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Author's note: All the characters in this book were based off of real people.
Rain licked the grimy window. Thunder and lightning raced across the sky, lightning always in the lead. An old mattress creaked. From a messy bundle emerged a hand, the nails lacquered with aqua. A tousled head of deep brunette hair arose soon after. Rolling out of bed, Penelope fell to the grimy floor. Grumbling and pulling off one of her remaining socks, she stood up. Vertigo overtook her, and after a moment once she had steadied herself a knock came from her door. Her head not totally clear from sleep, she stumbled over turning the doorknob.
Standing in his boxers and a wrinkly Mustang t-shirt, her best friend Austin stood waiting with a full glass of orange juice. Smiling his beloved crooked smile, he held it out to her.
“Aww thank you.”
“Your hair looks like a tumbleweed,” Bigger smile.
“Well aren’t you being such a pleasant person this morning,” she grabbed the orange juice. Penelope felt a sudden drop in temperature; she looked to her left and magically appearing from the ancient, time-worn wall was Chad. Chad was sort of a ghost. Not totally ghost and yet not totally human. He was just an unusual mix of the two. But it’s okay because he’s cool.
“Are you talking about me? I heard something about a pleasant person, so I assume that it’s about me.”
“What you heard Chad was something that I like to call, sarcasm. You should learn it.”
“Well maybe I already know it, but you don’t even know.”
“. . . How ‘bout, you get out of here,” Penelope pointed to the wall, cocking one of her thin eyebrows.
“Pssh fine,” he smiled and just as quick as he appeared, he was gone.
Gulping down the orange juice, burping, she looked back at Austin. He realized that he had her attention and continued talking.
“We gotta keep moving.”
“But this place has blankets . . . unlike the last one.”
“I know . . . but do you want Jackson to find you?”
“What about Jackson?”
Stepping through the doorway was yet another best friend of Penelope’s, Amanda.
“Him coming to get us all, that’s what.”
“Ohhh . . . that’s just wonderful . . . in a bad way . . . “
“Just a little bit.”
Penelope had to smile. She liked how in such a serious life threatening situation, her friends could laugh about it.
“So . . .” she put her empty glass down “where are we going now?”
Austin squeezed his eyes shut and was silent for a moment. “I’m not sure, at least another safety house.”
“Maybe you should find a better house next time. You know; one with indoor plumbing and that doesn’t smell like deceased animals. With blankets. That would be nice,” she gestured her hand around the room, emphasizing her point.
“Well I can’t exactly just find a better house with everything in it! As amazing that would be.”
“Please, please, please, at LEAST try to find one that has blankets next time. It’s kinda cold around here . . .”
“Then why not just take those?” He pointed to the blankets that Penelope slept on, saying the obvious.
Amanda, silent but still standing in the doorway spoke up, “No offense Austin, but I think Jackson would notice something just a touch suspicious about a girl, her two friends and a ghost thing walking around with a bundle of blankets. Just pointing that out there.”
Chad peeked his head through the wall again, “Whoa, whoa, whoa . . . who said I was going to carry around blankets?”
Penelope, tired of Chad’s smart mouth already at this hour of the morning, simply picked up a stained pillow and lobed it at his head. Of course Chad must’ve seen it coming; the next thing Penelope saw was the pillow hitting just the wall . . . no Chad.
“But seriously,” once again Austin drew attention back to him. “We have to keep moving. We don’t need Jackson on our tail. Not that he isn’t or anything.”
Penelope nodded absentmindedly, thinking about the first time she had ever heard the name Adam Jackson.
His full name, Adam Jackson. His eyes full of beauty as they were malevolent. And he was nothing but that. Malevolent. His attractive ways had seemed to draw Penelope to him. Into a trap. It had been two years ago when Jackson, a handsome sweet looking innocent (so he seemed) guy who just wanted to offer her a ride home. Of course Penelope ignorant of danger and jelly legged around cute boys couldn’t say no. No sooner had she seated herself, she felt a rough hand grab her long layered black hair. She cried out in agony then in terror as Jackson brought a six inch blade to her throat. Even though Jackson had the time and possibly motive to kill her right there on the spot . . . he seemed to hesitate. Almost like he didn’t want to. Like he was fighting some mental force that made him want to slaughter her, but he didn’t. Was it strange? Yes. But Penelope didn’t notice, she was too busy trying to inch away from the stainless steel. Only thing was Jackson had her in an iron grip.
Whatever held Jackson back before decided to let its guard down, for a moment. The knife ripped against her fair skin, blood turned on like a faucet dripping down her front. She tried to scream, her eyes blurred.
She was pretty sure she would’ve died right there. But a certain transparent person just happened to be looking out for her that night. Unfortunately, Penelope had no memory of the rescue. When she awoke, Austin was by her side caressing the thick stitches on her neck.
She’s had the stitches ever since . . .
“C’mon Penelope; Get dressed, Amanda has your stuff,” he laid his hands on her shoulders before closing the creaky door behind him.
Amanda reappeared once again, handing Penelope a pile of black fabric. Quietly Penelope got dressed, extremely careful of the stitches.
