“What are you doing?” I ask. I look from L. to the two guys she’s talking to.
“They’re Sigma Nus,” L. answers. “They go to school near here.”
“Hi,” they say.
“Get in the car, L.,” I say and put my wallet back in my purse. I’ve just paid for our gas.
“What?” she asks. “They’re nice. I was telling them we were driving from Florida back to Indiana.”
“You told them where we’re going?” I say.
“Hey,” says one of the guys. “What’s your problem?”
“L., get in the car,” I say again.
“They’re having a party tonight,” she says.
“I don’t care. Get in the car.”
“You don’t have to be like that. We’re not serial killers.”
“I,” I say and start walking away, “don’t talk to strange men at gas stations near the Interstate several hundred miles away from home.”
The three of them walk after me. L. complains that I’m being rude. The guys complain that I’m paranoid and try to explain how nice they are.
I reach my car. “L., get in the car,” I say and yank open the car door. “Now.”
She sighs and rolls her eyes. “Sorry guys,” she says to them. They smile at her and glare at me.
“I wasn’t going to suggest we actually go to the party,” L. says, fastening her seatbelt.
I put the car into gear. “You don’t tell strange men where you’re going! What were you thinking?”
“It’s not like they’re going to follow us to Indiana,” she says.
“That’s not the point. You didn’t know them.”
“They’re Signma Nus.”
“I don’t care.” I’d driven alone from Indiana to Florida and back many times. Maybe it’s growing up in the state that ended up with Ted Bundy, but I don’t talk to strangers in parking lots. L. and I agree not to talk about it anymore, and I wonder if I’m too paranoid and if my imagination is too active.
In my memories, my hometown was a creepy place, even though nothing truly horrific ever happened to me. The threat was always there, lurking among the cattails and the orange groves, with serial killers on the local news and plenty of missing children. Maybe it was the year-round humidity, the Spanish moss hanging from the trees, and the alligators I could see from our driveway.
How does where you grew up affect your imagination? How does your sense of place appear in your writing?