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Friday, July 31, 2020

A MEETING ON THE ROAD

By Gail Fulkerson

He never did anything without a beer in his hand. His fridge was always stocked with cans of Bud Light, chilled to the perfect drinking temperature. While many people start their mornings with coffee, Richard would crack open a cold one to get the sleep out of his eyes and the cobwebs out of his head.

The beer had run out last night. He’d been hitting it hard since he got home from work, and was shit-faced by 8 pm. He stood up from the couch, where he’d been sat watching TV, and wobbled to the kitchen to grab another cold one out of the fridge. Finding none, he checked the second fridge in the garage: No beer. He staggered over to his quad to check the cooler he kept strapped to the back rack. That was empty as well.

He was about to jump on his quad and tear down to the corner store for more, but scrapped that idea when he realized the place would probably be closed by the time he got there. The last thing he needed was another ticket for drunk driving. The last one had cost him big bucks and his beloved quad was impounded until he could come up with the cash to get it back.

The town bar was still open, but Richard disliked going. The place was too noisy, most of the patrons were younger than he, and since he’d quit smoking, the strong smell of cigarette smoke, coupled with the stink of carpeting soaked with years of spilled beer, made him nauseous. However, in these here dire straits he now found himself, Richard would set aside his dislike and go to the bar for a dozen Bud Light and call it a night.

He was on his way home, beer stowed securely in the cooler behind his seat, when, rounding the curve in the road, he was blinded by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, a pickup truck with its brights on.Richard swerved to avoid being hit. The other driver had swerved, too, and landed in the trees on Richard’s side of the road. Miraculously, Richard was able to steer the quad and come to a safe stop. As he braked, the quad’s front bumper just barely grazed a tree. He was shaken up but not injured. The other guy had gotten out of his truck and was heading towards the quad.

Richard had been looking for his insurance papers and driver’s license and only noticed the man when he was almost upon him. He did a double-take when he saw the man’s face. It was ashen, a sickly grey, sunken hollow cheeks, black-rimmed eye sockets and a gash over one of his brows. The blood ran freely from the fresh wound, staining his face and shirt a dark red.

A small movement on the man’s right side distracted Richard from wondering why he couldn’t see the man’s eyes. As horrifying as the thought was, that this man had no eyes, it wasn’t nearly as horrifying as the scores of maggots crawling from the wound in the man’s side. The truck’s shifter had pierced the man’s side between his hipbone and bottom-most rib. Revolting, deathly white grubs writhed out of the man’s body and onto the ground. The man did not seem to notice, so intent was he to get closer to Richard.

A guttural sound rose up from deep within the man’s throat. He lurched towards Richard, hands outstretched, groping, hoping to grab onto an arm, a sleeve, anything, to pull his prey to him. Richard had been back-stepping to keep out of this thing’s reach, so when he felt the quad at his back, he jumped on it and hightailed it home. (At least he would have, if he hadn’t turned off the engine.) Now, it was a race to see whether Richard could start the quad, back it out of the trees, and gun it, before the thing took him. He’d quit thinking that this monster was actually a man, when he looked into the black abyss of its long-empty eye sockets.

The night had passed. Sunshine was streaming through the trees, illuminating a terrible scene that had played out before sunrise. Steam was rising from the blood-spattered tree trunks and leaves. A large, dark stain marked the spot where a profuse amount of blood had seeped into the ground. Torn and bloody clothing was strewn all over the place. A piece of scalp, some teeth, and shattered bones, were all that remained of the night’s events.

The monster grinned and took a final swig of the last can of beer, belching as he beheld his surroundings with his new eyes.

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