Dead swans, drowned in winter

It's five in the morning and the sky is a forgetful gray. I am sitting at the bus stop and scrawling this on a ten cent notepad. My badly dyed hair, complete with split ends and showing roots, match my thrift store t-shirt, torn jeans and stained sweatshirt. I was freezing and I clenched my teeth to stop them from chattering.

In my ears played ridiculously happy fast music, the lyrics meaningless and silly. I wondered how I could possibly have liked this before. The music player was from a past life and I was planning to hack it as soon as I was desperate enough.

I looked around at the people who were rushing, the people who were waiting and the few people that had no where to go. I knew I was the latter, but I had to keep moving. After everything that has happen it's not safe to go home again.

My name is Rosary; at least that's what it is at the moment. I change it every time I move. I am only seventeen but my fake I.D. says I'm nineteen. I am on the run from the man who destroyed my life.

I once was a happy oblivious rich girl with the perfect clothes, the perfect boyfriend, and the perfect life; in all other words a snob. I was mean to everyone and still utterly popular. I was friendly to somebody's face and then I would turn around and trash them behind their backs. I was your stereotypical mean girl and I was not happy.

I am not really happy now but I'm wiser and stronger. I think eventually I'll be able to find happiness. But it seems pretty far off. Until he's caught I doubt I will ever rest peacefully.

I was kidnapped. I don't know how long ago, but it was summer then and it is winter now. I don't remember a winter ever being this cold. I'm having trouble write this, I'm sorry, I suppose I'm just stalling.

Okay, so I was walking down the street texting on my cell phone and paying absolutely no attention to my surroundings. I didn't notice the white van following me or even realize I was in danger. After all who would want to hurt me? I was rich, I was smart, and I was untouchable. I was an idiot.

The van stopped at a sign in front of me and I continued walking. The van perhaps waited at that stop sign a little too long but I didn't notice. I kept walking, barely aware. As I reached the stop sign the back door of the van suddenly open and a man jumped out.

I flinched, startled and actually dropped my phone but I didn't run. I didn't fight. Thinking back I wonder what would have happened if I had fought. Would I have gotten away? Would I have gone back to my pathetic waste of a life; being vile and cruel to decent people, marrying for money, having two or three brats until the time I eventually became a bitter old woman. Perhaps it is better this way, but I cannot allow myself to believe that. It is no good wasting time wondering what if or what could have been. What has happened has happened. There is no turning back.

The man was dressed entirely in black and his face was concealed by a ski mask. My panic stricken mind registered that I was in danger, that there was no one around to hear me scream, and that my body wasn't responding to my instinct to run. I was frozen in place. The man grabbed my arms so tightly I was certain his harsh grip would leave bruises. I tried to pull away and I let out a useless screech, but I couldn't tear free. The man gripped my wrists in one large hand, pressing them painfully together as he pulled a piece of white clothe from his pocket.

"No," I cried as he smothered me with the clothe covering my nose and mouth. I struggled on for barely a moment, as an acrid fume filled my head. The world turned sideways and then blackened completely.

I vaguely remember being lifted out of the van later, but I couldn't find the strength to open my eyes. The world faded out soon enough and I was gone again. When I fully woke up, I was chained in a dank basement. I was in something like a stable paneled with splintering wood and lined with hay. The smell was awful.

I sat up and the world spun. I groaned quietly and tried to figure out where I was and what had happened. I glanced down at my body and found that I was in a pale blue baby-doll dress. My hair was brushed out and my nails clumsily painted. What the hell? I thought. My ankles were chained with shackles.

Some part deep inside me knew what had happened, but I just couldn't wrap my mind around it. I called out, in hopes that someone, anyone, would hear me. But when somebody replied I froze, suddenly more terrified then I had been. The voice was soft, weak and female. I flinched when there was a thudding on the other side of the paneled wall. A board shifted out of place and I saw a bare foot break through.

The foot disappeared and was replaced by a face. It was girl. Her face was sunken and sallow. Her hair was thin and chestnut brown; I could imagine that she had once been beautiful. She showed all signs of somebody who hadn't bathed or eaten for at least a month. I leaned away disgusted.

