Abigail Berkeley drove across the desert at an incredibly reasonable speed. She was heading towards a very important meeting but had no reason to rush because she had left early enough to compensate for any potential delays. Abigail prided herself on being efficient and planning ahead. She had factored in all the variables and was confident that no obstacle in her path would stay that way for long.
She was handling everything this week had thrown at her as effectively as she possibly could.
The only part of her plan that she admitted was illogical was not taking a plane, but then she would have had to deal with buying tickets, sorting out a rental car, and managing the inevitable panic attack. She knew her fear of flying was irrational, but figured it wasn't too bad since she at least acknowledged its irrationality. Plenty of people had plane-related anxiety, and if enough people did something, that meant it was completely normal.
Besides she could easily drive the handful of hours across the vast empty desert the night before with no problem.
The long, boring desert.
She hadn't seen another car for miles. The road seemed to stretch infinitely into the future. Her eyelids decided to put on some pounds.
She snapped her fingers a few times in front of her face. “Come on, Abigail. Focus.”
She tried to think really hard about the presentation she was going to give tomorrow, but her mind would wander off on unhelpful tangents, and she had to wrestle with her thoughts to get them back on track.
A small snore startled her awake. She had drifted into the other lane. She quickly pulled back into her own.
She turned on the radio. She could find nothing but static, so she turned it off again.
She thought about pulling off and taking a quick nap. She could afford to do this if she set an alarm on her phone.
She should have put some music on her phone. Or an audiobook. The only app she had on her phone was her fruit-matching game. It was one of the few frivolous activities she allowed herself to indulge in. But of course she couldn’t play it while driving. That would be irresponsible and dangerous. But she couldn’t help but imagine the patterns...
Green pear, yellow banana, red apple...
She wasn't sure what the blue fruit was supposed to be. She should Google it. She hated not knowing things. Knowledge is important. Planning is important. Safety is important.
She opened her eyes just in time to see the woman hit the front of her car. Abigail watched as the woman rolled over the top and out of her sight. She slammed on the brakes and caught a glimpse in the rearview mirror of the woman's body rolling off the back.
Abigail was wide awake.
After a few moments of frozen panic, she got out of the car. The woman was face down on the road. “Miss? Are you okay? I’m going to check your pulse. Is that okay?” No response. Not good. She tried squeezing the woman's wrist. She couldn't feel anything, but had no idea if she was doing it right. She had even less of an idea of how to do CPR. The woman didn't appear to be breathing or reacting to any pokes and prods.
Oh god, what had she done?
No, scratch that. What can she do? She had to help this poor woman.
Abigail pulled out her phone.
She ran around a bit trying to find one, but no luck. She was briefly tempted to play a round of the fruit-matching game and ignore all of this until she felt better. That was selfish and irrational. Abigail would not stand for having two irrational issues.
But for the first time in her life, Abigail had no idea what to do.
Abigail sat on the trunk of her light blue Prius and tried to think logically. She needed a plan. So she didn't have a signal, but she might have one down the road. So she'd just drive until she got one.
She couldn't just leave the woman alone, though. What if she woke up, alone and stranded? That would be awful. Also, that felt like a hit and run.
So she'd bring the body with her. Even if she couldn't find a signal, she was pretty sure there was a town nearby and they'd have a landline. Or a hospital. Yes. Good plan.
Abigail gently piled the body in the backseat of her car, face up this time. She scrunched up a jacket and placed it under her head as a makeshift pillow, secured her with the middle seat belt, and then got into the car herself. She held the wheel in one hand and her phone in the other, occasionally glancing to check on her bars.
She had driven for a solid five minutes with not a single blip when a voice from the backseat said, “Yo, you really shouldn't text and drive.”
Abigail screamed, then ran off the road.
Sam Poots, affectionately known as ‘Samantha’, ‘The Accused’, and sometimes just ‘Hey You’, stumbled through the desert, singing and swearing.
Her acid green, bumper-sticker-encrusted 1992 Ford Focus had burst into flames a few miles back, due to never having its oil changed, ever. So this wasn’t the kind of hike that included maps and snacks and anything resembling a plan. It was the kind of hike where you carried your burnt guitar in one hand, and the jagged lump of metal that was all that remained of your engine-block in the other. Sam’s car had only taken thirty seconds to go from “Hey, is that smoke?” to “Fire! Fire! OMG FIRE!” Shortly after, the only thing left was a car shaped smear across the ruined asphalt.
It was equal parts sad and awesome.
