Do Your Worst
If you apply enough pressure to a rock, it creates a diamond. That’s what Anne always said when I got stressed out. Pressure makes diamonds, She’d say while wiping my tears. Now, while I was crystallizing in my fear there was no one to relax me. I was alone. I grew spikes as my tears flooded. My flesh crusted into stone as I rejected my own existence. And then I remembered that day when Marissa and Avery’s house burned down. I remembered deciding I had a new beginning. I remember breathing the air and knowing that I’d try and make the best of this.
What had happened. What had I become. I had promised fire to myself and watched the spark come and go.
The next morning I woke with the sun. I was curled on the side of the road, with blood smeared on my hands. I needed to hitchhike to continue, but no one would take in a kid who looked like a serial killer. I spent hours trying to find a public bathroom. By the time I did I had multiple people run from me. Eventually, I washed in the sink and dried myself in the hand dryer. There was something unidentified and foamy in the sink and the dryer whirred violently. Finally, I stood by the lonely road with one thumb in the air and waited for cars. The first one that pulled up was an old woman. She kept asking me to repeat what I was asking so eventually I gave up. I began walking along the road until a sputtering old station wagon drove slowly next to me. An old man with missing teeth leaned his head out.
“Hey kiddo, wanna ride?” I stopped walked and faced the balding mad. He had a cigar hanging out from between two of his teeth.
“Where are you headed?” I asked. The driver stuck their foot on the concrete as they slowed to a stop.
“Way down to Washington D.C.” I thought.
“That could work I guess.” The old man grinned, leaned back in, and called to the driver.
“The kid’s gonna be ridin’ with us, get ready for some company.” He looked back out at me. “What are you waitin’ for then? Hop on in!” I opened the car door and slid in. It smelled like pot and air freshener. An equally old woman sat tapping the front wheel, her hair bouncing with each sputter of the car.
“Welcome aboard the Cheddar, my names Alice and this is Pup.” They nodded at me with a simultaneous smirk. They looked like they could be siblings.
“My name’s Aaron, thanks for letting me hitch along.” They laughed over the loud music.
“Well, you are absolutely welcome bud! We couldn’t let you walk along all by yourself.” I watched the trees through the window, and my breath fogged up the glass.
“So where are you guys coming from?” This time Pup answered.
“We’s heading all the way up from Davenport.” I nodded. I learned that the two of them were on a road trip to see their parents, who lived in D.C. The inside of the car was stuffed with suitcases and threads of smoke. There was one door missing that had duct tape strapping it shut. The front row had the windows smashed out, but mine was still intact. I watched the clouds pass through the open sunroof and thought about Mother and Father. The election was due tonight, and there was no doubt in my mind Father would lose. And I wasn’t sad about it. If there’s one thing our family needed it was a reality check. I sat in the back of that car inhaling drugged air for hours, and eventually I passed out on the leather seats. I opened my phone, which was on it’s last 10%. I had one text from Eric, saying I’ll see you soon. I opened a text form Rudder. He lost. Your Dad, he lost. I just thought u would want to know. I stared at the glowing screen for another minute, the light burning a hole in my pupil. I had 53 texts from Mother and Father, but I read none of them. I deleted their contacts and went back to sleep.
I sat up a couple hours later to my skull rattling against the car window.
“Hold on kid, it’s getting rocky!” Pup hollered into the back of the car. They were both holding the car for support as it rambled down the rocky hill. The gas for the car was off, and the wheels were running wild. “This here car’s got no brakes, so whenever it gets steep we just gotta hold on a pray.” Alice and Pup began screaming with delight as we soared down the expressway. They both checked on me to make sure I was screaming too, and by god I was. Okay, maybe not in delight. I practically crapped myself but that isn’t important. Two police cars began to tail us with their lights blinking. As the ground flattened the car only sped up, leaving the ground once or twice. The car began swerving sideways, and Alice smashed the on gas. The car sped forward, leaving burnt rubber and toxins in its wake. The cop cars were catching up to us, closing in for the kill. Pup smacked the dashboard with excitement.
“Aaron, would you be a darling and grab me a pop from under Pup’s seat?” Alice looked at me in the rearview mirror. I nodded and pulled out a 4-liter bottle of soda. I passed it up, and she handed it to Pup. He began to shake the bottle vigorously, until it was dangerously fragile. He turned to me and grinned.
“You wanna do the honors, kid?”
“Do what?” I asked, desperately trying to keep up with them.
Alice interrupted. “You better do it fast now son, they trailing close behind.”
Pup giggled like a child. “You stick your head out the sun window, up there-”, He pointed to the sunroof. “Face the cops, an’ chuck this here pop at them. It makes a big ‘splosion.” He handed it to me excitedly. The car raced down the road, and I was trying to keep from getting dizzy. I wrapped my fingers around the soda and pulled myself through the sunroof. The two police cars were only about 10ft behind us. My hair whipped around my face, blinding me in the wind. “Come on boy! Give it to em’!” Pup called from inside. I pulled my arm back and threw the soda straight into their windshield. It exploded violently, splattering even me. The car swerved, hitting the other. They pulled to the side of the road, and began to smoke while drenched in brown. Alice and Pup whooped from inside the car, and pulled me back in. “Nice shot kid.”, Pup cackled. “We gonna have to make a stop soon now.”
Within half an hour they had pulled into an empty lot. Alice stopped the car by jumping out and dragging it backward by the open window. She dug through the back of the car until she found a cardboard box. She folded it open, revealing a stack of license plates. “Watch here, son. These here are our safety measures so no one catches us when we’s drivin. I takes these off of other cars when nobody’s around.” She had the same cackle as Pup, but she’d stick her tongue out. After giving The Cheddar a push forward, we were back on the road with a new identity.
Later, when the sun was beginning to hide behind in the clouds, we pulled into Washington D.C. The buildings were bigger than I had imagined, and the car lights made up for the missing stars in the sky. The Cheddar stopped in an empty underground parking lot. It was dim, only light up by a couple fluorescent lights. The two turned to me, suddenly serious.
“Okay. What d’you got.” Alice asked. I looked at the two of them, crawling into my shell.
“What do you mean?” A knot formed in my chest.
“We give you a ride from Columbus, you give us somethin. We scratch your back, you give us your money.” I look at them in shock.
I thought about my phone inside my sweater. “I don’t have anything. I didn’t know I’m supposed to give you something.” They look at each other.
“You so sure you don’t got anything?” Pup said, slowly pulling a switchblade out of his back pocket.
“Pup, put that away,” Alice said nervously. Pup raised it threateningly.
“No. He’s got something, he just ain’t forking it over.”
“Put. The. Knife. Down.” She said coldly. He nudged her off, switching open the blade. Alice grabbed his arm in panic, and he whipped around. The knife was inches from her face. “Pup what are you doing?”
His face was sweating and red. “I’m fucking threatening him. Just let me do this.”
“No!” She tried to push him away. He put the knife up to my neck. I was frozen still. Alice screamed, throwing him out of his unlocked car door. His knife grazed my neck. I saw the opportunity and made a run for it. I grabbed the blade and slit a gash in the duct tape seal across from me. I struggled through in a panic and ran into the dark. I heard yells from behind me, and someone pacing. Two gunshots broke my eardrums and echoed violently. I hugged my knees close to me in the corner, barely breathing.
“Come out kid. You owe us.” I saw Pup walking in the dim lights, across the lot. He was hunched with a pistol in his hand. Alice was in the car, close to tears. Pup kept fading into the shadows and reappearing closer to me. I wasn’t breathing, not even because I was being hunted. My lungs couldn’t handle another breath. Pup made ticking sounds with his tongue, dangling the pistol as if to taunt me. Eventually, kicking the ground, Pup gave up. By then I had cried dry tears. He shot a couple bullets into the floor, got in the car and revved away. I wondered what kind of place we were in where no one heard gunshots. Even though they had left, I didn’t dare move for hours. I fell asleep in that spot, wrapped in myself. I was woken by a security guard the next morning.
He tapped my shoulder. “Hey, are you okay?” I looked up. I was lying in a corner of the now well-lit parking lot. Cars had begun to fill in the empty space. “Also, why are you here?” The man asked.
“It’s fine. I can just go now.” I responded, picking myself up. He blocked my path. “Where are your parents?” I stood still. I had no excuse.
“Umm… They should be waiting outside for me. They sent me inside…” I paused, “to check on the car.” Oh, Jesus. I’m a bad liar.
“And you just fell asleep in the corner?” I nodded, trying to seem confident.
“I mean, no. I wasn’t asleep I knelt to pick up my phone and… my head hit the wall. Boom. Out cold.” I said, checking over his shoulder.
“Yeah, I think not. How about you come with me, and I can… help you find your parents. Okay?” He said, beckoning me to walk with him. I nodded, and then broke into a run. He yelled after me as I ran into the staircase. I staggered up the stairs as he trailed behind, clearly confused. I pushed out of the front door and into the street as fast as possible, and soon the man was gone. I collapsed against a tree and watched people walk by. Gazing at the sky intently, I remembered how far I had come. That even though I’d run hundreds of miles, I could never escape that sky. I was still under the same stars; with my parents, with Orlin, and with Anne. They would always look down on me, even when I would squeeze myself into a rock and bury myself deep. There are parts of us that we can never cover, holes we can never fill. My family would always be part of my childhood, whether I liked it or not. That was also the day I decided to give my blessing to that sky for the fun reminder. That blessing was in the form of flipping it the bird. I muttered under my breath. Do your worst.