Danger awaits a young woman who leaves her apartment one Friday night.


Erin focused on the city that stretched below her apartment. Lights from various establishments flickered on as dusk unfolded a lulling atmosphere - the brief pause that usually occurs before night. Cars honked on packed streets, revealing their owner's desperation to get home early on a Friday night. Deep rays of pink streaked the sky. And for the fifth time that week, the girl asked herself what she was doing on her window sill. 

"I could call Ray", she mused, watching her breath fog up the glass. Spring was often colder than winter where she was from. "He's probably at the place downstairs anyways." Erin absentmindedly played with her shirtsleeves while debating the need for plans. She concluded that trying to create them at the last minute was pathetic, and it was better for her to accept her place as a boring hermit. 

"I'll call him anyways," Erin decided.

Her thoughts were interrupted by loud footsteps outside her door. Girlish laughter accompanied the noise - voices Erin swore she recognized. But the footsteps soon dropped into abrupt silence. After a long pause, the woman resumed her search for distractions. She rose from her perch near the window to retrieve the phone. 

Erin could feel the cold linoleum through her tattered socks as she entered the kitchen. The small space was something she often avoided, as she enjoyed pretending that the janky cabinets which adorned her pale-yellow walls didn't exist. It was easier for Erin to forget how much she paid monthly to use barely-functional appliances, while the people below her filled their tabs without any care. 

"Ugh. Where's the damn phone?" She looped her hair into a knot and secured it with a pencil she had stuffed in her pocket two days before. While reaching for the telephone, long cord brushing against her feet, the intrusive thuds returned on the other side of Erin's disheveled door. Those same, girlish voices followed. Erin hated them. Realizing who they were, Erin held her breath, as if that would get the women to leave her alone. A few hesitant knocks emerged. She groaned in frustration. 

But then she remembered Ray.

Erin trotted over to the door and opened it to find two very drunk women staring back at her. They grinned stupidly, as if they were laughing at a private joke. She smiled at the pair in return, hoping her fake interest would result in an invite downstairs. Erin understood that they showed up for the same reasons she wanted to leave.

“Well. . . hello - my dear,” Marie said with overdone enthusiasm. Erin wondered if she was messing around, or if Marie genuinely wanted to appear happy to see her. “We missed your suite the first time ‘round this floor.” Linda snickered while flinging a bottle of rum onto the checkered sofa. They both fell onto it, their pricey dresses ruffling against the ugly fabric. Erin hid her amusement at their oblivion.

“You call this a suite?” She teased. “Look around you!” Linda and Marie laughed at her comment, and Erin felt pleased to know she was playing their game well. “So, what brings you guys here?”

Marie slid further into her seat, blowing loose strands of dark brown hair away from her face. Linda sat up straight and fidgeted with her purse. “We’re heavily outnumbered in our cards,” she said carefully, picking her words so as not to slur through them. “And plus - your man was asking about you.” Linda gave a playful smirk. “Guess he’ll be happy you’re home. 

Erin rolled her eyes. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. So go back to your cards.”

“Oh, come on now. You’re full of shit.”

“Maybe I am. But I have nothing to wear.”

“I don’t think it’s your clothes Ray’s worried about.” Marie cut in. Linda smacked her on the shoulder, but they both started giggling like twelve-year-old’s again. “Point is, I’m sure you can throw something decent together for this. Let’s go then.” Marie hoisted herself off the couch and Linda followed. She grabbed Erin’s wrist a bit too forcefully, leading Erin to her bedroom.

Linda flicked on the light switch, revealing an unnervingly clean room. The space gave the implication that nothing was ever out of its assigned place, not even articles of clothing Erin might be too tired to fold before bed. The woman flung open the closet and threw a black dress at her.

“Put it on,” Linda blurted, a sharp edge to her words. “And your hair - what is that? Oh lord, get that pencil out of there. The intruder reached over to unfurl Erin’s locks while she dressed. “Leave it down. People pay to have hair that blonde.” Marie started humming some disco song that had been playing recently. Erin contemplated kicking them out for that alone. She zipped up her dress, smoothed her hands over the skirt, and looked to Marie and Linda expectantly.