Sam hadn’t gotten much sleep in the past week, going from one rave to another, with the odd carnival in between. It felt good to be free and outside for the first time in too long, so she had been overindulging in all the things she could think of, and it showed. Her back itched where she had gotten a new tattoo, free, from some guy with a handlebar mustache and a jug of scorpion-vodka. She wondered if he had used something psychoactive in the ink. The design was rad as hell: a wolf with angel wings splayed across her back, and the words “Wolves Are Murderdogs” in an old english font. She hadn’t requested this tattoo, it had just happened, so she didn’t know what it meant. The meaning behind most of her random tattoos remained a mystery to Sam. It was more fun that way, if she was honest with herself, which she wasn’t. She lied all the time, to herself and also everyone else. It was more fun that way.
The daylight changed to a golden glow, as the sun dipped behind the far-off mountain. It would be completely dark shortly. Dark was usually Sam’s favorite time, but she’d rather spend it somewhere more interesting than this lonely highway, in the vast middle of nowhere south of Las Vegas. She clomped past a bent-over signpost for a long abandoned roadside attraction. Somebody had spray painted on extra 6 on it, so it now read “Route 666.”
Haha, real spooky, asshole.
A coyote howled, somewhere far away and yet too close. She wondered if the coyote would make friends with her back-wolf, once it was feasting on her corpse. Are coyotes and wolves the same thing? Or am I just being dog-racist? They’re both types of murderdogs after all...
A short distance behind Sam, a car crested a slight rise, and announced its presence with a wink of its high-beams. It was approaching quickly, albeit at a perfectly reasonable speed.
Sam began to stick out her thumb and then stopped. When accidentally hitchhiking, the sort of people who stop and pick you up are never the sort of people you want to get picked up by. Therefore, the people that don’t stop and pick you up are the sort of people you want to get picked up by. So, she had to make sure she got picked up by the sort of people that would never stop to pick up hitchhikers.
Sam leapt into the road in such a way that getting hit by the car was barely painful. She didn’t really need that shoulder anyway. Besides, sympathy from people who thought they’d injured her had gotten her a long way in life.
Sympathy was her wingman.
Sam howled as Abigail’s car careened off the road and sideswiped the railing. Abigail watched in horror as her passenger door side-view mirror broke free and flew off into the inky black behind them. Abigail slammed the brakes and the car ground to a halt. But even though the car had stopped, Abigail’s heart was still beating a mile a minute. She turned back to face the crazed woman in the back of her car.
“Are you okay?” asked Sam, giggling wildly.
“Am I okay? I thought you were dead!”
“I am dead!” Sam cackled with manic glee. “You killed me!”
Sam waved off Abigail’s horror. “Nah, I’m kidding. I’m not dead. Fuck, I’m alive! Have you ever been hit by a car before?”
“You should! It’s amazing. I’m so wired right now!” Sam shook her hands and ran them through her hair, then inhaled sharply. “The adrenaline! It’s like I did, like, three lines of coke! My whole body’s just– I’m trembling!”
Sam took Abigail’s hand and placed it on her shoulder. “Feel it?”
Abigail yanked her hand back and inspected it, in case it had somehow been contaminated. The woman was trembling, though, which was almost universally bad. She had heard of good trembling, but hadn’t personally experienced it and honestly thought it was a lie. “We should get you to a hospital.”
A quick look of fear washed over Sam’s face, which was then replaced with a forced casualness. “Nah, I don’t need to go to the hospital. I’m fine– wait–” She yanked on her shoulder, popping it back into the socket from which it was apparently dislocated. “I’m great! No hospital!”
Abigail eyed Sam suspiciously, but not for long. Being suspicious took time that she didn’t have. She hadn’t been planning on dumping the body, but since the body wasn’t dead anymore, it seemed like more of a moral grey area.
“Okay, fine,” Abigail relented, “No hospitals. Does your phone have signal? ‘Cause mine doesn’t.”
Sam shook her head. “No signal. No phone.”
“I left it in the fire– I mean, car– I mean, car fire.”
Sam chuckled. “Yeah, which is ironic because it was a burner phone. Or it’s not ironic? But, like, it’s something, though! We need a word for that!”
Abigail gawked at her.
“Sorry,” Sam offered. “I’m still high off of the adrenaline. Plus maybe the murderdogs?”
Abigail shook that off and tried to regain the upper hand in the conversation. “Okay, well, we’re not that far from Hoburg. When we get there, you can call a friend or family member or drug dealer or whatever sort of person you have attached to you and have them come get you.”
