“Father teaches son to gamble on fixed machine; later the son unconsciously loses his girl on it.”
I can run like the wind. I can run and run and run and run. I can run and run and then rest a little and then run some more. I’m a good runner. I have strong legs. I’m surprisingly nimble. I can run and run and then hide. I can hide somewhere small. I can hide in a cupboard or I can hide in a mineshaft. No one ever thinks to look in the mineshaft. Or the sewers. I can climb into the sewers and swim and climb and run and hide. They’ll never find me in the sewers. I can live off scraps and befriend the rats. I’ll be the Rat Man of Pennington sewers.
Or I can run to the station and take the train to the city. Getting to the station will be the hard part. I can scale the tops of the buildings, all the way down Crown Street. I’ll hang from the gutters like a monkey from a tree. I’m agile. I’m strong. I can keep low in the bushes on High Street. Then when it gets dark I can make a break for it. Then I’ll stow away near the luggage at the back of the train. I’ll stay close to the door for an easy getaway. They’ll never know I’m there.
I’ll be anonymous in the city. They’ll never find me there. I can grow a mustache and wear a hat and change my name to Craig. They’ll never think to look for Craig in the city and if they do they’ll find dozens of them, hundreds, no thousands even. Craig Smith. I can get a job in a factory. Or a mailroom. They’ll never find Craig Smith in the mailroom. I won’t make any friends; I’ll just live my secret life in a flat above a shop. And I’ll get a cat and I’ll call him Greg. No, too many g’s. Craig and Clive. Better. And I’ll teach Clive to keep watch and we’ll have an intricate system of signals and codes and there’ll be distinctive meows for different threat levels. And I’ll know if they come but they’ll never come.
Or I could just run and run and run and find a cave and live in the cave and scavenge and hunt. I can light fires without matches and grow a long beard and I’ll keep myself warm with my beard. I can make friends and hunt with the bears. We’ll share the spoils of our hunts together and laugh. We’ll high-five each other and then pick the meat off the carcasses and drink the blood like wine.
Or maybe I can live on the road. I’ll join a carnival and sell popcorn and everyone can call me Barney even though they know my name’s not Barney. And we’ll travel from city to city, a colorful freak show of shady pasts. And they’ll let me on the rides without paying, and I’ll grow my hair long and it’ll fly free in the wind. And when the families have gone home and the gates are closed they’ll let me play the sideshows. I’ll take the hammer and hit the strength tester and watch it ding at the top and everyone will cheer and clap and pat me on the back and yell my name.
Or maybe I can just tell her the truth. I can sit her down and tell her everything, from the start. No! Better! I can get Dad to tell her about the machine and about how he knew it was fixed all along. And he can bring around some cake, she loves cake. And he can sit her down and tell her that it’s his fault, and that it was just a joke and he didn’t think anyone would get hurt. And she’ll laugh and think it’s funny, great even! And then she’ll tell the story to everyone we meet and they’ll laugh too and look at me like they really love me even though we’ve only just met. And then in years to come we can tell our kids and they’ll laugh and shake their heads and say “Oh, Dad” in that way that kids do. Because John was just kidding and I don’t really have until sundown to hand her over. He doesn’t really think he won her. He can’t. So we’ll just sit her down and tell her that maybe I accidentally, and we’ll emphasize accidentally, lost her to John McBride on a gambling machine and that maybe she’ll have to be his girlfriend for a while.
Or I could give my body to science. They’ll give me the head of a horse and big snakes for arms. And they’ll give me super skills and turn my teeth to gold. They’ll never find me then.