tagRomanceThe Link

The Link

byDreamCloud©

Author's note: This is the largest story I have ever written. Its name has changed three times and the plot is nothing like I envisioned. I hope you enjoy it.

The Link

Chapter 1 - Sam

I needed God. It was hypocritical of me since I never believed. I couldn't fathom his existence, so I ignored the issue altogether in the past. If God wished me to know of him, he would have simply stopped by and said hello. The lack of an introduction meant God didn't exist, or he didn't give a shit. To me, clergy were no different than used car salesmen promising an eternity of maintenance free driving.

More blood seeped through my fingers. God would be handy right now. The wound was probably deep. It didn't hurt as much as I thought it should. That was disconcerting. I tried to reach across my body to open the car door. My twisting torso hurt more than I thought it should. That was disconcerting as well.

My car had spun laterally in the collision. The SUV that struck mine overturned and rolled into a wire fence that separated the desert proper from the pavement. It steadied after rocking on its hood a few times. I pushed the bloody airbag back and spat some of the powdery residue from my mouth. The pink mist I created frightened me. I licked my finger, and it came back bright red. Most disconcerting. I was likely dying.

My head fell back against the broken headrest. I slowed my breathing and tried to feel how damaged my insides were. I reevaluated my need of God. I actually needed him not to exist. For if he did, I was screwed. Hell would have been devising my eternity with relish. As a human being, I sucked. I coughed up some blood that was blocking the back of my throat and wondered if it was possible to drown in my own fluids.

I groaned as I forced my free hand across my body and pulled on the door handle. I heard the mechanism pop, but the bent up door refused to move. I almost laughed, maybe my hell had already begun. I pushed with my shoulder, causing a sharp pain to emanate from the hole in my side. More blood. I wasn't sure how much more was in my body. My hand wasn't an effective band-aid.

The seatbelt was still fastened. Here I was killing myself to open the car door, and I hadn't even undone the belt. More wonderful humor to consider as I burned for eternity. I popped the catch and the belt released but refused to suck itself back into its holder. No matter, if I did get out of the car, I wasn't going to get back in. I laid down across the divider and reached for the passenger side door. The handle popped, and the door slowly opened. The hellish Arizona desert heat hit me in the face. I should have spent a few more minutes enjoying what was left of the air conditioning. I sighed, it would be good practice for the afterlife.

My legs pushed, my arm pulled as I slowly extracted myself from the now visibly smaller driver compartment. Future bruises announced themselves loudly as I moved. Things became easier once I had gotten my ass over the divider. I grabbed the hood of my car on instinct, trying to pull myself out. It felt like the coils of a stove. Damn sun. I snapped my hand back and used what leverage I could find on the cooler insides of the car. Slowly, I turned my body and came out legs first.

Standing was less of an effort than I had imagined it would be. I looked down at my side; blood was coating my shirt and covering my hand. It hadn't begun to soak my pants. Maybe I would just die of dehydration instead of bleeding to death. I steadied myself and looked down the road in both directions. Silence, not another moving vehicle in sight, the middle of nowhere. A good road to take if you're transporting ten pounds of pot. A really bad choice if you plan on having an accident.

I pulled out my phone. No service. Seemed right. There was no reason a shit like me deserved a break. I lifted up my shirt to see the wound. More of a gash really, about two inches long and maybe an eighth inch deep at the worst. Nasty, but not as bad as I had first thought. The side view mirror informed me that my bottom teeth had torn into my lower lip. Blood had soaked a bit of my scraggly beard. Again, not as serious as I had first thought. I was pretty confident that I would live long enough to die of thirst.

I stumbled over to my assailant's SUV. If I walked slightly funny, it hurt less.

The windows on the driver's side of the car had shattered. The roof frame was bent a few inches toward the front but seemed to be holding steady. I heard a low moan as I approached. Bending was difficult.

A woman lay along the overturned roof. She obviously hadn't been wearing her seat belt. I leaned in and choked back bile. Her legs were bent wrongly. White bone had torn through her pants below the left knee. Her hips seemed oddly askew, and blood pooled around her. I reached in and pulled some her brown hair from her bloody face so I could see her eyes.

