Authors: Shewanda Pugh
Crimson Footprints II: New Beginnings
* * * * *
Delphine Publications on Smashwords
Copyright © 2013 by Shewanda Pugh
Smashwords Edition License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then
you should return to DelphinePublications.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author's work.
To Mom, who taught me one bit of Shakespearean truth:
It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.
And to my grandmother, who taught me another:
Hell is empty and all the devils are here.
Forward I venture, boldly.
For the initial creation of Tak, Deena, and all those of the
world, I owe a lot of thanks. First, to Dr. Christine Jackson of Nova Southeastern University, whose encouragement and guidance proved invaluable in the early days.
To my Nova classmates, Stephanie Fleming, Lyndsay Dustan Prasad, Nichole Coombs, Racquel Fagon, Jenny Boyar, Tara Spiecker, Michael Bergbauer, Raymond Levy and more, whose voices and encouragement I still hear when writing.
Crimson Footprints II,
special thanks goes to Dr. Allison Brimmer and my twin sister from another mother, Shantrelle Pugh; both of whom helped me trudge through the mud on this one. Special thanks to my husband, Pierre, who suffers through and adores my idiosyncrasies in equal measure. Finally, and most of all, thanks to you, dear reader.
The distance between Milwaukee and Miami was just under fifteen hundred miles—1,469 to be exact. Tony knew it because he’d asked the trucker with the GPS on the dash.
He had beef arms and a chest like a bull, but when he smiled, the trucker lit up like Christmas on the Commons.
Once, Tony had
heard someone say, “Christmas on the Commons,” but had no idea where the Commons was, though he assumed it festive. In any case, it sounded good to him, so he kept it, jotting down the phrase on a napkin and shoving it in his pocket for later. As of yet, there’d been no opportunity to use it aloud, but when it did arise, you better believe he’d have it.
In the first hour of their journey together, Tony learned his name—Michael—his wife’s name—Chelsea—and that Chelsea couldn’t have any kids. Michael was originally from Minnesota though he lived in Milwaukee, so he dragged out his
’s in that ugly way Minnesotans did. After twenty minutes of it, Tony felt ready to paw the ears from his head, so annoyed was he with the accent. But he was a good faker. Five years in a Bismarck group home had given him more
’s and “don’t cha knows” from the Minnesota bullying twins Donovan and Bruce than he could stomach.
Than he could stomach.
He’d heard Miss Chester use that once, his English teacher back in Dickinson, and he’d jotted it down instantly. Tony used it when he could.
the Trucker had been pretty nice to him so far, nicer than anyone since Mrs. Crabtree, his fourth-grade teacher, who had liked him enough to bring him a slice of cake from her son’s graduation party. “Going to Northwestern,” she’d said proudly, “on scholarship.”
did his best to feign interest in Mike the Trucker’s stories—and there were lots, so he nodded or sighed when it seemed the right thing to do. But as time unraveled in the selfishly absentminded way it tended to, Tony grew anxious. It was taking far too long to get to Miami, and Miami was where he needed to be.
Mike the Trucker
hadn’t wanted to pick him up and had threatened to call the police at the sight of such a young kid on the side of the interstate. But one go of Tony’s well-rehearsed story, complete with measured sobs sprinkled in—and the genius part about running away and just wanting to get home—had Mike the Trucker’s eyes watering in response.
And just as Tony hoisted himself up into the cabin of the self-proclaimed Thurmond & Co. 18-wheeler, he gave what would be his only warning.
“I won’t stay if you call the police,” Tony said. “I’ll run. I just—I wanna get home to my mom, OK?”
He’d measured the pause just right. Mike nodded solemnly before offering a pinky to seal the deal. Tony raised a brow. He’d seen a pinky swear once in a Japanese anime cartoon Joe Rooks had smuggled in. But there’d been tits in there as well. Quickly, Tony hooked pinkies, sealing the deal.
Before flagging down Mike, Tony had practiced a few stories—one where his dad was a dirty cop, another where he hopped in and threatened to kill himself if he wasn’t taken promptly to his destination. In the end, he rejected them all for being stupid in an obvious way.
Michael the Trucker was going as far as Atlanta—at least three-fourths of the way, and
promised to take Tony there.
