If I'm the devil, color me surprised; I didn't know demons wore angel's hide.
And I'll strip the wings right off your back if you dare to fly.
Mitchell Davies, 14, Arvada, Wyoming
This is where I'm meant to be.
7pm and we've made our second stop. It's a small street up in some minor range, with white capping the tips of mountains in the distance. I can see the last whispers of peachy pink and rosy orange fading into the background.
My legs feel wobbly as I hop off the bus, backpack held tight to my back. My heart swells with happiness as I examine my surroundings: chilly air, the smell of melting snow and sausages drifting through the air, not a single person that I know.
It's almost perfect.
"We'll have half an hour here, everybody," our bus driver calls out after us as everyone files out, wandering in their separate ways to grab a bite to eat for dinner, maybe some provisions for the road. "Be on the bus by seven-thirty unless this is your destination."
I watch as a little family, a quartet of a mom, dad, and two little boys plods off towards a worn-down grocery store, a small pang echoing deep within my chest. Even if I got on this bus to escape my family, somewhat, it still hurts that they don't know where I am, what's happened to me, what I'm doing. I mean, sure, I wanted a break from them, but they're my family. Now I regret not leaving a note or a sign or something to show them that I'll be doing alright.
Hey – maybe all is not lost.
Swiveling into the direction of a shop with the windows marked with so many bumper stickers I can barely see inside, I push open the door, striding in. A gift shop, smelling of circus peanuts and excitement.
The traditional postcard rack lies near the counter, and I spin it around a few times, sifting through the pretty sunrises and the grassy images of summertime. Keystone, South Dakota, the cards read out. Under 400 is the way to be.
I select a glossy card with a particularly nice image of pine trees on a hill and bring it to the cashier, a woman with thin black hair and a large nose. She peers over her spectacles at me. "That all?"
My eyes drift to a little wicker basket on the counter, and I generously add a few handmade caramels to my purchase.
I'm not gonna send the postcard now, but what about later? Yeah, I decide. I definitely will. I gotta let them know I'm doing alright.
Walking out of the gift shop, sucking on one of the delicious candies, it occurs to me that I'm not really hungry as I had been expecting. Shame – I had packed over two hundred dollars for this expedition, money I had made doing "chores" at the ranch this past summer. What a laugh. All I'd done is eat my mother's blueberry pancakes and pet the horses once in a while, and my father called it "appreciating the little life".
However, there would probably be more expenses for me to waste my dough on in the future; now just wasn't the time.
Seven-thirty sneaks up too fast, as I would have been content to just wander around aimlessly, stretching my legs some more until the next stop. When I arrive back at my seat, the funny woman wearing the purple cap who used to be seated next to me isn't there, neither is the older gentleman who was next to her, for that matter, but in their spots is being taken up by a young-looking couple of girls. They're both tan, both with dark hair, although one has a mess of wild curls, while the other's is stick-straight and in a ponytail.
"Honestly, screw wrong turns, man," the straight-haired one goes. "I thought you had this planned, Gillian."
"I did! It said Bus 17 was to go to Vegas, and from there, a straight shot to Chicago and then Detroit!" the curly-haired girl scowls. "I didn't mess this up, I swear. I don't know what happened."
"Doesn't matter, I suppose," the other goes. "We still have about three days to get to Detroit; we'll get there in time anyways."
My ears perk up, and I try not to ogle the two of them up too obviously. My heart gives a nervous flutter, though I couldn't imagine what for. Even if they are taking the bus to Detroit, they could be going for a completely different reason as I am.
But it doesn't hurt to ask…
"Excuse me?" My voice rings out over the quiet hum of the bus motor.
The girls turn to look at me, surprised.
"This probably sounds creepy and all that, but…" I press my lips together for a moment. "Why… why are you two going to Detroit?"
They turn to look at each other, hissing air through their teeth, before turning back to face me. "Well," the one with straight hair says, "it's kind of a weird reason, actually…"
"Same, though," I plod on. No stopping now. "Are you… are you two going for the game? The special opportunities and whatever?"
"You saw that ad too?!" she exclaims.
"Yes!" A grin spreads across my mug. "For those looking for an escape and everything?"
"Gillian over here thought we were some special ones who were the only ones to see the ad," the girl scoffs, jabbing her curly-haired friend in the arm. "I'm Ailsa, and this is Gillian. And you are?"
"Mitchell Davies," I say proudly. "Where are you from? I'm from Arvada, Wyoming – we have about forty to fifty people residing in my town at any given time, fun fact."
"Malibu," Ailsa says. "Forty to fifty, huh? Must be a tiny town. I couldn't imagine."
