Altered State – Part Eleven

The sun was much brighter outside of the forest. I held my hand up to shield my eyes but it was still difficult to see. My bare feet burnt with every step I took and after a while the pain became numb.

I could see a bus stop down the street so I grabbed my wallet out of my backpack. It had been a long time since I needed it and I prayed there were still a few singles in there.

“Shit.” The only thing left in my wallet was my debit card. Not even some spare change.

In a frenzy I dumped the contents of my bag out onto the side of the road, frantically sorting through for a lost dollar or two. Nothing. Absentmindedly I checked the pockets of Tanya’s lab coat, expecting to find nothing but lint. Instead my fingers brushed against something soft and I took a deep breath before pulling it out—for all I knew it could be a crumpled business card or something.

I counted to three before pulling out whatever was in her pocket and nearly cried; there was a wad of five singles with a note from Doctor Wilson that said, “Just in case.”

“Keep looking!”

I turned towards the forest and could just barely make out the outline of figures in the distance. I knew it had to be the men from the lab, so I stuffed everything into my backpack as quickly as I could and sped off towards the bus stop.

The only other person there was an elderly woman. I sat down next to her and tried to make myself look as small as possible without looking suspicious.

“Are you alright, dear?”

I looked over at the woman and tried to smile. “I’m alright. Just trying to get home.”

She looked down at my bare feet and I followed her gaze up to my jacket where she reached out to touch a stain on Tanya’s coat. “Are you sure?”

I gently removed the coat from her grasp and sat up a little straighter. “I’m okay, I promise.”

“They’re not gonna let you on the bus without shoes.”

My heart dropped because of course that would happen. The bus pulled up and I could hear movement behind me so I resigned myself to having to run again. Before I could stand up, the woman reached into her bag.

“I always keep an extra pair of shoes with me, just in case my feet hurt.”

Her extra shoes were a pair of dingy slippers, but it was going to have to work.

“Thank you so much, is there anything I can do for you?”

The woman scrunched up her nose. “Take a shower when you get home, you smell like dirt.”

We sat on the side of the bus that faced the forest and I sank down into my seat. There was a group of men standing around the bench I’d just been siting on, looking confused. From the corner of my eye I could see the woman looking between me and the men, but she didn’t say anything. She probably thought I was an escaped mental patient or something.

We had some more small talk and I found out her name was Patricia. She liked to sew and she just got done meeting her grandkids at the park. When I got off in Bethesda she declined my offer to giver her the slippers back.

The city was busy, but that was a good thing. I walked down the street to a park and sat down. My parent’s house was only about a mile out of town, so I didn’t have much further to walk. But, if I showed up at their door in a tattered lab coat and gross slippers they might freak out a little.

I stopped into a McDonald’s and ordered some fries before going into the bathroom to change. Karen had stuffed some of my clothes in, but no shoes. I was just going to have to hope my parents don’t ask too many questions about the slippers.

As I walked home I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching me. It was probably just my paranoia, but it was unsettling nonetheless. The closer I got to my front door, the faster my heart pounded. For a moment I wondered if I was just putting my family in danger by going home, but Doctor Wilson said I’d be safe, and I trusted him.

I took a deep breath and rang my doorbell.

Photo by Brian Babb

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