All the lights were on inside the little, bright-red Mustang. Even the dome light was cutting through the darkness on either side of the road. She really didn’t care that she might be pulled over. For her, at this point, nothing mattered. She told the bear buckled firmly into the seat next to her this fact several times. The animal was made up of polyester fiber and PE pellets and was incapable of responding. Its brown felt face registered no emotion as the dark scenery flew by its black button eyes. She kept going over the same ground conversationally, and she kept referring to the inanimate object beside her as “Pookie.” Occasionally she grabbed a fluffy paw and gave it a squeeze.
“I thought this was going to be different,” she told Pookie around a ghastly nasal sniffling. “He was so good at telling me how much he loved me.”
Several more miles blurred by the windows. Finally she turned the inside light off and the radio on at full volume. The amateurish wailings of a young girl filled the vehicle. If the bear had been capable of feeling pain he’d now be in agony as the driver continued to screech out her disjointed thoughts over the music.
“I told him everything. I trusted him.” She pulled the wheel hard to avoid a slow-moving pickup hauling a trailer. Coming along side she gestured crudely at the other driver, who responded with an angry honking of his horn. She cut in front of him. Brakes screaming, the truck and trailer disappeared into the weeds and brush at the side of the road. Even over the Mustang’s stereo the sounds of metal meeting metal could still be heard. For a brief second she smiled triumphantly through her tears.
“After that, Pookie, he finally tells me he has a wife.” She wiped at her eyes. “He couldn’t come with me because he had obligations.”
“So what was I to him? How dare he be mad at me for not telling him a few things about myself when he has a woman and a baby at home.”
A chime sounded deep within the recesses of the car’s dashboard. Looking at the indicators, she screamed a few choice curses. Low on gas, meaning a stop would be needed soon. And the cost, gas had gone up so high. She reminded Pookie again how really unfair her life was. How much she’d endured. At the crossroads of two highways she saw what she was looking for and pulled over. In the glare of the artificial lighting she looked around. Not surprising at three in morning, the gas station wasn’t doing any other business. She pulled up to the pumps and stepped out.
Grunting, she wrestled the hose over to the car and managed to get the nozzle into the gas tank, but realized after several minutes that nothing was happening. Squinting, she looked back at the station itself. The wide glass windows were reflecting back the image of the Mustang, but she could make out the figure of the attendant gesturing for her to come inside.
“I don’t need this tonight,” she sighed. Slamming the tank’s lid shut she marched through the station’s door, prepared to cause trouble as much as she felt it’d been given. Instead she found herself smoothing out the wrinkles in her jeans, and tucking in her black t-shirt. A quick hand was also run through her long, fair hair. The guy behind the counter was cute. She hooked her thumbs under her belt and did a much slower walk forward.
“I’m sorry,” she said as she approached the counter. “I thought I could just….” She let the sentence fall, as she stared deeply into his huge blue eyes. They reminded her of the ocean and they were the best part, but she also greedily took in the rest of the package. The soft black hair was cut short; the skin was smooth and covered a fair amount of muscle. Not too much muscle, just the way she favored it. He’d gone a few days without shaving too, and a sexy shadow covered his cheeks and chin. She could ignore the pale-blue apron thing he was wearing, because he just had so much potential.
“It’s OK,” he said, “we just like folks to pay up front after dark.” He held out his hand.
She continued to stare.
“Do you know how much gas you’ll need to fill it up?” He looked outside. “Nice, by the way. How does it ride?”
She flashed a smile. This could go places. “Oh,” she drawled out, “you don’t even know you’re traveling.”
He leaned forward and took a longer look at the shiny red vehicle. “Looks like you’re packed up to move.”
“Yep, heading back to Galveston.” She gave him another huge, unnecessary grin.
“Oh, I thought you sounded like a Texas girl.” This time he returned the smile.
“Do I?” she laughed. She turned on the charm as hot and heavy as she could, which she knew to be considerable.
“What’s your name?” He was finally asking the good questions.
“Martina,” she said in low voice, as if giving away a big secret.
His perfectly shaped mouth had just started to form an “o” when the door burst open again and two men charged in. One was short and stocky, his shirt not quite acquainted with the top of his pants and exposing his white, bulging belly. The other was taller and better looking in a grundgy sort of way. Neither looked to have showered or shaved lately, but unlike the counterman the effect was not comely at all. They radiated trouble in expression, body language, and in the shotgun one of them waved toward the counter.
“This can be really quick and easy,” screamed the shorter of the two. Martina saw with disgust that he was missing two lower front teeth. He considered her for a second and then slurred out a malicious, “Or not.”
Rolling her eyes, she crossed her arms over her chest. The taller man aimed the shotgun squarely between her eyes. “Hands over your head — now. Or are all blondes really stupid?” The shorter man emitted a sharp, insane giggle. She didn’t move; she just stood regarding them silently. They had busted up her good momentum. What if she couldn’t get the mood back?
“You want my friend here to show how I want you to hold your arms?” the gunman said, grinning down at his companion. They both laughed at the awesome humor of his suggestion.
“You’re both very sad specimens.” Martina gave them the only smile she’d waste on the two of them.
