Gavin on the other side of the car flings open his door. Throws his feet to concrete. I slide round the back bumper and kick him in the gut before he spots me behind the trunk. He groans out his breath, drops Sure Shot’s gun. I snatch it. Run away from the main road. Never learned how to drive stick so I don’t bother driving the foodstain yellowbox.
We’re in the parking lot of a boarded-up Piggly Wiggly that stands in front an older neighborhood. Look like mostly ranch houses. Neighborhood sits familiar in a vague way, like shaking someone’s hand when you recognize maybe half their face and remember the first letter of their name.
I reach the potentially familiar houses before Gavin get back to driving, I got a solid chance. Can’t hear him over my breaths and my pounding footsteps but I’on’t think he gonna stay down long. That kick was weak. All shock and surprise, not enough connect. Momma always tried to get me to master my followthrough but it never stuck.
I reach the corner of the store as a car door slams. Gavin’s back in the yellowbox. Engine dead so he tries to crank the key. When it doesn’t kick over I know I can breathe—first house not that far from me now. Thank whoever own it it’s got no fence. Engine kicks over and roars as I reach the first yard below the back of the parking lot. Rubber starts running Piggly Wiggly concrete as I swoop behind the house.
Backyard empty except for a sagging oak in the corner opposite me with my back pressed as far into solid brick as I can push it. God damn it, both neighbors got fences—second batch of fences snuck up on me today. Maybe I need glasses. Or maybe I ain’t adjusted to the hazelight of the late world.
I ain’t got time to figure it out. Gavin gonna be down in a sec. I race across the yard behind the oak and thank no one the tree’s close enough to the fence I can shimmy up the tree and the fence and get to the top. Might fall and break my ankle but I’ll take that over being shot. I reach the top, then lower myself onto rolling ground.
Yellowbox engine grumbles by down the street front the yard I just left. Gavin and Sure Shot gonna figure out where I went pretty quick but I got a minute to space. Only thing occupying this backyard is a storebought wood swingset with a fake treehouse attached. No trees here to build on, but there is a stump kinda near the patio. Probably cut down in one of the hot summers eleven or twelve years back.
Once when I was a kid my cousin and me went exploring his neighborhood. Neither us told anyone where we was going. Walked a ways and got lost in a yard like this one. We had no fucking clue where we were. Thank god (well, back then we did) homeowners was home and unscared and Shawn remembered his momma number. She and her husband and my momma were all a-panic and ready to run out and then we call. Momma never was so relieved or so angry before or again.
This yard’s gateless so I walk to the front easy. Dart across the narrow street. Way down left is the Squad folk in the yellowbox. I lose my footing in the next yard, then scramble to the back. Chainlink fence round this one—short and easy to climb. Squad car too far for me to hear the engine but I gotta assume Gavin and Sure Shot moving with me. Cross the next street and—down left there’s that fucken Squad car again. I don’t know how I’ma outrun them.
Just keep my distance for now. Thank no one the streets I cross aren’t crossed by other streets till way far down and the yards ain’t got too many fences. Still the Squad goons keep pace with me the next few streets until I come to a main road. The parish been doing construction on it for years. Slowest widening I ever seen. For Louisiana, that’s saying something. They all slow here.
Logical choice would be to go back through the neighborhood, keep hidden from the yellowbox as long as possible. But instead something pulls me across the main road, all tear-up and concrete chunk and tar patch and pothole and hole-hole, over to the other side where there’s nothing but a YMCA building and a two-story church. The church is Baptist. Momma and I drove past it once when I was a kid, its pale brick burned into my brain like a spotlight in an old TV camera lens. All the rest is open land—parking lot or dirt or stuff claiming to be grass.
Squeal of tires down left tells me Gavin spotted me. I run my legs faster. Soon that car gonna be on me like a cop on my old Acura. Probably they’ll try to run me down. Front of the church is close enough I could read its name if the letters hadn’t fallen off. My legs pounding fast as they can. Probably I’m gonna win the race to the building—but fuck what if it’s locked I’ll be screwed guaran-fucken-teed getting car-smashed gonna hurt more than getting shot.
I reach the solid wood doors before the car gets to the church. Locked. God damn it. Still time. I take a few long steps back and run toward the church. Set my mind to the task of breaking down, lead with my shoulder. Gavin drives into the lot too fast and too far. Tries to correct but wheels lose their grip and the foodstain yellowbox slides past me into the wall.
Soon as I hit the doors I’m transported through them. Car doors open behind me—outside the church—and feet hit ground.
“Fuck!” Gavin says. “I think she phased.”
“What, like what happened to Antonius?”
“Yeah. But we still gotta go in and check.”
Everything silent but for footsteps. Then pounding at the seam between the doors. Then the doors crack. I bolt up the stairs and find myself in the balcony in the main sanctuary. Front doors splinter and footsteps flood in. I freeze.
“I’ll head upstairs, Angie! You take the downstairs.”
More footsteps rushing. Nowhere to hide up here. I don’t move.
Gavin finds me at the balcony railing. “Got her!” Raises a pistol at me and as he does I get a starting run, fire a blind shot at him, leap over the balcony. He lands a bullet in my shoulder. Heat and I groan. Heat and wet and heat and twist and heat and muscle-pull and I shut my eyes, brace for church floor.
I open my eyes to the sound of cicadas ooh-zee-ooh-zee-ing outside. Somehow I must be back in the dying world. Late Lafayette sounded weird and now I know why: cicadas was always buzzing in Lafayette’s dying summers. My shoulder locks up and blood runs down my back. The cross behind the pulpit other end of the sanctuary commands my gaze. The cicadas slow my frantic neverstop internal rhythm.
Swear I could hear Momma calling. I see myself rising to answer and then collapsing, her running over and asking where I been, where did I go, what happened. Almost feel her hand on my face. “Nowhere, Momma,” I want to tell her, “I been nowhere.” I’m going nowhere. “Nothing happened.” Nothing will.
The sanctuary sits silent. Outside the cicadas still gently zee. Interstate traffic a little ways behind the church faintly rumbles and whines into the empty spaces. No one come to me.
I guess I’ll find a soul in the morning.
13 Tales from the Auto Squad is an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles the other side of suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday.