The bus pulled up, the brakes squealing with effort, and I jerked up, Cameron’s fingers untangling from my hair. We gathered our bags quickly, worried the bus would leave without us. The suitcase was stolen by Cameron, who took out her bus card and paid both our fairs before bouncing onto the bus. I smiled when I noticed the bus was practically empty, aside from an old lady, a young boy, two teens, and a woman. We took our seats near the front of the bus, the row of three seats parallel to the bus walls becoming home until we found a more suitable place at the last stop.

      The clock at the front of the bus read “7:43” in bright orange lettering that glowed lightly like a flame. I swayed in time to the way the bus moved, bouncing lightly when the wheels ducked into a hole in the asphalt. The bus jerked to a halt and I nearly crashed into Cameron on my left, who thankfully caught me before i could embarrass myself.

      A man got on, i would place him around 40 or 50, his not quite graying hair contained in a trucker hat. He had a bulging duffle bag slung across his shoulder, accompanied by a blue polo shirt and beer belly. His legs were covered partly by a pair of loose khaki shorts, the rest coated in a thick layer of hair. He took his seat on the first row of 2 right behind us, or to the right of us I guess. Cameron edged away from him and closer to me. Yikes

      Two or so hours went by and Cameron had edged her way practically onto my lap. I was starting to forget about the man in favor of nodding off. I was tired, which is a point I have already made several times. My eyelids started to droop and my head started to fall. The man spoke and startled me out of my daze.

      “Where ya girls headin?” The man asked. The question wasn’t meant to be creepy, probably just trying to make conversation, but my skin erupted in goosebumps regardless.

      I smiled at Cameron and spoke to the man, answering his question vaguely. “Eh, nowhere special. We’re getting off at the next stop so you don’t have to worry about us, sir.” She stared at me in confusion before settling back down. I felt the same way. I guess that was our plan now.

      “I can't help but worry about you sweet little things. The next stop is mine too, I parked my truck a little ways up. Y’all can catch a ride with me if you want, you know it’s dangerous for two pretty girls like yourself at night. You could get snatched up.” His voice came out like grease, thick and oily and disgusting. It choked me, and I barely found a way to stay calm. Cameron was on my lap now.

      “Nah, it’s okay sir.” 

      “You sure? I got a nice truck, could totally take y’all lassies wherever you need to be.” the man coaxed. He got a bit closer and I could see some of his teeth were missing. I couldn’t name where the numerous stains on his polo might have come from and I didn't particularly want to try.

     An idea popped into my head and all I could think was that everything would become even worse if it failed, but it was our best bet. “Well sir, if you insist,” I responded in fake giddiness, as if I couldn’t wait to be put in the jaws of a bear trap. I thumbed over the blade in my pocket. I was so afraid, but I wouldn't show it. 

      27 minutes later and the bus braked, it’s hydraulics groaning with the effort of stopping, and Cameron hurried out of the entrance, all the bags taken with her. We were in the middle of nowhere, dusty clearing surrounding us and making me feel so, so small. 

      I grabbed Cameron’s arm, turning her toward me and whispered in her ear, “Follow my lead, don’t be suspicious.” I let go, my bruising grip falling in favor of letting my hand slip into my pockets and feel the metal. It was warm under my fingers from my body heat. I took a deep breath and made my way to the man, the smallest bit of relief coursing through my body like a shot of nicotine as Cameron did as i told.

      I walked up to the strange man as if he were an old friend, asking him where we were going and trying not to flinch in the process. His breath stank of cigarette smoke and rotting things as he responded, pointing to a rusty orange pickup truck with a grey cover over the back. He popped the trunk, swinging our bags into the space and I saw an old stained mattress through the gap. I shuddered. 

      The man directed us to the front seats and told us that we could ride in the back seats. I fiddled with the metal in my pocket, pulling it out and sheathing it in my palm, considering what to do. I slipped the knife back in my pocket before taking his offer, sliding into the back seats and watching idly as Cameron followed my lead. He swung the duffel bag onto the floor by our feet and the zipper popped. It was filled with cash. This might end up better than I thought it would.

      By the duffel bag and our feet there was a tent and some rope. Gross. At least the car seemed pretty clean for a man as dirty as him. The engine sputtered as he jerked the stick shift, once, twice, and the car tumbled to life. He started driving and I settled into the seats. I was awake now, adrenaline pumping through my bones like a mallet on a drum. 

      “So, what are your names?” the man asked.

      “I’m Luca and she’s Mary” The fake names came out quick enough for him not to suspect anything. I came to the conclusion that I was a good liar.

      “Those are some pretty names that fit some pretty lassies like yourself just perfectly. My names David, incase y’all little ladies were wondering.” I nearly gagged. We were not.

      “Why thank you, sir!” I exclaimed, pretending i was not sick to my stomach.

      “No problem! Say, where do you little lassies come from?” Too many questions. He should just be quiet.

      “We come from a small town up north, we’re coming over to visit grandma but we got a little lost on the way. We’re planning on righting ourselves before heading wherever.” I spun lies from my tongue like spiderwebs. I had to be careful I wouldn’t invalidate my own story.

      “So y’all are siblings huh?”

      “Adopted, but yeah. We don’t know our blood parents.”

      “Be honest, do you girls got any crushes on boys back home?”

      I shuddered and hoped he didn’t notice it. “No sir! Boys just aren’t for us yet, right Mary?” Cameron nodded her head but stayed quiet.

      “Your sister, Mary, she ain’t very talkative is she?” 

      I gritted my teeth. “Sorry sir, she’s a selective mute. She comes from germany so she doesn't know very much english either.”

