The train I ended up on was headed west to Santa Fe. All I could do was gnaw on my fingernails and obsess over how close I had been to getting caught. Abe’s resourcefulness was beginning to make me sweat.
He had gotten close a handful of times before, particularly in the last few months, but I had always been able to shake him loose. Something about this encounter was unsettling me more than the others, though. Maybe it was how calm and collected his face was when he was surveying the crowd. It was almost as if he wasn’t searching for me at all, as if he knew exactly where I was and where I’d been this whole time.
I rubbed furiously at my eyes, trying to shake the fatigue from them. I was being paranoid and ridiculous. The months of motel jumping and constantly looking over my shoulder were wearing me thin.
For over a year I had been safe while Abe was abroad in Barcelona. When I first attempted to break it off with him, his father surprised him with a trip to get his mind off of me.
In the meantime I ran as far as I could, which incidentally was right into the arms of a travelling circus as their lion tamer act. It broke my mother’s heart to have me leave home and skip college, but that was peanuts compared to how shattered she would be to know the things I’d seen Abe do, and the threats he’d made to me.
I shivered thinking about my last night on the circuit, and the night I really started running for my life.
I have always loved being the center of attention and having all eyes on me, but it was never easy for me to make or keep friends. My father abandoned us when I was small, and my grandfather abandoned my mother when she was small so there are a lot of deep-seeded trust issues in my family. I was forever wary of anyone getting too close and then leaving me.
Despite my inhibitions, I ended up making a small group of friends through a rough patch of severe adversity we faced together against our boss. The closest was with a girl named Camille who was part of the trapeze act and even more mysterious than me. The moment everything changed was when Camille missed the bar during a performance and fell.
She fell with such grace that I wasn’t really sure what I was seeing. It wasn’t until she actually hit the ground and people started screaming that I jumped to my feet. Somehow I managed to be the first person at her side, and to squeeze her hand one more time before the paramedics shoved me out of the way.
I never saw Camille again. What I was lucky enough to see, however, was one of Abe’s most trust consorts staring straight at me from the chaos that had just been a jubilant audience. His name was Karloff and he was a big brute of a man. The left side of his mouth was torn upwards in a vicious scar that used to make me wonder why people didn’t stop to gawk at him. But the reason no one noticed Karloff was because he didn’t want them to. He was different, just like Abe.
I was paralyzed with fear for only a moment until my fight or flight instincts kicked in and I took off. I could hear loud exclamations from the people who Karloff had mowed over in order to get to me and it added fuel to my speed.
I put every ounce of effort I could into escaping. There was no time to think about anything else – not my lions, not Camille, nothing. I made a beeline for a trio of men who were entering a taxi.
“Do you mind if I share your cab?” I shouted as I got nearer.
They looked my way and exchanged grins before making space for me. I hopped in and slammed the door shut, locking it.
“It sucks they’re shutting down the whole show for the accident,” grunted the gentleman closest to me. “We came just to see you perform…but I guess we got lucky.”
Scanning the groups of panicked people milling about the circus grounds I caught sight of Karloff looking around wildly. I had eluded him for now but who knows how long I had before he was back on my tail.
“I’d be happy to give you boys a makeup performance, I’ve just got to get to the hospital as soon as possible,” I said, flashing them my sweetest, most sorrow-filled smile. “The girl who fell was a really dear friend of mine.”
That seemed to satisfy them and they directed the driver to go to the nearest hospital before settling into excited chatter about what had just happened.
I knew Camille wouldn’t be found in any hospital. My employer liked to keep all manner of incidents tucked tightly in his back pocket – but it was just the excuse I needed to duck out of there.
Once at the Emergency room I thanked them all with peck on their cheeks and the promise that I’d keep in touch and strode right past the big double doors into the night. I’ve been on the run ever since.
I learned to stop being so torn up every time I had to drop my life and pick up a new one a long time ago. This instance, though, cut me anyway. I had raised my lions up from cubs and had actually begun to care deeply for my friends in the circus, but I had no other choice except to turn from them and forget. I was terrified for all of them, but even more so for myself.
The first chance I got I sweet talked some yuppy jerk into giving me some spending cash. I dropped a postcard to my grandmother asking her to pick up the cats and that I was so sorry but I couldn’t tell her where I was. I donned a wig, changed up my entire personality – including picking up a few different accents – and hopped a bus to California.
That was where it started and I had a sickening feeling that soon it was all going to come to an end.
When the train stopped in Santa Fe I ducked out and hailed a cab. “Take me to the dirtiest motel you know of,” I told the driver in a husky voice.
He snickered. “I pegged you for a classy chick, but these days you can’t really tell by looks huh?”
“Sugar, you have no idea.”
Once inside my dingy motel room, checked in under the name Ida Diamond, I yanked of my long, red wig and started to fill up the grungy bathtub. I examined my reflection once more and my heart sank. Free of makeup my face was a wreck of sunken skin and my hair was a bedraggled clump of white and blue.
It crept under my skin that Abe kept his hair colored my signature blue, but he did it for that reason which was why I refused to change it. I slipped under the comforting blanket of hot water and heaved a tremendous sigh of relief. I was safe for one more day.
After I had scrubbed the grim of fear from my pores I dried of and kept my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t find any bugs between my sheets. I paused at a sliver of paper slid halfway underneath the front door. The familiar handwriting sent a shiver up my spine and the words themselves turned my skin ice cold.
Stop running, baby. You must be so tired.