Home > Open Season(2)

Open Season(2)
Author: Linda Howard

Abruptly, with one last bounce, the truck began rolling smoothly. They were on a highway, Carmela realized. A highway! Surely they were close to Los Angeles now.

But the morning hours ticked away, and the heat inside the truck grew stifling. Carmela tried to breathe normally, but the other girls were panting, as if drawing in extra air would help cool them. Since that air was hot, it didn’t seem logical. At least, the way they were sweating, they wouldn’t have to relieve themselves again very soon.

She waited as long as she could, because she had no idea how much farther they had to go, but finally her own thirst grew unbearable and she took her small flask of water from her burlap bag. “I have water,” she said. “Just a little, so we must share equally.” She gave each of them a hard look. “If you take more than one sip before passing the flask, I will slap you. And just a small sip, too.”

Under her fierce dark gaze, each girl obediently took one small sip and passed the flask. Somehow, in organizing them to relieve themselves, she had gained the position of leader, and though she wasn’t very tall, she had the force of will they all recognized. When the flask reached her, Carmela took her own one small sip, then passed the flask around again. When they had each had two sips, she capped the flask and put it back in her bag. “I know it isn’t much,” she said, “but I don’t have much water and we must make it last.”

There was, perhaps, enough water for them each to have another two sips. That wasn’t much water, not when they were losing more than that in sweat every hour. Perhaps it would be enough to keep them alive. Why hadn’t the other girls thought to bring food and water? she thought irritably, then forced the irritation away. It could be that they hadn’t had anything to bring. As poor as she herself was, there were always others who had even less. She must be kind, in thought as well as deed.

The truck began slowing, the difference in the sound of the motor signaling the change. They looked at each other with hope bright in their eyes.

The truck pulled off the highway and stopped. The motor wasn’t turned off, but they heard the slam of the door as Orlando got out. Quickly Carmela grabbed her bag and stood; since he had said they wouldn’t stop for anything until they reached Los Angeles, then they must have arrived. She had expected more noise, though; she couldn’t hear anything other than the sound of the truck’s engine.

Then there came the sound of a chain rattling, and the roll-up door of the truck was shoved up on its tracks, letting in a blinding glare of sunlight and a blast of air that was both hot and fresh. Orlando was just a black shape, silhouetted against the white glare. Shielding their eyes, the girls all stumbled to the rear of the truck and awkwardly climbed out.

As her eyes adjusted to the sunlight, Carmela looked around, expecting . . . she didn’t know quite what she expected, but at least a big city. There was nothing here but sky and sun and scrub bushes, and drifts of gritty gray soil. Her eyes wide, she looked at Orlando in question.

“This is as far as I take you,” he announced. “The truck is too hot; you would die. My friend will take you the rest of the way. His truck has air-conditioning.”

Air-conditioning! In Carmela’s small village a few people had owned cars, but none of them had air-conditioning. Old Vasquez had pointed with pride to the controls on the dashboard of his car that had once made cold air come from the vents, but they no longer worked, and Carmela had never actually felt such a thing. She knew about it, though. She would ride in a truck with air-conditioning! Old Vasquez would be so jealous if he knew.

A tall, lean man wearing jeans and a plaid shirt came around the side of the truck. He carried four clear bottles of water, which he gave to the girls to drink. The water was cold, the bottles wet with condensation. The thirsty girls gulped the water while he talked to Orlando in English, which none of them spoke.

“This is Mitchell,” Orlando finally said. “You are to do what he says. He speaks a little of our language, enough for you to understand what he wants you to do. If you disobey, the American policemen will find you, and throw you in jail, and you will never be freed. Do you understand?”

Solemnly, they all nodded. They were then swiftly hustled into the camper shell on Mitchell’s large white pickup. There were two sleeping bags tossed on the truck bed, and a small stool with a hole on top, which on inspection turned out to be a toilet. There was no room to stand up; they had to either sit or lie, but after their sleepless night they didn’t care. Cold air and music, both of which were incredibly soothing, were pouring into the camper shell through the open sliding rear window of the truck. After spreading out the two sleeping bags so they could all lie down, the four girls quickly fell asleep.

She hadn’t imagined Los Angeles to be so very far away, Carmela thought two days later. She was tired of riding in the camper, of not being able to stand up and move around. Stretching kept her muscles as limber as possible, but what she really wanted was just to walk.

She had always been an active girl, and this restriction, though necessary, was maddening.

They were fed regularly, and given water to drink. They hadn’t been able to wash, however, and they all smelled really bad. Sometimes Mitchell would stop in a deserted area and raise the back gate of the camper shell, letting the camper air out, but the freshness was never complete, and never lasted long anyway.

Peeking through the rear window of the truck, Carmela had watched the empty desert turn into flat grasslands. Then, gradually, wooded areas had appeared, and finally, this last day, there were mountains: lush, green, rolling. There were pastures dotted with cattle, and pretty valleys, and dark green rivers. The air felt thick and humid, and perfumed with the scent of a thousand different varieties of trees and flowers. And cars! There were more cars than she had ever thought to see in her life. They had passed through a city that had seemed enormous to her, but when she had asked Mitchell if this was Los Angeles, he had replied that, no, it was called Memphis. They were still a long way from Los Angeles.

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