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By Mac Bowers
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Mac Bowers
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThat morning, on my first day in Mistle, Mom insisted on driving me to school. I tried firmly reminding her that I could now drive myself, but she wouldn't hear of it.
You'd think that the middle of Augustin Pennsylvania would be bright and warm. But no, that day seemed to coincidently fit my mood. Rain pelted the windshield, and the wiper blades raced to clear Mom's view. Staring out the window, I watched the pavement, glossy with water, speed under us. We were late. As usual.
"Morgan?" Mom's velvety voice sounded like she didn't notice the weather. Or my mood. I looked at her expectantly. She knew I was listening. "Try to be happy today, okay? I know you didn't want to move. But you'll make friends." We pulled up to the front of the school, and she turned in her seat to face me. "I know last year was ... rough, for you, sweetie. But things are okay now." She reached for my hand, but I jerked away.
It wasn't that I didn't want her comfort. Because I did. I needed it, craved it even. But, looking down at my hands, I saw the evidence of what happened last year before we moved from California. My lifelines, the lines that marked the palms of my hands, were pale and puffy with scar tissue. I balled my hands into fists and squeezed my eyes shut. I hated remembering. I never wanted to remember again.
Then I opened my eyes and shot Mom the fakest smile she'll ever see. "I know, Mom. It's all over now. It's all good. I'm happy."
She smiled genuinely. If she noticed my fake one, she didn't want to acknowledge it. She reached her hand out, like she wanted to touch me, but hesitantly pulled it back at the last second. "Have a good day."
I nodded and got out of the cramped car. As she drove away, I ascended the steps to my new high school.
Right after I stepped in the door, I heard, "Will Morgan Casey please report to the office?" I briefly wondered if they had been waiting for me, but made my way to the room that looked like it would be the office anyway. Once inside, I was greeted by the secretary. She gave me a cheesy smile, and in a bubbly voice, said, "Welcome to Mistle High School. My name is Mrs. Mason." Even though she told me, I sneaked a peek at the nameplate on her desk. Sure enough, it read, "Mrs. Mason." The incident from last year had taught me to trust no one. Mrs. Mason handed me a stack of papers with a nametag on top that read, "Morgan Casey."
"Umm," I said hesitantly, not sure how to begin my lie. "My last name is spelled wrong." I pushed the nametag toward her. "It's supposed to be spelled K-a-s-i-e." I held my breath. She was the first person I was trying this out on, and if it didn't work, I was in deep trouble.
Mrs. Mason frowned. "That's funny. The paperwork your other school faxed us doesn't spell it that way."
"Well, they must have made a mistake," I insisted.
Mrs. Mason plastered a smile on her face that said, "This kid is going to be a pain." But aloud, she said, "Okay, we'll fix that for you. In the meantime, you can take a tour of the school. Charlie should be here in a minute. Oh, here he is now."
As if on cue, a tall, blond-haired boy sauntered into the office. He wore a contagious smile, accompanied by smile lines. A sure sign he smiled a lot. He walked up to me, hand extended, still smiling.
"Hi, I'm Charlie. You're the new girl, right?" He stood waiting for me to shake his hand, but I didn't. I balled the ends of my hoodie sleeves in my hands and nodded.
"Morgan," I mumbled.
"Oh." Charlie's smile faltered a bit but never left his face. "Nice to meet you. I'm supposed to give you a tour, hang out with you a bit until you make some friends. Know what I mean?"
Charlie led me out of the office, and we walked down the hallway together. "Or, even if you do make friends, I could stick around if you want me to."
The whole way around the school, Charlie never stopped talking. I wondered how the kid got enough oxygen to stay alive. We were almost at the other end of the school before Charlie realized I was only giving him one-word answers, and that was only if I had to say anything at all. Which I didn't, for the most part.
"You don't talk much, do you?" Charlie stopped walking to study me closely.
I stopped beside him, letting my hair fall over my eyes, stuffing my hands into my pockets, uneasy under his scrutiny. "No."
Charlie beamed and started walking again. I followed. "Well," he said, "we're just going to have to change that."
I wasn't sure what he meant by that. But he didn't give any explanation, and I didn't ask for any. We toured the school, and I mostly tuned Charlie out. All I could hear was the buzzing of his incessant voice, our footsteps thudding on the tiled floor, and my own thoughts. No matter what Charlie said, I was planning on keeping to myself. I couldn't afford to have friends. I didn't want any.
Chapter TwoAs I roamed the halls on my first day of school, absently going from class to class (with Charlie as my guide), I tried to trick myself into thinking I was just a normal girl, living a normal life, not hiding a not so normal secret. When I walked into a new classroom with a new teacher, full of new faces, I tried to ignore the blatant staring and the not so hushed whispers all around me. But even as I refused to think about my unfamiliar surroundings or to look at my hands, I wasn't fooling myself. All of this was new. I wasn't the girl I was last year. And I couldn't seem to forget that fact.
