Prompt: You're traveling in a rental car when you hear the thumping of a flat tire. You pull over and discover the thumping is not coming from a flat, after all, but from the trunk. What—or who—is making the noise?

Thumped

Taylor took the shuttle from the airport terminal to the car rental lot. It was a routine he was familiar with since he came home every few years to visit his mother for a long weekend, more out of a sense of responsibility than any emotional sentimentality. The two were no longer close but Taylor knew he was morally obligated to play the role of dutiful son and pay his respect to his mother with an occasional visit.

Taylor was already in an annoyed mood – his flight had been delayed and now he was standing at the rental car agency counter being told that his reservation had been incorrectly entered and that there was no Volkswagen Jetta waiting for his use as promised.

Taylor was about to complain when the service representative informed him that he would be upgraded at no cost and that there was a maroon Cadillac XTS luxury sedan waiting for him. Taylor happily accepted the pitch and he smiled a few minutes later when he climbed into the fancy automobile parked in the waiting area. He tossed his overnight bag into the backseat and he happily drove the comfortable car toward the interstate. The car had plenty of horsepower to get up and go. The interior was spacious compared to the Toyota Corolla Taylor drove back home and he enjoyed the smooth ride with its automatic climate control and Bose audio system.

Taylor was relaxed as he drove the interstate but his peaceful tranquility was ruined when he heard thumping coming from somewhere. He assumed it was a soft or flat tire and he grumbled as he pulled the car into the emergency lane of the highway and slowed the rental vehicle to a stop. What kind of cheap rip-off free upgrade was this!?

Taylor climbed out of the car and inspected all four tires, confused and annoyed when he realized the tires were fine. So what was that noise then? Suddenly, he heard it again and he realized that the thumping was coming from the car's trunk! What—or who— could be making that noise?

Taylor considered calling 911, not sure what he might find if he opened the trunk lid. But he didn't want a lot of drama either on the side of the interstate on his way to see his overly dramatic mother. He went back to the car, took the keys out of the ignition, and returned to the back of the vehicle, sucking in his breath before leaning over, sticking the key in the lock and carefully opening the lid, immediately stepping back as if he expected a huge green monster to leap out and attack him like in one of the Men In Black movies.

There was no monster. Instead, a woman popped her head up like she was coming out of a Jack in a Box and Taylor was startled by the sight.

"Help me out of here," she said as she lifted herself up onto her knees.

The woman was in her mid-thirties, wearing black slacks and a white blouse with sandals. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Taylor gawked for a moment, not sure what to make of the situation. He wondered what people in the passing cars thought of a woman in the trunk of a car on the side of the highway.

"Are you going to help me or not?" The woman wanted to know.

Taylor stepped closer and stretched his arm out to offer assistance. The woman accepted his limb and used it as leverage as she stood and hopped out of the hold, turning and grabbing a large duffle bag from the trunk.

"Come on," she said. "Let's go." She closed the trunk and started for the passenger door of the car.

"Go?" Taylor asked with surprise. "What are you talking about?"

"Let's just get out of here, okay?" She said, opening the door to the car.

Taylor was too dumbstruck to respond or even protest. He got back into the car and started the engine.

"Where are we headed?" The woman wanted to know. "What direction, I mean."

"North," Taylor answered as he put the car in gear and slowly pulled back into traffic. "We're almost in Massachusetts."

"North is good," the woman determined.

"Are you in some kind of trouble?" Taylor asked.

"Don't worry about me," his passenger advised.

"You were locked in a car trunk!"

"Nobody stuffed me in there," she informed him.

"So, you were hiding in there?"

"Where are you going?" She wanted to know.

"Greenville," he replied. "It's about thirty miles up the road."

"What are you doing there?"

"Visiting my mother."

"Oh," she said with a nod of her head. "What's your name?" She asked after a few quiet moments.

"Taylor," he revealed.

"Is that your first name or your last name?"

"It doesn't matter," he replied. He glanced at her. "Are you going to tell me your name?"

"Lorraine," she said.

He squinted at her. "No it's not."

"Well, it's what you can call me," she replied.

"Fine," Taylor agreed but he didn't say anything more.

"I see your married," Lorraine remarked, noticing the wedding ring on his left hand.

"I am," he confirmed.

"How come your wife isn't visiting your mother with you?"

"Because my wife dislikes my mother almost as much as she dislikes me," Taylor answered resentfully.

"Oh, so you're unhappily married," Lorraine realized.

Taylor sighed but didn't respond.

"Tell me your story," Lorraine encouraged after a few quiet miles.

"My story?" Taylor frowned.

"Everybody has a story," she smiled. "What's yours?"

"I told you," he said. "I'm visiting my mother."

"In Greenville."

"Right."

"In a rental car."

"Yes."

"So where did you fly in from?"

"Jacksonville Florida."

"So you live in Florida."

"Right."

Lorraine nodded her head. "But you're from here. Greenville."

"Left when I was eighteen."

"College?"

"Navy."

"Career?"

Taylor nodded his head affirmatively.

"So you retired from the Service and stayed in Florida."

"Yeah."

"How long you been out?"

"A couple of years."

"And you met your wife while you were in the Navy."

"About ten years ago," he confirmed.

"What does she do?"

"Runs her own cleaning business," Taylor revealed. "You know, cleaning houses and offices. That sort of stuff."

"What do you do?"

"I work for an old Navy buddy," he sighed.

"Doing what?" Lorraine asked with interest.

"I drive a bakery truck full of specialty items delivering to about a hundred different stores in a hundred mile radius," he said unhappily.

"You don't like it," Lorraine said.

"A couple of years ago I was supervising a division of Sailors on a Navy destroyer out of Mayport," he sighed with a sense of loss in his voice. "Now I deliver cookies."

"Now you're visiting your mother," Lorraine clarified.

"I'd rather being delivering cookies," he mumbled.

"What's wrong with your mother?"

"She's just not a very happy person," Taylor stated. "She came to Florida once, hated it just like she hates everything else, and she vowed never to return again." He sounded resentful.

"And why doesn't your wife like you?" Lorraine asked.

"Because I'm not in the Navy anymore," Taylor answered.

"What does that mean?"

"I'm around now," he explained. "Home every night."

Lorraine nodded her head in understanding. "Why doesn't she kick you out?"

"What is this, an interrogation?" Taylor asked with annoyance.

"A conversation," Lorraine replied calmly. "Why does she let you stay?"

"She likes the money," Taylor answered bitterly.

Lorraine stared out the window for a long time. "You don't sound very happy with your life," she said. "Unhappy marriage. Unhappy mother. A job you don't like."

"I suppose," Taylor sighed.

"Aren't you glad you found me in your trunk?" Lorraine asked with a mysterious grin on her face.