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Fantasy

Stopping at a gas station in the middle of a desert that stretched as far as the eye could see, Tim watched the attendant pumping gas into his SUV. The man had slicked back hair and the name “Jose” sewn on the pocket of his uniform shirt. Riley came out of the bathroom with a frown on her face as she pinched her nose.

           Tim asked, “Are we on the right road to Vegas?”

           Jose finished pumping gas, pulled the nozzle out of the tank, and stared out at the long stretch of straight black road surrounded by flat, yellow sand. “Yes, if you stay on here until your reach that mountain, there is an exit for the Interstate.”

           Tim glanced at the mountain that seemed very far away. “Okay, thanks.”

           “Just gotta watch for those desert demons out there,” Jose said. “They’ll swamp your car real bad.”

           “Desert demons?” Tim asked.

           “Yeah, they’ve been known to take out cars,” Jose said with bulging eyes.

           “Thanks for the heads up, man,” Tim said, thinking twice and deciding not to believe Jose’s tale, so he didn’t get his pistol from his backpack in the trunk.

           “What was he talking about?” Riley asked, biting into a sandwich.

           Tim thought about it and said, “Nothing. He was just shooting the breeze.” They got back on the road. Tim pointed to the distant mountain, “When we get to that mountain, there will be an entrance to the highway to Vegas.”

           Riley looked at her phone. “There’s no service out here. This whole thing sucks.”

           “Look, I thought driving out here would be cheaper, and then we would have money for the room and to give Jack and Beth a nice wedding present.”

           Riley chewed her sandwich. “You know, these destination weddings suck.”

           “Yeah, they do,” Tim nodded, his long curly brown hair flowing around his shoulders.

           “That bathroom back there was disgusting,” Riley moaned.

           “Yeah, it was pretty gross,” Tim laughed.

           She punched his arm. “It’s not funny; the world is easier for you guys being able to stand to pee.”

           “Sorry about that,” Tim said and then stayed quiet.

*

           Riley woke and sat upright, wiping her red hair from her face. “It doesn’t seem like we’re getting any closer to that mountain.”

           “Yeah, we are,” Tim said.

           “Look at the sun,” Riley said. “It will be dark soon, and we will be late for the rehearsal dinner tonight. You’re a crappy driver”

           Tim shook his head of curls. “No, don’t go blaming me. If you didn’t sleep so late this morning, we could have avoided that traffic jam and detour that put us on this damned road.”

           “I worked a late shift last night, and I was tired.”

           “Oh, the work excuse again.”

           Riley punched his arm harder this time. “Yeah, you try working in the ER. You wouldn’t last one night.” She looked out the windshield and pointed, “What the hell is that?”

           A spinning red ball was racing to collide with them. Tim hit the brakes and turned the steering wheel all the way to the right. Instead of crashing into the windshield, the ball slammed against the rear door on the driver’s side.

           Thinking about what Jose told him, Tim said, “Stay in the car.” He jumped out and saw a writhing little red demon with a pointy tail, its green blood splashed on the SUV and the road under it. It was mumbling and crying and trying to move its crushed red wings.

           Riley jumped out of the car yelling, “What’s going on?” She ran around the car and stared at the injured creature. “What the hell is that?”

           Tim looked up at her and said with a deadpan expression, “Desert demon.”

           “Desert what?” she asked, pushing her hair that was blowing in the hot wind out of her face.

           “The guy back at the gas stationed warned me about them,” Tim said.

           The little demon was crying loudly, and Riley tilted her head as she looked at it. “It’s gonna die if we don’t do something.”

           “Yeah, but, uh, it’s a demon,” Tim said.

           “We would want to help a dog if we hit it, right?” She got the first aid kit from the glove compartment and came back and knelt by the demon. “I’m a nurse; I’m going to try to help you.”

           “Thank…you,” it whispered.

           As Riley worked on the demon, Tim bent down and asked, “Why were you coming right at the windshield?”

           “I…I can go right through glass,” it whispered.

           Tim stood up and sighed. “So, you were trying to kill us!”

           Riley was wrapping a bandage around the demon’s head. “Stop it, Tim.”

           “What do you think would have happened if it came through the windshield?” Tim yelled. “It was trying to kill us!”

           Riley stopped what she was doing and shook her head. “It’s dead.”

           Tim ran his hands through his hair and paced back and forth. “Now what are we going to do?”

           Riley stood up, opened the trunk, and handed Tim a shovel. “The right thing!”

