Whether it was Nala’s distress or Laurie’s act of defiance that had upset the change-over, the result was that the psychic curtain between them was tattered. Nala was seated firmly in the driver’s seat for the moment and Laurie’s thoughts were nowhere to be found in her, but later Laurie would remember many of the details of that Friday night.
She would remember herself as Nala frantically trying to find her bearings. She would remember glimpses of her mad dash back down the hillside to the jeep trail, and back to the car.
She would vaguely recall vengefully scribbling something on the pages of her most recent book and on the sticky notes that still littered the surfaces of Laurie’s car. She would remember frantically overturning several stones near the vehicle, spotting the keys, and cranking the engine.
She would also remember, after some indeterminate period of driving in the dark, spotting the lights of a ranch house in the desert. And around here, her memory became all-too-clear.
Nala pulled to a stop in front of the dusty old shack and shivered. By the light of a half moon and a bit of lamplight streaming through the curtained windows, she could make out a few dilapidated old tractors rotting away in the yard, and an almost-as-broken old truck parked a few feet from the front door.
Nala tended to trust in the kindness of strangers. Her web viewers were almost never malevolent toward her, and even when they were, she knew she could just boot them from the chat room. But this was a different sort of scenario altogether. Here she would have to be cunning to remain in control. Still... Nala knew, academically at least, that the risk to her physical person was remote. A pretty little thing like her? All she needed to do was put on a little damsel-in-distress routine, and the most she’d have to worry about was a jealous old hag of a housewife. Nala smiled to herself and climbed out of her car, and around that time the front porch light turned on.
Nala surreptitiously undid a button on her shirt—not the top button, but the button directly between her breasts, so that when she stretched her arms she knew it would tug on her shirt and the valley beneath would be glimpsable. Then she turned around to face the house, and standing in the doorway was a round-headed old man, a bit wide in the belly, a bit hunched, movements a bit stiff. Nala could hardly make out more than a silhouette in the dark.
“Can I help you?” he asked, and his voice was colored in suspicion and unwelcome.
“I’m so sorry to bother you,” said Nala, and she affected a more fearful tone than she actually felt, “C-could I borrow your phone, please?”
She made her way nearer to him, keeping her steps short and her arms folded insecurely over her stomach, and as she stepped into the halo of the porch light, she watched his features soften considerably.
“Of course, child, come on in.”
He stepped out of the way of the door, but Nala paused just outside and looked in nervously.
“Now, you’ve no need to be afraid, come on in and shut the door so the A/C don’t escape,” he said, and he smiled a friendly smile which Nala returned warmly. She shut the door behind her.
“Now are you in some trouble, girl?” he said, taking in her dusty, disheveled appearance and seeming concerned for her safety.
“A little, I guess,” she said. “Just I’ve gone and let my car run down to fumes, and I don’t think it’ll make more than a few more miles. And I forgot my phone back home, and the roads are just dead empty around here.”
“Well,” he said, and he considered a moment more before saying, “I got some cans out in the shed, I could fill you up an’ have you back on the road in a jiff.”
Nala let her features light up as if she were terribly relieved. “Oh, that would be a real life-saver. How could I repay you? I mean I’ll pay for the gas, of course...”
The old man (and now that she saw him in the dim light of his living room, Nala guessed he was pushing seventy), he shook his head and waved the idea off. “Wouldn’t hear of it. Tell you what, why don’t we go out and get those cans right now? I can have you on your way in just a few minutes.”
“Um...” Nala cast her eyes to the side and said, “Could I use your phone, first? I need to let my friends know where I am.”
“Of course, sure. Phone’s there by the sofa.”
Nala followed his gaze and spotted the old phone, big as a loafer and fixed to its base with a stretchy chord. “Thank you, sir,” she said with a charming smile. Then she extended her slim hand, which looked positively child-like when he took it in his big, gnarled fingers. “My name’s Nala,” she said, and she shook his hand lightly.
“Harry,” he answered.
“Nice to meet you,” said Nala, and then she went to the sofa and took a seat, leaning forward as she did, knowing that the motion spread the gap in her shirt over her breasts, but not sure if it was obvious enough in this low light. She glanced up at him and his eyes flicked up from her chest a bit too late to avoid being caught. She stifled a smile and pretended not to notice. She reached for the phone instead.
