House On Fire
House On Fire

Chapter 1 – Hi, I’m Annie

The day started like any other. I was flung out of a deep sleep by the deafening chirp of my phone alarm, growing ever louder until I finally gave in and wrestled myself out of my blanket. The sweet aroma of coffee helped to ease my annoyance. I shuffled to the bathroom to take care of business, then headed to the kitchen to get my morning cup of Joe. As I took a sip from my teddy bear-adorned mug, I noticed an unfamiliar car parked in the driveway.

The car’s presence caught me off guard, and I momentarily panicked. I rushed to my room to get dressed, expecting someone to knock on my door at any moment. After quickly putting on some sweatpants and a t-shirt, I made my way to the front door. But still, there was no knock. As I cautiously peeked through the curtains, I realized that the car’s trunk was partially open and the passenger’s door was left ajar. I hadn’t noticed in my haste to make myself presentable. My curiosity was piqued, and I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening.

After checking the backdoor for my potential guest and not seeing anyone, I threw my shoes on and went outside. I slowly strolled down my driveway, looking for anyone wandering around. There wasn’t a soul out this early. The only people out at six-thirty in the morning in small towns are old-timers making their way to the coffee shops. The only sound that filled the air was the harmonious chorus of birds singing their morning songs together.

Someone might have had a flat tire and pulled into my driveway for safety. I looked down and checked the tires, but they all seemed fine. When I peered into the opened passenger’s door, I noticed that the keys were still in the ignition. Moving cautiously to the open trunk, I saw empty boxes of rifle ammunition and a bulletproof vest. While the ammunition boxes didn’t seem particularly unusual, given the presence of hunters in the area. The vest seemed odd. I wondered if it belonged to an off-duty police officer. I decided to leave everything as I found it and return inside to wait for the car’s owner to show up.

As I was closing the front door, I heard a loud bang, like a gunshot. I immediately flung the door open, and another shot rang out, followed by a bloodcurdling scream.

My adrenaline kicked into overdrive as I ran toward the noise. As I reached the edge of my front yard, I saw a woman dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, complete with combat boots and an ammo belt slung over her shoulders. She held a large rifle in one hand. Down the street, a lifeless body lay face down in a pool of blood.

As if sensing my presence, the woman slowly turned towards me. I stood there frozen in fear, thinking I was next. I shouted, “Is everything okay?” She hurriedly turned and started towards me. “Which is your house? We need to get inside.” She demanded.

“Is that your car in my driveway? What’s going on?”

“Let’s get inside; I’ll explain.” She exclaimed.

“You’re not going to use that gun on me, are you?”

She smiled slightly, “I wouldn’t want to waste my ammo.”

Her dirty blonde hair bounced in her face as she marched towards me. She was a beautiful woman. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five years old, athletic, maybe five foot eight.

She threw the gun and ammo belt in the trunk and slammed it shut, then grabbed something from the glove box and put it in her pocket before closing the passenger door. Flinging her golden hair over her shoulder as she said, “Let’s go.”

We made our way inside; she sat at the kitchen table and stared at the window. I nervously made my way to the kitchen counter.

“Care for some coffee?” I asked, trying to keep my voice from trembling.

“No, thank you.” She seemed pretty calm for someone who just apparently killed someone. I didn’t feel threatened, though, as her demeanor was somewhat soothing. Still confused and curious, I decided to beat around the bush with the questioning, as I didn’t want to piss her off.

“Do you need a phone to call the police?” I ask curiously.

“Please don’t; they are useless.” she shot back.

She slowly mustered the courage to tell me what had happened. I grabbed a towel and ran it under the faucet so that she could clean the blood from her face.

The woman quickly explained that her husband was involved with a dangerous drug cartel from South Texas. A deal had gone wrong, and he had lost a significant amount of their money, causing the cartel to come after him. She had been on the run for almost a year, but they always seemed to find her. She claimed that high-level government officials were also involved, leaving her with no one to turn to for help.

That was the gist of what I could make out from her ramblings. She seemed more troubled by the circumstances that led to the killing than the act itself. I couldn’t be sure if she had paranoid schizophrenia or was genuinely in grave danger.

