Sunday, April 1, 2012

County Line Crash: Part One

Dark, too damn dark to drive – Deputy Doris Moors flipped on the squad car’s brights but the black road just seemed to swell around the whitened points of light, strangling them for trying to grow. Never used to trouble her, patrolling the roads at night, the absence of any sort of illumination save her own gave the deputy peace, made her feel like she was a vessel of safety in a wild world, protected by her cocoon of gasoline humming and powerful cutting headlights. That was before her sight started going down the toilet – what she’d mutter nearly every time the sergeant put her on the graveyard beat to herself, alone in the car, hardly able to see much more than the spot of road twenty feet in front of her bumper.
Still, Deputy Moors knew exactly where she was, knew the roads by their sound and their shape, name and number of any she could recite just by listening to the sound of tire on tar or gravel or dirt as it may be. She knew where this road would be crossing the river, where the train tracks were, and even without the smell, she knew she was driving right along the old Van Hoosen dairy farm from catching the outlines of the wooden fence beyond the ditch out of her eye corner. It wasn’t the road she was worried about seeing so much as the things on it, that got on It – flashing bits of paired glowings watching steady from the tall grasses and half-grown fields.
Lack of a moon only made the situation worse with heavy rolling clouds turned sky and ground indistinguishable from one another. All it would take would be a deer to come bounding now stupid and skittish out of the tree cover to bring about a crash. Deputy Moors had seen enough of it to know what one well placed buck, hell even a young doe, could do to a smaller vehicle with a panicked, inexperienced driver commanding it. No, she wasn’t inexperienced – almost twenty six years patrolling, and more than that operating a motor vehicle, the deputy wasn’t without skill – but her reactions weren’t what they once were. Gripping the wheel with hands aching just slightly – pain pills weren’t soothing as they once did – she glared into the dark, trying as she might to clear away the fogginess.

At last, a light in the distance, blinking back-and-forth reds of a stop light, highway junction, and the deputy let out a slow-released sigh. Turning west onto the county line road, she could see the lightened sky above the truck stop a few miles in front of her; it would be a more than welcome respite from the night just to grab a cup of gas station coffee and sit for a spell in the world of the seeing, among the movements of grunting semis and of people with sickly colorless skin under powerful glaring stadium lights.
Until then, it was still dark. No, old Doris would never complain, not on her life. How dare they put an old woman on patrol in the dead of night, indeed, but try and take that to the Captain and she knew very damn well what he’d say, smirk under his bushy lip hair:

“Doris, my dear, you are absolutely correct. You should not have to drive all by your lonesome at such an unseemly hour, on this the Sheriff and I absolutely agree. In fact, what’d ya say to never havin’ to drive them lonely roads ever again? Know Margaret, down there in headquarters? She’s retirin’ in a few months. You (and he would pause and point) are more than welcome to her desk, you earned it Doris…”

To hell with him and his big hat, him and the Sheriff both, them big-hat-wearing hairy bastards. The deputy took to muttering to herself, filling up the silence broken up otherwise only by occasional clicks and unintelligible requests every hour or so over the radio. Too long she’d been doing this, hell she should be sergeant by now, no captain, been doing it longer than most of those boys running around playing six-shooter cops and robbers up and down farm roads chasing teenagers on four-wheelers and fishing drunken-steered pickups out of waterlogged dit– and she hardly had time to shove her boot down in time to keep from slamming into the side of the jackknifed trailer stretched near-invisible across the road.

She gasped, spit out swears, took in heavy air and pushed it back out while holding at her heart pounding away under the uniform. Her front end was only feet – a stretch of the arm maybe – from collision, the truck and its cargo now fully occupying her windshield and her light. Instinctively, she flipped on her flashers up top and got out with heavy flashlight in hand.

Smell of burnt rubber filled the dampened air, streaks of rubbed off black running in just under the deputy’s feet. Carefully Doris walked around the angled trailer, her steps loud against the unusual quiet of the road – a few faraway crickets chirping but none of the rustling one would normally hear from the brush on either roadside – as she made her way around to the cab.

“Hello?” she called out, shining her light through the cab’s window, her voice more timid and scared than she’d like. Quickly she looked back down the road and up it toward the aura hanging above the truck stop, seeing no headlights coming one way or the other. Only the tiniest sliver road and shoulder sat open and available yet for traffic, enough for something no bigger than a pickup to squeeze past but the no way for another semi to pass.

