Todd blinked into existence and tumbled into dirt. He rolled onto his back and breathed as hard as he could, exhausted. He had never blinked this far before, and now his insides hurt. He looked to his side and saw a lizard scurry under some sagebrush. He was in the desert. It was hot, even though it was nine in the morning. He sat up with effort and looked at his barren surroundings. Besides the sagebrush and cacti, there was a cluster of dark specks in the distance. Hopefully, a town. He sighed and picked himself up. If he could manage one more blink, he wouldn’t have to walk all that distance. He concentrated and-
He smacked headlong into a wall and fell backwards onto his rear. A woman let out a small shriek. He rubbed his head and reoriented himself again. He looked around to see a pair of ancient gas pumps and the side of the rundown service station he had run into.
“Jeezum! Are you alright!?” A woman in her forties asked. She finished her cigarette and flicked it onto the asphalt. She had dyed black hair, heavy purple eye shadow, and turquoise jewelry.
Todd stood up shakily. “I think, yeah.” He used one hand to lean against the flaking paint of the wall. He was nauseous.
“Oo, that must’ve hurt. Come inside, sit.” She invited. A bell tinkled as she opened one of the double doors to the small store.
Todd looked around. Paranoia clung to him although he was probably safe for the time being. No one could have possibly tracked him yet. He followed the woman inside, keeping an eye on the empty freeway. The woman pulled a stool from behind the counter. Todd sat down, grateful for the chance to rest a little. The state themed souvenirs informed him he was now in New Mexico. A far cry from chilly Chicago.
“You need anything? Water?” The woman asked. He noticed her nametag said Belinda.
“Yes, please.” He said.
“Sure thing, honey. Wow, you must’ve barreled right into the building, I didn’t even see you comin’.” Belinda went over to the soda station and filled a large soda cup with water.
“I misjudged the distance.” He admitted.
“You look familiar.” She said as she turned to him.
Todd shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I get that a lot.”
“You look a lot like one of Rusty’s boys.” She handed Todd the cup. He took it gratefully and made a silent sigh of relief on the inside.
He took a long sip of water as he thought of a response. She went back behind the counter.
“Sorry, I don’t know Rusty.” Todd said honestly.
“Rusty’s a good fella, lives up near the reservation.” Belinda said. She picked up the store phone and dialed a number. “His kids are all grown up, and he’s been alone since his wife passed away, but he seems happy there with all those dogs of his.” Belinda lifted the phone to her ear. “Hello, Ralphie? Hi, it’s Belli at the Pump Station. Could you get the sheriff down here? I found some terrorist guy that was on the news.”
Todd stood up to leave and Belinda pulled a large .44 magnum out from below the counter. His eyes widened and he held his hands up. It looked like the gun from Dirty Harry.
“Oh, no, Sarah’s out of town right now…” Belinda continued talking on the phone. Her hand shook from the weight of the gun and the adrenaline that must’ve been pumping through her system. “She’s actually out looking at colleges, I think she’s in Santa Fe this weekend.”
“Hey, this is all a big misunderstanding.” Todd tried to plea, but Belinda wasn’t listening to him.
“Uh huh. I know, the girl’s smart, she says she wants to be a doctor.”
“This is hell.” Todd said to himself.
“I’ll see you soon. Buh-bye.” Belinda said and hung up the phone. She rested the butt of the gun on the counter, but kept it angled at Todd.
“Whatever you saw on the news-” Todd began.
“So yeah, Rusty has the seven dogs, which some say is too many dogs, but at the same time my great aunt Blanche had twenty dogs at one time.” Belinda continued her story.
“Ms. Belinda, hey, sorry, but please don’t get me arrested, please?” Todd pleaded.
“You shot a bunch of innocent people; I saw it on Fox!” Belinda said.
“It wasn’t me. I can prove it.”
“Sheriff should be here in five minutes. Eight, if he decides to stop at McDonalds first.”
“Your sheriff sounds bad.”
“You have five minutes. Prove your innocence.” Belinda said.
“Do you have your phone?” Todd asked.
Belinda pulled an ancient flip phone from her pocket. Todd shook his head.
“Do you have a smartphone?” Todd asked.
“It’s smart enough to do what I need it to.”
Todd groaned, frustrated. “I was going to show that in all the pictures and videos of me, I’m not holding a gun.”
“I didn’t use a gun, I didn’t hold a gun, but they said I shot people. It wasn’t me.”
“If you can prove your innocence, then why run?”
“I can teleport.”
“No, I can teleport. If a government or private corporation could get their hands on me and either control me or replicate my power, there’s no telling what would happen.” Todd explained. There were lots of things at stake that he could only imagine. Things like corporate espionage or collapse of the shipping and airline industries. Whoever had him stood to gain a ton of money and wield a lot of power.
“I know I could get down to the casino a lot faster.” Belinda craned her neck to look out the window for the sheriff. Todd thought about taking the gun while she was distracted but didn’t want either of them to get hurt on accident. Not before the sheriff was there, anyway.
