Authors: A.J. Norris
Amalya flinched and curled her fists around a wad of blanket. The blue and green tartan afghan slipped off the seat. Her eyes widened. A shivering, saucer-eyed boy she guessed was about six, maybe seven, lay on the seat with duct tape covering his mouth. His hands were bound with more of the same tape.
“What the hell?!” She reached for the missing door handle. “Fuck!” She scratched and pawed at the panel. There was no way out. A whimper from behind reminded her she wasn’t the only one in trouble.
“Lemme out! Let
The right corner of her forehead slammed into the side window. She blinked, her focus wavering in and out. There was no screaming anymore. Her achy head bobbled as cobwebs filled her mind.
Where the hell was she?
Elmer’s Glue, chalk, and ditto aromas filled her nose. The pressure inside Amalya’s bladder made her seek out a bathroom. She found one up a set of stairs and to the left. Opening the door, she was bowled over by the smell of ass and stale cigarettes.
“Oh God,” she moaned. The toilet was missing from the first stall. In the second stall the seat was gone, and the last one was filthy but she had to pee. Desperately. She prepared to squat…
Her body jerked from side to side and she groped for the handicap bars.
Another bump. Her eyes snapped open.
Quivering with a chill, she squeezed her eyes shut then opened them. Her bladder was about to explode. “I have to pee,” she whispered.
Reed ignored her.
“I have to piss,” she said louder.
“I have to pee or do you want me to do it all over your
?” she yelled. It was dangerous to scream at her likely killer, but dying in her own urine wasn’t an option. “Stop the car!”
He smacked her with the back of his hand. Blood welled on her lip.
“Fuck!” He banged the side of his fist on the steering wheel. After a few moments he pulled over onto the gravel shoulder of the deserted two-lane Dixie Highway with a snowy, sprawling countryside of cow pastures on either side of the road. Opening his coat, he flashed a metal warning, a 9mm. Amalya had been on the streets since she was sixteen and recognized the caliber. At twenty-two there was a lot she knew about criminal life. Reed took his time getting out and wandering over to let her out.
The instant she stepped from the car, icy air smacked her in the face and she shivered. Freedom was set back from the road, beyond a ditch. She thought about making a run for it, even at the risk of being shot in the back. However, the image of the scared child changed her mind. There was no way out of this mess that didn’t involve bloodshed and probable death. Ironically, the I-don’t-give-a-fuck mindset which had helped keep her alive in the past was also about to end her existence. The truth was, she was so over this life, she didn’t care if she lived or not. The little boy, however, deserved to see for himself whether or not breathing mattered.
Reed licked his lips as she went for the waist band of her jeans.
“What are ya gonna do?” she snapped. “Watch me?”
He backed away, keeping an eye on her. Amalya squatted down and waited. Although screaming for relief, her bladder wouldn’t let go right away. It was too scared. She took the minute to run through her options again.
She could run and hope for a car or a house to appear out of thin air. Not likely, and she could be shot
there was the little boy. Bastard might give up on chasing her if he didn’t shoot her, then just go back to the car. What about the kid though? The concept was unthinkable even for her. The other option was to fight. By this she meant kicking the bastard in the dick, as it was unlikely he had any balls. This made her smirk, though not because she somehow found humor in the situation. Her brain was just trying to keep the stress from overloading and shutting down her gray matter.
An idea flicked across her mind while she shimmied her pants back up, a split-decision hair-brained notion that hinged on the keys still being in the ignition. She couldn’t remember if they were. Turning around, she began to cry. They were crocodile tears, as she had long since developed a hard shell. The show had to be convincing, so she started out slowly and gradually increased her sobbing.
“Quit playing games! Git back in the car!” The snow crunched beneath Reed’s thick-soled boots. He reached out to grab her shoulder when she spun around. A kick meant for his sweet spot missed and connected with his shin. The action caught him off guard, allowing her to try again. This time she nailed him between the legs. He went down on his knees with a grunt.
Rushing toward the car, she threw herself through the open passenger door. Struggling to put herself into the driver’s seat cost her precious time. Reed approached with his gun drawn. Her heart hammered inside her chest. A shot was fired at the vehicle, followed by another
Then a third shot. She gasped as her breath caught in the back of her throat. Her hand met with the keychain in the ignition. She turned the key. The engine roared. Expecting the gearshift to be next to her, she fumbled blindly between the seats.
She glanced down.
The shifter was on the steering column. She pushed and pulled and finally got it into gear.
The car sped backward. Amalya felt a thump. She’d clipped the bastard as he’d been coming around the rear of the car. Sweating, she pulled the car forward and looked into the rearview mirror. He was still down but in the middle of the road.
“You bitch!” he yelled from where he was lying on the asphalt. When he brought the gun up she started the car in reverse again and swerved back toward him. The fender smacked him in the head while he tried to maneuver out of its way. She ran the car over him.
The car skidded to a halt as Amalya slammed on the brake with her two feet. She didn’t need to look up to know he wouldn’t be moving anymore.
Panting, her heart racing, she rested her head on the steering wheel. There was a tiny whimper. Amalya angled her head and peered behind her. The boy was sitting on the passenger side floor with wild eyes, but he wasn’t looking at her face. She followed the line of his vision.
