Our cautionary tale begins:
Ya hear it your whole life. The teachers at school preached it like a Sunday revival sermon on a hot summer day. Your parents (especially dear old Ma) joined that particular choir on almost a daily basis. It’s pretty much engraved on your brain stem by the time you hit your teens. Ya know ‘em all by heart, whether you heeded the warnings or played it reckless. Golden nuggets passed on from generation to generation, especially in a twenty-first century most noted for abducted kids and missing persons never to be seen nor heard from again. Not just in the big cites do these pertain, but also in the out of the way places; quiet, peaceful little townships tucked away in rural valleys once considered safe-havens for all ages. Take my hometown for instance. It’s easy to be lulled into complacency. Case in point, such ‘old sayings’ should always be heeded, despite the cornball factor involved. Prime examples being:
No peein’ on an electric fence.
Don’t hock a loogie into the wind.
Refrain from jawin’ with strangers.
Avoid tooling about in strange places after dark.
The World overall just ain’t a safe place.
If something or somebody appears too good to be true , they normally are.
And finally, for god’s sake…never pick up hitchhikers (number one with a bullet in this boy's personal poll, that one).
Well, ya live and ya learn, I reckon. Sometimes the hard way. In my and Doobie Jack’s case, seems it’s always the hard way.
It was a cool, fall Friday night ‘bout ten thirty-PM when we spotted ‘er out on Route nine. In truth, it’d been Doobie Jack that locked eyeballs on her first. He’d laid a heavy work boot on that brake pad about the same time I’d been digging around the cooler in the backseat floorboard for a fresh brew. I recall being slung into the dash and jamming my shoulder up pretty good, not to mention wearing at least half a can of ice-cold Coors on my jacket and shirt.
“Check her out, Snake. Lawdy, it must be a dream’," Jack had said, practically drooling at the sight of her.
Doobie Jack had just broke up with his gal Mindy the night before, a monthly occurrence that was almost always followed by a ‘ride-around in the sticks’ drunk with yours truly playing the part of jovial sidekick and third-string Doctor Phil. Personally, I had no gal troubles to speak of. I’d lost my right eye at age eleven, courtesy a pellet gun and my near-sighted big brother (hence the nickname Snake, named after Snake Plisken from that Escape from New York flick). I’d found through the years that the female of the species don’t particularly cotton to one-eyed high-school dropouts making just over minimum wage. No sweat, really. Mama had always said there was somebody out there for me. Just might take a while to search out and find that special lady. The way I figure it, that special lady would’ve most likely been a one-eyed, wart-faced nag with a butt like a Macy’s day parade float, but hey…beggars can’t be choosers.
I’d started hanging with Doobie Jack (man just loved seventies rock n’ roll, especially the Doobie Brothers) the summer after my tenth grade year. We both dropped out a year later and went to work at the processing plant a few months later. Things hadn’t changed a hell of a lot in the twelve years since. That is, til that night on route nine.
Anyhow, working production wasn’t an easy life, and you sure wasn’t gonna retire on a Caribbean beachhead from the pay, but it kept clothes on our back, edibles (mostly of the fast-food variety) in our gut, and cold suds in the fridge. More important, from Doobie Jack’s point of view, he could afford to cultivate a small but lucrative weed crop from beneath our rented trailer. Then again, the man definitely toked more than he ever sold. Didn’t make no never mind to this boy. I could’ve taken the wacky weed or left it. Cold brew was my vice, along with the occasional sip of rum to numb the tongue and singe the soul.
“Big boned blonde goddess she is, Snake,” I’d heard Doobie Jack mumble as I massaged my left shoulder and the proceeded to wipe the beer suds from my neck and chin.
“Lust at first sight, partner.”
He pulled onto a wide stretch of gravel shoulder maybe a hundred feet past the girl and parked, but didn’t bother to cut the engine. Some months earlier, he’d managed to knock a hole in the ol’ Monte Carlo’s muffler, then decided he liked the ‘sporty’ sound of ‘er, and didn’t ever bother getting it fixed. Always reminded me of a damned foghorn, but what’s a nuisance to one is style to another, I reckon.
