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COVER FINAL

running from my past

It was the way he moved. From the moment he stepped through the door behind his slightly taller, lighter-haired friend, he lurked around like he was uncomfortable, like he was waiting for a bomb to drop at any moment. His dark eyes darted around the room, and Beth stepped back closer to the wall of the living room. She felt the need to watch him closely. She was wary of everyone and everything now. Her mother’s and half-brother’s blood still stained the floor upstairs, no matter how much they all scrubbed at it. She wouldn’t let anything like that happen again - not to her family.

He and his friend approached her father, Hershel, who sat with Beth’s older half-sister, Maggie, and her husband, Glenn. If Beth was reading them right, she’d say they were as wary as she was, but they looked worn-down and paranoid more often than not anyway. The recent months had brought more stress than ever before, and no one was handling it well. She tried to study the olive-skinned, dark-haired man as he stood, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, staying silent as his friend spoke to Hershel. She wasn’t paying attention to anything said in the conversation, but they seemed to be calmly conversing so far. There were no signs of aggression yet.

Then it caught her eye, sudden and subtle but she knew it was there. The slightest outline of a gun came through beneath the cover of the guy’s gray shirt and thick, leather jacket. He shifted his weight again and it disappeared, but it was obvious now that he was armed, and he seemed antsy to use it.

Beth glanced behind her to an end table that sat feet away in the hall, in which she knew a loaded Beretta 92 was kept in the drawer. She watched the interaction a moment longer, then discreetly stepped back until she was within reach of the drawer handle. She pulled it open and silently pulled out the handgun, all the while keeping her body acting as a blinder to what she was doing. She shut the drawer again and stepped back to her original spot, now with a heavy gun in her hands, held behind her back.

The man was still shifting uncomfortably but he wasn’t acting paranoid like someone tweaked out on meth normally would – in fact, he looked clean. If he was doing drugs, he must’ve just started. His face was full and healthy, he was bathed and groomed, and his body appeared to be well taken care of. But his hand seemed to start itching, getting closer to the spot where Beth had spotted the outline of his weapon. Behind her back, she silently clicked off the safety on her own. For a second, her eyes darted to Maggie, who was surprisingly looking right at her. A familiar look passed between them, but before Beth could clarify what her big sister was planning, the glint of metal caught her eye. The sketchy guy was pulling out his gun, a police-issued GLOCK 22, and his predatory stare was right on Hershel.

God dammit, Beth thought as she simultaneously pulled the Beretta from behind her back, cocked it, and raised her arms in position to shoot. Her body instinctually moved to the proper stance for firing and she aimed as quickly as she could for the man’s arm. She just wanted to disarm him. Besides, assault and battery of an officer is a much lesser crime than killing one.

But it didn’t work out that way. It didn’t matter how prepared or cautious Beth was now, or how much she’d prepared for plenty of situations just like this. She couldn’t predict what Maggie was going to do. They both acted in protection of Hershel, of their family.

Maggie had grabbed the lamp that was inches away from her hand beside the couch and smashed it against the head of the lighter-haired man that had been talking to Hershel. This guy had been pulling out a gun, too – the exact same kind as the man Beth had just shot. It fell from his hands as he crumpled to the ground in an unconscious heap, blood trickling from his head. At nearly the exact same moment, the other man’s gun dropped from the clutch of his hands and fell to the floor as well, but his body hit the ground much harder, as though he’d somehow fallen with more conviction.

It took only seconds for the blood to appear, and Beth’s eyes widened as she lowered her gun and realized what she’d done. There was a dark red splotch widening from the man’s – the cop’s – chest. His eyes were still open and staring blankly upward. A puddle of sticky, red blood began forming beneath the entry wound on his back. All the air in the room seemed to disappear at once. No one moved or spoke, and Beth was sure she could hear all their hearts pounding.

“Beth – y-you… That's a police issued gun… They’re cops.”

Glenn had been the first to speak. In the commotion, he and Hershel had both stood up, ready to defend themselves, but now they just stared in awe at the scene before them. His words echoed ominously around them. Maggie’s breath came out as a whimper and gradually got frantic.

“What – Beth, I thought you… I thought you were just gonna knock him out!”

Beth reeled. Was that what Maggie had meant with that look? She didn’t know why she did it, why she took the chance. She had been confident that her aim would be more precise.

Now she was a murderer. A cop killer. All of this was completely her fault.

“What. The. HELL?!”

The deep voice of Hershel boomed around the room, shaking them all. They all instantly turned their attention on him. His face was red and full of anger beneath his white beard, and his eyes kept darting around the floor, taking in every aspect of the crime scene in his home.

