A frightened, now mortal Nayeli walked down the long, stretching highway to the city of angels for what seemed like hours, clinging to her axe for comfort. The road twisted and turning constantly, she wondered when it would ever end, when she would find civilization and relief from the oppressive darkness and rain of the country at night. Why couldn’t her father just send her to live in Italy with her mother? Why did she have to fall in America? She didn’t know anyone in America! Everyone here was a stranger and everything she saw was even more frightening and unfamiliar than the last. She was cold and wet and occasionally something called a car would drive down the road and beep loudly at her, spraying water. They weren’t very dangerous, which she’d learned after a few of them crashed into her, but their constant, overbearing presence hardly made her feel welcome.
She sighed. Why couldn’t mortals just drive chariots like everyone else? They were much less noisy and the horses that pulled them were usually much friendlier to her than cars were.
Her shadow on the road stretched out in front of her and she turned around. Here came another one. A truck. This one looked big, and its beeping and honking was so loud it hurt Nayeli’s eardrums. She hoped this one wasn’t going to try and hit her too.
The sound of tires squealing blocked out all other thoughts and just as the light became blinding, the car stopped. Nayeli opened her eyes. As she’d thought, the mechanical chariot was enormous, easily ten feet tall and the length of a temple pillar. A man, large and overbearing, climbed out of the front seat.
“Hey, watch where you’re goin’! The fuck you think this is, the NYC boardwalk? Do I look like a Coney Island clown to you?”
Nayeli was surprised. Not shocked, but surprised.
To think they act like this to people they’ve just met…
“Um, excuse me?” she said, trying to shield her eyes from the bright headlights. She ignored the man’s harsh tone. “I’m sorry if I offended you, but you can you please help me make it to the nearest city? I don’t know where I’m going. I just got here and-”
“Just got here?” The man looked at her like she had nine heads. “What in the name of god is that supposed to mean? How do you ‘get’ to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and say ‘I just got here’? What kind of fucking moron are you? Are you lost?”
“No,” Nayeli said. “I just got here.”
“From fucking where?” the man almost yelled. “There’s nothing around for miles!”
“From the sky!” Nayeli shouted.
“Oh!” The man laughed. “That’s rich. What are you supposed to be then, an angel?”
“No!” she shouted. “I’m the daughter of-”
The trucker sighed. “Look, kid, I really, really don’t care who you are. Because unless you got a rich daddy that can pay me for a ride and my flat tire, then I don’t want anything to do with-”
“I said I just got here and I need some help! Why won’t you listen to me?!” she shouted, stepping out of the blinding headlights.
“Whoa,” the man said, stopping mid-sentence.
She should’ve known then. The way he looked at her. It was obvious what he was thinking, but not to her younger self, who knew so little about the world. All she knew was that it seemed strange.
“Huh? What?” he said, snapping out of his trance. “Oh, yeah. Ummm, sorry for almost hitting you there, angel. How about I take you to the next town down the road to make it up to you? The next city is a little far but me and my buddies at the mill might be able to help you out. Get you something to eat, give you a place to sleep. How does that sound?”
“That sounds great!” Nayeli exclaimed.
“Alright, just climb in the passenger side next to me,” he said, heading back for his truck. Nayeli reached out and hugged him from behind.
“Thank you so much, mister! I thought I was going to have to walk in the dark forever! You’ve really saved me! The gods won’t forget this!”
His body tensed up when she touched him, becoming firm and rigid in her grasp. Though she couldn’t see his face through the shadows, his eyes were wide open, and his breathing suddenly ragged.
“Yeah… no problem…”
She walked around the side of the truck and saw it was carrying logs, dozens of them.
He must work at that lumber mill he mentioned, she thought, staring at the vehicle in awe. I thought father said the humans were weak. How do they carry all these logs on their back and then load them onto the truck?
Without giving it much more thought she opened the passenger side door and got in. The compartment smelled uncomfortably of old smoke, musty and damp. The garbage lying everywhere and the pillow and blanket stowed beneath the driver’s seat indicated this truck had seen many long nights.
Must get lonely, she thought. I bet he’s glad I’m here to keep him company now. I wonder why he was so rude at first though?
“You all buckled in?” the driver asked. “The company quacks say we gotta start using these harness… belt… things to prevent accidents. I think it’s a load of crap but they’ll fine me if they find out I wasn’t using them when the truck’s in motion.”
