By Jim Bates
“Hey, Norman, stop!”
“Yeah, you idiot. Don’t make this any harder on yourself than it has to be. We don’t wanta have to hurt you.”
Norman glanced over his shoulder. The orderlies he referred to 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 glimpsed the river sparkling a hundred feet below in the early morning sunlight. It was a beautiful view; much better than being stuck in the group home two blocks away.
The voice of Louie, the meanest of the orderlies, broke into his thoughts. “I’m going to get you, you crazy fool. Then you’ll be sorry.”
Norman was terrified of being caught and sent back to undergo more injections and medication and counseling. He clutched to his chest the urn which held the remains of his beloved family.
“You’ll never get me!” he yelled.
Behind him, the orderlies cursed. Serves them right. He leaped over the guard rail and plummeted down the side of the steep embankment and tumbled over and over and over.
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. The 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.
He crashed through bushes and undergrowth, all the while unwilling to let go of the urn clutched to his chest. It was the last remains of his wife and son and daughter. His darling Ann and young Ethan and Leslie had been killed by a drunk driver on the way back from soccer practice while he stayed home in the kitchen 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’d been unable to handle the loss and the pain and the despair of having lost the three people he’d loved most in the entire world. That had been over two years ago.
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. The landing knocked the wind out of him. Dazed, he lay on his back. Gulls floated overhead against a brilliant blue sky. He caressed his urn because he was almost free.
He got to his feet and brushed leaves from his pajamas. Behind him, Huey, Dewey, and Louie slid down the embankment, cursing and yelling. They would be on him in a matter of seconds. He stepped into the river. The water felt good. It was cool and refreshing—not like the smelly chloride-loaded stuff at the group home. He gripped his urn tightly.
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. He wasn’t in the river preparing to swim to freedom. Instead, he was lying flat on his back in his room at the group home with Louie holding his shoulders down and looming over him like a deranged beast.
Norman raised his head. On either side of him were Huey and Dewey. What was going on? Had he been dreaming? He spied the urn on the dresser like always and breathed a sigh of relief. His family was still with him.
“He’s finally coming around,” Louie said. “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 chatter filled the room and Norman closed his eyes and tuned them out. He hadn’t been dreaming. He was sick to death of being treated like a nutcase and vowed to get back to the river. He needed to escape and knew that he could. He had to be quicker. A plan formed as the nurse entered the room with the sedative. He kept his eyes shut as the nurse slipped the needle into his vein. Next time he’d grab his urn and run faster. They’d never catch him. Next time, he’d get away for good.