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There are moments that define you, and moments you define.

In the Gutter, that's the difference between tragedy and poetry.

Trafficked by Mike Loniewski

He drove a Peterbilt 389 with Oklahoma plates. Dog tags swung from the rearview, the dash cluttered with invoices and empty packs of USA Gold cigarettes. His rig snaked through the Gulf Coast and on through the barren, sand streaked plains of South Texas, along the I-10, past tiny border towns that sprouted up like clusters of desert weeds.

The stops were dotted across the route, and as forklifts unloaded pallets of freight, he’d open his flip phone and call.
“Now, slide on over to the left,” he’d say. “Stop when you see the words Fort Stockton.”
“Fort Stockton,” the sweet voice on the other line would say. “Okay! I found it!” She’d shout to someone across the room. “Grandma! I found daddy!”
They’d play the game at every stop, each one bringing him closer to home.
“Where you going next?”
“I’m going to loop up to a place called Odessa—can you see it?”
“Uh, yup, got it!”
“Then right on home.”
“Right on home?”
Odessa was never on the list. Neither was El Paso.
The flow of traffic seeped into the arteries that fed across the border. Lane nine was bought and paid for and, with forged paperwork, the border officers waived him through.
Once in Mexico, he checked the gun in his boot, security for a road littered with bandits. Federal Highway 45 brought him through the outskirts of Juarez and into open desert that grew black in the night.
He reached the hog farm before dawn. People were lead into a trailer like hobbled cattle, frightened and skittish. He climbed out of his cab and saw the eyes of a young girl, wide and dark, her face dirt-smudged and beautiful. She was terrified.  
They tucked themselves behind false walls, pinned in cramped spaces, hiding like desperate rats, no longer human. The trailer doors shut and locked them in darkness. With the load secure, the ranch hands tossed him an envelope of cash and a new set of forged paperwork.
The sun began to split the horizon as he raced back up the 45. Their air was in short supply, and he thought of the girl’s face. In the road was a pick-up. There were men with ski masks, guns. They weren’t police. They fired into the road, and forced the truck to stop.
He was pulled from the cab and thrown onto the pavement, a boot stepping on his neck. They took the envelope of cash.
“This is Los Narcos Highway, gringo,” they said. “There’s a toll to pay.”
They opened the trailer, tore through useless freight, and on into the hidden compartments that concealed the desperate stowaways. They were dragged out of the trailer and onto the desert sand. He saw the girl with tears down her beautiful cheek. The Narcos were touching her.
Podemos divertirnos con este,” one of them said.
They were hooting and cackling, and he made his move. From his boot he pulled the handgun, and fired into a Narco’s skull. He grabbed the rifle and squeezed, like they taught him in basic, the bullets shredding another’s chest. Something snapped into his belly, knocking him on his ass. He saw the last Narco from under the truck, and cut the bandit down.
He stumbled to his feet, bleeding from his gut, and ordered the stowaways back in the trailer. He watched the little girl, staring at him like some bloodied angel.

“It’s all right,” he said.   
He drove on, the shifter slick with blood. He was pale, the pain gnawing inside his gut. He fought with the wheel and the gears and the blood until he reached the border. The paperwork and money did its job and the truck rolled on. He drove through El Paso, past the only hospital, to an open stretch of lonely road. He staggered out, blood-soaked and dying, and opened the trailer doors. He watched them all scatter, the girl never looking back.
In the cab, he opened the flip phone and called. “Can you get that map, darling?” he asked. “Put your finger on El Paso.”
“Got it!”
“Of course you did. You’re a smart girl. That’s where I am, thinking of you.” 

Mike Loniewski is a writer from New Jersey. His prose work has been published by Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, One Eye Press, and Pro Se Press. His comics have been published by Image Comics, APE Entertainment, and Alterna Comics. You can find him on twitter at @redfox_write.