Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! Home at last

*This is the seventh edition in the Kate Paxton series. Find the rest in the archives!

The world blurred around me as I sailed through the open air. It was so right. It was so wrong. It was just so… different. Something about it felt wrong. But, in the same way, it felt better than ever before. Crack! I collided with the branch, a sickening crunch and crackle of the wood bending echoed in my ears. Frantic shouts drifted through the window, and deja vu hit me like a hurricane.

“Come back… Kate, come back!” a student shouted after me. The same thing that someone had screamed after me the first time I’d run away, the first time I’d given in. Their sheer force slammed down on me like a ton of bricks. Tears brimmed in my eyes, my heart crumbling with each beat. Those words that I had heard before pounded my brain, indecision flooding in before I could even begin to scamper down the tree.

It had been so much simpler last time. The woods had called. I had answered. Simple. Not easy, but simple. But now? My heart sang for the mountains and the trees, beat for the feeling of my feet against the mossy ground. Each step I took in Sapphire Peaks felt like a step wasted, each thought was a yearning cry for freedom. Every night since my capture I had dreamed of that beautiful wooden bowl drifting away across the lake, a reverberating echo of the pain of that day. A small water dish that had fragmented my heart. It was like I was Tom Hanks in Castaway, watching Wilson be pushed under the waves over and over each night as the earth cried out to me.

Boom! The branch I had been climbing down on snapped, and I tumbled the rest of the way down, hitting the grass with a thump. Pain ricocheted through my bones, my knees throbbing from the impact. Some small part of my rational mind was still trying to saw away my will, saying, Stop. You could get better. The counseling will help, you can learn to be normal again! You could live your life, have friends, find a way to stay connected with the wilderness…

Leaping up, I felt the fire burning in my soul, ignited by the hopeless attempts at reason my mind had conjured. My feet flew across the ground, so fast I could barely feel the grass beneath them.  Clouds of dirt and grass billowed behind me as I whipped across the yard, sprinting for the woods that lie just beyond the clearing. I felt more sure of myself with each dismissed doubt.

Why? Each speculation, each hope of my rational mind was easily debunked by what I knew in my heart. You could get better. My mind insisted, but deep down I knew it wasn’t true. The only place for me to heal had always been nature, the mountains, the crystal blue lake on the shore. My feet hit the earth faster and faster, a drum beat wildly increasing tempo. The counseling will help, you can be normal again!  It cried desperately, and I almost snorted at the thought. The only thing Emilia Pavledes had done was 1) drag up the past, making me sink deeper into despair and 2) singled me out for running away, trying to make me feel guilty so that I wouldn’t do it again. Even the reasonable half of my brain was being silly at this point.

Quickly, I made a split second decision when I came to a crossroads. I could either book it for the woods, like I did last time, with nothing but the clothes on my back and the fire in my heart. Or I could do a quick run past my house, grab some supplies and do a more strategic plan that would hopefully limit the chances of the search teams finding me.

A bang erupted off in the distance as the school’s front doors swung open. There was no time to think. If I didn’t choose soon, a horde of teachers and School Resource Officers would see me, and then I’d have no chance at all. Visions of being dragged to the police station flashed through my mind, visions of wailing red sirens and my mom’s cold blue eyes coming alight with fury, snapshots of a future where I was under constant scrutiny. A future where I was never allowed near the forest, years going by without the dirt beneath my bare feet and the soft, springy moss beneath my hands, where I could never sink into the cool blue water of the summer lake or watch the golden grains glimmer on the shore.

Perfect job, perhaps, a decent living and a family further down the road. But at the cost of my freedom. At the cost of the feeling that nobody could ever restrict you, the glow when you realize that you are one with nature and that you lived a life of complete independence.

I shuddered at the idea of it, and without another second of thought, I took off down the trail towards my house. Sticks and branches cracked and popped beneath my feet, like an exclamation point on every step. Wind throttled my ears, hair coming loose from the ponytail and cascading around my shoulders in wild waves. Run! My heart cried. Stop! Some small part of me insisted. But my heart beat for the woods and the mountain stream, and I would always listen to my heart first. Run! My feet hardly seemed to hit the grass as I sped down the winding path.

