Wreckage by Shannon Barber

            The music was loud.  It drowned the sound of the buzzing motor and the surrounding world.  Angry little ideas swirled in her head; she accelerated, faster and faster, until her thoughts were suspended in a freefall of speed and noise. 
            Julie’s cell biology lab would begin in half an hour.  I feel like shit, she thought. Debate over.
            Going to class was the last thing that she needed right now, anyway.  Playing nice with the Stepford students while in the back of her mind she was counting down the minutes to when she would be evicted was not her idea of a relaxing Friday afternoon.  She would have to find something to do — a distraction that would numb her.
            Julie saw the mall at the next exit.  It wasn’t her favorite distraction, but for now it would do.  She exited the highway and pulled into the parking lot.  A woman in a freakishly bright yellow jump suit sauntered across the road.  Julie slammed her breaks, and the car screeched to a nose-standing halt.  The woman, who looked a little like Julie’s grandmother, smiled at her nervously.
            “Get out of the way, Slutbag,” she said aloud.  Her windows were up, and the music was still blaring.  It was unlikely that the old lady heard her, but she felt a flash of regret after saying it.  There were often casualties of Julie’s random rage, especially when she was younger, but she usually tried to pick on someone her own size. Also, she didn’t have any animosity toward her grandmother.  Somehow that seemed relevant.  She nodded at the woman and continued across the lot.
            The parking lot of Rolling Hills Mall was forsaken; fewer than twenty cars were sprinkled about.  A small clump of vehicles huddled together in the lower level of the parking deck.  At night, this den would be well lit, but in the early afternoon, before the automatic lighting system was engaged, the underground supported the sensation of twilight well before it was time.  The music still blared as she pulled into a parking space that she found acceptable, “Hope you got your things together…” She cut off the car.  She had never cared much for Credence.
            The rear entrance doors whooshed open for her as she approached, triggering the welcome announcement.  “Welcome to Rolling Hills Mall…You are entering through gateway number four, first level.  Bienvenido a Rolling Hills…”  She strolled in and relaxed a little as her eyes adjusted to the light.  There wasn’t much substance to the place.  It was really just a string of GAP-like stores filled with khaki’s and button-downs, but there was at least one redeeming quality.  Caffeine.
            As she made her way to the coffee shop, she was distracted by a music store.  One of the few left.  It was mostly commercial.  Posters of top-forty bands were displayed randomly about the walls.  She could see that she would have little luck finding music to travel by, so she rummaged through the retro 80s counter finding Blondie and Billie Idol. 
            The girl at the counter smiled politely and said hello.  Julie raised her brow as she leafed through a pamphlet, undoubtedly supplied by a local church that claimed “Rock N Roll is the Devil’s Music.”  Poorly drawn images of burning sinners with tortured faces glared back at her.
            “It’s a shame the advertisers don’t do pro bono.”      
            “Huh?” the clerk asked.
            “I just mean that they could probably advertise God better than the religious do.”
            “Oh, yeah…Um two ninety-three’s your change,” she replied, handing Julie the money and the receipt.
            “Thanks,” she took her bag and re-entered the common area of the mall.  Barely ten people shifted about.  They were the usual stay-at-home moms and retired police officers out looking for that one thing that would make them complete.  She spotted the coffee shop on the second level and made her way there with the focused energy of any addict.
            “Double-mocha with whipped cream and cinnamon.”
            “Sure,” the kid replied.   He was one of her kind.  She could see it beneath the burgundy apron.  He wore faded black jeans and green Chuck Taylor’s with permanent marker artwork all over them.  A tattoo of a pipe-smoking caterpillar poked out from beneath his sleeve.  His shirt was pressed, but probably not by choice.  As the machine whirred, she wandered to the syrup section and admired the selection of home use coffee accessories that she would never want to buy.
            Ooo, biscotti.  She reached into a clear plastic box with the tongs that were hanging from the counter and pulled out three chocolate-dipped walnut biscotti and dropped them into a bag.
