By Daniel Scott Bokemper
With a final heave, Skye let go of the covered mass he dragged from the hood of his black sedan and onto its roof. He rolled off the back windshield and onto the pavement. His head rested for a few seconds on a Minnesota license plate two years expired. Several pained gasps escaped him before he pulled himself up onto the sedan’s trunk. It lowered with a drawn-out creak as he sat on it. The ordeal was the lone source of commotion in an otherwise undisturbed motel parking lot.
It was too early for the sun to rise. In its place were bands of deep purple and burgeoning orange. Between the two was a thin line of pink that seemed to smile.
A sharp gasp to his right pulled him back from the horizon.
“This is ridiculous.”
Their mouth covered by both hands, Terran spoke with a tremble between the thin spaces of their fingers. They wore an oversized hoodie that draped over their forehead.
“What? Why?” Skye asked.
He stood up, and the sedan’s ongoing creak was punctuated by a rusty squeal. The car seemed to suddenly shrink in his presence. He had the build of a professional wrestler from the seventies, the barrel-chested kind that would place children on each of their shoulders when taking photos with families.
“That thing is about to cave in the roof of your car. What is this even? Is that …” Terran came closer to the sedan. “a trunk?”
“The beater’s had one the entire time, Ter,” Skye said.
Terran dropped their hands. They pointed a finger that barely came past the cuff of their hoodie toward the covered mass. Skye followed the point’s direction. Between the purple and orange bands of the horizon was a fluorescent pink tube.
Skye chuckled as he pulled back the plastic, barbeque-stained tablecloth. Lying on its side atop the sedan’s roof was an elephant statue. The pink paint job was interrupted by tiny blotches of yellow, red and green. The trunk was raised and its mouth was open as if sounding a perpetual trumpet.
“She’s gonna love it for sure,” Skye boasted.
“You’ve said that about everything. Plus, it’s going to roll off immediately,” Terran observed as they came closer, “if it doesn’t crush us first.”
“You act like I don’t come prepared.”
Skye popped open the sedan’s trunk with a light punch, and it blasted a metallic scream, cutting short any retort from Terran as it forced them to recoil. Both trunks seemed to shout simultaneously. Skye dug through a pile of boxes, candy and stuffed animals before producing three bungee cords. They were stiff in his hand with only the faintest hint of elasticity, like dried snakeskin.
“See?” He gloated, running one hook through an already-cracked back window and securing it on the sedan’s shredded ceiling. “Could you lend a hand with the other side? Someone might have an eye out for this thing.”
“You didn’t buy it?” Terran’s voice flared with another pulse of concern.
“I mean, it was just on a sidewalk in front of a pizza joint. I would’ve asked if I was certain it was theirs. Also, let’s be real. I couldn’t have been the first one with this idea.”
The two left with haste. The sedan produced a chorus of groans as Skye pulled it out of the parking lot. Clouds began to form on the horizon.
Skye and Terran were forced onto back roads after a close call with an onramp. The sedan was already questionable at best on highways. With the new load teetering on its roof, any meaningful speed was impossible.
Every squeal the elephant made pierced their ears. The hooks of the bungee cords tore the cabin’s ceiling. Skye strained to readjust them. This routine found him swapping his mending and driving hand constantly. A new shred of fabric dangled from the ceiling with each exchange. He soothed every violent screech of the elephant and sedan with a “No worries.”
Such a remedy never soothed Terran. The conversations between the two sputtered out to only the sparsest exchanges. Terran receded deeper into their hood and leaned their head against the passenger window.
Spurred by another near-cataclysmic bump, the plush arm of a giant koala punched Terran from the backseat. Pressing the bear back forced them to glimpse into the backseat. The seats themselves were permanently folded over, eliminating any barrier to the trunk. Stuffing the excess space were gifts of every kind: jars of salsa, a pug calendar, an out-of-season tin of kettle corn, candles named after Jack London stories, pounds upon pounds of candy, and of course, the koala.
Terran had become familiar with the process with the first hours of their road trip. First came the spontaneous gift, then the compulsion for something new. Any hope of it subsiding was dashed with the elephant, which produced another harsh trumpet as Skye swerved to avoid a pothole. Terran winced and faced forward again. The journey’s end was their only solace. Fortunately, and as far as Terran knew, there were no flea markets between here and Davis.