“Do accidents happen a lot?” Nayeli asked.
“Not as much they’d probably tell you, that’s for sure,” he snorted.
Nayeli fiddled with something that looked like what he was describing but she couldn’t figure out how it fit.
“Here, let me help you,” he said. He reached across Nayeli’s lap and started grabbing for something tucked into the seat. But his arm wasn’t long enough, so Nayeli kept feeling him brush up against her butt and thighs, his hands sometimes lingering just a little too long. Long enough to be noticeable.
“Mister…” she said, uncomfortable. “Please stop… you shouldn’t be touching me like that… my father isn’t going to like it if you do…”
She didn’t want to hurt him. Father had told him how weak the humans were. If she wasn’t careful she could kill him.
“I’ve almost got it…” he said, his groping becoming more aggressive.
“Just shut up!” he yelled in her ear. “I’m almost there!”
Finally his hands reached for something besides Nayeli’s flesh, taking hold of a belt inbetween the seat cushions.
“See?” he said, fastening it around her. “You were sitting on the damn thing.”
“Oh…” she said. “Sorry, mister. I thought…”
“Don’t worry about it, angel,” he said, settling back into his seat. “Let’s just get going. I’ve got a timetable to keep.”
She nodded. Maybe she’d just misread the situation was all. She was the one sitting on the belt after all. That had to be it. But…
Her eyes drifted to the creases of the man’s pants. A small dark spot had appeared, like a stain.
What is that? she wondered, looking up at the driver. Did he… wet hinself?
The driver’s eyes were glued firmly on the road ahead. He hadn’t noticed her staring. Quickly she snapped her head back and buried it in her lap, playing with the trinket that symbolized her axe.
Father… she thought, frightened.
Hours of silence passed in the truck’s cab, with nary another passing car to interrupt the long stretches of quiet. The breaking of the morning sun brought some relief, but the road ahead still seemed long and never-ending. Any sense that they’d made progress since last night was eclipsed by the light of the sun showing only more grey asphalt stretching into a pinpoint on the navy-blue horizon.
Nayeli sat quietly in her seat, spinning the little handle of her trinket for comfort.
“Say,” the driver said, breaking up the quiet for the first time since 4:00 AM. “That little bracelet you got there. What is it?”
“Oh,” Nayeli said, surprised. “This is my axe.”
“Your axe?” the driver asked.
“Mmhmm,” she replied. “My father gave it to me. He says it symbolizes my strength.”
“Huh,” the driver said. “Your father sounds like a pretty weird guy.”
“He’s not weird!” Nayeli protested. “Just because a mortal like you doesn’t understand-”
“Yeah yeah, whatever, I get it,” the driver said. “Sheesh. You uhhh… you mind if I look at it?”
Nayeli thought about it. There shouldn’t be any harm in it, right? The axe was too heavy for him to lift, and it’s not like he could steal it from her or anything. If he wouldn’t give it back, she’d just make him. Of course that ran into the problem of potentially killing him again…
Deciding it would be okay this one time, she loosened the knot that kept it tied to her wrist, and handed it to the driver.
“Wow…” he said, squinting at it through the dawn’s dim sunlight. “This is really something! You mind if I pull over so I can get a better look?”
She shook her head, and the truck came to a slow stop on the side of the road facing the shore.
The tiny axe spun slowly in the light of the dawn, practically weightless so long as it was in this form. To the untrained eye, it appeared to be nothing more than ornate jewelry. A trinket of fine craftsmanship certainly, but a trinket nonetheless. No one in this world knew the power of the gods yet. They had no understanding of magic.
The truck driver whistled.
“This sure is some good-lookin’ bracelet you got here. Must be worth like, what, fifty sawbucks at least, right?”
She had no idea how much that was.
“More than that,” she said, making an educated guess. “It’s very precious.”
“Really?” the truck driver said, suddenly very interested. “How’d a little girl like you get ahold of something like this, angel? How old are you, anyway? Sixteen? Seventeen? Twenty?”
“I’m thirteen,” Nayeli said. “And my dad gave it to me.”
“Thirteen? No fucking way! A girl as pretty as you, dollface? You must think I was born yesterday!”
