Short Story: Blood.

I’m sorry I haven’t posted any fiction in a while. NaNoWriMo was a very, very rough draft this year, so you were all spared those words. This is the first story I’ve finished since November. I was driven to write this after the atrocity that was the Bonnie and Clyde “television event” that consisted of lies that only made their story more boring. Stephen King has a fascinating novella called “1922” that has a brief but memorable depiction of a couple on the run, and I wanted to know more about them. Also, as I said in my recommendation of Tired Pony’s latest album, most of the songs, particularly “The Ghost of the Mountain,” stirred some plot in my mind. The influences meshed together in my mind to get me writing again, so there’s that little exercise for you. Enjoy!

Daisy’s skin was as white as the lace of her gloves as she clenched the steering wheel. He thought that he could hear it rattle even over the crisp static of the radio. That could have been the blown tire though.

“We can’t keep going like this.”

Clint’s mouth was so dry that his tongue felt like sandpaper. He leaned against his window and told himself that he needed to focus on watching the mirror. Nobody seemed to be following them, but with the way the vehicle was shaking, the couple was hardly subtle. At his feet, the bag of money shifted, threatened to spill its contents like ill-gotten ticker tape.

Daisy seemed more preoccupied with the rear view mirror than the road ahead. Of course she would be as tense as long as they could still hear the sirens in the distance, wailing out as a pack. “We just have to get to the cabin,” she said, more to herself than to soothe him. When a second tire gave, she didn’t scream as loudly as she had the first time.

The plan had seemed so simple. All they wanted was a new start together. But it took money in order to uproot, and the young lovers had little more than the clothes on their backs. Daisy knew far more than just how to type and wear a skirt that smoothed her curves, but everywhere she turned, she was told that the problem was the economy, not her. For his part, Clint had never been much for school or books. He knew cars and people, charm and how to stretch a dollar.

There weren’t many options for a love so intense that its optimism would not be hampered. He wanted to afford a nice, small house where Daisy could garden or cook or find a new way of life that wasn’t some goddamn cliché. He wanted her to be able to afford more than one pair of gloves so her nights weren’t spent darning the delicate fabric, her lips withholding a tiny cry that threatened to shake through her each time her needle drew blood.

The only moneyed member of his family was his bank manager uncle. Clint remembered taking a tour of the place when he was just a boy who had wept when he thought the adults might leave him behind in the vault. Oh how they had laughed at his tears, even as his uncle assured him that he would never be locked in. Besides, everything inside was insured, so Clint was guaranteed to get back to his parents. The tears stopped then. He remembered that.

The car swayed, and Daisy cried out in frustration. The wheel burned her palms as the vehicle seemed to fling itself willingly into a dune of snow. She could have backed it out, but instead she threw her door open, welcoming the cold. “Jesus, Dais, are you trying to kill me?” he asked, but she was gone.

It would be fair for her to leave him, he decided. She’d never been thrilled by the idea of a life of crime. He’d laughed at the suggestion, as though Bonnie and Clyde had landed themselves a happy ending. This was just one heist, one small act of defiance in order to get out of town. Nobody would lose any money but the government, and they would be well on their way to a new town, a new life. He could marry her under a new name, a name they’d choose together, and they would make an honest living somewhere warm and beautiful by the sea.

When she yanked his door open, he nearly toppled out. He hadn’t noticed how his forehead had struck the dashboard when they wrecked. He waved her off, but she still reached inside to pull his body to hers. “You look like hell,” she said in that voice that could hold no anger. She was afraid for him, nothing more.

“Maybe I’ll see you there.” She hated his humor and gave him a gentle elbow to the ribs, even as she leaned him against her body. When he reached out for her, his hand went to her stomach. She hadn’t told him yet, but he knew. Her skirts were only so loose. “I should be the one helping you.”

“I think your idea of what a hero should be got us in this mess.” An observation, not a criticism. She got him to his feet and then leaned inside to grab the bag. Their future seemed so feeble then, closed up in an old handbag with a loose zipper.

Clint wrapped his coat tighter around his body and looked up the road. They weren’t far from the cabin, maybe under a mile. They’d have to enter the woods by foot anyway, so it was better to do it now and hope that the snow kept falling before the car was discovered.

This hadn’t been in the plan. His uncle should have been at the bank, too frozen with fear and confusion to act when Clint had passed his note to the teller. Since when were security guards armed? He’d carried in his father’s gun, of course. Just asking for money would not be enough to intimidate anyone, not in these desperate times. He hadn’t planned to use it any more than necessary, which to him meant possibly firing at the ceiling to prove that the weapon was loaded. But when that man had set his sights on him, when he had tried to be some sort of goddamn hero, Clint’s vision had gone red with fury. He would not have his future ripped away from him. The guard should have just let him walk. Who didn’t need the extra money anymore? Who would have done any differently if they had been in his position?

