The next thing I knew, I was waking up. Well, coming to was more like it. I was lying completely stretched out across the front seat of some sort of vehicle with my head jammed under the steering wheel. I was looking at the foot well and saw a brake pedal and an accelerator pedal and a steering column and a bunch of wires. It took a minute for me to work it out, but when I did I remembered I was in Ronny’s truck. Then it all started coming back to me: the hitchhiking, the truck, Ronny, the cafe. But why was I here by myself? Where was Ronny?

I sat up and rubbed my eyes, feeling dizzy and disoriented. I looked out the driver’s side window and saw cleared spaces on the ground, grass, a few trees, and some picnic tables. I looked out the front window and saw I was about 50 feet from a big, muddy river rimmed with brush, bushes, and some tall trees and it dawned on me that I had to be at a campground somewhere. The river looked to be about a hundred feet across and, if I had to guess, I thought it might be the Minnesota River since we’d been heading in that direction the last I knew. I looked to my right and there, seated at a picnic table about 30 feet away, was Ronny. And of all the things to be doing in a campground by a river, the thing he was doing was reading. It looked like a magazine. What the heck?

I watched him as I took a few moments getting my bearings. I was really kind of out of it. My head felt fuzzy and it was hard to think. My mouth was dry and felt full of cotton. My eyes were caked with sleep and crap and I rubbed them as clean as I could. My stomach ached, too, pretty awful, like the flu. I’d been sick bad in my life before but not much worse than this. Then my stomach heaved once and I fought back an urge to throw up. Thankfully, both windows were down, not only because of potential vomiting, but also because it was still hot out and it helped to have a little air movement in the truck. I could see out the front that we were pointing west. The sun was above the trees on the other side of the river but starting to go down, its rays shining into the cab, adding to the heat. I was woozy, but sitting up seemed to be helping. I was slowly starting to feel better.

For some reason, I had the feeling I should be as quiet as I could be, so instead of yelling out and greeting Ronny with, “Hi there. I’m awake,” I scrunched down and peered over the edge of the window, spying on him and getting a feel for my surroundings. He had set up a tent near to the picnic table. It was one of those old-fashioned dark green, canvas ones with no windows that looked just plain hot to me and it occurred to me that it must have been what I’d seen in the back of the truck when he’d first stopped for me. From my seat in the cab (which now, with the sun shining in, was starting to burn a little), I carefully looked all around outside, expecting to see other campers. But the eerie thing was that I didn’t see anyone else. Not a soul. Which was really surprising considering it was the middle of summer and everyone in Minnesota knew this was the height of the camping season, even me, and I’d never been camping before in my life. So maybe that’s what we were going to do, I thought. Me and Ronny were going to go camping together. That would be fun. But it was strange that Ronny really didn’t appear to be camping. He didn’t have a fire going, or any firewood, or fishing poles, or a cooler or anything. All he was doing was sitting at that picnic table reading a magazine. What was that all about?

I watched him turn a page. The magazine looked worn out and old. I thought most people went fishing or something when they went camping. And how he was acting seemed doubly odd to me now that I thought about it, because I hadn’t seen any luggage or camping gear or anything like that when he’d picked me up, other than that roll of canvas which turned out to be the tent. Then I saw he’d put the big dog kennel next to the tent. He must have moved it there from the back of the truck. Maybe he had camping stuff in the tent, but if he did, where had it come from? I was confused and beginning to get both nervous and suspicious. What was he up to?

Just to be sure, I cautiously turned around and looked out the driver’s window and then out the back, and then it dawned on me; not only were we all alone, but I was here with this guy who all of a sudden was starting to seem kind of creepy, just like when he’d first picked me up and I’d gotten in his truck. That feeling I had back then was coming back to me all over again. My heart thumped a little in my chest. Something wasn’t right.

I scrunched down again and went back to watching him over the edge of the window. For a few minutes, he just read, turning the occasional page. Nothing strange about that. I started feeling a little better about my situation. Maybe I was making things up in my mind. Maybe it was only my imagination getting the better of me. After all, he’d been nice to me, getting me lunch and all. He’d been friendly the whole time I’d been with him, and he’d even talked to me like I was more than just a kid. Like I was a real human being. Maybe things really were okay.

I was about to call out and greet him and get on with this camping business when all of a sudden he reached down, ran his right hand along his right thigh, and began moving it back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Then he casually moved it into his crotch, massaging and rubbing it, keeping his hand there for a long time, like he was playing with himself or something. Then it hit me and a feeling of dread washed over me that made my entire body go weak. My friends at school sometimes talked about weirdos who played with themselves and other stuff. I wasn’t sure if that’s what he was doing right now, but whatever it was it didn’t seem right. And I’ll tell you what, it scared the hell out of me. My heart jumped and started racing. Call it a gut feeling or a premonition or what have you. It was the same feeling I’d get when Sean looked at me a certain way, just before he started to chase me hoping to catch me and beat me up. But this feeling I had now toward Ronny was a thousand times worse. It was a feeling of stone-cold fear.

I quickly ducked down. My heart started pounding away and a wave of terror washed over me. I had to fight back an urge to scream. Then it occurred to me that if I screamed, no one would have heard me anyway and I couldn’t help it, but knowing I was so alone just made it worse. I was so scared, so terribly scared. I didn’t want to anything bad to happen to me and I made myself hold back my fear and tried to think. I had to do something, but what? My whole body started shaking. I kept my head lowered below the window and searched in my mind for what I should do next. I came up with nothing. Absolutely nothing. I realized I was trapped. The shaking got way worse after that.

