The Tow

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Original Publication & Date: 
Apex Digest #7 - 2007

 

The rain pounded on the roof of the Durango like a thousand impatient fingers, cascading down the windshield in a stream of such volume as to render the wipers useless. It was like staring at the world from behind a roaring waterfall. A fierce wind rocked the truck like a baby’s cradle, and whistled through the door seals.

Lex Daly sighed as he stared down at his cell phone.

No tower.

Not that he expected one.

Not out here.

More than an hour had passed since the Durango had chugged, coughed, and sputtered its way onto the soft shoulder of this narrow road posing as a highway between cornfields and neck-high grass; over an hour since he scurried out into the soaking rain to perform the obligatory check under the hood. He tapped a few things, poked at some others, and then cursed himself for bothering. He had about as much business under the hood of a car as a bus driver had performing open heart surgery. Now, as he sat here waiting for the satellite gods to line-up in some sort of divine configuration that would afford him a signal on his cell phone, he shivered in the rain-soaked khakis and wool sweater that clung to him like a clammy second skin.

Lex turned on the Durango’s heater. It spewed forth a stale, lukewarm breeze that chilled him more, so he slapped at the fan control and shut it off. The radio still worked – three stations, anyway. He settled on talk radio as the other two offered a choice between fire and brimstone evangelism and country music; not the modern shit-kicker stuff, but pure old bluegrass that popped and hissed like it was being played off of the original warped 45’s. Under normal circumstances he’d have chosen the music, but stuck out here in the rain, in the middle of nowhere, and with the first light of dawn hours away, he welcomed the reassuring voices of the talk radio station.

Just as an irate old woman engaged the show’s host in a spirited argument over the state’s methods of waste disposal, Lex noticed headlights in his rear view mirror. As the vehicle came to a stop behind him, Lex held his hand up to his eyes and squinted back through the rear window when a sudden rapping on the glass startled him.

“Hey! Ya awright in there?” a muffled voice shouted. Through the rain-streaked window he could see little more than a yellow blob.

Lex rolled the window down. A fat man with a beet red face and a neon yellow rain slicker peered in at him.

“I said are ya awright in there?” the fat man shouted above the whipping wind.

Lex nodded and smiled, wiping the water from his face.

“Yeah, she just died on me awhile ago. I’ve been sitting here and…” Lex held up his cell phone. “No signal.”

The man nodded.

“Yep, them things never work when ya’ be needin’ ‘em to. ‘Specially out here.”

The man’s lower lip bulged over a wad of chewing tobacco. He leaned forward and drooled out a healthy gob of syrupy brown spit. “You be needin’ a tow, then?”

Lex nodded enthusiastically. “Oh, yeah. I mean, that’d be great."

The man sucked at his teeth, and  spat out the clump of tobacco. He looked up and down the road, and then back at Lex.

“Awright, lemme pull around in fronta ya.”

He walked back to the truck, and Lex rolled up his window, looked to the heavens and mouthed a thank you to whoever might be listening. The tow truck slowly rolled past, and pulled in front of Durango; its running lights tinting the rushing water on the truck's windshield blood red. The fat man walked around to the front of Lex’s truck, and then disappeared under the front end. There was a percussive clatter as the man attached the tow hook to the front of the Durango, and, when the man popped back into view, he was standing at the driver’s side window.

“’Kay, it’s all hooked up,” he said.

Lex nodded and smiled. The man stared back at him impatiently.

“What is it?” Lex asked.

“Well, yer gonna have to ride up with me,” the man said. “Can’t tow when yer in it.”

“Oh, yeah, been a long day,” Lex pointed at his head. “Brain’s fried.”

The driver offered a faint smile and then waddled quickly back to his truck. Lex pulled his keys from the ignition, grabbed his cell phone, and slipped out into the rain. He sloshed through the ankle-deep puddles and grabbed the passenger door. It swung open and Lex hung on as the wind threatened to tear it off its hinges.

“Christ, it’s like a hurricane!” he said as he wrestled the door shut and settled into the tow truck’s hard vinyl seats. The driver slammed his door shut, and nodded.

“Get’s mighty bad this time ‘a the year. We get worse n’ this. Floods, too. Don’t reckon you see nuthin’ like that back in Massachusetts.”

