Road Trip, Chapter 2

Death is not an easy thing, I think, and I know a few things about death, don’t I?  But this, this horror is beyond the pale.

I find you beside the interstate, still clutching the wheel, as if somehow even in death you would keep going.  But there is no ‘keep going’.  For you there is nothing.  Deathly gray, covered by oozing lesions, and sweat soaked with our own blood and urine, you sit there still and google-eyed.

In the passenger seat is evidence of another rider, a woman, perhaps your wife.  She is, no doubt, one of those who insists on being made-up, even on the road.  And there is evidence of it on the cup.  Behind her are two child car seats and related flotsam strewn throughout the car.  But the wife and kiddies are missing.  They have, no doubt, run off to escape this terrible thing.  They may have even left you to face your last minutes of life alone, abandoned except for the terrible thing growing inside you.

And what is growing inside you, I could see it almost as clearly as my own reflection in the mirror.  It has yet to burrow through to the surface, but it won’t be long.  I wonder if I should wait to greet it as a fellow death-bringer, or take the wiser course, which would be to leave before I, too, became infected.

I think I might wait, just a while, to see what happens.  After all, it isn’t often I have the opportunity to see that which might mean the end of all, birthed.  And by the end, I mean the end of the end.  How fortunate it would be to see this first hand.

But how could I be so fortunate?  I would have never expected it.  After all, although I am very good at what I do, I can’t say that it has brought any particular praise from the public sector.  I admit that there are those who have voiced a certain admiration for the planning and surgical precision of my work, but if I had earned some special affection in the hearts of my admirers, how is it that I am walking along the interstate with only the clothes on my back and a few dollars to my name?

Well, that doesn’t really matter now, does it?  We are where we land and we’d best make the best of it.  And where I’ve landed there is—oh, what’s that coming.  In the distance, a police car, so I think I’ll just move off the road for a bit.  I’ll let him deal with it.  That should be fun to watch.

The state patrol vehicle pulls up behind your car.  The man is big, tall and probably pushing two-fifty.  With all his gear on he looks even heavier.  He approaches your door.  He taps on the window, then looks more closely.  He steps back and I can clearly see the look of horror and disgust on his face.  I wonder, have the police been warned that people are dying from this? That would be awkward.  If so, it doesn’t appear that word got down to this man, because he walks around to the passenger door to peer inside.

If he had just backed off, gone to his car to call dispatch, and report what he had seen, things might have gone differently.  Instead, he climbs into the passenger side to look the guy over and maybe get some an idea of who might have been with him.  That’s all it takes to lure the thing out.  It is still growing and it is hungry.

I watch intently, even moving a little closer to get a better look.  I know that this is unwise, because if I was identified, my knife would be no match for his pistol.  But I’m not concerned.  I don’t think that this officer will be any threat to me.  Not today.  Not ever.

The man screams—a delightful and terrible scream.  No, it not just a scream, a horrible gurgling fear-filled shriek.  The car shakes as the officer tries to pull loose, to escape, but it is too late.  The thing, the fellow death-bringer, has burst forth from with you, tearing through your abdomen and chest.  It burrows deep into the officer’s chest.  Blood covers the windows, making it impossible to see.

After a few minutes, the car no longer shakes.  It is feeding, gathering its strength.  I move even closer, for a better look.  I think to myself, hardly an efficient way to kill.  I can empathize with the violence, but it is far too messy and wasteful.  On the other hand, it is only just born.

I am now standing beside the passenger door watching it as it feasts on the officer’s bones.  I recognize it at once, it is like a child—small naked and hairless.  But the eyes, the eyes betray a noble intent.  The teeth are like razors and the hands like claws.

Oh, I think, you are a darling demon.  You are what has been promised to me, what I’ve been waiting for.  We shall make a wonderful team, you and I.  It is no threat to me now.  Its hunger is sated, for the moment.  And there is a whole world to know the pleasure of pain in.  And you, my little one, will I teach to be the great hunter.  And together we shall usher in the end of the end, together.

Glorious, how glorious!  But there is a greater revelation yet to come!  The beast stares upwards into the sky and I realize that he is but the first.  For from the sky like a cloud, bursting with rain come tiny parachutes, lighter than air, much like a dandelion’s plumed seed.    From the cloud above floats down new life—and death.  By the hundreds of thousands they come, enough to blot out the sun.

I open my arms and cry, welcome!  I have taken so many lives, I think, but nothing like this.  I offer my flesh to these, the rightful inheritors of the world of men.  I only ask that I may live to join the terrible crusade against the horror that is man!