After fastening the necklace Austin had made for her (a silver music note), she heard a knock, once more, on the door. Thinking it was the ever so amusing Chad, she yelled “Knock it OFF Chad! Today is just NOT the day to be humorous.”
A feminine voice answered, making Penelope c*** a brow. “I’m pretty positive that I’m not Chad, but just letting you know that Austin found the next safe house, so you might want to get your butt out here.” Penelope heard the smile in her voice.
“Yessss Mandi I’m coming.”
Opening and stepping through the door, Penelope joined the others, already waiting for her. Amanda caught hold of her hand, Chad and Austin looking at her.
“Alright, I found another safe house. It’s an old log cabin just west of these woods,” he pointed outside the window “Chad says he heard from certain sources that Jackson is farther east. I figure if we just keep heading west until we hit the ocean and sail wherever, then we should be fine. Until then we just gotta keep under the radar.”
“You mean, keep under the radar like we’ve been doing the past what . . . three months?” said Chad.
Amanda and Penelope gave him a reproving glare while Austin simply sighed. “I know you’re tired of keeping this up, but we gotta do what we gotta do.”
Chad looked at Austin with heartbreaking eyes. ” I’m sorry, just trying to help.”
“Its fine Chad, now can we just please get on with this? It would kinda just be a little bit bad if Jackson just happened to stroll into this room.” Amanda smirked.
“Yeah that would only suck just a little bit,” Penelope smirked back.
“Alright . . . so everyone ready?” Heads nodded. “Well you know what to do.”
Austin took Penelope’s left, and Chad’s right, hand; Amanda hanging on to Penelope. Austin closed his eyes, concentrating on the awaiting palace of wood. Blackness folded over like a tight blindfold and the next thing they all knew, they were surrounded by ginormous trees. Lots and lots of trees.
Amongst the never ending field of woods, stood a log cabin. Home. For now at least. Obviously nobody had lived in the thing for what seemed like centuries. Ivy crept up the face, the windows covered in forest gunk.
“This . . .” Penelope pointed, “Is the place?” Eyebrow c***.
“I’m just a bit too awesome for this place. I do believe that I am going to build a fort or a tree house. But no need to worry, you won’t have to miss me, I’ll be close.”
And with one last smile, Chad faded away with the wind.
. . . .
The floor boards creaked, the ancient plumbing had a tendency to drip, and the animals had obviously made this their home long ago. Penelope scrunched her nose; it was just like the other house. She prayed that it had blankets.
Austin put one arm around her shoulders, seeing her displeasure and an attempt at comfort. She nudged her head under his chin. Even though it hadn’t been long since she woke up, she was tired. She was tired of running from someone who was eventually going to get her. Tired from moving from run-down place to run-down place. She sighed, and Austin dragged her closer.
“I think I’m gonna go . . . run and get some food. Or something. All the raccoons seemed to of ate this house out years ago.” Amanda ducked out of the room. Her face seemed kind of awkward. A hard to describe awkward. With one last glance, she left the front room.
Penelope looked into his eyes, “You know Jackson is going to eventually get me. So why all this fuss to protect me?” She caressed her stitches, emphasizing her point.
He sighed, closing his eyes. “Because I care about you. That’s why.”
“Well, I’m tired of running. I’m tired of the stress of living day after day. The terror just tears me apart, do you not understand that?” Her chocolate eyes began overflowing with tears.
“Because . . . you wouldn’t understand.” His eyes were filled with a mysterious passion. One that Penelope had never seen before. Or had she?
“Then make me understand.”
Taking Penelope by total surprise, he pulled her close and kissed her. His lips were soft. She could feel her heart beating really loud.
When he pulled away, she still had a shocked look. He looked at her with bright eyes, smiling for once, a full smile.
Still confused to no end, she looked back at him. “Do you even know what I’m saying?”
Still smiling, he replied “No I don’t.”
“As crazy as it seems, I want to actually go after Jackson. I told you already that I’m tired of running and hiding and sleeping in hobo houses. It just needs to end in one final confrontation. Then maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to sleep peacefully again at night.”
Austin’s smile faded just a touch. “Do you know how crazy you sound? You’re crazy. Why would you want to go hunt down the guy who stalked and tried to kill you?? Answer that for me. Because I don’t understand.”
Penelope groaned. “I don’t think that you understand. I’m just tired of it all. So for whatever reason, I’m just going to throw caution into the wind. It just feels right.”
Austin tapped his hand against her skull. “Are you alright in there? Or did Jackson find out how to control your thoughts?”
“I don’t know. But either way I’m leaving. So we might as well be saying our goodbyes.”
“No, I don’t want you to leave. I’ve known you since we were little. And yes I picked on you and stuff years ago, but now is different. Now I love you. Please stay. I love you.”
“I have to.”
Penelope thought she saw a tear fall from his eye before she turned away. As she stepped through the front door, she felt a sensation that she hadn’t felt in a long time. A heart breaking.
Crunch, crunch, crunch went the forest under her feet.