“I don’t want to be captured by the CIA and be forced to sneak into North Korea or Iran for the rest of my life. That would suck.” Todd said.
“How they even gonna keep you captured if you can teleport?”
“They have collar things. I’ve seen them. Collars that hurt you.”
“Uh huh. Oh look, there’s the sheriff.” Belinda said.
Todd saw the patrol car pull into the dusty parking lot and began to panic on the inside. “Please let me go.”
“Sorry, but I bet there’s a reward for ya, and I could really use the money right now.” She said, sympathetic. Todd almost felt sorry for her.
Todd closed his eyes and sighed. “Fine.” He drank the rest of his water, some of it spilling around his lips and onto his shirt. “Could I get some more? A root beer this time?”
“Help yourself.” Belinda said.
Todd went over to the soda fountain and filled his cup with root beer as he heard the door tinkle open.
The sheriff was an overweight man with a mustache. His nose and cheeks were red, probably from years of alcohol abuse. In one hand he held a McDonald’s bag, and in the other was a fistful of fries. “How’s it goin’ Belli?” The sheriff asked. “What was this about a therapist? I thought I told ya that Mary and I already found one-”
“Terrorist, not therapist, ya big cow!” Belinda said. Todd stuck a straw into his cup and began to sip.
“Terrorist? Him?” The sheriff ate a mouthful of fries.
“That’s why I got the gun, Barney Fife.” Belinda chided.
“Aww, fiddlesticks.” The sheriff put his bag on the counter, shoved the rest of the fries into his mouth, wiped his hands off on his khaki pants, and pulled his handgun out. “Oo aaf uh ite oo main-” The sheriff tried to tell Todd his rights with his mouth full but continued to chew and swallow. Todd and Belinda waited.
“Sorry, just got back from lunch. Right, yes, right to remain silent, anything that you say can and will-”
Todd cut the off sheriff with obnoxious slurping sounds as he reached the end of his soda.
“Can and will-”
“You two are the only ones who know I’m here, right?” Todd cut the sheriff off again.
“And Ralphie. Ralphie knows.” Belinda said.
“Right, Ralphie.” Todd said. He figured he was rested enough to pull off what he needed to. He hoped the sugar from the soda would help restore his strength.
The sheriff cleared his throat. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney.
If you cannot afford an attorney-”
Todd extended his hand and blinked forward. He reappeared in front of the sheriff; his extended forearm now buried elbow deep in the man’s chest. The insides were warm and moist, and Todd could feel them move. Todd blinked again, and they were in the middle of the desert, back where Todd had first appeared in New Mexico. He yanked his arm out of the sheriff, squelching like it was a warm pumpkin. His forearm was scratched by the broken breastbone as it exited, and the sheriff fell backwards into the dirt, surprised, and confused. Todd felt sick but forced himself to blink back to the gas station.
Belinda had the front doors open and yelled at the desolate town for the missing sheriff. Todd reappeared behind her inside the store, tired all over again. He took a second to get his breath back and wiped the blood from his arm onto his dark jeans the best he could. Then he tapped Belinda on the shoulder. She screamed and whipped around with her heavy gun. Todd caught it by the barrel and yanked it out of her grip, tumbling her into the store from the force.
He readjusted his grip on the gun, flicked the safety off, and pointed it at her.
“Please, no, I’m sorry, I’ll let you go.” She held her arms up defensively as she cowered on the ground.
Todd began to hyperventilate. He couldn’t ignore the oozing gross darkness that grew in the pit of his stomach. He hated it, wished he could escape it. He didn’t want to kill her, but there was a huge risk in letting her go. She would tell others, the government and private military contractors would get called in, and more would die. The ones in power didn’t like when regular people saw him teleport and also live to talk about him being able to teleport.
He focused on slowing his breathing. He was lightheaded and aware of the sweat dripping down his face. She began to sob. He lowered the gun slowly.
“If you let me go, I’ll let you go.” Todd said. She nodded in agreement, sniffling. Todd flicked the safety on and slid the gun into his front waistband. He then backed out of the double doors and began to walk away.
Maybe he could hideout at that Rusty guy’s place she was talking about. She said he had a lot of dogs, and Todd liked dogs. His mom used to breed golden retrievers when he was a kid, and he missed having a pet of his own.
He dismissed the idea of staying in town for too long. Too risky. However, he was getting awfully hungry. His stomach rumbled and he stopped. He suddenly wanted whatever was in the former sheriff’s McDonald’s bag. Not only that, he needed to pack up on supplies while he had the chance, and the gas station was likely the only retail establishment for miles.
He walked back, thinking about how much he wanted jerky and trail mix, and opened the door with a tinkle of the bell again. Belinda spun around, surprised. Todd narrowed his gaze at her. She had the phone to her ear.
“R- Ralphie-” She sputtered.
Todd’s face twisted in disappointment. “That’s not really letting me go, is it?” He asked.
Belinda dropped the phone and tried to back into the cigarettes as Todd pulled the .44 from his waistband.