Sam made a mental inventory of the people she knew who could physically come and get her. Then she made a mental inventory of the people who actually would. It wasn’t much of a list.
“So you’re just going to abandon me.”
“If you want to put it that way, fine. But I have things I need to do and I can’t wait around for you to get picked up.”
Sam considered this. Then she had an idea. It was a bit of a risky idea, but those were the best kind.
Abigail jumped as Sam’s foot came down to the right of her in the front seat. Before she could understand what was happening, Sam rolled up her jeans to reveal an ankle bracelet. The police kind, not the jewelry kind.
“Oh my god!” Abigail yelped.
“See, the tricky part was turning it off.” Sam smiled real wide. “Turning it back on again, that’s a piece of cake.”
“What are you saying?”
“What I’m saying is, you even think about abandoning me, I turn it on and the police are on me faster than you can say ‘get your fucking hands off me, you pigs! I know my rights!’ And you, my friend,” Sam poked Abigail in the forehead at this moment, infuriating Abigail and filling Sam with glee, “are aiding and abetting a fugitive. And I’m betting that you definitely don’t have time for that.”
Sam sat back with her hands behind her head, victorious. Abigail opened her mouth, trying to find something to say, but coming up empty.
Finally, she just sighed, defeated. “Where do you want to go?”
Sam shrugged. “I dunno. Where do you want to go?”
“San Bernardino,” said Abigail.
“Who wants to go to that shithole?” asked Sam, crawling over the backseat.
“I do. I have to,” said Abigail as Sam settled herself into the passenger seat.
“You have to? Aw, shit, are you a criminal, too? Did I wind up hitching with a psycho killer qu'est-ce que c'est?” Sam said this with excitement instead of fear, which deeply worried Abigail.
“No, are you?”
Abigail started breathing heavily.
“Okay, jeez! No. Just trying to keep an air of mystery. You have no sense of drama, man.”
Abigail’s breathing slowed a little. “So what did you do?”
“A naughty thing. A terrible, naughty, but most importantly, fun thing. But enough about me. Air of mystery. Why do you have to go to San Bernardino?”
“Man, stop being better at this air of mystery thing! Explain.”
“I work for a company in San Bernardino that makes office supplies. I have a very important presentation to give on paperclips. ‘Practical Paperclips for Practical People.’ See, I have this marketing idea that could really revolutionize the way people see paperclips. They’re way more useful than people realize. You see–”
“Wow. Okay. Air of mystery evaporated. Holy shit, that’s boring. So is San Bernardino. Let’s turn this bad boy around and hit up Vegas!”
“Sorry, no. These paperclips are my life.”
“That is the saddest thing I have ever heard. And I’ve been to, like, three My Chemical Romance concerts. Look, we go to Vegas or I turn this on,” said Sam, poking tentatively at her ankle.
Abigail began to seriously hyperventilate. “I… no… I… this is…”
Abigail gripped the wheel, leaned back, and screamed ever so lightly.
Sam had seen plenty of breakdowns, even had her own fair share of them, but she had never seen one quite like this. It was almost polite? “Jesus. Calm down. Never seen anyone with a hard-on for paperclips.”
“Alright, fine. We’ll go to Bernardino, nerd. Vegas is hella cliché anyway.”
Abigail breathed a sigh of relief and teared up a little. “Sorry. I’ve never been a hostage before.”
“Man, I wish I could say the same.”
“Nothing. Air of mystery. Look, I’m not keeping you hostage. I’m setting you free.”
“What you said makes no logical sense.”
“I’m saying we’re going to have some fun.”
Abigail made an unpleasant noise from deep within her.
“Oh, come on! What can I do to make you relax?”
“Tell me what you did to get the ankle monitor.”
“Alright, fair. I totally killed a dude.”
“Look, I’m not the best with jokes.”
“You will be when I’m through with you. This is fun! You’re like a project! At the end, I remove your glasses, let down your hair, and then you get to fuck the jock.”
“Maybe you should just turn the monitor back on.”
“Okay, rule number one: The monitor only gets turned on if I want it to be turned on. Rule number two: There are no rules.”
“What about rule one?”
“That one was about the monitor. Keep up. Okay, rule number three…”
Abigail tried to distance her mind from the current situation and concentrate instead on paperclips. She knew where she stood with paperclips. She understood how they worked. They didn’t just randomly throw her life into chaos.
They did sometimes put two things together, though. Like, that’s kinda their job.