Fiction in a Flash Challenge
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The City of Dreams
The iconic Hollywood sign was more garish in the bright California sun than Beth expected. She’d dreamed of this moment for so long, it didn’t seem real.
She reached for her cheap Polaroid camera, hesitated, then shrugged and quickly snapped the photo before the tour bus chugged out of the view point. Her parents might not care, but her young sister, Sara, would. She’d begged to come with Beth, but their father wouldn’t hear of it.
“If your sister wants to run off and get herself into who-knows-what kind of trouble, that’s up to her. She’s old enough to do what she wants. But you ain’t, and I say you’re not going anywhere.”
Yep, that was dear old Dad. Cripes, would it be so hard for him to say something nice? Just once? For as long as she could remember, their family had scrambled to keep food on the table. Yet, now that Beth had been offered a small part in a feature film, her parents acted as though she was betraying them in some crazy way.
Her mother cried buckets when Beth packed up her things. “Something bad is going to happen, I just knows it. You should be staying home, getting married, and raising a family like your daddy and I did.”
She’d wrung her hands and sank wearily onto the old feather tick mattress. “I already lost your brother, what am I going to do without you?”
The guilt had set in then. Beth’s brother, Marcus, had died in a farming accident the year before and it had destroyed the family. Daddy never smiled anymore, and Momma… she was a shell of the person she’d been. It hurt Beth to see them like that. All the more reason to earn enough money to take some of the financial burden off their shoulders. Maybe then they could start to heal.
She opened the camera case and pulled out a stack of pictures she’d taken since starting this journey. Some were obvious tourist shots, like the one taken at sunset on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though it thrilled her to think she might be there one day herself. She held up her latest, and most precious photo- the Hollywood sign. The epitome of all her dreams was within reach.
All she had to do was…
A sudden scream from the front sent Beth’s heart scrambling up her throat. She grasped the back of the seat in front of her and tried to see past all the heads. Was that…? Holy smokes, it was. Some guy stood at the front of the bus waving a gun in the air. He yelled something to the driver, spittle flying from his mouth. The bus lurched like a drunk on a sidewalk as the brakes were applied, bringing them to a dust choking halt on the side of a gravel road.
And that’s when Beth realized they were in serious trouble.
While she’d been looking at her photos, they had apparently left the paved highway heading into the city and were now somewhere in the middle of nowhere with nothing but scrub brush for company. Well, that and the black eighteen wheeler sitting on the side of the road like a hulking shadow.
The screams grew in volume as the front passengers were herded off the bus. That is until the man with the gun shot the driver. Blood, and Lord knows what, sprayed the window by his head. Things got real quiet after that.
Three men stood outside, rifles resting on their shoulders, dark hats pulled over their eyes. Beth kept thinking, praying, it was all a mistake, or better yet, one of those action movies her brother had snuck out to the drive in to watch. But, inside she knew, this was no movie and she was no actress. She was a girl from Alabama who wanted to be home in her own bed waking from a nightmare with her mother’s comforting arms around her shoulders.
The detective frowned and squinted into the fading light. Three months and three separate disappearances. The traffickers were brazen. They didn’t even bother to cover their tracks this time; the clear treads of a semi were left in the dusty ditch line. Not that it would do them much good. There were thousands of trucks on the road every damn day. It was like finding a needle in a haystack.
He glanced down at the photo in his gloved hand. The Hollywood sign outlined in umber. Close to dusk then. So many came here in search of success. He could have told them Hollywood was the place dreams come to die.