Jay Horne's Carpool
Available Halloween 2021
I’d like to thank all of my subscribers. It has been a very productive year and the best is yet to come.
Enjoy my new Horror Halloween release Carpool. Gauranteed to scare! This preview is for Quick Jabs subscribers only.
The ending will be released and free to you October 31st, delivered direct to your email.
Back in ninety-nine, everyone was moving on from the psychic high times, when the Earth was a living being of ley lines, to a time when computers were threatening to destroy the economy in a Y2K scare. But, it wasn’t quite the time when everyone had a cellphone in their pocket either.
Ninety-nine was an in between time. A time when highway driving relied more heavily on faith than on phones.
It was the umpteenth time that Mike and Steve had taken the turnpike seventy miles Northeast to their trailer out in Mount Juliet.
The highway was always the same. Grey slate, stretching out in the high beams. White lines dashing beneath the fenders of the old El Camino.
I-40 was always pretty lonely out on the eastbound side of Music City. The two boys were settled down into the impressions of old Chamille’s bench. Mike, his arm stretched out along the leather seat back and one hand on the wheel. Steve snuggled into the crook between the passenger door and the seat belt hangar, his work jacket balled up so he could lay his head on it and just stare out the window.
He’d watch the lines in the road slide by, sometimes skating to and fro, for no better reason than Mike getting too bored with one lane or another. Dodging invisible traffic.
They both listened to the deceitful silence of the road. Full of repetitive noises that had become just background sound. The rumble of the v-8. The whine of rubber on the asphalt like a far away airplane propeller. And Dave Matthews, turned down to where you could barely pick it up through the speakers.
Seventy miles wasn’t a terrible work commute. An hour and a half maybe, though they had been known to make it in fifty minutes, racing in separate cars.
Those times, they were lucky to have made it alive, between the weather and the deer.
Eventually, they had decided it was safer to carpool.
You could motor out another ten hours down I-40 and eventually it’d dump you out in the Atlantic Ocean near Wilmington, North Carolina. Not too far from the Bermuda triangle.
On the night of the last full moon before Halloween, the Ley Line that runs along the I-40 highway is especially active. On this night, half an hour into their monotonous drive home, both boys were feeling a little like they were driving straight through the Bermuda Triangle, now.
A school bus passed, headed westbound.
“Holy shit,” Mike said, “did ya see that?”
It had been painted white and the windows were tinted dark like Chamille’s, except the bus’s tint was torn all along the windows facing this side.
“That was creepy man,” Mike said.
Steve craned his neck up like a cat shocked from a nap.
“What? That bus?”
“Yeah, man,” said Mike, “looked like there were a bunch of people pressed up against the windows in there.”
He had been looking back over his left shoulder and then into the side view watching the red lights disappear over the horizon.
“What’s a school bus doing out this late anyhow?” asked Steve, smiling. He was entertained at Mike’s obvious unease. Regardless, he nuzzled back down into his jacket against the window
Mike glanced his way twice, while adjusting his position in the driver’s seat. The deceitful silence filled back in the space and Mike relaxed back peering out into the yellowed grey night.
He toggled the brights back on with his left foot and washed the trees along the roadside with that same eerie glow.
Here the median widened out to separate the east and westbound lanes.
“See ya tomorrow sunshine,” Mike said as he made a grip in the air toward the yellow sign indicating a divided highway.
Steve lazily threw up the peace sign.
It had been a tradition to acknowledge the split since day one.
It was Mike’s way of saying we’re nearly halfway home.
Those kind of traditions were common among friends. Scratch the ceiling if you pass under a yellow light. If it turned red while beneath it, Chamille suffered a punch to the headliner.
There were no street lights out here though. The woods along I-40 east swallowed them up. The two traveled for the next fifteen minutes, like white noise, covered by that deceitful silence.
“I loved you since I knew ya!
I wouldn’t talk down to ya!
I have to tell you just how I feel
I won’t share you with another boy…”
The radio had finally sent Mike some energy over the airwaves. He had cranked it up a bit.
The black hair that fell over his right eye allowed Mike to crush it when he really wanted to. Steve, still couldn’t help but laugh when he impersonated great singers.
