A flash fiction piece in preparation for my novel tentatively titled Annie and the Second Anasazi, scheduled for publication in late 2012. Sign up for notification by email here.
Annie appeared out of the sudden madhouse of Fort Worth and asked Theo to take her west. New Mexico. Colorado. She didn’t care. Even El Paso or Amarillo.
“Going to Albuquerque,” said Theo, his voice emotionless and gruff.
“How much?” she asked.
He stopped greasing the wheels on his Centipede Train section and looked at her. That affected his decision. Pretty face. Dirty, but not yet beaten by sun and wind and life. She wore good street clothes that hid her shape. Her fingernails looked manicured as recently as a month or so. She seemed like someone trying to appear to be normal, which is to say desperate. “I ain’t selling tickets, little girl,” he said. Good-looking young women were magnets for trouble. He didn’t need that. But he sure did like her face. For a white girl.
“Ten thousand,” she said.
He ignored her and continued working. The train would leave in an hour or so when the sun angled high enough.
“Twenty-five thousand,” Annie said.
Theo sat up. He pointed at a box wedged into a narrow strip of the carriage platform suspended with wires between the solar canopy and the bicycle wheel rims that rolled on the rail. A heavy bank of batteries rode beneath the carriage platform and gears and bicycle chains ran to an electric motor. Like most Centipede sections it had been home-built and re-built, jerry-rigged and repaired until no two sections looked alike. Each owner, mostly men, maintained and lived on them. The only commonality were their grips fore and aft that allowed them to join into long Centipede Trains that were the slowest way to travel long distances. Three hooped metal bars bulged from one side so two men, or one strong one, could roll the section off the track if a government train came at them.
“Girlie,” Theo said, still pointing, “see that little box riding in the carriage there?”
“I get ten grand just for getting that to Abilene.”
Annie grimaced. She knew about prices. Just last month she authorized raising the price of a liter of Patron añejo tequila to more than a thousand dollars. She didn’t understand how people would afford to pay, but plenty did.
“A hundred grand,” she said. She had almost five million stuffed into her worn rucksack beneath dirty clothes and a false bottom.
Theo looked at her a few moments, then shook his head and winked. “Girlie, how about for a quarter-million, I’ll clear the whole damned platform for you all the way to Albuquerque, and I’ll even feed you. They call me the Centipede gourmet. We’ll fatten you up a bit before we get there.” He laughed, sure he had over-priced her, and went back to greasing his wheels.
A few minutes later, Annie stood beside his section again. “Excuse me,” she said.
Theo sniffed and crawled out from underneath. Annie handed him a stack of bills, crisp and banded. He wiped his hands on a filthy rag and took the money, counted it, then looked at her.
“It’s almost everything I have,” she lied.
“Why the hell you want to get to Albuquerque so bad, Lady?”
She looked left and right, shrugged. “It’s not good here anymore.”
“It ain’t any better in Albuquerque. Whole world’s going to hell.”
“But I have to find somebody.”
“Ah. Boyfriend? Mamma?”
“I don’t know him. My father knew him. Told me to find him.”
He eyed her, scratched under his arms, finally nodded. “He’s in Albuquerque?”
“Pagosa Springs. That’s in ….”
“Colorado. I know it. Grew up there.”
He nodded. “What’s your man’s name?”
She looked down. Turned her head.
“Secret, eh? Well then, who’s your Daddy?”
“Roth. Tucker Roth.”
“Oh, yeah. Sure. Science teacher there in Pagosa. Best teacher I ever had. About everybody liked him. Married a woman with a burned face.” He looked at her a moment. “That wouldn’t be your mother, would it?”
“Well I’m damned. I remember Mr. Roth had a daughter. Angela?”
“That’s right, Annie. You’re Annie? Ha!” He reached out his hand and shook hers.
“So who’s this guy your father knew?”
She looked aside again.
“Maybe I know him.”
She sighed. “Serles. Samuel Langhorne Serles.”
“Well I’m damned again. I graduated a year ahead of him. Smartest son-bitch Pagosa probably ever had. I remember your father liked him a lot.”
“Do you know where he is? Is he still in Pagosa?”
“That I don’t know, Little Lady. But I expect you can find something about him there. People will remember Mr. Roth, and they’ll tell you.”
“So would my father know you?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yeah. He would. Nobody forgets this Eskimo face in Pagosa.”
“Are you? Are you the son of that Anasazi Runner guy?”
He nodded again. “Theo,” he said. “Theo O’Brien.”
“Do your parents still live there?”
“Nope. Burbank, California.”
“You ever go back?”
“But you’ll take me?”
“Albuquerque, lady, Albuquerque. No Centipede line goes to Pagosa.” He looked at the money in his hand and shook his head. “This is too much. Just give me a hundred.”
“But we agreed.”
“Food’s on you. Can you cook?”
“Well, not really.”
“Then you’ll just have to learn, won’t you?” He dropped to his hands and knees and rolled back beneath his section.
This is exploratory flash fiction for my work-in-progress, tentatively titled Annie and the Second Anasazi, 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.
Note that Samuel Langhorne Serles is the inventor of the Serles Sheet mentioned in The Pump Jack Potion, and the backpacker in Walk, Not Stay. Also, Annie is the daughter of Tucker and Lydia Roth of Girl on a Rock.