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We the Jury; Fiction by Barbara Stanley
Emptying the Trash: Fiction by Rick McQuiston
Milepost 44: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Planetary Perpetrator: Fiction by James Flynn
A Thin Thread: Fiction by M. E. Proctor
What Is the Song the Children Sing?: Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
A Bottle of Sherry: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Junipers: Fiction by Liberty Price
Institution Inspector No. 23: Fiction by Michael Fowler
Nightmares of Nightmares: Fiction by John J. Dillon
When You're Dead, You're Done!: Fiction by Pamela Ebel
Family Business: Fiction by Donald Glass
Colors: Flash Fiction by Bernice Holtzman
Gladiators: Flash Fiction by John C. Mannone
Pigeons in the Park: Flash Fiction by Roy Dorman
Kitsy: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
the look of legs: Poem by Meg Baird
Mike's 80th Birthday: Poem by Elizabeth Zelvin
The Art of Flying: Poem by John C. Mannone
Magazine Sestina: Poem by Peter Mladinic
Been Down So Low, It Now Sounds Great: Poem by Bradford Middleton
the burnt globe and the pregnancy: Poem by Partha Sarkar
Evening Alone: Poem by Craig Kirchner
Larry, Moe, and Me: Poem by Craig Kirchner
I Live the Life I Chose: Poem by Richelle Slota
Death House: Poem by Richelle Slota
he died of cancer: Poem by Wayne F. Burke
Night: Poem by Wayne F. Burke
and they are prancing: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
full of thoughts and hopes: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
threading a needle: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Atlas Yearns for Retirement: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Frown: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Why is the Sky Cerulean?: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Awakening: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Swirling in the Chaos: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
The Moira: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Midnight Molt: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Moments Before Awakening: Poem by Michael Keshigian
The Messenger: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Strange Gardens
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Kenneth James Crist: Milepost 44

103_ym_milepost44_3_sophia.jpg
Art by Sophia Wiseman-Rose 2024

Milepost 44

 

                                                                  

Kenneth James Crist

 

 

In front of the crackling fire, Angela snuggled more closely to Martin. Around the old cabin they had refurbished together, the winter wind moaned and they pulled each other still closer. Soon, they would make love, probably in front of the fireplace, but for now, they sipped wine and held each other, so completely in love that time was not a factor, as long as they were together.

Moaning and thrashing, Martin came awake just before the bad part of the dream started. That was good, because he wasn't certain he could live through it even one more time. The midnight call. Rushing down Bluebell Lane. The icy curve, the cop cars with their lights spinning, turning everything into blood-red stop-action. The paramedics, their breath steaming in the biting cold, shaking their heads and moving away from the still form, under the orange plastic tarp.

She had looked so much smaller in death than in life and she was so brutally smashed....he sat on the edge of his bed, their bed, and remembered the blood and broken glass in her hair. The broken feel of her bones moving inside her as he had held her in a last, desperate attempt to feel her alive. Curiously, one of his most vivid memories of that horrid night was of how her feet had looked, minus their shoes. Somehow her feet had looked vulnerable, pathetic. She had been hit so hard that she had been knocked right out of her loafers and into eternity. Finally, they had forced him to let Angela go so they could take her away.

He had managed to live through the funeral in a state of numbness. He found if he could keep wrenching his thoughts away from Angela, he was able to function on a level of consciousness that made him seem almost normal. It was as though he was a marionette, with someone off-stage pulling the strings. He was somehow able to say the right things at the right times and he got through it. Everybody said it would get better, with time. They were wrong. Actually, they were all full of shit. It wasn't getting any better at all.

They had been married just three months at the time of the accident and there wasn't even a drunk driver to blame. The lady who lost control of her Lexus was going the speed limit or less and just lost it on the ice. She was in a state of shock and had to be hospitalized for two days, herself.

Martin never knew why Angela was out walking on Bluebell Lane after midnight. He had been asleep for hours when the call came and when he first got the call, he had searched the house for her, knowing there had to be some mistake. She was with him, so how could she be two miles down the road toward town? But the truth was evident soon enough. Angela had taken a walk after midnight on a bitterly cold night in December and gotten herself killed.

Martin got up and went to the bathroom to get a sleeping pill. He had early court in the morning and if he didn't get some sleep, he'd be wasted.

 

 

"Hey there, Little Lady! Where ya headed?"

Over the clatter of the idling diesel, the trucker heard her say, "Just into town. Gotta get a last minute gift for my hubby."

She climbed up into the warmth of the huge cab of the Kenworth Conventional and the trucker looked her over by the lights of the instrument panel. She was young and pretty, he thought, and just about the same age as his daughter, Maggie.

