Kenneth James Crist
Peering down into the waters of Lake Ponchartrain,
I saw the eyes,
looking back at me. It hadn't really dawned on me that we were in trouble,
until that point, but I was starting to get a glimmer.
We had been enroute from a family reunion
in Findlay, Ohio, to our
home in New Orleans. It had been a typical ordeal, full of sniper warfare,
drunken accusations, and tears. Why do we always go? I have no good answer. I
guess this year it was to show off the big, black Pontiac Bonneville that we
could scarce afford, with all of the bills for our son's therapy . We bought it
anyway, putting ourselves further in debt than I really care to be.
At the reunion, my mom had gotten into that
old rap about how I had
married beneath my station in life, and how Jody's family was trailer trash,
and no wonder our son was retarded, etc. Our son really isn't retarded. He is
autistic—highly intelligent, but locked into a world of his own creation, and
unable—or unwilling—to deal with what we perceive to be the real world.
We had left the reunion exhausted and in
an ugly mood and I had
decided to drive straight through. At three-thirty in the morning, we came at
last to the twenty-nine mile Causeway across Lake Ponchartrain, and at about
the same time fog was settling in. I reduced my speed, as the wooly, thick gray
mass enclosed the car in a cocoon of near-zero visibility.
It was three forty-six by the dashboard clock
when the strangeness
began. I had become sleepy as we droned along and I was catching myself dozing
at the wheel. I kept checking the clock, as it and the odometer were the only
references I had as to how much farther we had to go.
First, the clock stopped. It still displayed
the time, but it
didn't change. It continued to be three forty-six for several minutes, and I
thought, "Just what I need. Another repair bill." After several
miles, I turned on the dome light just long enough to see my wristwatch: Three
forty-six. Well, even a busted clock is right twice a day.
I looked at the odometer, and saw 6049.4
miles. I kept glancing at
it, waiting for it to roll up the next tenth, but soon realized it wasn't working,
either. When the
car quit, it was almost funny. I mean, hell, it was practically a brand-new
car. It shouldn't be breaking down. I coasted into a safety turnout and as I
started to reach for the key, the lights faded and we were in total, thick
Jody stirred and asked, "We home yet?"
"Almost, babe. I'm just gettin' sleepy. I'm
gonna stretch my
legs and have a smoke." No sense in alarming her.
"Okay." She mumbled and laid her head back,
I opened the car door and stepped out, listening...
the sound of traffic coming, the sound of frogs, the slap of water, anything.
The loudest thing I could hear was my own breathing. My life passing. I stepped
around to the passenger side, dug out my smokes and lit up. There should be an
emergency phone close, I thought, and I stepped over to the bridge rail and
started walking and looking.
In thirty seconds or less, I found one, but
the lamp was out and I
had to fumble in the darkness to use it. At first, I merely heard silence. I
lit my lighter, looking in the little phone cabinet to see if there was a dial
or if it was a direct line. No dial, so somebody should pick up immediately. I
jiggled the phone cradle a few times and still got no answer. Great. I'd picked
the only non-working phone on the whole damn causeway to break down next to.
Then I thought I heard something, very faintly, and I pressed the receiver more
tightly to my ear.
"Hello? Hello? Hey, we need help out here!"
There was a return echo of my own voice,
but it didn't sound quite
right. It was like an imperfect recording, a bad tape. I realized that the
other sound I had been hearing was a similar echo of my own breathing. I
decided I'd walk a ways and try the next phone back, behind the car.
A quarter mile had never seemed like much
distance at all. But
alone, wrapped in near-perfect silence, it seemed like quite a hike. In the
gloom, I nearly passed right by the next phone. It was suddenly there and I
quickly yanked the box open and pulled out the receiver. As I put it to my ear,
I heard the echo of my voice, saying, "Hello? Hello? Hey, we need help out
here!" The quality had improved, though, since I had heard it a few
minutes ago, on the other phone, a quarter mile away. It really sounded like
me, now. Almost.
I stood in the fog for a few minutes, thinking
about what I should
do next. The total lack of any other traffic was very disturbing. The causeway
connected Interstate 10 and Interstate 12, and it should have been busy with
truck rigs, even at this hour. I struck my lighter, to look and see how long
we'd been stranded here. With a shock, I realized that my watch still read the
same as it did just before the car stalled: 3:46 A.M. This simply could not be,
I thought, and I examined it more closely. The colon that separated hours from
minutes was still. It should have been blinking on and off, once each second.