“I know my mind is made up.
So put away your make up.
Told you once I won’t tell you again
It’s a bad way.
You don’t have to put on the red light!”
Mike twists the volume down just as Steve had started blushing and points out of the windshield, “Lookie here.”
Steve could see the two infrared running lights tracing out the rhythm of the highway a half mile out ahead.
“We’re catching them up,” Steve said, now sitting upright in the new found energy.
“They gotta be doing at least ninety,” said Mike.
“Yeah, but we’re catching them up.”
Mike eyed the speedometer. The needle hovered at ninety-five.
Steve looked over at Mike. They were both still in their Zaxby’s uniforms from their shift. They’d stayed after closing to filter the grease and smoke a spliff.
“You know they’re gonna slow if they see our headlights. They’re gonna think we’re a cop coming up on ’em or something.”
“Either way, we’ll pass ’em eventually.”
“What if it’s the school bus?” Steve asked lowering the volume till the tunes were gone.
Mike switched his hands on the wheel and pointed to the box of moon pies Steve had been hoarding, “How about handing me one of those?”
He snatched it greedily and tore the cellophane with his teeth.
“If that’s that fucking ghost bus,” Mike said taking a bite, “you’ll see Chamille here do one-thirty.”
The lights grew steadily as the two conveyances neared one another along that dark highway. Like events on a timeline.
Two sliders on an analog am/fm radio trying to find the right tune.
The old El Camino approached the other lonely nighttime traveler at the safe speed of seventy-five.
Steve was right, they had slowed in case it was cops catching up the rear.
“It’s definitely not a cruiser,” Mike said.
He nuzzled his Mr. Pibb into the cup holder on the dash.
“They’re not all Crown Vics anymore,” Steve said as they approached. “Jeff and I saw two Dodge Chargers fitted out with lights in Kingston Springs.”
Mike flipped the blinker to indicate they’d be passing.
“It’s nothing. See, no government tags.”
“What is it a Chevelle?” Steve asked as they slid around the the left rear bumper and out into the passing lane.
The windows were limousine tinted black, darker than Chamille’s. No one was identifying anyone through those on either side. Especially on a night like this.
“A hatchback Chevelle?” scoffed Mike.
Her lines were pretty. Dark. All straights along the hind end. Tipped with points out over the chrome bumper.
“It’s a hearse.”
“Still, not as creepy as that bus,” remarked Mike.
“You think they’d be down to race?”
“You kiddin’ me? A hearse?” Mike reached over and snatched the straw from his fountain drink and stuck it in the corner of his mouth.
From a bird’s eye view, the light of the headlamps floated along the surface of the night highway. Cones crisscrossing. The two cars would look like sliding dials, finally in tune.
Steve peered out of his tinted window in to the darkness of the hearse’s driver’s side. Their own blackness reflected.
“Well they we’re at least doing ninety back there. I mean,” he gawked at Mike who was folding his straw in two, “I don’t see any funeral procession.”
Mike stuck the straw back in his mouth and looked over at the invisible driver floating along at seventy-five miles per hour.
“I don’t know, but I got an idea.”
The two vehicles floated along the highway one right next of the other. The clock on the dash dropped one of its green LED sticks and the 9 on the 59 turned to a zero making the time 12:00am.
Speed, seventy-five miles per hour.
“So, you’re not gonna pass him?” asked Steve adjusting his belt and stowing his jacket between them on the bench.
Mike reaches down and turns the music back up. Not anything to grove to, just something unfamiliar. Ambient sound.
Steve watched outside.
The dark window stayed right next to him as he imagined the man inside staring back at him, who also could not see.
Or could he?
Maybe he could see him. Maybe the tint on old Chamille wasn’t one hundred percent. Mike had said that he didn’t want her tinted so dark that it was illegal.
But it was dark. Steve couldn’t remember ever being able to see through from outside. At least not without cupping his hands over his eyes real good. And it was dark out here on the highway.
Well, those damn street lamps gave off that strange orange glow. Could that light be enough for the man behind the one hundred percent tint to see his face? To see this dimpled teenager grinning as his friend had a good time at their expense?
