Black Petals Issue #91, Spring, 2020

Exit to Dove's Tail
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A Hole in the Somewhere-Fiction by Richard Brown
Everything Echoes-Fiction by Todd M. Guerra
Exit to Dove's Tail-Fiction by Ken Goldman
I Dream of Fire-Fiction by Matthew Penwell
Living Doll-Fiction by Carl Hughes
Angelika's Tough Decision-Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Cat-Fiction by Chris Alleyne
The Demon-Fiction by Misty Page
The Run-Fiction by Thomas Runge D'Amore
We Are the Monsters We Seek-Fiction by Karen Heslop
Brother of Mine-Flash Fiction by D. C. Plump
New Terror-Flash Fiction by Denis Alvarez Betancourt
The Flapping Thing-Flash Fiction by Robert Masterson
The Clown Loved Cherry Lipstick-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Ganymede-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Space Probe RH 120-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
The Buffoon-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Just Another Day in My House-Poem by Tom Davidson
Blue Bell Hill Beast-Poem by Richard Stevenson
Plum Island-Poem by Richard Stevenson
The Thing in the Woods-Poem by Loris John Fazio

91_bp_dovestail_kevinduncan.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2020

EXIT TO DOVE’S TAIL

 

by

 

Ken Goldman

 

 

 

“Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”

 

                                                                            --Tom Stoppard

 

 

This wasn’t good...

Had either Raymond or Judith Crowe taken a moment to consider the stupidity of  their decision, they would never have left their home to find themselves on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the ungodly hour of 1:47 a.m. Somewhere between Beaver County and the Warrendale Toll Plaza an unforeseen snow storm developed, and now the radio warned of white out conditions within the hour. At this inopportune time the couple seemed ripe for their first argument.

Toro squirmed uncomfortably in the back seat. The Crowes’ German Shepherd hadn’t been walked since they left Cranberry six hours earlier.

“We won’t make it to Intercourse tonight, you know.” Judith’s unintended double entendre brought muffled laughter, but the pair’s comfort level had been seriously compromised. In faux Amishspeak she added, “I meant the town, my dear horn dog husband.”  

The names of Pennsylvania’s small burghs had earlier caused child-like snickers between them. Who wouldn’t smile at places called Lititz, Bird-in-Hand, Blue Ball, Virginville,  and of course the daddy of them all, Intercourse. Ray had told his wife that the Keystone State’s Amish must have laughed themselves sick labeling their little boroughs. Judith suggested maybe the founders were so sexually repressed they were too horny to think of anything other than their underused penises.

A few hours earlier it seemed Judith couldn’t get out of their home in Cranberry fast enough.  But that was then, and now here they were in this damned blizzard and she was headed for bitch mode again. Ray knew his smiles fell short of genuine, although he tried to keep them going with “I believe the exit to the village of  Stick-It-In-Your-Ass should be coming up soon, sweetheart.”

 “I have to pee, and I’d prefer not to do it in...”  She studied the GPS on the Camry’s dash. “..Jugtown, Pennsylvania?  Can you believe this? What were the founding fathers in this state thinking?”

Ray didn’t feel much interested in the historical genesis of Pennsylvania’s obscure Dutch villages. The snow had grown significantly heavier, and the white out had already arrived. His wipers did little more than smear puffy flakes against the glass, revealing a turnpike that seemed a whitewashed moonscape.

True, he had suggested this spur-of-the-moment romantic adventure, but that was mostly because Judith had been on him about stagnation so easily screwing up so many of their friends’ marriages. You had to be careful that didn’t happen so early into your own, you had to be impulsive and go for it, whatever “it” was. Rethinking that logic, Ray decided fuck Dr. Phil and those righteous cunts on The View. He would have been home in his own warm bed had his wife not bought into their crappola. But he kept that thought to himself.

“There’s not another car on the road. We may have to stop before nature makes the decision for us.”

  Judith rubbed the windshield. “Some romantic remote Pennsylvania Dutch hole in the wall where we can fuck each other silly, yes?”

“Dying on the turnpike in Dick-in-hand, Pennsylvania, that’s silly. The plan now is to survive the night. There should be an exit coming soon. Check the nav again.”

Judith shook her head. “We’re passing Mercytown now, but there’s no exit for maybe ten miles.” She squinted though the smeared windshield at a blurred signpost. “Sign here says the Dove’s Tail exit is one mile. Could be a charming place even if it’s named after a bird’s ass.” She looked back at the GPS. “That exit isn’t on the screen. There might not be anything open this hour, no room at the inn for weary travelers. Or maybe no inn at all.”

