She pulled the brim of her hat down to her eyes. It made it harder to look through the windows, but it was a necessary handicap. The upturned collar and the oversized coat didn’t disguise her figure well enough, and drivers rolled down their windows to yell obscenities at her while she waited. At long last, she spotted a car that was perilously close to the centerline breaking at each intersection, unsure of its turn.
It slowed at her corner. The driver leaned closer to the window, peering at the buildings trying to read the street name. Marisa charged at the door, the golden monkey leading the way, and leaped into the back seat. The doors were all left unlocked as she had predicted.
“Fucking Christ!” Asriel shouted. Stelmaria growled as the monkey was shoved into her side of the car.
Marisa used the center to fold up her coat and remove her identity obscuring hat. “Hello, darling.”
Asriel craned his neck around. His mouth was contorted into a mixture of surprise and disdain. “Are you here to rob me or are you expecting me to crawl back there with you? Either way, you’re out of luck.”
“Keep driving,” she instructed.
The cars behind them were starting to honk. One driver went around Asriel, a rude gesture prominent for him to appreciate. Asriel gripped the steering wheel and pressed his foot on the gas.
Marisa’s smile could be seen in the rear view mirror. “It’s clear Thorold was your instructor. You drive like an old man.”
Asriel spoke through his teeth, “I don’t usually drive at all.” He ran a hand through his hair, trying to smooth the sides down. Marisa cocked her to watch the fiddling. The presentation of the dark locks on his head hadn’t always been a concern. “I can see you watching me, Marisa. Say what you accosted me to say.”
She hadn’t prepared anything to open things with. She assumed that he would have his own grievances to air to fill the time. His eyes kept flicking to the mirror as he waited. Asriel adjusted the wheel and went over a lane to the right.
“Don’t you have a turn to find?”
Stelmaria had been relocated to the floor of the back row. Her tail curled dangerously close to Marisa’s ankle. The monkey made himself comfortable on the seat, his black eyes making it impossible to be sure where he looked. The windows weren’t tinted and the street lights showed into the car allowing anyone close enough a view of the inhabitants. Marisa leaned on the fact that nosy pedestrians or fellow cars would think he was her driver. The frayed fabric on his collar added to the narrative.
He turned into an alleyway and was pressing on the brake.
“Don’t stop the car,” Marisa blurted out.
“You want to jump out of a moving vehicle?”
Marisa bunched up her nose. “Create some variety. Don’t circle.”
“And what about my destination?”
She shrugged before pulling her coat back over her lap. Asriel stretched his neck to the left and right. His hand reached back and for a moment Marisa thought he was going to touch her. Instead, he went lower, scratching Stelmaria’s head. The daemon lifted her head to her counterpart and purred.
They made their way up and down the central streets. Each watched the nightlife going on around them. Drunks stumbled out of bars, couples clustered themselves in doorways, and no one looked twice at each other. One particularly belligerent bar fly threw his bottle of booze at the headlight of the car. His hazy gaze benefiting Asriel, only knicking the side. Asriel only groaned in response and sped out from the busy center.
Marisa met Asriel’s eyes in the mirror. The glow of the city lights dimmed as he turned into a residential neighborhood. Marisa shifted in her seat, positioning her feet so as not to accidentally bump into Stelmaria. She grabbed the back of the front passenger seat, and hoisted herself up and over. As she did, the car hit a curb, causing her to hit her head on the roof. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Asriel smirk. She huffed as she adjusted herself in the front. Asriel turned his head to look at her full on.
“Eyes on the road.”
“They won’t think I’m in your employ with you up here.”
Behind them, Stelmaria hopped back up in her rightful place. She pawed the leather between herself and the monkey.
Asriel continued to pester her. “Is this about your prototype designs?”
“What about my prototype designs?”
“Oh,” Asriel smiled, “Nothing you should worry about.”
Marisa crossed her arms. There was an annoying tap, tap, tap happening on the roof of the car. A few seconds later, it began to rain. “Will this deathtrap of yours run in this condition?”
“Yes, it will run fine.” His voice lowered, “Is this about Lyra?”
Marisa pursed her lips. It was unimaginative of Asriel to assume she would be here for that little girl. “Absolutely not.”
“Either your hand is about to be in my trousers or you’re about to start a fight. Or both. So please, get on with it.”
“Just keep driving, Asriel! Can’t you stay silent!”
“Is someone else going to jump in my car?”
