KEITH LAFOUNTAINE - BORN TO RUN
BORN TO RUN
The black sky spread over the beat-up sedan like a piece of velvet. Under the hood, the engine rumbled with unease. Tye gripped the wheel, his knuckles white, his eyes darting to the left and right as he looked out at the empty street ahead of him. He glanced at the dashboard clock, noting the lateness of the hour, and he tried to ease the urgent pounding of his heart.
If she doesn’t get out here soon…
As if to answer his thought, she came running down the front steps. The lavish apartment building loomed over her as she rushed to the curb, opened the passenger’s side door, and leaped into the vehicle.
“Go,” she hissed. “They’re awake.”
Tye needed no further cajoling. He stepped on the gas and sped off down the road, his car bumping along the broken pavement. The heat was destroying the roads. Lawns had turned to little more than yellow grass. Yet the lavish apartments still stood, with air conditioning and fresh water. Tye’s family had been forced to swelter. Their electricity had been turned off, likely for the last time -- Marcus had been fired, and he had been their man. The only one who would listen to their plight and would grant leniency.
“Do they know where we’re going? Did they see the car?” Tye asked. He tried to modulate his voice, but his tone was cracking.
He braked at an intersection, looked both ways, then turned right. Yellow lights from large apartments glittered against the night sky. Tye had never been to this part of the city before. He doubted he would ever visit it again.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I just heard them talking and then a light turned on. That’s when I left.”
“That’s okay,” he said. “That’s fine. We should have enough time to get ahead of the Force.”
She was silent. Tye looked over at her and saw she was picking at her fingernails. Dry paint was flaking off - nail polish that had lost its luster. He turned his gaze back to the road.
“Can we turn on the radio or something?” she asked. Her voice was shaking, though he could tell she was more resilient than the others had been. Perhaps that was a product of her environment, or maybe an indication of her spirit.
“Yeah, of course,” Tye said. He reached out and clicked on the radio. Static buzzed as he fumbled with the dial. Then a station came in clear, and an auto parts store’s jingle filled the car. Tye would have preferred silence.
The lights of the city were far behind them as he turned onto the highway, heading north. The world was quiet and the roads were relatively empty. Every now and then he would come across the golden sheen of headlights. He knew the roads well. More importantly, he knew which ones to take and which ones to avoid. His mentor, a kind man named Caesar, had taught him the importance of knowing back roads, of memorizing the city like the lines in his palm.
It makes the difference between getting caught and getting across the border, Caesar had said. Yet, no more than two weeks later, his body had been found by the side of the road: dumped into the gutter, surrounded by a pool of his crimson blood.
Two bullets in his chest and one in his head.
The Force’s handiwork.
The woman he had been ferrying was nowhere to be found. She had likely been returned to her home.
To her prison, Tye thought.
The music on the radio cut out suddenly, switching from some classic rock song to the three long, tonal beeps that signified a Presidential address. Then his gruff, angered voice tumbled through the speakers.
My fellow Americans. I regret to inform you that one of these ANIMALS, these INDECENT IMBECILES, has captured another one of our women. In our own backyard, to be precise. I have ordered the Force to find them and to bring her back to us. Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.
She reached forward and turned the radio off. It was then that Tye noticed the swollen lump of her abdomen for the first time. Everybody was at a different stage in their pregnancy, though most women tried to find a Ferry sooner rather than later. He was no expert, but it looked to him like she was at least three months along.
“I have some CDs in the glove box if you want to listen to something else,” Tye said. “We’ll be stopping for gas in about an hour, and then it’s another forty-five to our motel, at least.” He paused. “Just a long time to sit in silence is all.”
“It’s okay,” she said. She offered him a small smile. “Thank you, though.”
So they sat in silence and watched the dark, bare trees pass by the car. Every few seconds, Tye checked his mirrors. He was confident they had escaped a tail. That was what got most Ferries. If anybody, or any camera, caught sight of the vehicle in the ten minutes following pick up, they would be doomed. If they didn’t, the rest of the trip would be a breeze.
Fifty-eight minutes later, Tye pulled the beat-up sedan into a small gas station. It only had two pumps, but it was open twenty-four hours and the attendants were all in their network. They couldn’t offer deals on the gas but they looked the other way. Their cameras had long been deactivated, too.
Tye turned the car off and turned to the woman. “Do you need anything? Something to drink? Eat?”