"Hi," she said. Her voice was grainy and dry. "I'm Bonny, Bonny Hartley. You must be the new girl."

My eyes narrowed with suspicion. "Where am I?"

The girl seemed to shrug. "We don't know. His basement I guess, maybe the basement of a warehouse. It's hard to say, considering none of us have seen beyond the stables since we've gotten here."

I stared blankly at her but I knew fear shown through my eyes. "We? His?" I wondered. My voice sounded fragile.

"There's another girl," the girl clarified. "Stephanie."

A different voice called, "Hello."

I shook my head. I couldn't believe this. This could not be happening. "And a boy?" I asked tensely.

Bonny's face fell. "The man who stole us," she answered quietly. "The man who kidnapped us."

The world seemed to spin sideways, again. I had trouble breathing, the air just wouldn't move through my lungs. I felt dizzy. A strange sort of silence pressed in on my ears so that all I could only hear was the buzzing of hornets raging in my head and the deep bass of my heartbeat. This wasn't happening this couldn't be happening. This wasn't possible. This wasn't fair.

I had an entire life before me, I had friends, I had… I had… I burst into tears. I had to get out of there.

I started to scream; sure that someone would hear me. I yelled, I cried, I wailed and I waited. People would be looking for me. They had to be. I would be found. I would escape. I had to escape, I had to. This wasn't possible. I wasn't going to… I couldn't bring myself to think the word.

More panic than I have ever felt filled me up and I kept screaming. I screamed for what felt like hours. I screamed until I had no voice left. Even then on the inside I kept screaming.

Eventually the fear morphed into rage, hatred. I was filled with such hot fury that I thought my skin would melt and all that remain would be fire. Bonny and Stephanie tried to soothe me and I hated them, too. They were here, how could they possibly be calm? How could they act as though everything was okay? How could they act like I should feel the same? They acted as though we were the same, that I was one of them. We may be in the same boat, but there was no way in hell that we're the same.

I hated the man who kidnapped me even more. I hadn't even seen his face and that just made me despise him more. There was nothing I desired more then to sink my nails into his skin and claw his eyes out. I wanted to harm that man; I wanted to make him suffer. The animosity I felt was beyond anything I had felt before. I wanted to hurt the man that the other girls called the 'puppet master'. I wanted to kill. But I couldn't unleash my fury; Bonny says the man wouldn't be by again for a week or so, until the initial panic from the kidnap had died down.

A tiny unacknowledged part of me was angry at myself, too. I know now that I had made mistakes and that it was in many ways it was my own fault that I went to hell. At the time, I didn't understand the self loathing I felt and I regrettably just unleashed my rage on the others.

The anger didn't last though; in a few days even that fire died. All I felt then was desperation, which in itself was a form of fear. Until now I have to say I never really got religion. People would pray to some god that they weren't even sure existed. I realize now that they do this because they need something to believe in. They need to believe that there is something better beyond their fear, beyond the unknown. When my anger was gone, I found myself praying to every god I could think of just for a glimmer of hope.

I begged the other girls for a way out. I promised anything; money, power, anything. I promised that I would act better that I would stop hurting people if only I could escape. I asked the gods for a second chance. I asked, I begged, I pleaded, I promised. I waited. I kept waiting… and waiting… until he came. That's when I lost hope.

The man was not what I expected. He was handsome, with a strong jaw, five-o-clock shadow and dark eyes that glinted brightly. But when he smiled and called us 'his dolls' my blood ran cold. He was insane. He was evil.

He came into my stall and I cried silently, moving as far away from him as I possibly could. He approached me and held me firmly, but not violently. I sobbed hard and he… he…

Afterward, he left food and water with us, than he walked away, locking the door behind him. In my turmoil I hadn't realized how hungry I was. Now that I thought about it my stomach felt as though it was eating itself. I split the food between us and let the other girls have more. We did the same with the water. We cherished and saved the food as long as possible. I felt tired.

I cried and Bonny and Stephanie spoke soothingly, telling me it wasn't that bad. At least we had food. At least we weren't alone. I took their word in and was grateful. I did my best to offer them the same courtesy when he came for them.

When we were alone, we would fill the darkness, with stories; stories about our lives before, about our hopes and dreams. It made me feel light, not quite happy but not entirely miserable. Stephanie use to be a track star. She had won all sorts of awards and was going to go to collage on a scholarship, her parents were still together and she had a happy life. Bonny had been an orphan adopted by a wonderful woman, who raised her well. The girl dreamed of becoming a writer one day and I can tell she still hopes to escape somehow.

I told them of my life. How growing up, my father was never there. How my mother and I would watch old Elvis movies and that I had had a crush on Elvis until I found out he got old. How my parents got divorced and how my father won the custody battle. My mother still has visitation rights but there's a kind of bitterness between us that had broken our relationship like cracks to a mirror.

I told them how I once wanted to be a mechanic. Cars have always interested me. I had let that dream go though. When I was eleven my father pulled me aside and told me that I was a beautiful young lady and that my time was better spent preserving my beauty and hooking a rich husband to take care of me, rather then toiling over a car I could easily pay someone else to fix.

Bonny and Stephanie were sympathetic, but had an equal amount of baggage to share. We became friends, victims of circumstance. We were cold, starving, filthy and miserable, but we were together.

The days ran into each other and soon even the months were lost in the darkness we shared. The puppet master would come and go as he pleased, leaving scars and torment with the food and water he brought just so we live a little longer. He treated us like toys and if he broke one of us he could always get another. He would always tell us how pretty we were and I hated him for it.

I don't know when I lost my sorrow; it just drifted away into the nights. When he came I didn't cry anymore, I didn't really think at all. He would do his business and I would float in a pool of nothingness. All the fear, all the pain, it was still there but hidden deep inside my chest, smothered by a safe numbness. I stopped feeling it all and I was filled with a light airiness that I could even laugh in. I forgot myself.

Stephanie went silent. She was the one who had been here the longest and with the abuse and near starvation, her body just… stopped. Bonny tried to deny it. She said Stephanie was just weak. That she was just asleep. It had happened before, she would wake up. She always did.

I could hear the fear in Bonny's voice. I think we both knew the truth. It was easier to believe she was alive. We didn't really have any proof, we couldn't see her, and the smell didn't get any worse. We just had the silence.

It didn't really matter. There was nothing we could do. We knew from the beginning that we were going to die here. It was just a matter of time until Bonny died and then me. There would be other girls. In the eyes of the puppet master, we were all his toys. He'd find more girls and break them, too.

The last time he came he told us he was going to get another doll, soon, so that we wouldn't get lonely. He smiled as he said this. I didn't cry. I wasn't sure I could anymore. Besides I couldn't waste the fluids I had. The water he brought every few days wasn't nearly enough.

I had given up. I didn't have a lot waiting for me. I had nothing to go back to. I doubt I would even be missed. I let loose a hollow laugh. Bonny peaked through the board in the fence, brown eyes wide. She had been quiet for a while, not like Stephanie, I could still hear her slow rasping breath.

"What is it?"She asked in her dry papery voice. She didn't look good. Her eyes were hollow and her cheeks were sunken. Her lips were as pale as her skin, not that you could really tell how pale she was, her skin was covered in such muck.

I offered her a wane smile. "I have nothing left," my voice was frail, dry like Bonny's. We were the same now. "No one is waiting for me."

Bonny laughed cynically. I looked at her; her eyes were closed and she had a tired look on her face. "I find that hard to believe," she said gently. "You've had an entire life to make friends; someone has to care about you. You'd be surprised at how compassionate people can be."

I laughed bitterly. It was an ironic thing to say considering the situation we were in. Bonny smiled sadly and then looked up at me her dark eyes bright.

"You know what the first thing I would do if we escaped?" she offered. She said 'if' as though there was still hope. I could even see that pathetic gleam of light in her eyes that told me she hadn't given up. I couldn't help but admire her for it.

"I'm going to find a phone as soon as possible and call my mom," Bonny sighed. "I'm certain that she is terrified for me. Our parent's are probably suffering as much as we are."

