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 – 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.