The car finally came to a stop, and the man in the trunk heard two doors open. The car rocked a little as driver and passenger alighted, slamming doors violently. Heavy steps fell on what sounded like gravel. He could hear both sets stop just outside of the trunk. The man held his breath in expectation of the trunk latch clicking free. Then, a few seconds later, it did. The trunk lid raised up just enough to let a wedge of moonlight through, casting a chalky horizontal gleam into the trunk. As quickly as the man could, he rolled from his left side onto his back, trying to ignore the lightning of pain that shot through his rib cage and into his sternum. He braced himself for the assault. It did not come.
The crunching of gravel under foot resumed, followed by muffled voices that became less audible as the moments passed. He tried to make out what they were saying, but the stifled syllables would not form words. A few more seconds passed, and the voices were gone altogether. Were they gone, or were they waiting to finish him off? Did they even know he was still alive? The man’s mind raced, stoked by adrenaline. A few more minutes passed. He couldn’t wait any longer. He must get out now and make a run for it—that is, if he could get his legs untied and if his bum knee would cooperate. But what if they were somehow tricking him? What if they were just standing out there, listening for signs of life—of his life? His pathetic waste of a life.
She was right, he knew. He was a good-for-nothing, and now the reaper would have him. How many times had she said that? “If you keep this up, the reaper will have you!” And how many times had he replied with, “He’ll have all of us eventually—you, too!” Eventually can be such a comforting word, until you realize it has a shelf life. But he’d be damned if his shelf life was up. Enough! Concentrate, he told himself. Stop thinking and think! Those double-crossing bastards were gone. He’d get out of this, like all of the other times. Then it would be his turn to inflict the pain. Maybe he’d just wait a few minutes longer. He decided he would count to fifty. Then, if they were still not to be heard, he would make his move.
He cocked his head slightly to the left and strained to pick up any ambient signs of life. 1…2…3…4 Blood and crickets were all he could detect—the blood rushing through his ears and crickets stridulating ever so faintly some distance away. 25…26…27… He noticed that his counting was now synched up with the thump-p-p, thump-p-p, thump-p-p pulsing in his ears. But wait! Crickets! If crickets were chirping, then those two hulking idiots must be gone! It was now or never. No more counting.
Slowly, his heart pounding, he raised his bound and bare feet to the underside of the trunk lid and pressed it upward. Slowly, very slowly, after what seemed like several minutes, the trunk was filled with pale moonlight. He threw his legs over the edge of the trunk, resting the crook of his knees on the trunk’s rubber seal. Then, he scooted his backside toward the rear of the Cadillac and flexed his torso upward as far as he could. Unfortunately, that was not very far. His abdominal muscles and cracked ribs were no match for gravity. He needed leverage, so he gripped the edge of the trunk with his legs and scooted his backside closer to the latch. With all his strength, he wriggled his butt up onto the trunk’s edge. What now? What if they come back and I’m stuck here? Shut up! Think! Grabbing the farthest edge of the lid that he could reach, the man pulled himself over onto his stomach. Pain, more pain, shot through his body as he felt his right ribcage actually buckle under his own weight. Swallowing a scream, he pushed against the floor of the trunk with his bound hands. His bare knees scraped the top edge of the license plate as his body slithered out of the trunk and poured itself supine onto the gravel.
Trying to ignore the agony, he curled his torso up to find a sitting position. Despite the full moon, it took a few seconds for him to make out his surroundings. Besides illuminating the severity of his injuries, the moonlight also caught the gravel road that extended into the night. The sides of the road were thick with tall ponderosa, and patches of light reflected dully off what appeared to be exposed granite. He saw no buildings, no artificial light. Where did they go? Are they watching me now? He hurriedly untied his ankles but could not slip his wrists out of the knots that had, for the last few hours, bored a red furrow into the skin of his wrists.
To hell with it. He grabbed the rear bumper of the car with his bound hands and pushed his left foot against the gravel-pocked tread of the left rear tire. Holding his breath to stifle the groans of pain, he pulled himself onto his feet and quickly spun around, looking for movement. There was none. None that he saw.
The only question now was, in which direction should he go? He had no idea where he was, but based on how long they had been driving, he guessed it was some place far and unfamiliar. He must be farther up into the hills, he reasoned. The tall, dense, odoriferous pine and rocky landscape ruled out any place within a few miles of the city. It probably also ruled out finding anyone who could help him. It didn’t rule out mountain lions though. Stop thinking and think! But the gravel road? Someone had to put it here. For what? And again, where the hell had they gone?
Just run! Anywhere away from this car. He chose the left side of the road, as he saw it. Why, he did not know. There was no reason, really; didn’t need to be a reason. Just go!
He quickly discovered that he had misjudged his surroundings. The ground was not flat in this direction. It sloped downward sharply. The man tumbled forward, rolling through gravel, then dirt, then needles and bushes for several feet until he got lodged on the trunk of a narrow pine. Pulling himself up with the aid of the tree, the man tried to find his footing. Pinecones, needles, and small rocks punctured his feet, making the task doubly difficult. He heard the cracking of wood to his right, back in the direction of the road, and quickly spun around, instinctively ducking down against the tree as he did so. He saw nothing but noticed, for the first time, how cold it was—a slight breeze through the October air cutting like a knife, his breath diffusing into a white vapor that stood out against the dark. Maybe that’s why they’d let him live, so he would freeze to death out here. Another “crack.” This one from behind him and much heavier than the first. For the third and last time, he spun around.