A Chapter by smkrwt



This time I let Gus drive as we leave another long night behind us.

I woke up first that morning, pulling the bread out of the freezer and some butter and strawberry reserves that amazingly were still fresh. Gus got up soon after and we had breakfast together for the first time, he no longer a hostage, me no longer a captor. After we were finished we cleaned the dishes and left them in the sink. He began to gather any and every nonperishable food he could find. I went upstairs for the last time, just to see if there was anything I wanted to take with us.

My brother’s room had been cleared out of every valuable he owned, as I expected. He was overly sentimental, and always liked to make sure he had enough to bargain fairly with. Over half of the car would have been filled with his things when he and my grandmother left.

My grandparent’s room was also vacant of things like jewelry and photo albums. The bookshelves were still stocked to capacity, only a few rare volumes missing from their places on the wall. You can always find another book somewhere else.

When I finally entered my own room for the last time, I couldn’t see much that I wanted to take with me. Alec I guess had taken everything he thought of as important, and a few things were missing that I had no idea why he would have taken them. I walked over to my dresser, wondering if he had found the box I hid in the back of the top drawer. I pulled the drawer open, shuffling some clothes aside, until my hand landed on the carved surface of the wooden puzzle box that had once been my mother’s. I pulled it out, closing the drawer and walking over to my bed. My fingers skimmed over little figures etched into the lid, imps and gargoyles prancing in circles, until I found the small chink that was the first lock. I took the box apart, expertly undoing it piece by piece until I was left with the inner shell that held the only things I treasured: a couple of photographs, one of me and my brother with our parents before they died, one of us with our grandparents a few years later. A few photos of only my parents and one of only my grandparents, and an even older one in sepia tones of some ancestor a long time ago. There was a letter, from my parents to my brother and I, and a small book of poetry that was my father’s first gift to my mother. A necklace, a ring, and a pressed flower that was held in a brass frame.

I spread the contents out on the bed before me, looking closely at each one, reliving my first memory of each piece, before placing it back in the box. After I had locked the box once more I pulled out an old, black shoulder bag and put it inside, throwing in a few pairs of clothes as well. I told Gus to use the shower in the guest room and do any laundry he had in the basement. I showered myself, using the soaps and shampoos that I had once been so picky about. After both of us are clean and all together, we went out to the car.

Today is darker than yesterday, and I wait in the passenger seat as Gus glances over one of the maps he found in my grandfather’s old bureau. I pass my hand over the broken handle on the passenger door. Gus told me earlier that it had taken him a couple of tries, but he eventually had just yanked his hand free, breaking the chain of the handcuffs. The evidence is on his wrist--a deep cut where the metal bracelet had bit into his flesh when he pulled free. I am grateful that he had been willing to hurt himself to come and get me, no matter how stupid I think it was, because by now I would have bled dry if he hadn’t done that, and he would be starving. The other metal bracelet is still attached to the door handle, but I don’t feel like going back inside to get the key. I’ve left home behind, and I am ready to go.

Gus finally gets in the car, starting the engine and peeling away from the curb. He drives down and through the roads with confidence, pulling onto the interstate with ease. There are no other cars, no roadblocks, no obstacles whatsoever to keep us from going. It’s a little unsettling, but it means they’ve given up on finding us.

I hold the spare clip of bullets in my hand, its weight bearing down coldly onto my palm. I left the gun at the house. I didn’t even bother looking for it before we left, because I don’t think I could use it after shooting myself. If I need to, I can kill Gus with my bare hands. I don’t think this with malice, or even sadness. It’s a fact, I can do it if I have to. But there is a bond forming between us, as there would have to be if we are to travel together, and I would no longer enjoy killing him as once I thought I would. I glance over at him, his face serene, concentrating solely on the road as he drives.

“We’re getting a little low on gas,” Gus says nervously, glancing down at the dashboard.

I pocket the bullets, glancing out the window. The day has brightened up, the jade trees standing still as we pass down the highway. “Keep going,” I tell him, as though he can’t make the decision without my consent. He is still feels as though he’s a hostage. I guess it will take awhile for him to settle down after all this.

“You can turn off at the next exit,” I say as we pass a road sign that says the next town is forty miles away.

After a little while, we roll off the highway. Unlike me, Gus doesn’t obey the stop signs as we drive through the town. He knows there’s no one here, and he has no false hope of finding someone who’s already gone. I was so stupid to believe my family would have waited for me--insane, deluded. But perhaps it was a good thing I had thought they did--would I have broken out of that prison if I had thought otherwise? Would the apathy that has taken over me now have set in sooner, at the institution, if I knew they had left? Certainly. Though I had been crazy for hoping, it would have been crazier not to hope, not to decide to get out of that place they had held me in for years.