Nala started to dial, but stopped. Harry, correctly guessing she might want some privacy, said, “I’ll just go get those cans. Is it alright with you if I go ahead and fill ‘er up while you’re on the phone?”
“That’s awfully nice of you,” said Nala sincerely, “Thank you.”
Harry nodded and left, and she dialed a 1-877 number. It rang once, then an automated voice informed her that she’d reached the Evanwood Commemorative Plate Hotline. It began ringing off a list of options, but Nala cut it off, quickly dialing a six digit code.
The phone rang several times, and each time it did, Nala’s heart started beating faster. She was always nervous when she was going to talk with her handler. He had such an undeniable air of authority to everything he said, and Nala thrilled at the way he could command her. But tonight, she was afraid he would be angry. She shuttered to think what he might do to her when he was angry.
The phone finally answered, and that unquestionable, infinitely trustworthy voice sounded sleepy when it spoke, “Verify your identity.”
“serial 48766, handle Nala,” was her rote reply. She couldn’t have answered differently if she’d tried, which was just such a delicious feeling.
“Nala, where are you? You missed your appointment.”
Nala suffered a serious pang of guilt and shame. “I don’t know where I am,” she pouted, “Somewhere out in the middle of the goddamn desert.” And she felt the need to explain, “She ran.”
Her handler sighed heavily through the phone. Then there was about a minute of silence, through which Nala sat with infinite patience, not the least bit bothered by the delay. When the handler finally returned, he said, “Trace puts you somewhere in the Fort Stockton region. It should take you about six hours to get home.”
“Will I be able to hold on that much longer?”
“Unlikely. Doesn’t matter. You’re to proceed with a disciplinary reprisal. I trust you’ve already found a suitable candidate?”
“Oh, yes, definitely,” Nala replied, proud of having correctly guessed the right response and taken the initiative.
“Good. You’re now to submit to further programming. How much time do you have?”
Nala considered, but she had no idea where the sheds were or what was involved in retrieving the gas cans. She peeked outside through the curtains of the window behind her and didn’t see Harry at her car. So there was probably some more time yet. “A couple more minutes, perhaps.”
And then her handler spoke some very familiar words, but words which she could never remember afterward, and a dizzying feeling came over her, tingling from head to toe...
She woke to someone nudging her shoulder. She was disoriented, and for a moment couldn’t decide whether she was Laurie or Nala. She looked up and saw Harry, and she gave him a sleepy smile. She was Nala, of course. How strange that she could have been confused at all.
Nala yawned and stretched and sat up on the sofa. She’d dropped the phone on the arm rest, and now it was buzzing loudly to remind her to hang it up. This she did.
“She’s all filled up,” said Harry, “or enough to get you into Sanderson, at least.”
“Thanks again,” said Nala.
“How far you plannin’ to go tonight?” said Harry, and a look of concern came over his face.
“Well... I’ve got no money for a hotel and nowhere to stop between here and Austin...”
“That where yer from?” Harry had a slight knowing smile. It was the dyed hair, probably. In Texas, creative use of hair dye hair meant Austin, at least seven times out of ten. Add in a funny name like Nala and subtract any hint of a Texas attitude, and it was more like ninety-nine times in a hundred.
“Yeah,” admitted Nala as she rubbed some sleep out of her eyes.
“Well there ain’t no way yer headed all that way tonight,” he said.
Nala looked up at him and said, uncertainly, “Well I figured I’d stop at a gas station and maybe buy an energy drink...”
Harry shook his head and said, with the air of someone explaining the extremely obvious, “No store’s gonna be open at this hour, darlin’.”
Nala pouted a little bit. “But...”
“You can sleep on my couch tonight. It don’t bother me a lick. You can even stay fer breakfast if you like.”
Nala looked up at him gratefully. “Thank you so much. I won’t make a peep, I promise.”
“Well, it’s no skin off my neck. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind the company.”
She nodded. “You live here all alone?”
Harry found his way to a rocking chair across from the couch and sat down. “Welp, since my boys all moved off, an’ Barb died about seven years back, I’ve been by myself for the most part.”
Nala made sympathetic doe eyes and said, “I’m sorry. It’s just terrible that such a generous, gentle man should live alone out here.”
Harry looked a bit uncomfortable with the subject. “Well, I wouldn’t live out here if I didn’t like the solitude.”
