I couldn't think. My mind was racing back to a childhood that I always felt was mundane and uncomplicated. What on earth was this man talking about? What did he mean I was promised to him? As my eyes locked with his, my head turned at an awkward angle to see the man that invaded my space. I finally turned my gaze back out toward the highway. The car had come to a screeching stop, haphazardly turned and crossing over the center lane. If there had been oncoming traffic we surely would have been hit, but no amount of wishful thinking could change the course of future events.
Time almost felt as if it were standing still. Reaching for my seat belt I looked down to see it was already unclasped, my hand still tightly gripping the door handle. The man in the back seat seemed to sense I was going to get out but didn't act overly concerned. Instead, he sat back and faded in to a shadowy figure once more. Slowly I exited the vehicle. This had to be a dream. Rubbing my eyes, I looked back at the car and he was still sitting there looking ahead as if I had not left his presence. I couldn't even tell if I was afraid anymore.
Turning once more, putting my back to the car I felt my phone once again. It was a lifeline that I never used - the communication device that God may or may not allow to save me. He'd not moved and I still wasn't sure if I had finally gone mad from too much time alone so I pulled the gadget out, eyes widening as the small screen illuminated my face. I didn't hear the door open, nor had I heard footsteps but before I could dial any number his hand covered the screen making me jump once more.
"You don't really want to do that."
A lump formed in my throat and before I could stop anything my hand went limp and the phone sailed to the ground. I could hear it skid across the asphalt, remorseless, the screen turning in to a web of broken glass. It was still glowing, casting a strange green light on to the strangers face.
"W-Who are you?"
"Awe, Juniper. That really isn't that important. What matters is that you saved yourself for me. That is what we agreed upon. I've been watching you all these years and never would have guessed you were going to be so true to your word. It's funny. You had opportunity throughout school to fornicate with other boys and you never did. Had you, hell, I wouldn't even be here right now. But you didn't. You kept your word to me. Just like the good girl your poppa always said you were."
Those words made my stomach lurch. Poppa? That is what I called my father when I was young but how did he know all this? I wanted to run, but now I also wanted answers. His speech was eerie and irritating at the same time, giving insight and yet none at all. Strangely, the man from the shadows reminded me of a politician, full of rhetoric with nothing of substance. Part of my brain knew better than to tempt him again so I nodded as if he'd said something that made sense.
"I made a promise to you?"
Another smile formed on his lips and for the first time I didn't feel creeped out. His body moved closer to mine, out of the shadows and I could finally see all of him. He had dark, cropped hair and thick, luscious eyelashes that would make any woman envious. His shoulders were not terribly broad but he carried himself as a man that was owed complete respect and dressed like he had money. A strange odor permeated off him that reminded me of a wood burning stove in the dead of winter; this was something of a comfort and equally terrifying.
As he stepped closer to me I could feel heat radiating off him now. The cold I had felt in the car seemed to vanish and even though I wanted to run, my heart racing in my chest, my feet were locked in place as if I'd somehow become one with the road. His hand brushed my cheek, a caress so gentle it was as if he was showing a child they were safe.
"You did. It is okay that you do not remember. We do not really have time to take a stroll down memory lane, Juniper. Time is of the essence. Tonight is the night. This is the hour of our victory. You will be part of my greatest accomplishment; for that I thank you."
The man took my hand in to his and gently pressed it to his lips. They felt soft and warm. Nothing he was saying made any sense but I feared he'd kill me if I tried to make a run for it a second time. Taking my arm he led me back to the car and gestured his hand to the open door. I did as he asked and got back in the driver seat. As he shut the door I found myself following the motions, putting my seat belt back on and starting the engine. The sweet, gentle purr from the engine comforting me once more; I could not shake off the intoxicated feeling that now seemed to envelope me. Sliding in to the passage seat, the stranger glanced at his watch.
"We do not have much time. Drive, please, to your place."
I did as I was told. Or was I being asked? That would be a debate for a later time. The closer we got to the property the hazier everything became. I remember seeing the headlights shining on the trailer. I remember the stranger taking off his long coat and draping it over my sofa. I remember sleeping better than I ever had in my life. Then sunlight.
My eyes blinked relentlessly against the rays streaming through the blinds. Had it all been a dream? I looked at the time, heart jumping until I remembered that I was off work. There was no one in the trailer with me. No signs of someone else having been there.
Two things made me think perhaps it wasn't all a really fucked up nightmare. One, as I pulled the covers back to get up and use the bathroom I realized I was naked. I never slept naked and unless I was so tired that I neglected to put on pajamas something was amiss. My clothes were neatly folded and draped over the back of the timeworn vanity jammed in to the corner so that lead me to believe I had enough thought to take them off, but why not put new ones on? The second thing and this is the one that is still haunting me... I can still smell wood burning. The whole house smelled like late October in the mountains just before the first snow of the season. It was mid-July in the desert outside of Palm Springs - nowhere close to winter, nowhere close to snow and no need to ever have a fire burning.
Long ago I stopped believing the fairy tales the church taught us about angels and demons and other worldly locations like heaven and hell. As strange as the previous night's events had been I rationalized them to nothing more than stress. The matter became even more concrete when I walked in to my small kitchen and saw my cell phone resting on the counter in perfect condition. Maybe it was bad Thai food, or work life getting to me. I need to take a vacation.