"Not a good idea, out walkin' by yerself at night." he commented, as he released the air brake and snatched the rig into gear.

"Yeah, I know," she said, "I've always been told that, but I've never had a minute's trouble with anyone that's given me a ride. My hubby's old Volvo wouldn't start for me, so I decided to hike."

"Yeah, well, ya just can't be too careful, is all I'm sayin', ya know?"

"Yeah, that's for sure."

The trucker shifted his way up through five gears and split the axle and started over.

"Ya say ya gotta go get a present? Don't know if you'll find anythin' open, this time a night..." He looked to his right and found he was riding alone. He hit the air brakes and pulled to the side, stopping the rig and locking it down, then he got out a flashlight and checked the inside of the sleeper and the complete underside of the rig. He even walked back a hundred yards, finding nothing. Then he continued on into town and did something he absolutely never did. He parked the rig and went into the nearest tavern and had four beers.

 

Christmas had been a complete horror for Martin. The worst, and at the same time the best, had been Christmas morning, when he had sat by himself and opened the presents she had bought for him. He had laughed at some and been puzzled by others and then he had wept bitterly over the whole mess. It was an exhausting day, with visitors coming and going, all meaning well and unwilling to give him the one gift he craved most: solitude. It was the first day he contemplated suicide, and it was not to be the last.

 

Even though he was sleeping poorly, it seemed to Martin that he slept through springtime, at least he didn't remember much of it. Summer came upon him suddenly and like Rip Van Winkle, he found it confusing. Could it really have been six months? Where had the time gone? And why didn't the pain go with it?

On the sixth of June he found himself in town, sitting in a tavern. It wasn't the kind of place anyone from his law practice would expect to find him, and that was precisely why he was there. He didn't want company. He wanted a sandwich and some beer. Maybe a lot of beer. He'd been doing this quite a bit, lately. Drinking as much of his meals as he was eating. He knew alcohol didn't solve problems, but he didn't consider his problem solvable anyway. All he wanted was to numb his mind and spirit a little, so the pain and loneliness would let up.

Three beers later, his wandering mind started catching phrases of conversation from other tables. Most of it was meaningless babble, until he heard a big, older guy in a plaid shirt say, "Yeah, she was in my truck, man. Swear to God. Picked her up on Bluebell Lane and talked to her. I mean, we had conversation, ya know? Then, poof! She's gone! I'm freaked out, man! Never had anythin' like that happen to me before. Don't care to have it happen again, neither."

Martin turned and looked at the guy, staring, thinking maybe this guy knows about Angela....maybe it's some kind of cruel joke, but the guy looks straight, like a good, family man.

Picked her up on Bluebell Lane. Martin refused to believe it. A story like that was pure bullshit. He got up and tossed some bills on the bar and left, a little angry at the guy in the plaid shirt, and at himself for even entertaining the thought that she might somehow be out there...but his mind desperately, deeply wanted to believe it.

 

 

By mid-July Martin had heard the story twice more, once in the same bar, but from a different driver and once as water-cooler gossip at his own office, gossip that faded into silence at his approach.

There was this girl, who hitchhiked on Bluebell Lane, and when she got into the car, she disappeared. She was apparently young and pretty, and those who picked her up got quite a shock when she just suddenly wasn't there anymore.

Martin still thought it was bullshit, but he wasn't sleeping any better than before. Soon, he found himself getting dressed whenever he couldn't sleep and cruising his old Volvo up and down the four-mile stretch of state highway that was called Bluebell Lane, sometimes far into the small hours of the morning. His work at the law firm was going to shit and he always looked like he was strung out or doing drugs. A lot of the water cooler gossip was becoming gossip about him.

Martin didn't care. At some point, he had decided that he had to know if she was somehow out there, somehow seeking him, somehow still loving him.

Yes, he knew she was dead. At least she was dead from the standpoint of this dimension or astral plane or whatever they called it. But what if she really walked the roads at night, looking for him? She might do that for eternity, without ever finding him. The only thing that was harder for him to bear than his own pain was thinking about Angela being in as much pain as he was.

On the seventeenth of August, a few minutes after midnight, Martin was parked on Bluebell Lane, a hundred yards from the spot where she'd died. He was so exhausted that he'd been falling asleep at the wheel. He had pulled to the shoulder and parked, engine idling, air conditioner clicking on and off, keeping the car's interior cool. Then there was a tapping on the glass of the passenger side window and his head came up with a jerk. His mind was half-asleep, muddled and confused. He had been dreaming of Angela and now she was here. Was this still the dream? He stared at her for a moment, red-eyed and stupid from lack of sleep, then he reached across and unlocked the door on her side. The door opened and closed and she slid in next to him.