They nodded and smiled sheepishly. “Good,” Marie said as they exited Erin’s hovel. “You look better than the whole town.”




The bar downstairs was somehow nicer than the apartments on the upper floors. Erin found this unfair, but then again, separate businesses are separate businesses. The two girls who dragged Erin all the way downstairs tore themselves away from her. She wondered how they could flaunt their liquor - in those expensive clothes - while clearly being so young. Erin also didn’t understand why two women in their undergrad would waste time with men like Ray.

But the question doesn’t apply to a twenty-five-year-old like herself.

“So, you’ve decided to come out of hiding,” a man said behind her. She knew it was him before turning around - Ray’s entire essence had nagged her for months. Once she felt comfortable enough facing him, Erin turned and greeted grey eyes that assessed even more than the reaction she gave them. She no longer worried about Linda and Marie.

“I guess you could say I was bored enough,” Erin replied through her blushing. Every detail of the establishment seemed to become narrower and more miniscule. “Your friends managed to find me upstairs.”

Ray gave a quiet laugh that sounded weightless in her ears. “Who - them?” The man gestured to Linda and Marie, who were now drunkenly following each other to the restroom. “They mentioned something about that earlier. I hate to admit I may be dropping them after all this.” Erin followed the man to a table in the middle of the bar, with several used glasses already scattered across it. Ray studied her face bemusedly, allowing Erin to absorb the entire moment. She did the same.

The small lines in various parts of his face were from the sun, because the tan couldn’t be genuine in contrast to his cold eyes. Erin liked how Ray’s forearms met his wrists, one smooth transition a lazy person would easily skip over. The man’s hair was black, yet it wasn’t - the woman noted a few strands of silver hair that wanted to remain anonymous.She realized that Ray might have been slightly older than she originally believed.

“See you two have been getting on,” Linda said, making Erin jump in her seat. She pointed to the array of empty glasses surrounding the pair. “Erin - how much of these are yours?”

She side-glanced at Linda, tossing some of her golden hair over her shoulder. “You’re very funny. Maybe you should consider radio or something.” Ray let out another laugh, this one more real than the first. His approval sent spirals of excitement through her stomach. Linda scowled and sat down at the end of the table. Erin thought it made her red lipstick look clownish.

“Where’s Mary?” Ray asked.

“You mean Marie.” Linda retorted.

“Oh yeah. Marie. Where is she?”

Erin drank up the various emotions on this poor girl’s face. First anger, then embarrassment, and finally defeat. Though it was entertaining to witness, Erin remembered to reserve a small space in her heart for pity.

“She went home. Her roommate picked her up. Apparently, Marie’s mother was frantically calling to make sure she wasn’t doing - well - this.” Linda rolled her eyes and placed her head on Ray’s shoulder in resignation. “They’re from Encino. Her mom’s always saying how soon she could be on the freeway to take Marie back.”

Ray nodded. “And what about you? Are your parents constantly harassing you from home?”

The girl smiled slightly, seeing Ray’s interest as an excuse out of her mood. “Hm. Not really. My dad works nearly every hour of the week, my mom is usually swimming in whatever cocktail she’s fixed for the day. And on the rare occasion they are together - they’re usually driving out to the house in Montauk for a week or two.” Linda masked her sadness with a quick wave of her hand and a convincing grin. “Makes a girl get away with plenty.”

Erin saw a new reality in Linda. She was something darker underneath the drunk vapidness. “I see why you came all the way out here then.”

“Meh. Would’ve been the same in New York. I came here for the weather.”

Women and heavy subjects were already a challenge - and combining the two was like asking him to perform brain surgery.  He glanced over at Erin, who looked so pretty, and was so clever - it made Ray want to chuck Linda out those glass windows behind their table.

 “Are you going to order anything?” He asked Erin.

  She shook her head. “I’m perfectly fine.”

Ray grinned while looking straight at her. He maintained his gaze for some time. “Alright.”

Linda groaned in annoyance. “Well, that sucks,” she said, throwing a peanut shell at Erin’s bare shoulder. “Looks like the card game’s gone out the window.”

Much like yourself if you don’t shut the fuck up, Ray thought.

“I’m sure we still could,” Erin offered in reassurance.

