CHAPTER THREE — PASSING THROUGH:
Shortcut, my ass! Thought Roger Spearman as he disengaged his cruise control and lugged the big Lincoln down a side road off state road thirty-eight. The car had electrically operated seats with lumbar support and air-ride suspension. She also ran like a raped ape out on the open highway, but his swollen bladder felt every bump and jostle of this badly neglected strip of asphalt.
Gawd! I am really out in the boonies this time.
His back seat was littered with shiny cans. They were the spent casings of a twelve pack of silver bullets which is how Roger always referred to his drink of choice – never as Coor’s light. He’d drunk it in bars from Richmond to Portland, in dives too numerous to mention. From sleazy southern tonks to the glass and chrome décor of the some of the finest northern hotel lounges, his routine was nearly always the same. He would park his large and somewhat doughy butt on a bar stool and demand a “cold silver bullet”. When the bartender had filled his request, Roger would smile and salute, drain off a huge, adam’s-apple bobbing gulp and quip, “Ahhhh! That one had my name on it!” Sometimes this line would elicit a chuckle but it was usually of the polite variety.
Now at this moment, though, the beer sloshed in Roger’s stomach, and his over-worked bladder cried out for release. He could swear it was splashing at the back of his throat. As his headlights dimly illuminated the dark road before him, he did something he hadn’t done since he was a small child. He reached down and pinched off his penis, hoping to staunch the flow of hot liquid that threatened to burst forth.
This would be his third stop since leaving Indy where he bought the beer. There had been one stop at an ancient Union 76 station in Martinsville and another at the Starvin’ Marvin’ in Bloomington. At forty-six, his kidneys weren’t what they used to be.
He would have been a lot better off to stay with the interstate, but no! He had to go and listen to McNally. Chester McNally had worked this area before and claimed that the best route between Chi-town and Louisville was to run 65 to Indy and then skirt the city on the 465 bypass. Halfway around, you jump off on 37 and take it south to Paoli, a wide spot in the road, where you would then pick up 190 for a straight shot over to Louisville.
“Nothin’ but Podunk towns from Bloomington on down,” McNally’d assured him. “No speed traps or state cops either. And hell! The local mounties don’t know a radar gun from a squirrel rifle. It’ll cut forty minutes outta your trip.”
Well, father south it might be all right, but so far there had been too many stop lights and small towns to suit Roger. Once he got this big boat rolling down the road, he liked to keep it that way – cruise control on a steady seventy-five and the air and the tunes at full blast. So after threading his way through Bobby Knight’s hometown, he started looking for a way to cut back over to 65 and get the show on the road. Once back on the interstate he might just have to push that cruise control on up around eighty or eighty-five to make up for some lost time. His radar detector, Cobra lay coiled on the dash, its red eye blinking steadily.
At Bedford, the dual-lane ended and so did Roger’s patience. He pulled over and whipped out his Rand-McNally (certainly no relation to Chester!) and found a squiggly gray line which was designated state road 38 and seemed to wind its way in the general vicinity he wished to pursue. The sound of tires spinning on gravel joined with the hissing crack of his last bullet as he opened it and headed out to cut his losses.
But 38 never made it to the interstate, it petered out with a detour somewhere south of a town called Snyder. For the last hour, he’d been wandering the back roads, turning first one way and then another trying to find his way back to the highway. Every time he thought he was heading in the right direction, he wound up back in Snyder and his frustration was reaching a seething peak.
Ordinarily, he would have asked directions in town but it was late and they’d rolled the streets up here a long time ago.
The road he was on now though seemed to show some promise. He was almost positive it was running in the right direction and there were few of those sudden right-angle turns that were common to the smaller, less-traveled routes. As he cruised slowly along beneath a bright, full moon, he searched for an area away from any houses where he might stop to relieve himself.
He was a salesman and as such he was not a bashful man in most things, but his bathroom habits were something else entirely. He suffered from what is sometimes called “shy kidneys”, and it was difficult for him to relax in a public restroom. Many times he stood awkwardly waiting with sweat blistering his brow, while the man at the next urinal finished his business and went to wash his hands. Usually, he would be so locked up by this time that he would have to wait for the sound of the door slamming shut as the man left before his straining muscles would ease their iron grip on his bladder. It was a source of great shame for him and he’d never discussed it with anybody. Now he looked for an isolated area, knowing full well that, if he suspected for an instant he might be surprised, he would be unable to perform the function.