Nala cast her eyes about the room, which was a jumble of old furniture too worn and cheap to be antiques, a few dirty dishes on the coffee table, an old TV with a useless analogue antenna and a VCR. But her expression held not a trace of distaste; rather, she affected a slight look of admiration.
“Yeah,” she said, “It seems real peaceful. I could see myself living somewhere like this. But I’d get real lonely.”
“Well... It ain’t for everyone. It’s a hard life, ‘specially if you didn’t grow up in it.”
Nala nodded, then quoted the only Willie Nelson song she knew, “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.” Then she smiled at Harry and rolled her eyes at herself for making such a corny remark.
They were quiet a little longer, during which Nala studied Harry closely. He really did seem like a sweet man.
“Well, it’s well past my bed time,” said Harry at last. “Bathroom’s down the hall on the left. If you get thirsty, there’s a jug of water in the fridge. Any glass on the dish rack’ll be clean. Sorry it’s a bit of a mess in here; wasn’t expecting company, after all.
Nala nodded and smiled. “Ok. Thanks so much. Goodnight.”
Harry stood by for another moment, searching for anything he might’ve forgot to mention, then he nodded back and went into his room.
Nala lay on the sofa for about twenty minutes, eyes open, staring at the ceiling. Then she stood up and kicked off her dusty sneakers, pealed away her stinking sweat-stained socks, undid her fly and wiggled out of her jeans, unbuttoned her thin plaid shirt and shrugged out of it, unclasped her bra and dropped it on the pile of her clothes at the foot of the sofa. Then she padded, lightly, through the house in just her thin cotton panties, breathing heavy with anticipation, feeling the cool air on her bare skin. She found Harry’s bedroom and slowly, quietly opened the door. It resisted her attempt at stealth, giving a long squeal as it swung on its hinges.
It was pitch black in the room. “Harry?” she whispered.
“What is it?” he replied. He sounded wide awake.
Nala slipped through the doorway and shut it behind her, then felt her way toward the bed.
“It’s a bit cold in the living room.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, did I forget to give you a blanket?”
Nala found the bed and climbed in, slipping under the covers. “It’s ok,” she said.
“What are you...” he exclaimed, sounding fairly shocked.
“Can’t I just lie here for a while?” Nala was still whispering, though she knew full well there was no one else in the house.
Nala found Harry’s arm under the blankets and wrapped her hands around it, then she slid up to him, pressing her whole body against his and letting him feel her nakedness.
“Christ Almighty!” he gasped, and Nala shushed him lightly. Then she leaned in and kissed his fuzzy cheek.
“Girl, I am an old man. I could be your grandfather.”
“I don’t care about that,” said Nala.
Nala shushed him again and kissed him on his thin, papery lips. She kissed him deeply and passionately, and with her hand she searched under the blankets for his crotch, and when she found it, she found his wrinkly old dick and started to rub it gingerly.
Harry’s voice was getting throaty. “I haven’t had sex in seven years, child. The equipment doesn’t work quite like it used to.”
“That’s ok,” said Nala, “Most of the fun is in the attempt.” And with that, she ducked under the blankets, kissed his belly through his cotton t-shirt, then traveled south to his belt line, planting kisses around his waist, and by the time she reached his groin, his dick was already half hard. Nala smiled to see she was making progress, and then she kissed the head of it—
And there was something like a lightning strike in her mind in that instant; a moment of utter horror and revulsion and confusion. Nala shook her head vigorously, thinking, Back, girl! This is my time! If you don’t like it, too damn bad!
Nala paused in her ministrations for only a moment. The attack passed, and she found her kiss had worked wonders. The old cock was nearly fully erect. Nala didn’t quite know what to expect from a seventy year old dick, but she thought that this might be as stiff as it got. Still, she worked on it, drew her tongue up the length as Harry groaned, scraping ever-so-lightly with her teeth, then wrapping her lips around the head and drawing as much as she could into her mouth. Neither Nala nor Laurie had much real-world experience with fellatio, but Nala had been practicing on her vibrator, and she’d been taught all about it at some point, presumably during a trance, since she didn’t remember actually learning it.
