(Photo stolen from Wikimedia Commons)
I ran away from home just that one time.
I must have been about 11, and I was mad. Grabbing only my coat I stomped out the door into the late December afternoon fog. I headed south.
The fog was so thick I couldn't see much, so thick it muffled the sound of the dairy pickup as it came up behind me. Dad was driving. The pickup stopped next to me. "Get in," said Dad. I didn't argue; mad as I was, I was also afraid of getting into more trouble.
The pickup didn't turn around but kept going, to my surprise. I hunched lower in my puffy jacket and glowered at the murky landscape sliding past my window. Wherever Dad was going, he wasn't in a hurry. I wondered, but I didn't ask and he didn't offer.
It was getting dark. Barn lights triggered by the deep gloom glowed through fuzzy fog halos. Dad turned toward town. I remained turned away from Dad.
The sudden lights of town came and went as Dad drove through and out of town. Where were we going? South. A few miles out of town Dad turned west onto Road 25. Around here somewhere was my first home, where we lived for a few months before briefly moving away. Why were we out here among the pastures and orchards?
We passed a driveway, a farm house and small farm at its end. Dad slowed and pointed. "There used to be a nice old couple who lived there," he said, finally breaking the silence. "Some guy broke into their house in the middle of the night and murdered them in their sleep. Killed 'em both in front of their little dog. Dog was so upset it went crazy. Had to be put down." The pickup moved on.
What? Why is he telling me this? Who were those people? Did he know them? When did this happen? Why is he telling me this now? Why isn't he talking? If he's still mad at me why did he talk at all, unless . . .
Unless he's bringing me out here to MURDER ME!
I fought the rising panic. I knew Dad was mad, but I didn't know he was this mad. Why else would he drive me way out here? We never came way out here. Especially not on a foggy December evening, when he was mad at me.
I hunkered lower and hugged the door, wondering if I should throw myself out of the truck or stay seated and take my chances. How would he kill me? Dad didn't have a hand gun, and he hadn't brought the rifle, as far as I could see. Poison? My mind raced.
The truck turned onto a gravel driveway. A house and barn crouched at the driveway's end. Lights glowed through the windows -- people! Maybe they can save me!
The pickup stopped in front of the house and Dad killed the engine. "Come on," he grunted as he slid out of the cab. He reached back for something on the seat, something I hadn't noticed in my fierce pre-adolescent snit.
Christmas cookies. With a bow stuck to the tag.
I watched as Dad climbed the steps onto the porch and knocked on the door, cookies in hand. Reluctantly I climbed out of the cab and shuffled through the blue gloom toward the house, when the door opened and warm yellow light poured over my father. Lola Robertson greeted us warmly and hurried us inside. Oh yeah, that's who lives here.
The accumulated guilt on the ride home was only slightly less than the dread it had replaced. I was too embarrassed to try to run away again.