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At seventeen, Melody’s life is already heading in the wrong direction. From good girl to rebel; from straight-A student to near dropout. It’s going to take a long run on the naked road to find her way home. 

 Running The Naked Road 

By Valerie Brook 

 

Copyright © 2014 Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

Published by Kickit Press/kickitpress.com

Cover and Layout Copyright © 2014 by Kickit Press

Cover Art Copyright: Krivosheev Vitaly/Shutterstock.com

This is a work of fiction. Name, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form.

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MELODY GRIPPED THE EDGE of the Ford truck’s chrome bumper, her fingers splayed like animal claws. She crouched, hiding. The truck’s tires filled the air in the Walmart parking lot with the odor of hot, toxic rubber and the angry Texas sun lashed her naked back.

Her heart thudded in her chest like an engine revving. 

The tiny pebbles on the cement pinched her bare feet as she stole a secret view from under the truck’s muffler. Between two sets of strangers’ legs scissoring away from the weekend Walmart hordes, she watched the red corvette disappear down the row and out of sight.

Goddamn it.  

That was the red corvette driven by the drunken frat boy asshole with no sense of humor who’d just made her strip naked a minute ago. The red corvette with all her clothes lying in the backseat. Even her panties. 

The red corvette that wasn’t coming back. 

Fucking goddamn it. 

Melody swallowed the sour fear in her throat. Tears tried to well up but she fought them off. 

She was miles from home, without identification or a phone or any money. What kind of questions would the police ask a seventeen-year-old found hiding naked in a parking lot? And when she wouldn’t tell them anything, they’d go to her dad. 

That couldn’t happen.  

The sound of flip-flops smacking heels grew louder. Three sets of legs approached, one adult and two kids. The group acquired a lopsided shopping cart, one rusted wheel rattling. 

Melody’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Sandwiched between the truck and a Subaru three feet behind, there was no additional cover. She would be exposed to all passersby. 

Wait. Under the truck. She could fit.

Melody felt hot air rush between her legs as she spidered on all fours. The cement scraped her tits. She banged her hipbone, sending a sharp reverberation of pain all the way into her teeth.  

She froze, motionless, holding her breath as the group walked by. Then another group. Then a wheelchair rolling. 

The tips of her long black hair brushed a smear of oil-stained ground. 

Tears tried to sting her eyes and she fought them hard. Fought off the despair that pounded in her chest. Some little kid would see her under here, point and bend down low. Mama, look at the person under the truck. 

A flash of green caught Melody’s eye. She turned her head. Along the inside of the rear bumper, the figure of swordsman was stamped onto a little black magnetic box, snugged up deep under the wheel well. 

Melody’s jaw dropped.  

She recognized the object. Grandpa had that same brand, a Green Knight magnetic key case, because he would lose his keys and Grandma would get pissed.

Melody reached for the case, her hands shaking, and slid it open. A key fell into her palm. 

Like magic.  

She stared at it like the key might reconsider its own solid existence and wink into nothing. But no, the serrated edge pinched her palm as she squeezed it hard in her fist. 

Melody angled her head, listening. Noise carried from across the parking lot. A trunk slammed with a thump. A cross-walk bell chimed. Fragmented voices rose and fell. 

For the moment, there were no legs passing by the muffler. No footfalls approaching. The coast was clear.  

Melody crawled out from under the truck and crouched beside the driver’s door. She hugged one arm across her naked chest, and the other arm reached skyward with the key, aiming at the door handle. Sunlight flared into her eyes, blinding her. 

The crunch of car tires approaching sent a spike of electricity into her fingertips. The key turned the lock, the door cracked open, and Melody’s legs sprang and launched her into the front seat. 

She pulled the door closed and lay underneath the horizon of the windows. The outside world muted like the daytime soundtrack had been put on pause. 

A hot seatbelt buckle stung her belly. Her nose pressed into a stack of coffee-stained newspapers. A box of cigarettes jabbed the side of her head. Reaching toward the steering wheel with the key trembling in her hand, she found the ignition—sliding the key into its housing without turning it.  

The volume of a conversation turned loud outside, echoing through the barrier of the truck as two guys walked right by the passenger door, their voices violating her hiding space. There and gone again. 

Melody’s chest rose and fell. 

