Stranded

Edwin’s car lurched suddenly and drunkenly to the right, his right front tire burst and something metal housed underneath his car scraped and sparked against the dusty blacktop of the highway. The tarry amber circles cast by his headlights trembled and shook as he pulled to the side of the highway with a curse on his lips. Edwin turned on his emergency blinkers and lingered in his car a moment, heart pounding at triple the pace of the soft neutral clicking of his car’s blinkers. Unceremoniously, he turned the car off and swung the door open.

The early evening light was blue and bright, and Edwin was stranded somewhere in the one-hundred-twenty-thousand square miles of rock and dirt called the Sonoran desert. The sun huddled just behind the horizon as the black curtain of night swung closed. The skybourne display was but an opening act for the headlining chill of the late autumn evening waiting in the wings. Edwin knelt down on the dusty side of the highway and strained to see what had caused his car to lurch sharply to the right. A rogue nail or other unknown highway detritus had slashed his front passenger-side tire and left it in tatters the shape of downed blackbirds, scattered down the road.

Standing, he pulled a map from the right breast pocket of his brown corduroy jacket, opened it, and stood in the beam cast by the cars headlights. Edwin unfolded a pair of delicate reading glasses and slipped them on, straining in the encroaching dark to estimate how far he still had to go.

A dull thud came from the back end of the car. Edwin’s heart went racing and he breathed deep to stifle the palpitations.

Edwin ran his finger down the vein of the highway etched in red on his folded map. He’d driven about an hour and a half west out of Phoenix, and he guessed he had another half hour to go before reaching the meager town of Quartzsite. It was unlikely anyone would drive by anytime soon.

Another dull thud, more insistent than the last, issued from the trunk of Edwin’s car. He swapped the map for a small orange bottle from his breast pocket and kicked back two small white tablets before slowly walking towards the back of the car. Pocketing the bottle again, he unlocked the trunk.

Nestled in the trunk was a spare tire, a shovel, and the bound and struggling form of a young, dark haired man. Edwin drew his revolver from the holster under his coat and leveled it calmly at the man in his trunk.

“It looks like there’s been a change of plans, Kenneth.”

Kenneth said something unintelligible and furious through the gag tied over his mouth. Edwin only shook his head, pocketed his phone and pulled Kenneth forcefully from the trunk. The asphalt was still hot with the residue from the days sunlight, and Kenneth’s bare feet burned to touch it.

A push from the barrel of the revolver directed Kenneth silently to walk out towards the desert. Cacti and uneven stones slashed his naked feet and he felt them go slick with fresh blood. Edwin continuously prodded him on, and soon the highway was little more than the distant faint glow of one pair of headlights and emergency blinkers. The moon hung pregnant and full, illuminating the rough desert in blue-white light.

“Alright, stop,” Edwin strained to speak.

Kenneth stopped and turned to face his captor. The march out into the desert had not been easy in the dark, and they were both winded. Kenneth’s feet were raw and bloody, Edwin’s face was red and his brow was slick with sweat that glistened in the moonlight. The unforgiving barrel of his revolver was leveled at Kenneth’s chest.

“It’s not what I would have liked, Kenneth, but it’s going to have to do.” Edwin wheezed and his glasses slipped down his nose slightly. Kenneth’s eyes narrowed as he watched Edwin struggle.

“Turn around.” Edwin motioned with the gun, and Kenneth did as he was told. A moment later a dark blindfold lowered over his eyes, and the night air seemed suddenly crisp and cold. Kenneth felt Edwin behind him tying the blindfold tightly with both hands. He knew this was his chance.

The moment the blindfold was tied, Kenneth butted his head backwards as hard as he could and connected sharply with the bridge of Edwin’s nose, breaking the delicate glasses perched there. Kenneth shoved backwards, throwing Edwin to the ground and knocking the small orange bottle out of his pocket. Edwin had momentarily holstered the gun to tie the blindfold, but that gave the blind folded, bound and barefoot Kenneth no real advantage. Without hesitation, Kenneth bolted into the dark desert.

Edwin drew the revolver hastily and fired once. He sprinted clumsily after his quarry and fired another shot aimlessly into the night. His chest heaved and a crushing weight settled on him. He halted, dropped to one knee and clutched his heart. Somewhere behind him in the brush of the moonlit desert, his heart medication was spilled in the dirt. Edwin lurched forward and struggled to breath before the weight was too great to fight against any longer.

Kenneth saw none of this as he stumbled over barrel cactus and sharp stone, through brush and dry dead vegetation. Two reports sounded in the night air and he ran until he slammed headlong into a towering and sturdy cactus bristling with thorns. He screamed into the gag and fell backwards, his entire front covered in blood and spines. He was blindfolded, barefoot, his hands bound, and he was alone somewhere in the one-hundred-twenty-thousand square miles of rock and dirt called the Sonoran desert.

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