Well, that girl practically jumped into the back seat without so much as a grunt, tossing a big brown satchel in ahead of her and huffing like she’d just ran five miles uphill. Leggy blonde she was all right, wearing the tightest Calvin K. blue jeans I’d ever laid eye on. Decent rack, to boot, not to mention a backside so shapely it almost looked artificial, like a computer special effect come to life.
“So where ya headed, sweet-thang?” Doobie Jack had asked while lighting a fresh Winston and revving that big Chevy’s engine as if attempting to drown out her answer. Doobie was forever trying to grab a slice of strange whenever he and Mindy were on the fritz, though I never recall him having much success in that regard. Ladies men we weren’t. Probably didn’t help matters having a one-eyed troll like me for a running partner.
“Can you just… go, please? My boyfriend’s liable to be here any…minute…and he isn’t apt to be very happy to find me with you," she’d said between swallows, gasping like a full blown heart attack wasn’t far off. I recall thinking that for a such a young girl, twenty or twenty-one at the outset, she had the voice of a sixty-year old grandmother with a life-long two pack a day Winston fix-almost like she was talking through one of those ‘voice boxes’ that folks with throat cancer get hooked up with.
“Your…boyfriend? He on foot too?” I’d asked after a quick sip of foam and the belch that followed.
“I…jumped out of…his pick-up and…ran through the woods. Must’ve covered at least…a mile or two before I found the road.”
Turning to address our guest, Doobie shot me a quick wink and plastered on his best ‘player’ grin, complete with shiny gold tooth and pencil-thin mustache curled at the ends.
“Lucky old man Fowler didn’t fill ya full of buck shot for trespassing. Plus which, that forest is just chock-full of rattlers, rabid badgers and the like. Have no fear, babe, yore shining knight is here.”
It was around that time in the conversation that I became aware of the smell. Girl reeked like uncooked pork on the edge of turning. That’s the only thing I can compare it to. Not bacon…not beef….but raw hog on the verge of sprouting worms.
“Well then, cutie, by all means, let us motivate before trouble arrives,” Doobie had announced in the slickest tone he could muster, no doubt having allowed his libido black out all other senses, most notably that of smell.
We spun outta there and around blind-man’s curve doing at least fifty, and were less than four miles from the city limits when the inside of the Monte Carlo lit up like somebody had aimed a spotlight directly into her.
“Oh god, it’s him! Go faster! Lose him!” the girl had said, though I seem to recall the level of panic in her voice was kinda on the disappointing side, like her heart wasn’t really in it. In retrospect, it was lousy soap opera acting at best.
I turned and saw the grill of that Ford F-150 was less than a foot from our bumper, and the horn was blaring like a five-alarm siren.
“Shit! Crazy loop is gonna run us into a ditch…” Doobie said, struggling to hold her in the road as we passed the Redding Farm and neared the old railroad underpass.
Though I don’t recall the act of retrieving it, I was sipping a fresh brew by then and spilling the majority of it onto my jeans and Reeboks. By that time, spilling a few precious drops of hops and barley’s was the least of my problems.
“What the hell you do to piss ‘im off this bad?" I’d asked, sounding a bit more girlish than I ‘d intended.
“Probably drunk as an owl to boot, partner,” Doobie had blurted, laughing like a hyena as we swerved around a sharp curve towards the underpass, "I’m gonna lead ‘im straight into town and hope one of them Barney Fife deputies is on the job.”
The trunk horn kept blaring in three to five second intervals, and I remember thinking my bladder was gonna give way long before we made it to the city limits.
“You sure that’s a good idea, Doob? I mean, considerin’ I’m covered in bootleg suds and you’re holding a bag of Columbia’s finest?”
Before Doobie Jack could even begin to reply, I heard a loud crunching sound as the Monte Carlos bumper gave way and we proceeded to spin sideways.