“Oh, no no no no. We can’t have this – we can’t do this!” He was panicking, stepping away from the bodies of the cops, rushing to Beth.

He grabbed her hands in his, the gun still in her grip. She stared up at him, shaken and frightened, unable to do anything or react because this was her dad and she was always taught to respect him. But he was scaring her.

“Bethy, no. Look what you’ve done. This is murder – this is a felony! They sent undercover cops here,” he was frantic and rambling, his hands shaking hers, his blue eyes wild with fear and rage. “They already knew – fucking Annette and Shawn, the whole damn thing brought all the cops down on us, they’ve probably got eyes all over this fucking farm. We’re going to prison…”

“Daddy, no!” Maggie cried, unable to hold herself back anymore. She was watching her father’s breakdown with concern, but didn’t want to intervene too much in fear of his reaction. “We’re not goin’ to prison. We can run for it. We got plenty of cash, we can – “

“This is murder, Maggie! Your sister killed a police officer! There’s no gettin’ away from this, there’s no coverin’ this up,” Hershel let go of Beth’s hands and wheeled around to face Maggie. “This whole goddamn farm is going down. I’m gonna die in prison. You and Glenn might get out in a few years - but her prints are on the gun, Mags. And they’re probably both wearin’ wires, they’ll have the whole thing on tape!”

Beth knew this was serious. Her father almost never used swear words, and would always get onto her, even despite what you’d expect from someone who made and sold drugs from his family farm. He seemed to be ready to throw his hands up and surrender – it was over, the jig was up, he’d played his game as long as he could and now it was time to pay for it. But Maggie had a different mindset. She grabbed her father by his shoulders and stared into his eyes with ferocity.

“We can’t let Beth go to prison for this, Daddy,” she said firmly, and he finally shut his mouth and seemed to register her words. “There’s a way to get outta this. Ya gotta help us – “

But just as suddenly as he’d seemed to be ready to listen, he was right back to full-on panic. He shook Maggie’s hands off of him and stepped away from her, crossing the living room to the dining room where a large, ornamental crucifix hung on the far wall. In the mid-afternoon, the sun would reflect off its shiny surface and set a glowy haze about the large room. But right now, it just looked like a dark, sad shape that was misplaced, hanging forty feet from the bleeding body of a dead man.

Hershel had remained in the church even despite his bout with alcoholism and his eventual founding of a new illegal business. He was still just as much of a believer as he’d ever been, and he insisted his family keep up the appearance as well, even though they all committed crimes nearly every single day of their lives. It’s easier to look innocent than to be innocent, he would sometimes say, justice will be served as God sees fit. And it was something his family had learned successfully as they kept up the appearance of a law-abiding church family while they produced and sold very illegal drugs from the safety of their family farm.

But now it seemed all his sins had come to the surface and it was time to pay the piper. And he was ready to reap what he had sowed.

Beth, Maggie, and Glenn watched as the old Greene man dropped to his knees before the crucifix and threw his hands in the air. A bellow of pain and sorrow came from his mouth, echoing around the whole first floor of the house. He cried out, “Oh, Lord, I’m sorry, forgive me! I’ve sinned! Over and over and over… I’ve broken laws of the land, I’ve put my family in danger! My wife and step-son are DEAD – because of me! Because of my sins… I’ve raised my daughters to be murderers, thieves, liars – “

“Hey! I didn’t kill anyone!” Maggie cried out in offense.

Beth shot a look at her sister, but they both returned to a confused state as they watched what appeared to be the mental breakdown of their father.

“I’m ready to pay the price. I have to repent. I have to do what’s right, and accept the justice that’s going to be given to me. I’ve lied for too long, used the good Lord and His church as a cover-up, He’s punishin’ me,” his voice grew quieter as he lowered his head and readied himself to accept his fate. Beth knew the cops could show up in droves at any minute, but this reaction still didn’t seem very helpful. “Oh, Lord, please forgive me! Let me pay for my crimes as You see fit, until my last days on this earth –“

Maggie grabbed Beth’s arm and jerked her towards the stairs. They quickly left their father to his yelling and weeping in the dining room as they rushed up the staircase, Glenn right behind them. “We gotta go, Beth,” Maggie said, directing her to their father’s study at the end of the hall.

Hershel’s anguished cries echoed up the stairs. “Oh, my dear Annette, my poor Shawn, you both died in vain, all for this evil money!”

Beth was shaking. She hadn’t noticed until now, the gun still gripped tightly in her hand, Maggie’s hands shaking, too, as she frantically opened the door and rushed inside the room.

