Correction: I’ve written three short stories since I began to force myself to focus on short stories. I literally forced myself to write this one, and it shows. It is loosely based on a strange dream I had where I was in a snow-covered parking lot, and a man was leaning into a car.
I have no intention of shopping this one, so I will post it here as a sample.
The formatting is slightly off. Does anyone know how to indent?
Fuck, I need to quit smoking. That’s all I can think right now, and I feel like an idiot for thinking it, because this guy’s got a gun to my head. I should be thinking about something existential or sentimental, like all the mistakes I’ve made to lead up to this point, or my family, or something. But, really, I just wanted a pack of cigarettes. That’s why I left the motel.
I should never have left. It’s nineteen degrees outside, and there’s four inches of snow on the ground. This could be a sign from God, I remember thinking. You don’t have to go out; You could quit tonight. But I gave in to that gnawing hunger and bundled up in every piece of clothing I had packed (which wasn’t much).
Where I come from, it might snow about every other year, and when it does, it turns right to slush. Seeing snow begin to stick this morning was a bit magical, but it wore on me as the day went by: plans got cancelled, and I was too afraid to go out and actually do anything beyond walk to the Wa-Wa down the block. I had actually been debating going out for about five hours when I finally ventured forth. If I had gone when I began considering it, none of this would have happened, and it actually might have been warmer. I might have lived through this.
I walked slowly, accustomed to slush instead of snow, and took the steps carefully. I was on the second floor. If I had looked up, instead of keeping my eyes on my feet, I might have seen what all the commotion was all about, and might have been able to avoid it (possibly). I keep using that word: if…
As it is, I did not look up until I was safely (I thought) at the bottom of the stairs and crossing the parking lot. I saw a man crouching into the open door of a beat-up white Pontiac, a guy smoking in front of his room on the ground floor, and a couple of girls (I say girls – they looked like hookers) coming back with Wa-Wa bags hanging from their arms. They were all minding their own business (except for me, apparently: I was glancing at all of them) when the gunshots began. I didn’t duck like I should have (If I had ducked, maybe he wouldn’t have seen me), but froze. The man smoking the cigarette fell back against the wall. One of the girls fell, clutching her side, and the other ran, but just ended up face-planting the slushy tarmac. I turned to look at the Pontiac man at the same time he turned to see me. He had a pistol in his hand. Now I thought to duck, as he turned the gun to me, and holes appeared in the side of the car where I was just standing.
The snow crunched as he hurried over to where I just was. I pulled myself under a raised pick-up truck (I didn’t know they had raised pick-up trucks up North) and held my breath. I should have run, I began to think. I didn’t even consider that I might have left tracks in the snow until he’s standing by the side of the truck. I knew he was looking down at the marks I made in the snow, a red flag screaming HERE I AM! I expected him just to fire under the truck, end me here, where some diasporic redneck will find me when he pulls out of the parking lot in the morning. But he didn’t. He paused for what feels like an impossibly long time, huffing, then crouched and reached under the truck. The curb prevented me from rolling out the other side (If there hadn’t been a fucking curb!). He managed to get a grip of my sleeve and drag me out, pain-stakingly slow. I kicked and tried to grip the undercarriage, but I only succeeded in being grabbed by the ankle and getting my gloves smeared with grease.
Every second of this process: being dragged out, being pulled to my feet, being thrown against the side of the truck, I expected to die, for everything just to go black. But I found myself shoved up against the side of the truck with a gun pressed under my chin. My eyes were wide with fear. I think that’s why he smiled.
“Well, hello, sugar!” His smile was creepy and his voice was thick with California. He brushed the hair away from my face with a gloved hand. “Why, those are the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen!”
I felt like I should say something, but I couldn’t. My breath came out in rattling gasps. He bit his lip hungrily.
“Well, no one ever said I couldn’t have a little fun,” he said. He must have been talking to himself. Grabbing the shoulder of my jacket, he jerked me around and began to pull me to the car. I stumbled to the ground, and he pulled me back up. When we reached the Pontiac, he shoved me in the driver’s door, then climbed in himself, forcing me over the center console and into the passenger seat. I had the peace of mind to grab the door handle and attempt to shove the door open, but it didn’t budge.
