Trisha had everything packed and ready to go. All she needed now was some more money. She’d cleaned out her bank account but since there wasn’t much in there, she needed extra cash and knew exactly where to get it. She walked into her parents’ bedroom and searched through their closet until she found the jar where her mother stashed her extra cash. Her mother didn’t know that she knew where this was, and over the years, Trisha had lifted a few bucks here and there from it, nothing that would arouse much suspicion. This was different, however. Trisha needed a lot of money and took nearly half the jar’s contents. She replaced the pilfered money with a folded note explaining in vague details written in black ink and barely legible cursive why she needed the money and that, in time, she would try her best to repay what she took.
She put the jar back and made sure it looked like nothing had been touched. With any luck, this little crime wouldn’t be discovered until after Trisha had gotten to her destination. She’d told her parents the night before that she’d been assigned the closing shift (again!) at the fast food joint she worked at and wouldn’t be in until past midnight. She didn’t tell them that she’d quit that awful job the night before, taking great pleasure in flipping off her slimeball of a manager as she left.
She looked at her watch and saw that it was almost time to go. She ran downstairs to the front door where her black upright suitcase and black backpack waited for her. She took her black jacket out of the closet and put it on over her black long-sleeved shirt, the one with the name of her favorite heavy metal band on it. Black jeans and boots capped off her clothing, while her dark hair (pulled back into a ponytail), naturally pale skin (thank you, Irish ancestry), and two piercings (a stud in her left nostril and a hoop in her right eyebrow) drove home her alternative appearance.
She caught a lot of crap about the way she looked, especially from her parents, who hounded her to no end about the need to look more respectable. Well, they wouldn’t have to worry about her appearance anymore. Trisha gave one last look of disdain at the small house she’d grown up in. Then she opened the door, slipped on her backpack, and wheeled her suitcase outside before shutting the door and locking it for the final time.
The bus depot was a ten-minute walk away. Her bus didn’t leave for forty-five minutes but she didn’t want to risk missing it. She’d called the day before to find out departure times and ticket prices. She didn’t want to get there and find out that her bus had left or that she couldn’t afford the ticket. Nothing could be left to chance; this was too important.
Trisha quickly made her way through the streets of her neighborhood, which was just outside the city. She hoped that no one who knew her or her parents would see her rushing to the bus station with luggage in hand. She wanted anonymity, at least until the bus had left the city. In the note she left her mother, Trisha was non-specific about her destination or about when she’d get in touch with her. She just wanted to vanish for now.
Ten minutes sure felt like a long time when you wanted to get some place as fast as possible. She wished that she’d chosen a pair of sneakers instead of her boots, since her feet began to ache. Maybe on the bus, if room permitted, she’d take off her boots and relax her feet a little. Right now, though, she had to keep going. The bus station wasn’t much farther and she had to press on.
She experienced a brief but unexpectedly strong temptation to turn back and go home, probably due to the risk inherent in this venture. While she knew that someone would meet her at the other terminal when her bus pulled in and that she’d have a place to stay, she’d still never lived away from home before, and where she was going was far away, indeed. The bus ride itself was five hours straight through, and she already knew that the bus would have to make at least one rest stop, not to mention possible traffic snarls. If she got out there and suddenly found that things weren’t going to work out how she’d hoped, there would be no place for her to go. She wanted to leave contacting her parents as a last resort, given the amount of apologizing, explaining, and groveling she’d have to do over the phone to them.
At last, she arrived at the bus depot. She walked through the front doors and entered the large, high-ceilinged terminal. She checked out the departure times and then checked her watch. She’d arrived in plenty of time, just as she’d hoped.
She stood in line only a few minutes before walking up to the ticket counter and asking for a seat on the bus going into the western part of the state. The middle-aged woman behind the desk printed out the ticket and Trisha handed over the money. With ticket in hand, she walked through the terminal to the hub for her bus, sat down on a bench nearby, and waited patiently for the bus to arrive.
A number of people started congregating at this hub. Most were middle-aged, the youngest looking around 35 or so. Trisha, at 21 years old, was easily the youngest person there. She kept quiet and didn’t fidget as much as she usually did while waiting for something. She didn’t want to draw attention to herself. In all honesty, she really didn’t want any of the people around her to feel compelled to strike up a conversation with her. She wanted to ride out the next five hours or so alone. If anyone wanted to talk with her, she’d reply kindly but try her best to kill the conversation quickly. Should someone ask her what she was doing on the bus (especially any of the guys), she’d just tell them that she was on her way to visit her boyfriend at his college. Which was kinda, sorta true.
The bus finally pulled into the hub and the driver, a tall, stocky man, opened the door and got out. He told everyone gathered outside to have their tickets ready and leave their larger pieces of luggage to the side, as he would pack them later. Trisha made sure she was one of the first in line. The driver checked her ticket and then waved her inside.
