A little flash fiction for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
I walk along Highway 83, wondering how I’m going to get home. I have only my stupid self to blame. Good going, Brad.
A rock is in my path and I kick it away. At least it’s not going to rain, not here in the desert.
But night’s coming and I forgot my jacket.
The noise of a truck grabs my attention. I wave at the driver, who passes me, leaving me choking in a cloud of sandy dust. “Thanks, dude.” A few other words come to mind, but my throat is too dry to choke them out. I think those words loudly, though.
Nothing for it but to keep walking.
At last, another car approaches. I turn and stick out my thumb.
It’s a small car, a tiny red Mazda. The driver, a woman with strawberry blonde hair, rolls down the window, letting out a breath of cool, air-conditioned air to tantalize me. She gives me a tiny, inscrutable smile. “Where you going?”
“Tucson. But I’ll take anywhere in that direction.”
She looks me over like she’s checking me out. She tilts her head back and rolls it around on her shoulders as if stretching a stiff muscle. “Hop in.”
I get a bad vibe from her, like something’s off or she’s mad about something. But I’m cold and it’s getting late. Besides, I’m big and tough, surely, I can take her if she tries anything funny. I climb in the car.
She sits up straight, stretching her spine enough to add two inches to her height. There’s an odd odor in the car, somehow acrid, somehow sweet. Familiar, but I couldn’t place it.
She pulls on to the highway, accelerating smoothly.
“So, tell me,” she says. “Why are you hitchhiking?”
“We’ve got a long road.”
“Yeah. Well, I go to school in Tucson.”
“And what brought you all the way out here?” She glances at me. I catch a glimpse of tawny almond-shaped eyes. She blinks once and turns her attention back to the road.
I explain I’d been at a party of some friends of friends and my ride left without me. No one else was coming this way, so I was stranded. Hence, the hitchhiking.
Then she starts with nosy questions. I don’t want to answer, but I guess owe her, she’s saving my sorry butt from freezing to death or stepping on a rattlesnake or something.
“Who was your ride?”
“My girlfriend. Sally.”
“Why’d she leave you?”
After a pause, I answer. “I guess she’s my ex-girlfriend now.”
I don’t want to tell her. “Um. She had this cat named Eglantine. Stupid name for a cat. She talked to it all the time.”
The woman hissed. I hope that meant she didn’t like cats, either.
“Never liked that cat,” I said. “It seemed to hate me.”
There’s a subtle tensing in the woman, a pulling back of her facial muscles almost like a silent snarl.
“You dumped her over a cat?” She spit the words out like they tasted bitter.
“No, that wasn’t it.”
We travel in silence for a few miles, passing nothing more exciting than a few giant cacti. When she speaks, I jump. “What was the reason?”
She wasn’t tactful, this woman. “We had a little fight.”
“A little one?”
“Well, a big one.” I sigh and look out the window at the shadows on the sand. “Sally, well, she’s fun. Always up for an adventure. Energetic. She’ll ski all day, and then want to work out. Plays a mean game of tennis.”
“What went wrong?”
“My friends thought I could do better.”
“She’s pretty in an outdoor kind of way. Big boned.”
“More the athlete and less the cheerleader?”
“You dumped her because your friends didn’t like her looks.” The woman’s voice is harsh, accusing, her s’s hissing.
I gulp. It sounds shallow and cold, when she puts it that way.
“What did you tell her? The truth?”
“I tried to be kind.” I really did.
“How’d she take it?”
I cringe as I think of how Sally’s face turned white, then her features settled into place like she’d been frozen, her normally sparkly eyes growing dim.
“I hurt her badly.” I can’t believe I’m admitting this.
She stares at the road, not even blinking. She’s mad, and I don’t know why.
“But I knew it wasn’t going anywhere.”
She bares her teeth, almost snarling. She accelerates while I watch the speedometer pass eighty, wondering if I’m going to walk away from this or I’ll end my life impaled on a cactus.
She slows up a little. I breathe easier. “How long did you date?”
“Six, seven months.”
“When did you know it wasn’t going anywhere?” Her mocking tone made me feel small and petty.
“Oh, after a few weeks.”
“Wouldn’t it have been kinder to dump her then? Since it wasn’t going anywhere?”
She’s right. My mouth is hanging open and I’ve lost the ability to put any thought into words. I have no answer for her.
She pulls off the road and careens down a dirt track. Now I’m really feeling creeped out.
“Hey, where you going?” My voice shakes more than I want it to.
“Where you need to be.”
That doesn’t sound good. I rub my sweaty palms on my pants and try to breathe.
A mile off the road, she stops. She leans over and runs her fingernail across my cheek. If she presses any harder, she’ll draw blood.
“Now you’ll know how Sally feels.”
I shrink away from her. “You know Sally?”
“You don’t recognize me?” She slides out of the car and stands with her back to me. “Get ready to run, little mouse. Your turn to be someone’s toy.”
“Who are you?” My chin trembles.
Then I see it, the tail that’s extending out from under her skirt, bristling as it rises.
She spins around and hisses. “You know me as Eglantine.”