The truck driver continued to stare at the gleaming golden axe, captivated by dreams of wealth and power. Nayeli fidgeted, seeing the look in his eyes.
“Umm, mister?” she said. “Can I please have that back now? It’s very precious to me.”
“What? No! You’re gonna need this to pay for your ride!” the truck driver said, gripping the trinket tight in his meaty fist.
“What?!” Nayeli said, taken aback. “But you said the ride was free!”
“I never said that,” the driver said, brushing her off. “Besides, it’s my truck. I get to decide how much you pay.”
“But that’s not fair!” Nayeli shouted. The truck driver raised a hand and slapped her, hard, across the cheek. She felt her head and shoulders collide with the passenger side window.
Nayeli lifted a hand to her cheek, touching where it stung. No way…. Had he just hit her?
The truck driver started to yell at her.
“Life isn’t fair, angel! You think I wanna be out here in the cold driving all night for minimum fucking wage so some fat cat can pocket all the profit? ‘Course not! But life don’t care! Life is just life! It don’t care what happens to you or me. That’s why,” he said, staring greedily at the gleaming gold bracelet, “you gotta always be looking out for number one.”
She couldn’t believe. The axe father had given to her… the one Uncle Hephaestus had made! It was like she thought. Mortals were the absolute worst! So corrupted by greed and lust…
She didn’t want to have to do this, but it looked like she’d have to force him to give her back her axe. Once he felt the kind of strength she had, she was sure she wouldn’t cause her any more problems. She’d show him what it meant to be her father’s daughter!
Summoning up the courage to strike the man against her father’s explicit warning, Nayeli swung hard and hit the truck driver, bending his nose in a most unnatural way with a sickening crunch. He screamed as blood flowed out of his nose. It was, all things considered, a solid blow. But something was wrong.
I know I wasn’t hitting him as hard as I could but that punch should’ve at least thrown him out of the door! she thought, staring at her own fist. What’s going on?!
“You… stupid… bitch!” the truck driver roared. Suddenly he was on top of her, pinning her to the seat by her wrists. Nayeli struggled but couldn’t break free. What was going on here?! Something was wrong! Something was definitely wrong! Where had all her strength gone?!
“Look at what you did to my nose, angel,” the truck driver panted, positively manic. “Look at what you did to my nose! Did your daddy tell you to just go punching nice guys who offer to give you a ride? Huh?! How you gonna pay me back for this, angel?! Tell me how you’re gonna pay me back for this!”
Nayeli kept struggling. “I don’t know!”
“You don’t know?!” roared the truck driver.
“Please!” Nayeli screamed. “I’ll do whatever you want, just let me go and give me back my bracelet!”
The truck driver stopped. He smiled perversely. “Well if that’s how you feel about it, then I’ve got a couple ideas.”
He reached for the hem of her blouse and started to lift up. Nayeli realized all too late what he was doing.
“No!” she screamed, kicking as hard as she could. “I didn’t mean that!”
“You said you’d do anything, didn’t you angel? Well this is what I’ve decided on!” he said, nearly tearing her clothes right off her. Nayeli felt her hair get yanked on as he pulled her head through the hole. She couldn’t see what was going on. What was happening?!
Her head popped out of the hole and she opened her eyes. Ugly purple marks blotted her wrists. She was naked. In front of this mortal, this complete stranger, she was naked! Tears welled up in her eyes. What was going on? Why couldn’t she fight back? Why wasn’t she strong?!
“Whooheeee!” the truck driver whooped and hollered. “Thirteen years old, huh angel? Sure doesn’t look that way to me!”
“Please, stop! You can’t do this! My dad won’t let you!”
“Your daddy, huh angel? Your daddy isn’t gonna come help you out here. That’s if you even have one, that is.”
“Of course I do!” she said, struggling. “And he’s going to punish you when he finds out what you’ve done! Daddy! Please, help!”
“See, I’m having a hard time believing you, angel. First you lie to me about your age, then you lie to me about how you got that jewelry-”
“I didn’t lie!” she screamed, unsure how anything she said could help at this point.
“Of course you did! Your daddy bought it for you? Which daddy? Your sugar daddy? Because I’m having a hard time believing any rich man’s kid is just gonna show up walking in the middle of the road out in no man’s land, California! Hell, I bet you stole that jewelry, and now you’re on the run!”