Lex tilted his head to the side at the word. Mayahs-ahh-chew-suds

“How’d you know I was from…?”

“Yer plates,” the man interrupted.

"Oh, yeah," Lex smiled wearily. "Sorry."

The driver flicked a switch and, with that, the winch began to churn and rattle. Lex winced as he heard a thump that sounded like it came from his Durango. The driver looked over his shoulder, nodded, and then shifted the tow truck into gear. As they rolled slowly back onto the road, Lex looked at the driver and extended his hand.

“My name’s Lex. Lex Daly,” he said.

The driver looked at Lex’s hand, and then at his own. He rubbed his grease stained palm along his jeans and shook Lex’s hand.

“Carlton,"  he said. "Like the ballplayer."

“Carlton Fisk?” Lex asked.

Carlton looked puzzled.

“Naw, the pitcher. Steve Carlton. My daddy was a  Cardinal fan,” Carlton said.

“So are you?” Lex asked. "I mean, a Cardinals fan?"

Carlton focused on the road. “Nah, I ain’t much for sports. ‘Cept, maybe, huntin’.” 

“Yeah, hunting. I’ve never done it, but, well, I hear it’s…um….”

Carlton interrupted. “Not a lotta people have the stomach for it.”

“No, I imagine not,” Lex said.

After a few minutes of silence, Carlton looked over at Lex.

“There ain’t no garages open this time o’night, but my cousin, he’s real good with the cars. He’ll take a look at it for ya, if ya want.”

“Is he a mechanic?” Lex asked. “I mean, it’s a new truck. There’s warranty stuff and…”

Carlton suddenly seemed agitated. “He’s good with the cars. It’s either that or I gotta take ya all the way back into town, and, well, you’ll be waitin’ until morning, then.”

“Well, I don’t want to wake up your cousin,” Lex said, trying to sound sincere. Fact was, he was less than thrilled with the idea of some backwoods Gomer tinkering with his forty thousand dollar truck.

“Nah, Bossy won’ mind. Hell…” Carlton twisted his meaty wrist around and held his watch up to his eyes. “It ain’t even two, yet. He prolly still up.”

Lex sunk in his seat. “Great. That’s…great,” His voice trailed off as he stared out into the darkness trying to think of another way out of it. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet.

“You know, come to think of it, I really don’t want to impose.” Lex produced a trio of fifty dollar bills. “I’ll give you $150 if you take me back to town. I’ll wait it out until morning. It’s no big deal, really.”

Carlton sighed. “Aw man, I don’t want yer money, mister. I was just on my way home when I happened on ya. It wouldn’a been right leavin’ ya out there in the rain like that.”

Lex smiled and held the money out to Carlton.

“No, you’re doing me a tremendous favor. It's really the least I could do,” Lex said.

Carlton eyed the money and then shook his head.

“Mister, I’m dead tired. I mean, town’s more n’ a half hour back and I ain’t got the energy left in me,” Carlton let out an exaggerated yawn as if to push the point home as he pushed Lex’s hand away. “Bossy’ll fix ya up. He’s real good with the cars."

Lex stared down at the three fifties and crumpled them in his hand. He knew where this was going. Carlton would take him to some out of the way garage where his cousin would charge five times what Lex just offered him for a  spark plug. 

“Okay, I guess,” Lex sighed, shoving the money back into his wallet. 

They drove on in silence for nearly twenty minutes, before Carlton turned off the road into a muddy driveway. In the distance, Lex could see the faint glow of a porch light. The rain seemed to let up some as they drove further down the driveway into a makeshift parking lot full of junked cars surrounding a ramshackle little cottage. The front of the house was lined with empty wood-framed cages covered in chicken wire, bales of soaked hay, and stacks of tires and old rims covered in a ratty plastic tarp that whipped around violently in the wind. Carlton parked the truck in front of the house, and the front door swung open. A stout, bald man with a black sleeveless t-shirt and stained, striped boxers stepped out onto the porch. He held a bottle of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

“Godamn, boy. You late!” the man yelled.

“Sorry, Bossy. This here fella was stuck back on Rt. 12. I tol’ him you’d take a look at his car, here,” Carlton yelled over the hum of the winch engine as he lowered the Durango.

Bossy stepped forward into the rain, cupping his cigarette, and eyed the new truck.