“We’ll call your mother. Maybe she can meet us,”
Mike had suggested at the start of the trip.
Tony nodded. Every few hours he would go so far as to
fake dialing his mother from a payphone. When he did, Michael stood near his 18-wheeler and waited eagerly for the news.
“She’ll meet us,” Tony announced, after attempting a collect call to Domino’s Pizza. “She was crying and everything. So happy.”
“But she didn’t want to talk to me?” Michael asked incredulously.
Damn. He hadn’t accounted for that.
“She was just so excited. I don’t think it occurred to her. She said she had lots of phone calls to make, people to tell.”
Michael nodded slowly, as if trying to understand. “I can’t imagine,” he admitted. “How long ago did you run away?”
By the time he asked, Tony was already heading back to the passenger side of the truck. He swung himself up, using the footing for leverage, and climbed in. When Michael joined him, Tony answered.
“Been gone a long time. Three months.”
Lies were best laced with truth, and three months was how long he’d been on the streets.
Michael nodded. “Well, let’s get you home, kiddo. I know your mom must be anxious.”
Despite that, he laced the next leg of the trip with questions; so many as to make Tony gnaw on his nails. He wanted to know everything about him—his age, his grade, why he’d run away. Lies poured from him like shit from an ass.
Shit from an ass.
That was another phrase he’d picked up somewhere. But as he thought about it, he realized it was none too reliable. Diarrhea, difficult bowel movements, and normal ones, all seemed different. So, he’d remove that expression from the rotation.
It occurred to Tony that most everything diminished from lack of usage. Truth telling was no exception.
For him, lies came easier than anything—easier than food, water, or a decent place to sleep. Lies were the currency of his livelihood, and in that regard, he was rich beyond measure and had been since his mother’s death.
Tony fingered the crumpled clipping in his pocket.
Once again, lies would get him what he needed.
He peered out of the passenger window, marveling at the sight before him. He’d never been so far from the Midwest, had never been much of anywhere, in fact. Now that he was on the move, he found the thick way that people clustered together fascinating. Milwaukee, Chicago, Indianapolis. Great cities formed near bodies of water. Early settlements required it; later ones liked it. He remembered that from school and could see why. As they drove along I-94
, Lake Michigan shimmered at their side. Though Tony was sleepy he found his eyes couldn’t close, so immersed was he in that Great Lake. Second largest by volume, third by surface area, it was the only Great Lake entirely in the United States. A ratty copy of
that had served as his pillow for three weeks taught him that.
Tony brought a hand to Michael’s grubby window, cool to the touch, and imagined that he floated along, oblivious to time, in one of those great white yachts that dotted
the waters. He stood in a pair of those shoes without laces, wooden deck damp beneath his feet. He supposed they wore white slacks and a Polo shirt of some sort, too, so that was what he’d wear. Most importantly, he’d stand at the wheel and feel the wind batter his neck as he looked outward to a limitless horizon and a sun rising instead of setting. He closed his eyes, and for a moment, it was real.
In Indianapolis they passed a river, unimpressive after the lake. Michael pulled into a roadside diner named Junie’s, in Taylorsville, just south of the city, to stretch, gas up, and grab grub. When he offered Tony dinner,
he tried his damnedest to be indifferent.
“Come on, kid. When’s the last time you ate?”
Suddenly, there were no lies available. His last meal had been half a Big Mac, trashed outside a McDonald’s in St. Paul. It didn’t even have pickles. That was two days ago. His stomach cramped with the memory.
“Come on. They’ve got a meatloaf sandwich here that’s to die for.”
To die for.
He’d heard the phrase before, but refused to claim it. He’d had death in his family, real death, and knew there wasn’t much worth dying over.
Michael grinned wide enough to show gaps where two incisors should’ve been. He placed a hand on Tony’s back and led
The meatloaf sandwich might’ve been good, but Tony would never know. A short lady with a shovel head and thick red lips brought it out on a plate so hot it scalded his fingers. Tony engulfed the thick and meaty sandwich, made sopping with grayish gravy. He licked his fingers and asked for a second glass of water, hoping to fill the void left with the finish of the meal.
“You want some bread to sop up that gravy?” the woman asked, eyes on his scraped clean plate.
“Yes, please,” Tony said, unable to believe his luck.
