Lydia was tired. It wasn’t that the walk was very far, just a couple of blocks from school to home. It was her backpack, bulging with books. She had taken it off and dragged it behind her. She had seen other kids at school with rolling book bags and told her mom that she thought they were stupid looking, and that she would not be caught dead pushing luggage around the school like some hobo.
A car pulled up, and an old man stuck his head out the window. “Hey, little girl, want a ride?”
Lydia stood for a moment. Little girl? That was too much. Little girl? “Sure,” Lydia said.
He opened the door, and Lydia threw her weighty backpack inside, moist fall leaves clinging to the bottom. The man was smiling pleasantly, but the vein in his neck was visibly throbbing as he shifted gears.
Lydia answered the usual dumb questions: What’s your name? Where do you go to school? Do you like your teachers? Do you have a boyfriend?
The last question she answered with a pointed, “I’m too young for a boyfriend.”
The venom in her voice was lost on the man, who responded, “Not really.”
They passed Lydia’s house.
“That was my house,” she told him. “You missed it.”
The man’s hand began to shake. “I wanted to show you something,” he said in a tight voice. Lydia looked behind her seat, and in the foot well she saw a cloth shopping bag; in it, a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a towel, paper towels, duct tape, and a hammer.
The man became agitated. “Eyes forward! It’s bad manners to snoop in other people’s things!” He was breathing a little too hard.
“Don’t have a cow. Geez. Where is this thing you want to show me?” Lydia asked as they turned onto a dirt service road and drove between overhead power lines.
“Just ahead, not long now.” A short while later he pulled the car into a circle of trees.
Lydia was just finished rummaging through her backpack when he put his hand on her thigh and said, “I’m not gonna hurt you.”
“I know.” Lydia smiled up at him. “I want a hug.”
Lydia got on her knees on the seat. She was a little taller than him that way. She liked being above him. He made a funny sound, a sort of awww, hissed out of him. She put her arms around his head and pressed his cheek to her chest. She ran her fingers from his ear to his neck and tracing until she was over his Carotid Artery then she plunged a tiny pair of nail scissors into it.
Lydia had done it this way so the blood would spew away from her new T-shirt. Still, the gush was messy. Lydia jumped out of the car as the man began to flail his arms. It was funny to watch. He was really spazzing out. He grabbed his neck, the steering wheel, and then began even more severe arm waving.
Lydia opened the rear car door and took out the towel and the hydrogen peroxide. She poured it on her arms and on the splatter on her legs. She daubed at her backpack while the man made a weird, throaty whistling sound that Lydia assumed was a scream that couldn’t get through his wall of terror.
A short distance from where he had brought the car to a stop, she spotted another towel, this one with dark brown stains and wadded up next to a tree. The man had been here before. Then she thought about all the TV shows that had screwed up the blood— too fruit-punch bright and corn-syrup clear. Blood, she was well aware, was dark and got darker the longer it was exposed to air.
The man pulled the scissors from his neck, opened the car door, and crawled out.
Lydia rolled her eyes. “Oh, that will help a lot. Crawling away is a great idea. Right up there with pulling the scissors out of your neck so you’ll bleed out quicker.” Despite Lydia’s sarcasm, she was grateful the man had made it out of the car. It saved her having to drag him away from it.
She went to where he lay amongst flame-hued autumn leaves, a scarlet circle widening beneath his head. “Whore,” he gasped. He was lying on his side, pressing his hand over the wound, the blood spurting between his fingers.
“Ha! You wish,” Lydia said. She tapped her chin. “If I am a whore, then you owe me money.” She pulled the wallet from his pants pocket. “Seventeen bucks! Whadaya think you’re gonna get for seventeen bucks?” She walked around what was now a pool of blood so she could face him. He was fading fast, so she lifted her skirt to show him her Hello Kitty underwear. “This is what you get for seventeen bucks. I guess you can die happy, moron.” But the man was already dead, so Lydia went back to the car, and with the towel and the peroxide began cleaning off the blood.
It was a big bottle. She poured it along the door frame, window, and steering wheel, and she also dumped some on the seat. She used the roll of paper towels to pull up what moisture she could. With what was left, she padded the brake and accelerator with neatly folded bundles secured with duct tape.
Her father had taught her how to drive when she was very young. One of his favorite things was to invite people in the house—like Jehovah Witnesses. Lydia would grab the car keys from the hook on the wall and tear off. Her father would run to the window and yell, “Dammit, Lydia stole the car again!” Once the stranger saw a tiny girl doing donuts in the parking lot across from the house, her dad would pretend to be angry and talk about how the last time Lydia had made it halfway to Vegas before he caught up to her. People would show him great sympathy, and he and Lydia would laugh for days at their gullibility.
The car was still running. Filthy exhaust fumes billowed out into the cool air. Lydia put her history book on the seat and pressed the lever to move it forward. She carefully turned the mirrors to her eye line and put the car in drive. All she had to do was go the speed limit, use her blinkers, and pray some jerk-face didn’t call the cops on her.
She slowed for one last look at his body. He’d died with his face twisted upward, his eyes seemingly reflecting the sky in them. “Don’t bother looking at the heavens, bub, that’s not where you’re headed. Nope, you are going straight to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks.”
It began to rain. Flipping the windshield wipers on, she turned onto a paved street. She was rolling along, smooth as you please, just a few minutes until she’d be home.
Maybe a rolling backpack wasn’t that uncool if it had a design on it—like a tiger or a wolf.