Her perfume filled his nostrils, her hair filled his hands and her cool lips found his. He felt his heart completely stop in his chest and he didn't care, then it reluctantly began ticking along again. They broke apart and he looked into her face. She was just as she had always been and there was no blood or glass in her hair.

Red and blue lights came on behind the car and Martin looked back. Sheriff's deputy. When he turned back to Angela, she was gone.

The deputy came up to the window and found Martin St. James, 31, white male, crying for no apparent reason. His logsheet would show that it was near Milepost 44, where subject's wife was killed nine months prior. Subject agreed it was not a good place to park. Subject appeared sober, but distraught. Subject agreed to move on.

 

Every day Martin went to the office and went through the motions of being a lawyer. Once he had handled high-powered clients and they had been grooming him for possible partnership. Now he was handling DUI's and traffic tickets, small claims court and uncontested divorces. His powers of concentration were shot, his mind filled with those moments with Angela. Was it real, or the fading remnants of a dream? If it had merely been a dream, why had he been able to smell her perfume, still lingering in the car the next morning?

He was consumed now with the need to find her again, to repeat the experience, to talk with her. On their first encounter, if it was real, he reminded himself, they had spoken not a word. But if he could make it happen again, if he could have more time, if he could somehow communicate with her, he was convinced that he would then know what to do.

Each night, without fail, he cruised the Volvo up and down Bluebell Lane in a search that at times seemed hopeless and at other times seemed only moments from fulfilling his deepest desire, to find and be with Angela.

On September thirteenth, she was there. He rounded the curve, and she was just standing there, waiting on him. In the headlights, in the pouring rain, she was as substantial as any person he'd ever seen. He stopped and unlocked the door and she slid into the seat. The lump in his throat was huge, trying to keep him silent, but she spoke first.

"Don't drive anywhere, Martin. I can't go too far from my spot. I get weak when I get too far from my spot and then I have to find my way back."

He looked at her and realized with some dim part of his mind that even though she had just gotten in out of a driving rainstorm, she was perfectly dry. Not a drop of water stained her clothing or clung in her hair. He reached for her and she came into his arms and he said, "God, Angela, I've missed you so much."

"I know, Martin, but you can't go on this way. I can't either. We've got to put it to rest. I've got to move on and so do you. You have to get on with your life."

"Then there's no way we can be together?"

"We'll be together again someday. You have to live your life first."

"I can't do that without you, Angela. I'd sooner die."

"You need to think about all you'll miss if you choose not to live any more. Is it worth it, just to be with me?"

"I think so."

"Don't be too hasty, Martin." she said, then she leaned forward and kissed him briefly on the lips. "Don't worry, we'll talk again."

He tried to hold on to her, to keep her with him, but her seemingly real flesh became as insubstantial as smoke and she was gone. Grimly, he set his jaw and drove home.

 

 

As October set in and the trees began to turn, Martin's work began to improve. He was sleeping more soundly, when he did sleep, and he didn't seem as dazed as he had been for so many months. It seemed he had finally turned the corner on his grief and gotten a handle on his life, that he would be able to go on. The senior partners began looking at him again, thinking perhaps someday...

 

On October thirty-first, Halloween, she was there for him again. He pulled to the side and let her into the car. They embraced and he could once again hold her and touch her and speak with her.

"You've made your decision, haven't you?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely," he said, "if you'll be with me."

"I'll always be with you, Martin."

"Can I drive up the road a ways? I want it to happen close to your spot."

"Sure. I've been saving my strength for this night. Just don't go too far."

Martin cruised the Volvo slowly up Bluebell Lane until he reached his driveway, then he turned the car around. Angela was still with him, though she had started becoming harder to see. As they started back down the hill, Martin unhooked his safety harness. The car was too old to have air bags. A half-mile from her spot, Angela snuggled against him and he put his arm around her.

"I love you, Martin." he heard her say, as he aimed at the tree that stood sixty feet from Angela's spot near Milepost 44, and he stood on the accelerator. He closed his eyes and inhaled the smell of her perfume and thought what a lucky guy he was to be with Angela.

 

“Milepost 44” was previously published in Black Petals-Anniversary issue, 1999 and in Skin and Bones E-zine, also in 1999

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Art by Sophia Wiseman-Rose 2024

Kenneth James Crist is Editor Emeritus 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.

Sophia Wiseman-Rose is a Paramedic and an Episcopalian nun. Both careers have provided a great deal of exposure to the extremes in life and have provided great inspiration for her.  

 She is currently spending time with her four lovely grown children and making plans to move back to her home in the UK in the Autumn.  

 In addition, Sophia had a few poems in the last edition of Black Petals Horror/Science Fiction Magazine

 

https://www.artstation.com/sophiaw-r6

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2024