“There are inns in Little Tits?”  Ray wasn’t trying to be funny and Judith didn’t laugh.

“That’s Lititz, lover. And I don’t think my bladder will last much long--”

She swallowed the rest of her sentence as the car took a mean skid. Toro snapped awake, and for one hairy moment the Camry seemed headed for the guard rail. Ray steadied the wheel, pulled over to the median. Taking a deep breath he puffed a mouthful of air like a man on a respirator. The two looked at each other, the reflected snow smearing their faces like dripping veins. Another bad skid could turn that image real.

Judith strained a smile. “I don’t have to pee any more.”

“All right, here’s the plan. We exit here and we sleep. Agreed?” 

Not waiting for an answer Ray took the Dove’s Tail exit at a crawl. There was no toll booth, no directional signals, nothing to indicate the center of town. One route seeming as good as the other, he went West. This township seemed unaware of the invention of the snow plough, and inching the Camry at 20 mph through blinding snow, Ray hated what he had to suggest. He made the mistake of turning to Judith.

“Maybe we should pull over, just sleep here in the--”

And then, a sickening thump. The car hit something and sent it flying, something big enough to make a thick crunch on impact. Ray skidded the Camry to a slushy stop in the middle of the road. The wipers were going full tilt, but he couldn’t see anything. He smacked the steering wheel like a mad man.

“Shit! Piss! Fuck!”  He turned to his wife almost as an afterthought. “You’re okay?”

“An animal? Maybe it was just a deer. There are a lot of deer around these--”

“—It looked taller, something upright. I couldn’t really tell. Who would be walking in a blizzard at this hour? It’s 10 degrees outside!”

Judith spoke what he had been thinking. “You have to get out and see what it is. We can’t just leave. We can’t—”  She stopped, reconsidered.  “It could’ve been a bear. Maybe it’s better if you don’t get out.”

“If it was a bear, it’s a dead bear.” Ray unbuckled his seat belt, popped the glove compartment for a flashlight, and slid out of the car. He opened the rear door and let Toro out. While the dog enjoyed his piss in the snow, Ray noticed the front bumper. Sure enough, it was crushed, and the right headlamp was out. The dreaded search followed, and he pushed through a dust storm of flakes to locate what he had hit. A path of fresh footprints ended at the point of impact, then only a thick smear remained in the snow. Ray followed it along what he could see of the road. About fifty feet from the Camry the streak thinned, then came to an end. 

Maybe whatever he struck had limped off, and it would be hard to see footprints off the road. Ray aimed the flashlight in a wide arc, half expecting some zombie-like creature to shamble from the woods for him. The beam revealed nothing. He knew that didn’t mean there was nothing there. Something (or someone?) had been on the road,  and he had made it airborne. If a dead man lay hidden nearby in a snow bank, he would have to answer for it. Ray tapped on the car’s side window and shrugged at Judith.

“Head lamp’s busted.” 

“Nothing else?” She noticed Toro still in the snow, sniffing at an object buried in a drift. “I think he’s found something. Go look!”

Aiming a thick beam about a hundred feet from the Camry Ray saw the object of his dog’s attention, but the person’s face was covered with snow. The impact must have sent the body hurling into a thick snow bank, and only legs were showing,  toes up like a corpse. One high heeled shoe had been knocked clear off, but the remaining one dangling from the foot was red. The exposed legs revealed shriveled flesh, hideous candy striped stockings bagging at the knees.

“Shit! Fucking shit!”

Ray managed to pull a withered arm free from the drift.  He didn’t feel a pulse, and he knew dead when he saw it. Climbing back into the Camry as Toro settled in the rear seat, he tried his cell. He got nothing.

“I...I ran into an old woman, I think. I couldn’t find a pulse. What in hell would anyone be doing in a storm at this hour? Christ, the woman was in heels!”

“It’s hit and run if we leave. Jesus, Ray...”

“We haven’t seen a car in over an hour and there’s a blizzard,  in case you haven’t noticed. What else can we do?”

Judith needed a moment. “We’ll have to stop at the first place we find, okay? We have to tell someone what happened.” She hesitated. “We do have to tell someone, don’t we?”

Ray nodded but said nothing. He inched the Camry along what remained of the road, a single lane with no hint of street lights anywhere. No one would find that old woman any time soon, that was a fact. Driving blind he couldn’t tell if he remained on a main road or had somehow veered off onto some backwoods horse path. Ray knew only that he had to keep going.

