18 June 2010

"It's Not the Heat, It's the Stupidity"

By Curtis C. Chen

The elastic snapped and flew out of Maria's hand before she could wrap it around her hair. She cursed and held her ponytail in place while searching for another elastic. If she let go, the hair would fall and stick to her sweat-soaked skin.

Maria continued walking to keep the air moving over her skin. It hadn't rained for weeks. She looked forward to getting back to her apartment and sitting in front of the ancient air conditioner. Noisy, but it worked.

There it is. She pulled a hair elastic out of her back jeans pocket and tilted her head down to tie up her ponytail. The pavement curved right. Just a few more minutes, a quick jog up the always-stuffy stairwell, and she could cool off.

Just a few more weeks, and she'd be out of the city forever.

Somebody whistled ahead of her. "Lookin' good, senorita!"

Maria looked up. Three cholos sat on the front steps leading into her building, one of them built like a tank, another adorned with tattoos, the third holding an unlit cigarette between his lips. All three wore blood-red bandanas.

Perfect. That's just perfect.

She slowed her pace and lowered her hands to her sides. The men watched her—not looking for threats, but ogling her figure. Maria had considered the risks when choosing her outfit this morning, but her desire for comfort had outweighed her modesty. She stopped a few feet from the nearest cholo and turned out her pockets.

"That's all I got, guys," Maria said, holding out two dollar bills and her go-phone. "Take it or leave it."

Non-Smoker stood up, shaking his head. "Don't want your phone. But we sure gonna take something. Ain't that right, boys?"

"I like what I see," Tattoo grunted.

"I'd like to see a little more," said Tank.


Maria looked up and down the street. Empty. Chances were somebody would notice three gang-bangers raping a woman in broad daylight and probably call 911...

"Look," she said, "I'm not going to fight, but can we at least go inside? This is my building. It's got AC."

"Hey, no problem," Non-Smoker said, stepping aside. "Anything to make your experience more... pleasurable."

They snickered as she walked up the steps and unlocked the door, then followed her inside. She waited until she heard the door click shut again.

"Damn!" said Non-Smoker. "You need to talk to your landlord, girl, because this air is not conditioned—"

Maria whirled around with her wrists together and palms forward, her fingers curved around an invisible ball. She whispered three syllables, and a wave of energy rippled from her hands and through the cholos. The three bodies smashed up against the closed door and turned to ash. Their clothes and bandanas fell into a dusty heap.

Three more souls, Maria thought. I'm never going to get out of this damn city.

On the bright side, the spell had been endothermic, taking heat energy out of the surrounding air. She actually had a pleasant walk up the stairs for once.


Photo: downtown Portland, June, 2009