Cage had been watching them for hours. Sweat collected around the outer rims of her dark eyes. She wiped it away and pushed a pair of binoculars into the grooves of her eye sockets. The dusty lands of Idaho on either side of the empty two-lane highway beckoned for rain, but she focused on the people who filtered in and out of the gas station, one at a time. This would work to her advantage.
It was broad daylight, and the April sun bore down on Cage's back with violence. Her gray jacket felt heavy around her shoulders. It protected her. Its collar roughly stroked her face. Sweat permeated her clothes. She didn't care. She liked to sweat; it made her feel alive.
She felt eyes on her back. She lifted herself to standing position, careful to straddle her motorcycle between her legs. She knew when she was being watched. She could feel it, the sense of violation and distrust that came from behind. She dropped the binoculars to her side and turned her head slightly right. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him standing atop a hill in the distance.
"Old man," she whispered to herself, "you really have to follow me everywhere?"
Focusing her attention forward, Cage resumed her search for the perfect victim. She didn't have much time, as the gas station had cleared, save one car. She glared into the binoculars and noticed a woman filling her gas tank. Cage felt the instinct to make her move.
Feeling the hard seat of the motorcycle between her legs, she flipped the ignition. The engine drummed into her bloodstream, and she smiled. Revving the engine with the squeeze of her hand, she was off. The hot wind oppressed her face as she breathed. She pulled a pair of black sunglasses from the side pocket of her jacket and slid them on to protect her eyes from the dust.
She pulled in to the nearly deserted station and parked beside a pump, just beyond the woman's car. She sat for a moment, allowing the motorcycle to lean against her left leg, and eyed the woman over her shoulder. She shifted her attention to the distant hills and noticed her watcher, standing there. She rolled her eyes.
The woman sauntered into the station. Centering the bike, Cage lifted her leg over its body and pushed the kickstand down against the sandy ground with her foot.
Stepping to the back of the motorcycle, Cage lifted an empty gasoline container from the bike's rear storage component. Bending over to remain unseen, Cage shuffled quickly over to the car. Her heart raced with excitement. This process was second nature to her by now, but she still enjoyed the thrill of it.
Cage stopped near the edge of the car's back door and knelt down, placing the red container on the ground next to her. She listened for the sounds of anyone approaching, but only heard the whistling of the wind.
Looking up, she found access to the tank and pulled the little door open with her long fingers. Twisting the black knob until it popped open, she kept one eye on the highway. Still empty. She was good.
She pulled a clear tube from inside the gas container. Remaining in a crouch, she quickly fed the tube into the tank. She blew air into it and listened as the gas inside bubbled. Perfect.
Taking a deep breath in, she blew heavily into the tube, pushing air deep inside the gas tank. The hot plastic stuck to her lips. Suddenly, the golden fluid streamed down into the gas container.
As the container filled, Cage lifted her head slightly above the back of the car. Through the station’s glass walls she searched for the car’s driver who was nowhere to be seen. She glanced back down at the container. It was full.
She twisted the container closed and tucked it under her arm. Bending down and jogging back over to the motorcycle, she slid the container back into the rear compartment. Standing up, she took a deep breath and laughed. She never failed at siphoning gas. She felt empowered taking it from a nameless woman that she felt represented a society she had detested since she was a child.
Cage twisted open the oil cap on the motorcycle. She pulled off her sunglasses and checked its level, noting that it was also low. She would have to go inside. She surged into the station and sought out the woman, who was standing in front of a row of glass doors, staring into them at an obnoxious variety of drinks. Above the woman's head, Cage noticed the red lettering of an Amber Alert scroll along a narrow, black screen, "17 YR OLD FEM CAUCASIAN...ORANGE HATCHBACK...VIRGINIA LICENSE #AEI 067..."
"Bullshit," Cage thought. She always wondered what the truth was behind these "Amber Alerts". She wasn't one to believe in anything The Industry said.
She wasn't one to believe in anything The Industry said.
