Artesia

I’ll be honest. This is actually an old story.

I’m stalling. I keep coming up with lines, and excuses. The former is encouraging, and, at times, inspiring; the latter is fatal. I’ve got to shake that.

For now, here’s a story from nearly two years ago, to which I’m enjoying a revisit.

Artesia

The air conditioning had been stale since Artesia, where Daisy had insisted on getting a cup of coffee, even though Aunt Dee had argued that at age eleven, there was no way Daisy could have that much caffeine. To compound the energy from the caffeine, Daisy had discovered a small, glowing green keychain in the convenience store in the shape of an alien head. Aunt Terry had bought it for her without being asked, and as the three headed down I-25 Daisy was carefully building a shrine in the back seat. On the way home from her mother’s funeral, Daisy had carefully organized her duffel bag and pillow into a nest in the backseat. They had been driving for almost two hours already and aside from stopping in Artesia, Daisy had remained curled in her nest the entire time. Aunt Terry, driving, had neither slowed the car nor sped up, staying at the exact speed limit of 70 miles per hour.

The car had been behind them for only a few minutes, but from her backseat nest Daisy could tell her Aunt Dee was already convinced they were being followed. The road stretched in front of them for miles, one lane in each direction straight to the horizon. Daisy watched as Aunt Dee’s eyes flicked up to the rear-view every thirty seconds, watching the tan car swerve to the right, then the left, then the right again, as if trying to see around them. Daisy peeked over the backseat but saw only the brim of the driver’s hat swooped low on his forehead, shielding his eyes and making it seem as if he was staring straight ahead.

“Pull to the side! Let them pass!” Aunt Dee scolded Terry, tapping the dashboard and looking over her shoulder. Daisy listened to her aunt’s screeching as she methodically hung shoelaces around her keychain next to the window.

“I’m going the speed limit!” Aunt Terry proclaimed, “And there’s no reason anyone need go any faster!” As Dee ground her teeth and tapped the dashboard, Daisy began to repeat the beat of Dee’s fingers on the dashboard, humming along as she added strips of paper to her shrine, drawing small green images on them and sticking them in the edge of the window. The uninhibited desert sun shone through Daisy’s sandy blond hair, making every strand of frizz stand out. Daisy looked up as Aunt Dee watched over her shoulder. Daisy cast her eyes back to her shrine and then back to her nest, finally resting them on her next addition to the shrine: an extra pair of socks.

“Terry!” Dee snapped, “Pull! Over!” She reached across to grab the wheel and Terry raised her right arm in a block, snapping her head to glare at Dee. Daisy squeezed her eyes closed as tightly as she could so she didn’t see Terry’s left arm jerking as Terry twisted her body, sending the car veering across the road in a whirlwind of screeching rubber and grainy dust. Daisy gripped her green keychain as she heard the other car come to a screeching halt behind them.

When the dust cleared, the man was standing outside Terry’s window, his hat brim still blocking his eyes.

“Terry,” Dee warned, “Don’t you touch that win-”

“Ma’am?” the man interrupted as he rapped his knuckles against the glass. Dee stared at Aunt Terry.

“We have Daisy with us! We can’t just open our windows to a strange man! You’ve heard about the creepy people who roam out here! I just heard about one the other day on the six o’clock news…” Daisy heard Aunt Dee as she was just beginning to open her eyes, still gripping her keychain, and as she unrolled her palm there were marks from how tightly she had been holding it.

“Ladies!” the man called from outside, “what happened back there! Are ya’ll all right? I know I could sure use some help. What’s goin’ on?”

Terry tentatively rolled the window down just a crack. Daisy cupped her hands around her keychain and looked around for the next addition to her alien shrine.

The man pressed on. “Looks like you folks are on a trip!”

“Well, yes, somewhat, yes… a trip…” Terry stammered, not sure how to interpret the man’s booming tone. Daisy peered through her window, the man inches away from her face, and tried to get a look at his eyes under the brim of his hat.

Aunt Dee leaned over her sister’s lap, anxiously squeezing out, “Hey! Everyone’s okay! Great! We should probably clear off the road then and get going, right?”

Aunt Terry giggled nervously. The man did not crack a smile. Daisy continued stroking her keychain, rearranging her shrine, sinking further into her nest of pillows and her duffel. She watched her Aunt Dee, who kept peeking back at her as if monitoring Daisy’s anxiety. The man cleared his throat and all three snapped their eyes to his attention.

“Well… one of my tires may have popped during the fuss back there…” Trailing off, he stared at the women, finally tilting his chin and giving them a peek at his bright, full green eyes. Daisy looked at her keychain, and looked back the man’s eyes. Same color she thought, and feverishly began adding to her shrine anything she could find – a paper towel, her stuffed animals, an old necklace she had dug up from between the seats.

She was so busy building that she forced herself not to notice the man reach to open Terry’s door, forced herself not to notice Terry’s frozen limbs being pulled out of the car by the man’s rough hands until Dee was stretched across the front of the car, grasping for her sister’s arm, hand, leg, jacket, anything.

Huddling deeper in her backseat nest, Daisy could only stare as Aunt Dee threw her car door open, hurling herself out and towards the man and Terry, who were nearly to the man’s car. Daisy peered over the backseat as the man shoved Terry into his car, gripping her arms behind her back and blocking her from coming out. With his other hand he grabbed Aunt Dee’s hair, throwing her into the car behind Terry.

As Daisy gazed out the window, placid with shock and unable to figure out if she should move or not, she noticed the man’s green eyes again, the heavy work boots on his feet, the chest spilling out the top of his shirt, the short stubble on the bottom of his chin.

When she started to move, still in a trance, she reached for the next item of her shrine, the day’s newspaper, and, lifting it, found herself staring straight into those glowing green eyes and one bold word: WANTED.

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