It can be difficult to determine if someone is suffering from a mental illness, especially in a stressful situation. However, whether she was mentally disturbed or not was not the immediate concern. The important thing was that she believed she was in danger. I decided to proceed cautiously with my questions and pretend to believe her story to put her at ease. By doing this, I hoped she would eventually let her guard down and reveal some truth about what was happening.

“They aren’t going to come after me now that you are here, are they?”

“Not anymore…” She sighed with a straight face.

“Do you have anywhere to go?”

“Not anymore; my house was burned down last week.” She said with a sarcastic smile.

“Do you have any family that can help you?”

“They are all in Mexico, and I can’t get across the border. They are watching for me.”

I hadn’t noticed that she was Mexican. Blonde hair fit her perfectly, and she had no accent. If she had not told me that, I would never have guessed that she was.

“Oh wow, I never would have guessed that you were Mexican.” I quipped.

“Yeah, it’s a dye job, don’t you see the roots? I haven’t been to a salon in weeks.”

“Oh, I see it now; it looks terrible!”

My terrible joke landed as she started giggling—the perfect time for a personal question.

“Um, what is your name anyways?”

She gathered herself, sat upright, and forced a big smile on here face.

“Hi, I’m Annie.”

Chapter 2 – Hi, I’m Joe

The wale of police sirens started off in the distance, and began growing louder. I ran towards the window to see if the neighbors had made their way outside yet. Surely they heard the gunshots. It was so loud the birds flew off in every direction. But no one was outside. Maybe they were just afraid. After all, any sane person wouldn’t go running outside toward gunfire. I thought about how dumb it was that I did. Now I have a murderer inside my house, and the police are coming. Good thing I don’t have to work today.

What should I do? Should I run outside and let the police know she is in here, or do I hide the girl? I mean, if that is a bad guy that was after her, should she have to pay for his murder? And where is her husband? I need more time to get the story straight.

“We need to go!” Annie suddenly became panicked at the sound of sirens. “Don’t you want to tell them what happened?” I was curious about her answer. Her tone may let me know if she was lying or not. “You don’t understand; the police are looking for me.” Her whole demeanor had changed.

“Yeah, I know, you just killed someone. Look, you need to tell me what’s actually going on.”

“If you just get me out of here, I’ll explain everything.”

“Me? Why don’t you just take your car and go?” I demanded.

She seemed hurt that I would even consider letting her go alone. Again, she pleaded for me to take her away from here. I’ve been single for three years. Having a beautiful woman ask you to take her anywhere is hard to turn down. I knew in the back of my mind I would as soon as she asked. I was using my leverage to get answers.

The cops had made their way to the crime scene at this point. It was only a matter of time before they started going door to door asking questions. Acting quickly, I decided to get her out of there and ask questions on the way.

I told her to get her stuff and meet me in the garage; I would take her wherever she wanted.

Expecting her to run outside to her car, she went straight through the kitchen to the garage. “Let’s go!” she said.

As the garage door slowly opened, I tried to convince myself that this was a good idea. I slowly backed my pickup around her car and headed in the opposite direction of the body. The police paid us little attention. I fully expected them to stop us and ask if we saw anything. But they were busy processing the scene. It was only a matter of time before they noticed her beat-up car in my driveway.

Once I got a block away, my attention turned back to Annie. “OK, Start talking.”

With little reserve, she started telling me what had happened.

“OK, so my husband, Eric, was a truck driver. A few years ago, he was laid off. He met a guy named Juan, who gave him a job running back and forth to Mexico to haul avocados to a warehouse in Oklahoma. But the avocados were filled with the heroine. When Eric found out what he was hauling, he tried to quit. But Juan said he would kill him if he did.

So Eric got mad and sold the next load he picked up to one of Juan’s competitors. Juan sent his accomplices to our house and killed Eric in our bed. I was in the bathroom when it happened. I cracked the door open and saw them, and they saw me.

They came running towards me, but I made it out of the window just in time. I hid in the neighbor’s yard until they left. I grabbed my keys and money, got in the car, and left. They have been coming for me ever since.”

“Why didn’t you just go to the police?” I asked

“Because one of the henchmen was wearing a policeman’s uniform.” she snipped back, wide-eyed.

“OK, I know where we can go. I have a cabin in the hills that I use on weekends.”

“Thank you so much. So what is your name anyways?”