“Glenn, grab some bags, we gotta pack and go,” she ordered her husband, and he immediately rushed to a drawer in the corner of the room where he began digging around and pulling out duffel bags.

Beth stood, quaking and shivering, watching her sister move aside the painting above the mantle behind the large desk that occupied the study. The wall wasn’t bare where the painting had hung, but instead had been concealing the thick, metal door of a safe. Maggie spun the combination on the lock as quickly as she could, but repeatedly had to re-enter it as her hands shook and made her miss the numbers. The lock finally clicked and she jerked open the door of the safe. Beth had seen inside of her father’s safe only a handful of times, and now wasn’t much different. There were still piles of money, all large bills, wrapped in rubberbands. A few family heirlooms lay scattered amongst the stacks of money. Maggie turned around just in time to find Glenn standing behind her, holding out empty bags for her to take. She snatched one from his hand and began sweeping the contents of the safe into it. All but three of the heirlooms were swept into the darkness of the duffel bag, along with less than half the money. She handed the bag back to Glenn and he traded it for another empty one, this time a plain black backpack, which she took and hurriedly swept the remaining contents of the safe into.

“Take that last bag and grab us a couple essentials. I have hair dye in the bathroom, grab the scissors, whatever else we can use to disguise ourselves when we get outta here,” she barked orders at Glenn as if she’d been planning for a situation exactly like this, and the slender Korean man seemed just as shaken as the two girls but he still obeyed her every word. He rushed from the study with one duffel bag over his shoulder and the empty bag in his hand, ready to collect more items.

Amongst the remaining items Maggie had just swept into her bag from the safe, Beth spotted her father’s prized pocket watch, her mother’s wedding ring, and another heirloom she couldn’t identify that fell in amongst the dozens of bundles of cash. She wondered why Maggie was putting more money into one bag than another, but decided it wasn’t the time for questions.

“Okay, Beth, I need ya to listen to me,” she spoke very clearly, and stared intently into Beth’s eyes as she zipped up the duffel bag and held it out between them. Beth nodded in compliance and forced herself to focus on her sister’s words. “We’re gonna make a run for it. I planned for this, okay? I didn’t think it’d be this bad, but – I’ve always had a plan in case this all fell apart and we had to leave. And now it’s time to put that plan into action. Me and Glenn will take one bag, and you take this one – just in case we get separated. Hold onto the gun – we’re gonna get far away from here and then ditch it. It’s evidence, Beth. We have to get rid of it and make sure no one finds it. Then we gotta make sure no one finds us. I got hair dye and scissors, we’re gonna get somewhere safe and change our hair. Cut it, dye it, whatever we have to do. Everybody in Senoia knows what we look like, and there’s gonna be pictures of us everywhere. We can’t be seen. We’ll worry about everything else once we’re far away from here. You got it?”

It was a lot to take in, but Beth nodded. Her older sister seemed to be calm amidst her panic, and it eased the young blonde to know that at least one of them had a plan of some sort. She felt dazed as Maggie instructed her to tuck the gun into the front of her pants and then shoved the duffel bag into her arms. It was weighed down with the money and valuables inside of it, and she clutched onto it like a security blanket. This is a lot of fucking money, she thought to herself, terrified. Her family had sacrificed immeasurable amounts for that money, and now they were in too deep to walk away.

Glenn re-entered the room with his second bag full of goods. He tossed the bag full of necessities to Maggie, who caught it and swung it over her shoulder. She looked to Beth expectantly, who looked down at the black backpack in her hands. She quickly put it over her arms and onto her back, then followed her sister and Glenn back into the hallway and downstairs. They all seemed to be in a silent agreement now. Beth was calmed simply by the fact that she had Maggie to lead her and help her. If she were on her own right now, she’d probably lie down and give up, just like her dad was.

They all reached Hershel, still in his same spot in front of the crucifix, mumbling and weeping much more quietly than before. Beth turned her head away from where the two cops still lay motionless. She couldn’t stand to look at the corpse again.

“Daddy, we’re leavin’. I’m sorry,” Maggie spoke softly. She reached a hand out and took Beth’s in hers, interlacing their fingers and giving it a squeeze. Beth squeezed back, eyes glued to her father.

“Go. Go far away. Get out of here, girls. I’m sorry I failed you,” he said, refusing to raise his head and look at his daughters. “I never should’ve let this life overtake us. You deserve so much better.”

Maggie’s eyes drifted downward and Beth’s did the same.

“That’s not true, Daddy. You did your best,” Beth spoke up softly. Her words seemed to make Hershel sob harder. “We love you. Please… be careful.”

