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They flew into Miami at night and decided to go straight to the hotel. They were both hungry but too tired to look for a place to eat. They had rented a white sedan at the airport, and as they drove, Ryan became convinced that another car was following them. Denise had the map, but Ryan kept taking wrong turns, and she couldn’t keep up. The car behind them had no trouble, though: it braked and turned and accelerated in tandem with them.
Denise twisted around in her seat, watching out the back window so that when Ryan said, “Where are they now? Is that still them?” she could say, “Yes, yes, they’re still there.” She didn’t know what to do. It was getting dark. They needed to find a police station, she thought, but finally Ryan made a sharp left and the other car kept going.
They waited to see what would happen next. Denise’s heart was beating hard, and it was almost a letdown when the car didn’t circle back. The whole thing felt unreal, like a scene out of a spy movie. Then they were laughing, shaking, not yet knowing what they’d escaped.
Ryan pulled over and turned on the dome light so she could retrieve the map and find her bearings. The whole way to the hotel, she kept looking over her shoulder, waiting for the other car to reappear, but it never did.
For twenty-five years, if Denise remembers this moment at all, she simply thinks that she and Ryan were the victims of their own imaginations. Then, one night, she is watching a news program on TV and sees an old story about dead German tourists in Florida. After a series of crimes in which travelers were targeted, the state banned rental companies from outwardly marking their vehicles.
At the hotel, Ryan had carried the bags upstairs. There was a big bed. A pool, drinks. They tried to relax.
Once that feeling of paranoia leaked in, though, it slowly poisoned the trip. They argued. After they returned the rental car, Ryan flew back to his wife, and Denise to her husband, as if nothing had happened.
On television, the announcer drones on.
The front door opens, and Denise, still elsewhere, looks up in alarm.
Leah Browning is the author of Two Good Ears, a mini-book of flash fiction from Silent Station Press, as well as three short nonfiction books and six chapbooks. Her fiction and poetry have previously appeared in Four Way Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Harpur Palate, Flock, The Threepenny Review, The Homestead Review, Superstition Review, Necessary Fiction, Newfound, Chagrin River Review, Oyster River Pages, The Stillwater Review, The Broadkill Review, Glassworks Magazine, Mud Season Review, Blood Orange Review, Belletrist Magazine, and elsewhere. Browning's work has also been published on materials from Broadsided Press and Poetry Jumps Off the Shelf, with audio and video recordings in The Poetry Storehouse, and in several anthologies including The Doll Collection from Terrapin Books, To Have and to Hold from Center Street/Hachette Book Group USA, and Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence from White Pine Press. In addition to writing, Browning serves as editor of the Apple Valley Review. “Elise in Croatia” is the third of three linked stories.