She fiddled at the radio that Asriel had bluntly strapped into his car. The static overpowered the sound. Its piercing made them both wince. Asriel pushed Marisa’s hand out of the way, turning the radio off. She quickly turned it back on, smacking Asriel’s hand back for good measure, and found a station where a low monotone voice droned on about the news that had already been reported earlier that day.
Leaning back in her seat, Marisa looked out the window. From the look of it, Asriel was taking his time weaving through each street in the neighborhood. From this angle she couldn’t see how much gasoline was left in the car. A fleeting image of the car stalling crossed her mind. With the rain and the distance they had been creating from their homes, she figured they’d have to wait until Thorold was flagged down or Marisa identified an acquaintance who lived nearby. Of course, she wouldn’t say that Asriel was waiting in a car nearby, but construct some lie where she could get a lift back home.
The rain was coming down heavy and Asriel had to slow the car down. Marisa turned her head to look at her daemon. He had his hands in the fur around Stelmaria’s neck as he looked down at her. The snow leopard had her head rolled back on the seat. Her claws were kept appearing and retracting but she made no sudden movements.
Marisa put her hand on the wheel and began to take control of the steering.
“Fuck! You’re going to get us killed!”
“Let me drive!” She tugged at his clothes, signaling him to move. The car was still in motion with Asriel’s foot firmly planted on the gas. There was no sign of slowing down. Marisa climbed onto the driver’s seat before Asriel could leave it. “Move!”
“What is wrong with you?” Asriel moved his feet away from the pedals, Marisa’s replacing his. He struggled to slide out from under her and get to the other seat. The car turned back and forth on the road. They almost ran into the side of a house. “So this is a death pact.” He leaned his head against the passenger window.
Marisa returned the car to its own space on the road, but the speed picked up. She turned the corners quickly and smoothly. “Much better.” On the next turn, the wheels slid against the wet pavement sliding sideways until it gained traction again. Asriel gripped the side of the car. “This car is in terrible shape, by the way. The gears are in tatters. No doubt due to your handling.”
The voice on the radio began discussing the increase in child abductions. Neither Marisa or Asriel moved to indicate their increased attention. This frozen pose didn’t have to hold long considering the topic changed within mere minutes. None of the children were worth the trouble of describing in detail.
She was leading them out of the city, the presence of artificial light getting less and less frequent. The rain was not letting up any time soon and the intensity matched the volume on the radio. Marisa tried to turn up louder, but it was at its limit. The distance from the radio towers weren’t helping the grating sound either. Asriel reached over and shut the thing off before returning his hand to his side and tapping it against the door. Marisa could see him watching her, but she would not turn her head from the road. In the dark, it was impossible to tell how fast she was really going.
Looking in the rear view, the daemons continued on in their own world. Marisa stepped on the gas pedal harder. Asriel crossed his arms, getting comfortable in his seat. His head rested against the back and his eyes fluttered closed.
Marisa elbowed him. “Stay up.”
He didn’t move, only opened his eyes. “If this is going to go on all night, I’d like to do something mildly productive and get some rest.”
“There’s no gas to go all night.” She took one hand off the wheel and used it to lift Asriel’s head back in the upright position. “Don’t go to sleep.” Her fingers lingered at the nape of his neck. His hair was slightly wet with sweat. Marisa smiled to herself thinking of the nerves she set alight earlier before pulling away.
Asriel sighed, “There’s no one else out here. Pull over. Leave me some gas for my way back.”
“No,” she responded firmly, “I’ll circle back later.”
Asriel reached back again to his daemon. Only this time when he tried to stroke Stelmaria’s head, she bared her teeth at him. He pulled back in surprise, but did not test her further. It was almost too quiet to hear, but he could have sworn that the golden monkey was laughing at him. Instead of pulling his arm back to himself, he rested it on the back of the driver’s seat. It pushed at the hair hanging down Marisa’s back, but did not make contact with her neck.
A grinding noise came from the engine. The wheel stuttered in Marisa’s hands. She banged her palm against it and gritted her teeth. After looking around the dark road, she forced a harsh hair pin turn. She turned her head to Asriel and shrugged. Under her breath, a few words were muttered but they were all blended together. Asriel yawned so large he had to unlock his jaw.
The golden monkey leaped up, leaning his head so that it hung between the couple in front. He peered at his counterpart and then peered at Asriel. Asriel return the look with a raised eyebrow. They continued this staring contest until Stelmaria bit the monkey on his tale. Marisa hissed, jerking the wheel before regaining course again. Stelmaria pulled the monkey back and her returned the favor by sinking his teeth into one of her legs. Asriel was forced to remove his hand from the back of Marisa’s seat, rubbing his palm.