There was time to think of all of that before Steve first noticed a change in pace.
They weren’t racing but, Steve let out a sigh of relief when he realized Mike had let off the accelerator a little and decided to fall back. But no. It hadn’t been that Mike had let off at all.
When Steve looked his way, Mike was gnawing on that straw like someone out of an old western. One hand draped over Chamille’s steering column, eyes distant.
He knew that look. That was Mike’s ‘don’t give a fuck’ look. No, Mike hadn’t let up at all.
It had been the other guy who had decided to speed up.
Steve rolled his head back over to the hearse and saw that Mike had evened up their windows again. The speedometer was rising above eighty. Still, no emotion from that obsidian dark. Just the chrome wheels, the passing white lines, and and invisible, nameless coachmen hidden behind dark glass.
Thirty seconds had passed and the speedometer steadily rose. Ninety, ninety-five.
Oh, we’re racing now! thought Steve briefly, but that was being hopeful.
That’s when something unexpected happened.
The hearse began to slow.
But so did Mike.
“What are you doing, we had ‘em?” Steve said.
Mike just shook his head briefly refusing to look Steve’s way. Gnawing.
It took only a minute to crawl back down to seventy-five. But the invisible coachmen’s dark window still floated right outside of Steve’s window.
“So you’re gonna just ride right beside him?”
Mike had that cold gaze. Laid back. Chewing. Focused.
Steve felt himself sink into the leather as Mike accelerated.
The hearse was off again, trying to break free of Mike’s weird vice.
“Whoo hoo!” said Mike in a surprised voice. “They’ve got something under that hood.”
From out of the front windshield, Steve could see Chamille’s brown racing stripes that ran her body stem to stern. They disappeared over the maroon rim of the El Camino’s hood. Right alongside that was the round eye of the driver’s side headlamp of the hearse.
They were both barreling down the two-lane highway like an invisible tether connected them at the doors.
The speedometer crossed one-twenty. Then Steve’s seat belt locked up as he pitched forward. The mysterious driver had slammed on the brakes in a desperate attempt to get from beside the El Camino. But Mike was flawless.
The needle dove to sixty miles per hour in less than three seconds. Still the opaque window remained flush, only three feet from Chamille’s passenger door.
Then another forward pitch. Steve had expected rubber to melt on that one, but no.
Both cars dropped to thirty miles per hour. Twenty-five.
Then there was a bark from the hearse’s rear tires as it dropped a gear and tried speeding off in escape. Led by it’s chrome hood ornament. Death and his sickle.
“There we go!” Mike said still starring forward. And the El Camino answered.
A billow of smoke chased both vehicles up the maddening highway. The hearse was now flashing his brights as the speedometers sky rocketed through one hundred again.
“You might get to see Chamille do one-thirty after all.” Mike laughed. But he still chewed on that straw.
The engines roared. The high gear in both vehicles just then at that leveling whine where they can’t possibly give anymore. Like a measuring tape pulled out to its maximum length.
“One-thirty!” Mike said, motioning with his wide eyes that Steve look at the speedometer.
Steve’s ass was about as puckered as a sour starfish.
He was almost going to suggest Mike to lay off when the hearse took another nose dive. This time rubber left matching tracks a hundred yards.
Matchbox Twenty was playing in the speakers while they rode along on some seesawing carnival ride.
Sixty-five. Then ninety. Then fifty. Forty. Thirty. Twenty. Ten.
The hearse came to a complete stop, right there in the slow lane of I-40.
Steve looked at the window in the stillness. He could feel the tension behind that black safety glass. Under the music the idle of Chamille’s motor was on high.
Mike had one foot on the brake and one on the gas; ready for anything.
Steve was tense as an overinflated balloon.
What if the guy gets out with a gun? Steve thought to himself. He wouldn’t say anything though.
He just sat there staring in the dark, one hand gripping his shoulder belt.
Then suddenly Mike killed the music.
Steve turned his head and looked out of the back window. Saw nothing back there. Nothing ahead.