I heard Doobie Jack howl at the top of his pot-infested lungs as the car went into a three-sixty.
I heard the woman curse as the left side of the Carlo went airborne, though the gist of what she said sounded like Spanish or Japanese or some similar foreign gibberish.
I heard myself cry out like a whipped pup as we made like a bad carnival ride and commenced to flip.
I heard the back glass shatter and felt the shrapnel pelt my balding scalp and neck before rolling inside my shirt like tossed sand.
I heard nothing else as something solid thumped the left side of my skull and the lights went out.
Believe the smoke woke me up, or maybe the cool asphalt I was dragged across. Either way, if given the option now, I’d just as soon never woke at all. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, they say. Guess that pertains to us one-eyed jockeys as well. . Still another ‘oldie but goodie’ from dear old Ma that never held much meaning before that night.
It seemed Doobie Jack had pulled me from the overturned Chevy, which had been smoking like a chimney from her upturned engine, and had proceeded to head back in to retrieve the girl when I saw someone sprint in from my left and knock ‘im for a loop. Someone yowling and howling like a coyote with its hind leg caught in a bear trap. I had to wipe and rub my one working eye several times just to recognize the individual, and even then I wasn’t clearly convinced it wasn’t some beer and crash induced mirage, simply for the fact that it didn’t make a lick of sense.
“Stay clear, DAMN IT! Move away from that….that thing!" the man yelled, holding a revolver in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other, all the while keeping Doobie Jack pinned to the ground with a knee to the back.
I’d never had the displeasure of meeting Sheriff Bill Henriksen close up, but had heard plenty about ‘im from others, including Doobie himself…none of it even marginally positive. Words such as prick, asshole, and Nazi came to mind, as those were the normal lead-in’s whenever Henriksen’s name got brought up in everyday conversation.
“There’s….a girl….woman in there, y-you…jack ass…" Doobie had pleaded, trying to squirm out from under the big man’s hold. Henriksen had to be in his early fifties, but was a big, stout looking SOB with (I’d heard anyhow) a pit bull’s disposition and raging temper to boot.
“It ain’t no girl, son," the Sheriff had said, allowing Doobie Jack to roll away onto the nearby shoulder,"….believe you me, that’s the last thing it is. Damn thing totaled my patrol unit. You don‘t even wanna know what it did to the previous owner of that pick-up.”
As Doobie stood and I managed to at least lean up onto my knees, Henriksen turned towards the smoking wreck and pointed his revolver that way while yapping a mile a minute into that walkie-talkie.
“Jimbo, get your carcass down here. The state police are a good thirty minutes out. Can’t wait on ‘em. Just…HAUL ASS!”
The next couple of minutes are kinda fuzzy from a reality stand-point, being that I’m still not positive everything I saw really happened…or even could have. Guess now I got no choice but accept it, no matter how far out it seemed at the time.
First off, the girl came crawling outta the Carlo’s front seat on her hands and feet, only with her chest and head facing upward to the sky. Looked like a giant roach scuttling out of a dark corner, she did. The satchel was hanging from her left shoulder, and I saw something resembling a honey dew melon roll free, then two or three more of ‘em as she wobbled forward like a drunk spider.
Once I got better focused, those melons bore a striking resemblance to human heads. Not proudly, I got to confess to coming damn near making a chocolate malted in my boxer shorts at that point.
The Sheriff then proceeded to unload that thirty-eight in her direction, while Doobie Jack jogged over my way with a freshly lit joint bouncing about his bottom lip like a feeler. Man obviously didn’t give a rat’s behind about the sheriff’s presence.
“Jump in that truck and haul ass, boys. NOW!” Henriksen screamed while reloading his pistol. Meantime, the girl had twisted forward and stood up. I could see at least four bullet wounds near her tits and stomach, but she wasn’t showing the least bit discomfort while making a b-line towards the sheriff.