“A bag of chips would be nice,” she responded. “And maybe an iced-tea?”
Tye nodded. “Bag o’ chips and an iced tea,” he confirmed.
He stepped out of the car and checked his surroundings, looking both down the expanse of road and up the street into the deep darkness.
Those weren’t even perfect indicators anymore. The Force had gotten some of the military budget pumped into their system and now they were riding around with windshields that had night-vision capabilities and drivetrains specially designed to silence all engine noise. Tye was convinced they weren’t following him, though. He could feel when the Force was nearby. It was like seeing a ghost: the hairs on his neck would stand up and the blood in his veins would turn to ice. At their inception, the government told everyone they were a peacekeeping force - non-violent and there to help. Of course, that was sixteen years and one working government ago.
Tye walked up to the door of the gas station and entered. A bell jingled overhead and he nodded to the man behind the cash register. Wally. He was nice enough. Quiet, but he had been one of the first to join the cause. He was the reason the gas station was a viable stopping point at all. Before, there had been talks about carrying containers full of gasoline in the trunk, but that brought its own issues -- issues that were difficult to resolve.
Tye grabbed a bottle of water from the coolers in the back of the store and picked up a bag of potato chips. Then, he approached the register.
“Hey, Wally. Can I get thirty on two?”
Wally nodded. He brushed his stringy, gray hair behind his pale ear and punched the numbers into his old register. The till popped out, and Tye handed over the cash. Wally made change.
“How old’s this one?” he asked as he dropped the coins into Tye’s hand.
“Seventeen, I think,” Tye said. “Barry didn’t give me all the details.”
“Always is,” Tye confirmed.
He thanked Wally and exited the gas station. As he approached the car, his heart stopped. Ambling up the highway was a black car, headlights off, engine purring.
Tye pretended to receive a call, slipping his burner phone out of his pocket, looking at the screen, and flipping it open.
The car turned on its blinker. The orange light flashed, and the car pulled into the gas station.
“Fuck,” Tye said under his breath.
He maintained his façade and strode over to the gas pump, making eye contact with the girl. He could see fear lingering in her eyes, and he did his best to comfort her with his countenance. Tye put his phone in his pocket, pulled the nozzle from the pump, and undid his car’s gas tank.
The black car pulled into the second pump. Its brake lights shone a deep crimson as it braked. Tye stuck the nozzle into his car and began to pump his gas.
“Nice night tonight, isn’t it?” a deep voice said from the other pump. Tye turned and saw a man in a dark, black suit. He was bald and his pink head gleamed under the yellow lights. He had one hand in his pants’ pocket.
“Yeah,” Tye said. “Yeah, it is.”
“Strange to see someone else out so late,” the man continued. “My work has me out late sometimes. The roads are always so empty.” He paused. His gaze traveled to the woman and he nodded toward her. “Your wife?”
“That’s right,” Tye said smoothly. “We’re just passing through. Heading up to Vermont.”
“Ah,” the man said. He smiled. There was a dangerous glint in his eye. The kind of look from which Tye could infer his intentions.
The man didn’t say anything further. He took one final look at Tye, turned his heel, and walked into the gas station.
Tye checked the pump and watched the numbers climb. The flow of gas stopped and he returned the nozzle to its spot. As he was closing his gas cap, he heard the chime from the gas station door. The man had returned. He was stuffing his wallet into his back pocket.
“You off?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” Tye said. “Back out on the road. We’re trying to get up north as soon as we can.”
“Where are you off to again?” the man asked.
Tye’s heart was pounding in his chest. “Vermont.”
“That’s right,” the man said. “Sorry. I have the world’s worst memory.” He flashed a bright smile.
“Well, you have yourself a good night now,” Tye said. He turned and opened the driver’s side door.
“You too,” the man said. “Drive safely.”
Tye pulled the door closed and buckled his seat belt.
“Who was that?” the woman asked.
“Don’t know,” Tye responded. He stuck his key in the ignition and turned. The engine coughed to life. He pushed on the gas and pulled out, driving forward into the expanse of night.
“He’s new,” Tye said as he checked his mirrors. “I don’t like new.”
“Was he with the Force?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he responded. “But I want to get as far away as possible so we don’t have to find out.”
The motel was rundown, with peeling paint and a structure that sagged into the ground, as though rot had eroded its foundation. The neon sign buzzed and some of the letters were burnt out. All that could be made out from afar was MTL - VCNY.
