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Today was a good day to start smoking. I bought my first pack and a lighter. Everything had swirled out of control. My love life, my job, my lack of optimism, nothing could hold me together. So, what better way to slowly kill myself than smoking. I pulled out my first Camel and lit up. I had an uncle who smoked Camels until he died, and although it took a while, I always knew I would be a camel’s man. 

I take long drags on my cigarettes and review the troubles that trouble me. I'm not old. Thirty-five isn’t old unless you still work a minimum-wage job, stocking junk on the shelves in a discount store, which I did until I didn’t. The junk ranged from toys to motor oil to cheap TVs to makeup. If it were on a wooden pallet, I’d put it on a hook or stack it high. I didn’t hustle, so they fired me. Shit jobs like that were on every street corner, but I got tired of moving from one to the other. I wanted to work at the post office. Now, there was a good job. Good money, time off, benefits. It was a sweet gig. But I wasn’t the only one who wanted to wear the postal uniform—many applications and few openings. 

Maybe I was smoking all wrong, but it appeared that I needed another smoke.

No job equals no rent. I packed everything in my torn-up maverick. I left the furniture in my apartment that was there when I moved in. The couch was crushed orange, something out of the sixties. A fellow worker at Zayre, a good guy, let me couch surf at his place till I could get my feet back on the ground. 

Jake worked for the stocking crew as well. He was popular with everybody because he sold them weed, which they smoked during lunch. Even the new manager couldn’t resist it. It didn’t help his disposition, but Jake knew he had a pretty secure job because of his side gig.

He had a girlfriend, sort of a girlfriend. She worked at a local bar as a waitress. Sylvia wasn’t fond of me; why, I don’t know. I suppose she thought I was a deadbeat. That might be true, but I didn’t rip anyone off or hurt anyone. 

Sylvia also knew my last girlfriend, Alexis. Please don’t ask me about Alexis. She might have been a spy for all I know. She wouldn’t tell me a damn thing about herself. According to her, she was from New York, and her name was Alexis Broadway. She should have been able to come up with something better than that. She was a little older than me, I think. I can’t be sure. As for her job, she worked nights as well. I’m not making any accusations as to what kind of job she had. But she made good money.

I thought things were going well, but one day, she told me we were through. If we saw each other on the street, she’d pretend she didn’t know me. 

What? I liked her for some odd reason. Maybe it was her mysterious ways or lack of inhibitions in bed. I was sad to see her go.

It's time for another smoke. This habit will be expensive, especially for an unemployed bum like me. I’ll find somewhere to work. I always do.

Since I didn’t have much money, I spent most evenings alone. Jake worked overnight, and Sylvia helped close up the bar. So, it was me and the TV. I was tempted to drink some of Jake’s beer, but he kept a count of them. I left them alone.

One night, a few days after I moved in, I heard the door rattling. It was Sylvia and Alexis, of all people. Alexis wore a cowgirl outfit, boots, a hat, and a big skirt like she had been to a rodeo. 

“Well, hey there, Alexis, how are you doing?”

“Have we met?”

I’d play along. “I guess not. My name is Fred Flintstone.”

Alexis glared at me and smiled. “Nice to meet you, Fred. I’m Natashia Goodenuf.”

Sylvia said nothing and returned to her and Jake’s bedroom. She slammed the door. I couldn’t blame her.

Alexis watched Sylvia till she left the room. She pulled off her cowboy hat and whispered in my ear. “It’s me, Alexis. Lenny, I’ll need your help.  I have to lay low for quite a while. I didn’t want to tell Sylvia much because she’s one of them and stupid.”

I couldn’t help staring at her. I once fucked her for Christ’s sake. She kept staring at me like my head was on fire. “Sylvia is one of them?”

“You know what I mean. She and dumb-ass Jake are half-wits that wander around just waiting to be stepped on like piss ants. You and me are different.”

I hated being compared to Alexis, but I nodded my head. What can I do to help?”

She saw my pack of camels in my shirt pocket and pulled them out. “Do you mind?”

I gave her a light. “I need to get out of the cowboy outfit. And then head to the bus station. Can you take me there?”

I’d even buy the ticket if I had the cash, as long as it was far from here. “Let’s go. Where are you staying at?”

“The Weekly Stay off of Acorn Street. You know where it’s at, don’t you.”

Unfortunately, I did. It is a long-term motel not known for its safe environment. I was even a little scared to drive there.

I drove. Alexis slumped in her seat, staring intently as if someone was following us. I hoped she didn’t have a gun on her.

The motel was in worse shape than I remembered it. The parking lot was filled with cars, making my banged-up maverick look like a Cadillac. A few residents were milling around, getting high, or passing a bottle. They ignored us as we pulled in. 

“I’ll only be a minute. Don’t you leave!”

It was more than a minute. I clocked it at thirty minutes till she hurried to the car with a suitcase. She no longer wore the cowgirl outfit. She almost looked normal if you didn’t know her.

“Let's go to the bus station.”

She twisted her neck as I drove, scanning the road behind us. She was making me nervous, but I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure she didn’t have a weapon on her. 

I started to pull into the Greyhound station. Alexis grabbed my arm. “Let’s get the hell out of here. This place is crawling with them. Go!”

She doubled over, putting her head between her knees. I took off and headed back to the motel. I was curious who the place crawlers were. She was sucking in the air like she had just run a marathon. I thought she was going to pass out. “Hey, we’re almost back to the motel. You can probably sit up and try to catch your breath.”

She pulled up in the seat and pressed her face against the glass. “What will we do now, Fred?”

Beats the hell out of me. I felt like I was chained to her craziness. “Why don’t you go back to your room? You haven’t checked out yet. Have you?”

Alexis chewed her nails. “I did. I got to get out of here. They threw me out.”

I couldn’t drive her back to Jake’s place. It was about time he got off work, and Sylvia wouldn’t want to see Natashia or Alexis. I had no money, so I couldn’t get a room anywhere. “Think hard. Is there anybody that would take you in tonight? Tomorrow we’ll try the bus station again. You can wear your cowgirl outfit.”

Alexis closed her eyes and sighed. “My parents live on the other side of town. We’re not close.”

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. “Tell me the address, and I’ll drive you there.”

“They are Satan worshipers; I want no part in that.”

I’m about to jump out of the car and start running. I don’t have time for this shit. “I guess the only thing we can do is sleep in the car till daybreak. Why don’t you get in the back seat.”

“You know I like you. I wish things had worked out. But you are a former priest, aren’t you?”

 “No, I have never been a priest.”

Alexis crawled over the seat. It wasn’t a minute before she was asleep.

I guess I’ll have another smoke.


We stayed in the motel's parking lot with what was left of the night. I didn’t think anyone would bother us. Sleeping in cars was nothing compared to the other things going on there.

I might have dozed off a few times. When the sun came up, I looked in the back seat, and Alexis was gone along with her suitcase. I liked her despite all her insanity. I didn’t want any harm to come to her. 

My back was all knotted up from sleeping behind the steering wheel. I got out of the car and looked around. I smelled harsh coffee coming from a little breakfast shack. I would have got something to eat and coffee, but I didn’t have much cash. Maybe Alexis was already there.

The place was busy with a lower class than I existed in. Sure enough, I saw Alexis sitting in a booth with a guy wearing work clothes like he fixed cars. He had his name Frank sewed on the shirt. She was back in her cowgirl attire. I thought I’d mosey on over there.

“Howdy, partner! Can you spare a dime and buy me a cup of coffee?”

Alexis glared at me and then looked over to Frank. “Who the hell is this guy?”

“I have no idea. I’ve never met him in my life,” Alexis said.

I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t expect anything less from her. This was my chance to leave her and return to Jake’s place. I had quite a story to tell him.

I had almost started the car when I saw Alexis running toward me, waving her arms. Oh, Hell, I couldn’t just leave her there. She got in the car.

“Thank God you are still here. Please take me to the bus station. Hurry up, here comes Frank!”

I look over and see Frank moving ever so close to the car. I tear out of there, and we’re heading back to the bus station.

“What did you say to Frank? He looked pissed off.”

“The truth! I couldn’t be friends with stupid people. He took offense to that.” Alexis said. 

I would have, too. But at this point, I had nothing to say to Alexis. To the bus station, we go.

We hadn’t gone more than half a mile when a police car pulled behind us. I need to think about leaving the country. This has been all too much for me. 

The officer strolled up to my window. “Driver’s license and insurance, please. And step out of the car.”

I complied.

The officer went around the car and talked for a moment with Alexis. This worried me greatly. For all I know, she would tell them I had kidnapped her. I could hear her crying as the officer opened her door. 

“What’s going on?” I asked. “Is she in trouble?”

The officer shook his head. “No. Is she your girlfriend?”

“No! I just felt sorry for her.”

 The officer says, “We’ve had encounters with her before. We can handle it from here.”

It was a great time to smoke my last cigarette.