“No!” she yelled. “That’s not it!”
“Isn’t it, angel?” he said, his smile wider than the sky. “Looks to me like you’re nothing more than a homeless golddigger some pimp left on the side of the road! And ain’t nobody gonna miss you if you just disappeared right here. Guess that means I got a free ticket to do whatever I want with you.”
The truck driver’s thick fingers reached for the zipper on his trousers, slowly pulling them apart. Nayeli screamed, louder than she could ever remember screaming before.
“No! Stop, please stop! Daddy! Auntie Athena! Help me!”
The truck driver laughed, his exposed member hanging in the languid ocean breeze like a corpulent sausage. Covered in filth and the excess of its last discharge, it looked like some vile serpent. Only she had no blade with which to slay it, no means to defend herself, and she could smell the fetid breath of the monster’s other head looming over her as it whispered in her ear, entirely too close.
“What’s the matter, angel? I thought a girl like you would be used to doing this by now.”
He wrenched her legs apart. Nayeli shut her eyes, trying and hoping that she could shut out the world. That if she blacked him out hard enough, that he wouldn’t be there the next time she opened her eyes. But she could feel him coming closer, even if she couldn’t see him. She felt it brush up against her inner thigh and cringed, shutting her eyes even harder as tears ran down her cheeks.
There was the clicking of a gun, followed by a loud, abrupt discharge. Something warm and sticky splattered all over her face, and she opened her eyes, fearing or perhaps hoping the worst was already over. But the man hadn’t entered her. He still stood, kneeling on the precipice with a giant hole in his head. Teetering under his own weight, the man’s meaty body collapsed on top of her, emptying its last all over her and the leather seat behind him.
“Ugh,” she heard a voice mutter as someone opened up the door. “This fucking reeks. Did he have to shit himself all over the upholstery?”
Someone, she knew not who, dragged the corpse off of her, leaving her to stare at the cab ceiling in vegetative shock. The face of a young boy soon entered her view. He held out his hand.
“It’s okay, you’re safe now,” he said. “That stiff won’t be bothering you anymore. Let’s get you cleaned up and, y’know… back in your clothes.”
The boy’s face was glowing a soft red. Her eyes opened all the way, taking in every detail of his face.
“Well? Come on! You’re making this really awkward already…”
Nodding tokenly, she took his hand. Was this it? Was she safe now? Was it over?
The boy walked her over to the ocean where she could clean herself of the man’s stench and other bodily fluids and turned around, giving her some privacy. Off to the side, a taller man started to dig a shallow grave for the corpse of the truck driver.
She washed herself with the warm ocean water. It was… fresh. Welcoming. She could feel Poseidon’s embrace. And it felt like as long as she stayed in the ocean within it, she might be able to wash away the memories of what had just happened.
When she was finished, the boy offered Nayeli her blouse and her bracelet with the axe still intact, which he’d washed in the ocean water. Silently, she put the wet clothes on.
“I know it’s still wet, but it was the best we could do,” he said. “They’ll dry off soon. Come on, hop in the car. We’ll give you a ride to wherever you’re going.”
She immediately felt herself tense up at the offer. That was exactly what the man now lying in a shallow grave had said to her. The man who’d tried to… tried to…
No! She shook her head back and forth, adamantly refusing. She clutched her axe tightly in her hand this time. She knew what would happen this time, and she wasn’t going to let it.
“Come on,” the boy said, taking her hand. “I’m serious, we just wanna help-”
Nayeli recoiled sharply at his touch, jumping in her skin.
“No! Don’t touch me!” she screamed. This time, the effect was profound. The sand all around her was picked up like a maelstrom by the sound of her voice and the boy was thrown back, caught by the taller, quiet man who’d been digging the grave. Nayeli took a step back and curled up on the beach, her head tucked in her lap.
The boy grimaced. “Well Sostene, I think we may have found another one.”
That was how she first met the young Marquis. It wasn’t an easy relationship at first. In fact, she actually used to hate him when she first met him. That took some time to change. But then again, it wouldn’t have been so rewarding if it didn’t.
Nayeli laughed a little remembering those days. It was a bitter sound, full of joy and hopelessness and sadness and regret. And love. So much love. Perhaps that feeling was why there was so much of those other things.