*

           They drove in silence for a long time. Night fell, and they couldn’t even see the mountain anymore. “Tim,” she whispered, “what’s going on?”

           “I don’t know,” Tim mumbled, “but I’m exhausted.”

           Riley saw a dim light in the distance. “Look, something is up ahead.”

           By the time they reached the light, Tim was nodding off at the wheel. They pulled into the gravel parking lot of the Desert Motor Inn, and Tim parked the car and slumped over. Riley grabbed her duffel and said, “I’ll get us a room.”

           Inside the office there was a Paiute man holding a flyswatter and watching a baseball game. He was old, with snow white hair and beard and piercing gray eyes. “Hello there, young lady.”

           Riley looked around and noticed a clean, rustic looking room with the head of a steer on the wall. “I’d like a room for the night.”

           “Are you all alone?” the man asked.

           “No, my husband is in the car,” she said throwing a thumb over her shoulder. She lied about the husband thing, but she wasn’t sure why.

           “My name is Pierce,” the man said as he pushed a form toward her. “If you need anything, just dial 0.”

           As she was filling out the form, she glanced up at him. “Thanks, Pierce.”

           “There’s an ice machine between rooms four and five, and there’s a vending machine with snacks and drinks there too.”

           “Thank you,” Riley said. “That’s good to know.”

           She got Tim into their room, turned on the TV, and got some ice for their cooler. She had four bottles of beer in there, three bottles of water, and some wrapped up hardboiled eggs. Riley also bought a couple of packs of chips and pretzels.

           Tim woke up while she was opening a noisy bag of pretzels and sat up in the bed. He looked around the room with its dull 1960s style of décor. “Where the hell are we?”

           “Just some roadside motel,” Riley said.

           Tim looked at his phone. “Dammit, no service! Does this place have Wi-Fi?”

           Riley glanced back at him. “Does it look like it has Wi-Fi?”

           Tim got up, grabbed a hardboiled egg, and took a bottle of Heineken from the cooler. He fell back on the bed and started eating. “We missed the rehearsal dinner, and I can’t even call Jack and tell him why his best man isn’t there.”

           Riley noticed the old black rotary phone on the table. “Hey, Pierce told me to dial 0 if I needed anything.”

           “Who’s Pierce?”

           Riley picked up the phone, dialed zero, and Pierce answered. “Hello, room four.”

           “Pierce, can I make an outside call?”

           “I’m sorry, young lady, the phones are only good as intercoms. We haven’t had phone service since they built the Interstate on the other side of the mountain and knocked down our telephone poles.”

           “Okay, thank you, Pierce.”

           “No landline either?” Tim asked.

           “No, and I know it sucks, but at least we found a place,” Riley said.

           “You know, I’ve been thinking about killing that demon.”

           “It was an accident, Tim.”

           “I know, but it meant to kill us.”

           Riley stared at him. “But we killed it.”

           “I feel uneasy about it.”

           “Hey, we buried it respectfully,” Riley said.

           Tim nodded. “Yeah, we did. I hope it ends there. You know, like that we don’t have hell to pay.”

           Riley smiled. “We’re gonna be okay.”

           Tim nodded. “Let’s get up early tomorrow, okay?”

           Riley sipped her water and nodded. “You’ve got it!”

*    

           As Tim was putting their stuff into the car, Riley walked into the office and saw Pierce holding his flyswatter and a coffee cup. “Good mornin’,” Pierce said exuberantly.

           “Hi, good morning,” Riley said.

           “Checking out?”

           “Yes,” Riley said.

           When Pierce turned around to get her folder, she thought she saw a pair of wings fluttering under his vest. Pierce reached over his shoulder and swatted at them with the flyswatter. He looked up at her and smiled, “Can’t keep those damn things in check.”

           Riley forced a smile and looked down at the bill on the counter. She was thinking that the wings weren’t red like the demon’s were. “Yeah, okay, I guess,” she said as she pulled out her credit card.

           “You seem a little nervous,” Pierce said. “These are the good kind of wings.”

           “You’re an angel then?”

           “Fallen or otherwise you might say,” Pierce said. He put her credit card inside a contraption with a carbon paper sheet.

           “What is that?”

           He looked up at her and smirked. “An imprinter. We do things the old-fashioned way around here.”

           She watched as he click-clacked the gadget and then handed her card back to her and a receipt. “If you could just sign there.”

           As Riley signed the paper she looked up at Pierce, and he was slapping his back with the flyswatter again. “Okay, sir.”