The way back was different. Marisa could feel every bump and crack on the road. It wasn’t just the oil coming up because of the rain. The metal of the car vibrated together against the shoddy infrastructure. In her mind she imagined tape and glue holding the engine together. This model was out of fashion a decade ago and though Thorold may be handy in the day to day, neither he nor Asriel were repairmen. At least there was no traffic. It’s horrible to return home going at a slow pace.
City lights grew up before their eyes. The shadows on their faces disappeared as Marisa raced into the safety of the skyscrapers. The route was different. She bypassed the residential roads she had Asriel circling in before and went straight for the heart. As they reentered society, Asriel turned the radio back on. The speaker announced several car accidents due to the heavy rain. There was one fatality and drivers were encouraged to exercise extreme caution for the rest of the night.
The engine sputtered as Marisa pulled into the nearest gas station. An oily looking man was taking a smoke break outside. The rain didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest.
“Ah, stillness. I’d almost forgotten what it felt like.” Asriel smiled with his teeth.
The corner of Marisa’s mouth twitched down. “Do you have enough to refill the tank?”
Asriel stuck his hand in his pockets. A handful of coins and paper jingled and crunched against his fingertips. “A half tank’s worth.”
Marisa swallowed hard. She leaned over, quickly grabbing Asriel’s face in her hands and kissed him. The force of it knocked their teeth together and Asriel felt blood sliding against his bottom lip. Outside, the greaseball wolf whistled through his teeth. Marisa pulled hard at the ends of Asriel’s hair before letting him go.
She snapped her fingers and the golden monkey leaped, attaching himself to her shoulders. The pair ducked their heads as they got out of the car and slammed the door. Asriel leaped back over to the driver’s seat and rolled down the window.
“You can’t walk home from here. The neighborhood…”
“I’d rather take my chances than be in there with you a second longer.”
Having forgotten her coat and hat, she had to turn back. Marisa tried to avoid eye contact while retrieving them from the back seat, but Stelmaria held them under her body. “Tell her to release my things,” Marisa commanded. Her clothes were already starting to soak through.
Asriel shook his head. “You’ll get back in this car and let me take you home.” Marisa glared at him. “I promise I won’t drop you by the door. It’ll be in shadows, just as you like.”
Stelmaria made room in the back, balling up the coat under her as she went. Marisa turned her head to look at the dark streets. The man was finishing his cigarette. As he toed it under his rubber boots he eyed Marisa. Asriel didn’t say another word as Marisa pulled herself back inside. The coat was released and she wrapped herself in it tightly before noticing a rip on one of the pockets.
As Asriel filled up the tank, Marisa curled herself in the corner of the car. Her collar obscured the lower half of her face.
The man shouted, “Need help there, boy?”
Asriel kept his head down, biding his time.
“That’s a dangerous thing you’re playing with there.” He stepped closer. His smile did not dim as the water beared down on him.
“I’m fine.” He returned the pump and got back behind the wheel before the main could utter his next quip. Asriel had the feeling he was a part of an inside joke he wasn’t in on. Marisa kept her gaze on the outside.
The car was back to its speeding and slowing at the intersections as Asriel tried to find the correct streets. Marisa did not offer her assistance in directions. On the way, they passed by the flare lights the authorities had left out on the street. The accident had already been towed away, just a bit of debris left behind. Asriel made a mental note to circle back and bag the scrap metal. It could be useful at a later time. The bright red light of the flares made Marisa wince and pull her face from the window.
She whispered, “Here. Close enough.” Before Asriel could open his mouth to protest, Marisa continued. “It’s a ten minute walk. Nine, if we’re being exact. And the neighborhood is completely harmless.”
“The worst thing in it will be you.” Asriel did not stop the car, but continued to get closer.
Marisa pulled her hat over head, her hand was on the door handle. She sat up, shoulders straight and tense. Asriel increased the speed so if Marisa made any attempt to jump, she’d have bruises and scars to explain away on top of her rain soaked clothes. He hit the brakes hard. They both had to brace themselves against the jolt. The car had stopped around the corner from her building’s entrance.
She hopped out of the car and rushed to the looming complex without looking back. Asriel pressed his foot on the gas, engine grumbling down the quiet street before Marisa could get through the door.