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by Ray Garton
Description: A "lot lizard" is a female hooker who works a highway truck stop as her territory. When trucker Bill Ketter looks for a little relaxation and release, he discovers, too late, that he has bitten off more than he can chew. In fact, his lot lizard is the one that does the biting--she is a vampire, one of number who move from one truck stop to the next under the watchful and vicious eyes of the repulsive Carsey Brothers. Against his will, Bill becomes one of the undead. He follows the brothers and their cargo to another stop where he meets his ex-wife and children and Bill finds himself battling the vampires and their age-old leader for the life of his teenaged son. Garton has created another small masterpiece, contemporary adult horror at its most gruesome and loaded with extras doses of sex and gore. The confined setting creates a perfect claustrophobic stage for the story and the hellaciously quick pace never lets the action slow down.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1991
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [280 KB]
Reading time: 168-236 min.
When Bill Ketter walked out of the restaurant at the Petromo Truck Stop in Springfield, Missouri, after a meal of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob and a slice of lemon meringue, he was just tired enough for his limp to show as he crossed the back lot to his truck. His left leg was an eighth of an inch shorter than his right; he was usually able to hide it with a swagger, but when he got tired, the limp was noticeable. He hitched himself up into the cab of his eighteen wheeler and pulled the door shut behind him, ready to settle down for a few hours of much needed sleep when he heard the knock. Actually, he'd been hoping for it.
It had been a long trip from California to Illinois, and now he was on his way back with a load of furniture. But other than to make his delivery, Bill could think of no good reason to return. His wife, A.J., had left him six months earlier, taking their two children with her. He'd spent a few months waiting for her to come back like she always had before; she'd left him three times in the past, always for the same reason: she could no longer live with a man who made his living spending nearly all of his time on the road delivering everything from produce to kitchen appliances and almost none of his time with his wife and children. But she'd always come back in two or three weeks, maybe a couple months.
She hadn't come back this time. It had taken Bill a while to realize that she wasn't coming back this time. He was feeling depressed, lonely and rejected--Admit it, he thought, you're feeling horny!--and that knock was like a sound heard by a man who thought he'd lost his hearing forever.
Earlier that evening, when he'd pulled into the truck stop, that knock--or one like it--had been on his mind. He'd decided he needed something to take his mind of f A.J., and a lot lizard--one of the young women who roamed the back lots of truck stops, making a few bucks by going from truck to truck and knocking on the doors until they found a driver who was feeling lonely--would be just the ticket. He felt a sharp pang of guilt for considering it because it felt like adultery, infidelity ... cheating. But it was pretty obvious that A.J. wasn't coming back this time and Bill felt like a walking sore, an open wound; he needed a salve.
"Yeah?" he called, kneeling on the sleeper bed, untucked shirt half unbuttoned.
"Uummm ... you, um ... you want some company?" A girl's voice, thin and tremulous.
"Just a minute," he said, crawling over the bed and between the seats, into the cab, checking his back pocket for his wallet. He opened the driver's side door, looked down at the girl bathed in the sickly yellow glow of the lot's mercury lamps and breathed, "Jeez, honey..."
The girl stared up at him with wide, dry looking eyes beneath which hung grey half moons of flesh. She was probably eighteen or nineteen, although she looked some years older at the moment. Her long dishwater blond hair fell in flat strings past her shoulders; her cheeks, the color of dirty teeth, appeared to be sucked in below razor sharp cheekbones. She wore a filthy old olive drab jacket that looked three sizes too big for her frail, bony frame and a pair of jeans full of holes and she stood shivering in the warm spring night, hugging herself as if she were cold.
Bill knew instantly that sex was out of the question. Even if she were a lot lizard--although he suspected she was nothing more than a desperate drug addict--it was obvious that she did not possess the energy to rut around in his sleeper.
He threw the door all the way open and stepped down beside her, saying, "You okay, sweetheart?"
"Well, I was just wondering if, um ... y'know, if you'd like some ... y'know, some company."
"Yeah, but you look like you need the company of a doctor, honey. You okay?"
She lowered her head and laughed breathily at the pavement. "Well, I'm kinda ... hungry." Looking at him again: "We, um ... broke down. We were stranded for a long time and there was nothing to eat and..." She shrugged, still hugging herself tightly.
"You need something to eat?"
He'd lost interest in sex all of a sudden, thinking of his oldest daughter ... and of A.J. No one but Bill called her A.J.; he'd always thought it was kind of sweet. He hoisted himself back up into the truck, offering his hand to the girl. "Then you come on in here, sweetie, 'cause I got a bunch of goodies you're more than welcome to, okay?"
She nodded, took his hand and allowed him to lift her into the cab. She weighed nothing.
"I don't have much," he said. "Some chips, some jerky and a few moon pies, but it looks to me like you could use just about anything."
She nodded, never taking her eyes from his as she settled into the seat behind the wheel.
"So where'd you break down?" he asked, fishing through the glove box for the jerky he kept stored there.
"'Bout sixty miles south of here."
"In a truck? A car?"
"I was in a truck."
"Uh." He handed her the jerky.
The girl held it in her hand, staring at it as if it were something odd that she didn't understand.
"The chips're up here," he said, jerking his head toward the sleeper. Bill moved between the seats and lifted himself up onto the sleeper's bed, groping for one of the bags of chips. He found it, pulled it noisily toward him and began to back out of the sleeper on his knees when he heard the familiar snickering sound of a cassette being pushed into his tape deck. The mournful harmony of the Judds filled the cab and Bill started to turn around when the girl came up into the sleeper with him, crawling over his legs on all fours.
"Uhh ... you didn't like the jerky?" Bill asked.
"Maybe in a minute," she breathed, settling down on the mattress. Her face was two inches from his and her eyes seemed three times bigger, or more, than they had a moment ago; they were like polished pennies with flecks of ... what? ... red? ... silver? It was hard to tell ... the flecks of color seemed to change, shift, disappear, then reappear. Her lips were dry and cracked and her skin, up close, appeared to be flaking. She'd probably been very pretty before she'd started taking whatever she was taking, hit the road and let herself go like this; she could probably be pretty again with a few good meals, a hot bath and some decent clothes.
"I thought you were hungry," Bill said, surprised by the softness of his voice.
"Well, really I'm kinda thirsty, y'know? My mouth is really dry."
"Oh, okay. Well. I got a jug of water in here, and some cranberry juice. And I think I got some Squirt left." He set aside the bag of chips and began searching around for the warm cans of soda when she touched his arm.
"It can wait," she whispered.
"Huh?" He turned to her again. "But I thought you were thir--"
She placed her hand on his cheek and leaned even closer to him and the colors in her eyes held his attention in an iron grip as she said, "I'm lonely, too."
Bill stared at her for a long time. When she pushed a fallen strand of her unwashed hair from in front of her eyes, he didn't notice; he'd forgotten about her hollow cheeks and unhealthy pallor. All he saw were her eyes. Such interesting, unusual eyes, and ... in a strange sort of way ... beautiful eyes. The flecks of color in them seemed to flare like dying embers coming to life beneath a gush of air.
"Know what I mean?" she asked, her voice a feather against velvet. "Lonely?"
Lost in those swirling flecks of red, copper and silver, Bill took a moment to grope for his voice, then: "Yuh ... yeah, I ... 1-yuh ... I thought--"
"Don't worry about it." She brushed her lips over his, soft as a butterfly's wings. "I'll eat." Buried her fingers in his hair and pulled his face closer as she ran the tip of her tongue along the curve of his jaw. "Eventually." Pulling away, she slipped her jacket off and began to unbutton the light blue shirt beneath it, smirking.
She looked different, somehow. Her eyes were brighter. There was something in her face, in the set of her jaw--a liveliness--that hadn't been there a moment before.
Moving mechanically, Bill began to unbutton his own shirt the rest of the way, fighting back thoughts of A.J. and the kids, telling himself that he was lonely, he deserved--even needed--this, that surely A.J. wouldn't expect him to remain faithful to her after all these months of being alone, although he was quick to remind himself that, in spite of countless opportunities, he' d never been unfaithful to her throughout their marriage ... and she still left! Despite his efforts, though, he could think of nothing but A.J. and his insides writhed suddenly with guilt until--the girl leaned forward, her shirt falling open to reveal small white breasts with chocolate colored nipples standing erect, and slipped her hand under his shirt, stroked his chest and abdomen and began tugging at his belt, pushing him down on his back.
Money, he thought as she pulled his shirt off. She hasn't mentioned money ... hasn't even told me her name ... and ... she looked so sick earlier...
But the touch of her hands pushed those thoughts from his mind and he trembled when, straddling him, she kissed his chest and sucked his nipples between her teeth, then stopped a moment to place her ear over his heart. Bill felt her fingernails dig into his sides, looked down to see her eyes close; the tip of her tongue glistened between tightly closed lips and she began to move on him, slowly at first, pressing her pelvis to his, then harder and more rhythmically, grinding against him as she sighed, "Aahhh-hahh ... aahhh-hahh..." He became erect immediately and responded, pushing his erection up between her legs.
The girl moved down him, pulling his belt frantically, ripping his jeans open and jerking them down, pulling his boots off with them, then removing her own shoes and jeans, until she was naked. She crawled up his body like a stalking cat, her gaze fastened on the bulge in his briefs. She put her mouth over it, nibbled it through the material, making Bill squirm.
He was thinking of nothing now, not A.J. or the kids or his work or what he was going to do without his family ... nothing. Just her mouth, hot and wet, on his cock ... just her strangely cool, satiny skin against him...
Bill was startled when she made a sudden jerky movement and he looked down to see that she'd ripped his white cotton briefs off him in one quick movement; they dangled, tattered, from her clenched teeth until she tossed them aside and plunged her mouth over his erection, moving her head up and down rapidly, holding his testicles snugly in her hand, slipping a finger down to his rectum and pressing gently, teasing him.
He moaned and clawed at the blankets.
The Judds sang on, a different song now ... a favorite of A.J.'s ... but Bill didn't even hear it; he was swimming in the wonderful wet things the girl was doing to him with her mouth.
She finally mounted him, sitting upright as she moved on him at first, then leaning down to hold his face between her hands and kiss him ... to clutch his shoulders as she bit his ear ... then his cheek ... then, quite suddenly--and, for just an instant, painfully--his neck...
Then something happened that made Bill lose control. The girl's vagina closed tightly around his cock, squeezed it like a fist, and she began to groan--no, no ... it was almost a low growl--as she gnawed his flesh, sucking and sucking, her fingernails drawing thin trails down his shoulders and arms as she dragged her hands over him. The three sensations together--being inside her, the clawing of her nails, her teeth and tongue on his neck as she sucked voraciously--were almost unbearable and Bill began to gasp like a man suffocating, lifting his hands to push her away for a moment, to get her to slow down, go a little easier, but his hands only trembled uselessly and his arms flopped back onto the bed as he gulped, "My guh-gawd, muh-my gawd..."
His ecstasy crescendoed and his upward thrusts became harder and more rapid and the girl made sounds just below his ear ... thick, muffled sounds ... sticky, wet sounds ... and then--the truck began to move. Or so it seemed. It did not feel like it was moving backward or forward but ... around. It seemed to turn slowly, like a carousel when the ride first begins. Bill gripped the mattress in his fists and tried to sit up, but his upper body would not respond. He made incoherent sounds in his throat as he tried to push the girl off, but she seemed not to notice. Her movements continued without pause and the sounds she was making grew louder, more intense, accompanied now by sloppy gulping and ecstatic humming: "Mmm-hmmm, mmm-hmmm, mm-hm, mm-hm..."
Bill opened his eyes to discover that the truck was not actually moving, but the sleeper seemed to be spinning, faster and faster, and the music on the tape deck grew faint, as if the volume were being turned down slowly; even the girl's sounds began to fade until all that was left was the feeling of sliding in and out of her cool wet flesh and, in Bill's ears, the ocean-like rush of his ragged breathing and the beat of his heart.
He began to flail his arms, tried to speak, tried to tell her to stop, to get off him because something was wrong, something was very wrong, but he could not utter a sound and his movements were weak.
The girl's movements, however, became more frantic and her hands clutched at him like steel claws.
At first, Bill thought he was having a heart attack. He began to feel cold, weak; what little he could see in the dark sleeper blurred and faded as did the sound of his heartbeat.
The girl either ignored or did not notice his distress.
His sight left him.
He stopped moving.
Bill Ketter slipped silently into oblivion...
Consciousness returned agonizingly slowly.
Bill rose from the utter blackness of a death-like sleep to the softer darkness of his sleeper, illuminated only slightly by the lights outside the truck. But that glow, however faint, had the effect of hot needles being plunged into his eyes as he opened them. He lifted a hand to his face protectively, uttering a throaty gurgling sound as he tried to sit up.
His whole body trembled as if from a tremendous hangover; a rank, viscous fluid coated the inside of his mouth and gummed up the corners of his aching eyes; gooseflesh crawled over his naked body like an army of ants and he hunched forward with a shudder, trying again to open his eyes, slowly this time.
He was alone in the sleeper, which was not unusual. But something about it was ... wrong somehow. He looked around in the darkness, scrubbing his face with weak hands. The only time he wasn't alone in the truck was when A.J. came with him, but she hadn't come along on a run in ... well, in years, so why did it seem odd that--
A. J.'s gone, a faint voice whispered in his head, which began to throb suddenly with the realization that his wife had left him. He massaged his temples, clenched his eyes and ground his teeth against the pain.
A.J. was gone, but someone else was gone, too, he was certain. Someone else had left him alone, but he couldn't remember--
The girl, he thought, opening his eyes. Squinting against the searing glow from outside, Bill looked down into the cab at the digital clock on the dash. It read four-forty a.m., nearly eight hours since he'd let her into the cab. Groping for his pants, his hand fell, instead, on his open wallet. He lifted it close to his face, fingers prying open the pockets.
His money was gone. So were his credit cards.
He dropped the wallet and grabbed his pants, making his way unsteadily out of the sleeper and into the cab where he put on his pants carefully, trying not to succumb to the dizziness that threatened to topple him. He started out of the truck, but froze when he noticed that his tape deck was gone. So was the small television he kept in the passenger seat.
"Son of a bitch," he slurred, clutching the seat to hold himself up. He threw open the door on the driver's side and started to step down cautiously, but the black pavement below flew up to meet him, striking him with the sound of thunder. The throbbing in his head worsened as he rose up on all fours, groaning. The sounds of the lot--once so familiar that he hardly noticed them--now drilled into his ears with barbed steel bits. Barechested, he hunkered on the pavement and looked around through bleary aching eyes.
Truck engines purred all around him like giant cats and the air was thick with diesel exhaust mixed with the smell of cow shit; the truck parked beside his held a trailer full of cattle. Headlights blinded him as they flashed by and he could feel the movement of the great rolling tires through the pavement beneath his bare hands.
He fell on his side and curled his knees up to his chest. Something was wrong, terribly wrong ... he was sick, seriously ill ... he needed help, he needed--
His stomach clenched and he began to retch. The meal he'd eaten in the restaurant earlier rolled up from his stomach in thick gobs and landed on the pavement, undigested and reeking.
When the tremors in his gut had stopped, Bill sat up and stared through watery eyes across the aisle between the rows of parked trucks to the next row facing him. One of the trucks was idling loudly. Its headlights were on and Bill squinted against the painful glare, but he did not close his eyes because ... something was moving in the light ... someone...
He sat up weakly, his chest heaving.
A slender figure stopped in front of one of the headlights, silhouetted against the glow. The figure hunched to light a cigarette; the head leaned back to exhale smoke and--a fist clenched in Bill's chest. His back straightened and his head craned forward as---the figure became more familiar, its identity given away by the curves outlined in the light, by the careless posture and the stringy hair that fell from the back of the head...