“Nice ride. New one, ain’t it?” he asked to no one in particular.

“Yeah, I’ve only had it a few months. It just died on me,” Lex said, stepping out of the truck.

“Hmmm, prolly the rain getting’ at yer wires. They do that on these new ‘uns. ‘Specially in weather like this. All it takes is one thing getting’ wet,” Bossy said. “Well, come in and dry off. I’ll get ya a beer if ya like.”

Lex nodded. “Yeah, a beer sounds good. Thanks.”

Lex followed Bossy onto the porch and then stopped to look back at Carlton. As he unhooked the tow cable, he gave him a thumbs-up sign and a baked bean smile. Lex offered a weary smile and turned back toward the house. As he stepped through the tattered screen door, the smell of stale beer, smoke, and Old Spice overwhelmed him. The living room was small and cluttered with a pair of battered Lazy-Boys in front of a coffee table covered with empty bottles, cans, dirty dishes and crumpled empty chip bags. An old console television with a bulging picture tube surrounded by a faux wood cabinet sat in the far corner. The theme from The Rockford Files blared out of its exposed speakers. James Garner’s flesh was a sickly green and yellow, as scan lines wiggled their way across the screen.

Bossy came around the corner holding two bottles of beer. Lex didn’t recognize the brand, but he twisted the cap off and took a swig. It was too sweet and a little flat, but it was cold and he was thirsty.

“So, do you think you can fix it?” he asked.

Bossy spun the cap off of his beer with his thumb and watched it as it hit the wood floor and rolled off into the corner.

“I reckon’,” Bossy said. “Long as it ain’t nothin’ too serious.”

Lex nodded and took another swig of his beer.

“In any case, I ain’t gonna get much done in this shit,” Bossy said.

The rain had picked up again. Carlton lunged through the screen door, and stomped his muddy boots on the floor. He looked much bigger inside the little house.

“Jeeee-sus!” Carlton said as he slipped his rain slicker over his head revealing a Garth Brooks concert t-shirt. He threw the slicker over the back of one of the lazy boys and wiped his wet hands off on Garth’s face.

“Carlton, go clear off the bed in yer daddy’s room. Give this fella a place to get some shut eye,” Bossy said.

“No, no. I’m fine, really. I mean, once it clears up we can…”

Bossy interrupted him. “It’s gonna be mornin’ soon enough. Hopefully this’ll blow over by then and we’ll get ya’ back on the road first thing. I’m gonna catch a few winks myself, make sure my head’s clear by then,” Bossy said, holding up his beer with a grin. “Don’t want me under that hood half-drunk, now, do ya?”

Lex shook his head. “No. No, I guess not.”

Bossy waved Carlton toward the back of the house.

“Go fix it up for ‘im. Make sure he’s got clean sheets an all.”

Carlton bowed his head as he walked past. It was now clear to Lex why this man was called Bossy.

“He always do what you tell him?” Lex asked as he finished his beer.

Bossy’s smile faded. “Why you ask?”

“Just that, well, he’s a big fella and…”

“He’s as big as he is dumb. And he knows enough to respect his elders, is all.” Bossy said. “’Less he wants a boot up his ass.”

“Ah,” Lex said, nodding as he rolled the empty bottle of beer between his thumb and forefinger. “I see.”

“No,” Bossy said. “I reckon you don’t.”

The blow to the head was sudden and sharp. Lex fell to his knees, and the room began to spin. He felt the beer in his belly work its way up the back of his throat. As he knelt there, swaying, the voices of Bossy and Carlton sounded distant and muffled.

“You hit him too hard, ya dumb fucker!” Bossy cried. “He’s bleedin’ for Chrissake!”

“I hit’m like I always hit’m. Maybe his head’s jus’ soft!” Carlton shouted back.

Lex heard a loud smack.

“Ow!” Carlton yelled.

“Just take ‘im to the room while I find somethin’ to patch ‘im up with!” Bossy shouted, charging out of the room. “She ain’t gonna like this. Not one bit.”

Lex felt something tickling the side of his face. It felt like an ant crawling down his cheek, into the corner of his mouth. Then, when it trickled in and pooled at the side of his tongue, he could taste it; the unmistakably salty, strangely metallic flavor of his own blood. He tipped his head back and saw Carlton standing above him.

“Whaaaaaaa….” Lex gargled.

