Chapter Three ~Maddie~

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...6 months later.

I'm lying in the grass with my eyes closed, my face to the sun. The warmth is slowly seeping its way through my body. The river is rippling, flowing beside me. The sound of the water rushing by quiets my mind, giving me some peace. I can't take the thoughts and memories of my family, of Travis, that consume me anymore. I find myself here more and more, desperate for the reprieve.

I have to remind myself everyday why I did this, why I ran. Its become nearly impossible to remember. The loneliness, the fear, the sadness, they push me further and further away. I'm ready to give up most days, but then I remember what I would be running back to, a life where I will miss the people I love as terribly as I do now. At least this way there's some hope, something to keep me moving forward.

It's been one hundred and eighty-three days since I left home. It feels like a lifetime ago. I got incredibly lucky that night, hopping on a train that was just leaving the city. I sat in the front of the freight car in a daze, watching the city shrink as it moved farther and farther away. I'm not sure how long it was before I jumped off the train, at least a few hours. I saw a grouping of homes in the distance and figured it was my best bet, the best place to get off and figure out my plan.

I walked as much as I could in those first few days while I had plenty of food and water to sustain myself, waking up and following the sunrise. My joints hurt, my feet blistered, my entire body was sore, but I kept pushing, trying to put as much distance between myself and my old life as possible. I collected things from abandoned homes as I went. I was lucky enough to find water jugs and canned food in a few houses along the way. It's become sort of a hobby, searching the deserted homes for things that could be of use to me. It's mind blowing how much people have left behind.

After the first couple of weeks I slowed down tremendously. I was already so lonely, even that early on. I hadn't realized how scary it would be, being on my own with no one to turn to. If something happened to me, no one would ever know, and that was terrifying, it still is. That fear is what kept me barely moving a town over every few days, finding myself just wanting to hide inside the homes that I occupied. Eventually, I realized that if I didn't get moving I'd never find what I was looking for, and that gave me the kick I needed.

The first time I came across another person, I thought I would die of a heart attack. I was passing through a small town, walking through a neighborhood, when I saw a woman walking out of a home. I stopped dead in my tracks and barely contained the scream that threatened to escape my lips. She put up her hands as if in surrender and told me that everything was okay, that she wouldn't harm me, that there was nothing to be afraid of. In what could have been a very stupid move, I followed her into her home when she invited me in.

It turned out to be the best night I've had since I left home. The woman, her husband, and son had been staying there for years, living off the grid. They cooked a delicious meal of chicken and potatoes for dinner that I scarfed down like a starved animal. We played card games and kept the conversation light. It helped keep my mind off of the many things that continuously plague me. While I was grateful for their generosity, I was careful not to divulge much information about myself. I didn't feel comfortable telling them who I was, or what I was, and where I was headed.

I slept on their couch that night, and in the morning they sent me off with a gallon jug of water, half a loaf of bread, some homemade peanut butter, and well wishes. I've seen a few people since, but they were nowhere near as friendly, regarding me with suspicion or just simply ignoring me. I made it a point to move through those towns quickly, but the more people I came across the more hope it gave me. If there were really people living outside of Los Angeles, then the reality of a free nation was so much more tangible.

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