"Hello?" I said stupidly. I held back the are-you-alright because she wasn't. She was truly screwed. Her eyes opened slowly. I tried to smile. It would be what I wanted to see in my last moments. Someone, anyone smiling would be better than nothing. I had little doubt these were her last moments.

"Hi," she groaned back. I reached in and grasped her hand that was lying limp near her head. I don't think she could feel it. "How bad?" I was about to lie. I couldn't. If it were me, I would want to know.

"Bad," I said, trying to be soft. I saw a tear form in her eye. I bit back my own. I hadn't cried since I was ten. Then again, I never saw someone die before. "There's no one on the road and no phone service."

"You're here," she said. I moved closer. I hate death. I don't do funerals or go near hospitals. For some reason, empathy forced me to commit to her. There wasn't anyone else to dump it on and I couldn't let her die alone in the desert. "I'm so sorry," she groaned. I wasn't exactly caring who was to blame for the accident. It seemed silly now.

"It doesn't matter," I stuttered. Damn tears. "Is there someone you want me to talk with?" I hoped she wasn't worthless like me. I hoped she had someone.

"You can't let them take the baby," she said weakly, her eyes darting from side to side. I think she wanted to move her head, and it wasn't responding. Delirium was setting in. "Promise me," she added.

"I..." my words caught when my eyes spotted movement in the back. An upside down car seat, still secured, contained a strapped in baby with wide open eyes looking at me like being upside down was normal. The child's thin hair was hanging straight down, moving with the turns of it's head.

"Shit!" I said too loud. I tried to crawl under the seat tops, failed and retracted myself quickly from the car. Ignoring the pain, I practically dove into the back window. It took way too long to decipher the car seat connections. The baby just looked at me, its upside down eyes barely blinking as they traveled around my face. It made no sound beyond blowing drool bubbles out the corner of its mouth. My only thought was to bring it to its mother. She had to see that her baby was okay. One could die in peace knowing that - I was sure of it. I silently cursed the insane engineer who designed the car seat.

When the seat finally broke free, I lowered it gently and turned the child around. It made a funny face, like an old man trying to struggle up a tall flight of stairs. A wet gurgling sound followed from within the seat. The smell that quickly grew was staggering. I ignored it as best I could. I pushed some flowered cloth bags out of the way and pulled the child, seat and all, out the window. The base of the seat barely fit. It wasn't going to make it into the front.

I set the car seat on the ground and started undoing more straps. Another moan from the front made me move faster. The child just watched me work, unconcerned it was 110 degrees out, and we would all likely soon die. I crawled carefully while keeping the smelly child at arms length. I scooted myself back in and sat the baby next to its mother, out of the pooling blood. My side was complaining fiercely, but I wasn't dying.

"Don't let them take her," the woman insisted. A struggled smile formed on her lips as her eyes took in the child.

"She's fine," I said, realizing it was a girl, "I'll make sure she gets where she needs too." The woman gritted her teeth and scrunched her eyes at some unknown wave of pain.

"You have to take her," the woman continued, "there's no one else." She paused to deal with more pain. How I wished I could ease it. I hated watching. "They'll come after you." I wasn't sure who she thought I was.

"I'm not someone you give a baby too," I said, "I'll get her to the police. I won't let anyone take her." I could promise no more, and I wasn't going to lie to a dying woman - delirious or not.

"No!" she shouted. It cost her a lot. I reached in to hold her hand again. This was harder than I ever imagined.

"She's special. They will try and take her," she was gasping for air, "you must not let that happen." I studied her carefully and no longer thought she was the mother. Something was screwed up. Maybe she was one of those crazy women who steals other's babies. Her breathing was coming in fits. "What's your name?" she asked during an exhale.

"Sam," I answered.

"Promise me, Sam," she struggled with the words. A damn dying wish.

"I can't take a baby," I insisted. Pot running was one thing; kidnapping was a whole different 20 years in prison.

"They will use her," she said, her eyes trying desperately to stay open. Who the hell uses babies? The woman needed the truth. It wasn't like she could turn me in.

"I'm two-bit drug mule," I said. The admission hurt. It was what I was, and I didn't see that ever changing. "I'm not fit to take care of a baby." The woman smiled a huge smile of forgiveness I didn't deserve. I wanted her to take it back.