Carlton slipped his hands under Lex’s armpits and dragged him across the floor. Lex’s head bobbed and bounced with every bump. The top of his head felt cold, yet burned all at once. As Carlton dragged him down the dark hall, Lex’s eyes drifted shut and he slipped into unconsciousness.

 


*****

 

The bindings on his wrists were so tight his hands were numb and blue. His feet were bound too, but at least he could still feel them. He was nude, and tied down to musty old mattress in the middle of a dank, empty old room. He’d only been awake for an hour or so, aware of only the pain in his head, the numbness in his hands, and the chill that ran over his exposed body. He hadn’t seen or heard Bossy and Carlton since he’d come to, but he wasn’t in any rush to see them.

While he wanted answers, he didn’t want answers.

Besides, his imagination had already figured it all out for him. Those two hicks wanted a plaything. The thought of these two greasy baboons having their way with him was terrifying enough, but it was what they would do with Lex after they’d finished with him that filled him with crippling fear.

As visions of chainsaw wielding, flesh eating, “squeal like a pig” backwoods sycophants filled his head, he heard a creaking in the floorboards. A slamming door, a cough, and footsteps approaching. Then a buzzing sound. A whirring.

A chainsaw?

No, it sounded more like…

A blender?

The door swung open and Bossy entered the room. He was carrying a large brown paper bag in one hand, and a clear plastic pitcher  filled with a brown liquid. A dirty pillow was stuffed under his arm.

“Rise and shine, boy! Breakfast is ready!” Bossy said, squatting beside the mattress. He placed the bag and pitcher on the floor next to him and put his hand behind Lex’s head and leaned it toward him.

“Look, I don’t know what you want or why…I have money. Not a lot, but...”  

Bossy stuffed the pillow behind his head. “Is that so?” 

“I’m a…doctor…well…an intern, really, but I have some money. My family, they have…” Lex froze as Bossy reached into the bag and pulled out a long, clear plastic hose. “I have friends. People who will miss me!”

Bossy nodded. “Oh, I’m sure ya’ do,” he said as he affixed a funnel to one end of the hose. “I’m sure…you…do.”

“C’mon! Man, what…what do you fuckin’ want!?” Lex pleaded. 

“I want you to shut yer yap for a minute so I can get this done before Regis comes on, dammit!” Bossy screamed. “Carlton, get me the tape!”

Lex heard the floorboards groan as Carlton stepped into the room.

“What kind?” he asked.

“What? The kind we always use you dumb monkey!” Bossy fumed.

“You coulda just said the grey kind…” Carlton muttered as he left.

“Look, I promise, just…just let me go and I won’t say a word to anybody. I mean, you can keep the truck, my money, whatever, just lemme go,” Lex begged.

Carlton came back into the room and rolled the duct tape across the floor. It bounced off the edge of the mattress and Bossy picked it up, stretched off a piece, and held it above Lex’s mouth.

“Aww, man, nooommmph….” Lex cried as Bossy slapped the tape over his lips.

“There, that’s better,” Bossy said. “Some peace an’ fuckin’ quiet!”

Bossy reached into the paper bag and pulled out a grimy jar of Vaseline, flipped off the metal cap, and scooped out a plum sized dollop of the stuff which he then rubbed on the end of the hose. Lex’s eyes widened.

Oh fuck me, he thought.

“This ain’t goin’ where ya thinkin’” Bossy said, as if reading his mind.

Bossy set the hose down and reached into his pocket, producing a small rusted jack-knife with a yellowed bone handle. He peeled open the blade with his teeth and brought it up to Lex’s face, circling the tip above his eyes. Lex blinked defensively, and Bossy smiled, bringing it down and cutting a small incision in the tape across his mouth.

“Mmmmmph.” Lex tried to speak but he still couldn’t move his lips.

“Carlton, get back here. I’m ready for ya now!” Bossy yelled.

The floor shook as Carlton jogged down the hall and into the room. He walked over and knelt beside Lex’s head, and slipped the pillow out from beneath it. He placed a warm sweaty palm over Lex’s forehead and another at the base of his skull, and twisted his head back as far as nature allowed. Bossy grabbed the greased up end of the hose and pressed it through the tear in the tape, rested a hand on Lex’s jaw, and forced the hose into his mouth. Lex started gagging as the tube filled his mouth and began to snake its way down his throat. He began to convulse wildly, as he choked on the hose.