      “Oh, an exotic lassie! Now that’s not something you see every day!” He peered at us through the rear view mirror, adding up our prices in his mind. We were meat to him, and he’d just scored a prime piece that couldn’t speak to the authorities if he did something. His eyes went back to the road and he chuckled. “She’s pretty, I can see the german in her.”

      My skin prickled with the inherent wrongness of it all. Cameron was staring at me with wide eyes. I returned her stare and pet her on the head like she had for me at the bus stop. Her eyes closed and she leaned into the touch. At any other time I would let myself feel happy, but I could feel David’s eyes burning holes through us. I felt dirty, for some reason.

      Half an hour passed and the questioning continued, my web of lies getting harder and harder not to break with Cameron nodding off beside me. “How long till we get to the next gas station?” I asked David

      “10 minutes, little lassie” he replied. I could tell he was hiding something gross under his skin, under his mask, something evil and oily. I wondered if I cut him, would his blood ooze out slowly, as thick as asphalt, and become black spots on the sidewalk, or would it flood out and make his skin shrivel up around his bones. 

      I was getting panicked now, Cameron wouldn’t wake up and my efforts were becoming less discrete. Finally, she woke, dizzy and dazed. The adrenaline filled my lungs in quick and uneven bursts, fear swirling open space. Her eyes were clouded and glazed over and she tried to rub the sleep from her eyes. I could tell she was having trouble, but it seems she was collected enough. 

      The car stopped, halting suddenly, taking my heart with it. The middle of nowhere, next to an orchard of who knows what that stretched for acres and acres in every which way. David told us to get out of the car. We didn’t.

       “Where are we, sir?” I asked through the window. He tried to tell us to come out again, but I asked again “Sir? Where are we?” He was getting frustrated now, I could tell, and the blade felt heavy in my pocket. It fit into my palm perfectly as if made for that spot, and I held the door closed. 

      “When I open this door I want you to get into the driver's seat. Don’t go until i say so.” I saw Cameron nod behind me, her dazed and confused expression turning determined. David’s hand was on the other side of the door, trying desperately to yank it open while swearing.

      I counted down in my head, the knife seemed to burn my hand. 1… I took a deep breath. 2… I flicked the blade open, the noise of the metal turning on its axis the only thing I could hear. 3… I released my hand off the handle and the door swung open, surprising the man enough that he teetered back in shock. I pointed the blade toward him threatening. My hands weren’t shaking.

      “Give me the keys to this car and I won’t hurt you or report you for kidnapping.” The door behind me popped open and slammed shut, the drivers side door opening and the entire car jostling as Cameron threw herself into place and shut the door with a bang.

      The man smiled at me. “Now now girls,” he began shakily, fear evident in his voice, “I'm sure we can come to a suitable agreement.” He started toward us again, hands out in front of him as if we were frightened animals. 

      I extended my arm, the knife following jerkily. “Now.” my words were firm and i could tell he was afraid of me. He took the keys from his pocket, handing them to me with tremors in his hands. I tossed them to Cameron and heard the telltale noise that showed she caught it, never once taking my eyes or knife off the man. Then gine stalled 3 times before the car hummed to life and I shut the door slowly, keeping David in sight. 

      “Go!,” I shouted to Cameron the moment my door was shut and the car sped off, leaving David no chance to catch up. I closed the knife with a click, glad the confrontation was over. My hands shook, a delayed reaction. I shivered, imagining what might have happened if we hadn’t acted when we did. The road hugged us on either side and I found myself thanking past me for saving up to get Cameron a license for her birthday. 

      While we were driving I wormed my way up to the passenger side seat, Cameron throwing me a passing glance before turning her eyes back to the road, her hands tight on the searing wheel. No more David, thank god. It occurred to me that he probably gave us a fake name so we wouldn’t be able to report him, but I didn’t have to worry about him anymore.

     Tense silence filled the air as our hearts hearts beat erratically against our ribs. Despite myself, I let out a breathless giggle. It spreads to Cameron infectiously, a small smirk blooms on her face before she’s chuckling too. We can feel the truck going as fast as we could will it with Cameron’s foot stomped on the gas, every small rock and a bit of loose gravel ricochet out from under the tires and every bump or pothole being exaggerated.

      We quiet down as the truck slows steadily, Cameron easing off her smothering heel on the gas pedal. She finds what she thinks to be a reasonable speed, 64 miles per hour, and keeps the old stick shift at a steady pace. For the first time after leaving, I see her shoulders untense, and the way she visibly relaxes. It’s just a little bit, but it’s enough to make me realize how on edge she’s been this entire time.

      The last remaining pillars of adrenaline left crumbled inside me, my eyes growing heavy and exhaustion seeping into every bit of me in such a way that i thought i would drown. Before drifting off, I stared at Cameron. She had a carefree smile on her face.

      “Hey Cam?” I said, my voice lilting at the end. She made a noise of recognition in the back of her throat, a small “hmm?” that prompted me to speak.

      “Thank you.” I didn’t hear what she said afterward, but I could see the smile grow on her face. I wasn’t quite sure what I was thanking her for, giving me a chance for freedom, driving the truck, taking me away from my family, cutting me free from bad things and bad people, for her laugh or her smile or the way she tells jokes, but I didn’t get time to figure it out before i was too tired to keep my eyes open much longer.

      The last thing I saw was the asphalt of the road turning cotton grey with the headlights and the way Cameron’s smile melted into what little light reflected back into the car. The moon shone bright, like an apple ripe enough to eat. I smiled back at Cameron and my exhaustion finally claimed me, tugging me from what little remains of wakefulness I had into complicated dreams I would not remember when I woke up. 

December 15, 2019 23:44

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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