We cruise the empty streets for about another twenty minutes. “Pull up over there,” I say, pointing to a lonely house that is the only one we’ve seen with a car parked in plain sight. Gus does as I say, pulling up next to the old truck. We get out and Gus begins to circle the car, trying out the door handles. When he determines they’re all locked he steps back, rubbing the back of his neck disappointedly.

“I could probably break one of the windows,” he says. “We could get into the car that way. But then how would we start it? There’re no keys. I guess I could try to hotwire it, but I might just end up blowing up the car.”

“No,” I say resolutely. “These old cars have such terrible mileage, I doubt we could even make it to the next abandoned town.”

“So what are you planning to do with this old thing?” He asks me, following as I walk around to the side of the house. There’s a green garden hose tacked to the wall here, and I cut off a length of it long enough to extend from the gas tank of the truck to that of our car.

“Siphon whatever fuel it has left,” I reply, looping the hose over my shoulder a couple of times before heading back to the driveway.

Gus helps me set up the circuit, adjusting the position of the cars so it will be easier to feed the gas into our tank. It takes about five minutes to set it up just so, and then another five minutes to make sure we’ve drained all the truck has to offer.

“We could break into the garage and see if they have a gallon of gas in there for their lawn mower or something,” Gus suggests.

“No,” I say. “We have enough to make it to the redwood forest, at least, if not a little farther. By the time we get there, we’ll probably be safest on foot anyway.”

Gus nods, throwing his end of the hose onto the lawn before sliding back into the driver’s seat and navigating the roads back to the highway.

We pull off to the side of the road as dusk descends that day, walking a little way into the woods first to relieve ourselves and then look for any food before deciding to bring out the granola bars and dried fruit we’d taken from my home.

We eat dinner off the dashboard of the car, leaving the windows unrolled to let the evening breeze wriggle through to cool us down.

“This almost tastes like real food,” Gus says, biting off another piece of granola bar. “Everything before this just tasted like dust.”

“Probably because you aren’t so worried anymore,” I answer, staring into the shifting shadows of the trees.

“Yeah. Pretty hilarious if you think about it.”


“How fast I was able to adapt. And even more so--how easy it was to change my point of view about the world. Almost as though my grasp on it had slipped, and now I’ve regained a stronger hold.”

“Just goes to show how flawed the structure of that world is, if your opinion of it can be changed so easily.”

“Or it shows that your world is stronger than mine,” he says, biting into an apricot. I glance over at him, hearing something in his tone of voice that he didn’t want to say out loud. He looked back at me, smiling lazily as he popped another piece of fruit into his mouth.

“Seriously, you don’t miss your home at all?”

“Not really,” he shrugged.

I turn to stare out the windshield, looking down the straight strip of highway as it receded into the distance. My hands drop into my lap as I feel my appetite fade. I pull out the bottle of water Gus and I are sharing between us and take a sip.

From the corner of my eye I see Gus as his hands pause in mid air, and then as he turns to look at me.

“What’s up?” he asks, setting the fruit aside.

I shake my head in a little nod of disbelief. “I risked everything to come home. To see my family again, to fight for what I believe. My freedom. My life. Even my brother and grandmother’s lives. And you don’t seem to appreciate any of it.”

Gus turns away and looks out the windshield. I glance furtively at him, then look quickly away as he begins to speak.

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate what you’ve been through, it’s just...entirely impossible for me to empathize. I’ve never been close to anyone my entire life, my family’s all dead. It wasn’t like there was much left for me back in the city. Just Charlotte. Plus, like you said, if I can change my mind about my life so easily, it just means my world is flawed.”

I shake my head, finally grasping how much of a stranger this man is to me. Our few days with each other were fueled by a mutual survival instinct--he couldn’t live without placating me, and I couldn’t hope to stay alive if I was caught if he weren’t breathing. But now we are both lost, and looking for the next step to take.

Gus picks up the bag of apricots and tightens the wire tie around it. After putting the food and water away, he starts the car again, pulling the visor down to block out the red glare that bleeds across the horizon.

The sky changes from red, to orange, to pink, to lavender, to indigo. Stars glitter against the smooth blue sky.

© 2011 smkrwt

Author's Note

be honest.

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Added on March 30, 2011
Last Updated on May 6, 2011
Tags: escape, asylum, prison, guard, ward, dystopia



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