Will called over his shoulder, “You remember how to get there? Do you need to follow me?”
Yes, we need to follow you, don’t you fuckers let us out of your sight, I thought. But Dex said: “No, we’re good.”
I wanted to kick him. And judging from the brief wince that passed over his brow, I knew he immediately regretted it. This was not the time to hold onto our pride.
Regardless, Dex smiled at Shan.
“Shall we? My rental chariot awaits.”
I was relieved to see Dex acting as if everything was normal, or at least as normal as it could be. I hoped Shan bought it.
I climbed in shotgun, Shan went in the back right behind me. Dex put the car on the road, but already Will and his truck was quite a way in the distance, a meager blue blot against the hazy dying light.
The tension in the car was unbearable. I didn’t know what to do. I knew Dex wanted me to play it cool but I could not play it cool with a fucking skinwalker sitting behind me. Every inch of me was on edge, my breath was short and shallow, the hairs on my arms and neck were sticking up, and I knew that Shan knew it. I kept silent, my hands fidgeting.
Dex controlled the conversation. Anyone that didn’t know him that well probably couldn’t tell that he was feeling apprehensive, but I could. I hoped Shan couldn’t tell something was amiss.
“Do you get big storms here this time of year?” Dex asked, eyeing Shan in the rearview mirror. I looked out at the graying road ahead.
“Usually. It’s been pretty quiet so far this year. The rain goes a long way here, providing it isn’t a flash flood.” Shan sounded calm and collected. Not that that was unusual.
I couldn’t stand it. Will’s truck was out of sight now and it was growing darker by the minute. What were we going to do? Did we really expect to make it all the way to Rudy’s place without anything happening?
There was a brief moment where I thought that maybe we were overreacting. Maybe Shan wasn’t a skinwalker after all. I mean, he didn’t give me any drug tea, that was all Sarah. I kept pondering that over and over again like it was a washing machine on spin cycle. It was at least keeping me sane, and kept my fidgeting to a minimum.
Dex continued his small talk with Shan about the weather. The more that Shan replied in a casual manner, the more I started to think that maybe we actually did have it all wrong. Maybe we were paranoid to the max and Shan really was just a loyal rancher.
“So,” Shan said. I could hear him leaning forward in his seat so his breath was right in my ear. “If you don’t mind me asking, what exactly was Rudy trying to do with you?”
Dex popped his nicotine gum in his mouth and chewed vigorously before saying, “He had some idea that we should be cleansed with a sweat session.”
“Do you know what that means?”
Dex nodded, keeping his eyes on the road, his hands gripped tightly on the wheel. I didn’t like seeing him nervous. It destroyed what little confidence I had.
“I see,” Shan said thoughtfully. “And I bet Rudy told you it would keep you safe from whatever is going on over here?”
There was an odd tone to his voice. I saw Dex’s eyes move to the mirror and frown. “Yeah. Actually he did.”
“Did you believe him?”
“Of course I did. And I do.”
I could feel Shan’s eyes turn to me. They burned like lasers into the back of my skull. I was unable to contain a shiver that ran through me. It was like he was sucking the thoughts out of my head. I had read that they could do that.
“Did you believe him, Perry?”
I wanted to look at Dex, I wanted to see what he thought but I couldn’t do that. I needed every shred of control and fearlessness I had left. I turned my head to the window and stared at the dark clouds above the barren, bone landscape.
“I wanted to,” I said, trying to keep my voice level and my words clear.
I heard Shan sit back in his seat. I closed my eyes and breathed out.
“That’s interesting,” he commented.
“How so?” asked Dex.
“Rudy’s not a stupid man. To trust that a bunch of white kids would have any faith in what he was doing…that was quite the risk.”
Dex and I didn’t say anything. There was a moment of heavy, ominous silence before Shan spoke again.
“Do you feel your lack of faith is what killed him?”
Shan’s words cut through my very core. Killed him?
Dex gripped the steering wheel even tighter and nervously eyed our surroundings. There was nothing but dry pastureland for miles. The lights of the city were coming closer but not close enough.
“Did I say something wrong?” Shan asked. “That is what happened to him. Is it not?”
I couldn’t breathe. What was Shan saying? That Rudy was dead? How did he know Rudy was dead? I wanted to ask but I was afraid of what would happen to us if we did ask. I wanted to play it cool, I really did but the wooziness of the drugs just made my heart pump harder. I wanted out of the car right there and then.
And then, it was like my wish came true. Before either of us could say anything to Shan, the car started to slow.
I looked at the road. It was a straight shot with nothing in front of us.
“What are you doing?” I asked Dex, slurring the last word a bit. I hoped Shan hadn’t noticed.
He shook his head, staring at the dashboard in confusion. “Nothing, I’m doing nothing.”
