Second day, second story!
This one meets two people I’ve come across in another story, some months ago. You can read (if you want to) about their misfortunes in the future in a piece called Dogs bark when diggers dig , but I advice you to check this one first. The two stories are not connected, they don’t follow-up each other. I just like the characters :)
Interstate 25 in Colorado follows the north-south corridor of the state, passing through Colorado Springs and Denver.
To the driver and his passengers a beautiful landscape is offered.
It is so especially in the early hours of the morning.
Take for example Trinidad Lake State Park. The road swerves only near its east side, but that’s enough for the passing to take a glimpse at the water.
Early sunrays coming from behind the small hill glide over the water, tricking the eye to see sparkling diamonds swimming on top of a silver surface. We can imagine a gentle wind blowing through the grass making it tremble and slowly nod.
If we’re lucky enough we might see a flock of American avocets descending to that part of the lake, dipping their thin grey legs, splashing their wings, narrowing their cinnamon colored heads with long bills to thirstily gulp the water.
It’s quite beautiful, really.
Further on the road stands tall the Cheyenne Mountain. Well, the Cheyenne Mountain nuclear bunker, but let’s not spoil the scenery. We can pretend it’s just a magnificent mountain on the left side of the road and nothing more. That way the travel is more pleasant.
There’s the former Ski Broadmoor on the right of Cheyenne, but the traces are not entirely visible this time of the year. Moving along.
Now we must put all that aside and concentrate on a particular junction of I-25 which by the sign seems to start with the number “1” and the city it leads in and out of with the letter “W”, although that is of no interest to us. Besides it’s night. No one looks at the signs; people just keep driving without direction, without a thought.
From that junction and up on I-25 with 45 m/h drives an 82’ brown Plymouth Gran Fury. We’re following it.
It keeps a steady speed, other cars flying past it on the fast lane. Their lights turn into hungrily seeking eyes, burning yellow in the darkness. One beast after another. Crying and screaming engines.
Our Gran Fury fellow doesn’t pay much attention to the surrounding. He’s about to in a minute, but for now he’s just tapping the sides of his steering wheel with thumbs, listening to “The Doors”
“If you give this man a ride
Sweet memory will die
Killer on the road”
He’s wondering if it’s going to rain. Seems so; clouds are gathering up ahead, white lines of lightning are piercing through the tick black mass which covers the sky.
He winds – up the window. The air smells like storm.
Another mile or two and it will pour upon him.
Oh, here it goes…large, heavy raindrops slam on the front windshield and our friend is urged to turn on the wipers, trying to push the water away. He slows down, the visibility before him turned into a blur. Jim Morrison’s voice can no longer be heard over the sound of the drumming on top of his car rain.
Strong wind appears. It takes hold of the rain and for a mere moment it takes away the curtain of raindrops, making the road visible again and the other cars reappear like ghosts from the side.
That’s when our friend sees something up ahead that at first strikes him as a chopped down tree. Then the “tree” shifts and stands up. The silhouette of a man swims before him, the rain hitting him all sides. He stands on the shoulder of the lane, a sign above his head this time readable -“Pueblo”
As the Plymouth nears him, the stranger stretches his hand and waves it energetic.
The brown Plymouth stops.
“Where are you headed?” asks the man from the car.
“Colorado Springs”. The stranger seems about 25 years old. He has no backpack with him.
“Get in. I’m headed to Aurora. Will drop you on the way”
The door shuts and the car takes off again.
Now let’s see what’s happening inside, where the rain can’t reach.
“Ryan Wayne” the soaking wet man offers his hand.
“Joel Rathbone. Pleased to meet you” our now named friend takes the hand and gives it a firm shake.
“So, Ryan what’s the emergency?”
“Heart attack. My dad. “
“Sorry to hear. Hope he turns out well”
“Thanks. I was visiting my aunty down at Ridge when I got the call. Unfortunately my car broke down earlier. Mechanics said wouldn’t be done until morning. With this bastard weather can’t find any transportation. Not at this hour too. So I thought hitchhiking is the option. Thank you for stopping”
“Hey no worries, always happy to help a fellow in trouble.”
Joel smiles. He’s older then Ryan. He’s sideburns are starting to turn grey. But he looks younger than he is. He smiles a lot.
Ryan takes his hand through his wet hair. Joel thinks he might have been wrong about the man next to him. He is older. The wrinkles on his forehead and those beneath his eyes give him a tired, lazy look. His hands are big. There are scars on the knuckles.
“Hope you don’t mind if I ask what you do for a living” Ryan’s voice takes him away from his thoughts.
“I travel a lot, sell things town-to-town.”
“What do you sell?”
“Garden tools, cleaning products, cheap vacuum cleaners”
“Does anyone buy them?”