“Damnit, Carlton, hold him down you fat fucker!” Bossy yelled, shoving the hose in with both hands. Carlton pulled his hand out from under Lex’s neck and draped his flabby arm across his chest.

“Okay, okay, it’s in!” Bossy yelled, climbing over Lex. He pushed Carlton’s arm away and straddled Lex’s chest himself, pressing his knees into his shoulders.

“Get the pitcher,” Bossy said as he pulled the exposed hose taught and leveled out the funnel.

When Lex saw what was in the pitcher, he began to struggle again, nearly knocking Bossy off of his chest.

The contents of the pitcher moved.

Carlton quickly tipped it into the funnel, and Lex watched in horror as the brown liquid descended down the hose toward his mouth. Only now he could see that it wasn’t liquid at all, but a mass of small, gelatinous worms that coiled around each other and slithered down the hose as one. He could feel the hose vibrating in his throat as they passed down into his esophagus. His stomach fought back with painful spasms, but it couldn’t hold the creatures back as they squirmed into his belly. Carlton drained the pitcher until every last one of the worms had slithered out into the funnel and then placed it on the floor next to him. Bossy shifted himself down, straddling Lex’s waist, still holding the funnel aloft. The hose was now empty, save for a translucent coat of amber ooze. Bossy looked at Carlton and nodded. Carlton nodded back. And, with one swift move, Bossy tugged the hose from Lex’s mouth. As the tube cleared his throat, Lex tried to suck in a breath, choking on the slimy residue lodged in the back of his throat. Bossy dropped the hose and funnel back into the paper bag, picked up the pitcher and stood above Lex.

“We’ll bring ‘er in later. Give this awhile,” he said, and walked across the room and out the door. Carlton looked down at Lex and smiled.

“You just wait till you meet her,” he said, a genuine smile forming on his face. “You gonna love her, I guarantee.”

And with that, Carlton stomped across the room and slammed the door behind him, leaving Lex alone in the dark, musty room.

Except he wasn’t alone.

Dear god, he wasn’t alone.

 


****

 

In the dream he was driving again, coming back east from the interview in St. Louis.

He stopped in Fitchwell, Missouri- a small, out of the way town off the interstate.

He got gas, bought soda, ate a microwave cheeseburger, and asked for directions.

A man at the pump showed him a shortcut.

He had to piss. He went back inside.

It all happened like it happened, except this time, he knew something else.

The man who gave him the directions, he did something to his truck.

He put something in the gas tank when he went back inside.

Something in the gas.

Then, he was back on the side of the road and Carlton was there.

It wasn’t raining in the dream, and Carlton wasn’t alone.

Something was with him.

Something beautiful.

And then he was floating. He was floating above Boston.

He could see people on the streets below him.

He floated past them and waved and they smiled and waved back.

But they weren’t people at all.

They weren’t people at all.

They were…

 


*****

 

Something shook the floor, waking Lex with a start. It was Carlton. He had slammed the door shut behind him and was dousing the room with a pressure sprayer, coating the walls and floor with a fine mist of something that smelled sweet and earthy, like freshly cut grass.

He looked down at Lex, and seemed surprised to see him looking back up at him.

“Oh, sorry. Din’t mean to wake you,” he said.

Lex shook his head and dropped it back on the mattress.

“She likes it like this. Somethin’ about the wet makes her more comfortable.” Carlton continued as he sprayed. “You should get more sleep. I reckon you’ll need it.”

“Fuck you,” Lex said, except it came out more like phlunklho. It didn’t matter. Carlton knew what he meant and shook his head.

“No need to be cussin’ at me, Lex. She picked you. Wuddin’ my fault,” he said, aiming the wand at Lex. The spray was cold but it felt good on his skin. He had felt feverish since they made him…

…eat.

“You thirsty?” Carlton asked.

Lex looked at him and then at the sprayer.

“It’s just water an’ sugar an’ stuff. Ain’t nothin’ poison in it.”

Lex nodded.

“Okay, okay. Just a little, though. Bossy’d kill me if he saw me givin’ ya any.”