Ray gave her a challenging expression and drummed his knuckles onto the table. “No. I have a better suggestion. George said we could drive up to his place tonight -”

“I say we do that,” Linda interrupted. She cast her eyes in Erin’s direction, giving her a request for approval. “I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“Figured you’d say that.” Ray replied. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a jumble of keys. “We should be going, then.” Linda quickly rose from her seat and followed Ray to the door. Erin felt as though she were hovering over her chair, unsure of whether she was safe once she walked out those double doors. They eventually turned back and waited, unsurprised that Erin lingered behind.

“Come on,” Ray said across the bar. A few men glanced over at them before returning to their beers. “It’s Friday. You can’t type at your little desk for two whole days.” Linda giggled and Erin avoided crying. She resented that comment.

“Can you even drive right now?” She asked him.

“Me? Of course. You’re not the only one who has self-control.”

Erin snorted and left the table. She walked towards them, very slowly, until she stood directly in front of Ray. Erin reached to grab the tip of his chin, holding her thumb lightly against his skin.

“I very much doubt that,” The woman said, turning to exit the building. “Let’s go.”




The city shrunk with each mile they burned through. Ray unapologetically sped past cars along the freeway - it was late enough to drive without hitting sudden traffic. Erin rested one foot against the glove compartment while making sure to keep enough fabric below the knee. Linda snored in the back seat. The radio was so quiet that Erin couldn’t recall what played in the background.

“Is she alright?” Erin asked, placing her hand on Ray’s arm. He quickly pulled it off the console and hid it near his hip. “Should we pull over?”

Ray sighed. “I don’t think so. ‘Long as she’s still breathing, we should be fine.” He caught Erin’s troubled expression - which read both concern and disbelief. “But I will if she stops snoring.”

Erin rested her head on the window. “Okay. That sounds fine.” She was pleased to know that Ray slightly cared - apparently she had underestimated the man. Remaining strips of an urban landscape gradually faded, until all that could be seen were the beginnings of the desert. Erin gazed out towards the mountains, counting the number of flimsy bushes that were visible at night. She found at least sixty.

“So, who’s this George guy?” Erin asked. “I fear what you’re dragging me into out here.”

Ray smirked while tapping his fingers against the steering wheel. He must like Pink Floyd. “Erin. How long have you known me? ‘Bout four months, now?”

The woman shrugged. “Four months isn’t that long, come to think of it.”

“Says the lady who’s stayed the night with me before.”

Erin paused. “I don’t remember the last time that happened, Ray.”

He chuckled. “I’ve been busy with work.”

“Awfully busy for a man who can never explain what he does.”

Now it was Ray’s turn to be stumped for responses. Linda continued snoring in the back seat, leaving Erin with a strange sense of motherly relief. She began entertaining the notion that Linda’s value was being buried. Men such as Ray invite that attitude and nurture it, leaving it to be exploited by characters like this supposed George. 

“You never told me who this friend is,” Erin whispered.

Ray cut another driver off and veered towards the exit. Headlights flickered rapidly as the man honked at them for a few prolonged seconds. “Not a friend. More like a work buddy.” They turned onto a lonely road that stretched up into the hills. Erin could see the outlines of dilapidated houses strewn in various parts of dirt fields. “You could say my occupation is a bit -erm- complicated.”

The young blonde woman reached for her purse. She pulled out a cigarette and her lighter, meditating on the man’s fake answers for a while. “Drugs?” The woman finally inquired.

Ray smiled conspiratorially in the dark. “Something like that,” was his only answer.

A bizarre mix of panic and comfort riddled her. “I’m trying to regret being in the middle of Barstow with you,” Erin mentioned flatly. “Perhaps I’m just stupid.”

Several moments passed before Ray spoke. “No.” They merged onto another road, which led to a small house situated at the base of a barren hill. Erin found it unnerving how the lights were off, but at least she could still hear Linda snoring. Ray left the engine running until a guy emerged from the house and walked down the cracked driveway to meet them.

He walked with a languid gait, unlike Ray’s strut that was marinated with purpose.“George” had sandy hair which appeared white under the moon, and lean muscle that accentuated his staggering height. Erin thought the term “guy” suited him better - for he was clearly the same age as Linda.

Is a twenty-year-old guy really a man?