After a solid minute, my cabin-like house came into view. The cozy wooden home was nestled among oaks, barely visible in the sea of leafy green. Rusty, our new red bone coon hound and my “therapy dog,” was baying in the front yard, his howls echoing through the silent woods. I’ll unchain him before I leave, I thought, eyeing the small silver chain that tethered him to an oak. Smiling, I sprinted past him, knowing that this time around I would have a companion.

Throwing open the screen door that was never locked (despite my mom’s insistence that I “needed to be more responsible” and actually click the lock), I ran to the linen closet. The kitchen was just a streak of sparkling black tile in my peripherals as I opened the door, wasting no time in yanking down the hatch to my attic bedroom.

Sunlight streamed through the windows, illuminating my small twin bed and the wooden desk in the corner that was strewn with papers. My mom had always called it a “loft” before… before the accident with Dad. Fine. Before his overdose, before the heartbreak, before the cold, heartless Mae took over.

“Loft.” Ha! She had made the cramped space sound cozy and homey before, always crawling through the hatch with a tray of cookies to leave on my bed as I read a book, smiling and asking how I was enjoying my “own personal loft.” Ever since Dad, she never came up anymore. She called it simply, “the attic.” Lately when something would creak and I would look over, half-expecting to see the Mae Paxton of before opening the hatch, with a tray of warm cookies in hand and a grin spread over her lips. But there was nothing there but empty space and the ache of loneliness deep in my gut.

Shaking away the thought, I walked over to the corner, crouching beside the desk and pushing it away from the wall. A smirk lit up my face at the sight of it, though I knew it would be there. My secret spot. Now, when I say secret spot, I mean just a small crevice in the wall, big enough to fit your arm into but not much else. Though so much had changed through the years, that never had. Wiggling my sun kissed fingers into the hole, I had a flashback that struck like lightning, sending waves of shock through my body.

Deja vu bubbled in my soul and my vision swam, remembering a similar moment almost a year before. It was a chilly November evening and the dust danced in the dull gray light. Rain pitter-pattered against the panes, dozens of droplets streaming over the glass. The instant I heard the click of the lock, signaling my mom had left, I practically ran over to my desk, straining my weak, thin arms to pry it from the wall. Shaking with effort, the small crevice finally appeared. Shoving my hand into it, I pulled out the supplies. Today’s the day. I have to do it today! I thought, producing a tiny flashlight, a plethora of foods, an extra pair of shorts, undergarments, and a shirt, all neatly stuffed in a blue string bag. In that moment, I heard the lock unclick and the screech of the screen door. “Kate?” A voice called. My mom. Crap! I thought, desperately fumbling to wedge the bag into the hole. Just as the hatch began to open, I slammed the desk against the wall and flung myself awkwardly onto the bed. Today was not the day to run away. I was beginning to wonder if there ever would be that day. I sighed, watching the droplets drip down the dull glass. Not today. I thought. Not today.

Blinking hard, I opened my eyes. It had gotten darker while I was having the flashback, and the sky was filling with bruise-colored clouds so much like the November day so long ago. The same blue string bag was clenched in my hands. The bag was the same. Everything was the same, down to the tiny rip in the bag and the small silver flashlight. The only difference was me. I had easily, confidently slid away the desk, feeling strong. The pale, weak arms of the past were now finely toned and sunkissed to a brilliant olive/gold. Wasting no time, I slung the small pack over my shoulder and slid the desk into place.

The rest was a blur. I don’t remember going back downstairs or opening the door. All I remember is that one moment I was in my old room and the next I was outside, unhooking Rusty. I didn’t look back. Rain began to drizzle, little drops peppering my shirt. Rusty was silent, bounding at my side as I took off at a sprint, blowing past the trail. Where I was going, there was no trail necessary.

Hours and hours passed, the sun inching lower and lower on the horizon. From my house, the mountains were just a blue smudge in the sky. Now, finally, I was right below them, looking up at the rocky peaks that jutted from the Earth. It was new, far from the lake I had loved and the cave that I had called home.