I found that hard to believe. Still that didn't stop the wave of guilt that washed over me. My mother was probably going out of her mind with worry, but there was nothing I could do.

"Come here," Bonny asked quietly. I crawled over to her. She reached through the hole and took my hand. She started tracing numbers across my palm. "Promise me," she said, "That if you escape, you'll call her for me." she traced the number again and again until I knew it by heart. I didn't quite understand what she was saying. I made the promise. Bonny sighed with relief.

"We're going to escape," she said firmly. I stared at her. She was crazy. I shook my head. It was impossible. We barely had enough food to eat. If we fought he'd punish us. We couldn't afford this. We couldn't win.

I saw the hope in Bonny's eyes and my heart plummeted deeper inside me. "I'm going to fight him," she said. Did she really believe she could hurt him? "He won't expect it," Bonny continued. "He doesn't think we have any fight left. But we're alive, we can still do something."

"But what if…?"I began. Bonny glared into my eyes. I guess she could see the doubt and hopelessness I felt.

"We are going to die, Rosary," she said bluntly. She glared bitterly into my eyes, unleashing all the raw emotions that had built up over the weeks. "Everyone will. It's a simple fact of life. Now we can either rot here or we can fight the puppet master and make our own futures. That's the choice, Rose, are you with me or not? I'll be damned if some rich little bimbo doesn't value her life enough to make an effort to survive. I'll be damned if you're the reason I die."

I closed my eyes, shaking my head, not wanting to hear it. "We're already damned, we're already dead," I cried without tears. "We can't win this. He's already won."

"Will you get over yourself," Bonny spat angrily. "We are not dead, this is not over. If what you said is true, that no one will miss you, fine. If you have no future, fine. If we're dead right now, fine. Then, you have nothing. Your life has meant nothing!"

"Stop it," I yelled pressing my hands to my head, trying to push her piercing words out. "That isn't fair, this isn't fair."

"So, what," Bonny shouted at me; her voiced filled the tiny stable and echoed through my head. "Newsflash, Rosary, nothing's fair. Life has never been fair. Now wake up! We have a choice. We can either, give up and pretend to be his dolls or we can go out fighting. You can still make your life mean something, Rose, if only you would fight. Now make a choice."

What I felt then… I can't describe it. I can't say what changed. It was like a spark catching tinder, lighting an ember. Was it anger? Was it hope? Was it determination? I cannot say. None of these words feel strong enough. None were deep enough. None of it fit. All I knew was that I wanted to live.

I made my choice.

For every action there is an equal or opposite reaction. This is Newton's first law. But he forgot to mention the part were the more complex the action, the more effecting variables, the more complex, the more variant the reaction will be.

Humans are exceedingly complex creatures; therefore the simplest of actions, the smallest of choices, will un-doubtingly have a huge, though not always obvious, impact. So when I made my choice, momentum began build and the reactions were beyond control, beyond expectations or fate. I remember it well; though I wish it never happened. We had no control. We had only our will.

I guess it's hard to say if it could have ended differently. Everything happened so fast that I am not sure I could have any made different choices. The black week of planning went by in a blink. The hours ran into each other. Time simply elapsed to the decision day, D-day.

That is when the man came, once again, to our stables. He entered Bonny's first and I couldn't see anything. I could hear Bonny struggle to stand up. Her shackles clanked eerily. The man sounded confused.

"What are you doing?" his voice asked. Bonny threw herself at him, I heard him grunt. I remember waiting anxiously by the hole in the boards and in what felt like an eternity, but was in reality only a minute or so, for Bonny to throw the man's keys through as we had planned. I remember catching the hastily thrown keys and only a moment's glance into Bonny's desperately shining eyes. I remember her being retched away and seeing her thin little hands leaving claw marks in the ground.

I hastily set about unlocking the shackles that had bound me for so long. I remember struggling to find the right key. I remember the exhilaration I felt when the chains finally dropped free. I remember how odd it felt not having the weight there, and how dizzying it felt to stand up after all so very long.