“We’ll need a bit of gas,” Skye said as he pulled aside into a station with a single pump.
The stop was the barely breathing skeleton of a once prosperous Conoco. A pang of fear shot through Terran. This was the kind of place, they predicted, that carried things like airbrushed T-shirts and fairy statues. Likewise, they could tell the wave of comfort the elephant brought to Skye was subsiding. His smirk had diminished. Worry plagued his darting eyes.
“I’ll get this one,” Terran said, halfway out of the sedan before Skye put it in park.
They scanned the front of the station for any signs of what must have been sold inside. The bulk of the windows were blotted out by ads for cheap beer and scratch-offs. Terran carefully cracked the entrance, shooting a backward glance at Skye to ensure he wasn’t trying to see what was inside. Between fidgeting with the ancient pump and coaxing the fuel cap off of the sedan, he never made an effort to do so.
Terran could see the despondence creep over Skye. The elephant’s face fully protruded from the mangled tablecloth. Skye met its smile with an empty stare. The clouds grew darker as they continued to form overhead.
Near the register, Terran exchanged glances with a fairy fountain pieced together with failed porcelain projects. “$60.00 OBO” read a sticker on the face of a cherub masquerading as a pixie. They purchased the fuel without asking the half-awake cashier what the better offer entailed.
Exiting, Terran saw a motorcycle parked behind the sedan. Skye was speaking with its owner. He was short, boulder-shaped, and clad in leather. Next to Skye, he looked like a gremlin making small talk with a drowsy giant. His gestures showed signs of the systemic abuse of gas station caffeine pills. A few murmurs gave way to a gruff explosion from the man.
“You lifted this yourself?! You’re a hoss and a half, son!”
Terran could see the biker’s last word unease Skye as he tried to avoid facing the man.
“It was nothing,” Skye muttered, anxiety piercing his voice.
He tried to focus on the pump’s sluggish progress.
“You don’t gotta be soft. There’s no hiding what your kind of muscle can do. Rippin’ and tearin’. Taking what we want. That’s the responsibility of men like us.”
The biker laughed and slapped Skye’s shoulder. He grew stiff the moment the man’s palm struck him.
“Leave us alone,” Terran interjected from the opposite side of the elephant.
Taken aback, the biker surveyed Terran and removed his hand from Skye. The rumble of thunder permeated the ensuing silence. The nozzle of the gas pump clicked.
“Look,” the biker started as Skye rushed to remove the nozzle. “What a couple of freaks are doin’ with a beauty like this isn’t my concern. But I am in the market for a piece of it.”
He rubbed the elephant’s trunk with the hand that previously held Skye.
“It’s not for you,” Skye said with a fragile growl.
“Oh? I reckon it’s really yours to give. In fact, I’d bet a slice of pizza on it.”
Terran and Skye exchanged worried glances.
“That’s what I thought,” the biker continued with a sneer. “Now, I’m simple. Maybe a tad rough, but simple. So, I’m gonna knock off this one’s trunk, and then we’re gonna part ways. None of this will ever have to make its way back to the metro. Any questions?”
“Why the trunk?” Terran asked in lieu of Skye who was struggling to remove himself, his ability to speak hindered by nerves.
“There’s a number of uses. It’ll look good in a trophy room, maybe on a mantle, or even a lawn ornament if you’re the creative type. Some folks even believe the trunk of fake elephants,” he licked his cracking lips, “can make for a mighty fine aphrodisiac.”
Skye shut down in an instant. First came a shake. Then, his fists clenched. Sweat began to pour from him profusely. He hurried into the sedan.
“I know you’ve got places to be, you bein’ on the run. I’m an outlaw, too after all. It’ll only take me a few minutes.”
The biker assured neither of them as he went to his motorcycle and began digging through a saddlebag.
Skye started the engine. Terran scrambled into the passenger seat, the sedan already pulling out before they could shut their door. When they finally did so, the biker filled the reflection of the rearview mirror. Straddling his chopper, he had a small mallet in hand.