The wool of his coat was eagerly absorbent. Daisy had been easy enough to fool as long as he was able to cradle the fabric to his chest, but there was no deceiving the snow. “Just go straight. I’ll keep an eye on the road. Whatever you do, don’t let go of that bag.”

“It doesn’t matter if I lose you,” she whined, but she kept moving. She didn’t turn back to see the crimson trail dappling the ground behind them.

Death still frightened him, even as the life ebbed out between his fingers. He could taste copper behind his teeth and feel the hot liquid in his chest. There was too much of it where it shouldn’t have been. He was afraid to tell her, afraid to admit it out loud. Hadn’t fear been the reason he had pulled the trigger and killed that man? No, that had been anger and greed, a sense of justice and power. He wanted something, and he took it for the first time in his life. He decided that his own life was more important, more worthy than someone else’s. There had only been two shots fired inside. His aim had just been truer.

He slipped in the snow, but pure stubbornness kept him from falling. He would not call Daisy’s attention, would not have her turn and see him this way. It would have been better to have been killed inside the bank, her slight frame trembling as she waited for him outside. She would have been disappointed, terrified, abandoned, but that would have been better than losing a battle such as this.

When the house came into view, he threw the weapon in the snow. He would have no need of it soon enough, and she shouldn’t have to carry on the path he’d chosen. There was no reason for the blood to stain those delicate hands.

If she was disappointed, she didn’t let it show. She rushed on to the wooden porch and shoved at the door, which gave easily. The owner did not bother coming out so far after the nights grew too cold for the log walls to offer much defense, and the furniture had already gained a fresh coating of dust. She dropped the bag of cash on the table, then thought better of it and slid it behind an overstuffed, embroidered sofa that seemed to be leaking vital stuffing. “It’s not much, but at least it’s not falling apart on us,” she said in spite of the furniture.

Clint wanted to lower himself to a chair rather than the bed, but he was afraid that if he bent, something would come loose that he would never have again. This would be his final descent then, until he was lowered in the ground. He wanted to be buried next to his mother. He wanted to be allowed in the cemetery, not banned because he had committed a horrible sin. There was no purpose greater than love, for his girl as well as his unborn child. God had given him the means to protect them, but it had been in the form of a gun rather than a proper living.

Her pale blue eyes were clear with focus. She lowered herself to her knees and stroked his dark hair away from his forehead. “You feel warm.”

“I feel like I’m freezing.” It was an excuse to bundle the coat in closer. He swore he could hear his blood abandoning him for the mattress, the floorboards, already committed to returning to the earth. He was burning with fever, but he had to distract her from his rapid decline. “We should build a fire.”

“Don’t you think the smoke will bring the police?”

“Around these parts? It would be a waste of time.” He struggled to raise a smile for her. Worry only made her more radiant. She had a beautiful heart, always had. That was how she had seen him for the person he could be rather than the loser he had been. She didn’t deserve to see him die.

She seemed to be waiting for him to move, to speak, but he just closed his eyes until he heard her voice again. “Let me get some wood then. I don’t know how to get a fire started without a match.”

“I’ll take care of it when you’re back. I just want to rest up for a minute. Coming down from all the adrenaline, you know?”

She didn’t. She had no way of knowing. Still, she pressed her lips to his face, cooling him with her touch. “I don’t know how much dry wood I’ll be able to find and carry, but I’ll try. I’ll be quick.”

“I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll only be a few minutes.” She laughed as she turned away from him, but she was not quick enough to keep him from seeing the tears in her eyes.

He had no notion of making it to Heaven. He had made poor choices and sacrifices, but he wouldn’t change anything if it meant putting her and their child in danger. Soon enough, she would come back to his body, cooling in the winter evening. There would still be light for her to find her way back to the car. She might be able to ease it back onto the road, or she could flag down a driver and ask for some help. She was innocent enough to escape suspicion, pregnant and abandoned. She had everything to live for, and this was the one last thing he could do to give her a better life.

Let me be a ghost, he thought as he shrugged his way out of his coat. The hole in his chest was close to the middle. Without pressure, the wound wept, the first to mourn him. I don’t deserve salvation, so let me walk the Earth. Let me be her shadow. Let me watch my child grow.

He wasn’t afraid of burning. He was afraid of anything without her. He refused to blink. His eyelids were heavy with finality, but he fought. It had been a mistake to send her out in the snow. She could be in danger out there on her own. Weakly, he called her name. He was sliding. He was on the floor. The impact was more sound than feeling.

The door opened. He left.

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