"Take her to Portland," the woman pleaded. Blood was leaking from her mouth, ruining the smile. "Promise me you'll take her that far."

"Portland," I nodded, I knew I was lying. I was lying to a dying woman. I was truly shit.

"138 North Packard. Repeat it." The blood was making her words bubbly.

"138 North Packard," I said back. The baby babbled, joining in the lies I was telling.

"They will hunt you," She said, her eyes no longer focusing on me or anything else. Her delusions were getting stronger. "Sam!" she suddenly called out.

"I'm here," I said, moving my hand from her lifeless palm to her forehead.

"You will do it?" she pleaded again.

"Yes," I lied.

"Then know, I love you for it. I love..." Silence followed. Her eyes never closed when the breathing stopped. Damn tears. I pushed more of her hair away from her face. I couldn't stop the flood. I scooted back out the window, pulling the stinking baby out with me. I placed her in her car seat and looked at the nameless little girl.

"She loved me," I said softly. Words I hadn't heard since I was a child. The baby smiled at my memories. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, trying to let it go. She loved me, and I never asked for her name.

I pulled the baby and her seat into the little shade the side of the car offered. She babbled at the sound of the seat scraping along the sandpaper surface. I crawled back into the back window, pulling out the two flowery bags I ignored before. Hopefully, there was something in them. In my trunk, I only had a small overnight bag, pot, and a couple of blankets to cover the pot.

The first bag was the baby's. Diapers, wipes, and a six pack of warm juice boxes with two empty baby bottles. If there was a God, he sent the juice boxes. The devil must have sent the diapers. I couldn't in good conscience allow the child to sit in her poop now. The diapers were all loose without instructions. I fished deeper into the bag. A couple of rubber chew toys and a folded plastic mat, no diaper directions. I looked at the child.

"You know how to do this?" I said, holding up one of the diapers. She smiled.

"You're a stinky baby," I said, smiling back. This time I received a large toothless grin. I poked her tummy with the end of the diaper. "Stinky, stinky," I babbled. She could laugh. The death of the lady, my totaled car, and our slow demise to dehydration disappeared in that laugh. I had her unconditional attention and a selfishly abused it. Absorbing baby laughter seemed to lighten the misery. No matter what I did, as long as I smiled, she would break into her breathy laugh that cooled my ears. She was special alright.

I spread out the plastic mat in the shade of the car. I lifted the smiling baby and laid her gently on her back. She was wearing a red flowered matching shirt and pants. Her arms were reaching for me as I pulled off her pants while calling her Stinky. She seemed to adore the name. I found new and exciting ways to pronounce it. She loved it more. I learned I liked baby girls. Too bad they grow up to become picky and judgemental.

I looked carefully at how her diaper was attached. Taped at the front. I unfolded a new diaper and flipped it over so it would work like the current one. This wasn't going to be as difficult as I thought. I released the tabs on the tape and undid her diaper and pulled back the front.

"Oh...Stinky," I groaned, trying not to lose what little was in my stomach. She laughed at that too. It was brown with green streaks, smelling of sewer, and seemed to be everywhere. I placed my hand over her tummy, to keep her in place while I fished for the baby wipes I had seen in the bag. I tried not to look at the mess.

My hand began to tingle on her tummy, almost like it had gone to sleep. I grabbed the package of wipes with my other hand, turning my attention back to Stinky. The tingle had expanded up my arm, a strangely comfortable feeling. I slowed, watching her eyes take me in. My body embraced the pleasant feeling as it spread. My smile grew, my eyes closed. Peace, simple and pure, wrapped around me like a blanket.

An awe of life developed inside me. I remembered the first time I saw the vastness of the ocean, the desert sunset, and a baby deer in the woods. All of these spread like a soft fog in my mind. Each igniting an excitement in tomorrow. My place was comfortably defined, yet a vastness so unlimited was spread before me, and nothing seemed impossible. Most of what I had done before was no more than a lesson of what not to do. I had so much potential and knew what was needed. I saw the future, where I should be, a place where I mattered and had the respect of so many. There was no embarrassment, no failures or regrets. Happiness was such a simple thing.

I quickly pulled my hand away. The feelings dissipated like a receding tide. I breathed. She was very special.

"Who are you, Stinky?" I asked. The little smile factory gave me no answer I could understand.

Chapter 2 - Sam

Stinky's butt was disgusting. A newfound respect for my mother grew in me as I lifted legs, shifted them this way and that, using way too many wipes to remove the foulness. The tingling started again, so I switched hands which seemed to stall the effect.

"You're gross, Stinky," I said, trying not to gag. She just smiled. Anything I would say or do seemed to please her. "Your butts all red now. What did you eat? It's like toxic waste." More smiles and part of a laugh. I had to switch hands again.

"I got it on my damn fingers," I said, pulling another wipe out. Stinky seemed to enjoy my complaining. I had to admit, I enjoyed her smiles. I always figured being a parent was a sucker play. I was beginning to see the appeal. Her happiness was contagious.

I pulled away the soiled diaper and filled it with nasty wipes, folding the grossness away. I tucked the clean diaper under Stinky's red butt. It took me two tries at taping it shut. It was too loose the first time.

"There, isn't that better?" I asked her. She kicked her legs at me, obviously pleased with her clean ass. It was strange, looking down at her. At that moment, I was all she had. My hands found her feet and pumped them back and forth like she was riding a bike. She thought it was a fabulous game. The tingling began again. This time, I didn't let go.

Dreams, fabulous dreams. My own dreams made whole. Paths to achieving them no longer seemed insurmountable. My mental fortitude grew as fast as my potential. I saw how I could shape the world, adding instead of subtracting, building instead of weakening. I liked myself for the first time in years. I let go of Stinky's feet and breathed deep. She smiled. I knew then I would make good on my lies. Stinky was going to Portland. She was too important to ignore.

Stinky and I sat, splitting an apple juice box. I was able to squeeze half of it into one of the bottles without getting everything sticky. She was pretty good about helping to hold the bottle. We were partners in crime now. I had thrown the fouled diaper and wipes as deep into the desert as I could. The odor had been too much to bear. Stinky did nothing to stop me, so I labeled her an accessory to my blatant disregard for the Arizona littering laws. Stinky and I were badass.

Eventually, another vehicle would come down the road. It was a lonely two-lane road used mostly for ranch access. As the heat of the day wound down, someone would want to take a trip to civilization. If not, it would be a very long walk. One I wouldn't attempt with the sun up.

I settled Stinky into her car seat, buckling her back in. Leaving her in the shade, I retrieved the pot I had been transporting, wrapped it in one of the blankets and stashed it off the side of the road, behind a sequoia that was hosting a few scraggly bushes at its base. I was taking a risk that it wouldn't be found. Losing a delivery was not a healthy thing to do. Since I had stopped bleeding, I changed into a clean shirt I had in my travel bag. The other blanket, I used to cover the poor woman. A task I found difficult.

I couldn't find a purse and it didn't feel right to search the body. I wondered if I would ever know who loved me. The second bag from Stinky's car held some women's clothes and toiletries. At the bottom of the bag, I found a thick roll of twenty dollar bills. I transferred the few things of Stinky's into the diaper bag, plus the money. Just shy of three thousand dollars. Stinky's inheritance, more than enough to get us to Portland.

I looked at the time on my phone and thought I should wait thirty minutes before opening another juice box. I had it worked out to get us to sunset. It was so damn hot; even sweat evaporated before it could soak clothes. After it got dark, we would have to start walking. We spent our waiting time talking. Well, I talked, and Stinky listened. She was a wonderful listener, unlike all the women in my past. She laughed at my jokes and just about anything else I spoke about.

Two juice boxes later, I began to get concerned. Stinky was getting lethargic. Her reactions slowed, and the animation had left her arms and legs. I pulled her out of her chair and laid her back on the plastic mat in the shade. She felt warm, so I stripped her to her diaper. I used a clean diaper as a fan and created a breeze for her. She closed her eyes, her lips moving as if they were feeding. She slept as I fanned and worried.

I got it in my head that Stinky was my chance at redemption. I had done some pretty awful things in my life. Nothing like murder but screwing over others never bothered me. The strange hope that bled through Stinky was mind altering. I didn't understand it; I just accepted it. I made it my mission to preserve it. If I could do that, it would be like apologizing to the world and the world having to accept. She was my life raft. She was changing me, and it felt good.

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