About that time, Doobie snatched me by the elbow and we made for the truck. I recall hearing a loud ripping sound, like somebody tearing a cotton sheet, followed by a two or three more rounds from Henriksen’s thirty-eight.
Doobie Jack was already twisting the ignition key on that big hummer when the windshield blew up like somebody had nailed it with a fifty-pound sledge.
I can honestly state I only clearly recall four specific happenings following that glass shower.
The first was Doobie looking over at me with his hair, face, and goatee smeared in chunks of windshield and saying "Damn, Snake…I think….I swallowed the joint…”
The second was staring out through where the windshield had been and seeing Sheriff Bill Henriksen getting his head peeled like a ripe banana by something that didn’t remotely resemble a female of the human species.
The third was a discarded pile of skin lying near the last spot I’d seen the girl occupying. Looked like one of them full-body Halloween costumes that zips up in the back. Weird thing was, it had a thick clump of blonde hair topping it like a bad hairpiece, and I could just make out the color of blue jeans and a pair of white jogging shoes.
The last thing was sniffing a snoot-full of that same rotted sow meat smell from earlier just before something slick and scaly leapt into the cab of that pick-up and tore Doobie Jack in half at chest level. With that, a geyser of blood spewed forth like a damn tidal wave, coating my eye and pretty much sticking me to the seat. Seems there was a truckload of pressure on my chest a second later, but by then I was blinded and choking on my own barf. Things got real tranquil then. Calm as a fall breeze, my mama used to say.
She also used to say ‘the good things never last.’ A real prophet, that mother of mine. Prophet of doom, to be specific.
As things presently stand, I can only speak for myself in thinking that stone-cold dead would be highly preferable to what passes as the current existence.
The sheriff had hit the nail square on the head in saying the hitchhiker had been anything but a girl. I ain’t real sure, since science nor science fiction were hardly my best subjects in school, but I do believe my fate falls under the heading of ‘alien abduction’. Yeah, you heard right. Second rate X-Files episode with a first rate twist.
I can turn, squint my eye and see Doobie Jack mounted to my left, and I’m pretty certain that’s Sheriff Henriksen’s noggin parked in the row ahead of me.
Wasn’t sure what they had in mind ‘til a few minutes ago, when a few of ‘em scampered up to row number one and starting gnawing and chewing on the scalps like they was in a pie-eating contest at a county fair.
How they keep us functioning is beyond me. Can’t speak without vocal cords, even though my tongue is still curled inside my kisser like a dead slug.
I mean, how can a chopped off (chewed off? Ripped off?) head have active thoughts? Man with a tenth grade education might as well quit trying to decipher such things, I reckon.
Whatever planet we’re on, I can’t say much for the overall looks of the population. Damn things remind me of those big bloated beetles we used to find underneath rotted oak leaves. That is, except for their heads-or their teeth. They got teeth like a centipede has legs. Thousand of the damn things, and all like little pointed razor blades. They do one mean imitation of what they later label food. Easy to figure where a lot of the homeless end up, not to mention all the missing kids and such. Skull buffet on Planet Roach. What a pisser.
Uh-oh. Looks like the noontime feeding is about to commence. I swear I hear Doobie Jack sobbing. My kingdom for a final sip of an ice-cold Bud. Hell, at this point, even a Pabst Blue Ribbon would be akin to liquid gold.
Ugh. One of ‘em just bore into Henriksen’s scalp like a trucker into a steaming plate of scrambled eggs. Row number two is almost history, looks like.
I see one of ‘em eyeballing me, licking its chops like a starved wolf.
Least the curtain can fall on this cursed nightmare once and for all.
Concerning the hitchhiker, I guess it is indeed just like dear old mama always said, ‘….you surely cannot judge a book by its cover.”
Have to admit, but I kinda wish Ma was right here with me now. I’d surely have a sayin’ for her, just as I feel my cranium pulled apart like overripe watermelon rind and warm gray matter runs down my face and into my eye like runny oatmeal and the lights dim mercifully to black:
I'd say...'ya know Ma…it is surely a dog eat…dog world….'