The parking lot was largely empty. They had made a deal with the owner to perpetually pay for six of the eight rooms, leaving two open for actual guests. They were barely ever occupied, and they weren’t kept up to any sort of standard. For the average customer, that was a sign to take business elsewhere; for Ferries, it was a haven.
“We’re going to lay low tonight,” Tye said as he put the car in park and killed the engine. “We already have a room - #3. I’m going to keep the key on the nightstand in between our beds. If anything happens to me, you take the car and you drive north. There’s a compass in the glovebox. Follow the signs to Vermont, pass through, and keep going to Canada. If you drive consistently, you can be there in 24 hours. Maybe a bit less.”
He reached into the glove box in front of her and pulled out a silver snub-nosed revolver. He opened the cylinder to make sure it was loaded and then snapped it shut.
“This will also be on our nightstand,” he said. “It’s loaded. All you need to do is cock it, aim it, and fire. The Force only ever has up to three men at a time. You have six bullets here. Just make sure you aim well.” he paused. “Got it?”
The woman nodded. “Yeah, I got it.”
Tye gave her a small smile. “This is just a precaution,” he said. “Most of the time the rest of the journey goes smoothly. We always need a plan B, though.”
The woman returned his smile. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”
Tye was never able to sleep in the motel. Something about the silence unnerved him. He had grown up in the city his entire life, listening to the sounds of cars backfiring, people conversing with lively passion, music blaring from some apartment or house nearby. It was comforting to him. Silence always held the air of possibility: that something horrible could happen. And if it did, his community wouldn’t be there to help him.
“Why do you do this?” the woman asked. She had chosen the bed furthest from the door and she had turned on her side so her back was facing him.
Tye considered the question for a moment. A long, pregnant pause filled the space between them.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “And the money’s decent. Folks in my community are lucky if they bring home three-hundred a week.”
“I guess that makes sense,” she said. “Don’t you get scared, though?”
She turned over onto her other side so she could look at Tye. He had closed the curtains, but a small sliver of light had pushed its way through and was illuminating her face, tinged with red from the buzzing neon sign.
“At first I was,” Tye admitted. “My mentor, he got shot pretty soon after I joined. Nobody investigated. No justice. Just a corpse. His folks didn’t have the money to bury him properly, so he was cremated. The Force kept his ashes.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. Her voice was soft. Calming.
“It’s okay. Once you get the hang of it, your fear goes out the window. You just do your job and hope you’ll make it home.”
“Do you have a wife?” she asked.
“Husband,” Tye responded. He smiled. “And a daughter.” He looked over at her. “You?”
She shook her head. “Before I was taken, there was a boy I was seeing. He was nice. A little strange, and he had these speckles of acne on his cheeks. But he held the door open for me. He always made sure that I felt safe and comfortable before we got into his car to go somewhere. For a while, I thought I was going to be able to stay with him.” She paused. “Then, they came. The Andersons. Came with all their money and all their influence and ripped me right out of house and home. So, here I am.”
Silence regained control of the room. Tye turned to look at the curtained window and the light that was slashing through it.
“What’s your name?” the woman asked.
“Your name,” she repeated. “I don’t think you ever told me.”
“No, I guess I didn’t,” he said with a smile. “My name’s Tye.”
“Tye,” she said under her breath, letting the words escape her mouth, roll off her tongue. “Tye,” she said again. “That’s a good name.”
“How about yours?” he asked.
“Ivy,” she said. “My Dad had split, and my mom was in the hospital room all by herself. She told me she was scared about the future. She hadn’t planned this, hadn’t been able to remedy the situation. And she looked outside and saw some ivy that had climbed up the wall. Birds were fluttering around it in the sky, and just at that moment the gray clouds that had covered the sky broke apart, and through it, yellow rays came. She told me she knew, at that moment, that she wanted to name me Ivy.”
Tye smiled. “That’s a lovely story,” he said.
“Thanks,” she said.
She turned over on her side. A few minutes later, Tye heard soft snores coming from her side of the room.
He looked back out the window, at the curtains and the light. He tried to ignore the image of the man at the gas station, tried to ignore the fear that was in his heart.
At some point, he fell asleep, too.
Blue and purple joined together in the morning sky. Tye noted the beauty of the moment, allowing himself a singular instance of quaint quiet. Birds were chirping: Robins, who lined the dead, brown branches and hopped around with childlike joyfulness.