"C'mon!" a male voice called. "Whatta y'waitin' for, huh? Y'think I got all night?"
"I'm coming, okay?" the figure shouted back.
Bill scrambled to his feet, trying to ignore the dizziness that sent the lot spinning in all directions beneath him and stumbled toward the girl standing before the idling truck.
"Hey!" he called as he staggered toward the facing row of trucks, his voice thick. "Huh-hey, you! You!"
The figure stiffened, turned toward him, then hurried out of sight.
Bill fell to his knees on the pavement between the rows of dormant trucks, trying to follow the girl with his eyes, but a bright flash of white blinded him and the bellow of a truck's horn filled the night; Bill crawled frantically over the pavement, saw the enormous tires of a truck roll by just inches away from him and crawled desperately toward the lighted truck, his nails clawing the tarmac, until his head butted into a thick, stiff leg.
He looked up.
A man, fists on hips, grey-shirted belly hanging over his belt, looked down at Bill with frowning eyes. "The hell you doin'?"
"I was--I'm just--there's a--"
The man kicked his left leg out and growled, "Get the hell outta here, y'fuckin' drrrunk!"
The man's foot caught Bill's shoulder and sent him backward onto the pavement, but he sat up immediately, just in time to see the man's back as he walked the length of his truck and disappeared behind it.
Clutching the truck's bumper, Bill lifted himself to his feet and followed the man, leaning against the trailer all the way. As he neared the back of the truck, he heard the man's voice:
"...many times've I told you, Goddammit, I ain't got all fuckin' night to wait for you! I don't care what you're--"
Bill rounded the corner and saw the man facing the trailer's open door, shouting into its yawning blackness. The man froze; his head jerked toward Bill and his lips curled into a snarl. He was grossly obese and his face was broad and lumpy; his dark hair was greasy and receding above his enormous ears and what teeth were left in his head were stained.
"The hell d'you want?" the man growled.
"The girl," Bill gasped, leaning against the corner of the trailer. "The girl who was ... just standing ... in front of the truck..."
"The girl ... the one you were--"
The man slammed the trailer door shut and jerked the latch, turning fully to Bill. "I dunno what th'fuck yer talkin' about."
Overcome with dizziness again, Bill staggered, slid down the corner of the trailer and landed on one knee as he wheezed, "No-no-no ... the girl ... I saw her ... sh-she stole muh-my--"
The man slapped a meaty hand onto Bill's shoulder and pulled him away from the trailer, grumbling, "Go sleep it off, buddy." He slammed Bill against the truck parked beside them and headed for his cab.
Scrambling to his feet, Bill followed him, panting, "Nuh-no, n-no! Wait! Please! You were juh-just t-talking to her, you were juh-just--"
The man turned and faced him and Bill froze. The man's lips curled up around his dirty teeth and his tongue moved restlessly behind the gaps between them; his eyes were small and dark, buried in flesh like a pig's. He lifted a hand to his round belly and scratched himself through the taut material of his dirty grey shirt. "Tell y'what," he said; his voice was the sound of a clogged toilet. "You get away from me an' I won't rip yer fuckin' head off."
Bill tried to back away but only fell to his knees again, weak and dizzy.
The man opened the door of his cab and climbed in. A moment later, the truck's engine shifted into gear and began to move slowly out of the parking slot.
The truck was black, jet black, a 1980 Peterbilt. Its 1693 Cat engine rumbled with the power of a volcano and the refrigeration unit on the white trailer, the side of which read in black letters, CARSEY BROS. TRUCKING, gave a steady, hollow hum.
Bill dragged himself up and stumbled forward as the black truck rumbled slowly out of the parking slot. He squinted at the license plates on the rear of the trailer as the truck rolled away, but his vision was blurred and his stomach was churning again and he leaned forward, clutching his abdomen and retching. He staggered half way to his truck, then fell, curling into a ball on the pavement, dry heaving.
"Hey-yum ... you okay?"
Bill looked up through tears at a red-haired freckle-faced boy wearing a powder blue shirt and black pants, the uniform of the truck stop's shop workers.