Something had put my watch in stasis, and the dashboard clock in the
Bonneville, as well. Was that same phenomenon affecting the phones? Did it also
cause the car to quit?
I started hoofing it back to the car, where
the two most important
people in my life were still asleep. As I got in, I could just make out the
shape of my wife in the right seat.
"Were you calling for help?" she asked quietly.
"I tried two of the emergency phones. They
"Did you try the cell phone?"
Christ! I'd forgotten the cell phone! I'd
only had it a few days, a
little perk given to me by my office. Since we were going out of town and I
didn't want it stolen, I'd put it in the trunk. Grinning sheepishly in the
darkness, I said, "Actually, I forgot all about it."
For once, Jody didn't have anything shrill
or nasty to say. Maybe
her supply had exhausted itself at the reunion. I slipped out of the car,
fumbled with the keys, opened the trunk and groped around for a minute, finally
finding the cell phone. Hit the switch and was rewarded with a lighted keypad.
Dialed 911 and put it to my ear. Then incredibly, I heard my own voice saying,
"Hello? Hello? Hey, we need help out here!"
I jerked the offending instrument away from
my ear, and my mouth
was hanging open, breathing in acres of thick, fishy-smelling fog as I stared
at it in disbelief. From it came my own voice again, as it repeated,
"Hello? Hello? Hey, we need help out here!" Then the lighted keypad
faded and went out.
I got myself under control after a few minutes.
How could my own
voice be captured by a cell phone minutes after I had talked on the emergency
phone? It had scared the shit out of me, pure and simple. I walked back around
to the driver's door, opened up and slid inside.
"Are they coming?" Jody asked.
"Most definitely." I answered, although at
the time I had
no idea who they were.
I sat in the car for a few moments, gathering
my wits and thinking
about our situation. Sooner or later, someone would have to come along and I
would hear them well before they came out of the fog. I should be able to flag
someone down. Then I remembered the flares.
I had road flares, three of them, in a kit
in the trunk. Once
again, I slid out of the car and went around to the trunk. I hauled out my
lighter and quickly found the kit and extracted the flares. Now, I would just
need to stay outside the car, listen for the vehicle that was bound to come
soon, and lay a flare path on the road to indicate trouble. I stepped over to
the railing, listening to the slap of water from below, stuck a cigarette in my
mouth and snapped my lighter. When I had it going, I leaned on the rail,
looking out into the night.
As I smoked, my gaze wandered downward and
I saw something move
directly below me. I focused on the water, dimly realizing that there was
little or no fog under the bridge, and that was when I saw the eyes. At first,
I did not recognize them as eyes. They looked like thousands of tiny red points
of light and I thought perhaps they were some type of phosphorescent creatures,
glowing to attract mates, or food. Then they blinked. It was as though they
were "doing the wave", that is, their eyes closed, then reopened, in
a solid movement, sweeping from my left to my right, taking a few seconds to
cross the massed thousands that were directly below me, under the causeway.
I stepped back from the rail in confusion,
then turned and walked
about fifty feet from the car and looked over again. The water was at first
perfectly black, but then I saw a pair of red eyes, then another, then thirty,
then hundreds and thousands. They assembled beneath my position, a rapt
audience waiting for me to perform.
I reached a shaking hand to my back pocket
and withdrew one of the
road flares, briskly pulling the tab and squinting against the glare as it
burst into pinkish, reddish fire. If Hell really burns, it is probably the
color of road flares.
I held the flare aloft, out over the bridge
rail and I leaned out
to better examine the creatures below. Now I saw no eyes, but on the piling
directly below me, I saw a slick, black mass oozing back into the water and
even as I watched, the gray concrete began to reappear. They had been halfway
up the bridge pier. They had been coming up to the deck, to the roadway!
I stood rooted to the spot, watching the
calm surface of the lake,
until the flare burned too far down for me to hold it any longer. I laid it on
the rail, and retreated to the car. When I got in, I locked the doors and Jody
asked from the darkness, "What is it? What did you see?"
