|One Wild Night by Summer Alan|
“Seaman First Class reporting for one wild night,” Ava said to her reflection in the Mustang’s rearview mirror. “And dressed for the part.”
Thunder shook the car as rain poured down from a pitch-black sky and covered the surrounding countryside. The only costume for sale designed to turn more heads was the Lady Godiva. She’d promised herself tonight she was moving on—leaving Richard, his infidelity and cruelty, behind her—but she hadn’t worked up enough courage to go naked.
She peered once more at the written directions to the Halloween party Lisa had scrawled on a yellow Post-it Note. Now, where had she gotten off track on this illegible mess? Lisa was a terrific friend, but she had the handwriting of a serial killer and a broken compass for a brain.
Thousands of large, splattering drops whacked the windshield, obstructing her view of the lonely road ahead. Richard’s words came back to her, taunting, condemning. You're pathetic. You'll never get another man.
She clenched her teeth. That wasn’t true—it just wasn't. She was going to this party in a costume designed to shout, I'm sexy! Men want me! She nodded. This plan had to work. The cute, sexy sailor outfit also covered up the frightening truth—what if he was right?
The water sluicing beneath her tires as she drove along the long, deserted two-lane road caused the rear end of the car to hydroplane. She dropped the paper and gripped the steering wheel with both hands.
Righting the car, she took in a shaky breath. Her heart pounded with the cacophony of construction workers hammering raw wood. That was close. The last thing she needed was to have a wreck out here in the middle of nowhere.
As if in answer to the thought, a loud bang sounded behind her, and the rear end fishtailed again. Resisting the urge to stomp on the brake, Ava dropped her foot from the accelerator and clutched the steering wheel with her gloved hands, working hard to keep the front tires on the pavement.
The car bumped along until it finally rolled to a stop. Ava sucked in a deep breath to remind herself she was still in the land of the living. The headlights shone out a dozen yards into the torrential rain, revealing what she’d feared.
Not a car within miles.
Ava turned off the engine and sat for a moment, willing her heartbeat to return to normal. The sound of a thousand zombies beating their fists on the roof echoed around her. Between the imaginary zombies and her vibrating chest, her body had turned to liquid. Releasing her death grip on the steering wheel, she sucked in another deep breath.
You’re still alive. It's okay. Time to get out of here. This is why auto clubs exist. She fished her cell phone out of her purse and flipped it open.
No signal—what a shock. Why hadn’t she gotten a decent cell phone provider instead of this lame, fly-by-night operation?
She sighed in frustration. “Great. I either get out in this downpour, try to change the tire and end up ruining my costume or…what?”
The alternative was not good. In fact, it didn’t exist. She had to change the tire or sit here all night, fogging up the windows and listening to imaginary zombies. She turned around and looked through the rear window. Darkness surrounded the red glow of her taillights.
No other cars were going to show up out here, and she didn’t hear approaching Mounties either. Getting out of here would be through her efforts or not at all.
“Oh man.” One foot set outside the safety of the vehicle, and the costume would be toast, her plans moot.
There would be other Halloween parties, she told herself. Other chances to get out there again and start over. Find someone who appreciated her, someone who wanted all she had to offer.
Pathetic loser. You'll be alone for the rest of your life. What man would want you?
Wrenching her umbrella from the floorboard, she grabbed her keys, pulled the door handle, and opened the umbrella. A gust of wind caught the door and almost jerked both it and the umbrella from her hand. She stepped out into the wind and rain, slammed the car door, and yanked the umbrella hard over her head, crushing the costume’s white sailor cap with the stitched gold anchor on the front.
Stumbling as she walked toward the rear of the car, she held what started out as the cute adaptation of a skirt from a sailor’s uniform down in front to keep from flashing…whom exactly? Some stray spotted owl?
She fought back tears of frustration as she reached the rear of the Mustang and opened the trunk. Junk and more junk lay inside from months of using the trunk as a storage shed. Her mother’s voice rang in her ears, clean out your car once in a while, dear.
Other reminders such as, always wear clean underwear, had been more useful—until now.
Holding the umbrella with one hand as her skirt flew up around her waist, Ava pushed one large Hefty garbage bag of clothes meant for the Salvation Army to the side and tried to find the spare tire.
The tiny light bulb mounted inside the trunk lid flickered, serving more as decoration than illumination. How hard could it be to find a full-sized round hunk of vulcanized rubber? It wasn’t exactly a safety pin.
Holding the charity-bound bag back with her shoulder, rain and wind smacking against her legs, she felt around under the other piles of debris until she found it. Putting her hand under the edge of it, she pulled as hard as she could while balanced against a driving rain on spike heels.
The tire wouldn’t budge.
A sound in the distance stopped her struggle. She turned to see a single headlight coming toward her, the distant roar of an engine echoing through the night mingling with the sound of the thunder.
A motorcyclist? Panic streaked through her like the lightning assailing the dark skies. What if the biker turned out to be a homicidal maniac? What would happen to her out here with nothing but a pair of soaked fishnet stockings, a ring of keys, and clean underwear for protection?
She glanced back into the dark cavern of rubbish holding her spare tire hostage.
Or worse. What if he doesn’t stop?
She tossed the keys into the trunk and stumbled around the car. Standing in the light cast by the Mustang’s high beams, she waved furiously at what she hoped was her approaching rescuer and not Ted Bundy. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see wild, eerie shadows cast by her arms.
The echo of the engine gearing down reverberated through the pouring rain. As the vehicle slowed its approach, her pulse throbbed at her temples. Which was it to be? Hell or high water?
A candy-apple red and chrome motorcycle pulled up alongside her, its driver obviously a man, although he wore a black, full-face helmet covering his head to his neck. He sat up straight on the bike and looked her over, the helmet moving up and down the full length of her body and finally back to her face.
She glanced down at her clothing. Her wet skirt stuck to her thighs, and her feet squished in the high-heeled shoes. Her amazing costume was soaked through to her skin and hung like a wet rag.
Okay, yeah. Just perfect. He saw exactly what she’d known she would look like when setting foot outside the dry interior of her Mustang—a shipwrecked sailor awash on not-so-dry land.
Ava pressed her shoulders back, pretending she didn’t look like a drowned rat, and stared at the black, mirrored face shield. Tonight’s plans for seduction were over. Time to get this tire fixed, get back on the road, and curl up at home with a movie. She’d seen Blade so many times she almost had it memorized.
She silently waited for him to remove the Darth Vader-like headgear before she spoke. If he made any sudden threatening moves, she could run back to her car and hope he didn’t grab a tire iron.
What choice did she have? She couldn’t even lift the tire out of the trunk. Besides, he could stare all he wanted as long as she could identify him later—God forbid—and he could change the tire so she could get the hell out of here.
He killed the motorcycle’s roaring engine and nodded slowly, her headlights glimmering off his helmet. Unsnapping the strap at the corner, he lifted off the black globe of plastic and rested it on his lap.