"You-um ... you don't look so well, man."
Bill was frightened; something was definitely wrong with him and he didn't know what it was, but something told him to keep it to himself ... for now.
"Fuh-fine," he gasped, getting up. "I'm fine, ruh-really."
"You sure? You look ... well, awful pale. I can call somebody if--"
"No-no-nuh-no ... really. I'm fine. "He tried to smile as he stood, clutching his stomach. "Just ... flu. Thassall. Got the flu, I think.
"Aw, shit, man, that sucks. Y'know, they got some stomach stuff in the travel store if you wanna ... sweet Jesus! What the hay-ell hap'nuh y'neck?"
"My ... my..." Bill looked down at himself. The hair on his chest was matted and slick with something that was dribbling down from his neck. He touched four fingertips to his jaw ... a little lower ... felt more blood coming from two small punctures. "What ... what the ... what'd she do to me?"
"That ... girl." He pointed to his blue Kenworth. "She came to my..." He pointed to the empty space where the black Peterbilt had been minutes before, "...she was just standing right ... she said she was..." He touched the wound again; it was sore and he winced, hissing, "She bit me."
"Well, uh, I-yuh..." The boy was looking at him very oddly now, shuffling his weight from one foot to the other." ... I don't know about no girl, mister. 'Cause, y'know, we don't let none of them girls back here, know what I mean? None of them lot lizards." He began to back away, squinting at Bill's face. "Thass, um ... thass why you gotta pay to come into the lot, so's we can keep 'em out, y'know? Um, if you want, I can call a cop. We got security guards here, y'know, I can tell one of 'em you're--"
"No," Bill said, still touching his bloody neck. "No, that's ... that's okay." He shuffled back to his truck, and when he looked back, the boy was gone. It took an effort just to open the door of the cab and he stood there a moment, still, silent, fingering his wound and listening ... to something ... something...
It wasn't another truck ... it wasn't an engine at all ... in fact, it was very close, whatever it was...
He got into the cab, slammed the door and sat behind the wheel for a few minutes, taking deep, slow breaths. The storm in his gut calmed after a while, leaving behind it a strange emptiness. It wasn't exactly hunger, and it wasn't quite a thirst, and yet...
He found the jerky the girl had left behind and lifted it to his mouth but, an instant before he took a bite, he gagged and dropped his hand to his lap, suddenly taking rapid breaths to keep from retching again.
Water. That would help. He found the container of water and lifted it to his lips, sucked in a mouthful and--his throat closed, spraying the water over the windshield and dash. He coughed and gagged for what seemed a long time, then put the jug down.
And he heard it still ... that sound that seemed so close ... so unidentifiable...
He rolled down the window and inhaled deeply, hanging his head limply through the opening. The sound was louder.
He lifted his head ... squinted...
It was a thick rushing sound ... a throbbing...
Almost like a heartbeat.
He turned slowly to his left to the truck parked beside his ... to the livestock trailer that reeked of cow shit. Even in the poor light, he could detect the movement of the cattle through the round ventilation holes that lined the trailer.
Much to his surprise, he could even hear their breathing.
And the throbbing sound continued...
Westbound Interstate 40, just west of Williams, Arizona...
Christmas had ended nearly five hours ago and the interstate was a corpse. The lights of a truck scale just off the freeway-glowed like a lonely ghost in the cold dark night. Inside the scale shack, Officer Larry Hauff of the Arizona Highway Patrol sat before a noisy portable heater with his feet propped up on a rickety table reading an article in the Weekly World News; it seemed a mummified Egyptian pharaoh was still getting erections regularly in a museum in Cairo. He read, chuckled, sipped bitter coffee from a Thermos, then read some more.
It had been a slow night and a cold one. As cold as it was, Larry knew it would only get worse; Mother Nature was gearing up for one hell of a winter blitz, all the weather forecasters said so.
He heard an engine slow and turned to see a blue Kenworth pulling off the freeway; it was hauling nothing--no trailer, no truck--just the stubby, sawed-off-looking tractor. Larry stood, slid the door open and stepped out of the shack into the bone-chipping cold pulling his coat together in front as the tractor veered around the scales and slowed to a stop. The driver got out, leaving the engine idling, and headed toward him.