           Pierce grabbed her hand. “I’m a sentinel. You were safe here, but not out there.”

           Riley put her purse away. “What should we do?”

           “They’re gonna seek revenge. Go to that mountain and get to the highway; they can’t leave this desert; they’re condemned to be here.”

           Riley walked outside and got into the car. “What was going on in there?” Tim asked.

           “The old man said that the demon’s friends are going to be after us,” Riley said.

           Tim reached under the seat and took out his .45 pistol. “I’ll be ready for them.”

           “Tim, put that away and let’s get out of this desert,” Riley said.

*

           They were on the road for a long time, and the mountain still didn’t seem to be moving. Riley coughed and said, “Why haven’t you asked me to marry you?”

           “What are you talking about?”

           “We’ve been dating for three years – two of them living together. I’m turning 30, and we go to all our friends’ stupid destination weddings, but you never think about us.”

           “Look, it’s not what you’re thinking,” Tim said.

           “Well, what is it then, Tim?”

           Tim tightened his grip on the steering wheel. “You know my parents are divorced, right?”

           “Yeah and …”

           “Billy let me know that he and Carol are getting divorced.”

           “When did he tell you that?”

           “At Christmas and …”

           “Your brother is getting divorced, and six months later you to tell me.”

           “Sorry, I was just so shocked,” Tim said. “I mean if they can get divorced – with two kids and a dog and rabbit – well, that’s pretty scary to me.”

           Riley looked out the window and watched the steam rising from the desert floor. “This is all an excuse. Ever since Cindy’s wedding in March, you’ve been acting different.”

           “Yeah, you were your little sister’s maid of honor, but you seemed pissed off.”

           “Yeah, because I was pissed off,” Riley said.

           Tim looked ahead of them and said, “I think the mountain is finally getting closer.”

           Riley shook her head. “It’s not getting closer. It’s like this road is going nowhere.”

*

           They came upon a gas station, and Tim pulled up to the pump. Riley jumped out and ran inside to get sandwiches and to use the bathroom. An attendant came out who looked suspiciously like Jose whom they encountered a while back. This time he had the name Carlos on his uniform.

           As he pumped the gas, Carlos looked at Tim. “Man, you made it this far?”

           “What does that mean?”

           “My brother Jose told me about you,” Carlos snickered. “He didn’t think you’d make it this far.”

           “What are you saying?”

           “Just saying it’s surprising. You can’t kill one of them and live.”

           Tim watched as Carlos took the nozzle and put it back on the pump. “What the hell are you talking about?”

           “Hell is about the size of it,” Carlos smirked.

           Tim passed Riley as she came out of the station with a bag filled with vending machine food and drink. He went into the pigsty bathroom, and as he took a leak he stared at the sign above the toilet – “No One Gets Out Alive!”

           Back on the road, Tim ate a ham sandwich as he drove. He looked at Riley who was eating a bag of chips. “What are you thinking?” he asked.

           “We’re never getting to that wedding.”

           “I know.”

           “We’re gonna die on this road.”

           Tim took a deep breath. “We’re not gonna die.”

           “Those things are coming for us before we reach that mountain.”    

           Tim finished his sandwich and said, “No, they’re not.” He turned the steering wheel sharply and drove the SUV off the road and into the bleak sands of the desert, heading straight toward the mountain.

           “What the hell are you doing?” Riley screamed.

           “It’s that road that is stopping us.” Tim pressed the gas pedal hard and was racing across the flat, arid landscape leaving a cloud of dust behind him. The mountain seemed to be getting closer now than before.

           Suddenly three of those red desert demon balls appeared and were flying directly at their windshield. Tim veered to the right while poking the .45 out the driver’s side window and shot one of them, sending a spattering of green blood across the hood of the car. The other two demons veered away but circled back toward them.

           “Tim, we’re gonna die,” Riley screamed.

           Tim floored it as he turned back toward the mountain. The demons came up on their right side, and he fired another shot, but he missed this time. “I’m gonna end this now.” He stopped and jumped out of the SUV, planted his feet firmly in the desert sand, and held his right wrist with his left hand. The two demons were screeching toward him now, and he said, “Riley, get behind the wheel and don’t stop driving until you get to that mountain.”

           Riley was crying as she slipped behind the wheel. “I love you, Timmy.”

           “Floor it!” he screamed.

