Her mind was blank with incomprehension as she burst through the door. A pile of scrap metal sat near by, and she shoved a piece of rebar between the handles with hands that shook wildly. The doors clamored as the men pushed back, bullets still exploding.
She ran. She couldn’t think, but the overwhelming urge to get away ruled over everything. She had to get away from the men. She had to get away from death. She had to get away from herself. Away.
Her feet pounded quickly without knowing where they were going. Her eyes looked without seeing. Her lungs ran ragged but did not breathe. But she could only think about away. If just for a second, her thoughts strayed, she saw her. She saw the terror on her mother’s face, how her eyes looked before the bullet destroyed the once beautiful face. Therese saw her own guilt.
She ran more quickly until she couldn’t think anymore, elbows pumping broadly. Maybe, she could just run forever and never stop. Maybe then memory couldn’t catch her. She had to get away.
An electric shock traveled through her right foot. Her leg responded by contracting quickly, sending Therese tumbling into pavement.
She knew she was in intense pain, but somehow she still felt numb. It was as if another person was experiencing it, not her. Therese was left behind miles ago. It was a body only that ran forward.
She didn’t want to move anymore. She was just so tired now. She just wanted life to stop.
Without the adrenalin of running controlling all, the world began to come into focus. What had been inconsequential blurs as she ran became multi-storied buildings and offices. The sounds that had been drowned out by her heart’s pumping and the bellow roar of her lungs reawoke. She could hear cars now, zooming past her. She could see them through squinted eyes. Interrupting this view came a slight figure on foot.
“Hey, are you alright?” he asked, in a voice that broke. The teenager had an acne-pocked face and humongous ears. He had kind, honest eyes that were examining her with concern.
Suddenly, she realized that the men would still be chasing her. She had to get off the street.
“Yeah,” she murmured. She began to slowly detach herself from the asphalt, groaning slightly. It stung. She went to put her foot down, but the piece of glass almost made her fall back down again. “I, uh, stepped on a piece of glass.”
She grabbed her foot and painfully pulled the chip from a beer bottle from the ball of it. It was bleeding considerably, like her shoulder and leg on her right side. She could barely balance, and she quickly set her foot back down, putting pressure only on the heel.
“Um, do you need to go to the hospital?” the kid asked. She now noticed he was wearing an apron from a corner market with the name tag, “Jason.”
“No.” Her tone was a little too firm and repulsed for normality, but she couldn’t go to the hospital. They wouldn’t believe her and they would probably make her sleep. She would kill more innocents, like Tessie or Esmeralda. Or her mom.
She felt sick, horribly sick. She heaved into the road, but there was nothing in her stomach. Her mother was dead. Her father was dead. Because of her. Because she was some sort of freak.
“Um, are you sure?” He asked. Therese looked up at him with dead eyes that gazed so deeply into his, he immediately stumbled back a few steps.
“Do you at least want to clean those cuts up a bit? I mean, there’s a first aid kit in the store I work at.”
Therese considered it. What was she doing? She’d been running to nowhere. What could she do now? Go back to the FBI? She retracted from the thought. She felt dirty and unclean. She didn’t want to see people anymore. She wasn’t normal. She was a freak. But, maybe she could find out why. If she could figure out what her father was trying to say with “bright upon a bridge” maybe she could understand. Maybe. But maybe was all she had.
“Yes.” She replied curtly.
“Okay, um, do you want me to help you?” he offered her his arm. As she retracted from it, she realized she probably hurt his feelings. However, she didn’t want to touch anyone again and establish that emotional connection, not after what happened last time.
“Um, well, okay,” he muttered, rubbing the back of his head. “Follow me.”
She hobbled as he led her to the building, thoughts turning rapidly but going nowhere. She dissected the scene of her mother’s death. There were those eyes, those terrified eyes. The ghastly wound that appeared would haunt her for the rest of her life, how it exploded onto to her mother. She was fine one moment and dead the next.
“Yeah, I don’t think this street is the best for bare-foot running. My cross-country friends run at the park when they want to go barefoot,” Jason said, attempting to make conversation. “I go to Foothill High.”
He had offered her a perfect cover story. The tank top and jersey shorts that were her pajamas were passable as running clothes, and her lack of shoes could be explained by the newest fad, barefoot running. It also presented a legitimate reason why she would be sprinting down the sidewalk. She knew he was expecting her to offer what high school she went to, but as she was both too old for high school and never attended one in whatever city this way; she felt no need to answer.
The automatic doors chimed as the pair entered. A great, round, silver mirror reflected the store and the street in the corner. Therese saw a group of men step out from a car outside, looking around.
“Where’s your bathroom? And if someone comes looking for me, you’ve never seen me,” she said quickly. He was looking increasingly alarmed.
He pointed. “Um, okay. The bathroom’s there. I’ll get the first aid kit from behind the counter.”