“Hey,” Ray said as “George” leaned against his opened window. “How’s it been out in the boonies?”

“George” grinned, gesturing to the outside world. “You tell me.” He peered in through the vehicle and stared at Linda, curled up on the bench in the back. “Aww, well look at that. ‘She alive?”

Erin sighed and looked down at the floor. Ray laughed. “‘Course she is. Just a few too many is all. Can’t do nothing about that, George.”

George shrugged. “Guess so. Alright.” This ghoul of a man unsettled Erin. He reached into the car and pulled Linda out, carrying her all the way to the front door. She resembled a Raggedy Ann doll - limply draped over the stranger’s arms. Ray quickly turned the ignition and flung open his door.

Erin followed.

“As I was saying,” Ray whispered in her ear while holding her waist. “You clearly aren’t stupid - just tired enough to not care.”

She tried naming a time in her life where being with Ray was good.




George’s house was unimpressive, yet Erin didn’t know what else to expect from the desert. Every wall was covered in panels, with burnt orange carpet complimenting the unfortunate design. Erin almost experienced a swell of pride, knowing that some homes were uglier than hers.

My apartment is a mansion, the woman beamed.

Linda was now occupying the cushioned windowsill. A strand of hair lifted above her face with each breath she drew. Erin used this to make sure Linda was still sleeping. She could hear George and Ray conversing in the kitchen next door, their faint whispers worsening Erin’s anxieties. She hoped whatever nefarious plans they had were solely about deals, and not murder.

I guess I do care about dying, Erin realized.

The two men reemerged from the kitchen. They both gave her an expression that signified their awareness of Erin’s eavesdropping. George scowled while folding his arms across his chest, whereas Ray’s lips simply curled into an amused smile.

“It looks like she’s passed out,” George said. He picked Linda up again, the shadows against his pale skin lightening as he smiled. Erin was startled by how quickly George could displace anger. “I’ll just take her to bed.” No one else moved as George fastened Linda in his tree-branch arms. Erin dared to make eye contact with him, who prodded the girl to look away with his own sharp, milky-grey orbs. The air almost grew stale as it lingered between them. Erin wanted to protest, insisting that they must go home as soon as they arrived. Who was George to say what Linda needed?

But a sturdy hand placed itself on her shoulder before Erin could act. “It’s okay.” Ray’s voice was level, like a rake smoothing over loose gravel. “She knows him. We’ve all been here before.” George slowly carried Linda through the hall and disappeared into the second bedroom. “I didn’t want to say they’re together with, uhm - him - in the living room. But they basically are”.

Erin sighed, running her hands through her hair. She noted how her elbows pierced the lack of flesh on her thighs. “That’s better - I guess.” Ray lifted Erin off the sofa, his fingers gently clasped around her arms. “Why did you bring us here?”

“People always have bad feelings about the desert,” He replied. Ray slid open the patio door and led Erin outside, the crisp March air inviting them with chills. The backyard was dingy - most of it being covered in a thick slab of concrete, with a few cacti scattered in various corners. “Yet they’ll practically live on top of each other in an urban hellhole.” He began climbing a rusted ladder bolted to the stucco wall. Erin gazed at Ray in confusion, until he stopped on the fifth rung, motioning her to follow.

I’ve survived this long, she concluded - and started climbing. The girl almost snagged her dress on the handle as she made it to a flat section of the roof. Ray was already sitting there, resting his hands on his knees. Erin sat so close beside him that their arms touched. She was relieved when he didn’t squirm away from her.

“I suppose this isn’t so bad,” She offered, looking up at the sky. “Was expecting there to be more stars, though.”

Ray shook his head. “Too many lights. Even here.” He noticed that Erin was trying to stay warm by wrapping her arms around her torso. “Shoulda brought jackets, though. They say it’s supposed to rain for two more weeks.”

Erin shoved him. “I don’t wanna talk about the weather with you, Ray.”

“Well. . . then what?”

“Maybe about what it is you want from me.”

Naturally, Ray quickly switched the conversation. “Where are you originally from?”

The woman was nearly beside herself. “You’ve heard this millions of times.”

“I know. But it’s a good story.”

