Thursday, November 01, 2012

BADLANDS (The Runaway--XX)

THE PLANE FLEW OVER TERRAIN JOSHUA HAD NEVER SEEN: rivers that twisted like mud-colored threads, jagged clots of red earth pushed through yellow plains that went forever, rolling foothills with green at the bottom and snow at the top. When the jet landed at Sioux Falls, he followed the rest of the passengers through the chute and into the terminal in a numb kind of haze.

He arrived at the lower level of the airport, where the noise and fluorescence and movement confused him. Josh retreated to a bathroom, waited for a stall to empty, then went in, sat on the toilet with his knees pulled to his chest, and rocked back and forth, wishing he had Nikko with him, wishing he knew how to get from point a to point b by himself.

But Nikko was not with him, he would never be with him, and Josh prayed again for Nikko—find peace, find peace—his lips moved and no sound came out. Find peace, find peace. Nikko, pale against the white hospital sheets, the hum of the machines, his hands folded on top of each other. Eyes closed, black hair splayed on the pillow, lips pinked up and curved into a faint smile, no, a smirk, he looked asleep. But when Joshua found him that morning, he did not move, his chest did not swell with air.

Too far gone, the doctor had said. Who do we call?

Find peace, find peace.

Josh flushed the toilet. At the sink he splashed his face and hair with water, taking time to keep his bandaged hand dry. He dried himself under the air blower, the air warming him again. He sniffed his armpits. Not too rank, not like he spent the last four weeks-- or was it five?--sleeping wherever his body dropped.

Back in the terminal he surveyed the car rental booths. He went to the one with the shortest line. The man behind the Budget counter read a newspaper.

“How much for a rental?” Josh asked.

The man eyed him. “You old enough to drive?”

“I’m seventeen,” Josh said.

“We don’t rent to minors unless a parent co-signs,” the man said and flipped the page of the newspaper. “And we don’t accept cash.”

Josh stood for a moment. This complication had not figured into his plans. Nikko would know how to sneak around the rules but Joshua didn’t think the way Nikko did.

The way Nikko had.

Josh started to tremble. The man rested the paper on the counter.

“Hey kid,” he said. “Where you trying to go?”

“Hot Springs,” Josh said. “My uncle lives there.”

“That’s clear across the state,” he said. “He’ll have to pick you up.”

“My uncle, uh, can’t drive.”

“You sure you have an uncle?”

“He served in Afghanistan,” Josh said.

The man’s face softened. “Oh, man, I’m sorry,” he said. “My brother was over there. Hell hole of the world. Look, the bus takes you to Black Hills National Park, right outside of Hot Springs. A hell of a lot cheaper than any old rental, too.”

The woman behind the bus counter took his nineteen dollars without question, without even looking at him. He had four dollars left.

“Fifty minutes until we board, honey,” she says. “Don’t miss--there ain’t another bus ‘til tomorrow.”

Josh returned to the bathroom. He cleaned himself again, wetting paper napkins he nabbed from a pretzel stand. He cleaned under his clothes, leaning against the stall door so it wouldn’t swing open. He felt giddy, shaky, from lack of food, from excitement about almost being there, from the anticipation of seeing his uncle, to finishing his trip. Someone entered the bathroom while he scrubbed his feet. The toilet two stalls down gurgled. He slid back into his stiff jeans and stained socks. At least his shoes felt dry. In the trashcan, a half-eaten hamburger nestled in its waxed wrapper. Joshua ate it hurriedly before leaving the bathroom.

This, the penultimate installment of THE RUNAWAY. I do appreciate you reading this massive story/chapter. Already, this story has changed, and after next week, it will marinate for a few weeks or months while I work on other stories in THE MINISTER'S WIFE. Indeed, working on THE INDIAN for NaNoWriMo, and will then focus on THE MINISTER'S WIFE herself. Peace...


  1. Nikko didn't make it but I'm hoping Josh will be able to heal. Or at least get home, for a start!


    1. Thanks Jai for reading! Nikko gets somewhere--read next week for more! Peace...

  2. Tears here. And rather than appreciating me reading this - I can't not read it. As much an addiction as Nikko's. Thank you for allowing me the privilege - and it is a privilege.

    1. EC, it is an honor whenever you drop by to read more words. I am so glad this story moved you, my characters moved you. THAT is what keeps me writing. Peace...

  3. OH MY GOD WHAT?!?!

    Holy crap, I did not expect this! So sad that Nikko didn't make it, and I wonder how this will affect Josh going forward. Does Josh really have an uncle he's going to see? From the end it seemed like it but when he was talking to the rental car guy I thought he was making it up. Where did he get the money for the flight??? What happened after Nikko died, who did he call, how did he end up going to see an (maybe) uncle in SD? OMG I can't wait for next week to find out more of the details!

    Happy NaNoWriMo, Linda! I'm going to try for it too. I am hoping you may do something similar with another one of your characters in TMW because it has been such a pleasure to read a full section in order like this.


    1. So many questions Emilia! Remember, before they ran away Josh copied his mother's credit card info down--that is how he booked a flight. And if you read carefully, you will see references to the uncle who gave Josh the guitar that Nikko ended up selling for drugs.

      Uncle Jeremiah DOES exist, and he plays a role in this novel as well. For a snippet, scroll down to the 10/29 post (The Abridged Biography of an American Sniper) and click on the link taking you Smokelong Quarterly.

      Two days into NaNoWriMo and have ~2500 words--and you? Peace...

  4. So cool. I will check that out. After Friday, I'll really have to sit down and read the whole Joshua chapter in its entirety b/c I had forgotten about the credit card. Can't wait till Friday :)