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
between Smithville and Cedar Falls—nothing: no restaurants, gas stations, or
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
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.
get there in time
“Gimme a break,” Scott
“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.”
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.
A small smile flickered
on the side of Scott’s mouth.
“Not a friggin’
word!” Tania said, holding up her finger in stern
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
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.
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
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
“But how can you stay
open? From the looks of it, not many people come
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
Scott leaned on the counter.
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
“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.”
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
Vera’s eyes twinkled
as she watched the surly young woman slam her way out
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!”
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
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.
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?”
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.”
“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
Scott looked around.
“Well, you’re walking the wrong way.”
The old man looked
at him suspiciously. “What makes you say that,
Scott chuckled. “Vera
“The woman who
owns the truck stop about 10 minutes’ drive from
“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.”
“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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Walter Kwiatkowski, email@example.com, 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.