My classes flew by effortlessly. No one expects the new kid to answer questions, and homework was done during the next class as the hours ticked by. All in all, my first day at Mistle High School didn't end in catastrophe.
After school, I stood outside for an hour, waiting for Mom to come pick me up. An hour turned into an hour and a half. Then two hours. I contemplated walking home, but looking up at the gray sky, I saw that it would be dark soon, and it looked like it wanted to rain again.
Who cares? I swore under my breath and started for the road. About a mile into the walk, a blue sedan pulled up beside me. My breath came in short gasps, and memories flashed in front of my eyes.
The sound of the engine. "She's the one. She knows." Voices. Then a cold hand gripping my arm, not letting go even as I screamed and struggled. Threats—I remembered I made threats. The whole time, I never stopped screaming. No one helped me. Then a blindfold tied over my eyes, a cloth covering my nose and mouth, commands to breathe, a sickly sweet smell. Then. Nothing. But. Blackness.
Back to the present, I quickened my pace, not daring to glance over my shoulder back at the car. Now, I was running. Sprinting like crazy. Never stopping. Forgetting to breathe. My shoelace caught a crack in the sidewalk. I went sprawling. In a tangle of arms and legs, I fell to the ground. It's over, I thought while lying there. I'm done for. A shadow loomed over me, and I closed my eyes, preparing myself for the worst.
My eyes flew open at the familiar voice. "Charlie," I croaked. A sigh of relief left my lips in a whoosh. Charlie extended his hand to help me up. I ignored it, sat up, and then climbed to my feet myself.
"Are you okay?" Charlie asked. His brow was furrowed in a way that showed he was genuinely concerned. It was sweet.
"I'm fine. Really," I assured him.
The worry lines in his forehead disappeared. "You took a nasty fall," he said. Then he grabbed my wrists and turned my hands over to inspect them. What I saw made me nauseous. Blood smeared my palms. It oozed out of the scrapes and dripped delicately to the ground. My head began to spin. I heard the voices again.
"Make her tell!" That particular voice sounded so frustrated. "I don't care what it takes! Make. Her. Tell!" A door slammed. Something clinked. My hands were turned over. I felt a searing pain.
"Whoa." Charlie dropped my hands and gripped my shoulders. "You don't look so hot. Let me take you home." I fervently shook my head and ripped his hands off me. Then I fell to my knees and retched on the sidewalk.
Charlie wordlessly held back my hair as I threw up my stomach contents. When I was done, I sat back on my heels and took deep, shaky breaths.
"Could ... could you get me a napkin?" I asked.
Charlie nodded and opened his car door. I heard him rummaging through something before he reappeared with a handful of Wendy's napkins.
"Here." He handed them to me. I mumbled thanks before wiping my palms with them, careful to get every drop of blood. Charlie watched, looking puzzled. I knew what he was thinking without having to ask him. A normal person would have wiped her mouth with the napkins. But I'll never be normal again.
"Come on." Charlie gently took my elbow and helped me stand up. "Let's get you home."
Chapter ThreeSo, Charlie drove me home. The only conversation in the car was when he asked for directions to my house, which I gave him before quieting again. And Charlie didn't seem to be able to think of anything to say. He must have talked himself out during our tour.
Actually, the ride was almost awkward. Charlie kept glancing at me out of the corner of his eye, as if checking to see if I was still all right. I was. Or maybe he was just seeing whether or not he was going to have to stop to let me out if I decided I needed to throw up all over his car. Either way, I didn't like the attention.
"Is this it?" Charlie pulled up next to my simple, two-story house with the peeled white paint and porch that badly needed fixing.
"Yup." My lips made a popping sound on the p. I reached for the door handle.
"Want me to walk you in?"
I opened the car door a crack and listened. Sure enough, a loud crash that sounded like breaking glass echoed from my house, and I just barely heard raised voices. Maybe it was safer for him to just go home.
"No." I hoped I wasn't being rude. I thought about adding "thanks" at the end, but that sounded too friendly. And I did not want to be Charlie's friend.
"Okay. See you at school tomorrow?"
I nodded and climbed out of the car. Charlie drove away slowly, hesitantly it seemed like, and as soon as he was gone, I made my way to the front door. As soon as I swung it open, the voices hushed and the whole house became eerily silent. I sighed and rolled my eyes. Walking into the kitchen, I saw Mom and Dad standing in the middle of the room. Mom's face was red, and her eyes were glassy. Dad clenched and unclenched his fists and threw me a forced smile.
"Hi, Morgan!" I wished he could hear just how fake he sounded. He opened his arms to hug me, but I just stood there. Slowly, he lowered them. "How was school, sweetheart?"
Neither of them even asked how I got home. Mom probably didn't even know that she forgot me. She was probably too focused on screaming at Dad. I wondered what they had broken and how they had hid it so quickly.
So there the three of us stood. Mom shooting daggers at Dad when she thought I wasn't looking, Dad looking at me like everything in our lives was perfect, and me staring at them, wondering how they could pretend so easily. After several long minutes of that, I announced, "I'm going to bed."
"Without dinner?" Mom asked.
I nodded. "I ate a big lunch." So maybe I lied, but they believed me. I was getting good at it. Without waiting for them to say anything, I headed upstairs.
My bedroom was small. That's all there is to it. It was big enough to fit my single bed, my nightstand, and my dresser. That left barely enough space to move around. But at least it had a door with a lock on it. And the two windows locked. I felt safer in this room.
Quickly, I changed into my pajamas and climbed into bed. And just—lay there. There wasn't much else to do. I didn't like sleep. With it, it brought memories and dreams and time to think. All of which I neither wanted nor needed. So I stared up at the ceiling and listened to my parents argue.
"No, Michele, this whole thing is not my fault!"
It's been the same thing for the past year.
"You let our daughter grow apart from us, Ben! How is it not your fault?" Mom sounded hysterical. "She's upstairs in her bed probably having nightmares about last year! You were the one with her when that whole incident occurred!"
Dad screamed, "What was I supposed to do? She isn't five anymore! I should be able to turn my back for ten minutes and trust that she can take care of herself!"
Maybe that was the problem. Maybe I couldn't take care of myself.
Now Mom's voice was icy cold, signaling an end to tonight's fight. "Because of you, our little girl's life has been turned upside down. And she will never be able to forget it. She has to live with the proof every day."
"Just go to bed, Michele." I could picture Dad shaking his head, a movement to go along with his tired voice. "Just go to bed."
They were done. For tonight at least. I already knew tomorrow night wouldn't be any different. This has been our routine for the past year now.
In the darkness, I looked down at my hands. The blood from my spill on the sidewalk earlier was gone. But the scar tissue stood out plainly in the blackness. Mom was right; I was never going to forget the event that changed my life last year. There was no way I could. Not when the reminder was right in front of me.
I balled my hands up and stuffed them under my pillow. I wasn't going to be reminded the rest of the night. If I had it my way, I wouldn't be reminded for the rest of my life. But getting my way just wasn't something that happened to me anymore.
Chapter FourAll I saw was darkness, nothing but pitch black. All around me. Blinding me. Suffocating me. Enveloping me. But strangely, I didn't feel fear. Inch by inch, I blindly staggered forward. My mind had no idea where I was going, but my legs had a determined destination.
A sudden bright light caused me to recoil back, but I put my arm up to shield my eyes and pressed on.
Then I was in a dimly lit room. A basement. With a cold, unforgiving cement floor and cement blocks for walls. No windows and only one door placed at the top of a long staircase that stretched on forever. And suddenly, I felt fear.
It gripped at my stomach and shook my hands, scrambling my brain and disrupting any logical thoughts. I heard a scream, and it might have been me, but I wasn't sure.
Suddenly, I wasn't alone in the basement anymore. In the middle of the room lay a girl, my age, with brown eyes and short red hair that fell just below her ears. I felt a smile tugging on the corners of my mouth. A thousand words popped into my head at once to describe the scene. Amazing. Miracle. Captivating. All happy memories of playing in the rain, camping trips, slumber parties, hot summers, birthdays.
"Jamie!" I called. The girl sat up and smiled shyly at me. Then got to her feet and ran toward me, as if remembering who I was. And we hugged for the longest time.
"Morgan!" Jamie laughed giddily. And I laughed with her.
Then, I remembered fights, secrets, separation. And my smile faltered. The laughter stopped.
"They're coming," Jamie whispered in my ear, and more memories flashed in front of my eyes. Promises kept, others broken, violence and police, a hospital and a church. I gasped and stumbled out of my best friend's arms. She smiled at me, only this time it was an evil, bone-chilling smile. I shuddered. Then she opened her mouth, tilted her head up, and let out a shrill scream that didn't sound human. And then she vanished. Desperately, I darted for the door, only to find that with each stair I took, a new one appeared, preventing me from reaching the safety at the top. Forever keeping me in the darkness of the basement.
Mercifully, I was back in my bed. Sweat plastered my hair to my face. I felt frozen. My sheets were in a giant heap on the floor. I grabbed one and pulled it over me. Slowly, I warmed up. But my whole body shook violently, and not from the cold. I took a deep breath and tried to clear the images of the surreal dream from my head. My lifelines ached. Pulling one of my pillows to my chest, I bit down on it, screaming for the rest of the night. And prayed for sunlight.
Excerpted from Running Scared by Mac Bowers Copyright © 2011 by Mac Bowers. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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