“And don’t talk to them. No matter what, Daddy. Me and Glenn won’t either. Not a word. We’ll fix this. I promise,” Maggie added sharply.

Beth wondered how Maggie planned to “fix this” once the DEA came to the property and found the dead cop, the unconscious cop, and the giant meth operation that ran throughout the farm. But at least she had the right idea of keeping quiet.

The older Greene sister knelt down beside her father and put her arms around him in one last, brief hug. She pressed her lips to his wrinkled cheek and planted a kiss there, then whispered a soft, “I love you, Daddy,” before standing up and motioning to Beth to say her goodbyes. Hershel was unresponsive, head hung low and shoulders slumped in defeat.

Beth knelt down beside him as Maggie had and leaned in close, wrapping her arms around the older man she’d once thought of as invincible. She hugged him tightly and pressed her face to his chest, taking in his smell one last time. She knew she’d never see him in person again. Even if she was arrested and convicted, or somehow escaped and never got caught, there’d never be a time where she could safely visit him in prison, or see him out in the world again, especially considering how old he was already. She wished she could drag him up and out of the house to run with her, but she knew he’d never go. He was too old, too slow, and too guilt-ridden. In a way, this was what he wanted.

“I love you, Daddy. I’ll never forget you. I’m so sorry for everything… I promise I’ll be good,” she whispered into his ear then softly planted a kiss on his cheek, giving him one last squeeze with her arms before pulling away.

As if on cue, the distant sound of police sirens floated in through an open window nearby, and Beth’s heart skipped a beat. It was rare to hear sirens out here, and considering what just happened, there was only one explanation for them. She and Maggie looked at each other, silently agreeing it was time to leave.

They weaved their way through the house to the back door as the sirens quickly got louder and closer. They were deafening to Beth in the still night air. Following her sister and Glenn out into the darkness, she pulled the back door of her lifelong home shut behind her and tried not to think about everything she was leaving behind – particularly her dad. They raced out across the backyard, between trees and barns and sheds, headed straight for the woods in the far-off distance. Lights were intermittent and scattered, and the stars were bright in the black sky above them. The sirens were everywhere as their feet pounded against the damp grass. The metal of the gun was hot against her skin behind her waistband and sweat formed on her forehead as she kept her eyes intently trained on Maggie and Glenn. The ominous red-and-blue flashing of lights came into view, bouncing off trees and farm equipment around them. Law enforcement was on the dirt road leading straight to their driveway.

The distinct sound of helicopter blades joined the chaos of noise around her, and she looked up to see the spotlight of a police chopper in the distance, quickly crossing the sky and ready to aim its beam all across the farm. She, Maggie, and Glenn would be sitting ducks. They were probably already surrounded. Her father had been right.

When she looked away from the sky and ahead of her again, half a dozen dark figures had appeared from towards the road to her left. They were all wielding guns, pointed at Maggie and Glenn and Beth, and running at full-speed, ready to tackle them to the ground. Beth’s breath caught in her throat and in a moment of instinct, she darted to the right and away from the path Maggie and Glenn had been taking, where the police were about to overtake them.

FREEZE! STOP RUNNING! EVERYBODY FREEZE! HANDS UP!” The police officer was screaming at the top of his lungs, and from the sound of his voice, his finger was itching to pull the trigger aimed at Maggie.

The brunette was agile, though, and she grabbed her husband’s hand and jerked him in the opposite direction of the cop that was closing in, darting away just out of distance of his precise aim. They spotted Beth off to the side and noted the police on their other side, closing in fast. They kept their pace as long as they could, but Maggie finally realized the likelihood of her escape and made a last-minute sacrifice in desperation.

“Beth!”

Beth glanced over at the same moment that Maggie tossed her bag in her direction, thrusting it as hard as she could. Beth reached out and just barely caught the bag, then slung it over her shoulder without losing her pace.

“Just go! Get far away from here and don’t be seen!” Maggie cried out, beginning to have trouble keeping up with her younger sister as the police got closer and closer.

“What – no! I can’t leave you guys!”

“We’ll be fine – somebody’s gotta get caught!” Glenn yelled at her, breathless as he struggled to keep pace with his wife.

“Go, Beth!” Maggie yelled at her. She still held one of the duffel bags on her back, but Beth didn’t know which one. “We all got jobs to do! Just remember what I told you! Get far away from here!”

Beth had an internal struggle that lasted less than a second but felt like an eternity. Her sister was steadily slowing, and so was Glenn, but she could run even faster right now and probably lose these cops. She just didn’t want to do it alone. Leave Maggie? Just like she’d left her daddy?