Judith spotted a flickering motel sign. Through the windshield the electric lettering appeared as a smudge. The motel’s name would have been hard to decode even in clear weather.                       

 

                                                     RAI B  W  MO  EL    

 

The shabby lodge seemed on the verge of collapse, but it would have to do. The lights of the office were on.

“Wait here,”  Ray said, but Judith had no intention of doing that. She got out of the car with him.

The office area was empty, and only one picture adorned its wall, some old-time soldier in a rust colored uniform standing at stiff attention, displaying on his lapel what appeared to be a purple heart.  A snow globe was on the front desk displaying the shabby snow covered motel  inside the glass, probably a tacky gimmick for visitors to remember their stay. At least the office had color befitting the name of the place whose letters had vanished on the sign outside : The Rainbow Motel. Its garish logo seemed everywhere with its gum ball assortment of colors : on a twisted rack containing cheap postcards, on an even cheaper looking thin pile of stationery, and on the lapel of a blue sports jacket that lay over an old swivel chair behind the desk. The jacket was small, as if meant for a child.

Ray hit the bell at the desk. Like a magic trick a little person (a dwarf?)  entered rubbing his eyes. For some reason the old guy felt the need to put on the blue jacket before he spoke.

“A bit late to be checkin’ in, hey?  Snow’s that bad, is it?” Even on the chair the little guy sat half hidden behind the desk, his bald head barely clearing the counter.

“It’s pretty bad, and we’re very tired. And I think we’re very lost.” Ray looked at his wife. Her eyes suggested his describing the events of the past half hour could wait.

The dwarf unwrapped a Tootsie Pop, offered one to Ray. Ray shook his head. “Well, we’re not ‘zactly booked here. Never are, hidden as this place is. We don’t get many strangers in Dove’s Tail.” The little man searched the wall for a key, one of those old-style two-pronged jobs that seemed meant for an outhouse. “You’ll find your room the first one closest to the office. No address needed for sign in, just your name and town will do. We’re not very formal here.” He looked outside at the Camry. “See you’ve got a dog. The wife and me, we usually don’t allow no pets, but—well, I guess it’s okay tonight, ‘count of the storm.”

As if on cue another little person appeared, an ugly woman in a raggedy terrycloth bathrobe who stood beside her husband. Her normal sized head looked as if it were attached to the body of a doll. 

“Your front lamp’s busted, Mister. Whitey Osbourne’s service station is a mile up this road. You can go there in the mornin.’  My Elmer here will make the call tomorrow, if you’d like.” The woman’s voice could have come from a ten-year old.

“Winnifred, these people are tired. We should let ‘em get some sleep.”

Judith nodded her agreement. “We had an accident. Some old woman was out walking—”

Ray motioned to interrupt her but  Elmer did it for him, the Tootsie Pop never leaving his mouth.

“That would prob’ly be one of the Grimm sisters. Them two old women live together, and they’re both crazy as loons. Ellie, she’s the younger—she likes the night time, goes out walkin’ the back roads with nowhere special to go, but her sister Nessa, she’s always spookin’ the locals like some goblin, never mind the forecast. Most ‘round here steer clear of both of ‘em.”

The dwarf’s choice of words sent cold fingers along Ray’s spine. He wanted only to see a bed, to forget this night ever happened. He slid a credit card over the desk to Elmer.

“Sorry. Cash only. Thirty-four dollars fifty cents for the night.”

Somehow the Rainbow Motel’s cash policy didn’t surprise Ray. The twenty-first century clearly had by-passed Dove’s Tail. He fished out two twenties and motioned for Elmer to keep the change. Managing an exhausted smile at the diminutive pair, he followed Judith back to the car.  His wife said nothing until they approached their room’s door.

“What about our bags.”

“Leave them in the car.  We won’t be staying here long.”

“Shouldn’t we make a call from the room, tell someone what happened?”

“I don’t know. Yeah, I guess we should.” Ray jiggled the key before the door opened. Toro bolted inside but Ray didn’t enter; instead, he looked at the parking area. Theirs was the only car in the lot. No surprise there, but probably a good thing considering the Camry’s tell-tale damage.

The room proved no surprise either with its drab and threadbare furniture and bedspread. But a weak dew-like smell didn’t fit. The yellow/red floral assortment on the nightstand told the tale.

“They’re poppy flowers—not your usual fragrance of choice for motel rooms,” Judith said, attempting some semblance of normal conversation. “Supposed to be good for sleep because the seeds contain opium. In Greek and Roman myths poppies were put on soldiers’ graves. Aren’t you glad you married an English major?”

Ray’s mind was somewhere else. “I should make that call. I guess 911 ought to handle it.”  Hidden behind another snow globe he found the phone, the old rotary dial type. Ray looked at Judith and shook his head. “No dial tone. It figures, right?”

“Storm probably knocked the lines down. I doubt this place is Wi-Fi friendly.”

Ray had the discomforting feeling that this place wasn’t friendly, period. “Fuck it, then. We’ll find somewhere to call from in the morning. I just hope this accident doesn’t keep us here for the next six months. The little guy at the desk said the old lady was crazy walking out there in a blizzard. Cops should understand that, right? We couldn’t stay with her in the road all night, could we? And I didn’t much feel like bringing her with us.” 

“Right. We couldn’t. No way.”  Judith didn’t sound very convincing, and the silence that followed was deafening.

Needing a distraction, Ray reached for the snow globe on the night stand, held it for his wife. “When’s the last time you saw one of these? Now two in one night.” He handed it to her.

“Snow. Appropriate, I guess, considering...” She shook the glass ball, faking interest in watching the papery flakes fall. “I hadn’t noticed. The miniature of this motel has the same letters missing from the road sign.  Isn’t that kind of—?” Judith’s eyes opened wide. “Ray, look at this.”

The sphere displayed a tan Camry parked outside the room they were in, but closer inspection revealed the car’s bumper was crushed, the right head lamp busted.

“What are the odds?”  Judith stopped, considered this. “Jesus, what are the odds?”

Ray felt too tired to add more heebie-jeebies to the night’s events. “We both need sleep, okay? Things will look more sane in the morning after we clear up this mess with the locals.”

“And get out of Dodge in time to screw each other into oblivion tomorrow night in our own bed?”

“That’s the plan.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.” Judith placed the globe inside the drawer and slammed it shut. She patted Toro who already had settled alongside the bed, planted a kiss on Ray’s cheek, and slipped out of her clothes.

Sleep came fast for Raymond  and Judith Crowe.

The poppy flowers did their job well.    

 

                                                                    ***

 

The motel room remained dismal even with morning’s light filtering through a flimsy curtain. Judith stretched and almost had a decent moment before the memory of the previous night returned. Still woozy, she realized something wasn’t right. She shook her husband.

“Ray, get up! Toro isn’t here.”

“He’s asleep beside the bed. He always—”

Their dog never strayed from their side when time came for his morning walk, and in this single room there was nowhere to stray to. The door remained locked, but Toro was gone. Not bothering with pants Ray hurried outside wearing his boxers. The snow had lessened to flurries but a brisk wind remained.

Fresh footprints that didn’t belong to either of them were in the overnight powder. The imprints seemed a woman’s high heels, strange footwear following a thick snow, and they ended abruptly--just stopped. But there were no paw prints. Toro was a large dog, and heavy.  He certainly would have struggled had a stranger tried carrying him, and it seemed unlikely a woman could manage that. Ray’s shouts for Toro echoed in the surrounding woods. He made it as far as the parking lot before another realization hit.

Their Camry was missing. Thick tire tracks curved toward the empty parking space, suggesting someone had towed it. Maybe whoever owned the truck had taken their dog. Ray headed back to Judith.

“The car’s been towed too. Get dressed.”

The couple bee-lined to the front desk where Winnifred stood alone, and she glared at the Crowes through squinty eyes. She seemed even uglier in the morning.

“Thought you two would be sleepin’ late. It’s barely seven in the a.m.”

The dwarves somehow could have had taken Toro. Elmer had said they weren’t usually accepting of pets in the motel, and the dwarves had a room key. Ray couldn’t keep the accusatory tone from his voice.

“Our dog and our car, they’re missing.  Would you know anything about that?”

“Your dog couldn’t have gone far after you let him out. There’s lots of woods ‘round here for a mutt to have a good time.”

Judith set a bead on the lady dwarf. “We didn’t let him out. We woke up and he was gone. And so was our car!”

The old woman poured a cup of coffee, her calmness infuriating. “Well, see, your car I can answer for. You mentioned that accident you had. Whitey Osbourne stops in here for coffee sometimes before he opens his repair shop. I spoke to him this mornin’, so I’m guessin’ he must have towed it for you. Some java?”

“We didn’t ask for a fucking tow!” Ray said.

