Elizabeth Shepherd stood next to the four poster bed and watched Malcolm draw in then exhale long, deep breaths. His body lay belly down in a crumpled heap across the bed, his filthy stench tightening the knots in her stomach. She touched the welt on her cheek and winced. Clutching a butcher knife to her pounding chest, she numbly raised it above his sleeping body. Reason fled as the desperate need to escape dulled her senses like the dried blood caked in her nostrils and hair. The knife sliced swiftly down through the air.
From the tortured chambers of her mind, a silent scream erupted and her body weaved, as the knife embedded deep in the mattress just inches from his shoulder.
A haunting gurgle escaped her throat. She released her tight grip on the knife and fell back. He would sleep this one off like all the others. She was almost disappointed that she would not get to see his reaction to the knife stuck in his bed when he awoke.
With shaking hands, she reached across his repulsive body, swept his badge off the cluttered nightstand into the garbage, and then nudged his gun under the bed with her toe. She licked at the cut on her lip.
She would not leave without five-year-old Sally, the only good thing in her life. Elizabeth would die before she would leave that sweet, little girl with the likes of Sheriff Malcolm Snyder.
They would need some money to get away. She stuck her hand into Malcolm’s back pocket, and then sucked in a breath as realization struck too late—his deep breathing had stopped, and his cold fingers wrapped tight around her wrist.
She dropped her sweater over the protruding knife and remained silent.
“Whadya doing in my pocket, woman?” His slurred speech rolled off his tongue like drool from a bloodhound.
She kept her tone calm and even. “You told me to get some more beer.” It was a risk she took knowing that he would never let her go anywhere unless he had one of his goons keeping an eye on her. She hoped he was too drunk to realize his trained lackeys were nowhere around.
“I did? Huh.” He dropped his hand and turned his head toward the sweater-covered knife, as she nonchalantly pushed it down and slid her pillow over it.
Leaning over the bed, she rested her chin on the pillow and stared into his blood-shot eyes. “Did you change your mind?” She tried to calm the uncontrollable quivers spreading throughout her body.
“Whadya think, you stupid—” His head lopped to the side away from her, as he slapped his hand aimlessly around searching for his back pocket, but then dozed off while fumbling for his wallet.
She flipped the pillow off the knife. Her chest rose and fell in quick succession, as she pulled the sweater across the cool, steel blade, and then reached over and gingerly hefted his wallet and truck keys. Chances were he would be out until morning, and by then, she and Sally would be out of Massachusetts and on their way to heaven knew where. When she got far enough away, she would ditch his truck in a swamp somewhere, or run it over a cliff.
She hurried into the young girl’s room, scooped a pile of clothes and a pair of Sally’s shoes into a plastic bag, and flung it over her shoulder. She grabbed the blanket she had embroidered with Sally’s initials S.A.S. then wrapped it around her and rushed through the kitchen, snatching a box of saltines and a carton of milk on the way out.
Elizabeth lay Sally on the seat and kissed her on the forehead. She tucked the blanket around her face, leaving an opening for fresh air, and then climbed into Malcolm’s new truck and sat still. No movement came from anywhere except for their dog Ginger whining by the truck.
She reached over Sally and opened the side door. “Come on, girl,” she whispered, glancing nervously at the house. “Come on,” and Ginger jumped in. Now she felt complete.
She stuck the keys into the ignition and started it up. It chugged, and her heart leapt to her throat. She waited to face her fate, and when Malcolm did not burst through the screen door, her head fell against the steering wheel. She stifled a sob. With a trembling hand, she shifted into reverse and backed onto Summer Street, and then drove across the wide river to the Mechanics Cooperative Bank. She did not have her own bank account, or even a shared one, but a few months ago, he had sent her with his deputy to retrieve money, and she had memorized the pin number.
She punched in the number and withdrew every dime that she could. Glancing up at the camera, she brought her hand to her fresh wounds and blinked as tears trickled down the sides of her bruised face. She raised a shaky finger to her lips. “Shhh!” She hoped that if they ever checked the film, they would understand.
An hour later, Elizabeth pulled into a 24-hour gas station and bought a map, a pair of scissors, and black hair dye. Then out in the parking lot, she cut her hair short using the long truck mirror as a guide. She lifted up Sally’s blonde curls, cut them close to her head, and then gently worked the dye into her hair while she slept. She dumped the rest on her own hair and quickly massaged it in then drove on in silence to the next stop where she rinsed their hair out with a Styrofoam cup and water from a spigot on the side of a church building.
“Mommy,” Sally ran her fingers through her short, wet hair, “does my hair look like yours?”
