Exit Strategy

It feels like I’ve been running from them forever, but that’s not what I tell her.  

Instead, I say, “I can drop you off at the next town, if that’s what you want, or I can take you as far as Chicago.” Really, I could offer to take her as far as Denver, or L. A., or Montreal, or Mexico, because I have no doubt I’ll get around to all of them eventually. If I live that long. The key is to keep moving. And stay in the car as much as possible.

It was really stupid to stop for her, really. I look in the rearview mirror. It looks like we’re still alone, but in this rain, it’s hard to tell what’s just normal darkness and what’s something worse.

“Chicago would be awesome,” she says. She’s still completely disheveled; now that her hair is drying, it’s curling out all over the place in dark brown springs. She keeps rummaging around in her purse-bag thing like she’s expecting to find peace in there. Stuff is falling out of it as she does: snowflakes of tissues, volleys of pens, armies of business cards. She hurries to get it off the floor of my car. “Your car’s so neat.”
She doesn’t mean clean. She’s talking about the box of alphabetized CDs at her feet and the carefully packed bag of granola bars and jugs of juice next to it. Or maybe she means the photographs I have taped all along the dash. My family. I remember them. I wonder if they do the same for me.

I look in the rearview mirror again. I had lost them for hours, before I stopped for her. “Why did he throw you out of the car?” It sounds rude and accusatory, so I wince and add, “Sorry. Do you mind me asking?”

“He’s an ass,” she says, pulling a washcloth out of her bag. She scrubs her face dry with it. “Thanks for picking me up. I wouldn’t normally take a ride – I mean, no offense – but it’s just not a good idea. But it’s the middle of nowhere. And it’s raining.”
I’m not a big fan of stating the obvious, so I wince again, but she doesn’t seem to notice. She’s digging in her bag again. If she uses her bag so much, why doesn’t she clean it up a bit? Seriously. It’s driving me crazy. I look in the mirrors again, looking for glowing red eyes reflecting in the ditch or running dark forms, but the wet road is still empty. Just my home on wheels and me. And her.

“What are you running from?” she asks, after about two seconds flat of silence. She flashes me a big smile. “If you don’t mind me asking.” I must look freaked out or something, because she adds, “Your car is stocked like a grocery store. You running away from home or something?”

I’m not good at lying. Well, that’s not true. I’m a great liar, but I hate doing it. Makes me physically sick. But the truth doesn’t sound much better. Wings. Teeth. Claws. Hell.

“I – um – it’s hard to explain,” I say. I smile to try and deflect the evasiveness of my words.

“Aw, just go for it, honey.”
The ‘honey’ surprises me. I didn’t think she was a honey sort. Somehow it seems wrong with the rummaging in the bag, and everything.

I shrug, uncomfortable, and try the lie. “Just have itchy feet, really.” The lie tastes foul in my mouth and I squeeze my hands on the steering wheel. In my head, I justify it: the truth would have her pepper-spraying me and leaping from the car. What was I supposed to say? If they catch me, they’ll kill me. Because I know how to kill them. Because I could empty Hell, if I was ballsy enough.

“I could never understand itchy feet,” she says. She has her hand in her bag, but not moving, like her hand has crawled into its den and fallen asleep amongst all its things. “I like to do things with purpose.”

I do too, but it’s hard to have purpose when you can’t even stop for gas without looking over your shoulder and checking the backseat when you get back in. Keeping alive, that’s my purpose right now. Regretting I ever killed one of them, that’s another purpose. Asking myself how I could’ve been stupid enough to show them what I could do, that’s another purpose.  

I realize what bothers me about ‘honey’. It sort of means you’re older, right? Older than the person you’re talking to? She looks young. Brunette. Thin. Freckly nose. Stripey, sporty looking top. Just my type. Just exactly my type.

I’m starting to get nervous. I run a finger over the words I’ve written all along my steering wheel. They feel hot under my skin, or maybe it’s just me. I’m thinking — I’m thinking — maybe I’m an idiot. I look over at her. She looks back at me.

And this time I see the red reflection behind her eyes. I know she sees me seeing it. Her claws curve through her bag, busting through the leather.

It seems wrong to die in a pile of alphabetized CDs and carefully sorted juices.

She lunges for me, right as I decide that I’m done running.

Author’s note: Happy 4th of July, folks. Have some demons with your fireworks.

34 thoughts on “Exit Strategy

  1. 🙂 Thanks. My husband says I have to eventually give in and just start writing that demon-fighting novel.

  2. *grin* It’ll have to get in line. And I do have a demon story coming out in an anthology in October . . . and it seriously creeped me out while writing it. I can only imagine the creeping-out I would get writing a proper full-length demon story!

  3. I really liked this, especially the line It seems wrong to die in a pile of alphabetized CDs and carefully sorted juices. , but what threw me was the title because Kelley Armstrong just released a contract-killer book with the same name not all that long ago, heh.

  4. Did she really!? LOL. Can you tell I haunt the YA section of the bookstore and not much else?

    And thanks.

  5. Actually Armstrong has a YA book coming out not too soon (or its already out) set in the same world as her Women of the Otherworld series.

  6. I know that much — I think I saw someone talking about how they’d gotten the ARC from BEA? I’m looking forward to getting into her works that way.

  7. You write the worst (best) cliffhangers, you know that? Arrgh.

    She has her hand in her bag, but not moving, like her hand has crawled into its den and fallen asleep amongst all its things.

    Ooh, nice. Best line of the bit. And also wonderfully foreshadowing, once I knew to look for it.

  8. *grin* Thanks. I swear I’ll be writing a demon novel soon. I won’t be able to help myself.

  9. The trouble with short stories is they’re short. I agree with your husband write that demon-fighting novel. I love the descriptive work around the bag and I was sorry to see ‘her’ die.

    Remember the 1995 movie “Seven” with brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman? How the scenes were ‘dirty’, almost sepia. Also “Man on Fire” with Denzel Washington. The scenes were too ‘bright’, like looking into the sun and then turning away. I might not be describing this very well — the movies were unique. Subtle. Tense. Your senses were challenged. This is what we need in a demon novel. Something different.

    You can do it. Bestseller.

  10. Faboo!

    I particularly liked, “She keeps rummaging around in her purse-bag thing like she’s expecting to find peace in there.”

    I look in my purse that way sometimes, and now I have a way to phrase it in my head!

  11. Is that a challenge I hear? I do well with dares/ challenges/ etc.

    And I know exactly what you mean with the character of scenes. It’s actually how I write — picturing each scene as a movie scene, all ending up as a cohesive whole with the same mood. I guess I think that way because I’m a visual artist first?

    I always love your comments, Simon.

  12. LOL! This makes me happy because I don’t carry purses and I find them and the relationship people have with them mystical and intangible. 😉

  13. If that’s the case I can make it an official challenge. Marry Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas with Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne … mmm marry Matt Damon … pant, pant (stay focussed Simon!)The hunter has to be real though. He’s not hunting because someone he loves was killed by a demon. Think of all the cliche scenarios and kick them to the curb. Fresh, fresh, fresh. Men think stuff, but don’t share it, not even with other men. His life has to be about this ‘stuff’. He can’t be a loner, he’s vulnerable. The hunter can’t be a girl, too Buffy, done, done, done.

    I challenge the future Queen Of America to write a demon-hunter novel, it will be a best seller. Signed, spit shaked, blood oathed, sworn over the entire series of “Seinfield” and “Friends”, some guy in Australia, Simon.

  14. LOL . . . when you put it that way . . . okay. I’m putting it in the percolator. Who knows how long it will take. And it has to wait its turn – books under contract come first. But I’m now officially challenged, so that means I have to!

  15. Awesome–do it, do it! (Although I’ll try to keep my demons out of the way of your demon-fighters, as some of my demons happen to be very lovely people;) )

  16. Mmmm, demons . . . oh, wait, I mean–I liked this one a hell of a lot 😉

    It’s got everything–tension, atmosphere, great turns of phrase, and I have such a soft spot for your prose. And demons. But you knew that.

  17. So, I’m not a huge fan of present tense. But I didn’t even notice you were using it until halfway through. 😀

    This one’s really, really clean!

  18. Thanks — and yeah, I’m trying to get better at making my tenses invisible. I’ve read some fantastic books in present tense and I didn’t notice that they were in present tense until afterwards.

    And SHEESH when will you be back?!

  19. *grin* Thanks! My dad read it and helpfully said, “I so saw it coming.” Well, he didn’t say the “So” part. But that’s what he MEANT.

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