Chapter Five by Anna Kirgo
When Gray returned from crouching behind the Chevy, where he’d fumbled through cleaning up the physical proof of his cowardice, he found Joe kneeling beside the unconscious girl, securing her wrists with the police officer’s handcuffs. The officer himself had joined her in oblivion: Gray was relieved to see that the man was still breathing, and that Joe had tied off his leg with something, although blood was still seeping out onto the dusty ground. Joe looked up at him, rusty red tracks of dried blood branching down from his ear and across his neck, and Gray felt his stomach twist, his body on the verge of betraying him once again.
Joe ignored this sign of weakness, heaving the limp, bound body of the girl up into his arms, beckoning with a jerk of his head for Gray to follow.
Gray trotted after him, too frightened and confused to do anything else. ‘Where are you going? Why are you taking her?’ Gray asked—words a whisper, like he was afraid a passing tumbleweed might be spying on their conversation.
‘Worse to leave her to spread her lies,’ Joe said. ‘Her word against ours—no one will ever believe us.’
‘But—’ Gray stuttered, stumbling over a prairie dog hole. ‘What are we going to do with her?’
Joe turned to look at his friend. Gray couldn’t tear his eyes away from the way the girl’s neck hung over Joe’s arm, loose and vulnerable. Gray knew she was some sort of horrid demon-child, but she sure didn’t look it now.
Full dark came shockingly quick. Gray stumbled on, losing his footing every few feet, at one point nearly running face-first into a cactus that stood with prickly arms outstretched, as if hoping for a hug. Joe continued to be a dark shape up ahead of him, a blacker patch of black amongst the overpowering blackness. Clint Eastwood, Gray had thought, and now John Wayne. With the girl in his arms, he looked like the Duke had in The Searchers, finally hauling Natalie Wood home.
Gray wouldn’t mind getting shot in the ear, if it somehow magically made him John Wayne. Instead he was just some guy who had shat himself and then almost made out with a cactus. Gray stared up at the spinning map of stars and wondered why his life was so cosmically unfair.
He was looking up, so he didn’t notice at first that Joe had stopped. Gray nearly fell over again, but Joe halted his collapse with a firm hand to the arm. Then he knelt and dropped the girl roughly to the ground.
‘Where are we doing out here?’ Gray asked, still whispering. They’d walked for what seemed like hours; the road and the Chevy and the bleeding cop were likely miles behind them—and they, as far as Gray could tell, were miles from anything. Gray thought of Vegas, all glittering buildings and bustling bodies—but when he looked around him, instead there was this.
‘We’re gonna have that chat now,’ Joe said. He nudged the girl’s body with his boot.
‘But, Joe,’ said Gray, not liking the petulant tone of his own voice, ‘it’s real dark.’
‘Really?’ Joe turned to look at him, and for a second, his eyes seemed to sparkle like the stars. ‘I can see just fine.’
He looked down at the girl. ‘I can see you’re awake.’
From the ground, that incongruously sharp voice hissed, ‘Idiot.’
Gray saw the dark outline that was Joe shrug its shoulders. ‘This idiot got the drop on you.’
Gray couldn’t see it, but he could still sense the girl sneering. ‘Yeah, you took out a ten-year-old. Does that make you feel like a man?’
Joe didn’t rise to the bait, standing silent beside Gray. The silence was unnerving; Gray shifted his feet, and thought about speaking, and realised he had nothing at all to say.
After a moment, the girl continued. ‘Do you idiots have any idea what you did? Letting him… get away?’
The last words came out a sudden, pained rasp. Into the silence that marked Joe’s lack of an answer, the girl continued to wheeze. She sounded like she was being choked, although Gray could see enough to tell that Joe still hadn’t moved, that no one had gone near her.
‘Shit,’ she forced out. ‘Look, I’m not joking around. I need my pills. My pills are in my back pocket. You gotta uncuff me and let me take my pills or things are going to get a lot worse for everybody, real fast.’
‘Pills?’ asked Joe, seemingly unconcerned. ‘What kind of pills?’
‘Are you a goddamn doctor? You don’t… need to know… the goddamn prescription code… just get my my freakin’ pills! Pull ‘em out yourself if you don’t believe me!’
Gray stared at the girl, her tiny body bent in on itself, helpless hands curled and cuffed. She continued to wheeze—it was painful just to listen to.
After what seemed like an age, Joe turned to him and said, ‘Gray?’
It was phrased as a question, but Gray followed it like an order. He crept forward and awkwardly attempted to work his clumsy fingers inside the girl’s pocket without in any way touching her. But his concern was needless: he felt like he’d barely crouched down before the girl was twisting, unfurling, jamming the gun he’d tucked into his belt a deeply uncomfortable distance below it. Gray whimpered. Not again.
Across from them, hazy in the dark, Joe stood calm, the other gun extended, pointed unwavering at the girl. ‘You can’t shoot us both.’
‘No,’ she said. Gray, trembling, felt her shift slightly: something was plucked from the pocket he had briefly touched, was thrown into her mouth and dry-swallowed. The girl’s grip on the gun never faltered. ‘But I only need one of you alive. Since you went and let my last fish wriggle free.’
‘Need?’ asked Joe, coolly. ‘For what?’
The girl laughed, a horrible sound, far older than her years. ‘What do you think? To stop it.’
‘It?’ said Joe.
Gray shuddered as the girl trailed the barrel gun up his thigh. ‘The apocalypse, dumbass.’
Keep reading: chapter six!