“Yes, baby-girl.” She took her sweater off and gently tousled Sally’s hair with it. She sat her back in the truck and watched as Ginger nuzzled up next to her.
Elizabeth’s wet hair dripped down her slender back. She leaned against the truck and studied the map, randomly choosing a place three hundred miles north.
They arrived at Sebec Lake, Maine a couple hours before sunrise and parked the truck on the edge of an embankment overlooking the deep lake. Elizabeth stuffed the crackers and carton of milk in the plastic bag, along with Sally’s clothes, and placed it and Sally against Ginger’s warm body by an oak tree. She climbed into the bed of the truck and retrieved a worn duffle bag and a hammer.
After finding a good-sized branch, she broke it into two pieces with the claw end of the hammer, then jammed the branch between the seat and the brake, and revved the engine up high—wedging the other stick tight against the accelerator.
She glanced over at Sally and Ginger, making sure they were still safe by the tree, and then spat on the seat before yanking the branch out from the brake—propelling the truck headfirst over the rocky cliff, plummeting it into the deep water far below. She kicked at the tire tracks until they were obscure and then brushed pine needles around, leaving no sign that a vehicle had been there at all.
She sank to her knees. The ever-widening ripples settled into nothing, leaving the dark lake peaceful and calm. “I did it,” she whispered into the cool breeze, and then she collapsed face first to the ground overcome with relief. She rolled over and looked up at the starlit sky, shivering with excitement—she was free, liberated from a tyrannical beast. Tears streamed down the sides of her face and onto her neck, but she did not want to move. She lay still, breathing calmly for the first time in years.
After a while, she wiped her hand across her nose and sat up. Pulling a map from her pocket, she opened it, studying it under the stars. They had a long walk to the closest town. She crammed everything they had in the duffle bag, flung it over her shoulder, and then scooped Sally up into her arms.
Sally blinked and opened her eyes. “Where are we Mommy?” She glanced up at the stars above them.
“We’re in heaven, sweetheart, go back to sleep.” Elizabeth caressed her face and wrapped the blanket tighter around her. “Come on Ginger. We’ve a ways to go.”
After a while, headlights broke over the ridge. Elizabeth, Sally, and Ginger slipped off to the side of the road, hiding behind a bush until the car passed.
“Why are we hiding?” Sally looked up at Elizabeth. “He won’t find us here, will he?”
Elizabeth pulled her close. “No baby-girl. He won’t find us here—but we musn’t show ourselves either.”
“Okay,” she said forlornly.
“One day,” Elizabeth said softly, “it will be all better. I promise.”
“Okay, Mommy. I believe you.” Sally rested her head against Elizabeth’s shoulder as they hurried down the quiet road. “Come on Ginger,” she called, waving her on.
It seemed like forever, but eventually the sun crested the horizon. Even though it would double their time to get anywhere, Elizabeth decided it best to walk just inside the trees. Most people would drive by a woman hiking down a long dirt road with a dog, but not many would ignore a woman with a swollen face, carrying a small child on her hip. She could not trust that someone might snap a picture or ask questions that would thrust her right back into Malcolm’s life, so she hid.
Grasping Sally’s small hand, Elizabeth walked along the ditch, the duffle bag banging against her back. Sally glanced up at her sadly. “Does your face hurt?”
“What’s that, baby-girl?”
“Your face, Mommy, does it hurt?”
Elizabeth squeezed her hand. “No, Sally.”
“Yes, it does.”
Elizabeth turned toward her. “No, not really.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Never again, baby-girl.”
A long puff of air escaped Sally’s throat and she nodded. “That’s good.”
“Yep.” Elizabeth smiled, and then winced from the pain of it. “Ouch.”
Sally let go and reached for her and Elizabeth bent down. She ran her hand through her mother’s short, dark hair. “I like your new hair.”
Elizabeth ruffled hers. “I like yours too.”
Sally gently touched Elizabeth’s face close to the welt and she tilted her head.
“What’s wrong, baby-girl?” Elizabeth studied her sad eyes.
“It does too hurt, Mama.”
Elizabeth sighed. “Yes, Sally, it does.”
They were silent as they continued their trek, with only the sounds of Ginger’s light panting beside them. Suddenly, Ginger stopped short and growled.
From further down the road, a large black bear and her two cubs crossed from one side of the road to the other. If they stayed still and made no sound, the mother bear would keep moving. Elizabeth froze, but Ginger let out a series of warning barks. The closest cub gave a distressed bawl and the mother swung her body around, bellowed, and bolted toward Ginger.
Hope you enjoyed this brief excerpt! To purchase your copy on Amazon, go to - Escape by author, Theresa Sneed.