The Tourist

The fly that has been making obnoxious, erratic rounds about the gas station finally collides with the bug zapper in a fabulous kamikaze fireworks display. I slump over the stinking, poodle-headed mop and apathetically watch the fly’s wings twitch their last. Then they stop moving altogether.

I drag the mop and the florescent yellow cart towards the front of the store where a window fan blows in cool desert air. Summers here are sticky and yellow until around 9 at night because, according to Mr. Gonzales, the place “never has and never will” have air conditioning. I glance over at Gonzo and he’s leaning his fleshy, damp forearms on the front counter, perusing a tabloid magazine and occasionally swiping the sweat and the flies from the back of his neck. There’s sweat dribbling from his graying temples and his upper lip and he’s making these wet snuffling sounds—like he’s sucking it all back up inside his nostrils. I doubt I’m in any better shape, though. I’ve felt the wetness pooling across my lower back and neck for the last 4 hours and my thighs have to be unpeeled from each other every time I take a step. It’s uncomfortable for the both of us, but we don’t talk about air conditioning anymore.

I’m sloshing the slightly beige water across the peeling linoleum when the bell dings and the first customer we’ve seen in a couple of hours comes in. Gonzales gives him a wary glance over; the guy’s got this enormous black jacket on with the hood flipped up. His hands are shoved deep in his pockets as he makes his way through the aisles. I go back to mopping. Mr. Gonzalez keeps a careful eye on him. Sometimes we get petty thieves here late at night and he looks the type. I glance over my shoulder to see him looking around, picking up and setting down protein bars and packs of gum. Then he lifts his head abruptly and meets my gaze. Green eyes. I drop my eyes back to the floor, swirling the mop over a perpetually dirty patch of floor. The customer makes his way through all of the aisles, appraising the merchandise. And then he returns to the first aisle where I’m mopping and picks up a bag. Heads up to the register. I watch his feet. He’s got these scuffed up white tennis shoes—like an American tourist.

“That’ll be $3.02.”

I listen to the tourist rifle through his deep jacket pockets. And then he says something very quietly, very calmly. Almost reassuring, like he was saying goodnight to a child. “Give me all the money in the register.” Followed by a metallic click.

Cold washes from my head to my toes and my heart starts to pound its fists into my ribs and I grip on to the mop handle so hard I think it’s going to snap in half.

The man is holding a gun. Mr. Gonzalez is breathing heavily and his eyes are opened wide with disbelief. He slowly raises his palms into the air. “Please,” he whispers.

My heart is like a battering ram. The mop is giving my splinters but I can only squeeze harder.

“Give me all the money in the register,” the tourist repeats.

Mr. Gonzalez lowers his shaking hands to the cash register, fiddling with the keys like his fingers won’t cooperate.

“Faster,” the man urges, his voice tightening and growing lower, the cool metal growing closer.

I glance at the doors. They’re so close. I can make it if I’m quick. I just have to run. I look back at Mr. Gonzalez who’s shaking and shaking and the tourist who’s becoming more and more impatient. I swallow heavily, building up the courage. Do it. Just do it!

And then the mop makes a hollow clattering as it hits the floor and I break into a dead sprint. The glass doors make their distinct “ding” and the night air is rushing in. But there’s this impossibly loud sound that I wasn’t expecting too. And I’m tripping and falling, but I shouldn’t be falling. And then I’m on the ground. The air is vibrating. I can’t focus. There’s this tinny whining in my ears. The big sound comes again. Everything is spinning. My back is tingling, numb. Want to look, but my head just lolls, chin shoved in the grit. I think my face is wet. Blood. Spit. Maybe I’m crying and I don’t know it. Why can’t I get up?

Ding. I hear gravel crunching, like it’s a mile away. Tourist shoes blur past. Engine starts. Crackling gravel. Then gone.

The ringing in my ears begins to subside and then all there is is wind. Just wind.

“Gonzo,” I croak out. It’s barely audible. I clear my throat and a viscous, metallic liquid floods my mouth. I cough it up onto the dirt, my chin now warm and slick.

“Gonzo!” I rasp. “Mr. Gonzales! Can you hear me?!” I can’t turn my head to see. “Gonzo…?”

I drag my arms underneath me and push up half way until a hot spike of pain rushes up to my shoulders. I drop back to the ground. “Oh ow… shit.”

I try moving my legs this time instead. I don’t think they moved. They just feel tingly and heavy. “…no. No, c’mon…” I strain harder until the sharp pain strikes again and my face plummets back to the ground. My heart is beating too fast and now everything seems to be going numb. “C’mon, get up!” I shout at myself as the air around me seems to waver, like it’s compressing and then relaxing. I wrench out a scream and shove my hands forward, digging my nails and my elbows into the loose gravel. I haul myself forward with an enormous effort, my shoulders straining. I can feel the dead weight behind me.

Just get to the payphone. I can imagine it, just around this corner. I reach out my arms and feel the rocks grating my bare skin. I pull forward, scraping, tearing. Elbows and my forearms are bleeding. I reach out again, the gravel bites into the raw spots. I struggle forward again. And again. And again. And again. And I’m around the corner, breathing hard. It’s darker here, the lights from inside the station are dim behind me and the buttons on the payphone are just a faint blur. I wasn’t scared until now. There’s something about the dark that gets to me.

I stretch my hands out tentatively into the new darkness and dig my fingers into the earth. And I pull and pull and shove my raw elbows into the ground and push off with all my might. I launch off the ground briefly and then land heavily on my stomach, my cheek nestled in the gravel, tears leaking onto the ground. “God damnit!” I let out a muffled shriek that turns into coughing until the coughs become sobs. I need to get up. I need to get to that phone. That phone means life—

I lift my head up. The gravel’s crackling again. Like something heavy’s being dragged across it. Drag. Stop. Drag. Stop. Drag. Stop.


Drag. Stop. Drag. Stop. Drag. Stop.

It sounds like it’s coming this way. “Hello? Is there someone there?”

The sound doesn’t stop, it just gets closer. “Can you hear me? I need your help… Hello?”

Then it stops. I can almost feel it it’s so close. Like it’s hovering nearby. “Hello?” I whisper and then I reach out my hand, trembling.

My fingertips graze something and I jerk back with a start. It was damp, whatever it was. I can almost make out its’ silhouette in the darkness. “I… I promise not to hurt you.”

I reach out again.

And all I can feel is teeth.
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Hey there! I hope you all enjoyed the first chapter. Next time, the main characters will be introduced and the story ball will really get rolling. In the meantime, feel free to subscribe and/or comment!