He battered his tiny fists to feel something, wondered what it's like to touch and feel something.
Lars Grunow, 15, Citizen of Campion, Colorado
The motor hums for the umpteenth time.
Sighing, leaning back in the uncomfortable Greyhound bus seat, my eyes stray to the window, searching the endless sky of navy blue. Detroit is a long way away from Campion, and I doubt we're even a fifth of the way there.
Getting out of town was the easy part. Asking my friend Dave's older brother for a ride, since I only have my permit, while he was out for a long, all-night drive. Getting to Denver was easy, and grabbing as bus from there. But now? On what should be the easiest part of this whole journey?
It's the thing that's making my guts twist.
I hold a hand up to the cold glass of the window, smeared with fingerprints and what look like crayon markings. My seat is dotted with crumbs from a cookie I had earlier. My stomach grumbles – not for long. The next stop is in only five minutes, and I have more than enough money to get a sandwich and a soda.
It's around three in the morning now. We've been driving, it seems, for ages, and the old grizzled woman on the seat next to me looks as if she may have been driven to death. But even her pale blue eyes that flicker open occasionally, scanning the scenery like a lizard, can't even begin to fathom where I'm taking this bus.
Detroit. The word curdles up in my throat, bending out onto my tongue.
The perfect escape, it said, for a person just like me.
It said that this was a sanctuary for those who were feeling lost. Runaways. That they'd nurse us back to feeling full of life again, for those who have death in their eyes and negativity circling in our minds. That they'd help us.
And at this point, it was either this 'sanctuary' or suicide. Nothing more.
Campion is a tiny town, if it can be called that. Lonely people circle around. There's barely one thousand people from our last census, let alone many teenagers my age to make friends with. Everybody knows everybody. There's one café that everybody hangs out at.
The perfect image of a small town.
Which is the precise reason why I had to leave.
An outright suicide would have wrecked the town. Lots of people knew me, even if not many liked me. But lots knew me. They'd be crushed by my absence. They'd have no hope.
But a disappearance? In a town such as mine? At the most, there'd be, like, four police officers searching the fields. They'd give up after a week. My parents, my sister, they'd move on. Eventually. I was distant from them for a very long time; I doubt that they'd care very much if I didn't come back for a long time.
And anyways, there would always be the hope of me returning home.
So it's not a total loss.
The bus stops with a halt, and I look out quickly into a parking lot. An oasis.
People file down the bus line, talking in hushed tones. Half of them have bruiselike circles underneath their eyes, yellow skin, little dots lining up their bare arms. Others are quivering. Another good chunk are itching themselves, obviously riddled with disease or lice. Nobody really looks normal, bar the old lady next to me and a couple frazzled middle-aged people.
Clutching my knapsack close to my chest, I careful squeeze past the old woman, whose eyes have suddenly flown open, and make my way to the bus exit. Headlights from the bus illuminate a pathway to the oasis, its glass doors sleek and modern.
Once inside the heated place, I fish out a twenty dollar bill, searching for a sandwich shop. There's a Subway, so I order a turkey sandwich with mayo and lettuce and cheese from there, along with a Coke. The food tastes rubbery in my parched mouth. I guzzle my soda thirstily, gratefully.
I may have been able to plan this entire journey a little better. It was a rush for me and I didn't take much. I'd grabbed the first couple things that came to mind – a bottle of pills for my migraines, a razor, my phone, a few small boxes of cereal, and a jacket. My knapsack feels incredibly empty.
My stomach suddenly feeling the opposite of empty, I push my sandwich to the opposite side of the table, clutching the cold Styrofoam cup of Coca-Cola tightly.
A man in a snapback sidles up to my table, a grey mustache tinted with cigarette juice wiggling as he begins to talk. "You gonna finish those vittles, kid?"
"They're all yours." I eye up his shirt, slashed down the sides to reveal a very skinny-looking ribcage. "W-Would you like anything else to eat, sir?" I ask, displaying respect towards my elders.
"Some tobacco would be nice," he starts out, looking completely serious. I must have a queer look on my face, because he guffaws loudly, slapping the table and shaking my cup of Coke. It sloshes in the thin paper cup. "I'm joking, kid, turn that frown around."
I smile nervously, watching him wolf down four whole inches of a sandwich in three large bites. His teeth gnash like a wolf going down on a deer carcass. "You must have been hungry," I mumble. "Are you sure I can't buy you anything else? Subway has bigger sandwiches if-"
"Where are you headin', kid?" the man squints his dark brown eyes at me, reclining in his chair. "It's three in the gaw-danged morning and here you are, a fresh pup, on a bus with all us loonies. Regulars. What's up, kid?"
"My name is Lars," I say bravely. "I'm from Campion."
He squints even further, his eyes barely twinkling from his wrinkled eyelids. "Where in the heck is that?"
"Colorado," I say. "Where are you from?"
This has the man stumped. He pulls out a cigarette from his pocket, fiddling with it, obviously without a lighter. Finally, he snaps it in half, watching the orangey dust pour out of its paper packaging onto the table, resembling sand. "I'm from nowhere, kid," he says gruffly. "At one point it was Ohio. At another, Indiana. Heck, I even lived in Alaska with Sherry for a good four years. I've been all over, kid, but my time's up."
Feeling more than a little confused on what he's getting at, I lean forward, trying to ignore the mayonnaise-covered lettuce bits that dot his beard. "And?"
"Guess you could say I'm a runaway." The man's eyes swivel heavenward, before crashing back to the table. "Rootless. It's not a fun life."
"How'd you start out as a runaway?"
"Not important," the man says with a wave of his hand. "Once it happened, it happened. I can't change the past, and it looks like I'm not gonna be able to change my present much, either."
"That's close-minded," I say.
He shakes his head, gives a creaky laugh. "All that matters is that you don't follow my path, kid. Being lost and alone and all that, it's not fun. If the fuzz doesn't get you, the thoughts will. Bad ideas. Bad mind. Bad everything. And it's all in your head. You're really on your own out there, and I guarantee you, it's not fun at all. People do anythin' to get ahead in life. They don't care about you. They need to trick you, they will. Pair that with a broken mind and it's a ticket to disaster, kid. If you're lookin' for a sign, any sign, to turn back, this is it. You can forget about the bus to Detroit and buy a ticket right back to your front door."
When the man leaves, his words linger.
A/N: Monster by Meg and Dia.
Blog – offtotheraceshg . blogspot . com
Yeah… that's really all I have to say. I wanna thank everyone for the tributes that they took the time to create and submit, and I want to thank everyone who's helped in the creation and development of this story so far, whether it's offer to advertise it in their own story or offer input. Every little bit helps, especially on a new series that's still wobbling on its first legs. I also want to apologize to those who didn't get in. There's really not that much I can say to defend myself, they were all so nice and thought out, but in the end I chose the ones that I hoped would make the most collaborative story altogether.
12 tributes and 1.5k words later in the chapter, here we are. I'd love if you checked out the blog, got a feel for the things to come, and yeah, that's basically it!
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