Ivy was already in the passenger’s seat digging through the glove box. Jewel cases clattered as she poked through the CDs Tye had. He closed the driver’s side door as he slipped behind the wheel.
“How about this one?” Ivy asked. She lifted an album, and Tye smiled.
“Perfect choice,” Tye responded.
He started the car and checked his mirrors as Ivy pulled the CD out and put it in the car’s player. As Tye pulled out of the parking spot, piano began to tinkle through the speakers. Breezy harmonica followed it, and Bruce Springsteen’s rough voice floated into the car as “Thunder Road” began to play.
“God, I love this song,” Tye said. He cracked a smile and hummed as he pulled the car out onto the road.
“Me too,” Ivy said.
For a brief moment, Tye thought he saw a flash in his mirror: a black car sliding through the intersection behind them or pulling into a parking spot.
When he looked more closely, there was nothing there.
The wind whipped through the windows; Ivy’s hair was a tousled mess of madness as she rocked her head to the music. Tye had one arm on the wheel, the other arm out his window, his fingers brushing the top of the door. Tye was diligent about checking his mirrors every five minutes. Nobody was following them and the road was empty. The sun was high in the sky, beaming down yellow rays.
The song ended, and there was a moment of silence before a cacophony of drums introduced Tye’s favorite song: “Born to Run”. Ivy turned it up, and he didn’t mind.
He checked the mirrors again.
The road ahead bent toward the right, pulling them down a back road that was surrounded by lush trees and vegetation. The sun was blotted out by thick branches and large leaves. Neither Tye nor Ivy cared. They were both singing along to the song. Ivy was playing air drums, her arms moving at a frenetic pace as she tried to match the beat of the drum. Tye looked over at her, and she at him. They shared a smile, and for a moment Tye knew why he went through the trouble he did to help these women. He knew his purpose. It was shining there, in the corners of her eyes, in the creases of her smile, in the jubilant laughter that lifted his heart.
He looked in his mirrors.
The road bent further right, and the trees shrouded them from light. Cool darkness covered the car. The wind garnered a sharper bite. The music continued to play, and Ivy continued to drum, and Springsteen continued to sing. Yet Tye could tell something was wrong. The terror sprouted in his gut, bouncing around and seeding further worry into his heart and his throat. His palms grew clammy, and he drew his left hand back into the car.
He checked his mirrors.
The trees were choking the light from the road, so much so that he had to turn on his headlights. He had traveled this stretch of road before, had driven other women down it. It was a reliable road, a safe road. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss. Birds chirped, insects buzzed, leaves whistled in the wind, yet all of it felt wrong.
The song’s bridge exploded through the speakers. Ivy was enjoying herself and Tye saw no reason to stop it. She deserved the comfort of joy for once in her life.
Then they were free from the forest, free from the shade, free from the darkness. The sun bore down on them with thick, hot rays and Tye felt comfortable warmth on his arm.
He checked his mirrors.
The trees were receding into the distance. Clouds unfurled and sifted through the sky overhead, white fluff hovering over an outcrop of green. Dust from the road had kicked up behind their car and small particles filtered through the air, some catching the light, others falling back to their original spot.
Tye turned back around.
It was too late for him to do anything.
A single bullet passed through the windshield, followed by an explosive crack that was louder than the music. The song kicked back into gear: drums, guitar, Bruce’s voice soaring high on the track.
“Get down!” Tye yelled at Ivy.
Another bullet. It hit Tye in the neck. Blood spurted out onto the windshield, dousing his hands in crimson. Instinct wrestled his hands from the wheel of the car and toward his throat. Crimson bubbled and spilled out of his mouth.
Another bullet. Another crack. It hit Tye in the middle of the chest. Warmth encompassed his mind and pain took hold of his body. The world swirled in front of him. Ivy was screaming. Bruce Springsteen was crying loud for everyone to hear:
‘CAUSE TRAMPS LIKE US, BABY WE WERE BORN TO RUNNNNNNN.
The car was spinning. Dirt sprayed in the air. The metallic odor of blood was omnipresent.
Another crack rang out. Tye didn’t see the bullet. A loud pop followed, and the car bucked into the air. It tumbled end over end. Ivy was still screaming. Crying. Springsteen was still singing, his voice skipping on the CD, repeating the same phrase.