And who knows…I might have lost it right then and there and surrendered to my fate with Ronny except for one thing. My mind went to the safest place I knew: my home. I saw Dad and Sexy Sal and Sean and Lea. I focused on Lea, my sweet little sister who I cared for more than anyone else in the whole wide world. Then I remembered: Lea had given me Sean’s knife. I had it in my pocket. And it wasn’t so much the knife (although that was certainly comforting in a totally bizarre kind of way) but it was the thought of Lea giving it to me that helped calm me down. I centered my mind on my last vision of her: my little sister playing with her dolls, nice and safe in her bedroom, and I made myself keep that vision in my mind as I tried to reason out what I should do. There was one thing for sure: Ronny was some kind of weirdo, there was no doubt about that, just like my friends at school used to talk about. I wasn’t safe and it was only a matter of time before he came for me. I had to figure out how I could get away.

My first idea was this: maybe I could just climb out the opposite window on the driver’s side, slide to the ground and make a break for it. But then where would I go? And what if he saw me? What if I couldn’t outrun him and he caught me? Then what? Oh, man. Think, Quinn, I told myself. Think. But I was so scared my mind was starting to go blank.

I took a chance and snuck a peek over the edge of the window frame to check on him and that was my undoing. Ronny suddenly looked up from his reading and, seeing me staring at him, grinned and closed his magazine. I froze.

“Well, well, well. Look who’s awake,” he said, smiling and standing up. “It’s my little pal, Quinn. How are you doing, young man? Sleep well?”

He took a last look at his magazine and then started walking slowly toward the truck, all the while staring straight at me.

My mind started racing, grasping for an idea. Any idea. I had to do something. My fear was so overwhelming I almost wet my pants. But I didn’t. Instead, I did the only thing I could think of. I put my hand in my pocket and took out Sean’s knife. I carefully held it below the sight line of the window and opened the blade, waiting, watching as Ronny came toward me, his smile confident. But I have to say, holding that knife didn’t help all that much. I had no idea what I was going to do with it.

And that creep took his time coming for me, that was for sure, one step after another, slow and steady, while my heart pounded in my chest like a kettle drum. And with every step he took, my fear grew and grew until my mind almost went blank. But it didn’t, although I almost wish it had, because instead, I was left with watching him while my mind whirled out of control, knowing that if didn’t do something, there was no doubt that this guy who had once been so nice and kind to me now was going to do something bad to me.

As he walked, he kind of sauntered, swinging his hips a little, which freaked me out even more. Then, halfway to me he took a length of thin rope out of his back pocket and dangled it from his right hand, twirling it in a circle. With his left hand, he raised it a little and started moving it back in forth like he was waving at me.

It took him maybe half a minute in total to cross to me. Both the shortest and longest half minute of my life, and as he got closer, my fear turned to panic. I knew for sure I was going to die. When he was a few steps from the truck, he started beckoning to me with his index finger like that witch in The Wizard of Oz. I’m coming to get you. God, I couldn’t help it; I started shaking all over again.

When he reached the truck, he put his right hand on the handle, rope dangling from it while he paused waiting, toying with me I guess, looking at me to see how’d I react. We were less than three feet apart, my only protection the door of the truck, but with the window down, that wasn’t much. I took a deep breath to try to quit shaking without much success. He was so much bigger than me and he acted so confident, like he could do anything he wanted to me. My eyes welled up and I fought back tears as I tried to get myself ready.

“Here I come, Quinn,” he said, smiling with those brown teeth. “I’m glad you finally woke up.”

With his right hand, he pushed in the latch, opened the door wide, and held it there. He suddenly seemed to grow taller right before my eyes, growing until he was gazing down upon me, looking me over while I crouched and cowered. And he just stood there, silently tormenting me with eyes that now started to look like some sort of weird, slimy reptile’s eyes. I tried not to faint dead away with the worst fear I’d ever felt in my whole life; I knew he was going to kill me.

I’m sure he was thinking that I was just a small-for-my-age kid, so I’d be easy prey for whatever sick thing he had in store for me. Still holding the door open, he put his left hand out toward me, reaching for me, thinking God only knew what unthinkable horror he had planned for me.

But I wasn’t going to wait. I had kept the knife in my right hand hidden behind me and I didn’t hesitate. I fought through my fear as adrenaline took over. I screamed as loud as I could as I lunged out at him, stabbing out at his hand with my knife. I might have been small, but I was quick and I must have startled him, because he moved at just that same moment I lunged and I missed his hand and instead slashed that razor sharp blade right across his forearm. Deep.

He stopped, startled, and looked at the cut. So did I. For an instant, nothing happened and I remember thinking, oh, my God, I’m in for it now. What did I do wrong? Why wasn’t he bleeding? But then the blood came. In torrents, flowing out of the gash, running out of his arm, covering it like he’d dipped it in a bucket of red paint. Big drops started falling to the ground, followed by a river of blood. Ronny screamed in shock (and hopefully pain) and fell back against the wide-open door of the truck as he tried to stop the flow of blood with his right hand. He wasn’t having any success. His knees sagged a little and he looked at me with disbelief as he tried to collect himself. But only for a moment. Then his eyes pierced me with an anger and hatred so deep I almost froze again. But I didn’t.

In an instant, I slid off the seat and hit the ground running. He tried to grab for me, but I was able to push his bloody arm away and he screamed again. I bolted to the back of the truck, around it, and then ran like hell to the river. I slid down the embankment and jumped into the muddy water thinking for some reason how refreshingly cool it felt. Then I fought my way out to the middle where I started swimming and floating downstream with the current. Was Ronny yelling and screaming and running after me? I don’t know. My world had closed in and all I thought about was survival. But I’ll tell you this: I never looked back. And I didn’t know where I was going, either, but I didn’t care. I was getting away and that’s all that mattered.


For all installments of “Why I Don’t Run Away Anymore,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2