The Runaway

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Honestly don't know if I'm gonna finish this one. I'll try to when I get the motivation, if ever. The picture has nothing to do with the story.

Submitted: April 23, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 23, 2017



The Allegheny mountains knifed up from the flat earth and crumpled like butcher paper. The entire wilderness of Pennsylvania seemed to stretch away from Louisa’s homestead, but she kept her eyes glued to her chores. Louisa clothespinned the last shirt onto the line and straightened her skirt. Outside the air was warm but growing cooler and smelled of woodsmoke. A small child played in the dirt next to the clothesline. Her white cotton dress was smeared with dirt and she held fistfulls of it in her hands. Louisa looked at her daughter and sighed. For most women, getting married and having children was the best thing that happened to them. Looking into her seven year old daughter’s eyes, she felt no joy. Sometimes it scared her, but most of the time she felt sad and alone.

“Come on, Suzy, let’s go inside,” she said to her daughter. The child said nothing, and Louisa picked her up. She saw that Suzy had pulled her ribbons out of her hair again. “Oh Suzy, what am I going to do with you?” The child remained mute.

“You’re not going to talk to me are you?” Louisa said. She stroked Suzy’s hair and walked to the house. Inside the kitchen, a pot of soup bubbled on the stove. Louisa set Suzy down and began to chop a head of lettuce for a salad. When she had finished making the salad, she set the table. Just as she set down the last plate, the door opened. A tall, broad-shouldered man with a bearded face walked into the kitchen.

“I’m starving,” he announced, “what’s for dinner?”

“I made potato soup,” Louisa said.

“Again?” The man kicked off his shoes and took a seat at the head of the table.

“We had extra potatoes. Anyway, how was your day, Ford?”

“The same as any other day. Chopping trees, hauling logs,” Ford answered. He looked around the kitchen. “Where’s Samuel?”

Louisa set the pot of soup on the table. “He must be upstairs. I’ll go get him.”

She turned away and walked into the living room and up the stairs. Samuel was in his room at the end of the hall. He was carefully pinning a shiny beetle to a card, and he had a jar filled with other beetles next to him. The room smelled faintly of rubbing alcohol.

“Sam, dinner’s ready,” Louisa said as she opened the door. She noticed the beetles and frowned.

The boy didn’t answer, but finished pinning the beetle and stood up. His sandy blond hair resembled Louisa’s but he had his father’s hard brown eyes. Louisa went back to the kitchen and Samuel followed. They took a seat and Ford said grace. Suzy was on the floor and Louisa handed her a roll, which she happily munched on.

“Can’t you get her to sit at the table?” Ford said.

“You know she doesn’t like sitting still,” Louisa answered, looking at Suzy.

“She’s seven years old. You need to teach her how to act like a person.”

“I do try to teach her, but she won’t listen. You know how she is, Ford.”

“Hell, she won’t even talk. Either she’s retarded or you didn’t raise her good.” Ford stared at Suzy, who was giggling unaware. “Can you say daddy, Suzy? Say daddy!” He bent over to see the child better. Suzy stared into his rugged face and started to whimper.

Samuel, who had been poking at his salad with a fork, spoke up. “We should give her to the orphanage.”

“Samuel!” Louisa cried. “Why would you say that? If anyone’s going to the orphanage it’s going to be you, especially after today.”

Ford looked at Louisa and then at Samuel with a frown. Samuel slouched in his chair and kept his eyes on his plate.

“What happened today?” Ford asked.

“Nothing,” Louisa said quickly.

Ford addressed Samuel. “Were you in another fight?”

“No,” the boy said, still looking down.

“Don’t lie to me.” Ford stared contemplatively at Samuel, then rose out of his chair. Louisa stood up and grabbed his arm.

“Ford, please don’t,” she said.

The man shook her hand off and walked to the living room, then disappeared. The family watched as he returned, holding a poker from the fireplace in his right hand. He towered over Samuel and Louisa could see that the boy had started to cry.

Gonna punish you,” Ford said. “Gotta teach you a lesson.”

Louisa watched as Ford pressed the hot poker against Samuel’s cheek. Tears were streaming down her son’s face, but no one said anything. The only sound came from the soft whimpering of Suzy under the table. Ford stared at his son; a vengeful godman looking down on his subject with contempt. Louisa focused on her hands folded under the table. She rubbed her thumb around a small puckered scar between her left thumb and forefinger. She hated seeing Ford hurt her children, but interfering was worse. Ford went back to the living room and when he returned to his seat the poker was replaced with a newspaper. He sat and read the paper, while the rest of the family ate in an uncomfortable silence.

Louisa sat quietly as she had so many nights before, but she couldn’t stop thinking about a suitcase hidden in her closet. She had never wanted this life, never wanted to marry Ford, but her parents convinced her. He was a strong man with the same first and last name, Ford Jameson Ford, a god fearing lumberjack with a short temper. He laughed when she read him her poems, threw her journal into the fire, and she had married him. Louisa thought it would change when they were married, that she would fall in love and he would shape up when he became a father, but each day was more unbearable. She would have to escape, and it had to be soon.

“Do you hear that?” Ford lowered the paper. The oil lamp on the counter etched deep shadows in his face. From outside the house, a lone wolf called.

“The wolves are out there. Never heard them so close to the house,” Ford said.