"I'm not sure. Something in the lake, watching
"Oh, yeah. Right." she said, sarcasm making
"I think we may be in trouble." I said.
"Well, hell, yes, we're in trouble," she
like very much to get home. Is there any reason why we seem to have no traffic
at all, here?"
"I've been trying to figure that out," I
I think it has something to do with time flow."
"You lost me."
"Well, the clock on the dash was on the same
time for several
minutes before the car died, and my watch has read 3:46 for all the time we've
"Something's stopping time?"
"It would appear so."
"Bullshit! You just do something to get us
out of here,
mister!" she was beginning to get shrill.
"Ease off a little, hon. Let's not wake up
"Why? Don't want to deal with your son?"
"Don't Jody me, goddamn it! You know you
resent the hell out
of him for screwing up your life and causing you the inconvenience-"
I reached over and placed my hand gently
over her mouth to still
her and she started to push my hand away, then she looked where I was looking,
at the tiny red eyes pouring over the bridge rail, right next to the car.
"Shhh! Be quiet. I don't know what it is.
It's what I saw in
"Are those eyes?"
"Is it like crabs or something?"
"Well, what is it?"
"I don't know."
"You didn't see them?"
"Yeah, I did. But I don't know what they
"What did it look like?"
"Just those eyes, in a black shiny mass,
slick looking, like
"Well, you asked..."
Just then, the right front tire went flat
with a hiss, and Jody
screamed, waking Seth.
I listened to her as she took in breath for
another scream, and I
said, "Stop it! Jody, that won't help! You're only going to scare
"It's coming for us! We're gonna die!"
I could find no fault with her reasoning
as I frantically twisted
the ignition key one more time. I knew that it wouldn't start, but I was scared
beyond rational thought and was thinking only of escape. I turned the ignition
switch again and again, as though I could wish
the car to start.
Glancing to my right, past my wife, I could
still see the
blackness, speckled with red eyes, sliding over the bridge rail, moving more
quickly now, almost eagerly, to surround the car.
The left front tire let go with a bang, the
car settled on my side.
Jody screamed again and then did something I had never heard her do before: she
lapsed into praying.
I looked out at the ground on my side of
the car and realized it
was slick and black and moving. The car was completely surrounded and the red
eyes were sparkling almost gleefully, as the attack began to build momentum.
From the corner of my eye, I saw movement
and my vision snapped
back to the end of the hood, where a thin layer of black was flowing up over
the metal. Steam or smoke appeared to be rising from the mass. As I watched it
move closer to the windshield, I realized that it was dissolving the paint on
the car's finish. Jody interrupted her Rosary long enough to open her eyes,
take one look around, and begin screaming again.
From the back seat came an accompanying wail
of anguish. Now Seth
was wide awake and scared, too. He was yelling in response to Jody's screams as
she became more frantic.
As the mass of black nastiness approached
the windshield, I
remembered the lighter gripped tightly in my hand. I flipped it open and struck
the spark wheel and I was rewarded with a good, steady flame.
I waved the lighter at the inside of the
windshield glass and
watched as the mass retreated from the light. I now could clearly see bare,
shiny steel where only moments ago there had been glossy black baked-on paint.
If they could do that to auto paint, I thought, they'd make short work of us.
I had no sooner completed the thought than
the right rear tire
deflated with a hooting sound like a New Year's noisemaker.
"God, Tim, do something!"
"What? What can I do? I'm open here. Give
"I don't know, but they're gonna get us!"
The lighter was growing hot in my hand and
I knew it wouldn't be
long before I would have to close it and let it cool, or find a way to hold it
until it ran out of fuel.
"Where are the rest of the flares?"
They were in my back pocket. "Here! Right
here. But I can't
light one in here. Hell, it'll set the car on fire."
"Can you light one quick, and toss it out
on the ground?"
"I can maybe do better than that," I said,
try to land it on the hood or the top."
I started to light one of the flares and
"What?" she asked, her voice rising again.
"I won't be able to get the window down.
"You'll have to open the door."
I lit the flare and sparks started cascading
onto the seats and my
clothing. In seconds I was able to quickly crack the door and wave the flare
down toward the pavement, driving the mass back until I could reach up over the
top of the car. I laid the flare as far out into the center of the roof as I
could reach and pulled my arm back in and slammed the door.
