Emma looked around. The Mojave Desert seemed to go on forever. Everywhere she looked there were only desolation and the fight for survival. Brittle Brush, Saltbush, and cactus scattered about the deserts sands and rocks. The noonday sun beat down mercilessly against her pale skin. There was no relief from its rays. The sky illuminated with it, and the desert floor reflected back what rays missed her. The mountains beyond mocked her with their desolate landscapes. Everywhere she saw nothing but a slow dry death.
Ethan had seemed so kind when they first met. Her parents had warned her when they moved in together. They tried to make her understand that a man afraid to commit to marriage was more interested in himself than others. Perhaps she was equally more interested in self-preservation. It was such a cruel irony that her fears had led her to her demise here in the desert. Still, did she deserve to die?
Ethan showed her nothing by kindness when they first met. When he moved into her apartment, he insisted that he pay for half of everything. Utilities, food, rent, all of it. That first year seemed perfect, but she should have seen the signs. First, he claimed to have to work late. He had never worked late before, and his job had not changed. Still, why would he have lied to her? At least that is what she thought at the time. Then there were the calls on his cell phone that would hang up when she answered. It was when he would be out all night that she finally had to admit to herself there was somebody else.
This trip was supposed to be a time to forgive and rebuild. She and Ethan were supposed to be together at a resort in Huntington Beach. Emma realized too late the cruelty that had enveloped her life. Ethan’s compliments had changed to criticisms. His words were not just critical; they were cutting. He would complain about her hair, its color, its cut, and how it made her face ugly. Then he started complaining about her looks. Her body was too skinny for her clothes, or her clothes made her look ugly. Unconsciously, she tried to change her clothes, her hair, whatever he had asked, but it was never good enough.
Emma stepped back from the hot asphalt of the two-lane highway. Everything came to a peak when he quit paying his part of the living expenses. It was clear to her then that Ethan had checked out of the relationship. She had told him it was time to leave, but he begged for forgiveness. It was Ethan’s idea that he and Emma go to the coast. Like a fish to bait, she had swallowed the hook. Emma chastised herself for not jumping out of the car when they went through the last town. Why had she believed him when Ethan suddenly changed the plans to Las Vegas?
Her skin was starting to burn. A jackrabbit and horny toad wandered around nearby. Emma stood there, feeling her body bake. An hour ago she had no desire for water, but now her body craved it. Her eye was still tender to the touch where Ethan had hit her. A final injury to insult when she refused to get out of the car. Emma saw the choices before her, and none of them were good. If she remained standing there, the sun would eventually have its way. The next town was over twenty miles away.
Emma knew there was no chance of reaching civilization before nightfall. The sun was deadly during the day, but at night the coyote packs, unseen snakes, and other dangers were just as dangerous when the sun went down. Still, trying was better than giving up. Ethan had counted on her giving up and the animals taking care of the rest. He had told her as much. She said her parents would search for her, and he laughed at the thought of them distraught over her disappearance.
Ethan was a predator and did everything he could to steal any hope she had left before leaving her in the middle of this wasteland. Emma now knew he was as dangerous as the diamondback rattlesnake laying under the shadow of a bush across the road. She had to walk and not let her fear take control.
Edith, that was the name of his next victim. Ethan had told her after he hit her. He had been with her the last two months. Ethan claimed the desert overflowed with his girlfriends’ bones. That thought of hearing his final laugh brought a chill down the spine of her sweaty back.
In the distance, a small rumble started. Emma was afraid she was hallucinating, but it was coming at her. If it was her imagination, she did not care. Emma stood out on the road and saw the speck of a vehicle coming. She ignored the heat building in the bottom of her shoes and began waving her arms above her head. A tan sedan stopped a few feet in front of her. An old man and woman sat inside. Emma prayed they would not drive away when she moved. She stepped to the side and was happy to see the man crack the driver’s window open an inch. Emma hurried to his window.
“Please sir, I need your help. I was dropped here in the middle of nowhere. The man that did it claimed he left other women here to die. I need to get to town and get the police.”
The man looked over at the woman with him. She leaned to his side of the car and spoke loudly. “What’s your name, dear?”
“Emma. Please, I need your help. I don’t want to die out here.”
“Oh goodness, Hank, we need to help her. This is my husband Hank, and you can call me Virginia.” Emma heard the doors unlocked and got into the back seat. She shivered at the sudden cold air inside. Virginia pulled out her cell phone and dialed 911. Emma relaxed, she was safe. Ethan’s reign of terror would end with her.
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