities had almost arrested him for child endangerment after what Jake had told them. But Jake had turned 18 a month before so he didn’t actually qualify as a child and she and Connie had been too afraid to confirm with the police that he had done the same to them.
The rangers had tried to convince them to tell them whether or not their father had done what Jake had described to them but they were too afraid of what their father would do to them if they talked, so they kept their mouths shut. One of the rangers had noticed that Connie was covered in hives but since they had refused to talk, the only thing the rangers could do was apply calamine lotion, gave her a dose of Benadryl and let them go.
There had been almost complete silence on the ride home. She and Connie had been too afraid to talk. The Benadryl the rangers had given her made Connie sleepy and eventually she fell asleep for part of the ride home. Her father and Jake were both too angry to talk but there had been a big fight when they got home. Jake had always been big for his age and he had now lost his fear of their father.
She and Connie had been unpacking the camper and were carrying a load of dirty sleeping bags and clothes to the house when they heard their mother scream, some crashing noises from inside the house and their father and Jake shouting at each other.
Emily would never forget the look of pure fear on Connie’s face nor of how she had felt as they stood on the sidewalk in front of their house, totally terrified. They were afraid to go inside but knew, from past experience, that if he had to come looking for them, it was going to be worse.
They had entered the house to find their mother crouched against the wall with a bloody nose and a split lip, clutching her wrist and trying to make herself as small a target as possible while Jake and her father were standing a few feet away, nose to nose, yelling at each other.
Her father had his leather belt wrapped around one hand and his other hand was a fist. He swung at Jake who blocked his punch and returned it with one of his own, much to everyone’s surprise, and watched as their father doubled over from the blow to his stomach.
Emily had not been able to tell who had a more surprised look on his face, her father or Jake, but the look of surprise didn’t last long for her father. He started for Jake again and Jake braced for his attack and the fight was on.
They wrestled some and while her father managed to hit Jake a few times, his anger made him lose his control and Jake’s previous boxing lessons from their father had taught him not only how to fight but his father’s weaknesses. Jake basically became the teacher that day and if it had not been for their mother stopping him, he might have beaten their father to death.
As it was, Jake had bloodied his knuckles and their father had a split lip, probably a broken nose and a couple of black eyes and while their father would not admit it, it was very possible that Jake had cracked a couple of his ribs. Jake had made it plain that they were not going to put up with his domination anymore and that if he ever lifted his hand to their mother or either of his sisters again, he might not live to regret it.
For once their mother had found the courage to back up her son when the cops showed up and with them present to protect them, told her husband to get out. That was the last time Emily remembered seeing her father. Their father had packed up and moved out the same day.