She brought three big white slices, and he used them to “sop up” the juices. She stood there as he ate, causing him to slow with the realization that he had an audience.
“Big appetite, huh?” she said, turning an eye on Mike.
He nodded, burger and fries on his plate untouched.
After gassing up and thumping tires with a baseball bat
to check tire pressure, Michael jumped back behind the wheel of the truck. On a tight deadline, he had a cargo hold full of beef and grocery stores expecting him by the next afternoon. They would drive straight for Atlanta, stopping only for gas thereon out. So, with his stomach relatively settled, Tony snuggled into the door for a nap. Mike kept the cabin chilly and his radio squeaky, but sleep came easy for the boy who’d made due with sidewalks. When he did wake, night had turned to an uneven promise of daylight and Mike was shaking him up.
“Call your mother,” he said. “Tell her we’re close.”
In Nashville, Tony told him there was no answer. But when he said it, Michael fidgeted and hesitated and asked him to try again. Worried that he might be prone to action, Tony ran through the ruse again and pretended to catch her on the second try, going so far as to gush joy and promise the dial tone that he’d see her soon.
Four and a half hours later, they pulled into a Waffle House in Marietta, a suburb of metro Atlanta. There, they would meet Tony’s dead mother.
“Do you see her?” Mike demanded, following him into the tiny diner.
Tony scanned the sparse crowd. An old white couple idling over coffee, three fat women, all black and pressed into a booth, and a single middle-aged man, balding and broad-bellied in his Georgia Tech tee. No one looked like a proper substitute for a long lost mom.
“No,” Tony said. “I’ll wait here, though. You go on. She’ll be in soon.”
Tony grinned in what he hoped was a disarming fashion. “She’s late for everything, you know.”
Michael scowled. “How ’bout we check the bathroom?”
He was a tall man with combat boots and a wide stride; Tony hadn’t noticed how tall until just then. Mike barreled through the restaurant more than walked.
“Can I help you, sir?” a big-bottomed waitress called, rushing after.
Mike burst into the women’s restroom.
“What’s her name?” he demanded.
“Meh—Meagan,” he stammered. He’d never known a Meagan, but he liked the name anyway.
“Meagan!” Mike yelled. “Meagan, are you here?”
Tony shot a pained look at the thin crowd, their attention now on them.
“Mike, I told you! She’ll be here soon.”
He shot Tony a look. “Meagan! Meagan!”
With a snort of impatience, he pushed past and back out to the parking lot, where he, no doubt, resumed screaming again. Tony rushed after.
“Meagan! Are you here?”
He turned to Tony. “How old are you?”
Michael’s eyes narrowed. “Before you said you were thirteen.”
“I—I will be. My birthday’s in a few days.”
“Meagan!” Mike shouted wildly at the parked cars. “Your twelve-year-old boy is here! He’s alone! Come all the way from Minneapolis by himself! How could you be late?”
A family climbing out of a nearby station wagon gaped openly. Tony’s face burned with shame.
“Please stop,” he begged. “She’ll be here. Soon. I just—she’ll be here soon.”
Mike stared down at him, blond and snow-white bristles of a moustache twitching ever so slightly.
“You understand that I can’t leave a twelve-year-old boy in the middle of Georgia,” he said. “It ain’t right.”
Tony’s heart pounded. He hadn’t calculated for a sense of decency.
“Okay. Here,” Tony said, heading for the payphone. “I’ll call her. I’ll call and see where she is. Just—wait.”
Tony left the man looming in the sunny parking lot as he made his way to a defaced set of antiquated phones. He dialed a bunch of random numbers and faked his way through a conversation. Then he returned.
“See? She’s on her way.”
But Michael only glared, face near-black in the shadows of an overhead tree.
“There is no mother. At least not one you’re willing to call.”
Tony went cold.
“What?” he managed.
“You didn’t dial enough numbers.” Mike headed for the diner again, strides quick, purposeful.
“What are you doing?” Tony cried, running after him.
“What I should’ve done in Milwaukee! Calling the police!”
Across the parking lot and four lanes of honking cars, through a thicket of oaks, he flew. A shopping center emerged quick on the other side. Tony slipped in, breathless, and smoothed out his wild, two-toned brown hair. Only then did he wheeze in relief.