“And Elmer and me didn’t ask to be called from our beds in the middle of the night, so we’re even!”

Sucking another Tootsie Pop Elmer entered, again rubbing his eyes. “Mister, ‘spose you tell us ‘bout that accident you had ‘fore we discuss the matter of your dog. I had a look at your car last night. Seems you hit something pretty damned hard. Your wife here mentioned an old woman...”

Ray absently picked up the snow globe from the front desk, diddling with it before looking inside the glass. A new scene displayed the exposed legs of the dead woman, snow covered almost to her striped stockings. Ray’s eyes caught Judith’s and she saw the globe too. Somehow his wife managed to remain rock steady, but he didn’t feel certain about himself. He forced his attention back into the moment.

“I tried to make a call last night to report our accident, and now my cell’s dead. Are your phones working yet?” 

Elmer picked up the office phone. Ray saw his chance and slipped the snow globe into his coat pocket. The overcoat bulged but was heavy enough to hide most of it. It didn’t do much to hide his guilt.

The dwarf shook his head. “Phone’s still dead. And if you’re tellin’ me Ellie Grimm is dead too, well then...”

“It was snowing. I didn’t see her.”

The dwarf rubbed the stubble on his chin. “Well, if you did run over that woman, then I think I can explain what happened to your dog. But you ain’t goin’ to like it. Them two sisters watch out for each other like damned hawks. Nessa often comes ‘round here, and she might’ve found your car, then put two and two together. Them hags each somehow know what’s goin’ on with the other, like a pair of damned witches.”

Judith exchanged glances with her husband, then beaded in on Elmer. “You’re telling us this Nessa Grimm just walked into our room with no key and carried our dog out?  He weighs almost a hundred pounds!”

“Witches don’t need no explanations for that stuff. That’s what makes ‘em witches -- and, trust me, you don’t want to go pissin’ on Nessa. Can’t say I’m sad to see one of them sisters dead.  I doubt the authorities ‘round here will be either. At least, off the record, ‘cause the law is the law, you know.”  He tried the phone again.

Ray kept a disturbing thought to himself.

Witches...snow globes...crystal balls...

Can’t think like that...stupid...stupid...

He took Judith aside, spoke low. “We’ll find that Osbourne guy’s shop and call the authorities to report the accident and see if that Grimm woman has got Toro. Witch, my ass.” He turned back to Elmer. “Can we walk to the repair shop from here?”

“It’s maybe a mile further West just past the old church. Sorry ‘bout your dog.”

“Thanks. Listen, about Ellie Grimm...”

The dwarf turned to his wife. Winnifred made a zipper-my-lip gesture, and Elmer nodded.

“You stay on the road, ‘cause there’s some nasty stuff in our woods you won’t be comfortable seein’. I’d take you to Whitey’s myself, but I don’t drive. These legs can’t reach no car’s pedals.  He found this really funny, laughed hard for almost a minute. 

Winnifred spoke up. “You didn’t have to stuff our snow globe into your coat, Mister. We have a truckload, and I woulda given it to you for free.”

Her husband reached under the desk still snickering like a mad elf. “Tootsie Pop?

There seemed no shortage of crazy in Dove’s Tail.  As they left the Rainbow Motel, Ray told his wife they had seen the worst of it.

He was wrong.

 

                                                                       ***

 

The snow-covered road was especially unpleasant on foot with nothing surrounding them but the uninviting wood the dwarves had mentioned. The couple saw no one and the weather remained bitter, the wind biting. Flocks of large birds flew amid dark clouds, large vulture-like creatures whose flight seemed clumsy, not really like birds at all. From the forest, echoes of trees dripping with dagger-like icicles transformed into a cacophony of cracks and drips, branches undulating like living creatures anxious to ensnare both of them. There were animal growls too, as if from some close-by jungle cat. There was no enchantment in this forest.

Ray broke their silence. “Toro, he’s got his I.D. tag, you know. Someone will see that. And maybe we can track down a phone, report what happened last night.”

“Or maybe we should forget about calling the police at all. We can get our car and leave. Let them find us.”

“You think that’s the right thing to do?”

Judith said nothing.

The old church came into view, at first a welcoming sight deceptive from a distance until the couple approached it. The questionable message on the sign by the entrance read BE COURAGEOUS ENOUGH TO GIVE TO THE ALMIGHTY YOUR HEART AND MIND. Judith held Ray’s arm. They could only stare at the figure on the cross near the church door.