And I look into the first one’s eyes and understand, that the end of the end is now.

©Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Road Trip

We’re just a couple of weeks from my favorite holiday—Halloween!  What follows is something to get you in the mood, especially if you’ve ever harbored concerns about the cleanliness or safety of those rest stop bathrooms…

I think most of us have been there.  You’re on that road trip, and suddenly you feel it, that undeniable call that tells you that you shouldn’t have eaten Mexican at that little restaurant off the interstate.  But those little places, the ones crowded by locals, away from the factory fast food, are always the best, you’d said.  But this place hadn’t been crowded by locals and it was small and dingy and—

Ahead, you can just make out the sign—Rest Stop—and you hit the gas.  Only a mile now, but a mile is forever, with your stomach cramping and your colon threatening to explode.  And of course, you’re not alone.  The children are crying and your wife is in a panic at your behavior.  You can’t help it.  As much as you would like to calm them, one thing and one thing only demands your complete and undivided attention.

Almost there now.  You scream down the off-ramp and almost miss the turn into the Cars Only parking lot.  Finally, safely in a parking slot, you turn off the car, grab the keys, and bolt out the door.  Your wife’s pleas for help taking the children to the bathroom echo behind you, ignored.  Your entire gastric system is redlining, how could you possibly stop?

Up the sidewalk, each step filled with pain.  Up the steps and through the doors, then you stop.  One side of the bathroom is closed for construction.  The other side—mercifully, there is another side—and you pull the door open.

The entrance is blocked by a man with a shirt that proclaims in large red letters, “Go Dawgs!”.  You can barely see past him to the sinks and urinals.  There is a line of five men ahead of you.  you can also see that of the six toilet stalls, only one is operational.  The other five have large Out-of-Order signs on them.

You curse under your breath as rivulets of sweat flow down your face, and you have the growing fear that if you don’t get to the toilet soon, the toilet it may be a moot point.  You may have a greater need of a shower than a toilet.

But you wait, you have no choice.  And you wait.  And other men join the queue behind you, as the ones nearest the stall begin to grumble.  Their anger is palpable.  There are suggestions that the man in the stall must be reading a book, War and Peace, perhaps?

Then it happens, knuckles against the stall door.  No response.  Another rap on the door, this time more insistent.  It is answered by a terrible groan and a disgusting gurgling sound, like words stifled by some liquid.  But not water, you think, something other than water, thicker.  But there has been no sign or sound of vomiting.

It is obvious something is wrong here, and the men in line are actively trying to determine their options—go up the road, go outside, break open the other stalls?  A few made their decision and walked out, while others stood their ground.

And you think to yourself, maybe someone needs find out if that guy is alright.  Maybe someone should call 9-1-1.

“There must be someone here who can check on this guy, don’tcha think?” asked one of the men.  Someone said they’d go check, and disappeared into the night.

“Christ, what’s that smell?” asked another.  There had been an odor when you first walked in, but there’s always an odor in rest stop bathrooms.

From behind you, from beyond the door, comes a woman’s voice.  You can’t see her, but her voice is tremulous and old and filled with concern.  You catch a few words.

“William,” she shouts, “are you still in there?”

A man intervenes.  She explains that William is her husband and that he has been gone a long time.  She wants to make sure that he is okay.

You hear the name and shout out, “William, are you okay?”  No response beyond the groaning now.

“He’s not well,” she says.  “He needs a doc—“  Then she collapses.  You can’t see it, but you can hear her fall and the scurry of footsteps around her.

“We need to open that door,” you say.  “There’s a sick man inside.”  The rush of adrenaline has temporarily relieved the pain in your stomach.

Now a man pulls himself up to look over the stall door.  He falls back, deadly pale, and runs out the door.  A few others quickly follow him, but three stalwarts tear at the door until they can break it in.  When they do, their eyes grow large and their faces pale and full of terror.  Even so, you approach to witness their discovery.  And what they have discovered is death.

Upon the toilet, his pants around his ankles and his shirt stained with blood, is an old, gray, black man—his skin ashen, his eyes filled with blood and protruding.  Upon his arms and face are festering wounds, oozing a nasty, dark puss.  And now, the problem of a leaking anus is the least of your concerns, because you realize that now all the stalls are occupied.

You run past the men waiting, past William’s wife, dying on the sidewalk, and to the sanctuary of your car, where your wife has been waiting not-so-patiently.

“What was that all about,” she asks.

“Nothing,” you say, “the stalls were all full.”  And you drive off into the night, without giving further thought to the uncomfortable gurgling sensation in your lungs or the patches of dry skin, gray and broken and never seeming to heal.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh