A misty rain advanced on the campground like a lacy curtain. At the campsite, the foster parents grumbled about Annie waking them up so early. Wet splattering sounded from above, as drops of water hit the tent. Annie apologized and offered to bring them hot cereal in bed. “Thank you, that would be lovely,” said the foster mom.
Beside the smoldering fire Annie stirred the hot cereal and then poured into two of the servings powdered sleeping pills. During the past couple of months she had experimented on herself and had confidence in the results.
Seagulls called in the mist, as she carefully she loaded three bowls onto a tray and carried them into the tent. Now with the time so near for leaving an unnatural feeling bothered her. Part of her wanted to tell them thanks for their time and effort at caring for her. As she opened the tent door, the foster mom set down her book. “Thank you, Annie.”
Annie ducked her head, partly to avoid allowing any true emotions to be seen and partly because, she thought they would expect her to be embarrassed at doing something like this. In a moment she had the food in their hands and retreated to her side of the divided tent. Quickly she ate her portion of the hot cereal. Stifling a yawn she sat her bowl down. Then a thought swept through her chasing the yawn. What if I mixed up the bowls and fall asleep.
No. It didn’t happen. She sat listening to drops of water hit the tent roof and the scrapping of spoons in bowls. How long were they going to take eating their food? Her pulse raced. Staying awake wasn’t going to be a problem for her. How long before they would fall asleep? It’s quiet. I’ll get my sleeping bag ready. Quietly she rolled it up, anxious that the foster parents might not fall right to sleep. A rustling came from the other side of the divider wall.
Annie flipped the sleeping bag back out, jammed her feet in and waited holding her breathe. Gentle snores filled the air and then stentorian snoring chimed in. Finally!
Quickly she rerolled the bag, stuffed it in her pack. In a moment she slipped out the tent door. Briefly she considered leaving a note, but shrugged it off as a waste of time. Freedom called to her. She remembered the conversation she’d listened to while her foster parents thought she was asleep, many weeks ago.
It had been in the one different house among the whole subdivision. In that home, a bedroom door had odd colored strings under it. The foster parents had allowed this eccentricity, because the psychologists said, “let her lock her door, go to bed early every night, and leave the odd colored strings just where she puts them. It gives the orphaned girl the structure she needs in her
messed up life.”
Annie’s door stood locked, the strings ready for her to unlock it, and the bed lay empty. Instead she lay hidden under the foster parents bed listening to them talk.
Above her the bed creaked and a voice, her foster mom, spoke. “Annie seems to be settling into her new school. The principal didn’t call today. On the way home she saw a stray cat. You should’ve heard her begging me to stop the car. She wanted to adopt the stray.”
I didn’t want to adopt it. Annie thought fiercely. We could’ve given it some food and set it free.
With a mix of why are adults so dense and glad she could bamboozle them, Annie shook her head at the memory. Away from the tent, the path of Annie’s escape led through brush and into a stand of trees liberally festooned with drapes of moss. The deeper into the woods she went the quieter it grew. She grinned and spoke to herself, “Daddy, I’m going to do what you said to do.”
Long ago on that terrible day he had told her, “Just stay by yourself and be quiet. I will come back for you. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Now Annie had a goal in mind, far away in the opposite direction was a river and she wanted to find a sheltered spot back up from the river to stay.
From past experience she knew how long the search would last before they gave up with the initial intense part and it would be safer for her to move about, but now she had to leave a false trail. Around the next bend the trail led to the beach and she raced down to the sand. As Annie went along, a cliff battered by past storms rose to her right. She knew from her research hightide would cover where she ran. There would be no place to escape. She would have to be careful the false trail only appeared to be her last trail.
Down the beach Annie went, looking for somewhere along the high-water mark to leave something marking her past presence for the searchers. As she went along the distant sound of a helicopter gave her pause. It was too soon for searchers. Why can’t I get any breaks? Frantic, Annie looked up the beach at the rock wall. Running to the wall she jammed her favorite jacket into a crack above the high-water mark. Then running down to the water’s edge, she ran through the water back the way she had come. She reached and then passed by the area of the camp. Annie continued running until she came to a small stream flowing down to the ocean. Turning she splashed her way up the stream, ignoring the cold of her feet. Freedom lay ahead. Already the peace of the outdoors started to ease her tension. Behind her the sound of the waves and seagulls died away to a murmur.
With a roar a helicopter buzzed over the hill and dipped down above the beach behind her. The whipping blades stirred up a spray of sand and water.
Troops jumped out.
With a chocked scream of dismay Annie turned and ducked down behind a log.
Had they seen her? Once she got to the woods she would have a chance to get
away. They don’t have dogs with them to track her. She peeked over the log.
The troops were spreading out on the beach. Relief, they didn’t see her.
Staying bent over she scuttled up toward a gap where the water flowed down.
The stream bed climbed as she went and she started to gasp for breath. Was that a shout behind her? Down she went behind a rock trying to catch her breath. Wide eyed she looked back at the beach. Two of the men were running her direction. They carried guns. What’s going on? Turning she scrambled up the stream. Around the corner a log presented itself as an escape route. In a moment she climbed up onto it and carefully, started up. The helicopter noise increased. Is the helicopter coming after me? Why?
Panicked Annie let go of the branches and tried to run up the log. Almost immediately her wet shoes slipped. She fell grabbing frantically for anything.
The pain of landing face down on the log brought tears and relief she hadn’t fallen to the stream below. Fear of being caught pumped adrenalin into her system. Annie scrambled up the log and into the trees beyond. Branches from the thick brush caught at her pack. Behind her came the roar of the helicopter. It had flown up the stream right where she had been and now shouts came from behind her. She fell out of brush onto a path. Pushing herself up, she started running. At any moment she expected… What? Are they going to shoot me? Why the guns? It must just be some military exercise. Why me? Can’t I get any breaks from life? If they stumble on me up here…, but when they saw me on the beach they started after me. I should’ve looked okay. I don’t have any sign over me saying ‘run away.’ She looked up into the air above her scowling.
Fog descended from above. Soon Annie stumbled along in a thick fog not able to see even the trees along the sides of the path. Her feet made squishing sounds in the muddy trail. You’re leaving tracks her brain screamed. It’s going to rain. It always rains on this side of the Olympic Peninsula. For a moment she grinned. Her step father had been right about the wet weather, but she wanted the rain to hide her scent and trail. Every now and then she stumbled into the brush along the sides of the path. Again and again helicopters roared over.
Each time the fog swirled about her. Long ago she left off running. Now she just staggered along. The sound of a river encouraged her to continue on. I need somewhere to hide. The trail went along the side of a steep hill.
In the thick fog Annie almost stumbled into the massive tree blocking the path. Following the trunk uphill, she found the root wad and scrambled down under it. She ignored the mud on her shoes and pants. She pulled her raincoat off and used it for a pillow. The last thing she did was to pull out her sister’s teddy bear and stuffed it into her shirt. In a moment she fell asleep.
Something woke Annie. Confused, she blinked, looked around, and shivered.
It’s so damp. Her legs felt cold. Looking down she stifled a scream. Her legs were covered in mud. As she looked more mud slid down into the hole. Wiggling and clawing at the ground and roots, she pulled herself free even as with a slurping sound more mud flowed under the tree to fill the hole she’d hidden in. The ground trembled as she stood looking. Stumbling she backed up. A stronger shake and the ground shifted. Annie grabbed a vine maple branch as the ground dropped from under her feet. She swung legs up onto a couple of maple trunks. Something slipped from her shirt and fell free. No! She twisted around starting to let go. Below her the teddy bear tumbled down to come to a stop against some black branches. Her muscles froze. And then she screamed.
Desperate, she forced herself to stop screaming. She had to get teddy back.
She slipped her feet free from the maples and dropped tumbling down the slope, pain ripped through her leg. Again the slope shuddered and darkness claimed her.