Jesus... 

“That’s not Jesus,” Ray answered.

He might have laughed himself sick at the sight, but time spent in Dove’s Tail negated that possibility. What some fool had nailed to the outdoor cross was some kind of blasphemy or sick joke. Straw legs performing a mad dance in the wind, a threadbare scarecrow stood crucified.

Scare...Crowe...

The cryptic irony occurred to Ray, but he chose not to spook his wife even more. He and Judith quickened their pace until another battered sign came  into view.

 

                        WHITEY OSBOURNE’S  TOWING AND REPAIR

 

The place was a large shack, and counting the church, Osbourne’s shop was the second structure they had seen during an hour’s trudge. The couple hurried toward it, but the deafening noise from inside stopped them at the door. A filthy curtain covering the garage windows separated the service area from nosey outsiders peeking inside. The metallic bashing sounded like some kind of demolition derby, and that was exactly what it was. The lone silver haired mechanic seemed a one man wrecking crew, sledge hammering their new Camry into twisted chunks of metal with the exuberance of some kid happily stomping flat a huge sand castle. Noticing the couple, Whitey Osbourne smiled.

Mornin’. You people must be the Crowes.” He returned his attention to pulverizing the windshield.

Ray’s response was considerably less civil. “Excuse me, but are you out of your fucking mind?”

“Mister,  you oughta be thankin’ me. You got evidence here could put both of you in a Dove’s Tail lock-up ‘til your teeth fall out of your heads.” (Smash!)  “Sheriff sees what you done last night, the way them motel dwarves said you left Ellie Grimm dead or dyin’ in the snow, he’s gon’ to throw away the key. Law’s the law, and you can’t go pissin’ on it.(Smash!) “Then again,  I’m a pretty law abiding citizen, so maybe I should abide, ‘less of course we can come to an agreement.” (Smash!)

There was method to the wrecking ball madness here. The man was talking blackmail.

“You’re a thief, and you wrecked our car!”

“...and soon it’ll be junk, so you’re welcome. When I towed it in here your damaged vehicle had death written all over it. Best you pay no ‘tention to what I’m doin’, and I’ll see to it that you and your pretty missis leave Dove’s Tail with your asses intact.”

In another moment Ray might have grabbed the old guy by the throat.  He reigned in the impulse. 

“And how are we supposed to do that with no car?”

(Smash! and Smash!)

Judith pulled her husband aside. “I want to get out of here now. Screw the damned car.”

“Screw the car? This son of a bitch is going to pay for our car!”  Ray shouted to Osbourne, “You hear that, you thieving bastard?”

“You got it backwards. Cost for my service is damned reasonable, considerin’ the situation. Got your license number to see I get it, too. Cheap at twice the price, Mister Crowe!”

This was a scam, plain and simple. The dwarves at the Rainbow knew about their car accident, saw the opportunity for a little finder’s fee from old Whitey Osbourne. Those ugly Smurfs probably laid in wait for strangers to visit their roach motel, anticipating some kick-back from Osbourne’s towing and repair services. If Dove’s Tail’s Sheriff proved anything like its other residents, the mechanic was right, and likely he and Judith wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.

Ray did the only thing he could do. He paid the bastard. Cash.

Here it was late morning, and the couple stood together shivering in the snow with no car, no dog, no money, and no plan. Judith nudged her cheek against Ray’s and whispered, “Here’s my idea. We check out some local real estate and just settle here.”

“‘No defeat, no surrender, okay?’ That’s Springsteen talking.”

“‘We’re fucked big time.’  That’s me talking.”

 

                                                                 ***

 

The road conditions had worsened. Thick snow squalls reduced the roadway to a barely visible path no sane driver would attempt maneuvering. Hungry, cold, and tired, the couple headed further West expecting at least to find a farm house, but by noon Judith stopped in her tracks. Her face had turned sickly pale and Ray thought it might be frostbite -- he was feeling pretty numb himself -- but it wasn’t that. She said only “Look” and pointed far down the road to the familiar sign shaking with the strong gusts.

 

                                                       RAI B  W  MO  EL   

 

“That’s impossible! We went West from the shop...we went West! How can we be back here?”

 “It’s a good question, Ray. A very good question. But it doesn’t much matter how, since we’re back where we started.”

Don’t go blaming me for all this. You couldn’t wait to get away from our home. It would be good for our marriage, right? This weekend getaway was more your idea than mine.”

“It was Dr. Phil’s. But thanks for the guilt trip.”

