Sarah, Returned--Chapter Eight (A Steemit Original Novel)
As I drum my fingers on the dashboard, trying to think of the smartest move to make, I realize I’m close to Dover again. This could be a good thing. When I think about it, going back there makes the most sense.
It’s a safe town...little crime and not much goes on after dark. Also, I haven’t seen any other cars on the road for the past half hour. That means I’m likely far away from wherever the police, Matt, and Karen are searching. There’s a high likelihood police are stationed near my house and Carter’s apartment, and maybe some of my girlfriends’ houses. They don’t, however, appear to be cruising around the area in great numbers.
Matt and Karen are probably on the outskirts of the county by now, or even over in Rochester County, searching the medium-sized town of Portsmouth. If I’m quick and careful, this offers me an excellent opportunity.
I’m going to have to camp out. There’s no way around it. Thanks to my well-stocked car, that’s no problem. I’ve got food, water, clothing, and blankets in my “stranded in the snow” kit. As far as camping in Dover goes, the safest place is Garrison Hill, no question. It’s Dover’s most famous and visible landmark, rising above the town like our very own Mount Everest. It's not a mountain, or even a truly large hill, but it is the tallest thing in town, natural or man-made.
Apartments and small houses circle its base, some even finding room to exist on ledges about a quarter of the way up. The rest of the hill is a tangle of trees, thickets, and shrubs, until you reach the summit. At the top is a popular public park, and right now, it is closed for the night. There’s a parking lot up there, as well as some picnic areas, and a tower you can climb to get a bird’s eye view of the town. All I have to do is drive around the barrier at the bottom of the public access road, park the car on the summit, and hide out in the bushes on the borders of the park until morning. It’s perfect. Driving down Central Avenue, the main drag in town, is somewhat of a risk, but I have to use it to get to the hill. I think I can make it there.
There are no cars around, and every business is closed. All the houses look like their occupants went to bed long ago. Dover isn’t exactly a happening night spot. In all probability, everyone looking for me will think there’s no way I would come back to Dover tonight; they have to be far from here, still searching for me. Still, I lean my foot a little bit heavier on the gas pedal than I normally would on this street, eager to reach the hill as soon as possible.
Thankfully, it doesn’t take long to get to Garrison Hill once you cross into Dover proper, and I arrive at the hill’s base without incident. I turn onto the nearly vertical road to the park, put the car in neutral, get out, and move the orange and white barricade with the “Closed” sign on it. Of course, I can’t leave it that way, or it will attract the attention of police looking for after-hours park trespassers, so I drive a few more feet past it, get out again, and put it back in place. That should do it.
I could have left the car in one of the apartment parking lots at the bottom of the hill and hiked up the side, but all the bramble makes it rough going, and I’m not wearing the shoes for it; I would probably get caught on a prickly bush, or worse, slide back down the hill. The road is the best way up, if you’ve got the stomach for it. I’ve seen visitors look at the long, impossibly steep road and turn back, deciding a visit to the park wasn’t worth it. Going back down is like being on a roller coaster. I’ve gone down it before in winter, when a thin sheet of ice covered the whole thing, and it was harrowing. The ice turns the road into a giant slide where brakes do nothing, and you feel like you may fly off into orbit once you reach the slight uptick in the pavement at the bottom. Fortunately, there’s no snow or ice on the hill tonight.
Once I reach the top, I back into a parking space instead of pulling in forward, just so anyone driving up the hill behind me won’t have an immediate look at my plate. A bright green Prius sitting up there all alone is a strong enough clue that I’m probably nearby, if anyone does drive up here tonight. Why make it easier to locate me?
Slinging my purse and overnight bag over my shoulder, I walk around to the back of the car and open the hatch. From my emergency pack, I take a jacket, a pillow, a flashlight, a few granola bars, and a couple of bottles of water, and roll them up in one of the two spare blankets I keep back there. This way, I can tuck the blanket under my arm, and carry everything I need with ease. The only question now is, where to go?
It has to be an area on the edge of the park, where I’m unlikely to be seen, but not on one of the steep edges. The last thing I need is to roll down the whole damn hill, or get stuck in the bushes with a few broken bones for my trouble. I think one of the thickets on the far end of the park, just beyond the metal tower, is a good choice. I used to come here a lot as a kid, first with my parents, then Grandma, and even a few times with Matt, so I know it well. If I’m remembering correctly, that slope is rather gentle. Its position across the park, far from the parking lot, means it is relatively shaded from the thick shadows the dim lights from the town make at the summit when they reflect off the nighttime clouds. I will make a little burrow in the thicket, and it will be my shelter and refuge for the evening.
It’s harder to wriggle my way into the brush than it was when I was a kid, but I manage, and even avoid getting any scratches on my face. I wish I wasn’t wearing a dress, since the weather is cool and crisp this time of year, even more so at the top of the hill. I pull on the jacket and spread out the blanket on the ground in the little hovel I made. If my legs get cold, I can always wrap them up in the blanket. Once I’m in the hovel and settled, branches and twigs above my head pushed far enough away they don’t tickle my face, I reach back out and grab my purse and overnight bag, pulling them in with me.
