To get away from everyone else in the back seat, Charlotte scooted down through the open security panel and into the Plymouth Duster’s trunk. Dad had put down the seats so the sisters could fall asleep as he drove across the barrenness of northern Nevada after midnight. But the sisters’ poking elbows and shoulders kept waking them, so their toes chafed wildly against the carpeted panel before Charlotte kicked it open to make her escape. The youngest, the only boy, sat between his parents in the front seat because Mom said he was too young to be squashed between all those girls. Now Charlotte used her toes, cramming all of the duffle bags and trash bags filled with dirty laundry as far as they could go into the trunk, blackening out the red taillights. She squeezed like a magician’s assistant further into the tight space. The panel shut behind her. Next came the screaming.
She couldn’t breathe.
“Yes you can,” Dad called out over his shoulder.
There was no air.
“If there was no air, Char, how come you’re still yelling?”
Charlotte wanted out, right this second.
“You will. At the next gas stop.”
Dad would pop the trunk at gas stations and rest areas; it was the quickest and most efficient way to empty the backseat. The sisters crawled over the bags like spiders. When people stared in bewilderment at these skinny girls emerging from the dark trunk, Mom would sarcastically say to Dad that someone was going to report them to protective services. “Good, the more money for food and gas once they’re all gone,” Dad said. Dad grumbled constantly about buying groceries. “All they do is shit all of it out,” Dad said.
Soon, Charlotte quieted down. Eventually, the sisters stopped jabbing each other. Finally, Dad pulled the car to the side of the highway for a rest. The full moon through the windows illuminated Dad’s pastel blue neck bent against the door. Mom used her windbreaker as a pillow under her wavy violet hair. Hours or maybe just minutes later, a brighter light grew across the back window. Gravel crunched under enormous slithering snakes. A car door slammed. And then the gravel crunched under the monster paws of wolves. A flashlight beam darted from one face to the other in the front seat. Eyelids quivered like loose sand. The beam lobbed into the back of the Duster. And as the gravel crunching moved toward the rear of the car, the youngest, the only boy, sat upright. “I have to eat, I have to eat,” and began shouting, “Don’t look in the trunk, Protective Services! Don’t look in the trunk!”
Dan Crawley’s stories have appeared in a number of journals, including Heavy Feather Review, apt, Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, North American Review, and Foliate Oak. He is a recipient of an Arizona Commission on the Arts creative writing fellowship and has taught fiction workshops at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and other colleges.