Black Petals Issue #76 Summer, 2016

The Road
Home
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Anniversary-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Flirting with the Alley-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Gone Astray-Fiction by Denis Bushlatov
Surviving Montezuma-Serialized Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
The Road-Fiction by Walter Kwiatkowski
The Watchers-Fiction by Mike Mulvihill
Ghost Lover-Poem by Janet Ro
My Walk to Emberly Park- Poem by Janet Ro
Honey Island Swamp Monster-Poem by Richard Stevenson
Skin Walker-Poem by Richard Stevenson
Ucu-Poem by Richard Stevenson

texaco.jpg

The Road

 

By Walter Kwiatkowski

Leading who knows where

 

 

The highway stretched like an exaggerated memory over what at one time was native forest, a long paved monster that wound smoothly across open flat land. Sandwiched between brush and low-lying trees, it cut through a smiling valley. Several small pathways, some merely trodden grass, split away from the highway and trailed off into seeming nothingness. During the day the road sparkled like the chrome of a new car as waves of heat spread across the tarmac—miles and miles of heat. When the sun disappeared below the horizon and cool clouds brought a drop in temperature, the sleek tarmac turned grotesque and disgusting. Normally, the creatures of the night—both predator and prey—would amble out from their morning hiding places. Yet, along this particular stretch of road, there was nothing except the odd complaint from a cricket or cicada.

Today, the midday sun was slowly settling in the lower corner of the sky. A blue minivan appeared in the distance, peeling away the waves of heat that were gradually dissipating as the afternoon cooled. “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones blasted from the open window, and a hairy arm rested on the car window frame, its fingers tapping against the metal of the door. The driver, a pair of sunglasses sitting on the bridge of his nose, kept his eyes on the road despite a deep sigh from the female passenger next to him.

The woman, long curly red hair whipping across her face, shot a quick glance at the driver. Her green eyes hardened on his face. 

“Tell me again, Scott, why we decided to go this way.”

Scott, a tall thin young man with his dirty-blond hair tied back, a patch of stubble growing on his chin (and looking a lot like the character Shaggy from the cartoon Scooby-Doo), kept his eyes on the road.

“The guy at the gas station said it was two hours shorter.”

“He also said there was nothing between Smithville and Cedar Falls—nothing: no restaurants, gas stations, or portapotties.”

Scott often joked that the only thing bigger than his wife’s breasts was her mouth…and her smallest feature was her bladder.

He pulled his arm back into the car and began tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. “Take it easy, Tanya. We’ll get to your sister’s in plenty of time.”

Tanya sighed again and blew some loose strands of hair out of her face. She stared at the tattoo of a ballerina on her right foreman. The figure seemed to move, bringing back memories of her childhood, when her mother took her to ballet classes. She peeked out the window at the purples and oranges that zipped by as the sun slowly sank below the horizon.

“Maybe we’ll get there in time for breakfast.”

“Gimme a break,” Scott said.

“I have to pee.”

Scott scanned the roadside. Seeing a clearing in the forest, he pulled over onto the gravel and kept the motor running. Tania disappeared into the shrubbery. She was overcome by the shocking stillness—no cicadas, no crickets, no birds, no animals, nothing. That’s weird. A few minutes later, she returned. Scott was finishing a cigarette.

She got back into the passenger side and, when Scott started the car up again, she turned to him and said, “This place gives me the creeps.”

He pulled the car back onto the highway and said, without looking at her, “Ever since I watched Blair Witch, forests have seemed creepy.”

“Yeah,” she responded, “they’re creepy ‘cause they’re noisy. But here, there’s nothing. Don’t you find it weird that we haven’t seen a deer crossing the road or anything like that?”

“I haven’t seen anything, my dear. I keep my eyes glued to the road.”

She stared out at a potpourri of colours playing hide-n’-seek with the horizon. A wrinkled line of worry stretched across her forehead, and Scott, glancing her way for a moment, caught it.

“Why not give your sister a call?”

The wrinkle disappeared and she nodded, pulled out her cellphone, and punched in a few numbers. The number she called rang three times and then died. A series of yellow letters reading, “Connect your charger,” streamed across the screen.

“Damn!” she said.

A small smile flickered on the side of Scott’s mouth.

“Not a friggin’ word!” Tania said, holding up her finger in stern reproach.  

Scott was about to respond when he noticed a grey building with big red letters spelling TEXACO plastered across the top overlooking two large red bay doors. A symbolic red star bookended the words. Two tall thin metal lampposts illuminated the bay area, especially the two red and white gas pumps. Each of the pumps had the Texaco star symbol on top and the words Sky Chief written below the pump gauges. The ubiquitous soda cooler stood sandwiched between the two gas pumps. 

“Look!” Scott pointed. “You should’ve waited for a decent restroom.”

Tania sighed in relief as Scott pulled the car into the bay area. They both got out and headed over to the little red door with a lopsided sign that read Vera’s Truck Stop over it and a smaller sign pasted over the closed blinds that welcomed customers with the word open. A cowbell on the inside of the door clanged as they entered.

Almost instantly, Scott felt he had walked into a 1950’s movie. Two sets of fluorescent lights flickered on the ceiling above. A long wooden counter with a linoleum top and trimmed with wood ran down the left side of the room. A series of metal shelves filled with different desserts covered the countertop. A glass sugar jar guarded the desserts every two or three feet. There was an old-fashioned music box on either end of the shelving unit. Tokens from the Elvis era with the song selections marked A1, A2, so on cost only a nickel. An old stove hid behind the counter. A mountain of clean cups rested quietly on the stove top.

“Tania,” Scott said, pointing to a large wall menu.

Tania, who was busy trying to reach her sister on her dying cellphone, without success, looked up. “Huh? 2 Cheeseburgers—50 cents?”

Scott’s eyes were beaming. “And one of those old soda fountains my dad used to tell me about.”

A rather large woman popped up from behind the counter, a smile stretched across her balloon-like face. “Evening. I’m Vera. How can I help you folks?” 

Scott managed to take his eyes away from the soda fountain. “Cheeseburgers for 25 cents? You’re kidding, right?”

The woman widened her smile, showing a set of large yellow teeth with a gap between the middle two. “We haven’t changed our prices in more than 60 years.”

“But how can you stay open? From the looks of it, not many people come this way.”

The rotund woman took several cups and stacked them on an overhanging shelf. “Cops and forest rangers mainly. But this place costs hardly nothing to keep open…not since the accident anyway.” She turned back around, putting her stubby hands on the counter top, and looked at Scott. Her smile had disappeared. 

Scott leaned on the counter. “Accident?”

The fat woman’s smile returned. She wore a small baby blue apron tied tightly around her melon-shaped waist. “Yeah, about 50 years ago…when me and my husband Arnie first opened this place—I was younger then…about your age.” She chortled as she said that.

“Jesus, did anybody die?”

“Not from the crash.” Vera took a few more cups and put them away, then added. “One of them trucks was carrying a special kind of chemical or something. It exploded, sending people and body parts in all directions. One of the people was my husband.”

“I’ve never heard of anything like that happening out this way.”

She looked at Scott, her smile wide again. “Coffee?”

Scott shook his head. Tania had angrily stuffed her cellphone back into her pocket. She came over to the counter. “You have a phone here?”

The pudgy little woman pointed a stubby finger at the window. “’Round the side.” 

Vera’s eyes twinkled as she watched the surly young woman slam her way out the door.

She cleared her voice and said, “Was that yes to the coffee?”

Scott nodded. “One for the missus too.”

Vera went over to the coffee maker and poured some into two take-away cups. “It was all hushed up.”

Scott, whose eyes had been following his wife’s jeans, turned and looked at Vera. “What?”

She smiled. “The accident. Government stuff. But since then, business has never been quite the same.” 

Scott slapped two quarters down on the counter. He was about to add something when Tania, frustrated at not being able to reach her sister, stomped back into the diner, her boot heels clicking loudly against the waxed tile floor. She pushed her husband to one side and approached the counter.

“We were told there was nothing on this stretch of highway between Cedar Falls and Smithville.”

Vera smiled, the gap between her teeth wider. “Who told you that?”

Tania looked at her as if expecting bad news. “Some guy who owned a gas station in Carston Corners.”

Vera’s eyes flickered like a green traffic light. “He told you not to take the shortcut, right?”

Tania threw a dirty look in Scott’s direction. “And he ignored it.”

Scott caught Vera stealing a peek out at their car. 

“Where did you guys say you were going?”

Tania’s eyebrows raised. “Cedar Falls, why?”

The plump woman threw her head back and chortled again. “You’re going in the wrong direction!”

“What?” Tania spun towards Vera. 

“Sorry. Cedar Falls is the other way. There’s an exit maybe 30-40 minutes away.”

Tania ran a hand through her curly hair, then turned on her heels. “C’mon, stupid,” she yelled at Scott, and stormed out of the truck stop. 

Scott grabbed the coffees and followed her. Vera watched them head to the car, a long smile stretched across her chubby face.

 

Night had settled under the horizon. Tania, arms folded over her chest, slumped sideways against the window in sleep. Scott yawned, his eyes on the side of the road checking for an exit sign. Suddenly, his eyes caught something in the high beams. He pushed his foot down hard on the brake. The wheels squealed like a pig. The sudden stop threw Tania forward, jolting her awake.

“What the….? First you get us lost; now you’re trying to kill us!”

“Shut up,” he yelled and pulled the car to a stop. 

He slid out of the passenger seat. Darkness enveloped him, broken only by the high beams.

“Oh my God, Scott, did you hit somebody?”

“No,” he yelled back, “I didn’t.”

Tania grabbed her cell phone. She looked down at the fluorescent numbers. It was almost ten p.m.! She punched her sister’s number, hoping that the phone would have magically recharged itself. The result was the same.

He went over to where his high beams revealed a body on the tarmac. He got down on one knee and noticed it was an old man. He poked the old man in the arm with his finger. 

The old man’s eyes slowly and blearily opened. Then his vision shifted to focus on the young man’s face.

“Hey, buddy,” Scott said. “You okay?”

The geezer had gobs of spittle on his chin. He looked up at Scott wide-eyed, then hacked out a loud hoarse cough. Scott bent over and grabbed the old man’s hand, pulling him to his feet. “What are you doing out here?”

The stubble-faced oldster wiped his chin with leathery hands and dried his hands on his shirt. “I was headin’ to Cedar Falls,” he said, nodding his thanks. He then turned and started limping down the road.

Tania, seeing that her stupid husband was wasting time talking to some homeless bum, did a slow burn. She thought about getting out of the car and screaming, or just taking the car and going on without him. Instead, she folded her arms again, sighed once more, and leaned her head against the window.

Scott, surprised by the man’s actions, came up beside him. “What are you doing out here?”

“Walkin’. I guess I had too much to drink. I remember the cops picking me up. They must’ve dropped me off at the exit.”

“You’re walking to Cedar Falls?”

The old man stopped and looked at him out of one eye. “I usually do. Ain’t no buses out this way. In fact, not much of anything comes out this way.”

“Why not?”

“This used to be native burial grounds until somebody ran a highway through it. Some weird things happened on this road, so they moved the exit so drivers would avoid this area. But I been walking this route for almost fifteen years, and nothing’s ever happened to me. Mind you, it was in daylight mostly.”

 Scott looked around. “Well, you’re walking the wrong way.”

 The old man looked at him suspiciously. “What makes you say that, son?"

 Scott chuckled. “Vera told me.”

 “Vera?”

 “The woman who owns the truck stop about 10 minutes’ drive from here.”

 “Vera Tompkins?” The old man hooted with laughter and then, suddenly, his eyebrows furled in what Scott interpreted as concern. “Listen, Sonny, there ain’t no truck stop. There ain’t anything on this stretch.”

 “Huh?”

 “Mind you, there used to be.”

 “Used to be?”

 The old man ran a wet tongue over dry lips. “Yeah, about fifty years ago, Vera Tompkins and her husband had a truck stop. The story goes that they were working to an almost packed house. It was a Friday night. Suddenly, out of the blue, this tanker truck skidded and smashed right through the front window, turning over in the process. It was carrying some kind of green liquid, which started to spill. A huge explosion followed, and everybody was killed, including Vera and her husband.”

 Scott grabbed the old man by the shoulders. “What are you talking about? We were there 10 minutes ago. I bought a couple cups of coffee...”

 A look of growing fear came over the man’s face. “You on some kind of drug, Sonny?” he asked, pulling away from Scott’s grasp. He looked at the young man one more time, and then started running down the road.

 

 In a world between sleep and wakefulness, Tania had an eerie feeling that she was being watched. She moved a little in her seat, turning away from the window. The feeling continued, causing her to sit up. She turned her head back around to shake that strange feeling, and glimpsed what she thought were a set of green lights. But they vanished so quickly, she doubted that they were ever there. She reached down to turn on the radio. That feeling came over her again. When she looked over, a pair of green lights the size of billiard balls were staring at her through the window. When they blinked, she screamed.

  

 Scott, hearing the scream, ran back. As he did, he felt a chill wind, and, out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a shadow running past him…and then another. Jumping into the car he reached for his wife. 

 “Baby, what is it?” 

 She was crying. “Something was looking into the car, Scott. Let’s get the hell out of here, please.” 

 Scott slid down into his seat, rolled up the driver-side window, and was about to buckle in when he saw a pair of green balls rise up over the hood of the engine.

 “What is it, Scott?!” she screamed.

 A thump on the roof of the car caused it to sway a little. Tania screamed again.

 “I don’t know, but we’re getting the hell out of here.” 

 He turned the keys and stepped on the gas. The car sputtered and moved a couple of feet, then went still.

 The green balls got bigger and closer. There were more of them now, along with a sound of metal ripping, and, when Scott turned on the ignition, the engine screeched and complained.

 A hideous high-pitched scream caused them both to jump. Scott recognized the voice of the old man. 

 “What’s happening?” Tania began to panic when she saw more green balls moving towards the car.

 Suddenly, the windshield exploded. Glass flew in pieces and chunks. Some of these pieces ripped gashes in Scott’s face and neck. Tania covered her face with her arms.

 One pair of green balls slipped through the broken windshield. It was accompanied by a wide smile, black curly hair, and a balloon-shaped face. It was the last thing Scott saw before a pair of sinewy dark hands grabbed and pulled him out, the window’s jagged glass teeth ripping huge gashes in his skin and pulling off chunks of flesh.

 “SCOTT!” Tania tried to remove her seat belt, but her fingers couldn’t find the buckle.

 Something ripped open the car roof like the lid of a can. Long, ropy limbs dropped down through the roof and, just as she found and undid the belt, grabbed her by the chin and fished her out of the car, holding her up as if showing off a prize catch.

 Uncaring stars in the night sky blinked through dark hungry clouds that seemed to swirl and bounce her death screams off the slimy tarmac of the road. Then all was still.

 

The End

 

Walter Kwiatkowski, dwk92@shaw.ca, of BC, Canada, who wrote BP #76’s “The Road,” teaches English as a second language and Movie Making at a private language school in Vancouver, British Columbia. He has been published in Necrology Shorts.

Site Maintained by Fossil Publications