“More like a tragic one,” Erin replied. “What’s there to say? I’m from Covina. We had a small house that was surrounded by orange groves - so much of it has disappeared at this point - and my father was a drunk. He originally had a job with the railroad company but lost it, and like several unemployed men, he turned to alcohol.” She paused, acknowledging how the horizon somehow reminded her of home. “On mornings we didn’t have school, Gracie and I would wake up early and flee the house. We’d spend all day roaming the fields - sprinting up and down the roads that connected other parts of town to our neighborhood.” Erin sighed. “Gracie would follow me around out there until dusk.”

“You were the oldest,” Ray added. Erin suspected she was retelling the story for his own twisted amusement.

“Yeah. Which is why it was easy for my parents - my father - to pit all the blame on me when my sister went missing. I learned to do it to myself also. But who could sanely hold an eight-year-old responsible for something like that? We were just playing hide and seek. The one rule I made up was that neither of us could go into the groves, everyone knew how dangerous they could be. But of course, Gracie had to break it. She was always doing things like that. For two hours I called out her name, until it started getting dark. I went home alone, without Gracie. My mother was bedridden for days.”

Ray sensed he had aggravated the situation too much. The moonlight revealed tears glistening against Erin’s cheeks. She tried to position herself in a way where she could hide them. “You know it wasn’t your fault, right?” He asked. “Kids disappear everywhere.”

Erin glowered at Ray for his false comforting. “She’s still gone. Even after enough years passed, Gracie’s absence hid in every crevice of the house. It was alive in my subconscious - I saw her in every scowl my dad wore at the dinner table, and in each word, he spoke to me. My sister’s death materialized in the days Mom spent in bed. It resurfaced in the newspaper article about a ten-year-old boy who was found in the orange groves. His body was pale and caked in dirt, mangled by whatever the hell was done to him.”

“And that’s what did it.”

“Fuck you, Ray. But yeah. My father burst into my room late that night, a wad of bills crumpled in his hand. Get out. Go. He told me. I don’t care where you end up, just run as far away as you fucking can. You better not be here in the morning. He threw the money at my head and slammed the door shut. I was sixteen.”

The two sat on the roof, wrapping themselves in silence. Erin couldn’t fathom any part of the evening: her window, Marie and Linda, winding up in the desert. Ray disappeared for several weeks, only to invite himself back into her wake. Erin found it pathetic how everyone seemed to vomit their information, personal stories, all over Ray’s presence. Yet he managed to stay private.

“The true skills of a criminal,” she whispered. Erin knew Ray had to have heard that, but he didn’t respond. Before Erin could suggest that they go back inside, shouting commenced in the living room. It was apparent that Linda sounded on the verge of hysteria.

“We need to get down there,” Erin said through clenched teeth. “Now.”

Ray gave no objections. This time, he followed.




They rushed into the house to find Linda on the floor, speaking unintelligibly while sobbing. George towered over her, holding his arms mid-air. He was a complete stranger to these situations. Linda pushed Erin away when she tried to come near. Ray only stood by the television, shooting daggers of contempt in George’s direction.

“What happened?” Erin shouted, watching the girl go insane. “George. What did you do?”

He laughed in disbelief. “Me? Nothing. I went to the bathroom, and next thing I know, Linda’s writhing around and crying like a baby on the floor. I tried asking why - she kept saying something about her mom.”

Ray groaned. “God, you’re a pathetic liar. Linda hates her mother.”

George stood to his full height and began taking slow steps toward his associate. “You. Do Not. Know. . .what you’re talking about.” Ray pushed out his chest, grey eyes glinting like a winter sun. The two men had abandoned the present issue. “I didn’t do anything.”

“Heh. Funny. That’s the very thing you said when the shipments got all screwed up.”

“WHEN WILL I FINALLY LIVE THAT DOWN?” George screamed. His milky skin transitioned to a dull crimson. “HAVEN’T I DONE ENOUGH OVER THE LAST YEAR?”

Ray shook his head profusely. Erin caught a slight tremor in his voice as he chuckled. “You can’t ever ‘live-down’ something like that. At this point you work hard to not mess up - so neither of us end up dead. That whole thing bent me over too - not just your stupid ass.”

