Monday, November 18, 2013

"...some maniac could have...killed me."

This week, I bring you a cut from Claws of the Griffin.  Peter Reynold nosed his rental car in the ditch during a heavy rain.  Left with the prospect that he has to walk to town in the dead of night, he sets out toward Archer Springs, NC.

     I rechecked the cell phone and still no signal. What was this godforsaken place? The last stop before falling off the edge of the world?
     When I was thirteen, my father and stepmother sent me to a boarding school in Ohio. They said it was to prepare me for college. I think it was because my stepmother hated me. I ran away three times during my freshmen year. The night of my last escape, the police picked me up hitchhiking down a lonely stretch of road. Later the headmaster at the school lectured me and said some maniac could have picked me up and killed me. Until tonight, I didn’t truly understand.
     Drizzle pelted my face as I walked in the direction I had driven earlier. Muddy and wet, I plodded ahead, thinking about lying in my warm bed back home. My hope lay with some Good Samaritan coming by and rescuing me. Hopefully my grungy appearance wouldn’t scare him off, and he wouldn’t be a maniac.
      The sizzle of tires rolling on wet pavement echoed from ahead. Car lights came over the dark horizon like the rising of two moons. I waved my arms and shouted, “Hey,” but the truck zoomed by, spraying me with water.
      I stared at the vehicle driving away from me, but then the taillights grew brighter. Even in the dark, I realized it made a three-point turn and drove back. A wave of relief surged over me, but as the truck neared I wondered what was coming to my rescue.
     The truck looked gray or blue in the night and sat high on oversized tires, looking like something from a monster truck rally. A skull and crossbones decorated the door, and the chrome grill caught glints of the headlights, almost glowing in the night. The gargantuan truck pulled up in front of me and stopped.
     I waited, expecting the door to pop open and someone to invite me inside. An eerie feeling crawled under my skin, and I remembered a movie where the devil drove a black hearse, cruising the back roads, looking for souls to take back to hell. But this was a truck, gray or blue—I looked hard and thought maybe it was black.
     Not getting a formal invitation, I reached high and worked the door handle, opening the cab. I expected the dome light to illuminate, but the inside stayed dark. Behind the wheel sat a man, the contours of his face accentuated by green lights on the dashboard. He never looked at me, and I wondered if he was the devil.
     “I’m sorry to sidetrack you. Obviously you were heading in the other direction. I can wait for another car and let you go back to wherever you were going.” I swallowed hard and took a step back.
     “Get in,” the stranger commanded.
     My heart said no. My head said no. I thought about the headmaster’s warning that a maniac would get me on some deserted road. But the wind whipped up, blowing frigid mist against the back of my neck as if touched by the hand of a corpse. I shivered and climbed inside. I barely had the door closed when the driver pressed the accelerator. The truck lurched forward, snapping my head back. I fumbled with the seatbelt and strapped myself in.
     The dashboard lights reflected off his face and made him look surreal, like a Dali painting. Straggled wisps of hair hung over his ears, and the contours of his face resembled the work of an unfinished sculpture. I thought of Norman Bates in Psycho and regretted climbing into the truck.

Claws of the Griffin is available from Amazon for 99 cents.

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