JD Phillips: From Ashes

The girl remained silent, her eyes fixed solely upon the road ahead, all the while. She was strangely quiet for a first timer, he thought. They normally fired off all sorts of questions – where to go, how much to pay, what they can or can’t ask him to do for them – but she didn’t seem curious about anything. Maybe she wasn’t as green as he’d suspected or maybe she simply knew exactly where she wanted to go and what she wanted done once they got there. Was it strange he found that sort of sexy?

“My name’s Kell,” he said.

“Let’s not do that,” she replied. “No names. No chit chat. I don’t want to get to know you.”

“Oh,” he said, arching his eyebrows. “Okay. That’s fine by me. I get it.”

“I doubt you do,” she muttered under her breath.

“Are you new in town?” he asked. “I haven’t seen you around before.”

“Can you not talk at all?” she asked shortly. “Please.”

Kell found himself staring at a smiley faced sticker plastered upon the dash above the glove box. Bright, glittery, surrounded by pink, orange, and yellow tie dye and daisies – an ill fitted sticker, he thought, for such a sour pussed girl. If the thing could sing it’d scream “don’t worry, be happy.” The thought made him laugh. The sound of his laughter startled the girl enough to make her turn to look at him.

He saw something in her bright green eyes then he’d been unable to see before. The crazed look of a caged animal ready to either kill itself or maul the next unsuspecting soul fool enough to come too close to its cage. She wasn’t simply nervous or embarrassed – she was afraid – and it was a kind of fear Kell knew all too well. He also knew what it could mean for him and that meant it was better to abandon ship. Desperate or not, instinct trumped everything else – that was the first rule of survival out on the street.

“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, huh?’ he asked. “Maybe we should do it another time?”

“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice scarcely a whisper.

“It’s all right,” he replied, forcing a laugh. “We’ll do a rain check. That’s what they call ‘em, right?”

They’d already left the immediate light of the city behind them when she pulled the car over to the side of the road. There was nothing but rolling white, distant trees, a guardrail, the interstate beyond. Not another soul was in sight – certainly no other vehicles on the road – but he was willing to try walking it back to town.

She uttered another, louder apology as he reached for his seatbelt and then he heard a familiar metallic click. Even before he turned to look he knew the bitch had drawn a gun on him but he had to look, had to know for certain.

Sure enough Kell found a gun in the girl’s hand but something was off about her. Awkward. She was holding the gun in her left hand and she was trembling considerably. Her right hand remained upon the steering wheel; startled by the gun as he was, he couldn’t help but find that strange.

“Whoa! Hey! I’ve had a shitty night, you know? I don’t have much money on me but you can have what I’ve got,” he said. “If you need it that bad –”

He stopped dead in mid-sentence as he suddenly saw her right hand was handcuffed to the steering wheel – a thing that sparked as many questions as it answered. He stared longer than he should have, genuinely bewildered by the sight. That was when things really went to shit.
The cord was around his neck before Kell even had a second to process someone had been hiding in the backseat the entire time. It was thin, strong, and clearly designed to be tightened with the mere twist of his assailant’s wrist. It held him fast against the seat and cut off his air supply within the span of a blink. Panic swelled within his veins.

Kell grabbed for the thing by reflex, trying in vain to find a way to loosen its hold on him, but his fingers were still numb from the cold and clumsy within the heavy gloves. He couldn’t manage to gain any relief. The car door and arm rest pretty much immobilized his right arm and even if he could reach back far enough with his left to make contact with the asshole he could do little more than give him or her a slap.

His head was starting to throb, the pounding within his ears so intense he could scarcely hear anything else. It took a second to realize the horrid sounds he could just barely register were coming out of his own mouth. Gasping, wheezy, dragging breaths too strained to provide any oxygen. He was in trouble.

Not knowing what else to do, Kell began kicking violently. He kicked that damn smiley face dead center and caused the glove box to pop open. A variety of items spilled out onto the floorboard well out of his reach but he didn’t have time to worry about what those items were. He kicked again, hard enough to raise his rear up off the seat as far as his seatbelt would allow, but that only made the pressure against his throat worse.

Bones cracked. His vision dimmed as he made one last useless thrash within his seat. He was vaguely aware of the sound of breaking glass but no longer alert enough to know which limb had managed to damage which of the surrounding windows. Maybe he’d kicked out the windshield. Maybe he’d busted the passenger window with his elbow. Who knew? What did it matter? He could feel the extreme cold of the outdoors pouring over him even as his neck and face swelled and burned but that too was useless. Even if someone was close enough to the car to hear him, he’d lost the ability to scream.

Eventually his body betrayed him. Limbs fell limp. That horrible croaking choke became less and less frantic, more and more sporadic. Sight and sound vanished completely. Even the cold could no longer penetrate the darkness he’d fallen into. He was done.

They had him.

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