"Turn off!" Bray shouted.
"What?!" Harlem turned to her.
"Get off the highway!" She cringed.
Her heart tightened. She caught a glimpse of herself in the sideview mirror and remembered that she had cut off all her hair.
"Uhhh." Harlem shifted the vehicle over into the right lane. "I think we might be too late."
Bray glanced out at the traffic building in front of them. Brake lights. About 15 cars ahead stood a line of square, concrete structures.
"It's okay," Harlem said.
Bray's heart raced. She felt it continue to pull her in the direction of the West. This roadblock was getting in their way, and she had to come up with a way to stop it.
"Just...try and act normal," he said.
Bray sat back in her seat. They were now five cars away from the toll. Harlem pulled his wallet from his back pocket. Bray adjusted the seat backward, lay back and turned her head to the right, pretending to be asleep.
"Hello." Harlem smiled at the toll worker.
"Can I see your ID?" The man opened his hand.
Harlem gave his Virginia state ID to the man. He watched the man type something into his computer. The man's eyebrows lifted.
Bray shifted in her seat. Her arms and legs tightened. Her body convulsed. Harlem turned to her and saw that her eyes were closed.
"Holy shit!" Harlem unlocked his seatbelt.
"What's going on?" The toll worker leaned down and saw that she was convulsing. "I'm calling 9-1-1."
Harlem called out Bray's name, but she did not respond. Her body locked and froze. Sirens sounded in the distance. Cars pulled out from behind the hatchback and made way for the emergency vehicles.
"Go, Harlem." Harlem's ears lifted to a distant whisper.
Harlem glanced down at Bray's face. Her eye opened and she nodded.
"Go," she urged, "now!"
Harlem sighed and shifted the gears. Within moments, the hatchback pushed forward, snapping the wooden security lift in half. Harlem pushed down on the gas pedal, pressing further onward as the emergency vehicles stopped behind them.
Bray sat up in her seat. She heard police sirens edging nearer to them.
Harlem shifted in and out of traffic. An exit lie one mile ahead. He turned to take note of how far back the police were.
"We have to ditch the car." He said.
"Good thinking." Bray nodded.
"What the hell was that back there?" Harlem asked as he veered the hatchback off the exit.
"I had to do something to get us out of that."
"So that was all an act, right?"
"Right. I saw some girl do it in the hospital once. She was faking, too. She almost managed to escape."
Harlem turned off the exit and kept driving. The road narrowed into a two-lane highway. Soon, they passed a series of fast food restaurants and gas stations. He needed a secluded place where he could ditch the car. He passed a charging station and then slammed on the brakes.
"That's it!" He said.
"What?" Bray gripped the seat while the vehicle came to a halt.
Harlem turned the hatchback around and pulled in to the charging station.
"We're ditching the car here."
Bray heard sirens. She turned to face the highway and noticed two police cars race past the exit.
"I think they missed us." She replied.
Harlem grabbed his backpack from the back of the car. There were no electric cars at the station.
"We'll have to wait until a car shows up."
"I gotta' pee." Bray replied.
"You should probably do it outside, so they don't recognize you."
Bray cringed. He was right. She turned and glanced around. There was one semi-truck parked at the other side of the station, but no driver or other human in site. Bray stepped over to a set of dying bushes and squatted behind them.
The sun sank in the sky. Neither of them had noticed that night was coming. It was only once they stopped, when life seemed to stop for a moment and they were just lying in the field behind the station, waiting.
"I'm not sure how much longer I can keep doing this." Harlem spoke.
"Doing what?" Bray asked. She had been lying on her side in the grass, feeling herself ready to nod off.
"All this running around."
"We're not running around. You're taking me out west, remember."
"I know." Harlem nodded. "I just don't know if I can get you that far."
Bray pulled at the grass. She grew scared. What would she do without Harlem?
"I'll just go on my own, I guess." She shrugged.
"You can't be out there on your own."
"Then what am I supposed to do?"
"Let's go back, talk with your parents. Maybe you guys can work something out."
"Work something out? They've put me in the psych ward all my life." She thought about her parents. She felt betrayed by them, the way they put her away in the hospital. "They're not going to work something out. You know, it doesn't matter. I can get out west on my own. You got me to Ohio, so why don't you just go back home." Bray turned and lie on her back, watching the sky as it darkened into night.
"You have to realize that I'm risking a lot here. I've probably lost my job and now the police are after me, too. I didn't ask for any of this." Harlem turned to face the station. "I don't know, maybe I should've just said no to you in the first place."
"Why didn't you?"
"Because I know you. I knew that you would've tried to leave on your own, you would've gotten caught and ended up who knows where. I didn't want that for you. I never wanted that for you. So I figured you'd be more safe with me. And...I kind of hate my job. And I guess I was bored and looking for an adventure."
"So then why are you telling me you're not sure you can do this anymore?"
"'Cause I got scared, okay." Harlem admitted. "I don't know what the fuck I'm doing, or where we're going, and I'm scared that we're not gonna' end up anywhere but running all our lives, and I don't want that either. As boring as my life was, at least I knew what I was waking up to everyday. But all this running is makin' me anxious. I just need a rest, that's all."
"As boring as my life was, at least I knew what I was waking up to everyday."
The night deepened. They lie side by side in the grass. Bray's eyes grew heavy. She took a deep breath, relieved that Harlem wasn't leaving just yet. She knew she couldn't expect him to give up his life for her, but she hoped that he would.
Screaming. No, not screaming. Screaming felt human. This was...squealing. Pigs feet. Upside down. Shit. What the fuck?! Chains, the feet hung by chains. Darkness. Blackness. An incision--calculated yet torn with apathy--traveled from genitals to neck. Blackness again. Breath held. Blood falling. Where? Shit, from the fucking neck.
"No!" Bray heard herself shout. Her eyes opened. Her heart squeezed. Where was she?
"Are you okay?" Harlem asked, startled. She turned to see his face flush.
Bray caught her breath. She felt hot. She rubbed her face with her hands and listened to her rapid heart beat.
"Sorry," she said, "Nightmare."
"It's okay. You just freaked me out. What was it?" Harlem asked.
"Uh," Bray paused. She tried concocting the images from the nightmare, putting them together in a tapestry of pieces until they formed into a solid picture."It didn't make sense. All I saw were pigs hanging...being slaughtered."
"You think I'm crazy, don't you?"
"I never said that." Harlem turned toward the station. "I see an electric car parked over there. Now's a good time to move."
They stood up and quietly jogged over to the station. Bray waited against the wall of the back of the station. Harlem grabbed his laptop from his backpack and ran over and kneeled against the front side of the car. He could no longer be seen. The passenger door opened. Bray's heart raced as she watched him. His body slid into the black sports car. Within an instant, he had the car started. Bray noticed his hand waving her over from inside the car. She glanced around at the doors and saw that no one was nearby, and she ran over and jumped inside. Harlem had shifted into the driver's seat.
"Let's go!" He spoke.
"You're a genius!" Bray smiled at him.
Harlem pulled out of the station, shifted into fifth gear and flew up the road and back onto the highway. As night deepened, they entered Indiana. Bray felt bored by miles and miles of flat and nearly desolate land. She hadn't even seen a house or a barn since they left the gas station. At times, her eyes would catch on an elongated, steel structure in the distance, and then she would feel it: a sudden, jerking pain in her heart. Turning away was all she could do to calm the unfamiliar ache.
Bray fell in and out of slumber. She would wake long enough to see that Harlem was still driving, that the landscape hadn't much changed, and that the ominous structures were still causing her heart to ache.
Finally, as they entered Illinois, the ache grew more prominent. It was as though she was nearing death with every mile they drove. She noticed the coming of evening as the sun disappeared behind them.
"Harlem, what is that?” She pointed at one of the passing structures.
"Oh." He glanced out her window. "Uh, I don't know. I've never seen one of those before."
"Can we stop and take a look?"
"Because...every time I see one, I get this weird feeling. Please?"