“No, stop it,” the cutie behind the counter was pressing buttons on the register, trying to open it. “Look, here I’ll get you the money! No one is giving you trouble.”
“Yeah she is,” said the taller man. Keeping the gun pointed at her head, he moved forward. Trying to appear menacing. Martina felt she was very tolerant, at least compared to some, but her patience was quick with bullies. She was working on her own assertiveness, and she was deeply offended by those individuals who didn’t even attempt to reign in their hostility. Her other thought was that they might mess up the counter guy’s attractive face.
Reaching out, she slashed the guy holding the gun. He screamed and backed up. Drawing a hand away from his face, he stared at the sight of his own blood.
“How did you do that?”
“With this,” she said, calmly holding up her pale-green, scaly, clawed right hand. Then for fun she let most of the rest of her slip into form. She chased them out into the parking lot, enjoying the panic. Rarely were human beings prey, and these two were entertainingly clumsy. The shorter man kept comically tripping and slipping in his own blood and giving off high, womanly screams. Finally, she quit playing around and finished them off just at the point where the light faded into the darkness near the intersection.
“I need a towelette or something, I’ve got stuff in my hair,” she called out as she reentered the station. Martina looked around. Her future conquest was nowhere to be seen.
“Where’d you go?”
She found him under the counter.
“What did you do to those guys?” He was quaking from head to foot. Not the bravest performance she’d seen from a young man, but honestly not the worst considering he hadn’t expected his night to go this way.
“They would’ve killed us both, they weren’t our kind of folks.” She reached out to stroke his fine, soft hair, but he jerked away.
“What the hell are you?” he asked in a trembling whisper.
Martina sighed deeply, and squatted down beside him. Noticing that her best pair of boots were scuffed, she plucked a rag from the counter and began polishing them. She saw for the first time that his name tag read “Steve”. Well, Steve was a big disappointment so far, but she wasn’t going to give up yet. She pulled herself down to a sitting position and crossed her legs. Swiping the rag over her hair, she hoped that got the worst of the gunk out. Guts and blood obviously wouldn’t be an attraction for Steve.
“Have you heard of Naiads?” Long shot, but you never knew where you’d find a folklore fan. He shook his head. Steve’s eyes were becoming a little filmy. She hoped it wasn’t shock.
“How about Merrows?” Another head shake. “Meres?” Nope, she was going to have to go there.
“OK, you’ve heard of mermaids, right?”
He squawked out a laugh, and brought his hand to his lips to silence it. “You’re not a mermaid.”
“Well, I’m not a cartoon variety, no.” She was getting a little ticked. “All you’ve heard about is the watered-down version.” Smirking at her own pun, she reached out again, but he only wiggled backwards, banging his head into the wooden frame at the bottom of the counter.
“Steve,” she said, keeping her voice as gentle as possible, “I can do things for you no woman ever could.” Sitting up straighter, she mentally dared him not to find her attractive. Her long, honey-blonde hair, her sea-green eyes, and her fair skin had literally been the subject of legend. Martina knew she was beautiful. Hadn’t men driven their ships into the rocks just to get a look at her?
“You’re a vampire, aren’t you?” A trickle of blood was coursing down the side of his face; probably from the bump he’d given himself. Martina shook her head. She gave a noise of exasperation. The Others were pale and sickly looking compared to her. She shuddered at the thought of being treated so cavalierly.
“Just take the money and go, OK? Please just leave me alone.” His eyes pleaded with hers.
“You’re not the brightest bulb, are you Steve?” she asked in a voice flattened by disappointment. In a quick and graceful motion she was up and headed for the door. Half way, she stopped and backtracked, reaching up under the counter and savagely pushing the switch just above his shocked-white face.
“I’m turning the pump on, and if you think I’m paying for it, you’re crazy.”
With grim determination she took the ramp up to the road that would take her coastward. She’d put the car in storage and then returned home for a while until things died down a little. Martina had made up her mind to marry the man of her dreams, and she wasn’t going to settle for another Naiad like her mother had. She didn’t believe all she’d been told about there being some fundamental difference between humans and water people. Human males were better looking, that was all she saw. Male Naiads couldn’t change form, and there was no way she’d spend the rest of her considerably long life kissing a fish face when truly handsome mortals walked the Earth. Some were more sensitive, apparently. Next time she’d be more careful. There was no reason for the future father of her children to know she was capable of evisceration. From now on, she’d tone down her naturally assertive ways.
Pulling the bear from the passenger seat, she settled him in her lap, and stroked his fake fur with one hand while she drove with other. As much comfort as she got from the faux pet, her eyes welled up with tears again.
“Oh, Pookie,” she sobbed, “men are such crappy, whiny beasts.” A car passed them, and as the bear’s shiny plastic eyes reflected the headlights, he seemed to be winking in agreement. *
About the Author: KC Stapleton is a writer whose work has been published on multiple occasions by several online publications. She is a lifelong resident of Texas, and has lived in Austin for many years, working in the computer industry. She has a husband, a son, and a slightly crazed terrier who enjoys sleeping under her desk.
(c) 2004 KC Stapleton firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Artist: Romeo Esparrago is a nanofish in a picopond.
(c) 2004 Romeo Esparrago http://www.romedome.com