Luckily, he was having no great difficulty finding a secluded spot, there were few houses in the vicinity. He passed a darkened farmhouse and his headlights swept the mailbox. The name Burchill stood out in large reflective letters on its side, but Roger didn’t bother to read them, his mind occupied by more pressing matters. He grunted as the car bounced through a series of potholes beyond the house and ground to a halt. He shut off the engine and swiped a beefy hand across his face. It came away wet.
“Jesus!” He groaned aloud. “My back teeth are floating!” His hand slipped once on the door handle and then he jerked it open. As he heaved his bulk up and out of the car, an empty can rolled out of the back and went clanking underneath the car. He paid no attention. Roger Spearman was many things, but an environmentalist was not one of them.
The warning buzzer screamed at him to remove his keys from the ignition and he slammed the door silencing it. Immediately the interior lights blinked out, leaving him alone in the deep dark on a country road in the middle of nowhere.
“Hold on baby, hold on!” He mumbled through clenched teeth as he swayed drunkenly around to the back of the car. He staggered comically, one hand still clutching fiercely at his crotch while the other fumbled with his zipper. He leaned up against the rear bumper, hissed in a sharp breath as he released his death grip and fumbled his penis out into the night air.
The twelve silver bullets did their job and he didn’t have long to wait. He sighed with relief as the thick stream arched through the moonlight and splattered in the gravel at the side of the road. Roger stepped back, spreading his legs a bit to avoid being splashed and chuckled to himself.
“That must be why they call it pee gravel!” He wisecracked. “Here all these years I’ve been spelling it wrong.”
As the pressure eased and his leg muscles relaxed, he began looking about. It had been a scorcher of a day, but now the night air was cool and sweet. A gentle breeze wafted through his sweat-dampened hair and fluttered the cheap tie that hung loosely over his round belly.
Behind him across the rod lay a cornfield and before him stretched a well-worn pasture that ran on back to the edge of the yard at the farmer’s house. A full moon drifted through the sea of clouds above and brightly illuminated the evening sky. As Roger squinted and peered out into the pasture he saw what at first appeared to be huge rocks scattered here and there. Upon closer examination, they appeared to be cattle, sprawled sleepily in the moonlight. He resisted the childish urge to “moo” at them, but the thought made him smile.
He stood there, head tilted back, shoulders bunched, swaying slightly neath the stars until a noise from the darkness brought him out of his reverie. The stream of urine was cut off sharp, like someone kinking a garden hose. He jerked his head around and scanned the road both ways. Nothing but darkness lay either way and he began to think about just how alone and isolated he was out here.
It was well past midnight, and not a soul was stirring for miles. There appeared to be no other houses on this god-forsaken strip of back road and no one on earth knew of his whereabouts. He was lost and drunk in unfamiliar surroundings – a bad combination. If anything were to happen to him way out here, no one would ever know. Slowly like the dark stain growing in the road beneath his feet, fear began crowding into his brain. He cast an apprehensive glance behind him into the dense growth of corn and then turned to look at the cows again. Was it his imagination or had they moved? They seemed to be lying loser now than they were before. Now he found himself wanting to look in every direction at once.
Maybe he was just being foolish but all of a sudden this idea didn’t seem to be such a good one. He could swear someone was watching him. He could feel their evil little eyes upon him as sure as he could feel the night air, cold and clammy on the back of his neck.
Something definitely moved there in the corn!
There was a sly, subtle rustling sound and then… thump. A heavy footfall.
Roger stared into the corn, his breath caught high up in his chest here his heart hammered mercilessly. In desperation, he burned his gaze into the impenetrable curtain of stalks until his eyes nearly bulged from their sockets.
But there was something. He knew it. He was as certain of it as he was of his own name.
“Stop it, Roger. Cut it out! There’s nothing out there, you’re just getting yourself spooked, that’s all.” His mind raced into denial. He was standing beside the road, penis in one hand and his head craning around to gape stupidly at the corn.
Slowly he let out a shaky breath and tried to finish his business. But, in an instant, he could see it was no use. His nerves had him as locked up as if he’d been standing in front of a crystal urinal in the middle of Carnegie Hall with a thousand women watching his every move. He stuffed himself back in his pants and decided to finish this somewhere else – preferably in a nice, brightly lit men’s room. He would find his way back to the highway and head for the nearest truck stop or late-night restaurant.