He laughed at me, slamming the door shut and starting the car. As he drove, my heart stopped pounding so hard. Slowly, I reached over my shoulder and buckled my seat-belt. For some reason, he found this funny, too. My mouth was dry. I had to swallow a few times before I asked – in a small, polite voice – where he was taking me.
“I’ll know when I find it,” he replied. “Meanwhile,” he clapped his hand on my leg, “you just relax!”
My throat constricted. I stared at his hand and didn’t move, like I was staring down at a venomous snake, curled up and ready to strike. But his hand didn’t move the entire time we drove through the city. He removed it and drove with both hands as the scenery became more rural. Trees closed in and the roads became rougher.
Where? repeated through my mind as he turned onto state roads, then side streets, then roads with no names or signs. Where? I mouthed the words, but no sound would come out. Every once in a while he would look at me and chuckle, as if he were imagining the myriad things he could possibly do to me out here.
In the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the woods, he pulled off the road. His headlamps illuminated a small clearing encircled by pines. The snow had piled up, concealing every inch of ground, creating a white-blanketed amphitheater.
“Here!” he exclaimed. “Perfect!”
I was finally able to push out a sound when I asked exactly what it was perfect for. Instead of answering verbally, he grabbed the shoulder of my jacket and dragged me back over the center console and out of the car. Ohmygod, he’s going to execute me out here in the middle of nowhere, where no one is ever going to find my body, and I’ll be eaten by animals, and – why the fuck didn’t he just shoot me in the parking lot like the others? These words crowded my mind as he pulled me across the clearing, over to the trees. I expected him to shove me to my knees, but he didn’t. He shoved me forward, toward the trees. Fuck, he’s going to abandon me here to freeze to death, I thought. It can’t get any worse than that.
Maybe if I hadn’t thought that, it would not have gotten worse.
He took a few steps back from me, chuckling again. “Now, take off your clothes,” he laughed.
I turned to him, wide-eyed.
“You heard me: Take off your clothes. You’re over-dressed.”
My breath began to come out in short, choppy gasps. He raised the gun and aimed it at my head. Hands shaking in fear, I pulled off my hat, then my scarf, and dropped them at my feet.
“No, no,” he said, beckoning. “Toss them over here, toward me.”
Now my hands were shaking with cold. I had trouble gripping the scarf to throw it. It was pathetic, the clothes landing several feet in front of him.
“And sing,” he added, smiling broadly.
I whimpered, staring at him in disbelief.
“I said, sing,” he insisted.
Don’t cry, I told myself. Don’t cry. If you cry, your face will freeze. I racked my head for a song that I actually knew the words to. Of all the tasteful classics that I was well-acquainted with, the one song that flooded my mind baffled me.
You, with your words like knives … and swords and weapons … that you used against me…
My throat was dry, and it was difficult to get the lines out, but they came.
“Don’t forget your clothes!” he reminded me.
Fingers stiff, I managed to unzip my jacket – Oh, God, it’s cold – and pull off my galoshes. My socks were soaked through up to the ankles in a matter of seconds. My fingers were so stiff I couldn’t grab my shirt tail. I actually did start to cry, crying, Why you gotta be so mean?
I huffed on my fingers for a moment, then scratched my shirt out of my waistband. I turned my back to him as I pulled it off.
“Don’t turn,” he sneered. “Face me. C’mon! Man up!”
I gave him a withering look as I turned back, pulling my shirt off. In a way, that’s the only resistance I offered.
He smiled broadly in return. He really seemed to be enjoying himself. I had an incredibly difficult time with the button of my jeans. Why was it so easy to take off my pants until I absolutely needed to? Eventually I got it open forcing it and the zipper by pulling each side away. I shoved my jeans down, tossed them toward him – I stopped caring, as long as they landed somewhere between him and me – and stood shivering in my underwear.
“You’re kidding, right?” he asked wryly, tilting his head.
Sniffling (I swear, the snot was freezing on my face), I wiped the tears from my face before I reached behind my back to unhook my bra. I tossed it away with one arm across my chest, then managed to get my panties and socks off with my free hand.
The man, with his toothy grin, gathered up my clothes from the ground. “Thank you,” he called. “Thank you very much.” Tossing them in the car, he climbed in. I watched numbly in disbelief as he drove off. I continued to have trouble believing, long after I could no longer hear the sound of his car.
