Pattyn Von Stratten’s father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run. After far too many years of abuse at the hands of her father, and after the tragic loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn is desperate for peace. But is it even possible to rebuild a life when everything you’ve known has burned to ash and lies seem far safer than the truth?
Bestselling author Ellen Hopkins continues the riveting story of Pattyn Von Stratten she began in Burned to explore what it takes to rise from the ashes, put ghosts to rest, and step into a future.
- Pattyn Scarlet Von Stratten
You can’t take back, no
matter how much you wish
you could. No matter how
hard you pray to
all-powerful miracle maker.
Some supposed God of Love.
One you struggle to believe
exists, because if he did,
wouldn’t be so out of control,
and you wouldn’t be sucked dry
of love and left to be crushed
like old brittle bones that
easily ground into dust.
Hindsight is useless
when looking back over
your shoulder at deeds
Dear, Sweet God
Forgive me. I don’t know what to do.
Where to go. How to feel. I’m perched
on the precipice, waiting for the cliff
to crumble. No way to change what
happened. What’s done is done and I . . .
I can’t think about it. If I do, I’ll throw up
right here. Bile boils in my gut, erupts
in my esophagus. I gulp it down, close
my eyes. But I can still see him, lying there.
Can still hear the gurgle in his throat.
Still smell the rich, rusty perfume of blood
pooling around him. I so wanted him dead.
My father. Stephen Paul Von Stratten.
The bastard who beat my mother. Beat
my sister. Beat me. The son of a bitch
who was responsible for the accident
that claimed my Ethan—catapulted him
wherever you go when you die. Our unborn
baby rode into that wilderness with him.
Dear, cruel God. Why couldn’t I go, too?
Eye for an Eye
If ever a person deserved to die,
it was Dad. But when I saw the bullet
hit its target square, watched him drop,
surprise forever branded in his sightless
eyes; when his shallow breathing went
silent, I wanted to take it back. Couldn’t.
The Greyhound shifts gears, cresting
the mountain. Donner Pass, maybe.
Can’t tell, leaning my head on the cool
window glass. It’s dark. After ten. Escaping
into the night. Into the unknown. It’s warm
in the bus, but I can’t quit shaking. I think
I’ll be cold forever. Frozen. Soul-ripping
sadness ice-dammed inside of me.
I shouldn’t have listened to Mom. Shouldn’t
be here. Shouldn’t be free. I should be in
handcuffs. Behind bars. Locked away
forever. That’s what I deserve. Instead,
I’m on my way to San Francisco.
I want to see something I’ve never
seen—the ocean. They’ll find me,
sooner or later. Put me away in a cement
box without windows, where I belong.
I want to carry a memory with me,
bury it inside my heart, treasure, to be
exhumed when I need something
beautiful. Peaceful. Pacific. Of course,
I’ll probably never feel at peace again.
Dad had ghosts who visited him often,
demons he tried to drink away. Now
he’ll be my ghost. A ghost, filled with
demons. Haunting me until I’m a ghost, too.
The Bus Is Crowded
I chose a seat near the back, away
from the driver. Mistake. Too close
to the bathroom. It stinks of urine
and worse. Every now and again
someone goes in there and then it
smells like marijuana, though smoking
is prohibited on all Greyhounds.
At least that’s what the signs say.
Not like the driver cares. Easier not
to interfere with derelicts, dopers,
failed gamblers, and crazies. Oddly,
I feel safe enough among them.
Like freeway drivers in separate cars,
all going the same direction at the same
time, each passenger here has a unique
destination. A personal story. I try
not to listen. Try to tune the voices
out. Don’t need other people’s drama.
But Some I Can’t Miss
Somewhere behind me, a couple
has argued for an hour. Seems
he was up two hundred dollars
at Circus Circus. But she dropped
that, plus three hundred more,
which explains why they’re :
riding a piss-smelling bus home
stead of getting a little cooch
in a cozy motel room before
catching the morning Amtrak.
Kitty-corner and a couple rows
up, two blue-silver haired women
talk about their husbands, kids, and
grandkids. One of them got lucky
on dollar slots. Now she can pay
her electric bill and have enough
left over to put some back into
our savings. Shouldn’t have
took it out for this trip, but I
just had one of those feelings . . .
The guy takes up two whole seats.
No one wants to sit near him, mostly
because he smells like he hasn’t had
a shower. Ever. Probably homeless and
put on the bus by law enforcement. They
don’t much like finding people frozen
to death in riverside cardboard boxes.
Lots of homeless take up residence on
the banks of the Truckee. Wonder if one
of them will notice the metallic glint
of a 10mm. The gun that killed Stephen
Von Stratten. Wonder if the cops will
check the river. After . . . it . . . Mom
told me to take Dad’s car and go far
away. Fast away. She gave me her money
stash, packed a few clothes. Once
the cops come, she said, they’ll
look for the car. Dump it soon.