Now there was bright hell-light all around
the car and the mass had
retreated far enough into the fog that it was invisible. I listened to the hiss
of the burning flare, knowing I could do this trick only one more time and then
we were history.
When the flare began to sputter and its light
started to die, I
reluctantly lit the last one.
I pulled the tab, and opened the car door
again and set it on the
top. Now we had just the amount of time it would take for the flare to burn,
then we were meat for these things, whatever they were.
As we waited out our time I began thinking
back over my life and I
realized that my years with Jody and Seth, in spite of all our problems, were
the best years of my life. I mused on my life and our relationship until the last
flare went out.
Soon, the red eyes were back, staring in
greedily at us. Jody had
started screaming again, only now I held her and told her to keep her eyes
closed. I continued to watch, though, and soon the windows of the car were
Seth was becoming more agitated and he was
yelling long streams of
meaningless gibberish. It just went on and on and it truly got on my nerves
until, after he'd been doing this for several minutes, I realized that the mass
outside wasn't making any more progress. It had stopped. I got the distinct
impression that it was listening.
Seth kept babbling away, now with his volume
up, yelling his
nonsense words, and I realized that it all sounded different. I had never heard
these particular sounds before from Seth
and the more I listened, the more I began to notice that it was one phrase
repeated over and over. Soon, the mass began to ease back down the glass, as if
in retreat, and then the car suddenly filled with pulsing red and blue light.
Jody started to freak again, but I hushed her and told her it was all right. It
was the Highway Patrol.
The Pontiac had to be towed. The two Troopers
were amazed at the
condition of the Bonneville. They had never seen anything like it and neither
had I. They had seen the blackness rapidly retreating from our car as they
Why they had even been allowed that close
was something I could not
understand. After our rescue, I looked at my watch and it was running right on
time. The time we had spent trapped there on the Causeway was time that we just
lost, somehow. I couldn't understand why the Trooper's car would run, and what
had broken the spell of the time-suspension thing, if that term is not too
Now I believe it was Seth. I think that on
some level that we can't
understand, Seth was able to communicate with them and that he drove them back.
It's been almost two months since the Causeway,
but it is far from
over. The insurance company replaced the car. They said it was not salvageable
and with no argument bought me a new one. I think someone wanted it. Maybe it's
being held as evidence. I don't know.
One night last week I started thinking about
possible ways the
black mass could get to my house. The Department of Public Works assures me
that there are no direct sewage runs out to Lake Ponchartrain, that don't go
through a treatment plant. But there are the storm sewers.
Three nights ago, the telephone rang and
when I answered it, I
heard my own voice, very clearly, saying, "Hello? Hello? Hey, we need help
out here!" I haven't mentioned that to Jody.
We came home from an evening out tonight
and sent the babysitter
home. As I got ready for bed, I went into the bathroom and I smelled that
close, cloying, fishy smell. When I picked up the lid of the stool, there was a
black scum in the water. I flushed it, and I haven't said anything to Jody
about that, either.
Seth has been sleeping in our room, ever
since the Causeway, and I
think that's a good idea.
Published on Skin and Bones
Kenneth James Crist is Editor of
Black Petals Magazine and is on staff at Yellow Mama ezine. He has been a
published writer since 1998, having had almost two hundred short stories and
poems in venues ranging from Skin and Bones and The Edge-Tales of Suspense to
Kudzu Monthly. He is particularly fond of supernatural biker stories. He reads
everything he can get his hands on, not just in horror or sci-fi, but in
mystery, hardboiled, biographies, westerns and adventure tales. He retired from
the Wichita, Kansas police department in 1992 and from the security department
at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita in 2016. Now 75, he is an avid motorcyclist
and handgun shooter. He is active in the American Legion Riders and the Patriot
Guard, helping to honor and look after our military. He is also a volunteer
driver for the American Red Cross, Midway Kansas Chapter. He is the owner of
Fossil Publications, a desktop publishing venture that seems incapable of
making any money at all. His zombie book, Groaning for Burial, has been
released by Hekate Publishing in Kindle format and paperback late this year. On
June the ninth, 2018, he did his first (and last) parachute jump and crossed
that shit off his bucket list.