But there wasn’t time to argue or change her mind. Before her very eyes, the cop who’d been chasing Maggie and Glenn for hundreds of feet was now on their heels, and leapt out in a daring attempt to tackle the brunette to the ground. To Beth’s horror, he succeeded. Maggie hit the ground hard, all the air leaving her body in a loud whoompf, and Glenn immediately stopped and leapt in to help her, only for another officer to reach the scene and subdue him within seconds.

Her feet didn’t stop. Her heart sped up, if that was still possible. An entirely new adrenaline rush pulsed through her body, and her legs carried her far away from the scene of Maggie and Glenn being tackled and arrested. Her pulse pounded in her ears as she ran, both bags banging against her back, her lungs and legs burning. Her hair was flying wildly behind her and she couldn’t have stopped if she wanted to. The woods concealed her welcomingly, and she slowed only because she had to pay attention to the ground below her so as not to trip over roots or rocks.

The woods were otherworldly dark, and she would’ve been completely blind if not for the bits of moonlight that snuck their way in between the leaves. She ran as fast as she could, but everywhere she turned was clusters of trees and rocks, obstructions in the path, a large creek she couldn’t safely cross. How many years had she spent playing in these exact woods? And now she was running for her life through them, the sounds of police sirens and yelling and helicopter blades still prevalent in the distance. In fact, the helicopter seemed to be getting louder.

She looked up and realized the police chopper had turned itself around and was heading in the direction she’d run towards. They must’ve seen her escape into the woods. The spotlight appeared and lit up circular areas of trees and grass all around her, darting back and forth, searching for any sign of her. She kept running, heading away from the spotlight, trying to outrace it.

“We know you’re in there! We have you surrounded! No matter where you come out, we’ll have you!” An authoritative voice boomed from the speaker of the helicopter, filling the woods with warning.

Beth’s mind was racing. She tried to think, tried to focus, as she ran and ran, keeping a distance between herself and the spotlight. She knew she had started going northeast, and if she kept going that way, she could come out on the Highway 85 Connector. She’d have to lay low, but she could probably make her way to Woolsey and completely avoid Atlanta altogether – where they’d be looking for her the most. From there, she might be able to hitchhike. Or maybe she could use what Shawn had recently taught her about hotwiring before he died.

Her legs continued carrying her forward, even though the entire rest of her body was screaming for her to stop and rest. The spotlight was still within view, although it was actually behind her now and she was quickly putting more and more distance in front of it. She prayed they had lost her trail, or gotten distracted with arresting Hershel, Maggie, and Glenn.

Oh, God, what an awful thing for me to think. My family is going to prison because of me! She thought to herself, eyes scanning all around her for sign of an exit out of the woods. But Maggie would probably be thinkin’ the same thing. Like she said, we all got jobs to do. I have to make it out, I have to stay free. Or else all this was for nothing. Momma, Shawn, Daddy… our whole family would be a disgrace with nothin’ to show for it.

She glanced behind her again to see the spotlight was getting farther away. She looked back and slowed her pace just slightly, giving herself a chance to catch her breath. When she could barely see the edges of the spotlight anymore, she found a large, shadowed tree and crouched down beside it. Finally stopping felt odd, and she thought she might collapse now that her legs weren’t moving. Every inch of her body burned and ached, but she ignored it. She pulled the bag Maggie had tossed to her off her shoulder and brought it down in front of her, unzipping it carefully. She lifted it and tilted the inside toward a beam of moonlight, peering inside and reaching a hand in to shuffle items around. Scissors, two boxes of hair dye, sunglasses, pain pills, a bottle of water, a razor, deodorant, and a box of tampons. She nearly laughed aloud.

“You left me the essentials,” she spoke quietly to the air around her, as if Maggie were standing behind her. The weight of her utter aloneness suddenly felt heavy on her shoulders as it became real. “That’s why you packed your bag with less. You knew I’d get away. You gave me the important stuff just in case you got caught.”

She shook her head and forced back the tears that were threatening to come forward. She swallowed the knot in her throat and then took the bottle of water from the bag and drank from it gratefully. She downed nearly half the bottle, then took the black bag from her back and opened it to reveal the wads of money and valuables, all still there. She took everything from the duffle bag and shoved it into the black bag, then zipped it up and put it on her back securely. She dug a small cavity in the dirt beneath the tree and shoved the empty duffle bag into it, then covered it with handfuls of dirt. When she was done, she wiped her hands on her jeans and glanced around. The spotlight wasn’t even visible anymore, and the sound of the helicopter blades was much farther away, back in the direction of the farm. She turned and continued walking in the direction she’d planned on going, heading northeast toward the road that she hoped would take her somewhere she could change her appearance.

to be continued…