"I'm sure you couldn't," I chuckle to myself, a warm feeling blossoming across my chest. As the girls and I continue to talk, marveling over the fate that we'd gotten to meet each other so early on, I can't help the small pang at the back of my mind that tells me something is up. Like this was planned. Why would two girls from Malibu, embarking on the same trip as I, take such a wrong turn that they wound up at exactly the same bus stop as I did, in the middle of nowhere, when their travel path was so much more traveled on than this one? How did that happen?
But then again, who believes in the frightening side of things when there's such thing as coincidence?
Paige Altham, 15, Minneapolis, Minnesota
The open road is unforgiving.
Nearing eleven at night and I'm struggling to stay awake. Falling asleep isn't really one of my best options, at this point, anyways. It's probably not the best idea to be unconscious in the front seat of a semi-truck with a man I met three hours ago.
But he's got to be getting tired, even with that long silver thermos of coffee he sips every now and then. I can see it, too, in the wrinkles that line the corners of his sparkling blue eyes and the way his eyelids droop.
He hasn't made much effort to spark a conversation, and to be fully truthful, neither have I. When he pulled over around eightish, me being dropped off at a gas station from my previous drive, I doubt if we said five sentences to each other.
"Need a lift?"
"Where you headed?"
"Just the place I need to be."
No, I don't need to be at Chicago, but it's close enough to my destination, being a major city. No, I'm headed straight for Detroit to pursue the special opportunities and the game that the girls in the bar spoke of.
Maybe I should rewind a little.
I sink down into the seat a little bit more, eyes on the endless stretch of highway in front of me, and nuzzle into my grey sweatshirt a little more. My meager knapsack lies on the floor in front of me, and I kick it with my toe. Maybe recalling the events that led me up to this will help me stay awake for a bit longer.
Minneapolis is a town chock full of rich people, middle classers, and the poor. As much as I'd love to disprove this statement, the Altham family has never been able to scrape their way out of the lower class. While the kids around me skip off to school in Timberland boots and Apple watches, I'm one of those who trudges in their Walmart sneakers and a Galaxy that's been handed down four times already, thanks to my cousins.
Even though my parents never said it or told me anything similar, one thing was astoundingly clear to me this year: I needed a job. Fake resume in hand, I plodded from fast food restaurant to thrift shop, looking for any sort of place where I could cashier or flip burgers.
However, it was King's where I found my calling.
No use sugarcoating it, I'm way too young to work at a bar, let alone consume alcohol even with a fake ID. But that was the place which would provide the best pay, even with their rigid hours. It's not so fun, being fifteen and working from five till midnight and scrubbing beer glasses till your fingers are sore and your hangnails sting from getting ale scrubbed onto them. But how could I resist a place which would help me pay for groceries, whereas my parents were struggling day and night to provide enough simply for the debt?
It was worth the days I'd slink into school late, purple circles under my eyes and falling asleep in class. It was so worth it.
But it wasn't getting me anywhere.
More food on the table was nice, and we were able to afford nicer food other than the cartons of nearly-expired milk from Kwik Trip and the two-dollar bagel sleeves. But it was a redundant cycle. And as my grades slid from A's to C's, I realized that it was more poisonous to my own health than it was before.
And yet, which option could I pick? Not working, and starving half the time, but being in good mental health, or sacrificing my grades and energy for some extra food on the table?
It was a few days ago when I'd heard about Detroit and the game.
Underage girls in King's provide us with a good profit, and nobody here can say that their fake ID's aren't convincing. They think they're grown-up, and they know they can get away with ordering a beer or four. They don't mind chattering loudly about their days.
This leads me to how I found out.
Three of them coming in on a Saturday night, two beers down each of their gullets, and the general atmosphere of King's led one of them to be a little more loose-lipped than she would have wanted.
"My cousin Hannah, yeah, she's ditching my aunt and uncle to go to Detroit because of that stupid game."
"You heard about that too?"
"Guys, what's the game?"
"Some shit in the paper about a 'game for those who need escape'; there was some random stuff about prizes and special opportunities, but I didn't pay much attention to what Hannah was saying, you know she's just a stupid-ass stoner. Probably gonna get herself run over before she gets there, anyways."
It was then when I'd dashed over, interrogating them about everything, and after talking it over with my parents, about the allure of the prizes and special opportunities, they allowed me to go. It wasn't what any of us wanted, but it was better than nothing.
The driver's voice suddenly interrupts my thoughts.
"Chicago's about five hours away, and I'm not pulling over till we're there, kid," he gruffs. "If you need any assurance that you can sleep, just look at little Monica there." He jabs a thumb at a Polaroid of a toddler in a yellow sundress, the picture stuck in the grill of an air vent. "I'm a father, I'm trying to provide for her, nothing but good intentions. You're safe here till I drop you off, kid."