Would I have rather returned there? Absolutely. What I wouldn’t give to see the bed of pine needles tucked into that alcove, or the little wooden bowl I drank from everyday… but life interferes. That would be the first place they searched for me.

Slowing to a walk, Rusty yipped, running around me in circles. I laughed, patting his head and feeling the soft fuzz of his copper fur against my fingertips. Pulling out his favorite red rubber toy (which was already marred from days of constant chewing), I chucked it as far as I could, watching it disappear in the thick foliage.

A minute or so passed as I waited. I was starting to get worried, for Rusty was the fastest dog I had ever seen, and pretty obedient too. But he was a coon hound, and they were hunting dogs. If he saw a raccoon, he would take off in an instant, leaving nothing but a trail of dust and scattered strands of red fur.

“Rusty?!” I screamed. Silence. The woods itself had gone utterly still, the sweet bird song ceased and the air still. My feet pounded the grass, seeming impossibly loud against the quiet of the forest. No. You can’t lose Rusty too. You’ve given up so much for this, but you can’t give up him. A tear threatened to trickle out, but I blinked it away, cursing myself. How could I be so tough on some things, but crumble at the smallest moments? Just when I began to shout his name, I came to a clearing. And in the middle? The most beautiful lake I’d ever seen, crystal clear with a sandy shore. Rusty barked when he saw me, running back and forth along the sand until paw prints littered the beach. It was a lake, backed up almost directly against the mountains. And, embedded in the sheer rocky face was a cave opening.

My jaw dropped. This was it. Rusty had found our new home. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, I saw it. My heart stopped. I’d failed to notice before, but a little, tiny rivulet of a stream trickled into the lake. It must have been connected to my old lake, because, lying abandoned on the shore, was the bowl. Rusty seemed to notice it, and he picked it up by the rough-hewn rim, setting it in my hands. Hugging it tight to my chest, I cried for the first time since my capture. Tears of joy. Tears of memories. Everything in the world seemed to center around this right here.

My name is Kate Paxton. First, I’d been a girl who longed for the woods, a girl with a heartless mother and a dead father. Then, a runaway, completely free and loving life. After that? Just a girl who’d been captured, forced back into society even when she had changed so much, even when she knew that she could never live that way. Now? I was a runaway again. Funny how life comes full circle like that, isn’t it?

Maybe I’ll get captured. Maybe I won’t. The only thing that mattered was that I was in the woods, surrounded by the majestic mountains and the lake with a loyal, adorable dog I loved with all my heart. My name is Kate Paxton, and I am finally home.


Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! 🌲Captured!

Picture from Dissolve

*Note- this is a continuation of the Kate Paxton story.

Just when I least expected it, they came. Hard and heavy. There was nothing I could do to stall them. Not a single thing. They had found me. Finally, finally they had found me.

The birds sung a sweet, soft melody from an austere pine that towered above, leaning over the lake and shedding emerald needles that floated on the water like miniature rafts. Golden sunshine filtered through the leaves, warm and pure like a soft embrace. I allowed myself a smile, stopping for a moment to simply listen.

The sound of lapping waves washed over me, a steady thrumming rhythm as the water crept up the sand and receded, crept up and receded.

A sleek brown hawk soaring through the unclouded blue sky, screeching an insistent caw! Caw! That echoed through the air and reverberated in the lofty pines.

Some people love the woods for its silence. I thought with a knowing grin. I love it for its noise. Just as loud, but in a peaceful way. The moment passed just as quickly as it arrived, and I continued the morning ritual I knew so well that there was no longer any thought needed.

I yanked out the laces of my sneakers with a quick flourish, flinging them off onto the sandy shore. A cloud of golden sand exploded into the sky with a puff.

I smiled, taking a step towards the lapping waters of the lake. The sand was warm against my sore feet, sending a sweet heat all through my body. My lips curled into a happy grin as I dug my toes deep into the sand, relishing in the soft yet grainy sand caressing my bruised skin.

Reluctantly, I lifted them out and watched as the sand spilled between my toes, rejoining the millions of tiny grains that gleamed gold in the summer sun. I reached over to a nearby stump, grabbing my makeshift wooden bowl and dipping it into the water. The bowl was made of a thick stick, hastily carved out and patched up so that it held the cool blue water of the lake perfectly.

I had done this every morning since I had run away from school. School… I let out a short laugh. School seemed like a distant dream, a world away. Though it had only been a few months since I’d left, it seemed as though it had been a lifetime. Bittersweet memories flooded my mind, and I fell into the whirlpool, letting myself relive the moment that had single-handedly changed my life forever.

“Oh, so nature girl can actually talk, can she now?” Maria Maize jeered. Everyone looked over to watch my brutal reprimand. Maria was the most popular girl in the high school, with her perfectly styled black hair that cascading down her back, shiny and pristine and meticulously curled. Her gang of girls crowded me in an instant.

“Kate, is it? Kate Paxton, the poor girl that nobody likes,” a girl said, looming over me with laughter in her harsh brown eyes.

“I heard she’s got daddy issues. He was a druggie, right? Drug overdose?” A pang of agony hit my stomach like a lightning bolt. I remembered flashes of his eyes, him smiling down at me after my dance recital. A hospital. White sheets. Funeral.

Tears ran down my pale cheeks, coalescing and streaming in rivulets until they dripped down onto my shirt. As if sensing my pain, the girls smirked, obviously pleased.

“Drug overdose. Poor Kate, no friends and no father.”

“Maybe you would actually be popular if you didn’t spend all your time in the woods.” At this, they all snickered.

Waves of hurt crashed over me, and I couldn’t breathe. I was drowning in it, gasping for air and relief, reaching the surface only to be forced back under by a tidal wave of jeers.

“And what about your robot mom?” They waited for a response, for more tears. I didn’t give it to them. Something inside me just simply snapped. Like a cord snipped with scissors, releasing with a twang. I didn’t need to think. My feet did all the work. I sprinted off out of the classroom. The teacher finally looked up, yelling at me to come back. Slamming the door shut, I heard the teacher fling it open behind me.

Running harder than I ever had in my life, I leapt down the stairs and bolted out the back doors that led into a small courtyard. The grass passed in a blur, I heard dim shouts of my classmates behind me through the raging wind in my ears. I never did look back.

I let the memory wash away as I sipped the cool blue waters. It was truly bittersweet. The bitterness of harsh words, the sweet joy of freedom… BAM!!! I was slammed to the ground. The small wooden bowl flew out of my grasp, rolling away into the lake.

A heavy body was on top of me, holding me in a death grip. I let out a muffled scream, biting into my attacker’s arm with all my force, clamping my teeth down on the bare skin. I felt the skin rip away under my canines, and the man recoiled back with a guttural yell. My eyes widened, nearly popping out of my head. The man? The man was a Search and Rescue Team member. Behind him? Five more, their eyes trained on me, bolting in my direction.

No. No. NO. I was too careful. How did they- how…? Billions of possibilities ran through my mind. I doubted that Tara or her group had mentioned it… we had met at the old scene of our campfire about a week after the incident, and I was proud to call them my only semblance of a friendship. They promised to hike out again soon to visit, and some part of me knew they wouldn’t turn me in.

The man sprang to his feet, trying to grab me. I screamed, bolting out around his back and leaping onto his back. Strangled grunts were ripped from his throat as I looped a muscled arm around his neck, squeezing as tight as I could. With one final groan, his body went slack and I jumped off and let him fall to the ground. His chest rose and fell, and I was almost completely sure that he was just knocked out.

A woman lunged for me, her attack even quicker and more feral. She seemed shocked that I could take down an adult man, and obviously they hadn’t expected a fight. This time, there was no holding back.

Fists flew through the air, hers and mine. She made contact, and my breath left in a whoosh!

Wheezing, I recovered and slammed my elbow into her face. Staggering back, I swiftly took advantage of her surprise and flung my fists into her head over and over, until she was gasping for breath and clearly unable to fight.

