A flash fiction piece in preparation for my novel tentatively titled Annie and the Second Anasazi, scheduled for publication in early 2013. Sign up for notification by email here.
After watching the maid, Mrs. Mayes, for a week, Annie decided to follow her. Annie wanted to know what the world was like out there for people like Mrs. Mayes. Her parents never let her leave the house and all she knew of the world firsthand involved riding in a bulletproof natural gas carriage to the vacuum train, where she’d see nothing until they popped up in Washington, D.C. She’d traveled far more than most kids her age, yet she’d experienced very little.
She took her chance when her father was out of the house and her mother played bridge in the parlor with the wives and daughters of the most prominent businessmen in North Texas. Yes, that’s how her mother always said it. Some kind of badge of acceptance for her, the woman with the half-burned face.
Wearing a carefully chosen costume to match the plain clothes Mrs. Mayes wore, Annie shucked into her overcoat and followed the maid out the back way and down into the alleyway. She turned onto a side street, then onto a main street with sun cars going by. Annie almost lost sight of Mrs. Mayes because she stared at the cars, an endless line of them, creeping along just a little faster than Annie could comfortably walk. Most of them had a light on top. A few were green.
Mrs. Mayes walked alongside a car with a green light, spoke to the driver, then crawled in.
Annie panicked. She walked along behind the car for a while worrying how to keep up with Mrs. Mayes. A man in the car next to her rolled out onto the sidewalk with a thud. He stood up quick and looked around. The light on the top of the car he’d vacated turned green.
“Need a ride?” the driver asked Annie as the disheveled man walked away.
She looked at Mrs. Mayes’s car two in front. Perfect. Except the man who came crashing out of the car worried her. Did the driver throw him out?
“Was that man okay?” Annie asked.
“Your last passenger.”
“Oh. Him. Well, little lady, if you don’t have the fare, I’ll kick you out too. Where are you going?”
“I don’t know how much it is.”
“Depends on where you’re going.”
“I want you to follow that car. In front of the car ahead of you. When she gets out, I’ll get out.”
The driver shrugged. “Then you don’t know how much it is. Twenty-five bucks a mile.”
“I think I’ll just walk.”
“You’ve never been in a sun cab, have you?”
She said nothing and angled away from the car to put distance between her and the driver. He’d begun to frighten her.
“Okay,” he said. “Ten bucks, I’ll let you ride until she gets out. I’ll be the one taking the risk here.”
Ten dollars. She would pay that. She inspected the driver. He smiled. He seemed okay after all, so she climbed inside. The crude space had few amenities. The passenger’s seat, like the antique tractor seat her mother hung on the wall in the guest bedroom for decoration, bounced slightly as she sat in it. The road surface crawled along beneath them. Wires crisscrossed underneath the wide awning of solar panels. She looked around to other cars. Each carried two people, a driver and a passenger. Every vehicle emitted a whirring sound and a hint of ozone filled the hot air. A hammock folded to hang on a single hook swayed, a bolus of supplies and bedding inside.
“You live here?” she asked the driver.
He grinned. “Somebody would strip it if I left her.” He stretched in a lounge-chair-like pilot’s seat surrounded by drink and food containers. Driving involved only his feet.
“Don’t you get bored?”
“Sure. But money’s good some days. I eat. Better than lots of folks.”
Annie began to overheat and loosened her coat.
“Early March and already summer hot,” the driver said. “Maybe we’ll break the record this year. I’ve got a bet on one-thirty-seven, but all the guys think I’m crazy. One-seventeen’s the record.”
“One-thirty-seven what?” Annie asked.
He laughed. “Consecutive hundred-plus-degree days. Did you know back in, I don’t know, 2005 or something like that, they had forty-something days in a row? And you would’a thought they were all gonna die, what I heard. Boy, I’d like to see an easy summer like that again.”
They drove for more than an hour, and Annie got worried. Asked the man to take her back. Offered him fifty dollars and he took it.
“Don’t you want to know what the person you’re chasing is gonna do?” he asked.
“Not anymore,” she said. “I have to get back before my father gets home.”
“Okay, well, we can do that. I’ll get in the fast lane and burn a little batter. Hold onto your seat!” He yelled at the drivers around him to let him through and did a u-turn, then they drove fast enough to make a breeze, Annie’s blond hair streaming behind her, and for the first time, she enjoyed being out and on her own.
Annie and the Second Anasazi, set in 2054 A.D., is about a migration of intellectuals into the deserts of New Mexico where people live like the ancient ones because of changing climate coupled with an intolerable mix of politics and religion that rises in the cities of the American South. Annie is the daughter of Tucker and Lydia Roth of Girl on a Rock.