Carlton aimed the wand over the slit in the tape and pressed the head through. He sprayed lightly and the water filled Lex’s mouth. As Carlton pulled the wand back out, Lex swished the water around, moistening every crevice in his mouth before swallowing hard, forcing it past the ache in his throat. He felt something shift in his stomach. At first it was like a tickle; like a feather inside his gut, but it quickly turned into a churning, rolling sensation.

“They don’t like the water much,” Carlton said, staring down at Lex’s midsection. “It’ll pass in a second.”

Lex lifted his head and looked at his stomach. It was swollen and twitching and covered in dozens of pea sized red spots. He felt a growl and a sensation like a hunger pain, but only lower and more intense. As his stomach bulged outward he could see veins throbbing under his skin.

Veins that moved.

Veins that squirmed, and coiled.

Lex shut his eyes tight and let out a shrill, nasally scream. The pain in his stomach spread down to just above his groin and he felt like he was going to burst.

“Jus’ wait!” Carlton yelled. “Jus’ wait a..”

And then, the painful sensation passed through Lex courtesy of a fart so loud he thought he’d shit all over the mattress.

Carlton laughed and waved his hand in front of his face.

“Woo! Boy, howdy, that’s the loudest yet!” He said, clearly pleased with himself.

“CARLTON!” Bossy screamed from the other room.

“Oh man, Oh man, Oh man.” Carlton looked panicked and started pacing.

Bossy threw open the door and stomped across the room toward them, freezing when the odor hit him. The man’s face shriveled like a rose in front of an exhaust pipe and he wound up and slammed a fist into Carlton’s gelatinous shoulder.

“You jack ass! What’d I tell ya’ about doin’ that?” Bossy yelled.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Carlton cried as Bossy’s boney fists rained upon him. “Stop hittin’ me, Bossy! I said I was sorry!”

Bossy shoved at Carlton, but practically bounced off of him, and then stood there breathing heavily. He pointed down at Lex’s stomach.

“You know they don’t like that, but you do it anyway jus’ to hear a man pass gas,” Bossy said.

Carlton chuckled and Bossy punched him in the shoulder again. The fat man recoiled.

“Ow!” he cried. “I’m sorry, it’s just funny is all!”

Bossy scowled at him.

“You clean him up. I don’t want him stinkin’. Wash him up good, and take that bandage off his head. She gonna’ be here soon!”

“Fine, fine,” Carlton said, waving him off.

“Jackass…” Bossy said, his voice trailing off as he left the room.

Carlton stood there and stared down at his feet. He looked up and saw Lex looking back at him.

“What are you lookin’ at!” he scowled.

He lifted the spray nozzle and shot water in Lex’s face, turned, and stormed out of the room.

A few minutes later, Carlton returned. He was holding a large white bucket and wearing bright yellow rubber gloves, and had a ratty looking towel slung over his shoulder. He dropped the bucket next to the mattress and soapy water splashed down its sides.

“I’m here to wash you up,” he said, clearly unhappy about it. He reached into the bucket and pulled out a sudsy face cloth. He slapped it on Lex’s chest and scrubbed him hard, as though he were washing bird shit off the hood of a car. Lex moaned in protest, but Carlton ignored him, shoving the cloth into his armpits, wiping up and down his arms, around his neck, and across his face. When he looked down at Lex’s genitals, he turned his head to the side, dropped the cloth on top of them, and quickly dragged it back and forth before pulling it back with disgust and dropping it back into the bucket.

Carlton pulled the dry towel off of his shoulder, and draped it over Lex. He peeled off the rubber gloves, threw them into the bucket, and then patted down the towel, drying Lex off. Once he was done, he crumpled the towel into a ball, threw it beside him and produced a small aerosol can of deodorant from the back pocket of his overalls. He sprayed under both of Lex’s armpits, made a trail down the center of his belly, and shot a quick burst at his crotch for good measure.

“There, that’s good enough,” he said, as he rose to his feet. “You all ready now.”

Carlton shoved the deodorant back in his pocket, picked up the bucket and the towel, and left the room.

That was when Lex heard Bossy scream.

“She’s here! She’s here!” Bossy’s voice echoed from down the hall. The floor shook below and Lex could imagine the man jumping up and down with excitement.

“Carlton, she’s early! Go fetch yer dress coat and put it on quick!” Bossy cried. Lex heard the rumble of Carlton’s footsteps as he jogged across the house. “You look like a slob!”

