2000 Fiction Award Winner
Stack of money. The Car Wash
Excerpt From Chapter Three

Christina Cimino

© Copyright 2000 by Christina Cimino

Synopsis Of Chapter Three

Ever wondered what it would be like to have all the money you need? Ever thought that you would do anything to just pay the bills, and get even with the board? Meet Sarah Daniels, housewife, mother, and normal middle age woman. Except that she is about to take a terrifying journey through murder, deception, and a trail of twists and turns that will leave you wondering, who was really the victim here?

Sarah must sell her car, and takes it to a typical car wash to get it ready. She is stuck behind an old man, in an even older car, that refuses to move. She goes to his window to ask him to let her wash her car, and finds him dead. Looking for something to wipe her fingerprints off the door, she finds garbage bags full of money in his car, and makes a decision that will send her spiraling down into the darkest parts of the city, and her own soul. Now she is hunted by the police, the murderer, and the owner of the money, all the while trying to keep this terrible secret away from her deadbeat husband, and two small children. Grabbing handfuls of money to solve the crisis at hand, she rents a storage unit to keep the car out of sight, just long enough to decide what to do. Constantly needing money, she must tap into her secret pot of gold, knowing each time she takes money, she is risking everything if she is caught.

The following is an excerpt from the third chapter, and is taken from the first time Sarah goes back to the storage unit, to get "just a few dollars to tide them over."

Excerpt From Chapter Three

She was locked in the storage unit. Sarah fought the panic that threatened to explode in her chest, and felt her way along the wall, to the door. She had never been in such blackness, it pressed on her eyeballs, and seem to be something solid. Not a shaft of light or shadow entered the space, and she knew what a blind person must go through. Nothing felt familiar, and each wall was the same, smooth, cool concrete. When she came to a corner, she turned back, logic skittering away from her, like a rodent caught out at night. She tried to retrace her steps, but the door had slid down behind her, the auto light had gone off while she was digging money out of the bags, and then nothing. Solid, dark, nothing. 

< She remembered seeing the old man slumped on the passenger side, exactly where he was the night before, when she had left the unit. Surprisingly, there was no smell yet, the air-conditioned units moisture and temperature controls were also automatic, and she had tried not to look at him again. When the light had gone out, she had backed out of the car, and shut the door, feeling her way to the back, reaching the trunk to look for a flashlight. Sarah remembered the keys to the old man's car were in her purse, which was in her own car, twenty feet away, with six inches of concrete and steel between them.

Damn. She felt for the car, if she could get a perspective on which way she was moving, she would know which way the door was. A noise. Rustling, shuffling. Sarah froze, her stomach turning to lead weights. She listened, all senses heightened now, picking up every sound. She turned her head, listening, trying to determine if the sound had come from outside, or was just the old car, settling even further into itself. Again, soft, sliding, then nothing. Now the hair stood up on the back of her arms, and her neck, she could not see anything, but the sound was closer. Sarah reached her hand out, touching the car, and tried to ignore the pictures her mind created for her. She felt a seam in the car, and moved down, feeling the taillights below the trunk. She was in the back of the unit. The sound again, this time closer, more ominous, and she moved away from it, trying to shrink between the car and the wall of the unit.

She had parked too close on this side, and was trapped in the corner. The only way to the front of the car, to the headlights, and the door, was to move towards the sound. She could smell him now, the old man. She could hear him breathing, raspy, asthmatic sounds of eminent age. Sarah moved along the back of the trunk, feeling her way to the side of the car, holding her breath, and topping every step to listen. His breath was further away now, but she could hear his steps, dirty socks sliding along the cold floor. He, too, was looking for the door. She reached the back door of the car, and braced herself to jerk it open, not really expecting the interior light of the old car to come on, but the handle wouldn't operate. Desperate now, she yanked on the handle, and it gave way with absurd ease, coming off in her hand. He was in front of the car now, closer to the door than she was.

"I been meanin' to fix that." With the sound of his voice, Sarah clutched at her chest, suddenly realizing that she would have a heart attack in here, and no one would ever know where she was. There had been a terrible fight before she left the house, and the last thing she had said to Mark was that she couldn't take it anymore, and wanted out. He would think she had abandoned them, and he would move on with their lives, forever thinking she had taken off. They would never find her here, someone would steal her car, and throw away her i.d. Shit. Why had she thought it was necessary to pay for months in advance on this place? In cash, no less. No one had any reason to open this place up for a very long time. Her heart was thumping erratically. she could smell the rust of the radiator, and could feel the seam along the front and back door.

"You should have left me alone. I was just sleeping, you know." He touched her shoulder with a bony thump. Sarah's heart gave one last heave, and began to thread out, she felt dizzy. Ghostly faces floated in front of her, and she whirled around, confronting the old man holding a dimming flashlight under his chin. He was pale, white and gray, pointing at her. "I smothered in here, you know. There's no air in here. They turn them systems off at night. You will smother, too." His scrawny fingers caressed her throat, and she tried to turn, now trapped between the car and the wall. His fingers wrapped around her neck, and squeezed, lightly, teasing at first, then harder, and tighter. Sarah fought for each breath, and began to black out. She couldn't remember what had brought her back here, except that she was holding fistfuls of money in each hand, and money had spilled out of the car.

The shadows from the dying flashlight illuminated the unit, and she could see the bills laying where they had floated out of the car, like confused, square footprints. Everything seemed to be in slow motion now, the throttling motion of the old man moving her head back and forth, like a rag doll. Sparks flew in front of her face as the old man choked her, and spots grew together as she fought for breath. The sparks and spots were spreading now, covering everything, and she blacked out, seeing his bloodshot eyes dance with glee, as he screamed in her face, rotting breath drawn into her own body in gasps. "YOU MISSED IT!! YOU MISSED IT!! YOU WOULD HAVE KNOWN WHAT HAPPENED, IF YOU HAD WAITED TO TAKE MY MONEY, BUT NOW YOU WILL DIE TOO, BECAUSE YOU MISSED IT!!"

Sarah shot up, screaming out loud. Mark jumped from a sound sleep to the floor, and stood over her, breathing hard, shaking her shoulders. "Sarah! Sarah! Wake up! Stop screaming, you will wake the kids!" He lifted her out of bed, and stood her on the floor, holding her upright. She fought him, crying, and suddenly the fog lifted, and she was safe, in her own bedroom, with her husband, and no old man. Her legs went weak, and she would have collapsed, if Mark had not been holding her. She saw the print of her hand on his face, and could see the scratches her nails had made on his neck, coming out bright red. The kids whimpered in the next room, and Mark let her down gently to the bed, turning to check on them. She could hear his voice, soft, comforting, in the next room, and wrapped her arms around herself, shaking.

She couldn't stop hearing the old man's screams, or shake the feeling of his bony fingers around her throat. Her nostrils were full of the smell of his rotten breath. It was so real, she could smell the smells, and feel the touch of him. She could see the river of blood vessels on his nose. It was REAL. Sarah got up from the bed, shaky, and went to the dresser. She would know if it were all a dream, once and for all. She opened the bottom drawer of the dresser, and reached into the back, where she kept the mismatched and worn out socks. The paper crinkled when she dug to the bottom of the pile, and she didn't even take the sock out, to see if it was money. She knew it was.

Mark was going downstairs, and Sarah made her way to the bathroom, turning on the light, and locking the door. She splashed water on her face, and leaned forward, searching the eyes in the mirror, seeing the faint dark circles starting under them. Fully expecting to see bruising fingerprints on her neck, she inspected it closely, seeing nothing. Her reflection offered no clues as to where she had been in the last hour, but her mind still heard the breathing, smelled the old man's dirt, and the rusting car. The water was heating up now, fogging the mirror, and she turned it off, wiping the mirror with one arm.

He was there.

The old man stepped out from behind the shower curtain, like something out of a horror movie. He was in the bathroom with her, the door locked, and Mark downstairs out of earshot. She closed her eyes, heart again throwing itself against her ribcage, threatening to burst out of her chest. Opening her eyes, the old man grinned at her, his gums shining through picket fence teeth, stuck haphazardly here and there.

God help her.

I'm a twenty year veteran of marriage with three teenagers. I have written articles and short stories about everything. I've also committed poetry, children's stories, humor, comedy, screenplays, mysteries, drama, and real life situations. In fact, the only thing I really haven't tried my hand at is romance novels!

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