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Dan A. Cardoza
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Passengers

 

Dan A. Cardoza

 

In the rearview, Seth could barely make out Palmer’s high cheekbones, his elephant trunk neck, and matted brow line. Uncle Palmer, a back seat blind-spot, seemed to peer out into the glassy darkness. Seth felt relieved. After all, it was only a facial outline, a sketched profile of electricity in the receding lightning. In the sizzle of a second bolt, there was only a window, washed in aquamarine, as viscous as anti-freeze. 

          Now a junior at Mississippi State, in Starkville, Seth calculated he had only 79 miles.

~~~

It wasn’t easy growing up a bull’s eye for his uncle’s fists. It’s the kind of hurt that is nearly impossible to scar over. His Uncle Palmer was nothing but trouble.

After Seth’s father’s tragic love affair with Crystal M., his mother’s revenge was to elope with his dad’s shotgun.  It fell on Aunt Melissa to finish raising Seth, who was only in his mid-teens.

Over the years, Seth was forced to sit, in a front-row seat, at Uncle Palmer’s sociopathic circus.  There, he witnessed his uncle’s big tent acts of violence, debauchery, and pedestrian mayhem. To know Palmer was to bear scabs.

To Aunt Melissa and Seth, survival invented a simple plan, Sweet southern tea, and Ethylene Glycol.

The Biloxi autopsy: Death from Hep-C complications, ostensibly from Uncle Palmer’s pension for low brow, jail-house tattoos.

~~~

With the return of the empty back seat, Seth’s impish smile returned. Once again he fixed his eyes on the wet pavement ahead.

Seth could almost taste the hot cross buns, drowning in ghee, and the bronzed goose-pimpled turkey breast. And of course, there would be the early morning, sleepy trip to the fridge, and the finger dip into the heart of the bowl of cold gravy and giblets. This is the season he relished the most, the ingestion of death— in celebration of his well-deserved nightmares. It was the one time of year he felt grateful.  

Skidding over the double yellow line reminded Seth of when he swerved into the age of thirteen. He’d wanted whiskers in the worst way. He’d crashed into the beginning of manhood, shaved his face rare, been told by more than a few ruffians at school, “The more you do it, the more it grows.” In a running panic for first aid, Seth skidded on his back, in the sticky blood he’d splattered on the bathroom tile, clear into the beige carpeted hall. He’d stained his best Sunday shirt. Worse, his mother sent him to mass that way.

As the steering wheel jerked his car to the left, Seth’s long-dead mother viciously tugged at his right elbow, just like she did when she jerked him up from the hall carpet. Only, in the noisy deluge and lightning, he couldn’t see her face. Of no surprise, since her tragic death, she had none.

It was the approaching fire-bolt that walked toward him on voltaic stilts, and the back-cracking thunder, that made him nearly slip off the road in the unctuous rain. When Seth looked sharply to his right in panic, his mother vanished. She’d left him nothing again, except a sore elbow.

He couldn’t believe his increased heart rate, hell he’d read the best of King and Oyeyemi. He loved a good scare after all. Now, even the fear in those stories faded, unlike the pressure and pain in his throbbing forearm.

Seth thought it ironic that all the passenger seats were not taken. Mockingly he muttered to himself, “If I’m going to party, I’ll invite them all.”

~~~

As the black silk sky tore sheets, Aunt Melissa re-arranged the two place settings. Oh, how she loved her some Brahms, especially the classic lullabies. There was something about the Mephistophelian memories they conveyed.  

Piano Concerto Number 2 was her favorite, with its assemblage of Stradivarius violins fluttering their wings off.  It reminded her of when Seth trapped all the Monarch butterflies in his smothering jar. Somehow the frenzy was calming.

~~~

Aunt Melissa woke precisely at 3:00 A.M., her face on the table. She was still seated at the formal dining room table, as Brahms looped in the Bluetooth JBL speaker. The Wi-Fi veins in her neck pulsed with fear and agitation. Standing straight up, like a Cossack Russian soldier, she dismissed herself away from the elegant place setting. Then she was off to the darkening salve of her bedroom. From somewhere very tired inside, she knew her seasons would never be the same.

~~~

Hi, I’m Randy. Of course, it was a coincidence Seth died on my birthday.

I’ve rarely been in Seth’s thoughts; after all, he had a whole family of ghosts to attend.

It has been fifteen-odd years since my accidental drowning at the old Rocklin Quarry. Since then, I’ve had so much to occupy my time. I almost convinced myself my death was an accident. Bad memories can live outside you that way. But in time they take on a life all their own. Eventually they want in.

~~~

Seth’s car was discovered, sunk in a bog, not far from a rainy sharp curve. It was empty.

Over the years, Seth’s accident evolved into folklore, a real who-done-it, with the mystery of his death “too complicated or too simple to solve,” they’d say. If Seth knew he’d become a legend, would he have found it pleasingly sardonic?

Each summer, around campfires along the Mississippi River, young campers trade true stories. Some claim Seth died of a heart attack, deep in the woods. Elisa likes the ending where Seth’s bowels were removed, with the precision of Edward Scissor Hand’s. But of course, Jimmy is absolutely sure, “When they opened his mouth, quarry grass, mud and moss was shoved down his throat.”

All these true stories, of course, guarantee new campers next summer, and all the summers that follow.            

 

 

The End


Dan A. Cardoza’s poetry, nonfiction, and fiction have met international acceptance. He has an M.S. degree in education from C.S.U.S. Most recently his work has been featured in Black Petals, Brave Voices, Dissections, Cabinet of Heed, Cleaver, Coffin Bell/2019 Anthology, Dime Show Review, Entropy, Gravel, Liquid Imagination, New Flash Fiction Review, Poached Hare, Spelk, Thrice, and Vamp Cat.

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