“Well,” Mike said, “that’s that, I guess.”
Steve reached down in the floorboard and gathered up his jacket and moon pies. When he looked back up the brights on the hearse were flicking out three short bursts, then three long bursts, then three short bursts again.
The message hadn’t even registered when the old carcass hauler smoked its tires again. But Mike was on top of it.
Once more, they were barreling along out in the middle of nowhere. The needles on the dash climbing steadily. Mike gnawing on his straw, this time in silence.
Steve finally broke.
“Mike, you don’t think — “
“Alright, alright!” barked Mike clearly annoyed with Steve trying to cutthroat his fun. He wasn’t happy about it, but he was going to see reason.
Then, right before Mike lifted his foot off the accelerator, the hearse swerved.
The black death box veered into the El Camino’s lane.
Steve watched in horror as the window that had floated next to him for nearly five adrenaline-filled minutes closed the gap in a heartbeat.
But Mike was fast and matched the move. He jerked the wheel left.
Chamille’s tires barked and then sung like a giant hornet BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ along the sleeper lines at the edge of the emergency lane.
The fun had gone too far and Mike was finished with it. He mashed the brake.
Let them go on ahead, he thought.
But the hearse couldn’t get any purchase. The back end swerved twice, wildly from right to left. Then like an off-kilter top the ass end slid out from the left and a hub cap shot out into the woods.
Mike slowed further and the boys’ breath caught in their throats as the great black hearse pitched and lost its front right tire off of the edge of the blacktop.
Steve’s seat belt locked as Mike drove the brake into the floorboard, bringing Chamille to a complete stop.
Just out beyond the light of their headlamps, less than 500 yards away, the two boys witnessed the glass eyeballs of the hearse do somersaults and the brake lamps trace figure eights in the night like fireflies.
Through the silence came the scream of metal tearing and glass shattering and then the deafening sound of a giant striking a huge drum.
A cloud of grass and dust hung above the wreckage, the one operating headlamp trying to break through the thinning plume like the batman signal in the night.
Mike spit his straw in an absent attempt at the driver’s side door pocket and leaned forward over the wheel, like a couple of inches would afford him a better look at what just happened.
Both boys knew the only way they were going to see any clearer was for the smoke to dissipate and for them to motor on up and have a look.
“Fuck, man,” Steve whispered. He chanced a partial look over at Mike, trying his best not to be full of accusation, but it wasn’t cool enough.
“What?!” Mike railed, “I didn’t fuckin’ touch ’em man! They wrecked themselves.”
“I — I didn’t say we did.”
Mike swung his head full around to the rear and looked westbound out into the night. Silence.
Gently he lifted his foot from the brake and let Chamille begin to idle forward of her own accord.
“You think anyone’d survive that?” Mike asked, leaning too far into the windshield in an effort to look overly interested. Still trying to keep the guilt from falling too hard on his friend.
Chamille’s tires walked out over the shards of safety glass, step by step. Her white walls obliterating a piece of bulb. Smoke curling up as the El Camino inched up beside the wreckage.
The hearse was on its roof. Passenger side crushed down. A and B posts flattened. It’s where all the glass had come from. The windshield was spidered. Fractured in such a way the glass was a patchwork of white in the night.
Steve went to roll down his window but Mike had punched the window lock. When the window wouldn’t budge he looked back at Mike who was just shaking his head morbidly. Then, understanding, he looked back out at the slowly passing wreckage and heard Mike mutter, “They’ll see our faces.”
The under body was more like a truck than a car.
The exhaust pipe was full of grass and the catalytic converter was smoldering after something had melted onto it. The back door of the hearse was cocked open on a single hinge. Velvet drapery had been blasted from the interior out onto the shoulder. One piece was on fire, rolling along the emergency lane.
“You think they’re okay?”
They were passing it at a crawl.
Mike put both hands on the wheel, checked the side views, and started gently accelerating away.
“I’m sure they are. But, it’s best not to find out.”
As the undulating rhythm of Chamille’s crankshaft went to work, Steve looked back from his window. The last thing he saw was the coffin on the other side of the ditch. It must’ve been pitched free in the crash. And the lid was missing.