After leaving her black upright suitcase with all the other baggage to be stowed in the bus’s lower cabin, Trisha bounded up the small steps and turned left to face a long narrow aisle with rows and rows of seats to either side. To her right was the driver’s main cab area and on the left in the back she could see the entrance for the lavatory. She made her way down the aisle and took a window seat in the back on her right. She placed her black backpack on the seat next to her. She patiently waited as the other passengers got on and took their seats, none sitting too closely together. Her eagerness to get going made her restless.
Once everyone’s tickets had been checked, the passengers seated, and the luggage stowed in the cabin below, the driver came back onto the bus and stood before everyone: “Good morning, folks. We’ll get going shortly. I just want to let you know that we need to make stops at two more terminals that should only take around forty-five minutes or so in total. They’re on the way so we won’t lose much time. After that, I hope you like looking at turnpike, because that’s what you’ll see for the next five hours or so. The bathroom in the back is in good working order so feel free to use it. We’ll make a rest stop about halfway into the trip. My name is Woody. Just sit back and relax and let me get you to where you need to go.”
Woody sat down in his seat. A minute later, the bus slowly lurched forward toward the terminal’s exit. It made a left onto the main road and picked up some speed. All the while, Trisha stared out the window, her mind going haywire.
Two more terminal stops? Forty-five minutes or so? Crap!
Thankfully, the terminals weren’t far away and the stops weren’t very long. More passengers came on but they stayed up front, leaving Trisha alone in the back. Still, she fidgeted. Woody seemed like a nice enough guy but she really wished he’d pick up the pace.
After the last terminal stop, Woody made the same announcement to everyone about hoping they liked looking at turnpike. Some titters of laughter came out of the other passengers but Trisha felt like she was about to burst.
Ten minutes later, Woody steered the bus up the turnpike’s on-ramp and after passing through the first toll plaza, the bus hit a nice stretch of open road.
Thank goodness! Now, nothing can stop me. Well, a blown tire or a traffic jam or…no, can’t think like that. (Deep breath) I just need to chill out for however long it takes to get out there.
The ride was smooth and the bus’s motor sounded soothing to Trisha’s ears. For the first time that day, she allowed herself to grow complacent. There really wasn’t much more that she could do besides ride out the rest of the journey.
She stared out the window for a little while, watching the sites pass by. She quietly slipped off her boots and gave her grey-socked feet a rub. Maybe when she got to her destination, she could dig her sneakers out of her suitcase. When she grew tired of looking at scenery, she reached into her backpack and pulled out her well-worn paperback copy of Contact by Carl Sagan.
She’d been reading the over four hundred page book for a few months but had only gotten up to page 144. She was a slow reader and usually shunned books longer than two hundred pages, if not books altogether. She’d rather watch a movie or a TV show. She just didn’t have the patience needed to finish a book. However, she tried her best with this book, since it was the basis for one of her favorite movies. There were a number of differences between the two, and despite having seen the Robert Zemeckis-directed adaptation many times, she just couldn’t visualize certain sections, and the highly scientific descriptions and dialogue gave her trouble.
Trisha had hoped she’d finish the book by the time she made her trip. The only reason she was reading the book in the first place was because of Scott.
Ah, Scott. The thought of him always made her warm.
She stretched her legs out over the two seats. An hour passed and she’d read about fifteen pages. After another five pages, she’d had enough and decided to put the book away. She pulled out her iPod and put her ear buds in. She started up her music and stared out the window as a mixture of heavy metal, punk, and hard rock filled her ears while her mind wandered back to the night that changed her life.
She was 9 years old and on a camping trip with her Girl Scout troupe. After a day of hiking and exploring, they pitched their tents in a clearing in the woods, set up a campfire, and ate hot dogs and ‘smores before going to sleep. In the middle of the night, Trisha woke up with a strong, sudden urge to pee. She fumbled for her jacket, socks, and boots but the urge was too intense and wouldn’t wait so she ran out into the woods in her sleep shirt and bare feet. As she searched for a place to go, she noticed lights far off in the forest and the sounds of feet trampling on the ground. Curiosity won out over caution and Trisha wandered farther out into the woods, forgetting her urge to pee or her lack of proper clothing or footwear. She stood transfixed as she saw several figures moving about with a blinding white light around them. These figures—more like outlines—resembled nothing she’d ever seen before. Their shapes were not human. She took baby steps forward, taking great care not to crack a branch or rustle a leaf. She wanted to remain in the shadows.
Then, the figures began disappearing into the white light. Trisha looked up. She saw several more lights in the sky. As her eyes adjusted, she barely made out the shape of a huge saucer. Her heart beat faster and she grew frightened, an emotion that triggered the release she’d originally gone out there to do. However, she paid no mind to the warm trickle that ran down her legs and over her feet as she watched the saucer soundlessly move higher into the heavens and then vanish from sight.