Our Story Begins
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.
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.
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.