The radio’s absence was thick, but welcome.
The deceitful silence filled the space for a full five minutes.
The green LEDs read 12:15.
Speed, seventy miles per hour.
Mike was the first to speak, “Do you think we should call it in when we get home?”
“Someone will stop before then. If we were in the Taurus we’d have the car phone.”
“Was there anyone in it?”
“Some one was driving.”
“No. I mean the coffin. Was there anyone in the coffin?”
“Fuck it, Mike,” Steve said balling up his jacket and stuffing it back in the crook of the door. “What’s it matter? I mean, there might’ve been something. Who could even tell?”
Mike finally dared a look Steve’s direction. It was the first time since motoring off. “You think we should have stopped?”
Steve answered from his corner. “I don’t know what to think man. I don’t want to think. What I want is a fuckin’ drink.”
Mike pointed to Steve’s Pibb nestled in beside his own on the dash.
“You know what I mean!”
“Well,” Mike said, “there’s always that toxic jello in the fridge we pulled on Jeff.”
Steve sat up. “Yeah. Count me in on that shit. I’ll eat the whole bowl!”
At least that conjured a weak smile from Mike. “Kevin’ll be pissed if you get sloshed and don’t show up to work tomorrow.”
Steve saw the yellow sign that read ‘CHECK GAS | NEXT EXIT TWENTY MILES’ fly by in his peripheral vision, “You can tell him I’m sick. Fuck it.”
“Hell, I don’t want to go in tomorrow either. But someone has to.”
Mike shook his head, “Passing that spot again tomorrow night — ” he met Steve’s eyes across the bench seat, “ — don’t know if I can handle it.”
“Maybe we should take the next exit? Ya know, tell a store clerk we saw an accident.”
Mike wasn’t shaking his head this time. This time, he was was just thinking. He ran the back of his right hand across his mouth.
“Nah. Our rubber is all over the highway back there. They gotta be able to match that to the tires or something.”
He offered a feeble glance Steve’s way, “Unless, you’re insisting. If you’re insisting. We’ll do it.”
Then he changed hands at the wheel and sulked under his own seat belt hanger. Clearly upset with himself.
Steve was just sitting there in silence. Considering. Just sitting there in that same deceitful silen…
Up ahead, the four running lights of a trailer peaked out from the on-ramp of the last chance exit on I-4 West.
Mike sped up a little and toggled off the high beams. That helped Steve decide to relax.
He’d made up his mind to just let the whole business of the crash go until they got home. Maybe a little spiked Jello would make things better.
The vehicle had merged straight into the fast lane.
Steadily they were closing the gap.
Approaching from the rear, the boys could make out the unmistakable dark metal eyebrows that covered the rear warning lights which would indicate following vehicles to stop for crossing children. Otherwise whitewashed, all four red lamps were aglow and in bold letters one could read EMERGENCY PULL TO EXIT and WE STOP AT ALL RR CROSSINGS along the back door.
“You gotta be shittin’ me,” Mike said coming up on her at eighty.
It wasn’t a trailer after all.
White lines dashed beneath the El Camino’s hood as they moved into the slow lane to pass.
Then there were those tinted windows. Eleven of them.
Mike counted each double pane as he overtook her. Plus the bi-folding door panels. That made twenty-four, all rectangles, black as pitch.
The paint job was like sandstone. Matte, no gloss. Only a single chrome decal that read BLUEBIRD embossed into an upside-down Nike swoosh.
He eased off the accelerator to try and peer inside of the dark folding door.
Steve startled him when he asked, “Prison transfer?”
“I… don’t know,” said Mike, uneasily.
Truth was, the whole thing was making him nervous. He was thinking about the people in the windows of the bus that passed early on. Before the whole ordeal.
“Coulda been prisoners,” he said reluctantly.
The nose on the bus was old fashioned. It was a front-heavy with the long hood which housed the turbo diesel that Mike could hear whistling now as the driver got onto the gas.
The El Camino nosed up to the front of the Bluebird’s hood. Right to wear Mike could see the passenger’s side mudflap outside of the window.
