An Alto for the Choir
by Hillary Lyon
Somebody forgot to top off the oil
the car. So on that long trek back to the family homestead, on that long,
lonely stretch of highway on a cloudless August afternoon, the engine of a
beautiful and otherwise perfectly preserved 1978 sapphire-blue Camaro seized,
Cathi got out of the muscle car and
kicked the front tire. “Stupid car,” she muttered, as she dug through her purse
for her phone. She scrolled through her contacts, looking for the 1-800 number
for AAA roadside service. Nada.
“Excuse me, miss,” said
a voice from
out of nowhere. “Need some help?”
She turned to find a
cowboy-hatted, toothpick-chewing officer standing by the car. He adjusted his
mirrored sunglasses and crossed his tanned arms.
“I, uh, yeah,” she answered.
He was a
deputy or something, so of course he would help her. Or so Cathi assumed.
“What a beauty!” The officer
waiting for her to elaborate further. He obviously referred to the car, not
her, because he lovingly looked the Camaro up and down. “This your machine?
Don’t usually see a gal driving something of this caliber.”
no, it belongs to my husband.” Cathi then scoffed, and said, “Ex-husband,
“Uh huh,” the deputy replied
thoughtfully. “You sing? Soprano, maybe?”
“What?” Cathi was taken
aback by this
odd question. “Sorta, I mean, I sang alto in my high school choir, but what
does that have to do with anything?”
The deputy arched his shoulder and
spit out the toothpick. “Ma’am, you’re not the legal owner of this vehicle.
It’s been reported stolen, and that means you’re in a heap of trouble. Grand
theft auto, in fact. That’s a felony.”
“What? No! Derick wouldn’t
that to me!” Her voice rose with her panic.
“Well, he would, and he did.
have to take you in.” The deputy casually tipped his hat back. Cathi couldn’t
read his expression.
It was only now that she looked for
the deputy’s car. There wasn’t one. “Where did you come from? I mean, where’s
your car?” Cathi asked.
“Don’t need a car out
deputy replied, pulling out a new toothpick from his shirt pocket. He jammed it
in his mouth and smiled. “But you need to get in line.” He pointed to a spot
over Cathi’s right shoulder. She turned to find a line of dirty, jumpsuited
convicts toiling away in the middle of the road.
“Where did they—”
Cathi began. The
deputy roughly shoved her toward the group, who parted to make a place for her.
“There you go, missy, a perfect
next to the tenors.” The convicts began humming, and in spite of herself, Cathi
On that particular stretch of highway
in the back country, the one that the old folks called the “singing highway,” a
new voice joined the chorus. The superstitious will tell you the humming you
hear when you drive on a moonless night is the mournful moaning of convicts who
worked the road—worked until they died. Though the more pragmatic will say the
hum results from the grooved pavement, made so rainwater easily sloughs away,
and shake their heads impatiently at the absurd idea of a ghost choir.
Hillary Lyon lives in southern Arizona,
where she is the founder of and editor for Subsynchronous Press. She’s lived in
France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the U.S. Her stories have
appeared recently in Theme of Absence,
Black Petals, 365 Tomorrows, Night to Dawn,
Eternal Haunted Summer, and numerous
horror anthologies. hillarylyon.wordpress.com