They both laughed.
“This Joel guy seems decent”, thinks Ryan, whose name is really Sage Munroe.
“He is actually very cool. He smiles a lot. Look, he’s listening to “The Doors” and on a cassette for that matter! How great is that? How great? He’s car is so tidy, smelling of all those cleaning products in the trunk, smelling of bleach, of freshly cleaned floors, and it’s ugly as hell, but he loves it and for that I love it too.”
Sage “Ryan” Munroe puts on a smile too. He likes Joel. In fact he likes him so much he wants to drag a knife through his throat and feel that hot, red blood of cheerful Joel run through his fingers. He thinks he might not be able to wait until they reach Colorado Springs. He wants to cloth his hand inside Joel’s stomach; feel him tremble at the touch, before he rips out his intestines.
“How unaware you are Mr. Town-To-Town Salesman, how oblivious of the fact you are giving a ride to a killer. I listen to you talk about yesterday’s attempts to sell one of those cheap vacuum cleaners you have in store somewhere in Aurora and can’t get rid of for months. The echo of your words resonates within me until it melts, and I no longer hear your voice. It disappears into the night, leaving only the rumble of the rain, and Jim Morrison mumbling in the background about a fire. Ah, wait till you see the fire burning in me Mr. Rathbone! There it is again, that cheerful, heartwarming grin of yours. Are you telling a joke? Perhaps. Maybe it’s wonderful to be you, a simple salesman with his ugly brown Plymouth. But it’s pointless. I admire you for starving for so long in this world that doesn’t give two shits about you and your junk. You are dead, meat, worm food, ash to ash, dust to dust and done! Gone. You are a fake Joel Rathbone. You will be mine before the dawn.”
“And that’s how I got almost arrested. Insane, I know. Say, Ryan what do you do for work? Got any family of your own?”
Joel’s voice came back loud and clear and Sage had to lick his lips to wet them. They were dry from thirst for blood.
“I am in between jobs. But I’m good… working with people. And no, no wife, no kids. Can’t see myself in that role yet”
The car coughed and shook like a wild animal.
“Darn it! I’ll have to pull over. Keeps doing that these past few days.”
The Plymouth slowed down and took right to stop at the rear of the lane. It was somehow slightly darker there; the grass had stepped onto the road, high and long like tentacles of some monster hiding deeper in the field. Joel had stopped almost in it. It felt remote from the world. Sage got out of the car and as he stood he wasn’t visible to the passing cars.
Sage Munroe couldn’t help but smile even wider then. He grabbed the handle of the knife hidden underneath his jacket.
Joel was bent over, checking under the hood.
“Need a hand there Joel?”
The rain was calmer now. Only a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“Nope, all done.”
Joel closed the hood and found himself face to face with Sage, whose expression at that moment resembled pretty much the triumphal look on the Joker when he walks in the back room of that decaying bar in Crime Alley to attend Batman’s funeral*.
And at that same moment, as if some silent spectator clicked his fingers, it changed dramatically. Imagine maybe Dorian Grey seeing his face in the portrait suddenly different, wicked, cruel. He would be frightened wouldn’t he?
Joel was holding a small hatchet. He had placed it right between Sage’s legs. Sage could feel just how sharp it was, pressed against the fabric of his jeans.
On the other hand Sage had his hunting knife pointed at Joel’s belly.
“Well, well, whatever are we going to do?” Joel (who to admit at last had chosen the name Rover Jenkins for himself, and was going with it for some good fifteen years) whispered to Sage, his smile a sharp vicious grin that was almost starting to drip saliva from excitement. Raindrops ran down his face in narrow trails.
“Awkward” growled Sage.
“It is, isn’t it? But also so fun!” Rover released a cackling laugh.
“So you’re not a dull, old salesman?” hissed with a giggle Sage. The blade of the hatchet rose a bit higher, too close to his precious belongings.
Rover shook his head.
“Not quite. I take it your old man doesn’t even breathe today, never mind having a heart attack.”
“Killed him when I was twelve” Sage moved the knife an inch closer.
Rover barked with amusement.
“Look at us, two psychopaths on the road in Colorado, met by accident. What can that lead to I wonder?” The older man’s eyes sparkled with curiosity. “Fascinating” he thought.
Sage licked his lips again. “If this isn’t lucky…”
“What do you say…talk it over some coffee in Colorado Springs? I hear they make nice mocha there”
*”Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” is a comic book written by Neil Gaiman for DC Comics, 2009. The overall plot concerns the wake of Batman, taking place in the back of a small Gotham bar. During the wake, a number of prominent figures from Batman’s life each tell a tale of Batman and how he eventually died, giving multiple, unique histories of Batman, his life, and death.