Skye began bawling the moment he pulled onto the road. The elephant clanged against the roof while the other gifts clattered in kind. The roaring engine of the biker piled atop the cacophony. Terran placed a hand on the steering wheel before Skye’s grip completely slipped. Through the driver’s-side window, Terran’s eyes met the biker now neck and neck with the sedan.
He waved with the hand holding the mallet before taking a swing at the elephant. He caught the center bungee cord, snapping it half to the sound of another trumpet from the elephant. Skye dug his face into his hands. Terran tightened their grip and steadied their direction. They saw the biker raise the mallet for another swing.
Suddenly, the motorcycle’s roar dissipated. The biker missed his second strike and wobbled. He drifted out of sight from the window and back into the rearview mirror. The biker grew smaller until he was a speck in the road and, after that, nothing.
Terran nudged Skye. He wiped his eyes and reaffirmed his grasp of the steering wheel. His tears continued. Terran sunk back into their seat.
“I guess he forgot to fill up,” Terran remarked over the sound of the rattling elephant, the noise exponentially louder than it was minutes ago.
Skye didn’t respond. It began to rain.
Between the sounds of the collapsing sedan and the downpour, Terran’s shout was suppressed to a whisper.
“I think we missed Davis, Skye.”
The elephant ground against the roof and dangled part of itself over the back windshield. It leaned further with a whine as Skye ascended a road as unidentifiable as the mountain he was lost within. Every sign they passed was rusted and otherwise unreadable from overgrowth.
“I really don’t think this is where we need to be, bud,” Terran pleaded once more, to no avail.
Skye accelerated as the incline he drove on grew steeper. Seconds later, a snap rang throughout the sedan, signaling the demise of another bungee cord. The elephant slipped, secured only by a thread. Skye ignored it and drove harder.
“Skye, we need to stop!” Terran screamed and reached for the wheel.
The sedan shot over the road’s crest and began to spin. It hurled its rear end where the bend of the road met an unguarded cliff. The weight of the elephant, compounded by its momentum, snapped the surviving bungee cord. The snap rang like a command the sedan obeyed on instinct as it came to a halt. Skye and Terran found themselves staring out the back windshield. Skye braced himself, and Terran pulled the emergency brake.
The action brought the elephant upright. It drifted slowly down the back of the sedan. The movement released a long and clear trumpet eerily close to the real thing. It began to fall off the back but paused for a moment, its front legs suspended precariously on the very back of the sedan.
The elephant returned Skye and Terran’s stares. The two failed to breathe, locked by its gaze.
Finally, it cascaded backward. The tip of its trunk caught the sedan’s and flung it open. Coerced by the elephant, the rest of the gifts were pulled from the backseat in a vortex of rain and wind. They formed a parade that marched down the side of the cliff.
Skye pounced in pursuit, clambering through the open trunk. Terran darted after him, their hood flying backward. They caught Skye by his arm before he could lunge over the cliff. They both lingered over the edge a few feet from plummeting and pressed against the sedan’s bumper.
They both took a breath then peered over. No sign of the elephant or any of the gifts remained. The forest below was unflinching in the maw of the Arbuckles. Skye fell to his knees. Terran shut the trunk behind them and sat next to him.
Minutes passed, and the two were buffeted by rain. Finally, Skye spoke.
“I’m scared, Terran. What are we going to do?”
“We’ll …” Terran let Skye’s question resonate and then restarted. “You’ll do what you came here for.”
“What’s my mom going to think?”
“I don’t know. None of that stuff was going to change it. You know that, right?”
“Even the pink elephant?”
“Especially the pink elephant.”
Skye shivered. Terran removed their hoodie and placed it around his shoulders. It was several sizes too small, barely covering his upper arms, yet his shaking subsided. The downpour shrank to a drizzle. The clouds thinned slightly, and the overcast sky lightened a shade.
Skye nodded at Terran. The two got up and walked back to the sedan, trails of mud following behind them.
“Do you think those folks at the pizza joint are very upset?” Skye asked as he carefully drove from the cliff and onto the road.
“Oh yeah!” Terran laughed. “But I think if they knew you, a part of them might understand.”
They drove down the mountain. The sedan was quieter. No gifts jostled in the back seat. On its roof where the elephant laid, there was hardly a dent.