The road had been long, and the sun beat down in an intensity Harry had not seen in a long time. His air conditioner whined loudly, barely providing a cool breeze to take the edge off. He hadn’t traveled through the desert in years, mostly on purpose, because he hated the heat. The radiating heat from the road distorted everything in the distance, making it nearly impossible to see anything but the dry, cracked earth in every direction. When the radio went out, leaving only static, he sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. He hadn’t seen a car in more than an hour, which was nice at first, but the lack of traffic was beginning to make him feel like he was the only person in the world.
“Ridiculous,” Harry muttered, shaking his head. He looked to the GPS attached to the dashboard. “Five hours left?”
Harry sighed again as his body gave him nature’s call for the fourth time in as many hours. He signaled, though he questioned why, and pulled over. He climbed down from his seat, stretched, and walked around to the passenger’s side to relieve himself.
“That’s better,” he sighed as he zipped his fly and turned to go back to driving.
“Hey! Wait!” a voice called from his left.
Harry turned to see a very sunburned girl waving desperately for his attention as she plodded in his direction. He paused as she collapsed face down on the ground. His heart sped up as his mind processed what he was seeing, and he began to run toward her.
When Harry reached her, he could see her back was barely rising and falling in shallow breaths.
“Hey, come on,” he said, turning her over. “I’ve got some water in my truck.”
The girl blinked at him, her face confused as though she didn’t understand what she was seeing. Her dry, cracked lips trembled as they failed to form the words she was attempting to say.
“Don’t worry about it. I got ya,” Harry said, lifting her in his arms as he walked back toward the road.
The girl nodded, her eyes closing as her breath evened out. Her face looked familiar to him, though he couldn’t place it. He shook his head, dismissing it as ridiculous. How would he know some random girl in the middle of the desert, after all?
Harry sat her in the shade and climbed up to grab a water bottle. When he opened the door, random bits of garbage fell out, cascading down the steps. He grabbed what he was after and returned to the girl’s side.
“Here, this will help. Drink it slowly, so you don’t get sick,” Harry said, holding the bottle out.
The girl opened her eyes a crack, snatched the bottle from his hands and downed the contents in a matter of seconds. Gasping for air as she dropped the empty bottle.
“Whoa, there,” Harry said, holding up his hands.
“More, please, I need more,” the girl said, reaching for him.
“I have more in the truck. I want to make sure you’re okay,” he replied.
“You have a truck!” she said, as though just realizing where she was. “We have to move now! It’s not safe out here.”
“Alright, hold your horses, girly,” Harry said, “Everything is fine. We’ll get a little more water in you and then get you someplace less desert-like, okay?”
The girl tried to get up and fell into Harry. She pushed away from him, staggered to the truck, and grabbed the bar next to the door.
“Easy now,” Harry said, putting his hands out to catch her if she fell. To his surprise, she managed to climb in without any assistance, shutting the door behind her. “What the hell is going on?” he muttered as he walked around to the driver’s door.
He climbed up in as the girl was polishing off another bottle from the case behind the seat. “Easy, we should save some in case the truck breaks down. Don’t want to run out, out here, as I’m sure you know,” he said. The vents in the truck were now pumping straight hot air. “Great, the air conditioner is down. Would you roll down your window, please?”
Harry cranked the handle, lowering the glass to let out some of the heat that had built up in the last few minutes as the girl did the same. He put the truck in gear and pressed on. He offered her food, and a bit more water as they got moving, both of which she consumed ravenously.
“So, what got you out in the desert like that?” Harry asked after a few minutes. The dry air did little to quell the heat, but it felt better than when they had first gotten in.
“I can’t talk about it, but we need to go faster,” she replied.
“Do you have a name or anything that would help me understand what’s going on?” he asked.
“My name’s Darla, and there are some bad people out here that are probably on their way to the road now. The faster we go, the better chance we have to get away,” she replied, looking in the side-view mirror. “We need to go faster.”
“Bad people, you say?” Harry asked, “Are you sure that you didn’t have one of them fever dreams?”
“I’m sure,” she said. “I know what happened out there, and it’s better that you don’t. I hate to get you involved in anything, but I was at my limit.”
“I saw.” Harry nodded in agreement. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I can’t really push this rig any faster without risking overheating.”
“I’d recommend risking it,” Darla said, pointing to the mirror.
Harry saw in the reflection, at least a dozen vehicles, most of which looked better suited for off-road than on, screech onto the pavement behind them in a cloud of dust.
“What the hell?” Harry muttered, as one of them sped up rapidly, skirting up the side. “What have you gotten me in to here?”
“I’ll explain when we get out of this,” Darla said, looking over the back of the seat. “You wouldn’t happen to have any weapons in here, would you?”
“Of course,” Harry said, “I always keep a pistol and a rifle with me, just in case I get in trouble or in a place that isn’t exactly safe.”
“You aren’t exactly safe,” Darla said, opening the glove box, “Is the pistol in here?”
“Hey! Get out of-” A shot rang out, tearing through the door, narrowly missing him as it passed through the ceiling. “Holy hell!” he yelled, pulling the truck away from the car next to them.
Darla reached over, pushed the wheel the other way as he fought her until the truck slammed into the side of the car.
“I need your gun,” she said, her voice unwavering.
“It’s in here,” Harry said, lifting the center console. “The ammo is in the back.”
“Thank you,” Darla said, pulling the pistol from the compartment. The 38 looked large in her hands, but she held it like she had used it all her life as she rechecked the mirror. A car was coming up the other side of them, the passenger climbing out his window facing them. Darla leaned over, fired two shots, and the vehicle veered under the trailer, lifting it as the rear tires slammed into the side of it.
“Jesus Christ!” Harry screamed, holding onto the wheel with white knuckles. “What do they want?”
“Me dead mostly,” Darla replied, leaning over the back of the seat as she searched for the box of ammo. “They weren’t successful last time, and it probably didn’t help when I broke their boss’s arm as I ran.”