She thanked him and disappeared into the bathroom. It was strange, each time she saw her reflection lately, it seemed like a new person. The emotionless, war-torn stranger that stared back with hollow eyes seemed hardly human, much less Therese. Of course, Therese was beginning to think she wasn’t quite human.
She wet several paper towels down with soapy water and began to scrub the muck and dirt from her wounds. It hurt a lot, but she reveled in it. Pain felt cleansing, like an astringent. She knew she deserved it a thousand times over. It made her forget for a second what this was all about.
Her fall had camaflouged the bump on her head from when the man had tipped her chair over nicely, she noted. At least the boy, Jason, wouldn’t ask questions about that. Although, he seemed frightened enough by Therese not to ask questions.
She heard the front door chime of the store, and she knew immediately that the people that came in weren’t looking for groceries. She quickly discarded her paper towels and entered a stall. She locked the door and stood on the toilet.
Struck with an idea, she crawled under the partition and locked the door of the stall next to hers before squirming back. She waited.
She was struck by a sudden memory.
“Daddy, what did you do before I was born? Where did you live? And don’t say nothing because Michelle told me that everybody’s parents do things before they were born.” Therese had cornered her father while he took his morning coffee, reading the newspaper on one of the few days he was home. He sighed, folding his newspaper and looking down at Therese.
“Life’s a riddle, Therese. There’s no one answer. I lived many places and did many things. But it didn’t matter, since you when you were born, you became my new life.”
The two riddles had to be related, her father’s life and her own origin entwined. She did know how they were “bright upon a bridge.”
The door burst open.
“This is the women’s restroom. You can’t go in there,” she heard Jason pleading.
“Shut up,” the man replied tersely. His heavy footsteps echoed in the otherwise silent bathroom as Therese tried not to breath. She heard him push a stall door open, and then another as he continued down the row. He came to the locked one.
“Don’t go in there. The plumber hasn’t come yet, but he’s supposed to fix it,” Jason lied.
The man didn’t respond verbally, but savagely kicked the door inward. There was nothing there.
“Hey, that’s going to cost a lot of money to fix. What do you want me to tell my manager?” Jason complained. Therese could hear the distinct sound of someone throwing Jason to the floor, who grunted.
“When I told you to ‘shut up,’ I meant it.” The words were drenched in threat. “Let’s go.”
Therese heard the men hustle out. She waited several minutes before she dare unlock the stall. Jason was leaning against the wall, holding a first aid kit and nursing a bloody nose.
“What the hell?” he asked, seeing Therese. “Who the hell were those guys and what the hell do they want from you? They showed me police badges, but I wasn’t sure if they were real because they didn’t want me to call the police station to ask about them.”
“It’s complicated,” Therese said while hating herself for saying it. “I can’t tell you because you don’t want to be involved in this.” She limped over to him. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. Oh, here’s the first aid kit.” He handed it over, and Therese opened it and began wiping her side down with an alcohol pad.
“Thank you,” she said once she felt thoroughly enough drenched in antiseptic. “Thanks for lying for me and helping me.”
“Um, sure. But, you’re not some mass murderer, and they aren’t cops, right?” he asked.
“They aren’t cops,” Therese agreed. Her voice came from a thousand miles of way as her whole body repulsed from the epithet, “mass murderer.” She was. She was a mass murderer. As she looked up, she could see that the boy had noticed her deflection of the first accusation.
She took a deep breath, attempting to calm herself. She knew she was a horrible person, but she had to get to the next step. She had to figure out what her father was trying to tell her. “Do you have a computer I could use for a few minutes?”
“Are you going to do anything that might bring the men back or get me in trouble with my manager?” he asked. His expression was strange, Therese decided. She knew she looked younger than her age, so in combination with being so short and so banged up, it probably did not make her look like a likely criminal. However, with everything considered, she could most definitely be. He was struggling between pity and suspicion.
“No. I’m just going to search for something real quick,” she assured, “You can watch me if you want.” He didn’t look convinced.
Therese didn’t have time, so she place her hand on his, summoning all empathy from within. “Please?”
She could feel his struggles in high school so keenly. He was token loser in a group of otherwise successful guys. They could run faster than him, score higher than him, look better than him, and all he could do was play video games. If his friends and him did play video games together, if he won it was because he was a loser and a geek that spent too much of his life practicing in his basement. If he lost, it was because he sucked at everything. All the girls went for his friends and ignored him, and he was too shy to approach them.
Therese pulled back as he did. “Sure, I guess. You can use the computer. I’ll show it to you.” He was blushing slightly, the rose in his cheeks unmistakable. Was it because she had grabbed his hand? She thought she could detect a slight smile playing on his lips.
As he led her into an office, he slid the keyboard of an ancient computer forward to enter a password. He clicked a few times to summon the Internet, then offered the chair to her with the utmost chivalry.