But there wasn't time to waste. I had to hurry. I could still hear the struggles of Bonny and our master on the other side. I wouldn't… I couldn't let him win this. I could not let all our struggles be for nothing.

I fought with the keys to open the door and when it finally gave I took only a moment's breathe. I rushed to Bonny's cell to help her fight. The door was wide open and I could see Bonny fully for the first time. She was made of twigs and glass covered completely in filth and dressed as a doll. Her eyes were wide and doe-like and she was backed into a corner a broken two-by-four in hands, stolen from the walls.

When she saw me she paused. She mouthed the word 'go' as the man yanked the piece of wood from her hands. I saw him pull back and swing the weapon around to meet the side of Bonny's skull. I saw her eyes go wide as the weapon came towards her, and even though we knew from the very beginning that we were going to die, she looked surprised.

Among the rush of everything there was a moment of stillness; the moment of impact, the moment when Bonny Hartley, my friend, my precious, precious friend shattered like porcelain. That moment lasted forever. That moment is permanently etched in my memory replaying night after night in my nightmares. Bonny seemed to fall to in slow motion and the moment when she hit the ground echoed in my head.

The man turned on me and his eyes flashed like a demon's. Time took up its panicked pace once more. I ran. I ran fast and hard and even though I felt dizzy and sick I still found the strength to be faster then him. I stumbled up a set a stairs that vaguely assured me of the fact that we had been in a basement.

I flashed trough the door at the top and slammed it behind me. We were in an abandoned warehouse, that was practically empty, but the luck of the devil handed me a nearby metal cabinet that I quickly toppled in front of the door. The man locked on the other side screamed with frustration. I kept running.

I reached the outside and was suddenly struck by cold, fresh air. The air that passed through my lungs was like the first breath of air to a drowning man. I gasped greedily for more; taking in my surroundings knowing it wasn't over yet. A saw a car, his car, and ran to it. It was a police car.

I realized I still had the man's keys gripped tightly in my hand and was grateful that I hadn't dropped them. I opened the door and slid into the front seat. I slid the keys into the ignition and tried to start the car. The engine turned over and died.

I swore and hit the steering wheel, two seasons' worth of pent up anger streaming out. The radio buzzed for assistance and I ignored it. They couldn't help. I found the man's wallet on the passenger's seat and fell out of the car. There were trees all around me beyond the warehouse and I threw the keys as far as I could into the forests depths. It felt good to throw something. I then proceeded to throw a nearby rock at the cars windshield.

Then I ran as far as I could, away from the warehouse that had been my prison. I ran and I was suddenly free. Finally free. My feet hurt, I was freezing, I was half starved, and I had nothing but a wallet; but I was free.

I was freezing. I had been walking for a couple of hours and I couldn't feel my feet. They didn't hurt anymore, they were completely numb. I wanted to lie down. I wanted to curl up and go to sleep. I was so tired. I don't even know how I kept walking. I eventually made it to a town. I don't remember what happened then, but I suppose the exhaustion and starvation, and cold, finally caught up to me and I collapsed.

When I woke up the sun was shining through curtained windows. I took a confused intake a breath, knowing instantly where I was, but wondering how I got there. The smell of the hospital was unmistakable. I sat up, detaching several tubes, and crawled across my bed to look at my chart.

This was not good. Pneumonia, frostbite, malnutrition, shows signs of physical abuse; person of interest, contact police for questioning. I stared at the last words in horror. I couldn't talk to the police, not with him so close. I had to get out of here as soon as possible. I pulled out the rest of the tubes and needles and tried to stand. The floor moved beneath me and a wave of nausea washed over me. A lightning bolt of pain jolted up my legs. I fell back in the bed, gasping for air.

A nurse rushed in. "You're awake," she gasped.

"I need to get out of here," I coughed. It was a harsh cough that came all the way from the back of my throat. I tried to breath through a sudden fit of coughing. When I was done I felt dizzy. The nurse had me lay back and started hooking me back up to the machines and needles. I protested weakly, but didn't fight.