“Hi, I’m Joe.”

Once we got out of the city limits, I started calming down a little bit. Clarity started setting in as well. Scenarios start running through my mind. Should I drive to a police station and turn her in? What if she isn’t crazy? How could I possibly help her? Why did she want to take my vehicle? She didn’t bother to take any weapons when she could have easily grabbed hers before we took off.

The last thought started bugging me. Why wouldn’t she take her weapons? Her DNA would be all over that car. Why wouldn’t she move it into the garage before we left?

I was thinking of a way to ask her the questions that were bugging me. Pissing her off at this point is not in the cards. I am still determining what she is capable of. I decide to ask small questions to gauge whether she has her faculties.

But first, I need gas. I stop at the Love’s truck stop before we get on the interstate.

I was planning to return to the cabin this weekend, so I had a few groceries there already, but we would need more food if we were stuck there for a long time. “How long do you think we need supplies for?” I asked. “We should only need a couple of days’ worth, I think,” she replied.

As we pull into the truck stop, I freak out. Did I grab my wallet? This could be bad. In my haste to snatch my keys, I’m hoping I grabbed it out of habit. It was sitting in the same place. I checked immediately after I threw the truck in park. Ah, good ole perpetual Joe, it’s in my back pocket.

We head in for supplies first, each going our own way. I decided Twinkies were a must for the trip, so I grabbed a box and headed to the chip aisle. It looks like junk food will be on the menu for the next few days. If things go well, I might get some fishing in while I’m there. I could make the best of it.

We meet at the register at the same time. A big smile comes across my face as I see she has two boxes of Twinkies among her supplies. She said, “I got two boxes in case you try to steal mine.” I smiled; I think I’m getting a crush on this girl.

Being a gentleman, I offer to pay for her things. Annie politely accepted. I pay for our things, and we head out to gas up.

As I hop into the truck, Annie is staring at me. “What’s up?” I asked. She gazed off into the distance. Her eyes quickly met mine again. “I haven’t told you everything.” she sounded embarrassed to explain.

“What haven’t you told me? You’re making me more nervous now.”

She went on, “Eric isn’t real. I’ve never been married.”

I could tell by how she said it that she still wasn’t telling me the whole story, only bits, and pieces. I gave her a look of disappointment and drove off.

Chapter 3 – The Cabin

I didn’t say a word for the next ten minutes. Strangely enough, with every red flag she throws at me, I don’t hesitate to keep on with this charade. She is obviously lying to me, but I keep going for reasons I don’t seem to understand.

After I had successfully made my way onto the freeway, I settled for the journey ahead. Finally, breaking my silence, I asked her what she wanted from me. Sounding worried that my allegiance was breaking, she responded, “I only need a place to lay low for a few days, I swear.” Her response didn’t reassure me, she sounded so sincere, but the pieces didn’t fit together.

She put herself on task to break the silence by asking me about myself. I obliged by letting her know my entire story. I’ve always been an open book.

I told her about my wife leaving me three years ago and taking my daughter with her. They had moved to Florida, and I hardly got to see her. My daughter is 17 now and has more important things going on than keeping up with her father living halfway across the country.

As I told my story, I began realizing how lonely I truly am. This has become a weakness. I need to keep that in mind with Annie. Having a soft spot for the damsel in distress could get me killed.

Annie listened with great intent as if she were studying for a test. As soon as I would catch myself rambling, she would keep me going. I could sense an ulterior motive, but I enjoyed telling my stories so much that I didn’t care. I had been alone for awhile so it was good to get my feelings out for a change.

Finally realizing that she was keeping me from asking her the questions, I snapped out of it. “Enough about me; if Eric isn’t real, what is going on?” She seemed frustrated that her plan didn’t work. “Look, I’m not dangerous, I swear; just get me out of this area, and I promise I’ll tell you everything.”

I nodded begrudgingly. The rest of the trip was silent. Annie slumped down in her seat, pulled out a watch from her pocket, and stared at it for the longest time. She was rubbing it with her thumb as if in deep thought. Add that to the list of weird things this girl has done.