Roger’s hand had just reached the door handle when the rasping chorus of insect noises abruptly halted. Total silence rushed in to take its place and every hair on his body leaped stiffly to attention. He halted in his tracks and waited, jangling nerves stretched and thrumming in his ears.
His horror-stricken mind screamed as his ears picked up the unmistakable sound of claws scratching the surface of the road behind him. It was like dog’s nails on the sidewalk, only slower. With agonizing stealth, they slid along the gravelly asphalt and clicked loudly. He was dimly reminded of the click of baseball cleats on a lock-room floor.
Something big was behind him in the pitch black. He could hear it breathing — slow and heavy, a trace of a gurgle at the base of it. Deliberately, he forced himself to twist and look, his taught neck muscles reacting sluggishly to the command. His head wheeled like a heavy turret atop rusted bearings. He could almost hear the squeal of corroded metal as he forced his fat jowls to swing around to face the nightmare at his back.
As recognition flashed across his pallid features, a scream boiled up like steam and slammed its way out of his throat. His bladder let go completely this time. There were no issues with nerves to lock it up! He turned back and scrambled madly for the door. He could feel the beast charging forward as he yanked the car door open and dashed to throw himself behind the wheel. Instinctively knew he wasn’t going to make it.
For the first time that night, Roger was right.
An enormous weight struck him from behind and propelled him forward, striking into the edge of the door. The sharp corner of the window frame was driven hard into his chest and his breastbone split wide allowing his frantically pumping heart to be impaled.
The interior light glared like a beacon in the night, illuminating the blood which gushed from Roger’s chest and spewed in two strong streams from his nostrils onto the white upholstery of the car and running down the side window and door. He flailed his arms and legs frantically for a brief moment, like an overgrown beetle, pierced upon a stick. Then he slumped forward and expelled a huge, steamy breath – his last. By the time the creature sank its teeth into the side of his neck, Roger Spearman was already dead and gone. His eyes rolled heavenward and his body limp as a ragdoll.
As the creature drug his fresh meal back into the corn, no one was around to hear the sounds of the feast. Even the cows scattered about like statues in the pasture slept blithely unaware of the carnage.
As the night wore on, the door ajar buzzer in the Lincoln droned on and on. The battery was strong, six hundred and fifty cold-cranking amps of direct current power, so the interior light continued to glow bright and clear all night long. The light attracted several moths and a bevy of June bugs swirled about and occasionally cracked their hard backs against it. The crickets resumed their night chorus carrying them out in long ratcheting sighs which ebbed and swelled on past sun up. And the moon contuned to sail high above, amidst iceberg clouds, watching over the darkened field as it had for eons. The cool and aloof, silent observer to the long summer night.
Gradually the clouds drifted away and the sky lightened. Off in the pasture, some of the cattle were beginning to regain their feet. Roosters began crowing in the barnyard and a small pride of farm cats prowled along beside Sam Burchill as he walked out across the road and down to the abandoned car. He gave only a moment’s notice to the dried blood that caked along the door and puddled in the driver’s seat. His face remained an impassive mask as he climbed in and turned the key. The big motor roared to life an purred nicely as he pulled it around to the back of his barn.
Sam left the car idling as he climbed out and slid the big red door back on its track. Inside was a wide, open room with a few farm implements parked back in the shadows. A flock of pidgeons flapped frantically about in the rafters overhead. They stirred up dust which speckled the few shafts of light that lanced through the gloom. The barn smelled of old wood and dry rot – warm smells that had percolated in the summer heat.
He pulled the car inside and killed the engine. Hay fell softly down from the loft, sifting through the cracks in the ancient loft floor, as he pulled a musty old tarp over the car. One red taillight peeked out from beneath the cover, reflecting the morning sun shining in from the east.
Sam didn’t seem to notice and didn’t even give a backward glance when he left the barn. Darkness enveloped the Lincoln again as he pulled the door closed and trudged slowly up to the house amidst the swarming cats. There was blood on the side door. A splash from the garden hose would wash it out of existence. Wash away the last small traces of Roger Spearman.
But first, this was a working farm and there were chores to be done.