"There now," the nurse smiled. She was very pretty, with dark chocolate skin and soft looking eyes. I took a moment to stare at her. It's felt like a long time since I took the time to really look at someone. She seemed trustworthy.

As I stared she went on to explain what was wrong with me and why I was there, and why I had to stay. At the mention of police I desperately tried to explain why I couldn't see them. She wouldn't listen though.

"But he's one of them," I paused to cough. "If you call them, he'll find me. He'll make go back."

The woman laughed, though nothing was funny. "Back where?"

"Hell," I gasped. I had to make her understand. "I can't go back please don't make me go back."

She shook her head rather sadly, "honey, you have a fever. You're delusional. You just need to calm down and rest."

The nurse injected something into my IV and oblivion waited. I felt warm and vague but one thought reached me before the darkness smothered me. I was alone again.

I spent a few days in that hospital. They kept asking if I was ready to talk to the police and I kept refusing. It turns out they can't force you to make a statement unless you're under arrest. I didn't want to talk to the police and I didn't have to.

I didn't want to stay at the hospital either. I was terrified that he would come for me at any moment, but I couldn't leave. I was trapped again, not by my father or the puppet master but by my own body. I felt weak and I was too sick to get out of bed. I could do nothing but wait and I hated it. I hated being scared.

It took an eternity before I could stand on my own, even longer before I could walk on my scarred feet. I hated how they looked all black and purple and blue. Most days they were wrapped in gauze but that didn't stop them from hurting. It was like a burn; just as heat stays in your skin after, so does the cold. A burn would be better though, quicker more bearable. The cold aches, the cold clings, I hate it. It's almost as inescapable as my past.

I feel haunted. I kept seeing ghost and reliving that last night over and over again. I see his face lurking in my living dreams. I see Bonny's desperate shining eyes the moment she dies, I hear Stephanie's silence. I wake up afraid, I'm terrified to sleep, and waking dreams slip into my reality. I couldn't live like this.

When I got healthy enough to be released a euphoria of relief filled me. I was free again. Then I was struck by the problem. I had nowhere to go. I had no money and I couldn't ask for help. People exploit the helpless. I didn't even have clothes. I had only that retched baby doll dress and the man's wallet. That was all.

Hang on, I have a wallet, I thought. I could have slapped myself for not thinking of such an obvious solution. I felt so stupid. I got the wallet out of the same bag they put my tattered dress in. the wallet had at least eighty bucks in it. It wasn't enough to run away but it was at least enough to get home, the very thing I had praying for all these restless night of waiting.

I left in that horrible dress. No matter how much I loathed it, the dress was more discreet then a hospital gown. Is that ironic? I've been having trouble find humor lately. It seems that I've lost the ability to laugh as well as the ability to cry. This made me sad, but I was used to the feeling.

I went to the dollar store first; got the cheapest clothes and shoes I could find and changed in the bathroom. I saw my reflection in the mirror and froze. I looked pale and fragile, like a porcelain doll, like Bonny. I pressed my hand against the bathroom mirror and wondered if it was real, if any of it was real. I knew it was.

Next, I found a phone. It was remarkably difficult, because pay phones are an endangered species these days. I dialed my mother's number and held the phone to my ear. I waited.

It rang once, before she picked it up, like she had been waiting near the phone. When she answered, I heard a desperate, unfamiliar note in her voice. I've never heard her sound like that, like she was totally lost. I realized that Bonny was right about a parent's suffering.

I swallowed hard and tried to speak. No sound would come. I tried to say something, anything, but I couldn't find the words. It was just another void within me. My mother asked for a reply a few more times and I knew she was going to hang up. I needed to say something.

The sentence was forced into a single breath, "I'm okay, mom."

I hung up, instantly. I breathed hard and forced the compelling fear back. I hadn't even heard her reply. I wasn't even sure if she heard me. I wasn't ready for this. Even so, I forced myself to pick up the phone again. This time I called Bonny's mother who answered just as quickly as my own mom. Her voice was the same as my mothers. It had the exact same note of desperation and this time I made the words to come.

"Ms… Ms. Hartley," I choked. "My name is Rosary. I… I knew your daughter."