The clock said 4:44 pm as we pulled into the cabin. I was relieved to get out of that truck and off my ass. Annie seemed to love the little place. It was barely 800 square feet with one bedroom. I redecorated it after the divorce. It was a man’s cabin now, I thought. My version of decorating was taking all the girly things out that my wife had put in over the years. The porch ran the entire length of the building and had a swing and a few rocking chairs. Viewing the lake in the evening was a favorite pass time of mine.

Cabin on the lake
Cabin on the lake

Annie ran up and plopped down on the swing like she had just won the lottery and bought her first house. Her behavior struck me as peculiar, given that she had taken someone’s life not even 12 hours prior. Meanwhile, I retrieved the supplies from the truck and headed inside. My stomach was grumbling, so I rummaged through the leftovers in the fridge from last weekend and began preparing dinner. I had originally intended to return this weekend for some fishing anyway.

I peeked out the window to see what Annie was doing. She was still quietly swinging on the front porch as if in deep thought, glaring at the lake while rubbing that watch.

As it turned out, I had two steaks left and enough potatoes to feed an army. We will eat well tonight anyway.

I made Annie and myself a plate along with a couple of glasses of sweet tea and headed to the porch. When she saw me attempting to stumble out the door like a waiter on his first day of work, she hopped up to help. “Oh my god, thank you, it smells so good. I haven’t eaten anything all day.”

We both wolfed down our plates in no time flat. With my belly full, I was ready to get down to business. I’m a curious person, so I needed to know what happened this morning. I slapped my knees and said, “OK, I got you away from town; you are safe out here. Now, please tell me the truth.” I sat up in my seat with full attention, ready for story time. I’ve earned it, I thought.

She smiled and said, “I don’t think you could handle my truth. Give me the keys to your truck so I know you won’t run away.”

I dropped an eyebrow in confusion and thought, Why would I run? Then I called her bluff and reached into my pocket, grabbed my keys and tossed them to her. Part of me expected her to get up and run for the truck. What she did instead shocked me.

Annie threw my keys into her leather jacket, reached behind her back, and pulled out a pistol. She sat the gun on her lap and sat back in her seat. “Relax and sit back; I’m going to tell you everything.” she quipped nonchalantly.

Her whole demeanor changed back to how she approached me in the driveway. The damsel in distress bit was just that, a bit.

She started talking like a villain revealing their evil plans just before they committed to them. “I was never married; I am a contractor. If you need someone taken care of, I’m your girl. That man on the road this morning was one of your neighbors; his ex-wife hired me to take care of him for her. No one was after me; I needed a place to stay until everything died down. I don’t usually take care of someone that way, but he woke up, saw me, and ran. I got sloppy.”

“But why would you leave your car and all of those guns in the car at my house?” I asked curiously.

“I stole that car from the guy his ex-wife was sleeping with while they were married; that car was the motive,” she said with a grin.

“Do you have to kill me now, too?” I assumed the answer was yes. My heart was pounding at this point.

“Are you going to turn me in?”

There was something about this girl; I would never in a million years think about turning her in. I would rather kiss her. The thought rang so loudly in my head that I blurted it out.

“I’d rather kiss you!” I roared, almost yelling.

Annie laughed at my embarrassment and said, “Slow down there, Tiger. I think I’ll keep you around, but if you cross me, I’m not afraid to use this.” She wiggled her pistol towards me and then put it back in her jeans.

She got up and said she was going to take a shower. I went to my favorite recliner and turned on the television. She waited around to make sure I was getting cozy. “I’m not going anywhere,” I said with a smile.

Annie had been in the bathroom for almost two hours when she finally appeared; she looked completely different. She had dyed her hair a dark brown, and her nose was totally different. Now she looked Mexican, and wow, she was even more beautiful than before.

She wiggled her prosthetic nose piece at me and laughed. I can’t believe I didn’t notice. She was wearing a ton of makeup, so it blended in perfectly. I stared at her beautiful face and thought, My god, I’m falling in love with a murderer.

I tried to play it cool and told her she looked different while trying to stay as calm as possible. But she knew she had me wrapped around her little finger already. She didn’t seem to perceive me as a threat.

“We need a drink,” I said confidently. Making my way to the kitchen, I grabbed a couple of glasses and my fifth of Wild Turkey off the fridge. Annie seemed hesitant to take a drink at first. I immediately threw mine back and began pouring another. She smiled and did the same.

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