Sally waited a moment and repeated her call in a louder voice which she hoped did not sound desperate. She didn’t want to sound desperate. After all, she wasn’t desperate. At least, that’s what she told herself as she tried to control her breathing.
“JOE!? You’re not funny! Where are you? Where the hell are you?”
Silence. She wondered why her voice sounded so hoarse.
“This game is stupid, Joe. I’m done. I’m leaving.” That was when Sally noticed the smell of onions. “What the hell? Are you cooking? What is that? Steak with … Onions? Garlic?”
Sally closed her eyes and concentrated on slowing her breathing. That will avoid panic, she told herself. It’s not like Joe to play these games.
She succeeded, at least a little. She opened her eyes and looked about. The light, if it could even be called that, only revealed shifting shadows — various shades of dark gray. I should never have agreed to come here.
Now, Sally really did begin to panic in earnest. She muttered aloud, “Where is here anyway? Where the hell am I? How can I have forgotten?”
Unable to see more than a few feet…inches?…in front of her, she was reluctant to take a big step so she decided to sidle along slowly till she reached some light. But she couldn’t sidle. She couldn’t move her legs at all, she discovered.
She shook her head in order to clear it. That turned out to be a big mistake. Her head exploded in pain. A field of black stars screamed into her ears and eyeballs.
Then, a clear image came to her.
Driving. They had been driving home from the party, late at night. She had been driving. Joe had been beside her, sound asleep on the passenger side, his plush seat fully reclined. He had been snoring. Loudly.
She had heard that familiar chirp, the high pitched screech cutting through his buzzing snore. She had glanced down at her cellphone. Celine. Sally had wondered what she wanted. Sally had glanced over at Joe and noted how blue he looked in the light of the oncoming headlights. She had begun to text her response, making it short just to be safe.
Apparently, not safe enough, she thought.
The pungent odor brought her back to the present. “Joe! What the hell are you cooking? It’s too … are you cooking in the car, for God’s sake? What’s wrong with you? What the hell, Joe? Why won’t you answer me! Answer me!”
“Do you mind if I turn on the A/C? I’m too damned hot!”
Sally had always been excellent at puzzles. This particular one was taking longer than usual. At last though, the pieces slammed together. She knew what the strange odor was. She knew why she couldn’t see properly. She knew why she couldn’t move her limbs. She knew why she was hot. Everything made perfect sense.
Everything except for the fact that she had only glanced down at the text for a few seconds.
Her last thought: “I shouldn’t have to burn for it!”
Selected Short Stories: