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from Sasha's Journey by Sheri Conaway

Copyright © 2014–2020 Sheri Conaway

Chapter 3

A sunbeam teased Sasha’s eyes open. Her face felt crusty from the tears which had dried while she slept and a tender spot on her cheek matched the pattern on the framed photograph lying forgotten on her pillow. When her stomach complained of the lengthy gap between meals, yesterday’s encounter with the telepathic cat came flooding back. Stripping off her wrinkled clothes, she headed for the shower. Today, facing the tortures of her classmates beat anything her furry friend had to offer. 

Back in her room, she dressed and grabbed her backpack, belatedly realizing that she’d never done her homework. Refusing to dwell on what couldn’t be fixed, she focused on the problem at hand. Could she get her breakfast and lunch and sneak out of the house before the cat noticed? She tiptoed down the stairs, listening for sounds that would indicate her unwelcome visitor was still there.

She released the breath she hadn’t known she held when she reached the kitchen unmolested. Dropping a couple of Eggos in the toaster, she made a sandwich and tossed it in a sack with an orange and a bag of chips. When the waffles popped up, she spread one with butter and jam and slapped the other on top to eat while she walked to school.

Tossing her lunch in her backpack, she slung it over her shoulder, picked up the waffles and ran out the door. She didn’t slow down until she was walking past the General Store where a Greyhound bus was just pulling in. She looked up from the sidewalk just long enough to maneuver around the people disembarking from the bus. She heard more than saw the voices of the two old men who played their usual desultory game of checkers in front of the store.

“Go home, girl. High time you and yer folks go back where ye came from. Yer not welcome here.”

Sasha winced at the familiar message echoing in her head, though this time, she didn’t dismiss the voices she felt rather than heard. If she could hear Tess’s mental voice, either her delusion was expanding, or it was no delusion.

The man on the left wore his usual red plaid shirt over worn jeans, short-sleeved now with the promise of another triple-digit day. The fringe framing his bald pate already gleamed with a sheen of sweat. The paunch spilling over the waistband of his jeans gave proof to long hours spent with his chair tipped back against the wall in front of the store. His partner, hand frozen over the checkerboard, was long and lean with a head of thick, white curls. His face spoke of hours spent working in the sun, the skin leathery and creased like a map of every back country road in the area. His open-necked shirt and jeans were faded nearly colorless.

 Shaking her head to clear the slimy residue the man’s voice left inside her mind, Sasha picked up her pace again, hoping to reach school in time to slip into her seat without attracting notice.


* * *

Mariel made her way slowly to the front of the bus, her duffle slung over one shoulder while she gazed at the map on her phone’s screen. If the map was right, she just had to walk a few blocks down the street she was on to reach Sasha’s house. Her dad’s last voice mail still rang in her ears, his words no less confusing than the first time she heard them:

“Take the bus ticket I left next to the toaster and go to Sasha’s house. Someone will meet you there and take you both somewhere safe. I love you. I’ll see you as soon as I can.”

She had a million questions, but neither her mom nor her dad were answering their phones.

Where are my parents? Why did they leave a bus ticket and tell me to go to Sasha’s instead of taking me themselves? Most of all, why would me and Sasha need someone to take us somewhere safe?  Safe from what? What the heck is going on?”

Without realizing it, she’d stepped off the bus and followed the other passengers into an old-fashioned General Store. A barrel of pickles filled the doorway with the scent of garlic and vinegar. Three rows of wooden baskets sat in front of the window, each filled with individually wrapped pieces of candy. She recognized Tootsie Rolls and peppermints, but some of the bins held candy she’d only ever heard about; wax coke bottles filled with colored liquid, taffy in a rainbow of colors wrapped in waxy paper, miniature barrels and sticks in flavors she’d never even heard of. What the heck was ‘horehound’?

“What is this place?” An odd look from one of her fellow passengers told her she’d spoken aloud.

She grabbed a bottle of ...

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