A hand yanked me from behind, pulling me back by the collar of my shirt. Strong arms secured my limbs and lifted me up off the ground. My toes dangled in the air, all three remaining people clamping down my limbs and began lugging me forward.

Straining, I arched my back and howled with fury. The trees danced and swayed above me, infuriatingly calm and peaceful.

“No! No! NO! You can’t- I can’t-“ I gave up on the sentence, shrieking until my throat was raw. Looking behind me, I caught a glimpse of the little wooden bowl floating away. And something inside of me broke. That little wooden bowl that I had made myself was now gone. Forever.

That one little thing shattered my soul. Sobs wracked my body, and I begged and begged. For mercy. For the first time in my life, I actually prayed. If not for the past to reverse, than to hold that wooden bowl in my arms, to feel the rough wooden edges against my fingers just once more.

The people trekked on, calmly carrying me to a white van that lay in wait in the woods. My whole body yearned for the woods as they shoved me into the back of the van, strapping me in and securing my hands and feet with duct tape.

Gleaming fluorescent lights shone down, illuminating the bed of the van. Writhing. Screaming. Howling at the top of my lungs. My cries were silenced by the thick walls. No. Not school. My mom. Life without the woods…. The thought was unbearable. I was finally captured. Running away had once seemed like a faraway dream, and now returning home was equally as unfathomable.

After a while, the van lurched forward. I assumed that they’d retrieved the people I’d incapacitated.

We rumbled off, and all that I saw was white. Shining white walls. Bright white lights. My eyes could barely process this, after the months of vibrant colors and earthy tones of the forest.

Everything was gone. My sweet life of freedom was gone. I was on my way to Sapphire Peaks now. It was like waking up from a pleasant dream, but not back to reality. No. I was waking up to a nightmare.


Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! The Search

A continuation of last week’s story.

“Mrs. Paxton, how would you say that you’ve done with your daughter’s disappearance? Do you think that they can find her?” The wide-eyed reporter asked, with an almost childlike anticipation hanging off her every word.

And exactly the opposite of her, Mrs. Mae Paxton regarded the reporter coldly, robotically taking in her short stature and brown eyes. They looked startlingly like Kate’s eyes, as they had been when she was born… before they darkened. A small twinge in her stomach at this thought. Other than that? No pain or suffering whatsoever at the memory of her missing daughter’s eyes.

The emotions and thoughts that swirled in her mind were not those of grief, of mourning and pain.  Her emotions were not motherly, not loving. They were cold. Robotic. Technically, they were feelings. Yet, what went on in Mae Paxton’s heart seemed not at all like emotions. They felt like commands. Her mind circled these thoughts, swiftly and mechanically analyzing what she should do.

I should cry. I must convey grief, though I may not feel it. Kate is gone. Her heartstrings plucked ever so softly at this, a tinny, off-tune chord plinked in the blackness. The emotion was so slight, so small, that any normal person would never have noticed.

Mae did notice. She shoved it away, deep down in the inky depths. Some minuscule part of her knew that she shouldn’t suppress it. That emotions were normal, and that what went on in her mind and heart was completely, utterly wrong.

“There are no words to describe the sorrows I feel. My child is gone, into the woods. Even the helicopters can’t find her!” The mother cried out, willing a false tear to run down her face. With a sympathetic pout, the reporter backed away. She, like most people, thought that the poor mother was grieving her runaway child. Mrs. Paxton forced another wet tear to drop slowly from her cold blue eyes.

The display of emotions felt wrong. The sadness wasn’t real to her. Nothing was real to Mae, and it might never be again. Some part of her mourned the loss of her only child. Her mind showed her visions of Kate, when she was a little girl.

Prancing in the woods under a canopy of falling leaves, blond hair swinging around her shoulders. Soft brown eyes filled with glee. Mae had smiled at this, dancing around with her and twirling as leaves tumbled to the ground like confetti in the air. Happiness exploding in her heart, an expanding warmth in her chest.