           Riley sped away from him heading toward the mountain. She looked in the rearview mirror, but a cloud of desert dust obscured her view of Tim and the demons. She kept driving for what seemed like a long time, and somehow, she reached the mountain and saw the sign that read “Interstate 15 – Las Vegas.” She pulled the car onto the shoulder, turned off the engine, and cried as she kept looking in the rearview mirror.

*

           It started getting dark. Riley got out of the car and peed behind a cactus. She got back in the car and looked at her face in the rearview mirror that was smeared with tears and smudged makeup. She could go to Vegas, but the wedding would be over. What would she tell their friends? What would she tell Tim’s family? They were ambushed by demons in the desert?

           She was about to start the car when she heard a thump against the back of it. Riley became scared as she thought the demons had found her. She was afraid to look back and see what made the noise, but she managed to turn around, and she saw Tim laying on the ground holding his pistol.

           Riley jumped out of the car and ran to him. Tim was covered with green blood and sand, and some of his own blood ran from his forehead. She managed to get him up and into the passenger’s seat. She buckled his seatbelt, got behind the wheel, and started driving on the Interstate toward Las Vegas.

*

           In the hotel on the Vegas strip, Tim managed to get into the bathroom and take a shower. Riley called her parents and Tim’s family. She apologized to the bride and explained that they had an accident. Beth invited them to the morning after breakfast and the U2 concert at The Sphere the following night. Riley said they’d come if they were up to it.

           Tim came out of the shower draped in a towel with his long hair dripping wet, took a bottle of beer from the refrigerator, and flopped into a chair. Riley noticed the bandage she put on his forehead was still there. He stared at her with a blank expression.

           “What happened out there?” she asked.

           “I got those little bastards,” he whispered. “I killed the first one, but the second’s claws locked onto my head. That’s when I blasted it to pieces.”

           “And you walked that whole way…”

           “I had to know you survived,” Tim sighed.

           Riley got off the bed and knelt in front of Tim. She hugged him and said, “I called everyone to let them know we’re okay.”

           Tim stared at her. “Okay?

           “Yeah, we’re alive, right?”

           Tim sipped his beer and touched her cheek. “I’m not okay; you can’t be okay either.”

           Riley saw something darker than fear in Tim’s eyes; she felt it too. They were never going to be anything close to okay again.

.

March 01, 2024 02:18

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6 comments

01:44 Mar 15, 2024

Hi Victor. This isn’t a genre I’m familiar with, but here goes. This is an original idea, desert demons and their antics, set in such an ordinary background. I like the counterpoint. I think your story might improve using more of a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach. For example, ‘Green blood, sand, Tim’s own blood, what was this?’ That sort of catches the attention more than a straight sentence and emphasises the strangeness. Green blood? Hope this is helpful. Best, Denise

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Victor Lana
18:49 Mar 15, 2024

Thanks for your feedback, Denise!

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Jack Kimball
13:17 Mar 10, 2024

Hey Victor, I see you have a strong background in Flash Fiction and a prolific writer. Nice! I have written some short stories that I am trying to get published, maybe flash speculative/horror if I do a rewrite. An example is "Cats!" https://www.jack-kimball.com/cats Another is "Revenge of the Muse": https://www.jack-kimball.com/revenge-of-the-muse My strategy is simply to use duotrope.com to submit. You are welcome to ignore this, I know you're busy, but do you think this stuff is good enough quality to be published? I'm thinking the...

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Victor Lana
22:26 Mar 10, 2024

I just read "Cats" and was very impressed. It reminds me of Kafka (and that's always a good thing) but more like Kafka smoking crack because it is happily so bizarre. It's a great story, one worthy of publication. The transformation happens off screen, which I like. I have a masters in creative writing, so you're on the right track. There's nothing like being with other writers for ideas and feedback. Cherish the feedback from professors too because you will never have access to that kind of scrutiny after you graduate. You have the tale...

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Jack Kimball
22:42 Mar 10, 2024

Thank you Victor! Great advice. I really appreciate you taking the time.

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Jack Kimball
12:57 Mar 10, 2024

Hi Victor, This piece reminded me so much of a Neil Gaiman short story (I don't remember the name) about three wishes with a genie. The genie pops out of nowwhere in a real life scenario. Like Gaiman, you juxtapose simple reality with the surreal. '...Riley sipped her water and nodded. “You’ve got it!”' mixed with almost a fairy tale feel to it (like Gaiman): 'He jumped out and saw a writhing little red demon with a pointy tail, its green blood splashed on the SUV and the road under it. It was mumbling and crying and trying to move its c...

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