George had been hopelessly provoked. He shoved Ray, who then aimed for his nose in retaliation. Erin remained stationed on the hideous carpet, cradling Linda’s head in her hands. The idiotic drug dealers carried on for what felt like centuries, shoving and punching each other until George held Ray in a chokehold. Erin watched his tan complexion dissipate into something as pale as his coworker’s.

“ENOUGH!” She yelled. Erin hadn’t shouted like that since the day her sister went missing. “YOU’VE MADE YOUR POINT. LET HIM GO!”

George looked down at her in a daze, slowly remembering the two women. “Oh. So suddenly you care about this schmuck?” He grinned maniacally, tightening his grip around Ray’s neck. “It’s true. Women really are fickle.”

That comment would have angered her on a normal day. But Erin could only focus on Ray as his life began to fade. Memories rolled behind her eyes like a reel - Gracie, the orange groves, the boy in the paper. Erin remembered her father, then reached for the pencil she absentmindedly shoved in her dress pocket earlier that evening. She quickly stood and lunged forward, kicking George in the shin so he would let go of Ray. Without hesitation, Erin stabbed the young man in the jugular before he even had the chance to catch her.

Both men fell to the floor. Erin marveled at the difference, how the oxygen-deprived one quickly recovered while the other rapidly bled out onto the carpet. She herself was covered in blood - George’s blood - the DNA of an incompetent crimminal. He was soon dead. Ray slowly stood and reached for Linda, who’s crying had ceased. Erin dropped the soiled pencil and wiped her forehead.

She said nothing. 

Ray studied this new killer intently, much like how he had done in the past. Except now, Erin looked more like an abstract canvas, paint splatters marking random sections of her skin. A strange sense of admiration overcame him while he stared into those hazel eyes. Ray saw that she remained unaffected. And to his relief, Linda had shut up for the first time since meeting her.

“Okay. Here’s what we do. . .” Ray’s voice trailed off while searching for his things. He retrieved his keys and placed them gingerly in Erin’s hand. “Take her, the girl. . . and leave.” Ray halted Erin’s objections by placing a finger to her lips. “None of that. Don’t worry about me, just take the car and get out of here.”

The man helped Linda off the ground and herded the women towards the front door. He pushed it open, inviting the final traces of night into the house. “Get home fast. Clean up, figure out a plan for the car. ‘Long as you don’t say anything - or bring attention to this in any way - we’ll all be fine.” Linda whimpered faintly and ran out to the driveway. Erin hung back, looking at the person she saved with uncertainty. Ray only nudged her down the steps, prompting her to finally step into the vehicle.

“You need to leave. And don’t ever contact me or try to track me down. It’s for your own good.” He looked at Linda in the back seat, and then gave Erin a knowing expression. “Look after her. She better not talk, if she knows what’s good for her. Seeing zero signs of me is what you both need.”

Erin gave nothing in return. She simply rolled up the window and backed out onto the dirt road that had brought them to hell.




The radio played in the background as they flew down I-15. Erin had switched it to some unknown jazz station, and in fact hated the music, but kept it on  for the sake of chaotic notes hitting her eardrums. The sun was creeping past the mountains at a rapid pace, yet the surrounding landscape seemed stuck in time with her. It created a feeling of sudden panic within Erin - a feeling that should have surfaced immediately after killing Geroge. But it didn’t. Those emotions revealed themselves forty minutes later, the land becoming greener as they moved closer to home. Every inch of dread that seeped into her psyche made it more difficult to focus on the music. The radio could not mask the reality that she, a murderer, was alone in the desert.

Erin had always hated the desert.

She periodically checked on Linda in the rearview mirror, who never said more than a muttered phrase which left Erin guessing. At times it sounded as though Linda said something like “mom” or “my mother”. She began to pity George, because perhaps he wasn’t a complete liar.

“How could you do that?” Erin whispered under her breath. She gripped the steering wheel to remind herself where she was. The leather was cool beneath her hands. Royal blues quickly transformed as morning light dipped into them, but Erin would keep the headlights on for a while longer. She feared killing any living thing that might wander onto the highway. Linda began to cry again. All they wanted was to drive for an eternity.




















































































Submitted: August 30, 2021

© Copyright 2023 alyssanicole. All rights reserved.

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