Autumn (Halloween) 2019
Five hundred and eighty miles away, Lucy Hayden disappeared from the picture frames and her name belonged to no one.
Before that, a bell above the door had jangled lazily as he exited, a wave of red dust rushing to the place a welcome mat ought to have been. He had stood outside, holding the door ajar with the battered toe of his boot. For late October, the heat was oppressive, the sun was blinding, fat and buttery, and yet, he felt lighter than he’d ever been before. Inside the gas station, the dust billowed about for a moment, a sort of rust-colored swirl beneath the fluorescent lights. Jude had looked back inside. All was as it should have been—aisles full of SPAM and too- sweet gummies; crushed bags of chips filled halfway with air; cans of pop behind fogged refrigerator doors. Everything, apart from the still-settling dust, was very still. Everything, apart from his racing mind, was very calm. He shifted his boot, letting the door shut properly, and pressed his hands and nose against the windows. Behind him, the rows of overripe corn waved in a nonexistent breeze. He couldn’t remember why he had come here. He couldn’t remember what he had done.
Before that, everything had gone dark.
Before that, he had been crouched in the gas station’s grimy bathroom, sitting on the toilet seat, his head in his hands. The girl and her notebook had been standing across from him. Her back had been pressed to some kind of dispenser (for what— sanitary things, temporary tattoos— he couldn’t really tell), the cherry from her lollipop dripping from the end of the paper stick. The room had been far too cramped, and his throat was tight and dry, but he had a sneaking suspicion that his pounding heart had nothing to do with the claustrophobic space. She began to erase her drawing, slowly, steadily. She was humming something, something that sounded like a children’s rhyme, and she seemed to have forgotten how to blink. Rubber debris mixed with the sticky-sweet red syrup pooling on the ground. “Lucy Hayden will be erased by morning,” said the girl.
“From me?” he’d asked. His voice was wavering, and his mind was racing, and maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. The girl smirked, and when she spoke again, he saw lip-gloss smeared on her teeth.
Before that, the girl had drawn Lucy Hayden in her notebook. The girl had asked what color her eyes were when the sun hits them just right. He had said green, pinyon pine green, green like the roadtrips they’d taken in his old pickup. She had brought a magnifying glass to scorch marshmallows. She’d said this was a much safer way to do s'mores, because only you can put an end to forest fires. And he’d been confused because when he was small, all Jude had burned with magnifying glasses were ants, but then, he thought, of course Lucy Hayden didn’t burn ants. She was Lucy. The girl asked him what Lucy Hayden smelled like, and he’d said blueberry pie, because that is what he’d ordered the night they met. Before that, the girl had asked if Jude loved Lucy. He had cried. She had handed him a square of toilet paper from the gas station bathroom, her x-ray eyes glittering.
Before that, Jude had stumbled into the gas station, his boots red with dust. He couldn’t really see, partly because he hadn’t slept in two nights, partly because he was surviving more so than living, which put sight on the back burner. He rushed passed the SPAM and too-sweet gummies, crushed bags of chips filled halfway with air, cans of pop behind fogged refrigerator doors. He was hungry, but not for something so simple as being full, or so trivial as food. His hunger was for emptiness. Jude walked to the counter, where a cashier, a girl, sat on a stool in front of a box fan. It blew her hair wild, and her eyes were closed, and there was a gallon of whole milk with a pink straw in front of her. Jude tapped her on the shoulder. The girl turned the fan off, her eyes still closed, a small smile curling her lips. “What’s her name?” the girl had asked. Jude blinked. It was strange to be spoken to by someone, face to face, and yet unable to see their eyes. He wished she’d open them.
“Whose name?” he had responded, cautiously.
“Hers. Say her name.”
Jude blinked again, and did not answer. The girl’s eyes remained closed. Her smile deepened, curling into a smirk, a plastic, bubblegum-pink smirk, and Jude felt a spark of annoyance. He looked at her for a few moments longer before answering, “Lucy. Lucy Hayden.”
The girl’s eyes snapped open, and Jude, subconsciously, had taken a step back. Now they were open, Jude wished they’d close. Her eyes were piercing blue, icy, a peculiar shade that made them look unfocused, as if they were drifting to a place just passed his left ear. He felt as though the girl could see right through him: through his clothes, through his skin and webs of veins, through the walls he’d built and broken, to the cytoplasms and nuclei.
After that, he’d rambled, “Are you the one? They said, back in town, you could help me, so I drove two days to get here. They called you a witch. Are you a witch? They said you could help me—” Here, he had gulped, “Forget.”
And she had responded, mockingly, taking a big swig of milk and unwrapping a cherry lolly. “I am to you whatever you wish me to be.” She had stood then, the sweaty skin of her thighs unpeeling from the red leather stool, and walked towards the gas station bathroom. She looked back at Jude, her impossible eyes oddly bright. “Come,” she said.
Before that, Jude Holland drove two days and two nights through the autumn dust, his throat parched and his skin cracking, his boots the only sturdy thing about him, to a gas station in the middle of a cornfield, where it was rumored a girl could help him forget. And two days before that, Lucy Hayden had given him a reason to drive two days and two nights to a gas station, in the middle of a cornfield, where it was rumored a girl could help him forget.
Maya Epstein is a sophomore with a pen from Aurora, Colorado. When she isn’t writing and drinking inordinate amounts of coffee, she loves practicing yoga, thrifting, and drinking inordinate amounts of tea. Empathy is her superpower, and she’s still waiting for the day Edna Mode designs her a super-suit. She hopes you have the most wonderful day!