While the woman remained distracted, Cage approached her from behind. Her eyes followed the woman's clothes, down to her pockets and the purse on the side of her body. A hint of folded green paper stuck out from the woman's back pocket. Cage turned a corner around the isle where the woman stood. She turned her body against the woman's back and slid by, rubbing against the woman's bottom.
"Excuse me, sorry." Cage turned as the woman was pushed forward by Cage's back.
"Oh," the woman eyed Cage, "that's okay."
Cage turned the corner into the next isle and lifted her hand, noticing a twenty-dollar bill in her fingers. This was her lucky day.
Rounding the corner toward the front of the station, Cage watched the woman place a drink and a bag of chips onto the counter. Cage stopped and stood behind the woman with a liter of oil hanging from her hand.
"Shoot." The woman reached into her back pocket. "I just had a 20 in here."
The woman glanced at Cage. Cage lifted her eyebrows unassumingly.
"Where's my money?" The woman continued to eye Cage.
"Huh? Are you asking me?"
"Yes. You bumped into me back there."
"And? That was an accident. You were sprawled out in the middle of the isle staring at those damn drinks. I wasn't paying attention to how close I was to you so sorry I bumped into you, but I didn't take your fucking money if that's what you're insinuating."
"Yes. Give me back my money!" The woman raised her voice.
"Ladies, you need to take this outside, okay. You can't be arguing in my store." The man
behind the counter spoke.
Cage stood her ground, staring at the woman and waiting for her to respond. She
wanted to smile, but she refrained. She did not fear getting caught. This gave her a rise, a
feeling of excitement that she needed in order to feel alive.
The woman turned and pulled a wallet from her purse. She slapped a credit card down on the counter, huffing and staring out the window at her car. The woman had given up, and Cage reveled in her success.
Exiting the store while avoiding eye contact with Cage, the woman stomped off to her car. Cage grinned as she used the woman's bill to pay for her oil. The cashier stared at her.
"What?" She glared at him.
"Did you steal this from her?"
"Coincidence." She shrugged.
"Right." The man said.
Cage left the station as the woman's car drove off and down the road. She filled the motorcycle with the oil and placed the remaining liter of liquid in beside the gas container. From behind, she heard a semi nearing the station. Her head turned. It was double-wide, gray steel, with open slats evenly spaced to provide access to air.
"Shit!" Cage said aloud, "a transport truck!"
The truck passed the station at a furious speed, kicking up dust that sprayed Cage's eyes.
Cage jumped onto the motorcycle and turned the engine. The gas gauge glowed in red, nearing empty. She hoped it would be enough.
Cage turned right, felt the road beneath her body, and followed behind the truck. The wind slapped against her face, throwing the occasional flying insect into her line of view. Her blonde-streaked hair remained held back in its tie. After about three miles, Cage spotted the gas gauge again. She would have to stop soon.
The truck had been holding steady about 500 feet ahead of her. Cage peered through the open slats along the trailer's back side. Feathers stuck out and often times fell into the wind. Chickens. Their bodies pressed against the slats, legs and wings hanging out as if they were squeezed in too tight, overflowing with dread.
The truck was a symbol of the nasty direction this country had taken since even before Cage was born, everything about this country that she hated. She battled within for a way to take the whole thing down. She felt her heart flip with anger and her stomach turn with every chicken's beak that poked out into the world as if to beg for reprieve.
The terrain shifted. Trees lined the highway in random groups. Spotty patches of grass mixed in with the increasing hillsides. The two-lane highway expanded into three. Though the truck still loomed on in front of her, she was no longer alone with it; other vehicles joined the traffic flow and passed all around her.
Cage did not like being this close to civilization. She grew increasingly anxious. She was relieved to see the transport truck meander off the highway into a rest stop. She followed behind with the last reserve of her bike’s fuel.
She followed the CARS ONLY sign that led to a half-empty parking lot. To her left, the transport truck came to a rest beneath some trees. Cage stopped the motorcycle and shut off the engine. She watched as the driver stepped out and came around the front of the truck.
"Fat prick," Cage whispered as she rested the bike on the kickstand.
After the driver disappeared into the restaurant, she stepped away from the motorcycle and sauntered over to the truck.