Though discomfort still flows through my veins, it's a bit easier to allow my eyelids to slide shut, and for sleep to take over my fatigued body.
Arian Jenson, 15, Sarasota, Florida
Naomi is silent as I get out of bed.
She's always like this, sullen. She should be used to this now, this schedule. I go to her place, her parents are never home, she goes upstairs, checks that none of her brothers are there, I come – ha, ha – upstairs, we have some fun, and then I leave right after. It's been happening for about four months, and I don't get why she's not used to the schedule.
The girl thinks I love her.
Any smart girl would know that a guy who just uses a friend for sex doesn't want anything more than a good feeling and quick escape.
"You wanna come over this weekend?" Naomi asks quietly, tugging a white shirt on.
"Can't, I got plans with some guys," I lie.
"Oh," is her dull reply.
I liked her better an hour previous, when she was all jumpy and excited to spend time with me.
"Gonna do some more Xanax and get your head all fucked up until you can't remember anything, again?"
Just kidding, I liked her better ten seconds ago, when she was all depressive and silent.
I turn around to face her, an annoyed smirk creeping up my face. "One hundred percent," I scoff out, like it's a joke. "I wanna see unicorns and Selena Gomez and rainbows floating around, not you."
I scratch my head, pulling at my hair. It's getting longer. "Look at the time, seven already. Shouldn't one of your brothers be home by now?"
"Baseball and rec soccer," Naomi mutters spitefully.
"Ahh." I nod. "Goes pretty late, doesn't it." She gives a nod, falling back on her sheets, brown hair splaying around her head like a dark halo. I can't say I'm a fan of this awkward small talk with my fuckbuddy. "Wellllll, it's been nice to stay and chat, but I gotta run, Jax is expecting me back at the house."
"I love that kid," Naomi says airily.
I wink. "Who doesn't, though."
I'm out of her house within the minute, bounding out onto the sidewalk and sliding out my iPhone 6S. I might've said a few misleading things about hanging with Jax, but not really – I will be hanging with him, even if for a little bit. I just need him to give me a ride.
To the airport, that is. I'm leaving on a jet plane.
Running away from problems might be very cliché and movielike, but for me, it seems perfect. I saw the ad about Detroit in a popup, I wasn't fooling myself with anything else, and it did promise an escape.
There was also something else that I was in search for, something that I wouldn't mention to anyone – they'd think I was insane. They'd think that I already possess it, and to go off on a wild goose chase looking for it would be mad. But they're wrong, they're wrong, they're all wrong. Nobody knows me better than me. I know what I am and what I have and don't have, and I know more than anyone what I need to do.
And if leaving for Detroit to find it is what I need to do, then I'll do it.
I was never one to be afraid of going to extremes.
Nobody ever doubted that, either.
Home isn't that far away from Naomi's place. I don't spend much time there, usually, and I don't intend on this being any different. I slide my bag out from under my bed, packed lightly. There's not much in there – a pill bottle full of Xannies, a jacket, a wallet fill of bills, my phone charger. Just the bare necessities. Barely enough for anyone to notice that I'm out of the house, but not like they would anyways.
Out on the busy sidewalk, my Uber arrives. Not much to my surprise, it's another local dealer. His name is Zach but everyone calls him Zeus because of his large presence and commanding, dictatorial aura. With needle-teeth and the imprint of a hunting knife in his pocket, nobody messes with him very much, and that's how he likes it.
"The airport, eh," he growls out. I can almost taste the expensive cologne that wafts off of him. He might be rich off of drugs, but for whatever reason, Ubering is one of his passions. Maybe it's the routine of the clean car that gets him, or the sheer pleasure of breaking the speed limit by thirty miles an hour. Whatever it is, he's good at it, and good at not getting caught.
He's not king for nothing.
"The airport." I recline in my seat and watch the sunny skies outside as the car starts zipping away from the sidewalk.
There's silence lingering in the Clive Christian 1872 air for a while, and just as I'm congratulating myself for knowing exactly what brand of cologne was wafting through the vents, Zeus speaks. "Let me guess, family. They found out about your shit."
"No…" I sigh. "Doubt they would care much, anyways. It's something else, I don't really care to talk about. Just… I don't know, Zeus. Maybe I'll see you sometime in the future. Maybe I won't. All depends."
Silence again. Zeus is done with the conversation.
And though I should be, in a way, I'm not.
A/N: Trust Nobody by Flyaway Hero.
Been awhile. Not much to say here, honestly… Life's good, summer has started for me, I got my braces off, life's gonna get lit. I don't know. I'm tired.
Thoughts on each POV?
Who are you looking forward to seeing?