It nosed up to it, but not past.
The green LEDs on the dash read 12:22.
Speed, eighty miles per hour.
From above, four low beams crisscrossed along the moving slate. The two vehicles side-by-side along a dark channel like some blue whale with its baby.
All you could really see was the road.
Without the high beams on, you didn’t get the full picture. The forest was still there. It was just a dark wood now.
Steve knew exactly what Mike was afraid of but he was still going to ask. Before he did, he reached down and volumed up the radio. The Police were singing Message in a bottle.
“C’mon man,” Steve said, “What’s there to worry about?”
Mike’s stomach was turning to knots. He lifted his arm from blocking Steve’s view of the instrument cluster and gave him that look again that said, ‘Check it out.’
The needle was climbing through ninety and they weren’t gaining any ground.
“I have a bad feeling, man,” says Mike.
Beside them the diesel engine was swallowing air, and the front end of the Bluebird was gently bouncing under the strain of the transmission catching the final gear. Maximum overdrive.
Steve was bolt upright again holding onto the oh shit handle above his door. His grip was wet with his nervous sweat and he was wishing that this would all just go away.
The speakers mocked them as The Police sang their chorus,
I’ll send an S.O.S to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle
“Fuck this,” Mike said, “and kill that noise!”
Then he buried the gas pedal.
Chamille jumped like a racehorse just freed from it’s starting stall onto the track.
The double doors of the ghost bus held fast outside of the window.
For a moment Steve’s heart dropped into his large intestine as he imagined all the bad karma coming their way.
But then, Chamillle got a few inches on the Bluebird. Then a few feet.
They were pulling away!
He craned his neck around to look into the front windshield of the bus. A dark strip of tint along the top prevented him from seeing the man’s face, but Steve could see bony fingers in a death grip on the wheel, white with tension.
“I’m not stopping for anything,” Mike squealed.
The dual exhaust below the El Camino rumbled away out in front of the bus which was disappearing into the dark.
Mike watched it go in the rear view.
Speed, one hundred and twenty-five miles per hour.
The El Camino was thundering past mile marker two twenty-two when Steve finally asked Mike to consider easing off the gas.
“You know highway patrol likes to hide out in the woods by the Wilson County line.”
It was true. They had avoided getting their licenses suspended for racing many times by cooling it near that speed trap.
Mike considered it. His eyes, bathed in a thinning band of white light, flicked up to the rear view and down at the speedometer. Nothing back there.
The reflectors atop the concrete barriers on the bridge were passing lighted stripes through the cab as they crossed over into Wilson County.
Mike had eased Chamille back down to around ninety but was reluctant to shy anymore than that.
“C’mon Mike, just think about it. If the cops pull us over and ticket us, there’s gonna be substantial evidence tying us the wreck. It’ll put us along this highway right at the time of the accident.”
Mike’s eyes canvased the stretch of dark behind them. Again, he looked beneath his hand at the gauges.
“Ah shit, man!” said Steve.
A pair of blinding headlights had flicked on from the wooded crossover path connecting the east and westbound lanes. It was precisely where they had gotten lucky time and time again.
It seemed, their luck had run out.
The El Camino lulled forward as Mike’s foot fell off the accelerator in an attempt to get within twenty over. He didn’t need a reckless driving charge.
Steve put his head back against the bench seat, looking up at the headliner.
“I told you.”
Now, the patrolman was easing out from the forest onto the deserted highway. It’s headlamps rocking as the tires gained purchase on the asphalt.
Something about those headlamps.
They weren’t any kinda lights they had ever seen on an interceptor before.
Come to think of it. Mike got a strange feeling about the way those bright lights came on first hand. Not very police like, he thought. It felt more like he were in a dirty harry movie and some gangsters were lying in ambush for him.
That’s what those lights reminded him of.
Mike pressed on the gas.
“What are you doing?” asked Steve in desperation. “You can’t outrun a cop!”
“If that’s a cop then I’m Shirley Temple,” said Mike.
Steve looked back, shielding his eyes with his right hand.
“It’s blacker than the road. And they haven’t made a police car shaped that way since the nineteen forties.”
Steve was still trying to make it out from so far back. He didn’t like those headlights. They were making him feel like he was living in one of the scary stories to tell in the dark. He was a frightened little kid again.
The truth was, he hadn’t seen headlamps like those except on early model cars. The last time he’d seen such an early model car, it had been upside down, shining its only good lamp up through a plume of dirt and dust.
The green LEDs read 12:28.
Speed, one hundred miles per hour.
“How much further before the next exit?”
Steve pointed to the green mile marker blazing past on the right. Mile 225.
“Should be less then ten miles from here.”
That was according to the yellow sign Steve remembered that had said NEXT EXIT TWENTY MILES.
Behind them the high beams on the old car that neither Steve nor Mike chose to name, began flashing. It still hadn’t closed any distance since Mike chose to keep on the gas, but the message was one they‘d grown far too familiar with that night. It was Morse code.
Even with that dark death box behind them putting out an SOS through their rear window, the boys were a little confident they’d make the exit.
At least until Chamille guttered.
What else had that yellow sign said?
The massive round speedometer that took up the whole center of the instrument panel showed the El Camino’s speed steadily dropping.
Over in the left hand corner of the cluster, where some of the smaller gauges hid, a less conspicuous needle rested on the peg below ‘E’. That was the fuel gauge.
The speed was plummeting. Ninety-five. Ninety. Eighty-five.
The globular lenses were closing the gap behind them, now.
“Mike, we’re sitting ducks, man!” Steve’s face had gone all flush under his pimples. It was so red, you could hardly tell they were there.
Mike was trying to ignore the incessant flashing. Blinded by every other flick of the brights.
He pushed the column shifter to neutral. The RPMs dropped to zero.
The Camino continued to coast. Eighty. Seventy-five. Seventy.
He reached over in front of Steve and pinched the catch on the glove box. It fell open, spilling out a mix of documentation and Zaxby’s condiments.
“In the back,” he said, “there’s a metal switch for the reserve.”
Steve dove into the glove compartment. Clearing out all the clutter in one or two big grabs.
The dark nose of their pursuant was tearing toward them now like they were standing still. It’s pretty lines were unmistakable. The sharp points. The chrome hood ornament.
Chamille coasted at sixty. Mike felt totally helpless when the hearse’s left blinker came on indicating it would pass.
“Fat chance,” Mike thought.
He looked over and saw that Steve had stopped what he was doing to watch the hood ornament, a chrome grim reaper, slide up cooly along the driver’s side.
“Steve! For God’s sake,” Mike screamed, “the reserve!”
Steve’s hand had just happened across it. He twisted it to tank B.
Speed, Fifty miles per hour.
The stretch of interstate before the two eastbound vehicles reminded Steve of a haunted house. Those you enter into and the strobe lights make everything look like its moving slower than it actually is.
The impossible hearse was flicking out its SOS while Mike was pumping the gas pedal and turning the ignition. Her own lights sputtered with the reel of the starter motor.
The trees along the left side of I-4 passed in long bright swaths and then quick intermittent light.
The trees and gutter along the right flicked to the tune of the ignition relay. To his right, once Steve saw a gnarled tree jutting from the embankment. Then another time the eye shine of a racoon or possum at the edge of the woods.
But the strobe of the lights wasn’t exactly deceiving them. They were slowing!
Forty miles per hour. Like a snail drying up from underneath.
Then she caught a spark.
Mike’s foot was still mashing the gas to prime her when she took and Chamille’s motor roared through eight thousand RPMs. When the hammer dropped into drive the chassis nearly twisted under the torque.
She made a low bellow from the rear wheels but grabbed the road. Her bench seat hugged both Mike and Steve who felt like they were jumping a horse over an obstacle. Then she was off. The maddening invisible coachman on their left answering in his own terrible anthem.
When the Camino’s lights came back on steady, the glare of the silver grim reaper mocked them from the hood of the other conveyance. Thrusting its scythe out as if already in victory.
A cloud of dark soot roiled behind the vehicles after the hearse’s driver buried his accelerator and with some ungodly power, lifted the front tires several inches from the highway.
