In a Dark Place — Fiction by James Moran

For the past hour Gordon had been staring at the dark woods ahead as though he were watching reruns on TV. The trees sloped down and up towards the Alleghenies, all beneath a starless, night sky. He had half a mind to see the mountains closer up, to sprint headlong into the dark with nothing but the peak of those mountains in sight. He imagined running along the empty road, reaching the nearest town, hitching a ride with anyone willing, and disappearing for good. The very idea of running towards anywhere—nowhere—was tempting.

But instead he leaned against the ’74 Dodge Charger and waited. He looked right and watched the orange spark at the end of Kurt’s cigarette glow and fade like a dying lamp.

“You’d think Pittman would be back by now,” Gordon said.

Kurt mumbled something in response, took a long drag of his Marlboro.

“Do you think he got caught?”

“Quit worrying,” Kurt said. “Pittman will be back with the gas, and once he’s back we can beat it. Idiot’s got to walk five or six miles, remember?”

Gordon looked away, folding his arms across his chest. He then stared at the back of his hands, which were dry and cracked in the bitter cold. He thought of his mother, who would immediately—upon seeing the condition of his hands—rub lotion on them and fuss about how little he cared for himself during the colder seasons. He figured he should visit her sometime, maybe later this week, after everything was settled.

“He could’ve abandoned us, you know,” he said.

Kurt sighed, closing his eyes as though he were in pain.

“He’s already got a record. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran the moment he was out of sight.”

“He’ll be back,” Kurt said. “He’s an asshole, but he isn’t that big of an asshole.”

“Why are you even defending him? Do you realize what he made us do?”

Kurt glared at him, a quiet rage rising in his dark eyes. He pinched his cigarette between finger and thumb, positioning it as if he planned to burn a hole in Gordon’s face.

“I was there, wasn’t I?” he said. “If anything I did more of the grunt work than you bothered to help with. You and your weak-ass stomach—I don’t know why Pittman thought it was a good idea getting you involved.”

“I don’t see why he got you involved, either,” Gordon said, voice rising. “This could’ve been a one-man operation, but he dragged us into this and now we’re at that bastard’s mercy because he had it out for some guy—!”

Thump!

Gordon froze, shoulders hunched as he listened.

“Did you hear that?” he whispered, eyes flicking back and forth in panic.

“I didn’t hear anything,” Kurt said, giving him a weird look.

“I think … I think it came from the trunk.”

“Knock that off. Nothing’s going on in that trunk.”

“If we could just open it and check—”

“Enough!” Kurt hollered, grabbing hold of Gordon’s shoulders. “You’re only hearing what you want to hear, Gordy. It isn’t real. Now listen: We’re going to stand here, be quiet, and wait for Pittman to come back, got it?”

“G-got it,” Gordon said.

Kurt shoved him back and returned to his cigarette, which had dwindled into an ashy nub. Shaken, Gordon leaned against the car again and looked down the road. He watched the black point of the horizon for about five minutes, but there was still no Pittman.

“If he doesn’t get back in ten minutes, we’ll walk,” Kurt said, dropping the butt of his cigarette to the ground. He stepped on it, driving it into the dirt.

“You don’t think he’s coming back, do you,” Gordon said.

“I didn’t say that. He’s just taking his sweet time.”

“I didn’t even know the guy’s name. Did you?”

“No, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

“It was probably something like John or Bill or whatever. Some generic, normal name. Probably had a wife or girlfriend, maybe kids, a job, who knows…”

Gordon looked at the mountains. He wondered if he could climb them—if he could ever get the chance to climb them after tonight.

“It doesn’t matter,” Kurt said, after a long while. “Who he was. Why Pittman did it. None of it matters anymore … after the fact.”

Gordon turned his head, looked at the rear of the car, at the closed trunk. He imagined how dark it was in there.

“You’re right,” he said. “He’ll be back. He’s just dragging his feet. He’ll be here in a few minutes.”

“Sure,” Kurt said, taking another cigarette from his jacket pocket. He held it between his lips, lit the end of it with a silver lighter. “We’ll be waiting for him.”






James Moran is a current MFA candidate at North Carolina State University. He lives in Sanford, NC.
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