Ray knew when to backpedal. “Let’s not do this, okay?”

“You have the snow globe in your coat. We should have another look, don’t you think? Maybe this time we’ll find ourselves trapped inside it freezing to death.”

Ray had forgotten he carried that souvenir of the Rainbow Motel. They looked into the globe for whatever nightmarish new image might appear next to make this vacation complete, perhaps the battered Ellie Grimm digging herself from the snow drift to return like some staggering ghoul seeking blood revenge. But there was nothing to see inside the globe except for a murky fog. No Rainbow Motel, no falling snow, nothing. Judith’s expression turned textbook bat shit.

 

“I’m hungry, I’m fucking freezing, and I’m scared. We’ve lost everything.”

Ray held her. “Not everything. The important stuff is right here.”

He knew she was trying to connect the same dots he was unable to, wrestling with events of the past few hours as if tackling some complex mathematical equation. Experiencing the incomprehensible didn’t mean you had to accept it, but somehow you had to go on living your life as if things made sense even if deep down you knew they didn’t.

“Something’s familiar about this town, Ray. It’s been driving me crazy, but I’ve almost got it.”

The shrieking bird things were back in the grey sky. Judith watched them. They were frightening looking creatures, whatever they were, but Judith didn’t seem frightened of them. Huddled close to her husband, she spoke as if sharing a kids’ campfire story.

“So...there’s this couple gets lost in a blizzard, and while in some strange place they run over an old woman. And there’s this older sister and she’s pissed, so she steals their dog. This couple, they take some useless journey because two dwarves tell them only one guy can get them back home away from this terrible place they’re in. But he doesn’t. No, he’s interested only in scaring the bejeezus out of them for some hush money. So, they have to find the way out themselves using their wits. But here’s the punch line. There is no way out, because their story isn’t the same as another similar story -- their story is real, and in real stories the good guys don’t always win. Need to hear more? Are you seeing what I’m talking about, Ray?”

He didn’t have a clue. Since planting Ellie Grimm in that snow bank, he wasn’t even sure if they were the good guys any more.

“Judith, we’re a couple of strangers surrounded by some backwoods crazies in just another Pennsylvania small town with a ridiculous name. Shit is happening we don’t get, but things happen all the time that people can’t explain. Maybe those damned poppies last night fucked with our heads and we’re still asleep at the motel right now sharing some gonzo opium nightmare together.  Maybe we’re sharing some incredible high like a pair of 60’s acid freaks.

“The poppies. Yes, there’s that too.”  Judith turned her attention to the skies again. “The poppies, and those things flying around up there. It all adds up.”

“You’re making some kind of point?”

“Oh, hell yes! You’re a betting man, aren’t you, Ray?  I’ll bet there’s something very freaky beneath this snow here, something that’s been here the whole time but we couldn’t see. You think this is maybe some hippie dippy drug trip? I’ll show you a trip!” She kicked some of the drift from the road; impatient, she went on her knees and dug through the snow until her fingers turned raw.  A chunk of road surface showed. Judith laughed and dug some more. “I knew it! I just knew it! Look, Ray. Look!”

He was wrong. He understood that at once. Judith had connected the dots, all right. What he saw made no sense, but it was real and that was all that mattered. No opium high here, but like the famous expression went, they weren’t in Kansas anymore.

...because the snow covered road they had been following all morning was made of yellow bricks.

The shrieks from the clouds grew louder, but they were closer now, and Ray saw these weren’t birds swooping towards them. The flying creatures had arms, legs, and they were carrying spears.

On her feet again, Judith watched the sky. “This is our shared nightmare, Ray. But I don’t think we’ll be waking up.”  Her eyes went to the glass sphere in her husband’s hand. The fog inside was lifting. “Look!” 

The snow globe changed again, a fuzzy image forming within an ashen green glow. The face of a warted hag appeared. Held captive in her bony arms Toro struggled weakly. This had to be Nessa  Grimm, and she spoke while cackling like a madwoman. 

“Just try to stay out of my way, just try, you fuckers! I’ve got your dog and I’ll get you too!”

The threat wasn’t how Ray remembered it, but it was proof enough. Tossing the globe as far as he could throw it, he watched it explode like a grenade in the snow. He half expected the entire town to disintegrate that same moment and felt mild disappointed that it didn’t. But there was a plot working here, and they had to follow it. He pulled his wife close.

“You were right. God help us, you were right...”

A spear landed in the snow at his feet. Another flew past his shoulder. From above came an insane chorus of monkey shrieks and a rain of more spears. 