            “Here ya go,” the kid said.  He really wasn’t a kid, more like 22 or 23, almost Julie’s age, but she still considered herself a kid.  “Five-fifty-seven.”  She jammed her hand into her oversized pockets and searched for her wad of cash.  She handed him a ten and scanned the counter half-expecting to see a “Caffeine is the Devil’s Drug” pamphlet by the register.
            “Nice tat,” Hello-my-name-is-Benjamin said, indicating the purple and black tree frog wrapped around her forearm, and handed her the change.
            “Thanks.  You, too.”  Her tattoo had been a rebellious statement of self-affirmation.  “Yes, I am white trash” and at the same time “fuck you.”  But, when asked about it she had her own spin on its significance.  It had once related to something about art, beauty, and owning your own body, but recently she had begun to recognize that it would eventually be a hindrance.  A person’s history usually was.
            Outside the coffee shop was a recessed lounge area.  Encourages people to move on.  She sat uneasily on one of the miniature couches.  Monstrously colorful birds hung from the ceiling, decorating the area surrounding the lounge.  Some were perched while others seemed to swoop awkwardly with their feathery tails streaming behind.  Track lighting augmented their detail.  She looked up and felt briefly like she had awakened as a giant insect that would soon be devoured.  She sipped her coffee and examined the creatures for a smile, or a frown, painted into their beaks.
            It occurred to her that if she sped a little, she could make it back to school in time for lab.  Going wouldn’t solve anything, but somehow, it felt like a step in the right direction.  She scrambled out of the tiny couch and headed toward the elevator.  As she stepped inside and pressed the button for the first floor, the woman in yellow approached.  Just as the elevator doors opened, the woman fumbled and dropped her purse, dumping the contents on the floor.  Julie held the doors while the woman scrambled to catch her Lip Smacker before it rolled away. 
            “Thank you,” the woman said cheerfully.   
            Julie nodded.    
            As she walked to her car, she felt invigorated that she was going to try to beat the traffic and make it back to school.  “Aghh!”  The radio dial was all the way up.  Julie clutched for the knob to turn it down.  “What, am I deaf or something?” she mumbled, trying to recover from the shock of the noise and the embarrassment that she had frightened herself.  She set the volume to a reasonable level and lit a cigarette. 
            Now, let’s see what we have here.  The cellophane was tight on the CD, and Julie bit the edge of the package to break it loose.  She still couldn’t bring herself to make the transition to MP3s.  Really, she preferred tapes.  MP3s had to be transferred a thousand times to each different listening device, and CDs were such a pain in the ass, always getting damaged.  She liked the bulk, indestructible nature of tapes, the way you could store them on the floorboard, step on them, and they would still play.  Her possessions had to be able to defend themselves.
            She backed out of the space.  Anticipation filled her again, like a dose of some fantastic natural drug.  “The tide is high, and I’m —-go-in’ on…”
            She wasn’t entirely sure what she was going to do to get the money she needed for rent, but she had a vague idea that it included some combination of payday loans and begging cash from her mom.  But, that would be painful.  Her mother’s version of help was often to provide the cash then remind everyone she spoke to how wonderful she was for taking care of her irresponsible daughter.  It hadn’t occurred to her to teach Julie how to manage her money, since that wasn’t something that she had ever really mastered herself.  It did occur to her however, to use the opportunity to manipulate Julie into doing whatever it was that she wanted her to do at that particular moment.     
            As she pulled out of the parking deck, the sun blinded her.  She turned left but quickly realized that she was headed in the wrong direction.  She swung wide and made a u-turn.  She put the car in first, turned up the stereo, and sailed smoothly down the hill toward the exit on the other side of the parking lot.  It felt like a roller coaster ride.  “I’m not the kind a girl…”  Debbie Harry sang in her silvery voice; a shiver shot up Julie’s spine.
            A flash of light.  Green.
            Oh, my God, I’m going to hit it!
            Julie’s stomach sank with adrenaline.  Her tires screeched as she willed the car to stop.  The bag and the remaining CD were launched toward the dash then fell to the floor.  Her heart slammed in her chest as her eyes began to focus and process the hunter green monster of a thing that had pulled out from the parking deck directly into her path.  She didn’t even honk the horn.  She just sat with the stereo blaring. 
