The heat hit her first, waking her from a dreamless sleep. As she edged out of her hiding place she could see the last of the drifting smoke hovering over the shattered compound. There was no movement around it, so she guessed that everyone must’ve been evacuated without the need for a thorough search of the surrounding area. Just as well they had, otherwise she’d be spitting blood again round about now in some other windowless tomb. She stretched and checked herself for injury. Not that she expected to have much beyond a few pink scars; rapid healing being part of her dna package. Looking out into the distance, she scanned the area for any signs of a road and spotted one just a quarter of a mile away from the outcrop she’d been hiding in. Checking that there were definitely no recovery crews in the immediate area, she set off as fast the sand allowed. Barely breaking a sweat in the heat of the early dawn, she reached the road in less than a minute. Standing on the edge of the compacted dirt track she took a deep breath. She had no idea where she was going or what she should do next. Feeling lost and confused, she decided that away from the compound was preferable to standing right at the edge of the road pondering her fate. She gritted her teeth and broke into a run, moving east wards at speed, having no clue where she was going to end up, only that away was as good a destination as any.
Out on the road to the east a battered pickup truck was bouncing across the worn desert track.
The market drive was a boring one but it always gave him a chance to think. It had been three weeks since he’d graduated from High School and he still had no idea what he wanted to do. The majority of the male teen population of Sesame, Nevada, went to work on the family farm or the local stores. A small minority escaped to colleges out of state; but for him it seemed as though nothing quite fit. If he stayed he’d become part of the land. Not that there was anything wrong with being a farmer, his Dad was a damned good farmer and he knew he could be too, but the idea felt uncomfortable; like there should be more. If he left for college there was the problem of where and doing what? He heaved a sigh as indecision fogged his mind. The afternoon heat burned his forearm through the open window as he gripped the steering wheel of the battered elderly ford pickup truck. It bumped over the rough desert track bound for Nan’s Gas and Gulp Filling Station just outside town. It seemed wrong that he should feel as though he was constantly waiting for something; a feeling he’d had since he was child. His mother had said that in every generation there is a soul with itchy feet, who searches desperately for that which cannot be found. He sincerely hoped he wasn’t like that but given his inability to be pinned down to a decision of late, it seemed likely.
Coming up to Coopers crossing he slowed the pickup, much to the engines distaste. There had been a bad smash here earlier in the year and the poor road surface always made him uneasy. As he pulled to a halt beside the rock formations that blocked the cross roads, something caught his eye. Just this side of the badly maintained traffic sign there was a heap of debris or something. It was so close to the colour of the sand he nearly missed it. He was pretty sure it hadn’t been there on his outward journey and it couldn’t be left over from the crash. The state police had dragged everything away during their investigations.
His curiosity was peeked. This was worth a look, if for no other reason than to distract him from his thoughts. Putting the truck into park he turned off the engine and jumped down out of the driver’s side door; the bright sunlight momentarily dazzling him through his ray bans. He shielded his face searching for the bundle again. He spotted it and hurried over to see what fate had thrown his way. As he closed the distance it just looked like a pile of clothing, it wasn’t until he stood over it he realised it was body.
Holy crap! That definitely had not been there on his way to the farmers market.
He cautiously leaned forward to get a closer look. It was a girl, in army camo and by the looks of it she’d been badly beaten. He straightened up rubbing his forehead with his palm. Damn, what was he going to do now? He paced for a few seconds before being hit with the realisation that he should check for signs of life. He turned to the prone body and stared at her face; her lips were blistered from the heat, her skin and hair dusty with sand. She looked so young. She couldn’t be much older than sixteen, seventeen at a stretch. What the hell had happened to her?
He shook his head and braced himself for what he thought was the inevitable. In this heat she had to be dead, or close to. He gently pressed two fingers to the line in her neck where her pulse should be, holding his breath. For what seemed like an eternity he felt nothing. Determined not to be proved right, he pressed harder suddenly feeling a faint, gentle, knocking of a heartbeat. He sucked in air with relief. She was alive. His chest filled with warmth as he sprang into action, scooping her up into his arms and carrying her to the pickup. She didn’t feel like she weighed a thing, her tiny frame fitting neatly into his arms.
Carefully depositing her in the front seat, he rushed around to the driver’s side and hopped in. The engine roared to life as he keyed the ignition and he sped off down the track way faster than he was comfortable with, but desperate to get his newly found responsibility to Nan’s as quickly as possible. Once there he could get help. He just hoped Nan and Chester, the elderly couple who owned the gas station, hadn’t decided to close for the afternoon and go fishing.
The truck thundered along the compacted desert road kicking up dust and bouncing over pot holes, shaking his charge as she sat slumped beside him. He constantly glanced in her direction hoping she wouldn’t slip from the seat, or worse still slip from life. Nan’s is just up ahead, he kept telling himself when after hitting a trench in the road her eyes suddenly flew open and her hand flew out to grip the dashboard in front her. She turned quickly to stare at him, her eyes wide with terror, her body coiled up as if to spring at any moment.
“It’s ok,” he soothed “my name is Kyle, I found you on the road, we’re going to get help.”
She shifted uneasily, still staring as though he was about to suddenly pull a knife or something and start carving her up. Whoever had hurt her had done a bang up job of terrifying the poor girl. She nodded slowly, not taking her eyes off him or relaxing at all. The truck continued to bounce along the road as he became more and more conscious of the young girls stare boring into his skin. With her conscious it felt more urgent to get her to Nan’s. He suddenly realised that whoever had left this young girl in such an appalling state might still be looking for her. His knuckles gripped the steering wheel with the tension that rose in his body. He felt angry. How could anyone hurt a young girl so much and then dump her in the desert? Rage began to burn inside him as the glint of the metal on the gas station signage came into view.
“This is somewhere safe,” he promised, trying his best to sound reassuring as the girls stare hardened. “Nan will get help for us; we’ll get you fixed right up, ok?” The girl nodded slowly, still keeping a tight grip on the dash in front of her, as he swung the truck onto the gas station forecourt.
He spotted the car as soon as he pulled in. It was an Out of Towner; the local term for a tourist or visitor from out of state. He tensed. Maybe it had something to do with the girl.
“What here, I’ll be right back I promise” she nodded again slowly, not taking her eyes away from him, as he left the truck and headed inside the gas station store.
Through the open doors he could see Nan behind the counter with Chester by her side. That was unusual. Chester didn’t often work in the store these days due to his arthritis, but it wasn’t totally out of character for him to come and have a look to see who was visiting, and possibly start up a conversation. But as Kyle stepped into the store proper it became obvious that things were way past normal.
He had never heard of anyone trying to secure credit from Nan’s store, owing to the reputation of the owners temper. That and the rumour that she had a shotgun she liked to keep beneath the counter. Something told him that the gentlemen in the store this afternoon were not looking for a line of credit, more a line of cash. There were two of them; that was definite. The first small and wiry, with a baseball cap pulled down to try and cover his face. The second was huge like a football player; the huge jacket he wore had the collar turned up but did little to hide his face. As Kyle entered the store Nan turned to look at him.
In a split second the guy nearest the counter spotted him making his way in the door and waved a hand gun in his direction.
“Stop right there. Let’s see your hands boy, no bravery and you won’t get shot.” Kyle obeyed, a strange sense of relief settling over him. They weren’t here for the girl. They could take Nan’s cash and leave and then he could get back to taking care of his charge.
The second guy stayed in the aisle facing the store counter, holding a shotgun in Nan and Chester’s direction. He kept silent as the guy with the hand gun barked out orders.
“Put all the money in the bag ma’am and no one gets hurt.”
“Don’t you boys have anything better to do than hold up a poor old lady and her husband?” Nan spat, as she slowly posted dollar bills into a paper bag. Baseball cap stepped forward shaking his gun in Nan’s face.
“Quiet Grandma and get moving!”
Kyle wondered how long this was going to take. He was feeling suddenly edgy about leaving the girl alone in his truck. He wondered if it was worth risking a backward glance to see if she was still there. As that thought crossed his mind a stiff breeze brushed his neck. Strange, considering he was well inside the door way and the air outside was rigid with the afternoon heat. He shrugged it off and focussed on Nan and Chester.
Out of the corner of Kyle’s eye something moved. He risked moving his head to glance down the first aisle, catching a glimpse of movement at the aisle end. As far as he could tell, apart from the gunmen, Nan, Chester and himself were the only people in here. Unless there was a third gunman he hadn’t seen. That seemed unlikely seeing as he was able to see across almost every aisle. The third gunman would have to be under four feet tall.
As that thought circled his mind, there was almighty racket as the second gunman suddenly went crashing to the floor. Kyle took a side step to get a better look as the guy at the counter spun round to see what the commotion was about. Kyle’s jaw flapped open as he took in the full extent of what was happening. The girl he’d picked up in the desert was stood on top of the second gunman, her right foot crushing his windpipe, his shotgun in her hands. She was pointing it at the guy with the hand gun who stood, mouth agape, hand gun long forgotten as it fell to the concrete floor.
“Unless you want to have your wind pipe rearranged like your friend here, I suggest you both forget your weapons and leave…. right now”
She hopped off the guy sprawled on the ground and hauled him up by his jacket. Slamming the shot gun into his back, she marched him out on to the forecourt. Kyle stood dazed staring at her in disbelief as she ushered both men out of the door. They scrambled into their car as she stood holding the shot gun steady. They keyed the engine and drove away.
Long after the two men gotten moving the girl stood on the edge of the forecourt, stock still, gun held high, watching the car as it made it’s way into the distance. Nan rushed out of the store towards her, Kyle following on her heels. Just as he reached her, the girls head rolled back, the gun fell to the ground and she collapsed into his outstretched arms; retreating back into unconsciousness.
Nan tugged at his shirt calling his name but he was too dazed for it to really register. Looking down at the girl in his arms; he was more puzzled than ever. The camo gear, her strength and speed and that accent; she sounded British. Well one thing was for damn sure she definitely was not from around here.
Maybe this was the something else he’d waiting for.