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.
The first time Theo saw Annie, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Not because of her shocking hair, shiny gold in a world of grit and grime. And not because of her height, a half-head taller than any woman he’d met. No, his first attraction was to her gait, how she walked, her feet in particular. She placed her toes to the ground before her heel, like a deer, perhaps. Or a ballerina. She wore a flat shoe that emphasized her slender feet.
He shadowed her. An easy target. That blond hair reflecting the sunlight, bouncing with her long, gliding stride. A poised animal moving through the human jungle. Theo knew others would key to her too, single her out, move in. He saw young men on both sides of the street looking at her. He hurried to get closer.
A man stepped from the right and touched Annie on the arm. She jumped and spun, squatted and bounced back up with a knife in her right hand. Theo saw no hesitation on her face. She would cut him.
Theo angled to hit the man from behind as he brought up a pistol. Theo kicked hard at the man’s hand and the gun flew. He kicked the man in the jaw, which made him go clack, and then sprinted to retrieve the gun. He handed the gun, butt-first, to Annie. A crowd gathered. Police would arrive soon.
“You know how to use this?” Theo asked.
“Then take. I’m not a gun man.”
She squinted, then took it and slid it into one of the three bags strung across her shoulders, without taking her eyes from Theo’s. He felt a thump like a bass drum pounding his chest. “And we’d better get out of here now.”
Theo began walking. At that moment it could have gone either way. They needed to get out. She could either join him or not. He hoped she did, but figured she would go her own way. Instead, he sensed her presence and heard her prancing step come up from behind. He turned and looked up at her, a head taller than him. He hated that. He imagined what others on the street saw. She, thin as a gazelle. He barrel-chested and narrow-waisted, more bulldog than antelope.
“Where you headed?” he asked. A fair and generic question. So close to the train station, only merchants and criminals weren’t going or coming.
“West,” she said.
First time he heard her speak. Sounded like warm liquid, whatever that meant.
“Coast?” he asked.
He glanced at her to see a shake of her head if she declined to speak. He also saw her hand inside the bag. Probably gripping the pistol. She looked both frightened and determined. Skittish, but with no intent to flee. Rather to turn and attack. Not quite the gazelle he first thought. More young lioness running in panic. Dangerous. Very dangerous.
“Mountains, then,” he said, answering for her his own question. He wanted confirmation or denial. If not mountains, must be desert.
She nodded and spoke this time. “Colorado.”
“You have papers?”
“Yes,” she said.
“But you’ve never ridden the rail before.” Not a question. An observation. She was an obvious street virgin, or she wouldn’t be walking with him so easily.
“No,” she said.
Give the girl credit for honesty. The light grew dim and the smell of summer-broiled urine hovered around every dark corner. Theo walked ahead, leading Annie. She hadn’t asked where and he hadn’t told her. Some instinctual form of trust? Stupid for a girl like her. She could be a model. But he’d seen the knife. The move. She wasn’t a trifle.
“There,” he said, pointing to a line of well-lit offices behind picture windows. People moved inside. “Just give them your papers and ticket and they’ll show you what to do.”
She smiled, and he sensed her tension with a little relief. He’d done right by her. She knew it. “Thank you,” she said without moving. He thought she would be in a hurry.
“How good are your papers?” he asked, sensing her hesitation. That’s it. She has forged papers and she’s getting cold feet.
“I don’t know,” she said.
Again, he gave her points for honesty. Some people on the streets valued that. Most would take advantage of it. But it did raise the problem of her being discovered, arrested even, if she had shoddy papers. Probably some housewife from North Dallas, running from her wicked husband.
“What are you running from?” He had no right to ask. None of his business. But if she spouted unnecessary honesty, he could pry a little.
“Why did you help me?” she asked.
“I like the way you walk. Like maybe you don’t ever lose your balance. And you seem familiar. Like I’ve seen you before.” He’d play truth with her, up to a point. Why not?
“Maybe you have.” She nudged her chin up, pointing to a billboard over their heads. Nearly half the boards in the city were for Annie’s Liquor Emporium, and this one showed Annie in her usual white hippie boots, blue short-shorts, and white top that didn’t quite come together at her chest. She had her arms around a life-sized bottle of vodka with the line, “Made from Texas potatoes.” In the corner was the ubiquitous but meaningless (to him anyway) logo: (…).
Theo snapped back to her. “You’re Annie?”
“I be damned.” He looked at her with new eyes. “How’s your daddy?”
“What?” She batted her eyelids as if in prelude to a sneeze.
“Pagosa Springs High School. I graduated from there.”
“Why?” Strange question. “Because my grandfather made me. But I enjoyed your daddy’s classes. That man could teach.”
“You look like an Eskimo.”
“Kind of familiar.”
“Yeah, well, I ain’t him.”
“You know who. The most famous Eskimo man ever to come out of Pagosa Springs.”
“That runner guy.”
“Yeah. Exactly. Congratulations. Now what the hell are you doing out here with bad paper?”
Across the street, inside a display case in an electronics store, a wall-sized television played. She pointed and he looked. Below a blurry picture the caption read, “Fugitive Annie Roth of Annie’s Liquor Emporium.”
“That you too?”
She sighed. “Yeah.”
“Follow me,” he said. They had to get out of sight now. He glanced up and down the street and plunged through a service door that someone had left propped open, probably for ventilation. She pinched the sleeve of his shirt to keep up in the sudden darkness. Electric motors hummed across a large space. Below, an opening in the floor like a pit, a glow of light showed men lethargically working on a giant engine. Smaller motors ran and their tools clanked against metal.
They came to a grimy corner with a weak LED light that illuminated their faces like disembodied apparitions.
“We need to hide your hair,” he said.
“You look like your father. I’ve seen pictures. My father admired him.”
“Well, he was a jerk.”
“You’ll know who I’m looking for,” Annie said.
“Samuel Langhorne Serles.”
Theo smiled and nodded. “You and the entire government and everybody in with them.”
“You know where he is?”
“How would I know that?”
“Do you know who would?”
“Girl, it’s dangerous to ask that question. To even say his name out loud. Why are you looking for him, of all people?”
“Because my father’s dead. Killed. My mother too. But he left me a package for when he died, and inside it said to find Serles.”
Theo let out a soft whistle. “I remember that. Your daddy and Serles were tight.” He remembered being jealous of the way they huddled together and talked about deep science in ways that Theo couldn’t even understand. “I maybe might know somebody who knows where he is.”
“Miss Elby. If anyone knows, she’ll know. How bad you want to find out?”
“It’s all I’ve got.”
He hesitated and looked at a her a moment. “I remember you, I think. Little girl. Yeah, Mr. Roth’s little daughter. Is that you?”
She nodded. “I guess.”
“Well then, that settles it.” It did for him, anyway. He didn’t have any family left. This girl, this connection from the past, was about as close as he ever got. Besides, he was tired of this place. He’d help her. “We gotta go.”
“Pagosa Springs, baby. We’re going home.”
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. Theo is the son of Sean O’Brien from Anasazi Runner. Miss Elby is featured in the upcoming novel, The G.O.D. Journal.