He was a lean man, medium height, and walked with a swagger. At first, Larry thought perhaps he'd been drinking, but realized, after a moment, that the man had a slight limp.
"Morning," Larry called, his breath blossoming into a small cloud of vapor before his face. "Can I help you?"
As he came closer, his face hidden by darkness, ice crunched beneath the man's boots where small puddles had frozen in the night. His hands were in his back pockets and his elbows jutted at his sides; he wore no coat. "I hope so," he said, stepping into the glow of the shack's light.
Larry flinched. The man's skin was the color of dry bone and his eyes were so deep in their sockets that they were hidden in circles of blackness.
"I lost my buddy a ways back and I was wondering if he'd been through here."
"Your buddy?" Larry suddenly felt even colder and folded his arms tightly across his broad chest. Something was wrong with this man. He wassickor ... on drugs, maybe? "Well ... what's he driving?" The steam that puffed from Larry's mouth as he spoke obscured the man for a moment, making him look even worse.
"A black Peterbilt? Extended hood? A white trailer that says Carsey Brothers Trucking on the side?"
The skin on the back of Larry's neck shriveled. Something wasn't right here, something was ... missing...
"Um ... yeah. Yeah, as a matter of fact he did come through here. About an hour ago, hour and a half. It's been slow, so I remember him, yeah. Probably would've remembered him anyway. He was hauling--" Larry's throat was suddenly dry and scratchy and he stopped to swallow. "--caskets. Had a load of caskets. Uhh ... hell of a thing to be hauling at Christmas time, huh?" he laughed nervously.
The man nodded slowly, thoughtfully. "Yeah ... caskets ... yeah, that's him."
Larry frowned. The man seemed to be thinking it over, digesting the information, as if it were news to him that the Peterbilt had been hauling caskets, as if it were important. And something else ... something that made Larry's scrotum whither like a walnut...
When the man spoke, no vapor appeared in the cold air before his face.
"You must've lost him a while back if he's that far ahead of you," Larry said.
"Yeah, well ... we got separated. How far to the next truck stop, do you know?"
Larry cocked his head, amazed: no steam, no airy white whisps from the man's mouth. "Truck stop? Uuhh ... sixty miles. Seventy. Maybe more. Hey, um, aren't you cold, fella?"
He shrugged. "Had the heater blasting in the truck."
"Uh-huh. You know ... you don't look well, if you don't mind my saying. I think it might be a good idea if you took a break, stayed off the road a while. I got some coffee here in the--"
"No. I've gotta go. But thanks." He started to turn.
"No, really. I'm serious." He tried to sound authoritative, but couldn't find any authority in himself at the moment. His stomach was fluttering nervously. "I don't think you should be driving."
The man faced Larry, took a step toward him ... another step ... still another, until the light peeled away the darkness hiding his eyes and Larry could see them. His own eyes widened, even watered a little as he stared into those ... pits. When the man spoke, his voice was soft as melting snow:
"I'm fine, really."
The voice echoed in Larry's head as if in a yawning canyon: I'm fine, really, fine, really, fine, fine, really, really...
"You don't have to give me a second thought."
...ive me a second thought, give me a, you don't have to, a second thought, second thought really ... "I'll be going now."
...going now' going, I'll be, now, going now, going...
"You go back to your paper."
...paper, go back to, you go back, paper, back to your paper...
The man stepped back. His eyes disappeared. He gave Larry a closed-mouth smile and nodded his head, saying, in a normal voice, "Well, I'd better head out if I'm gonna catch up with him. You stay warm."
Hands trembling, Larry nodded jerkily, smacking his dry, felty lips, trying to muster enough saliva to speak. Before he could, the man was climbing into his cab ... revving the engine ... driving away...
Thirty seconds later, Larry was seated in the shack again, sipping coffee as he read a story about extraterrestrials that abducted cheerleaders, chuckling and thinking about what a slow night it was...