            With smooth comfortable motions, Julie put her cigarette in her mouth, turned down the radio, fastened her seatbelt, and pulled around the SUV.  For her, what had briefly felt like death was already a memory. 
            She stopped at a stop sign and let the car idle as she reached for her Billy Idol CD, catching it with the tips of her fingers.  She couldn’t let Billy be treated that way.  He was a sensitive man.  When she looked in the rearview mirror, the SUV was rushing her.  She instinctively slammed her brakes. 
            The SUV shoved her car forward, leaving long black tire streaks on the pavement.  Her car lurched as she popped the clutch and stalled her engine.  The sound of folding metal echoed, and the car heaved again as the SUV followed up with another blow.  She could see over her shoulder that her trunk had swung open from the impact, but the front end of the SUV was barely bent. 
            Her heart pounded, and a muscle beneath her eye twitched, releasing some of the anxiety her body had built up.  Her fingers ached from gripping the steering wheel.  In her mind the terror had formed a metallic, blank spot, too slippery for thoughts to stick to.  Her short, shallow breaths became long gasps as her lungs struggled to catch up.      
            What is this guy’s problem?  Usually, she was the one with unjustified rage, but this was ridiculous.  Just when her most recent personal crisis was peaking, this shit had to happen.  Atop the parking garage, Julie could see the woman in the yellow jumpsuit sauntering toward her car.  Liability only, she could hear her grandmother saying earlier this year.  Are you sure that liability only is a good idea?  What if you get in a wreck?  Julie had sided with her mother and gone with the cheaper option up front.  It wasn’t like she was driving a Mercedes.  Grandma probably wouldn’t agree with her plans to use check loans money to pay her rent, either.      
            “OK!  Fine!  I don’t know everything!”  Her usually brooding, solemn demeanor gave way to utter helplessness.  It was a small shift in perspective, to be so humbled by such a stupid situation, but later she would recognize it for what it was, a break from reality.
            She scrambled to crank the engine.  First.  Gas.  Second.  Gas.  Her car growled as it crawled desperately to 35 miles per hour.  It bounced over a speed bump, and she felt another jerk as the SUV slammed her hard from the side.  The car fishtailed then skidded sideways toward a cluster of trees.
            What am I supposed to do now?  Trying to get away had not worked; he just kept following her.  Still her body screamed at her to run. 
            A flash of light gleamed from the CD lying in her passenger seat.  Billy snarled at her from the cover of his “Greatest Hits.”  She focused for a moment on his squinting eyes and platinum hair. 
            The SUV was parked a few yards in front of Julie and sat idling.  The driver revved the engine, indicating that he was preparing for another attack.  Ram him. She wasn’t sure where this thought was coming from, but she liked it.  Her instinct had been to run, to try to avoid him, but going on the attack appealed to that part of her that would burst into a rage during discussions with her mother; that part that hated the world and wanted to chew it up and spit it out.
            The green monster rolled toward her.  Her gut dropped, and her heart raced.  At this short distance, she was not likely to cause much damage in her tiny compact car with Grateful Dead and South Park stickers all over it.  The SUV charged.  Julie put the car in reverse, and it reeled backward.  She slammed the brakes and screeched to a stop, grindixng the gears into first. 
            At first, she worried that her car was going to stall, and she would lose time trying to restart it.  But, then the car gained speed.  This made her both happy and terrified.    RAM IT.  Still she wanted to run, to dodge this horror, but she knew somehow that the voice she was hearing in the back of her mind was right.  There was no getting away or outrunning him.  There would be no Bourne Identity-like car chase resulting in her escape, and his ultimate undoing.  Sometimes you have to fight straight-up.  She closed her eyes and sailed toward the SUV bracing for impact.
Shannon Barber was born in Morehead, Kentucky and currently lives in the Los Angeles area.  She put writing on hold for a few years after college so that she could get a “real job” and has recently returned to her love of writing horror / dark fiction. 

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