Steve had cinched his seat belt down with his left hand. The box of moon pies was crushed under his right non-slip work boots, still caked from grease. He didn’t notice.
Steve started pleading with Mike as the needle rose and the hearse remained stationary beyond the driver window.
Just darkness. Just the feeling of impending doom and darkness.
“Look!” Mike pointed with his eyes, “the exit!”
It was out there. The big green sign read, EXIT 235 ONE MILE.
Mike just couldn’t concentrate from all the incessant lights flicking out that damn Morse code. SOS. SOS. SOS.
It was blinding him.
Steve closed his eyes, scared to the point of wanting to punch his friend in the chest if it would only make him stop accelerating. But the exit, it was there! If only another thirty seconds.
Mike had had enough. He flicked on his own bright lights with his left foot to drown out the flashing.
Steve opened his eyes.
And there it was. Like it had been for millions of others before them. Death.
First it was the eye shine of the young doe. Then the two fawns crossing behind her in the slow lane.
“Shi — “ Mike’s voice caught in his throat. Though later Steve would think it was sucked out of him with the vacuum of the imploding cabin.
The front wheels had turned toward the emergency lane. Chamille disputed. Rubber melted in the rear as Mike’s feet pounded the brake.
She fishtailed. He thought he had her. But the front right tire lost the roadway and she went up in a figure eight. Racing stripes along her nose screw driving into the dirt.
There was glass. Tearing metal. Even the sound of a giant hitting a drum. But, this time Steve was inside of it all.
Outside the dust was rising through the high beam which was twisted in an angle to spotlight the trees.
There was a bulb just outside of the passenger side window, laying on the concrete in the slow lane. It was still flickering with the last life of electricity though most of its housing had been shorn away.
Steve turned his head to Mike as he himself hung upside down, suspended from Chamille’s bench seat.
There was no Mike. Only a crushed A and B post, a twisted steering wheel. An empty seat.
He’d been thrown free.
It made him think of the lidless coffin he’d seen on the side of the freeway and his reluctance to tell Mike what he’d seen inside.
Chamille’s engine had died. It’s fuel filter giving up pumping against gravity. There was silence, besides the distant rumble of an onlooker.
The death box.
Then, like something from a dream, he heard the hearse’s motor idle slowly forward. Safety glass was cracking and popping under the weight of the hearse as it slowly advanced.
The gray freeway became lighter and lighter in its head lamps, glittering with a thousand tiny diamonds of safety glass shrapnel.
Finally a tire rolled over the large flickering bulb in the slow lane and made a resounding POP.
Then it stopped right outside of Steve’s window.
Steve forced in a breath. His right arm might still be good. Not good enough to unbuckle the seat belt. And even if he could, God he didn’t think he could take the drop to the headliner. He tried for his buckle anyhow.
No use and he felt paralyzed from the waist down.
The engine on the hearse went silent and then Steve could make out the slowing whine of one of Chamille’s tires still spinning.
Must be rubbing on a bent wheel well.
He forced another breath and held it. It was like inflating a hot water bladder. He could feel the sweat rolling down his scalp and dripping, but when he looked beneath him, the headliner was soaked in blood.
He was dying.
The deceitful silence.
It can fool you. Lull you to sleep, while riding shotgun in your friend’s El Camino after a long work night.
Those underlying audible rhythms that can hypnotize you while driving a long familiar highway. They can be deadly.
Steve wished he was being deceived. Wished he could close his eyes and nod off to the road noise now. But, when the rubbing of the El Camino’s warped wheel finally came to a stop, another insistent sound kept him from shutting his eyes and pretending it was all a dream.
He forced another painful breath as the diesel engine approached the scene and then pulled off of the shoulder in front of the accident. The compression brakes hissed as the vehicle came to a stop.
Steve was no idiot. And this was no emergency response vehicle.
That was the sound of a Bluebird that had finally caught them up.
END OF PREVIEW
This is all I have written as of October 14th, 2021. The entire book will be completed and published in paperback on Halloween 2021. Subscribers of Quick Jabs will receive the ending in their email for free on that date.
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