As she worked, her hand found her own pussy under the fabric of her panties, and she rubbed first lightly, then firmly, thumbing her clit, working up a good bit of lubrication. Then she caught her panties with both hands and slipped them off. She rose up, now completely naked, and straddled the old man’s belly, who stared up at her disbelievingly in the faint light of the moon trickling through the blinds. She planted her hands on his hairy, flabby chest and settled herself down on his erection, felt it press against her opening, felt it slide in and fill her, and she shuddered with pleasure, a foreshadow of an orgasm.
She rode him gently for a few minutes, then she kicked up the pace and let out a wild moan, filling with delight more tied to the knowledge of what she was doing than to the physical sensations it produced, feeling her guts stir as Harry groaned, feeling fire fill her and build to a bright spark at her core, and, for the third time in Laurie’s life that she would actually remember, she came with a squirt.
Nala rode out the prolonged orgasm in thoughtless bliss. At last, her thin frame collapsed on Harry’s wide chest. She wasn’t sure when he’d come, but his dick was softening now, and as Nala’s left hand idly touched and teased it, she felt sticky beads of post-cum still being secreted in soft pulses.
Harry didn’t say anything. Nala nuzzled up to his side, and soon she could tell he’d fallen asleep. To the rhythm of Harry’s heavy breathing, Nala drifted into a blissful slumber.
Laurie woke in pitch darkness. She was in a big, soft, unfamiliar bed, and there was a body next to her. She was reminded first of her nightmare from last week, but that horrifying thought was replaced by the memory of an equally horrible reality.
“Oh, God,” she groaned, and she rolled out of the bed. Harry shifted, and Laurie stood frozen, irrationally terrified of the man who had been so kind to her the night before (No! Not to me; to Nala, she told herself).
“What is it, what’s wrong?” said Harry, and he clicked on the lamp by his bed, and Laurie’s hands flew reflexively to cover her naked body.
Laurie felt utterly disgusted, and Harry saw it on her face. His eyes spoke plaintively of his shame and guilt.
Laurie turned and ran from the room. She found her clothes by the sofa and dressed in a furious rush. Her shirt she wildly misbuttoned and one sock she couldn’t find at all. Her panties, she knew, were still in Harry’s bed, and she wouldn’t be going back for them. She pulled on her pants and her shoes, and she dashed out of the house. Harry didn’t come after her.
It was dark out, the moon was gone, but there was a rim of blue on the eastern horizon. Day would be along soon enough. Laurie jumped into her car, scrambled for her keys, jabbed them into the ignition and tore out of the driveway.
Laurie was a couple miles away from the house before she had to stop. She was convulsing with sobs. Her hands were shaking wildly. She was terrified and mortified and she was lost in every sense of he word.
Laurie planted her face on the steering wheel and took a series of deep, ragged breaths. She could see no way forward from here. No way to overcome this. Laurie sobbed into her steering wheel until dawn.
When she finally sat back in her seat, it was light out. The sun wasn’t out yet, but Laurie could read the messages scrawled on sticky notes throughout her car. On her steering wheel, smudged from having her face pressed against it, the note was still legible. Scratched out was the message, “You’re not this thing!” Written over it was, “You ARE me!”
Laurie had only the vaguest recollection of doing this, scribbling vengefully on her own possessions. Another note used to say “You have a choice!” but now read, “No you fucking don’t!”
It was her own damned handwriting, that’s what got to her. Nala attacked her with her own hands. Nala took revenge on Laurie with her own body. Fucked old men to... what? To make a point?
Memories of that act and how undeniably good it had felt assaulted Laurie, and she buried her face in her hands. She stung with humiliation worse than anything she’d been made to suffer thus far, made all the worse by the undercurrent of unwelcome arousal that the memory dredged up.
Then the image flashed to her mind of Harry’s shattered expression when she’d bolted from his house this morning. None of this was his fault. Now he was going to be torturing himself with doubt and guilt. It was harder to blame this part on Nala. Nala wasn’t the one who’d fixed that disgusted look on him.
But Nala had put her in that position in the first place. How else was she going to react to a situation like that?
Laurie let out an exasperated sigh. “What do I do now?” she muttered. Her camping equipment was still out there somewhere in the desert. She had no idea how to get back to it. She didn’t even know which direction to take to reach the freeway. The sun peaked over the horizon in the east, so she could at least work out which way was north. She was relatively sure that she was still south of the freeway—she hadn’t recalled Nala crossing it or getting back on it. And so, Laurie started her car and headed north.