I didn’t know I could be so cold.
Snow had started to fall again. More sleet than snow, which was good, since it didn’t accumulate on the wind-shield wipers. Wyatt knew that he should not have been out in this weather at this hour, but it was unavoidable, really – he needed cigarettes. He couldn’t afford to buy an entire carton, but he did anyway. There was no telling when the snow was going to stop.
The snow forced him to drive a bit slower than usual, otherwise he would not have seen her until he had already passed her. At first, he was mesmerized: A naked, rather shapely woman was walking down the side of the road. Only after a second did he become alarmed: It’s 10 degrees outside, what the fuck are you thinking?
And she was in bad shape. Her skin was white, bordering on blue. She was hugging her chest, moving slowly on. He would be shocked if she still had feeling in her feet.
Honking his horn, he pulled up next to her. “Hey!” he yelled, jumping out of his truck. She turned to him slowly, numbly, as he ran around to her. Stripping off his coat, he pulled it over her shoulders.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
She shook her head slowly. He pulled open the passenger-side door and bundled her in. As he helped her up into the truck, he caught sight of her toes. Most of them were a garish shade of purple.
Before Wyatt even got settled in his seat, he cranked the heat up all the way and adjusted the vents for her.
“What the hell were you doing out there?” he asked.
The woman was shaking violently, and had trouble forming words. “A man – a man – with a gun –”
Wyatt pursed his lips and turned to her with wide eyes. He didn’t want to pick up any trouble because of a naked woman on the side of the road.
“Do you … need to go to a hospital?” he asked. Even though he suddenly didn’t want her around, he hoped she would say no. The nearest hospital was over an hour away, perhaps two hours in this snow.
“I – I don’t know,” she replied, looking down at her fingers, then leaning forward to find her toes.
He tried not to stare as his coat fell open around her chest. He forced himself to look back up at the road.
“Nah, you should be fine,” he said. “You should only worry if they’re black.” That was bullshit, and he knew it, but it wouldn’t do any damage to drop her at the hospital tomorrow on his way to work.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked, looking up at the road.
“Oh – home.” It never even occurred to him to take her someplace else. “My home, I mean. I’m sorry. Do you want me to drop you somewhere else?”
Closing her eyes, she shook her head. “I don’t even know where I am,” she said.
“You’re in Lytton,” he informed her.
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Oh. Well, if you want, you can crash with us tonight, and I’ll take you wherever you need to go tomorrow.” Within limits, he thought, of course.
As he pulled up the drive-way, he became increasingly nervous. His girlfriend was not going to like this: showing up with a naked woman and all. He pulled up to the house and led her up the path to his front door and fumbled to open it as quickly as possible.
“Court!” he called as he let her in and closed the door behind her. “Don’t be mad,” he said as soon as Courtney’s head appeared out of the kitchen.
It took her a moment to see what she wasn’t supposed to be mad about.
“What. The. Fuck!” she said.
“She was by the side of the road,” he explained quickly.
The confirmed this by nodding solemnly. Courtney marched past Wyatt and looked the woman over. Her toes were still a ghastly shade of purple, her fingers still blue-ish.
“What happened to your clothes?” she demanded.
“A man –” both the woman and Wyatt began to speak at the same time, but Courtney silenced Wyatt with a look.
“A man took them,” the woman said quietly.
“A man with a gun,” Wyatt elaborated. He received another look.
Courtney pursed her lips, looking the woman up and down again. “All your clothes?” she probed more gently.
The woman nodded again, clutching Wyatt’s coat tighter around her. Courtney’s gaze landed on her feet. She sighed. A small puddle of melted snow had formed around them, darkening the brown carpet. Putting out a hand, Courtney beckoned her forward. Her voice was softer now.
“C’mon,” she told the woman. “Let’s get you some clothes. Would you like a bath?”
The woman nodded as Courtney put her arms around her shoulders and steered her up the stairs. Before they disappeared into the bedroom, Courtney shot Wyatt a venomous look. He was going to get it as soon as she returned.
It really burned to sink into the hot water, but it was a great relief after walking naked and barefoot through the snow. Downstairs “Court” was yelling at the boy about bringing me home, and I think I know why. His truck had smelled like sex. But that’s none of my business.
