by Colleen Sutherland
He'd been running for hours it seemed, and maybe in circles. He'd escaped from the bus that was supposed to take him to prison, slid right out the emergency door at a stop somewhere out in the country. Easy, he'd thought. Damn fool guards can't guard worth a damn. They even forgot to cuff me. Then the cop cars came out of nowhere along with the damned dogs. Dogs scared him, always had. He slipped into a ditch full of water and waded, hoping he would throw off his scent, but they kept coming after him. That was bad enough but then there were more cops, more dogs, coming from the other direction. He slipped off the road into the darkness of a marsh.
Cold and wet, he kept moving on and on through the dark night in the only direction he could go, thorny bushes on all sides. He came out of the marsh once, but more dogs came at him from the north, too. At least he thought they were dogs. The yapping might have been coyotes, or maybe even wolves though he didn't think there were wolves in this state. He was a city boy, what would he know? He went back into the swamp and kept moving on through the nightmare horrors of nature. It began to rain. He cursed and struggled on. He knew he would fall if he didn't find a place to rest soon.
With a start, he woke up as he slammed into the side of a building and fell to his knees. He reached out to see what it was. He could feel the wood siding. That could mean it was a house. He felt his way until he came to a door. He tried it. Unlocked. He listened to the night sounds. An owl hooted. He had to find shelter. He had to find a place to sleep.
He slipped inside and listened, afraid there would be a dog. As good a place as any to hide out if there weren't any dogs. He hated dogs. There might be people, but he could handle that with his big hands and a knife. There were always knives in a kitchen. He'd used them before but knives were too bloody. A gun was neater and faster. Strangling was even better, no sound, no blood.
He reached beside the door to see if there was a light switch. There was but could he use it? Would the cops notice? They might think it was the owners up late. He didn't have much choice. He flicked the switch. By the light from a single bulb overhead he could see he was in a kitchen, an old fashioned one with painted wainscoting and cupboards that reached to the ceiling. He hurried to the cupboard drawers and pulled them out spilling contents on the floor until he found a butcher's knife. Now he was ready. He had a weapon.
With more confidence, he began to explore the farmhouse, turning on lights as he went. It was almost daybreak. The cops would figure it was a farmer getting up early to start the day. By the light of a lamp, he noticed the dust in what must be a parlor in this old house. He experimented by writing his prison number on a table then quickly erased it. No one had cleaned here in a long time. He listened again, then decided. He climbed the narrow stairs quickly and opened one bedroom door after another. No one was in this house except him.
He stared at a bed. He had to sleep. He had to chance it. He went back down the stairs to turn the lights off. He could now see where he was going by the first light of morning. He locked every door, went back up the stairs. He locked a bedroom door behind him and threw himself on a dusty bed, the knife on a table beside him. He was asleep almost at once.
* * * * *
Mid-morning, something woke him. He reached for his knife. Creaking. Was someone coming up the stairs? He listened. No, it was the sound of an old house adapting itself to the warmer weather of spring. He'd lived in apartments that sounded like that. He was fine.
He stretched and pulled himself up out of bed and looked around the room now lit by sunlight through a dirty window. He couldn't go anywhere until nightfall, so he might as well see what he could find useful in this old house.
First he had to find something to eat, though he had no real hope. He went down to the kitchen and opened cupboards. Luck. Canned goods. He checked the dates. Still OK but everything should be used up soon. His mother taught him that. The yellowed refrigerator began to hum, startling him. He pulled open the door. No fresh produce but there was mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard that seemed OK. There was one bottle of water. He drank that. The freezer held what he thought was chicken. Not store bought, someone had butchered it and wrapped it in paper.
He ate some tuna from a can while he considered. He could stay here until the food ran out or until they stopped looking for him. He looked out at the early spring day. There was a barn out there, and other buildings. One of them could be a garage.
He went to the back door. It was a quiet day except for the sound of a motor. He took several steps outside. There was a farmer driving a tractor in the field next to the farm yard, plowing. He had his eyes on the furrows but if he looked up he would see the guy in orange in this abandoned farmhouse.
He dodged back inside the house. He would have to get out of here somehow and soon but for now he could only explore the farmhouse. Clothes. He needed to get rid of this orange prison suit.
There was an oak wardrobe against one wall of a bedroom. He opened it and found a bonanza! It was filled with men's clothes, nothing too old fashioned and in several sizes from small to extra large. He tried on a pair of trousers. Perfect fit. Shirts, too, jackets, ties. There was a slight smell of moth balls but not bad.
He selected a suit and put it into a garment bag to take with him when he ran tonight. For the day he would spend here, he put on overalls and a plaid shirt. There were boots, too. If he went outside, he would look like just another farmer. At least he hoped so.
He peered out the door again. The farmer was on the far end of the field heading away. Good. He dashed over to the nearest building. It was a garage but it held only a rusted International truck with parts laying all around it. They hadn't made those trucks in fifty years. Someone had tried to repair it and given up on it. He'd learned about mechanics last time he was in prison. If he stayed here a day or two, he could give it a shot, but he hoped to be long gone.
He went from building to building every time the farmer was heading the other way down the field. There was a barn, a chicken coop, and something that probably held pigs, it smelled that bad. There was a pump house with pump that was well greased and seemed to be functional. There was a well-stocked wood shed. Beside the wood was an ax, recently sharpened. He seized it and threw the knife away. An ax would do a better job on a cop's hard head.
Back in the kitchen he tried the faucet. The water came out a bit orange at first, but then ran clear. He found a can of coffee in the cupboard. It took him a while to figure out how to use the old coffee pot, but after a couple of tries, the coffee began to perk.
He drank cup after cup as he searched the house for more weapons. There were none though he found some traps someone had rigged up out of old boxes. What were they for? He took a shower though the water was ice cold. The hot water heater in the basement wasn't functioning. He did find jars of preserves stored down there, but most of them had a layer of mold on the top. Whoever had put them up didn't know what they were doing, he decided. There were rat traps, too and one of them had a dead customer. He found flashlights but there were no batteries.
As the sun warmed up the south windows, box elder bugs stirred and began crawling up the panes. It gave him the willies. There were spiders, too, and other crawling things. He squashed them, but they kept on coming. He had to get out of here.
He examined his options. On three sides of the farmstead there were open fields. He'd be a sitting duck out there. The fourth side was the marsh. He didn't like that much but it was the best way to keep hidden. At nightfall, he was ready. He had his ax, extra clothes, a bag of food, and some coins he found in a drawer. That would do until he found a convenience store to rob or a car to steal.
At sunset, he slipped into the swamp and began to work his way south. Now he was wearing boots, so it was easier. From time to time, he lit a match to get his bearings and to scare off anything that was out there. Once a snake slithered by him. He could hear something howling in the distance. Night creatures rustled all around, but he kept going, walking through the night. At first light, there was a clearing in the woods. He looked out and saw another farmhouse. Perhaps this one would be more productive.
In the semi-darkness he ran to the back door, opened it and went in. The cupboards climbed to the ceiling beside painted wainscoting. It was the same farmhouse. He had been going in circles all night.
The sun was rising, a glow on the horizon. He went back out the door. The farmer was heading his way, pulling the plow. He gave a friendly wave, turned the tractor at the corner and headed back in the other direction.
There was nothing to be done but to go back and make himself some coffee and find something for breakfast. As the coffee perked, he noticed the packets of seeds on the kitchen table with a note: “Best start your garden now.”
Conclusion next week.