Her pink puffer coat had something red on it. A muffled yelp came out of the boy. It was only then that she felt the pain as realization came over her. The red was blood. One of the bullets had hit her side. Now she began to cry. Life, which had little meaning ten minutes ago, now seemed like everything.
She put her hand inside the flap of her coat. When she removed it, blood was covering her entire palm and was running down the back of her hand. With the last of her waning strength she wrenched around and reached for the kid’s hands. Her fingernails scratched at the tape. After several frustrating attempts, she managed to loosen an end. The boy cried as she peeled the tape away from his skin.
“You do your mouth,” she whispered.
He squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. Tears flowed as he worked the tape off with his little hands.
They sat in silence; she listened to her own shallow breaths. The idle of the engine grew softer. Her vision became fuzzy and her eyelids heavy. Her mind. Tired. She let her head fall back against the seat, and prayed to a higher power she didn’t really believe in any longer that someone would help the kid, whose name she’d never learn.
Amalya stood next to the silver jalopy. She smoothed the front of her pink jacket. Over and over, she checked for any signs of blood or a bullet hole, opening and closing the flaps.
What the hell?
She peered inside the car. A girl in the driver’s seat was slumped over the steering wheel. She wore her coat, even had her same hair color.
She had died. No bright light, like so many people claimed would come after your death, miraculously appeared. Now what?
Her panic started with a shortness of breath. She took quick gasps, rubbing the place over her heart.
Calm down. There’s nothing you can do.
There was no fixing dead.
Amalya looked down the highway. The landscape, muted by a foggy haze, stretched for miles. Grass peeked through the wet, thawing snow in patches. She leaned her head back and gazed upward into the bleak, gray, overcast sky.
She walked to the rear of the car. Reed’s lifeless body was a crumpled heap on the ground. A large pool of blood painted the cement beneath him. The fender had put a dent in his skull above the left eye. His unblinking stare remained fixed on an imaginary point somewhere in the distance. On the other side of the body and several feet away, Reed sat on the ground with his arms draped over his knees and his head hung low off his spine.
Does he know I’m still here too?
Amalya listened to his jagged breaths. She wasn’t sure if they were ghosts or what; she didn’t physically feel any differently. She brought a hand up to examine and it was as solid and tangible as before.
“Are we dead?” she asked, not expecting Reed to answer.
He lifted his head. “What do you
He was nasty even in death.
“You don’t have to be such a prick about it. I’m dead too, you know.” Amalya looked heavenward. “Why are we still here?”
“How should I know?” he said and added sarcastically, “God has a plan for us all.”
“Oh, shut up. Neither of us believes that.” She shook her head. “Can I ask you something, now that we’re dead and all?” He sneered. “How come you picked me up if you already had—?”
“Oh, please, you’re not fucking stupid. The police were looking for a single white male and—”
A solitary noise resounded. At first, Amalya was reminded of a high-pitched dog whistle that gradually increased in volume. “Ahhhh!” She flattened her palms over her ears. Other sounds joined the screaming squeal.
Reed keeled over with his head between his hands. Black as tar blotches leached toward his writhing form, creeping along the ground until a circle formed around him. Translucent dark mist rose and blanketed him. His mouth opened in anguish but his screams couldn’t be heard over the shrieking sounds.
Amalya must have yelled too because part of the mist lashed out. The wisp grazed the back of her bare hand and stung like a hundred tattoo needles bombarding her skin all at once. She yelped and leapt backward. Her wide eyes remaining on the scene, her feet continued, toe to heel, toe to heel, until she came up against a solid immovable mass.
Moist, hot air heated the nape of her neck. Her body lurched and she stumbled a step forward. The smell of charcoal burned the inside of her nose and filled her lungs. Another blast of heated air hit her neck.
Everything went quiet.
Reed was gone.
Her mind couldn’t or wouldn’t register what was before her.
“Nooo—” Her scream caught in the back of her throat.
An enormous creature with pitch black skin and long pointed horns threw its head back and roared. Saliva dripped from its fanged teeth.
She swallowed hard and spun around, her hair whipping her in the face. Amalya’s legs couldn’t move as fast as her brain commanded. She fell hard. Her knees struck the pavement and ripped holes her jeans. She scrambled to her feet. Two steps were as far forward as she went. Her feet lifted off the ground and bicycle-kicked in the air.
Her body felt light as a feather. Had she become a bird? Couldn’t be, she didn’t have wings. Up. Up.
She raised her eyes toward the sky. The clouds parted, a shaft of light descended. Amalya smiled.
Her joy came to an abrupt halt the same time her body stopped floating heavenward. She bobbed in the air like a helium balloon that had been reined in by a child jerking on the string. The light dissipated.
“No. No, no, no.” Seconds, she stayed buoyant, then a tugging force dragged her down toward the Earth. Amalya flailed her arms and legs in an attempt to counteract the pull.
She kicked and screamed. Claws pierced the skin of her waist. She grabbed at the dark beast’s fingers, trying to pry them off. Raised lines covered the skin on the backs of his hands. Her nails only scratched the surface. A deep chuckle near her ear stilled her for a moment.
“You’re mine,” the creature drawled.
“Help!” Her eyes widened. A hand clamped over her mouth and muffled her scream.
The last thing she saw was the top of that little boy’s head and eyes peeking out of the back window of the silver car. Their eyes met and he dipped below the window out of sight.
Her body went lax and her mind went blank.