The wolf called again; a low mourning in the falling light. They sat at the table and listened, like the animal’s cry held some important message if only they could understand. Louisa looked at her scar and knew that if she were to run away, it would have to be tonight, while her spirit was willing and her mind was still strong. She would leave in the dead of night and run through the woods into the next town, and then from there, who knew how many miles of frozen earth she would travel. The children would stay until she found a place somewhere far away, and then she would carry them away like the angel of death, and Ford would never know what happened.

Night fell quickly on the countryside. Louisa lit lamps in the living room and drew the curtains. Suzy sat on the floor next to her and she was chewing on a rag doll. Standing in front of the wide living room window, Louisa looked out at the night to the mountains in the east slowly fading into darkness as the sun set behind them. For the first time she felt a sense of freedom. She still had a chance to live the austere life of a poet she had always wanted. Suzy stared up at Louisa with round eyes, as if she knew what she was thinking.

 “I’ll come back for you Suzy, I promise,” Louisa said softly. She didn’t want to touch her, for fear that she would want to stay.

 In the bedroom upstairs, Ford was loading a shiny silver pistol. He placed it on his night table before crawling into bed. It was an old habit picked up after many nights of wolves stealing away the chickens. As Louisa lay under the covers with her heart racing, Ford spoke quietly.

 “Sometimes I wonder, Louisa. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a good man.” It was the first time he addressed her by name in days. “When I’m out in the woods, there’s no one to talk to but your thoughts. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice.”

 Louisa didn’t know what he was talking about, and she didn’t ask. She watched the minute hand creep along the face of the clock as she waited for the right time. Ford’s breathing slowed and steadied. When it was five minutes past midnight, she sat up and pulled on her boots. As quietly as she could, she went to the closet and pulled out a small leather suitcase. She put on an old woolen coat and slowly turned the doorknob. She walked down the hallway to the stairs, past Samuel and Suzy’s room. She made a beeline to the front door, not wanting to stop and look around at her house for the last time.

Outside the night was cold and the moon was a milky cataract eye. Louisa stood on the porch and took a map from her pocket. It was too dark too see, but she knew her route by heart. She took a deep breath and walked down the yard away from her house. She passed the chicken coop and the barn and into the woods, where the shadows were alive with beasts of every nature. She stumbled blindly over roots and crashed through bramble thickets, stopping not to think or catch her breath. Yellow eyes gazed down from above like a spectral demon, but it hooted softly and it was an owl. Somewhere behind her a cry sounded that rose and wavered like a child’s. Louisa stopped suddenly, breathing heavily, eyes darting around to source the cry. Bobcat attacks were not uncommon here, and she could be in danger. The cry came closer now, and Louisa could hear twigs snapping. It seemed too human to be a bobcat, and something about the cry seemed familiar.

“Suzy? Samuel? Is that you?” Louisa gasped. The cry stopped and she could hear someone or something breathing close behind her. In the dark, a small figure stepped forward. It was Samuel, carrying Suzy on her back. She couldn’t see his face and he stood still before her. Something broke within Louisa, and she fought back tears. “Samuel, I-”

 “You were going to leave us,” the boy said. There was no trace of emotion in his voice.

 “I was going to come back, I was going to come get you,” Louisa said.

“Why would you leave us?” He asked this simple question and the flat tone of his voice made Louisa start to cry. Suzy heard her mother cry and began to wail again.

“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I had to get away,” Louisa said between sobs. “I never wanted this.”  

Samuel said nothing, and Suzy continued to cry. Louisa dried her tears and took Suzy into her arms. They walked deeper into the woods together, not speaking a word but Louisa could feel the hurt from her son and knew that she could not comfort him. Near the end of the night they were stumbling half asleep and each dreaming of warm beds and roaring fires. It had gotten colder and Samuel shivered in his pajamas. Louisa offered him her coat but he refused. Suzy fell asleep on Louisa’s back and all was silent. In the gray hours before dawn the first snowflakes started float down. In the distance they saw a farmhouse with a barn. By the time they arrived at the barn the wind had started to howl and the snow fell harder.

Inside the dark barn animals lifted their heads and stomped and snuffed, but their arrival was otherwise unheralded. Louisa collapsed on the sweet hay and pulled Suzy close. Samuel curled up a good distance away despite the cold. He shook in his sleep through the morning as the storm howled outside. When they awoke the world had changed into a white blinding waste. They stood in the doorway and watched the wind blow eddies of snow, and they yawned and rubbed their eyes.

“There’s three more miles to Beavertown,” Louisa said. “From there we’ll take the train to Stringville or Winchester.”

When they set out again in the woods, they walked alongside big footprints in the deep snow. Suzy kept falling down over hidden branches, so Louisa carried her on her back. Samuel was shaking violently, but he still would not speak to Louisa. She walked beside him, carrying her suitcase in one hand and holding on to Suzy in the other. She wondered if they would make it to Beavertown before they froze to death, or got caught in another storm. Her feet felt like frozen clubs and her fingers ached. More than anything, she worried about her children. The both of them were dressed in pajamas and thin jackets, and they were exhausted.

They followed the footprints for close to an hour, and it was evident that they were both going to the same town. Louisa wondered if Ford followed them. The prints were big and deep, set widely apart. She could imagine Ford lumbering through the dark, calling out her name in the deafening wind.

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