“Sir!” she yelled this time, more forceful and authoritative, as she had yet to see anyone in or around the cab. “…or Ma’am…” she added, as that was now sometimes the case more often than it had been in the past. Still no response though.

All lights inside the truck were on and its headlights shone strong ahead, attracting a good-sized swarm of flittering, winged insects. There was something sitting in the lights, just beyond the grill, that much the deputy could see from where she stood. What it was she couldn’t be sure, a long shape elongated further by shadow, a long branch maybe though there were no trees anywhere near the road, only the short still-growing stalks of corn on one side and empty grazing land on the other. “What in the hell…” She took a few steps closer.

“Officer!” came a harsh whisper from behind. Deputy Moors spun herself and the light toward the opened door of the cab to catch sight of a head poking out into the night.

“Sir, what in the hell are you doing?” She put a hand to her sidearm but did not yet draw, keeping the beam steady on the man’s face.

“Officer, please, you gotta call someone,” the head said, pulling out further into the air, “get your boys out here, whatever, man call the National Guard if you can ‘cause there’s somethin’–“

“Sir!” The shout was enough to quiet the man, put that same look on his face that her Lawrence used to give her. “I’m gonna need you to get yourself outta the vehicle and tell me what’s what, sir.” Doris took her hand away from the weapon, holding both hands up, palms out, lest she shake the man up more than he was already shook.

“Ma’am, look here, I’m trying to tell you something if you’d let me.” The man slowly slid out of the truck and started walking close, too close, and the Deputy reflexively reached her right hand back to her hip. “No, ma’am, it ain’t like that,” he backed up, putting his own hands out now, “I’m trying to help you out, there is somethin’…somethin’ big out there, some animal.”

“Some animal? Now son, tell me, why in your right mind would you go braking to keep from hitting a deer?” asked the deputy, relaxing her stance. Passing the light over the man’s standing form and face, she decided that he even looked a bit like Lawrence, same beer belly and neat-trimmed brown-rust chin covering, same smarmy look that man got whenever he tried talking down to her.

“Weren’t no deer, hell no. Deer’d go flat underneath and be no more than a bump in the ride. This critter was huge  and I only caught the tail end of it.” He then looked past her and his eyes grew wide and a stutter came into his voice, “Shit, there’s a piece of it there in the road, part I clipped,” he said, fast and with a nervous rubbing of palms onto his jeans, staring at that strange thing lying beyond her shoulder.

The deputy turned again to look at it – piece of branch, had to be. “Alright, so what was it then?”

“Ain’t you gonna call no one?” asked the trucker, standing unsteady, looking back again and again to the warm-lit interior of his ride.

“You say you see this…this thing, this big animal, and you go and hit the brakes too hard, swing your big ol’ trailer out so no one can get past, and what? You just go hiding out behind your seat waiting for someone to else to get caught up in your mess?”

“Look, I’ll be straight with you officer, this thing, I don’t know what it was, but it scared me real bad. And I ain’t a man that scares easily, but there it is.” The trucker was visibly sweating now, though the night was relatively cool, streams trickling down the side of his face that shone in the flashlight gleam.

“C’mon now, you gotta have some idea of what you hit, ain’t nothing more exotic than coyotes and cows running ‘round here.” The deputy smiled at the trucker though he couldn’t see it beyond the glare of her light. He was just a baby after all; baby Lawrence, that’s what she’d call him in her head, regardless of what his license would say. Nothing more than a scared little boy lost in the night, probably on his first long haul.
But as the trucker stood there, mouth agape trying to answer, they both heard the distant bellow of a cow from down the nearby Morris road, a low and high-reaching noise ending in a screech cut short. And then nothing.
The deputy, no longer looking to the blood-drained-face trucker for a straight answer – quivering into a blob of tears and whimpers as he was – turned right around and walked up to that strange thing in the headlights, crouching low with loudly creaking joints to get a clear and full look at what it was. Behind her, the cab door slammed, baby Lawrence back in hiding.  But she wasn’t deterred, reaching down to touch the thing – definitely no stick – curved and shiny up close, smooth under her fingers. And  as she ran her hand along it, gripping to pick the thing up, it moved, on its own accord, bending and flexing while excreting a fluid thick and dark green in color from one end, smelling of black earth.

Continue to Part Two...