It was the last emotion she would ever truly feel, and even this cold, hard heart in her chest could recall the emotion like a faded memory. The sweet, warm bliss was yanked from her grasp the very next day, leaving her with a bitter aftertaste of a feeling that was once so sugary and sweet. The very next day, her husband, Kate’s father, died of a drug overdose.

Mae Paxton watched the reporter walk away. This time, a real tear leaked from her eye. She summoned all her will and strained to feel the sadness that would mean she was still human, still had feelings.

The tears flowed steadily, but she couldn’t feel the grief she wanted so badly to feel. All she felt was a numb echo in her chest. Bowing a solemn head, Kate’s mother accepted this. That she couldn’t feel sadness anymore. There was only the dark, gaping hole her husband had left, hollowing her chest. Mae Paxton would never feel again.

***********************

Pain burst through my chest like a cannon shot. It was gone instantly, as soon as it had come it had already faded away. I looked around warily, up at the sky and down at the scintillating lake. There was no explanation for it.

For a moment I wondered if maybe, just maybe, it was a connection to my mom. Somewhere out there, maybe she had felt something. Shaking my head furiously, I shoved away the ridiculous notion. It’s not possible. Either way, Mom isn’t really one for feelings anyway. I thought bitterly, remembering her hollow eyes as she stared off into the distance, how no matter how hard I tried to love her, I couldn’t.

It was like trying to love a ghost. She was but a shell of her former self. A blank, emotionless husk. How could you love someone when every aspect of them was gone? Wiped away like a rag sweeping across a whiteboard? That was how Mom was, and had been for a long time. Ever since Dad died.

My mood was no longer soured by this. I wouldn’t let the pains of the past numb me anymore. They couldn’t, now that I was surrounded by the woods that I had always longed for. The loving arms of the forest that had comforted me when my own mother wouldn’t now held me firmly in their embrace.

Gazing up at the sky, I saw the helicopter, prominent in the soft periwinkle sky. Smirking, I stared up at it, almost tauntingly. I stood in the open, next to the lake that I had sipped from just moments before. Yet, there was no chance that they could see me. I had covered myself head-to-toe in thick, cakey mud and yellowed leaves.

How ironic. I can see them and they can’t see me, and yet they are the ones looking.

It had become a ritual. Every day I walked down to the lake. Sipped from the cool, crisp water and watched the helicopter drone overhead. I measured the days in the number of helicopters I saw. There was one every day. At the same time. Every single day like clockwork.

The chopper made a wide, sweeping circle. I could see men in black coats lean out the sides, their eyes scanning each tree, each rock. A blaring, nasally voice shouted into a megaphone,

“Kate Paxton! If you are alive, show yourself! Kate Paxton! If you are in the immediate area, the U.S government demand that you reveal your location!”

I almost laughed at the emptiness of the threat. Does he really think that I would just show up, when I had made the decision to run away in the first place? I thought, snorting at the ridiculous idea. The men were so close that I could see the whites of their eyes and analyze the planes of their faces. Some were narrow and angled, others were pudgy and fat. None of them were genuinely concerned.

My lips curled sympathetically. Of course they don’t have real concern. I’m just a brat who ran away from school one day. They don’t know me, I thought. Certainly I would feel the same way in their shoes. A small, stupid part of me wanted to jump out and reveal myself, just because I felt bad for them. But the logical part of me drowned it out swiftly, pushing it under the waves until it fizzled out, the thought evaporating completely.

It’s not as if I have anything to go back to. I would return to an emotionless, cold mother. A dead father. Judgemental peers that ostracize me constantly. A counselor who insists (rather unhelpfully) that everything will be okay. As if those words will fix everything.

As soon as the helicopter had faded away, I stood up slowly. Trekking back through the mess of brambles and branches, eventually the gaping mouth of the cave came into view. I stumbled into the sunlit cavern. Following its twists and turns deep into the dark depths until I reached a small opening in the wall, about three feet wide and seven feet long.

I collapsed onto the plushy bed of pine needles that I had fashioned myself on the second night. The long walk and heavy thoughts had exhausted me. I laid down, resting my cheek gently against the prickly needles. Sleep took over, and I drifted off, letting the darkness fall over me like a dark cloak.