With a little more re-arranging of branches to conceal the opening, I’m relatively comfortable and, most importantly, completely hidden from the outside world.
I organize my supplies from inside the blanket to keep them far enough away I can stretch out if I want to, but still within easy reach As I do this, I notice there is a nice patch of meadow just beyond the thicket. It’s only a few square feet wide, but it’s clear to the sky, which means I can stand up, stretch, and even sleep out there if I want to, without being seen. The thicket continues on all sides of it, so it’s a protected spot. I’m not sure I would even be visible in there from the top of the tower. The far edges of the meadow, where the thicket begins again, are good locations for relieving myself, if necessary. I’ll stay in my little pocket of bramble for now, on its far side, closest to the meadow, but it’s good to know I have options if I get tired of sitting in here.
I prop my pillow up against some of the stronger branches behind me and give it a test. Good. The branches support me without breaking, but bend just enough to be comfortable if I want to lean back. Yes, I think I’ve found a good spot to hide out for a while. I’ll decide what moves to make from here tomorrow. Getting in touch with my lawyer is Job One. She will help me file a restraining order against Karen, and hopefully get a judge to order any psychiatric evaluation of me to be suspended until an investigation is done into the reasons for the restraining order. After talking with my lawyer, I need to go see a psychiatrist, to get a professional to certify my mental stability. I can use part of my $1,000 cash to pay for that.
Once I've taken care of those two most important pieces of business, I can use my credit cards, phone, and the ATM without being concerned someone is tracing me. Even without my half of Grandma’s inheritance officially in my possession yet, I still have a generous trust fund upon which to draw, so I can fend for myself until all this blows over. Grandma managed the trust fund for me first, then Matt, but I gained sole possession and control of it the day I turned 18. It’s paid for college, my car, and many other important things. Now, it will pay my way out of this mess.
I lean back against the bramble, my pillow giving support to my back, and close my eyes, imagining the joy of having Karen served with a restraining order. Banning her from my home with legal backup? That will be wonderful. A smile slowly spreads across my face at the thought, and I feel a great weight lifted from my shoulders. I can do this. All I have to do is avoid detection until morning. Easy.
Okay, that’s settled. The only question remaining is what to do right now, while I wait for either sleep or sunrise. I'm reasonably confident I'm safe sleeping in the thicket, but whether I can is another question. Not surprisingly, the events of today have me pretty wound up. I could use something to help me relax; the only thing I have is some Benadryl in my purse, but that might make me sleep so soundly I wouldn't notice if someone came up on me in the thicket. I'll just have to meditate if I decide sleep is an option at some point.
I really should call or text Carter to let him know I’m okay. He’s almost surely been contacted about me by now. But, I’m still concerned Matt can trace my phone activity. Carter will have to wait, but I know he’ll understand. He’s a smart guy, an environmental engineering major at UNH, and he expected a showdown between Karen and me would come. He'll figure it out, and, I hope, trust that I will contact him as soon as it's safe for me to do so.
With the blanket spread out under me, my supplies tucked neatly in the bramble to the side, I’m pretty comfortable. I really wish I had a book. The one thing I didn’t think to pack.
I do have something else I could explore. But, should I? Let’s look at the situation. I’m safe, bored, wide awake, and have literally nothing else to do until morning. And, what I’m contemplating might answer some pretty important questions for me. It may even give me information I can use to my advantage by sharing it with my lawyer.
It's the smart thing to do, but I still can't bring myself to watch as I unzip my purse and put my hand on Grandma’s memory box. If I don't observe myself lifting it out, it won’t be such a violation of Grandma’s privacy. Right?
Touching the box without her permission still seems so wrong, somehow. Grandma had a lot of secrets. That much is clear. What is also clear is that she thought, for whatever reason, that she was protecting not just Matt and me, but the entire family she built, by keeping those secrets. Whatever is in this box, beyond the few pictures on top, are things Grandma didn’t want us to know about. Yet, I need to know. Will I really be invading her privacy if I open this, or is that something she doesn’t care about anymore, wherever she is? Maybe she's beyond all that, safe on the other side. Would she approve of me looking, now that she's gone? If I do this, is her ghost going to come snatch the box away from me, or can I do this with her blessing?
Even if she doesn’t care if I open it now, do I have the right? What was it Jacob said? Matt and I have the right to know the truth. He wasn't talking about the memory box, but whatever is in it is part of that truth. That subconscious tugging comes once more. Intuition, or whatever you want to call it. It gives me my answer. Now that Grandma is gone, it is my right to look in that box. I'm going to do it.
I leave my purse unzipped, and lay the box carefully, almost reverently on my lap, my fingers tracing its rough wooden edges.
“Sorry, Grandma,” I whisper aloud, my voice disappearing into the brush that lines the edges of Garrison Hill. An offering of regret, just in case she sees what I'm doing and disapproves. “I have to. I hope you understand.”
I lean back a bit, as if I’m about to open the box that contains the spirits of all my ancestors, and I don’t want them to come flying out at me. Gently, I lift the little metal latch on the front of the box. Then, with a finger on either side of the lid, I open it.