Lifting her head, she scanned the seat and the floor. Fast food wrappers lay crumpled with some scattered tools and odds and ends, but nothing approximating clothing. She rolled forward and plunged her hand under the seat, her fingers bumping into strange, unidentifiable shapes, grit jamming under her nails. She found nothing made of fabric.  

Shit.  

Okay, think. 

Melody lifted her head off the newspapers, held up a section, and unfolded it into a long rectangle. The loose, glossy ads slid out onto the passenger floor with a hiss. The face of the president glared disapprovingly at her as she tucked him up under her armpits, snugging the paper down tight. It tore. She yanked out another section, doubling up. This would work. It had to work. 

Sitting upright, the sunny world beamed in through the front windshield like theater lights on a Broadway stage. Melody clutched the wide steering wheel, her bare toes probing for the brake and gas pedals, just able to reach. 

“I can do this,” she whispered. The newspaper crinkled as she leaned back into the cold plastic seat to help secure the paper ends. Her butt crack spread uncomfortably, like it might collect lint. Jesus, this could almost be funny.  

Except it wasn’t. 

The late-model truck fired up with an F150 roar. The air vents blasted her, smelling moldy, fluttering the papers. Melody fumbled with the controls, turning the A/C off. She clunked the gear shift into reverse and checked the mirrors. It was just like the simulator in Driver’s Ed.  

So she’d never driven an actual truck before.  

Right now was not the time to freak out about the details.

She backed up slowly and carefully, edging around the Subaru like it might explode if she dinged it. She clunked the gear shift back into drive and lurched down the parking row like this was actually something she did every day.  

Driving naked. 

Her armpit stung where the newspaper had given her a paper cut. The springs in the bench seat squeaked as she rocked over a speed bump. As she drove by the first group of people, her spine shrank. No one bothered to look up at her. Nothing was amiss.

Melody let out a big breath of air.

Maybe the coffee-stained newspaper looked like a strapless blouse. Kinda funny. After all, Texas was smack in the middle of a sizzling summer—so skin was in.

Her mouth still tasted sour. A box of breath mints lay on the dash and she popped one into her mouth as she caught the trail of cars flowing in the green light, exiting the Walmart and merging onto Zaragoza Street. 

The peppermint zinged her tongue, and a surge of relief flooded her body so overwhelmingly, she almost felt like she’d won the lottery. 

She shifted up into third—a little more buoyant on the grimy plastic seat. She just needed to make it back home and get into her bedroom closet. That’s all she needed.

She glanced at the fuel gauge, relieved it was well above the empty mark—kept one eye on the speedometer, minded the posted speed limits. No one paid her any attention.  

She put on her blinker and turned off Zaragoza, heading into the fading sun, toward home and the northern outskirts of the city where her dad had a rustic ranch house on three acres of land. Or weeds, however you wanted to look at it now. Problems in paradise, as they said—ever since mom took that vacation and never came back.

But Melody didn’t want to think about the way her life used to be. That normal life was dead. It was over. 

Cars flowed around her on conveyor belts, traffic thickening as more people got off work for the day. The flare of the sun kept lowering in the sky.

Melody braked for an armored truck as it made a turn into a bank. A realization bloomed inside her—fanning slowly out from her stomach, into her chest, and down her arms—like her blood was icing inside her veins. 

She’d just stolen a truck. 

Like, stole it. 

A line of cold sweat broke out on her forehead. Where was she going to park? Jesus. She couldn’t go home and park in the driveway, what was she thinking? What the fuck was she thinking? This was a crime. This was public nudity and grand theft auto, all wrapped up together. 

From straight-A student to near high-school dropout, she was now adding in a felony to put a cherry on top the whole damn shit sundae. 

A horn blared like a manic tuba. 

Melody swerved, realizing she’d drifted into the right-hand lane and nearly hit a souped-up burgundy Cadillac with chromed hubcaps. Her newspaper blouse shifted, one side drooping and threatening to sail. She squeezed her armpits shut like puckered lips and stepped on the gas. The Ford burped, lumbering away from the Cadillac and what looked like the flash of a middle finger in the rearview.  

Great. All she needed was to piss off the Los Aztecas, or some other cartel-type guys, getting all Friday-afternoon amped-up before their next—whatever. 

New rule of thumb: Don’t piss off other people on the road when you’re secretly driving stark naked.  

She needed to think. Figure this out. 

[END EXCERPT] 

Copyright © 2014 Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

 

 

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