“I think—I think you should say the words now, Judith. You know them. Everybody in the civilized world knows them.”

“But this isn’t that place, we’re not in some storybook tale. We’re in Dove’s Tail Pennsylvania, a town named after a bird’s ass.

Another hailstorm of spears circled them. The screeching was much louder. And nearer.

“You have to say those words or we’ll die in a town named after a bird’s ass.

His wife’s unexpected tear made no sense, but why should it? Nothing else in this place did. Or, maybe it was part of the plot too, the last part.

“Do you understand any of this, Ray. I mean--why here, in this place?”

He wiped her tear, kissed her. He knew it had to be quick.  “Asked and answered.”

She offered him her best smile.  “All right, my darling husband, I’ll say the words you want me to say.” 

Ray hadn’t heard her call him that in a long time, but he liked hearing it. He stroked her hair. 

She took his hand, held it to her heart. He liked that too.

Judith said the words.

                                                                       ***

 

 

Jebediah Albrecht turned to his wife and appeared troubled. They had been watching as another couple lay upon adjoining cots in a bedroom inside the family’s farm home. The bandages had quelled some of the bleeding, but surely there was internal damage to both the man and his woman. Jeb stroked his thick beard.

“Lucky we heard that vehicle go through the rail from here. They’re in bad shape, these two. Get some more warm towels, would you, Rebekah? Not much else we can do ‘til help arrives.”

The Amish woman did as she was told. She put a kettle of potato soup on just in case, but she doubted either of their visitors would be having it.

Returning to her husband she found Jebediah shaking his head. “Ain’t no hospital exceptin’ in Lancaster, and that’s too far from Mercytown to do these people much good. Not in this storm, certainly. I had Cleon make the call anyway.” He patted the whining German Shepherd at his feet. “Glad we were at least able to save their dog. I.D. on his collar says his name’s Toro. So you’re Toro, are ya boy?”

The dog had not left the young couple since they had arrived.

“Best we can do is keep these people comfortable, I suppose,” Rebekah said. “That motor car was near tore in half.  Could’ve stayed in these woods for days ‘fore anyone found them. So many accidents on that motorway, makes you wonder why folks on the outside use it.”

For only a moment the semi-conscious pair on the two cots stirred, each turning toward the other, the woman’s arm twitching as if she were trying to reach out. Maybe it was some sort of miracle, but if that were so, it seemed a minor one. 

“You might think these poor people right now are sharin’ their thoughts,” Jeb added. “I guess it would be comforting to them if they were.”

Rebekah nodded. “What this young woman said before...I suppose she didn’t have her wits about her.” Their visitor had moments earlier mumbled the only thing the Amish pair had heard either of the two utter, but she had said the words over and over.

“Not so strange, when you think about it ‘Bekah.  I’m certain home is where this poor woman and her mister would prefer bein’ right now. Ain’t no place like it, as she said.”

Moving closer to the woman’s face Rebekah swabbed the warm towel across her forehead. She whispered as if sharing a secret, “My husband is a  good man who will do what he can, I promise you. I am told that in ancient Canaan his given name, Jebediah, means wizard. Of course, that foreign place is not our way of life, but perhaps knowing this may give your spirit strength.”

Jebediah had been watching his wife. “Would you sing, Rebekah?  That song you sang before? Perhaps it will do them some good.”

“Certainly, Jeb. I will.”

Rebekah‘s tune was soft, soothing. It seemed to fit, and she hoped this poor couple could hear it.

Jebediah Albrecht listened as his wife sang “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”

 

 

                                                                  ####




Ken Goldman, former Philadelphia teacher of English and Film Studies, is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association. He has homes on the Main Line in Pennsylvania and at the Jersey shore. His stories have  appeared in over 910 independent press publications in the U.S., Canada,  the UK,  and Australia with over thirty due for publication in 2020. Since 1993 Ken’s tales have received seven honorable mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. He has written six books : three anthologies of short stories, YOU HAD ME AT ARRGH!! (Sam's Dot Publishers), DONNY DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (A/A Productions) and STAR-CROSSED (Vampires 2); and a novella, DESIREE,  (Damnation Books). His first novel OF A FEATHER (Horrific Tales Publishing) was released in January 2014. SINKHOLE, his second novel, was published by Bloodshot Books August 2017. Ken looks forward to the day he and Stephen King are called to the dais, and someone asks, "Who is that guy standing next to Ken Goldman?"