Driving into Reno, it came to me—
a scene out an old movie—to park
the old Subaru in the airport garage.
I took the overhead walkway, down
the escalator, out the front doors,
carrying the tatters of my life in
an overnight bag. Walked the couple
miles to the bus station, much of it
along the river. Seemed like a good
place to lose the gun Ethan gave me
for protection. It did protect Jackie
from another fist to her face. But, oh,
the price was dear. For Dad. For me.
For the entire family. What will happen
to Mom and the kids now? Tears
threaten, but I can’t let them fall.
Can’t show weakness. Can’t show
fear. Can’t look like a girl on the run.
Jackie April Von Stratten
Are worthy of a bullet straight
to the heart because that is where
cruelty evolves into evil.
humans aren’t human at all,
despite how they appear.
Humanity is what lives inside
harbored beneath skin, flesh,
and bone. A soul, if you like.
A glimpse of God. The spark
that continues, should you
an afterlife. Faithful Mormons
believe every Latter Day Saint
continues on, transitioning either
heaven or hell. But I think
those who have no hint of life’s
light within are completely
snuffed out when they
Has a stink. Blood. Poop. Pee.
And something else, something
I can’t find a name for, but it’s
mixed up in the sewer smell
leaking from Dad’s empty shell.
He has vacated the premises.
Whatever made Dad “Dad” is gone.
I don’t think he had a soul. A life
force maybe. But not anymore.
What’s lying there, cooling and stiff
on the shed floor, has nothing inside it.
He can’t hurt me anymore.
Pattyn saved my life. Dad would
have killed me for sure, one slow
fist fall at a time. I was half way
there, and ready to give up my own
spirit. Instead, it’s Dad who’s dead.
I should feel bad. All I feel is numb.
Our Tiny House
Is overflowing people.
Ladies from church.
Is a cacophony of sounds.
Shushing the crying.
Comforting the new widow.
Is a chaos of feelings.
The Last Hours Blur
All I wanted was a miniscule taste
of love—to be rewarded with even
the vaguest ghost of what Pattyn
experienced with Ethan, as short-lived
as that was. All I wanted was, for one
blink of time, to feel needed. Desired.
Desire, become lust, become fear.
Fear, become pain, become terror.
Terror, become release. And I am
frozen there. People talk all around
me. Their voices inflate inside my head
until it thuds and I can’t quite make
out what they’re asking me now.
What happened? I don’t know. I’m not
sure. It was all so fast, so slow motion.
Someone in a uniform—a woman with
warm hazel eyes tells me, Relax.
Take your time. A cop. She’s a cop, and . . .
Who Invited the Cops?
Mom didn’t call them. She called
Bishop Crandall. I remember that.
Remember her standing over me,
phone in hand. Hurry, Please.
I think . . . I think Stephen’s dead.
I’m not sure. I can’t touch him.
Our bishop lives less than five
miles away. In the short time it took
him to get here, Mom had covered me
with a blanket. I could feel it sponging
blood, but it couldn’t hide the damage
to my face. Bishop Crandall looked
at me with disgust. In fact, my father’s
cooling corpse seemed to bother him
less. He kneeled on the floor beside
Dad, put a finger against his wrist.
I’m afraid he’s gone, Janice.
What in God’s name happened?
Through my swelling eyes, I saw
Mom shake her head. I don’t know.
I don’t know. I was just getting out
of the shower when I heard gunshots.
I threw on some clothes and came
running, just in time to see the Subaru
roar out of the driveway. It was . . .
She paused, trying to make sense
of what she saw. Pattyn was driving.
“She saved me,” I wheezed, the act
of sucking in air so excruciating
that I could barely catch breath at all.
Darkness snatched at me. My head
throbbed and my brain refused
to process any more information.
But I knew one thing, and it was
worth the searing effort of repeating
it. “Pattyn saved my life.”
Next Thing I Knew
I swam up into muted yellow
light and found myself here, in
Dad’s shabby recliner, wrapped
in a clean blanket. People had
started to gather—LDS sisters,
to help care for the little ones
and Mom, who is propped up
on the sofa across the room,
Samuel on her lap, peering up
at her pasty face. Bishop Crandall
must have made the calls, and he
continues to direct operations,
instructing his wife to please
pack some clothes for the girls,
who are being divvied up among
the church faithful, and have no
idea why. The exception seems
to be Ulyssa, who sits in a corner
with Georgia, who sucks her thumb,
though she gave it up weeks ago.
’Lyssa’s eyes scream that she knows.