It’s a longstanding nightly tradition for me to die. I wake up at 12:08—always 12:08—unable to breathe, my throat caught in an invisible death grip and the hand-me-down shirt I sleep in drenched with sweat. Always.
Within a few seconds I’m able to remind myself that I’m not hogtied and being dragged to the bottom of a river by a kettle bell. If I breathe in, water won’t fill my lungs. I’m not drowning. It’s only 12:08, just like it is every night.
Sliding from bed, I “borrow” my roommate Candy’s digital watch with a backlight and fasten it around my wrist. Outside the window a lone raven sits at the top of the tree line leading to the forested area. Ravens are everywhere around the children’s home. They’re not supposed to be nocturnal, but this one is. And every night it watches me run.
Years of practice have made me an expert at slipping out the window of my shared room without a whisper of a sound. The cool earth greets my feet like a welcome mat. I can’t wear shoes. Bare feet can’t be an excuse to slow me down. I change the watch’s mode to timer and press “start.”
Then I run as if my life depends on it.
I’ve measured my trail multiple times to make sure it’s exactly three miles. My dad is a runner. He can run a mile in five-minutes flat. It’s one of the many skills he picked up in the Special Forces. Years ago my uncle called my dad a human Swiss army knife, which offended my dad. He preferred to think of himself as something more formidable and feared than a pocket knife. If he had to be categorized as any type of blade at all, it should at least be something like a seven-inch SEAL knife that he could slide between two ribs and directly into a beating heart for a quick kill.
That’s how my dad kills when he respects his prey. If he doesn’t respect it—or perhaps even hates it—then he takes a whole different approach altogether.
Two miles in my stomach lurches, trying to empty itself but succeeding only in burning acid trails up my throat. Tears sting my eyes, making it even harder to see in the dark even as I push to go faster. The vision I’d had the first day authorities had brought me to the children’s home is still as clear in my mind as it was nine years ago.
One day my dad would find me again and be handed a second chance to kill me. When he did, if I could outrun him to my secret place, somehow I would be safe. If I didn’t, I would be dead. Either I would make it, or I wouldn’t.
Stumbling across my invisible finish line, I look down at the watch. It reads 15:07 and counting. Might as well just serve myself up on a platter if I can’t shave at least another twenty seconds off.
“Congratulations, Hex,” I mutter. “You just died.”
But just in case the night comes when I am faster than my dad, I get to work on the secret place beneath my feet.
Copyright, Sheralyn Pratt 2010