Monday, 10 August 2020

Freedom


by Jim Bates

English breakfast tea

 

“Hey, Norman, stop!”
“Yeah, you idiot. Don’t make this any harder than on yourself than it has to be. We don’t want to have to hurt you.”
Norman glanced over his shoulder. The orderlies he thought of as Huey and Dewey were in hot pursuit, but he hitched up his pajamas and kept running. He was on the West River Road in Minneapolis high above the Mississippi. To his right he caught a glimpse of the river sparkling a hundred feet below in the early morning sunlight. It was a beautiful view, much better that being stuck in the group home two blocks away.
A third voice broke into his thoughts. Louie. The meanest of the orderlies. “I’m going to get you, you crazy fool. Then you’ll be sorry.”
Damn! He was terrified of being caught and sent back to more injections and medication and counseling. He clutched the urn carrying the remains of his beloved family to his chest and made a snap decision.
“You’ll never get me!” he yelled.
Then he leaped over the guard rail and began plummeting down the side of the steep embankment. Behind him he heard the orderlies cursing. Serves them right, he smiled. Then he concentrated on not smashing into a tree and killing himself as he rolled over and over and over.         
Oddly enough, time seemed to stand still as he rolled. He could see the world so very clearly; the red buds on the sumac bushes, the dried-out bark on the ancient oak trees and the hollowed-out burrow of an animal, possibly a fox. All those images were crystal clear until they sped up and collapsed in upon themselves, turning into a blur, like an old-time motion picture that had jumped the reel.
A branch slapped him in the face and he ducked. Then another one, this one catching him across the cheekbone momentarily stunning him and opening a wound. He wiped blood from his eyes to try and clear his vision.
He kept tumbling, crashing through bushes and getting smacked by branches, all the while unwilling to let go of the urn clutched to his chest, the ashes of his wife and son and daughter; his darling Ann and young Ethan and Leslie, killed by a drunk driver on the way back from soccer practice while he’d stayed home and cooked them a surprise spaghetti dinner. Upon hearing the news he’d collapsed and hadn’t been the same since. The doctors told him he’d had a complete breakdown. Post-traumatic stress disorder they’d called it. He couldn’t handle the loss and the pain and the despair of having lost the three people he’d loved most in the world. That had been over two years ago.
But no more. Now he was free. Now he could be with Ann and Ethan and Leslie on his own terms and not under the watchful eyes of the doctors and nurses and those three crazy orderlies.
Above the river was a ten foot drop over the edge of a limestone outcropping. Norman tumbled off it and crashed onto a sandy shoreline holding his urn tightly. The landing knocked the wind out of him. Dazed, he lay on his back, semi-conscious, looking up at the sky and watching gulls float overhead against a brilliant blue sky. He caressed his urn and smiled. He was almost free.
He got to his feet and brushed leaves and other debris from his pajamas, then stepped to the edge of the river and bent down, splashing water on his face, washing the blood off.  Behind him, coming fast down the embankment he heard the cursing and yelling from Huey, Dewey and Louie. They would be on him in seconds. Panicking, he did the only thing he could think of; he stepped into the river.
He was about to start swimming when he noticed a partially submerged log floating downstream toward him. He gave a silent cheer as he stepped in further up to his waist. The water felt good, cool and refreshing and natural, not like the smelly chloride loaded stuff at the group home.
He gripped his urn tightly and was just reaching for the log when a strong hand grabbed him by the shoulder, “All right there, Norman. I’ve got you. You aren’t going anywhere. Let’s get you back to the home.”
At the sound of Louie’s voice, Norman shook himself awake and opened his eyes. What he saw shocked him because he wasn’t in the river preparing to swim to freedom anymore. Instead, he was lying flat on his back on his bed in his room at the group home with Louie holding his shoulders down, looming over him like a deranged beast.
            Norman raised his head and looked around. On either side of him were Huey and Dewey. What was going on? Had he been dreaming? He looked frantically for his urn and spied it on the dresser like always. He breathed a sigh of relief. Good. His family was still with him.
            “He’s finally coming around,” Louie was saying. “He’s in bad shape. The doctor might want to adjust this weirdo’s meds.”              
            “The nurse is on the way,” Huey said.
            “Yeah with something to calm him down,” Dewey added.
            Their pointless chatter filled the room and Norman closed his eyes, tuning them out. In his mind he hadn’t been dreaming; it had been too real. He was sick to death of being treated like a nutcase. Right then and there he vowed he was going back to the river. He needed to escape and knew that he could. He just had to be quicker. A plan formed as the nurse entered the room to give him a sedative. He kept his eyes shut while Louie held him down and the nurse slipped the needle in his vein. Next time he’d grab his urn and run faster. They never catch him. Next time he’d get away for good.

About the author 

Jim lives in a small town west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have been featured in many on-line and print publications. This fall a collection of his short stories entitled “Resilience” will be published by Bridge House Publishing. His stories can also be found on my website:

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