“Thanks.” She sat down and began to type. Bright-
The Internet search engine pulled up possible words she was looking for. Brighton was the first. Had her father said, “bright on a bridge” meaning brighton a bridge? She searched for brighton a bridge, and a now defunct company called Brighton Bridges was the first hit. It had to be it. It went out of business a couple months after her birth, right after her parents had moved to Boise. It made sense.
The Internet knew everything. She scribbled down the address, turning back to the boy behind her. She caught a glimpse of the plaque sitting on the desk: “Regional Manager- Clark County, Nevada.” Brighton was in Utah and a few hundred miles away. She couldn’t go to the airport as she had no ID, which she was pretty sure the airport would be interested to see. She didn’t have a car. She couldn’t exactly walk there.
“Are there any buses around here?” she asked.
“Um, where are you trying to get to?” he asked.
“I dunno then. I’ve never even been to Utah, but you have the computer,” he said, gesturing. She turned back and found a bus willing to take her within ten miles of where she wanted to go. It was going to cost her $73.45. She didn’t have any money.
She turned back to Jason. She knew what she could do, what she would have to do, but that didn’t make her like it anymore. Was it considered stealing if you influenced the person into agreeing? She would pay him back when she had figured this all out.
She grabbed his hand, building up empathy. “Jason, I don’t have any money. Could you please loan me the amount to buy a bus ticket? I’ll pay you back when I get back home.”
She could see his perfect younger sister, who was great at everything from tennis to math to writing to art. Whatever she tried, she succeeded, and his parents loved her. He was the black sheep, the one that revealed a broken report card, the one that could never measure up. His father called him a failure. He just wished he was someone else.
“Oh, yeah. Sure.” He was pulling out his wallet. Therese bit her tongue as he leaned over the keyboard and entered the information from his debit card. She hated herself for taking his money, but as he printed out the receipt for her, she knew she had to.
“Thanks,” she said softly, getting up to leave. “I’ll pay you back.” It would take hours to get there, but when she did, she would walk to that Brighton Bridges building, hoping beyond hope that it was the right place, and maybe she could find what her dad had been trying to tell her.
“Uh, don’t you need a disguise or something?”
She paused from ruminating over her half-formed plan and looked at him.
“Um, well, you’re running away from whoever those guys were, right? And, um, it would be easier for them to find you based on your clothes, I think,” he explained.
She looked down to examine her tired pajamas, which were beginning to start to smell, and her bare feet looked black from running on the road. The look was quite distinctive. “I have no money.”
“Well, um, you can borrow some of my stuff, if you want,” he offered. “It’d be big on you, but it’s something.” She considered it for a moment. She definitely stood out in her torn up clothes, probably much more than some guy’s clothes.
“Thank you,” Therese returned. He smiled clumsily, and ran off somewhere to return seconds later with a big t-shirt, basketball shorts, a ball cap, and boat shoes.
“Uh, here you go,” he offered them to her. His face was red.
She turned around and changed quickly. She balled up her old clothes, and threw them in a near-by trash can. She tucked her hair into the cap, and decided she could pass for a young teenage boy in Jason’s baggy clothes and too big shoes.
“Thanks, Jason. After this is done, I will pay you back,” she said. Her voice was still higher pitched, undermining her identity as a teenage boy, but maybe if she didn’t speak, she could blend in.
“No problem.” He was blushing.
“MacArthur, why aren’t you at the register?” the two heard a gruff voice yell.
“My manager,” Jason explained, awkwardly rocking on his feet.
She nodded, “go.” She followed him out as he jogged to reach his boss. She disappeared among the aisles so as not to be noticed.
“What happened to your nose?” The gruff voice asked with only a trace of concern. “You’re bleeding all over the floor.” Therese caught a quick glimpse of the portly, balding man who had to be Jason’s boss. He was clutching a fast food bag, which suggested he had gone out for lunch.
“Um, I, uh, walked into a door when I was cleaning the bathroom,” Therese heard Jason lie.
She slid from the store quietly. Jason had saved her life, got beaten up for her, and lied for her. She would really have to pay him back, after she had figured out what was going on. Her mission instantly steeled her nerves and drove the boy from her mind.
She got her bearings based on the streets and brought up the small map they had of the bus station’s location on it’s website. She began walking towards it, keeping her head down and moving her legs very quickly without running.
As she got farther into the city, the sidewalk traffic increased. People pushed passed her without looking, as she stood shoulder to shoulder within a throng of tourists. She glanced up quickly, and it struck her strange to find Las Vegas staring back at her. The city of sin had been named in the location of the bus stop, but to find it right there before her bright and booming seemed so strange. How could everyone’s life still be going on in the face of such death? She knew it was awfully myopic to think that the world would be concerned with her mother’s murder, but it still seemed so disconcerting.
She put her head down again and walked faster. The world may keep living, but she couldn’t until she put an end to whatever this was. She could, well, would not live life as an unredeemed murderer. She was going to find answers at Brighton Bridges, or at least hope she would.