This drew an immediate response. I was bombarded with a stream a questions and I struggled to get the next sentence out.

"Bonny's dead," I said. There was a sudden silence on the other line and I went on, not with confidence but with fear of the quiet. "She's the only reason I'm alive right, now…"

That's when it came out. The story of everything that had happened to me, and Bonny and Stephanie, just poured out of me, in a stream of rushed words. I told the Bonny's mother everything, and the more I said the more I felt the weight of the words.

I guess that's when it really hit me. All the safe numbness that had been protecting me for so long evaporated, and the weight of everything fell on my shoulders. As I relived my story, I felt what I should have felt all that time ago. I began to cry.

When I got to the point when Bonny died, I broke down completely in sobs. The mother tried to sooth me which was more then I deserved. I just lost it completely. It hurt so much… I just… I can't…

I'm crying now, at the bus stop. My bus isn't here yet but more people are waiting. I see them staring at me, feeling concerned. I do my best to whip away my tears but I keep writing. I have to finish this.

I don't know when the phone call ended, or when I fell asleep, but I do that the pain followed me. Now that it doesn't hurt so much, I know that it wasn't a bad pain, it was a healing pain. It still hurts to even think about what I've been through, but the pain is become apart of who I am and it's just… it's not so bad.

I woke tired and my eyes stung from a long night of crying. The phone was off the hook and I was curled in a ball next to the pay phone in the sweltering cold. I don't remember when the phone call ended or when I fell asleep. I just knew that I was cold again.

I took a bus home and already my funds were running low. I didn't really care. That wasn't important anymore. I just had to get home.

The bus ride it took was long and silent. I spent it staring out at the frosted landscape lost in thought and apprehension. It was like I was a different person. Not only did I look different, but I was thinking different, I was acting different, I was different. Would my father even recognize me? Did he even miss me? I had no idea what I was going back to.

It was dark by the time the bus made it to my house, but I could see the lights were on in every room… except my own. I tried to catch my breath as I got out. It was happening, it was really happening; I was going home.

I got off the bus and found myself in the driveway, in the shadow of my home. I stared at it and shivered in the cold. The building somehow looked ominous in darkness. I froze there unable to go forward. I wasn't strong enough.

I ended up sneaking in through a window. I climbed the tree by my bedroom window. I never kept it locked. It was kind of ironic, the window that I had spent so many nights sneaking out of was now my only way back in.

My bedroom was cloaked in shadow. Its pastel colors were muted in the darkness and it felt… wrong; like it was no longer mine. I didn't know what to do. This wasn't home. I crawled into bed and got under my blue comforter. It was familiar, but not warm. I stared at the ceiling, which was covered with glow in the dark constellations. I didn't feel like myself. I didn't know what I had left.

Around ten, the lights came on. My father was looking in. I held my breath. I didn't move. I waited. He looked directly at me, and then he turned off the light and closed the door. My heat beat a few more paces and water escaped my wide, lost eyes. These tears hurt.

I guess he had glanced into my room so many times, hoping to see me there, that when the time came to really see me, I was invisible, a ghost to a haunted man. At some time in the night I fell asleep. In the morning I was still lost.

I did what I had to do. I love my parents and I wanted them to know I was safe but I'm not strong enough. I was so scared, that I just left a letter and packed my bags and ran away. It did what I had to do.

That's how I ended up here, a bus stop, a crossroads of sorts. I have died my hair, changed my name and my clothes, I've become someone else. I miss my parents and my friends, Stefanie and Bonny most of all. They are my reason to live. And I'm getting stronger because of them. I'm getting better.

I don't know if I will ever go back home. I wish I could, I know I can't run forever. I'm going settle down in the next town. Get a job as a mechanic, write some stories, run track, help people. I owe my friends that much. I have to keep living for them. It's all I can really do.

I'm not afraid anymore. I'm determined. He'll find me. I know he will, but I'm not a little girl anymore. I'm stronger and smarter, than I have ever been before. I'm not alone, Bonny and Stephanie are with me and if he comes, I will stop him. I will fight. I will live.