The Jeep came to a crawl and all the lights on the panel died along with the engine. The car just died. We were engulfed in darkness. It reminded me of scenes from alien abduction movies and that did not help my courage at all.
“How old is the battery?” Shan asked.
Dex shrugged, flustered, and hit the steering wheel. “I don’t know. It’s a rental car, it shouldn’t be more than a few years old!”
“You never know,” Shan said and opened his door. “I’ll go take a look. Can you pop the trunk?”
Dex quickly reached under the wheel and the hood unlatched with a clang. Shan stepped out and walked around to the front and lifted the hood. Once he was obscured by it, I turned to Dex.
“What the fuck?” I whispered, panicking.
His brown eyes were as wide as saucers as he watched Shan work. His chewing slowed down.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” he said trying to keep his voice hushed.
I leaned further into him. “He said Rudy was dead! How would he know that? Even we don’t know that!”
He nodded quickly. “I don’t fucking know.”
I didn’t know if he got the urgency. I reached over and grabbed his arm, hard. He looked at me, fear brimming on all his features.
“He’s going to kill us,” I hissed.
“You don’t know that,” he mustered.
“We have to do something!”
“What can we do? Our car is dead.”
“Yeah. Coincidentally it died at the right time.”
I looked at the hood and could see Shan’s faint figure in the crack between it and the rest of the car. It was almost nighttime, the sun had set somewhere behind the black pillows in the sky. The wind was out and rocking the car gently. It was cold. We had nowhere to go. We were stuck in the desert with a supernatural being that wanted us to go the same way that Rudy did.
“I think I’m going to puke,” I whispered. I put my hand to my mouth. I wasn’t lying. It was too much.
Dex put his hand on my head and held it there.
“Stay with me,” he said determinedly.
He opened the car door. I grabbed for him but he pushed away my hands and shut the door. I wanted to scream but I didn’t dare. I watched him walk around to the hood and say something to Shan. Then he nodded and went around to the trunk. He opened it and started rummaging through stuff. I turned and watched him. I didn’t want to say anything but his eyes met mine. I wished I could have read them in the darkness. I had no idea what Dex had planned.
He took a small bag out of the back, shut the trunk, and walked around to Shan. Through the crack of the hood I saw Dex hand him a flashlight from a black bag that he put on the ground.
Then I saw Dex grab a wrench out of the bag. He held it in the air, and before I knew what was going on, he brought it down behind the hood. I saw the light from the flashlight scatter and felt something hit the car with a THUNK.
I gasped, unbuckled my seatbelt, and jumped out of the car without thinking. I ran to the front, the wind whipping my hair back, and saw Shan lying on the ground in front of the open hood. Dex stood above him with the wrench in hand, breathing heavily.
OK. I didn’t see this one coming. My first thought was that if Shan wasn’t a skinwalker, we were going to be in some deep shit. My second thought was that Dex certainly had some sort of crazy fighter (or clubber) instinct in him. My third thought was a guilty sort of relief.
“Dex,” I squeaked out, glancing between the lifeless Shan and him. “Is he dead?”
Dex shook his head, staring at the body curiously. “No, I don’t think so.”
No, I don’t think so? The way he said it so casually rattled me. He might have killed a person. Or he might have saved our lives.
He dropped the wrench on the ground beside him. It clanked loudly causing Shan to stir slightly. Now that we knew he was alive, I was suddenly very afraid.
He looked up at me, biting his lower lip hard. He looked worried, sad, frightened and lost, all in one. I suppose I looked the same.
“What now?” I asked, my voice straining to be heard in the coming wind. I put one hand against the car for balance.
He looked around him, thinking. The approaching darkness made it hard to see. What could we do? The car didn’t work. We were far from town, from anything. And Shan was unconscious in front of us.
I did have my phone though. I reached for it and held it up so Dex could see.
“We can’t tell Will with Sarah there,” he cautioned.
“We’ll make something up. We have car troubles. That’s not a lie.”
“Why is Shan unconscious then?” he said. “We need another car.”
I almost laughed. “From where? A storm is coming and we are in the middle of the fucking desert.”
“We were only driving for five minutes. Look, you can see the lights from the ranch.”
He pointed behind us. There were flickering lights in the distance but I couldn’t be sure who they belonged to.
I looked at Shan, who still looked eerily dangerous and powerful, even when he was in an unconscious heap. “We can’t leave him here like this. And we can’t leave our stuff in the car.”
“I’ll lock the doors.”
I threw my hands up and almost fell over. “Oh come on.”
“We’ll take the most expensive equipment with us. We go back to the ranch. We get Miguel’s car. We drive to town, where there are people and we get a hold of the sheriff from there.”
“It’s still going to be the same problem,” I said.
“But we won’t be here, alone.”
He had a point. I sighed and tried to steady my heart and my body.
Dex leaned over and picked up Shan underneath the shoulders and looked up at me. “Get the door.”