Tye’s head banged against the wheel as the car turned over, and what little consciousness he had was knocked away.
He came to a few seconds later. The car was turned on its right side. His seatbelt was the only thing holding him in place.
“Tye!” Ivy yelled
He couldn’t speak. He could feel the bullet lodged in his throat. To his surprise, he could still breath; it had missed his trachea. Every effort was pained, though, and produced a bloody gurgle.
He motioned at the glove box. Ivy was confused at first, but she opened it. Loud voices were yelling, orders being called and heeded. Feet stamped in the dirt. Tye pointed at the revolver. Its silver frame glinted in the dusty light. He motioned for her to give it to him. She pushed it into his right hand.
“Tye, we have to go!” she said.
Tye shook his head. He pointed at her and then pointed at the back seat. Ivy followed his motions.
“Get out of the car right now!” a voice yelled.
The man from the gas station.
Ivy saw what he had been motioning at when she was in the back seat: she pulled the cushions from their spot and looked at the hole that led into the trunk. Tye snapped to get her attention and pointed at the keys in the ignition. He had no idea whether she would be able to pop the trunk, but she had to try.
She took the keys out, and the music stopped. Everything went silent.
“I’m not going to ask again!” the man yelled. “Get out!”
“Thank you,” Ivy whispered. Tears were in her eyes. “Thank you.”
She gave Tye one last look before crawling into the trunk. She pulled the cushions back into place behind her. Then everything was silent again.
Tye pulled the hammer down on the revolver.
The car was jerked to the side and pulled down onto the ground. Everything shook as it crashed, rocked, and settled. Shadows appeared through the grimy, shattered windows.
With a few, powerful tugs the passenger’s door opened. A Force agent stood outside, an assault rifle in his hands. Tye fired. The bullet hit the agent in the chest. He spun backward, his face cracking against the dehydrated soil.
Tye felt the weight of the car shift. Ivy had gotten out. He envisioned her running, her feet kicking up dirt in its wake, her determined eyes pushing her forward, her resolve keeping her hidden. He saw her approaching the border, speaking with the agents, telling them what happened.
He saw her safe.
He saw her happy.
Tye used the last of his strength to pull the hammer of the revolver down again. His vision was fading. He didn’t have much time left.
He fired through the cracked windshield. The man from the gas station cried out in pain. Then, an eruption of gunfire tore through the car.
Tye didn’t feel any of it.
The border was imposing, with its concrete structures and armed agents. Yet, birds were flying above it. She saw one of the guards, a woman who looked to be in her late twenties, point at them, smile, and laugh.
Ivy limped forward. She had cut her foot on a sharp rock. Blood was trailing behind her. Other than that, she was remarkably uninjured. The Force hadn’t even noticed her, what with Tye killing an agent and injuring another one - one in a suit, who she presumed was important.
When she was ten yards away, a guard may eye contact with her.
“Help,” she said. Her vocal cords were still broken from the screaming. It had been five long days, and yet the crash felt like it had happened only hours before.
The border agent motioned for another to join him, and then he gestured for Ivy to approach. As she did, she overheard the agent telling his partner to call for a first aid team.
“Ma’am, what’s going on?” the agent asked, urgency lacing his tone. “Do you know where you are?”
Ivy looked at the border, at the red and white flag with the maple leaf hanging from the structure, billowing in the wind.
“Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I do.”
“What can I do to help?” he asked. “Come.” He motioned her past the divider and into the cement office. She thanked him over and over, from when he grasped her hand to help her walk to the moment she sat down in the chair and felt relief wash over her.
The agent grasped a bottle of water that was nearby and gave it to her. She unscrewed the cap and drank greedily.
“What happened?” he asked. “What can we do?”
Ivy lowered the bottle and leaned her head back against the wall. A cool breeze was filtering through a window to her left. She looked out it.
“I need to apply for asylum,” she said. Her voice was barely above a whisper.
“Of course,” the agent said. “Of course. Let’s wait until first aid gets here. Then, I can walk you through the steps to do that. Does that sound okay?”
“Yes,” Ivy said. “Yes, that does.”
The agent stepped out of the office, pulling a cellphone from his pocket. Ivy’s gaze traveled from the doorway to the small window. To her surprise, she noticed Ivy was growing in the cement, poking through, green and vibrant.
The clouds broke and the sun shone through.
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