Fifteen will get you twenty
By: M. A. Stirnaman
Hitchhiking is a gamble. Stretch out your fist, poke your thumb out, and hope for a matching king on the turn. The universe likes to remind you of its neutrality sometimes. You’re dealt an off suit deuce and wind up as a potential line on the action news teleprompter.
The white truck with one blue door and a duct tape warranty exits the highway and pulls into the Choctaw Lucky Star parking lot. Indian casinos dot the Oklahoma map. This particular gambling hall has seen better days. Few cars occupy the large lot. The empty vehicles belong to either early morning gamblers or sleep deprived degenerates that are in too deep to let the sun stop them. Sunday is a church day. This is their house of worship.
Anna sees the man’s reflection in the window. He looks at her, waiting for her to meet his eyes. His grin is welcoming in an all too sinister way. His kind always wants attention. Anna focuses on her worn jeans and dirty hands. She grips her only possession in this world; a small wooden box with intricately carved floral patterns and a stubborn lock that she was never given a key for. She hopes to open it one day.
She goes through the motions of escape in her mind. Taking off the seatbelt that he made sure she clicked, unlocking the door, pulling the latch, and taking off. Each step feels like it would take hours and he is probably the type of monster who revels in struggle.
His calloused hand strokes her thigh.
“I’m fifteen, sir,” she says.
“I didn’t ask.”
His attempt at softness somehow makes it worse. He is a spider playing with the little bug in his web. She stares at the lock on what used to be called her mother’s box. Life has a funny way of taking away what you love most and leaving you with baubles and trinkets. Anna imagines herself as the box. She is beautiful oak. Vines weave around her, each adorned with blooming roses. She holds a secret inside of her. The man tries to force his way in.
“Give me that stupid thing.” The man leans over her to pry the box free from her grip.
The aroma of stale cigarettes and sweat is almost more offensive than the tiny bulge in his pants. Anna opens her mouth wide, finds a chunk of flesh, and bites down hard. Blood flows into her mouth. She withdraws and spits his fluid back at him. Her mouth tastes of pennies.
“You stupid bitch,” the man says, holding a hand to the gaping wound in his shoulder. He reaches for something under his seat.
Anna is on top of him before he has time to react. She lifts her box up and slams it into his face. The satisfying crunch eggs her on. Again and again she lifts up her precious box. Again and again she brings it down.
His body slumps down into the seat. His bloody visage basks in the rising sun. Anna’s arms are useless to her now, her muscles have given up. Some part of the man’s redesigned face had broken open the box for her. Anna wonders if she should thank him.
Anna searches for the missing contents of the box, but doesn’t know exactly what it is she is looking for. She sorts through strip club matchbooks, fast food receipts, and empty vodka bottles. She finds a small notebook, full of her parents’ handwriting. In the middle of the book, placed into the binding is a small key. Anna tries the key in the lock that used to hold the box shut, not a match.
She places the key back inside the notebook, pockets it and then gathers the assorted trash. Within minutes she has constructed a pile of receipts and paper bags on his lap, but not before fastening his seatbelt and duct taping him into it. You can’t be too safe nowadays. The first two matches are duds, the third strikes true. The paper goes up fast. She throws the rest of the matchbooks on top for good measure.
Anna walks away from the man and his screams. She heads for the highway.
Hitchhiking is a gamble.