After a few minutes thawing in the tub, I wiggled my toes, and they all moved. They were still a funny color, but when I pinched them, it hurt. I guess that was a good sign.
Hugging my knees to my chest, I considered whether I wanted to talk to the police. I didn’t like cops on principle, but I had seen three people get gunned down in a parking lot. (God knows what all that was about, by the way.) I was certainly relieved I didn’t have to speak to them while naked in some strange boy’s coat. Reluctantly, I decided that I would go to them tomorrow, after I had some clothes. A three layers, at least. I would visit Salvation Army first.
Motherfucker took my only good bra…
The water got too cold too quickly, and I stepped out. My fingers and toes were now bright red, but at least they weren’t purple or blue anymore. At least they weren’t black. I dried myself off and wrapped myself in an impractically plush towel. I glanced at Court’s blow dryer, wondering if she would mind if I used it. I wondered if I cared if she minded. I didn’t, not really.
Still, when there was a knock on the door, I was wrapping my hair in a towel, blow-dryer untouched.
“Hey, it’s Wyatt,” the boy said through the door.
Oh, that’s your name.
When I opened the door, he looked taken off-guard by the fact that I was just wearing a towel. What did he expect? He blushed. It was actually really cute. He had a small pile of clothes in his hands, and he held them out to me.
“Courtney said you could wear these,” he said.
Sifting through the pile, I recognized these as her rejects, waiting to be donated. I had a large pile at home that I had been neglecting for a year or so. I thanked him as I took them, grateful for anything at this point. Looking up, I caught him staring.
“Court – Courtney ran out for a smoke,” he stammered. He was still blushing.
I grinned, beyond pretending that I didn’t know what he was implying. He must be a horrible boyfriend.
That poor girl, I was thinking when I heard a crash downstairs that made me jump.
“Nevermind!” he shot out, thinking that Courtney had thrown the door open in a rage.
She hadn’t. Next thing we knew, there was screaming and yelling, then the gunshot. We listened, mortified.
“Fuck!” Wyatt whimpered, clutching his hair in his fists. “Holy – fuck!”
“Oh, Blue-Eyes!” the man’s voice came from below. It was him, the man from the parking lot. I closed my eyes in bewilderment, and when I opened them, Wyatt was staring at me. Rather, staring at my eyes. He was confirming that I was, indeed, Blue-Eyes.
He looked from me to the door and back again. I could see what was going on in his head. Before I could protest, he grabbed my arms and shoved me toward the door. I shrieked in protest and scratched at him with my nails, but he was much stronger than I was. Before I knew it, the door was being slammed behind me.
“You coward!” I screamed, slamming my hands against the door.
Pontiac man’s throaty laughter floated up at me. I heard his feet on the stairs. Clutching the towel, which had loosened slightly, I became very still, very quiet. I turned my back to the door, resigned. The man, still chuckling, stood before me, once more pressing the gun against my chin.
“I almost didn’t recognize you with somethin’ on,” he said. “You weren’t supposed to survive your little walk. So sweet of this fella and his girl to give you a ride.”
I didn’t reply. I didn’t look him in the face.
“I missed your voice, though,” he informed me. “Hey, you know, you should sing for me again.”
I looked at him flatly. I would have done anything he wanted earlier because I believed I might still be able to get out of this. I knew then that there was no way I was going to get out of this.
I looked at him flatly. I told him no.
Wyatt threw open the window and stuck his head out. It was easily a twenty-foot drop from the window to the ground, and there were bushes below. He turned back, looking around. He thought that he might be able to hide in the closet, or under the bed, and the man with the gun would leave with the woman, and leave him alone.
The second gunshot, splintering the door, told him no. Taking a deep breath, he stuck his head out of the window again. He didn’t have a coat. He didn’t have his truck keys. He didn’t have a choice. He heard a thump, and the sound of something being dragged, then the door knob rattle, and he jumped.
Wyatt missed the bushes by three feet. Foolishly, he landed on his feet. A sharp pain shot up his leg, making him scream. Biting his lip, he forced himself to limp forward. He ran for the woods, and he was just able to make the tree-line when the bullets began to fly around him.
It was eight degrees outside.