Lex turned toward the door. He could see a shadow pass down the hall, and then he heard the creak of the front door.

“It’s so nice to see you again, ma’m!” Bossy said in a well practiced tone. “It’s been too long as always.”

There was no reply. Just the sound of Carlton shuffling back down the hall.

“Hello,” Carlton said. His voice trembled. “I did…”

We did…” Bossy interjected.

“We did what you asked,” Carlton finished. “He’s the one ya’ wanted. The one ya’ showed us.”

There was still no reply; just the shadows looming in the hallway, the footsteps as they walked up the hall.

Bossy entered first, backward, slowly. He was wearing a tight brown suit with black velour lapels and a gaudy green and red tie. He was smiling, his eyes wide, his hands held before him in reverence of what would come through that door.

Lex’s heart started to race.

Bossy slowly bowed his head, and held his hands toward their offering.

Carlton came through next, draped in a red coat that looked like an oversized preacher’s robe. Lex expected someone to follow behind him, but it was clear that Bossy’s attentions were on him. Carlton turned toward Lex and looked at him. He smiled.

Lex moaned and fought at his restraints as Carlton moved toward him. Bossy circled the fat man like a satellite. Carlton walked to the end of the mattress and turned toward Lex. There was something different about him.

Something glowing.

And then Lex heard the sound.

droom droom droom

It was a deep whirring that started as a faint hum but grew louder and deeper and more intense. It got into his head, and his temples throbbed with the rhythm of it.

droom droom droom

Carlton stood at the foot of the bed and dropped his beefy arms by his sides. He twisted his head in a circular motion, eliciting a symphony of cracking and snapping bones. Bossy came around behind Lex and grabbed his head in both hands, aiming his eyes toward Carlton.

droom droom droom

“Watch!” he said, giddy with excitement. “Watch for it!”

Carlton simply stood there staring down at Lex with the same smile he wore when he walked into the room.

“Come on!” Bossy cried. “Show ‘im! Show ‘im!”

The whirring sound grew louder. So loud it made Lex’s teeth hurt, and rumbled in his bowels.

droom droom droom

The sound didn’t seem to bother Bossy at all. On the contrary, it seemed to excite him all the more, as he dropped Lex’s head and began slapping at the mattress in anticipation.

“Oh, you sweet thang! Why you such a tease? C’mon! Show us!” He howled.

Suddenly, Carlton’s smile turned into a pained grimace, as his unblinking eyes began to twitch back and forth. His teeth were clenched and bared, and trails of foaming spittle began to flow from either side of his mouth.

droom droom droom

Carlton’s head seemed to vibrate, and his throat bulged under the hanging fat of his chin. Slowly, Carlton raised his arms. They shook as though held down by some unseen weight. He bent his arms in and grabbed at the buttons of the red coat. As he began to undo them, Bossy moaned with delight.

“Yessssss,” he hissed. “Bring it on.”

As Carlton unfastened the buttons on the coat, Lex could see something moving beneath it, around the bulge in the fat man’s stomach.

droom droom droom

It pulsated, and swirled. Carlton undid the third button, and Lex could see something on his chest, beneath the thin tuft of brown hair. The skin was red, irritated.

Scaly?

When he undid the fourth button, the scaly skin gave way to a wrinkled mass of flesh that, at first glance, looked like dark, bruised scar tissue.

“Oh, yer so purty,” Bossy cooed. “So very, very purty indeed.”

The center of Carlton’s bulging stomach was a huge, puckered fissure, surrounded by wrinkled folds of bluish, mottled skin. In the center, amidst a pool of milky, viscous fluid, a coiled mass of flesh swirled just at the edge of the orifice. Lex realized that the humming was suddenly gone, replaced by the sickening wet sucking sound emanating from Carlton’s belly.

“Come on, now, don’ be shy,” Bossy whispered. He held his hands before him and waved on some unseen thing.

Lex took his eyes off of the fat man’s stomach to see that Carlton’s eyes were rolled up into his head. His mouth hung agape, and Lex could swear that not only was the man now asleep, but, judging by the rattle coming out of his throat, he was snoring.

Just then, a slapping sound brought Lex’s attention back to the Carlton’s stomach, as something began to protrude through the fissure. The coiled skin squirmed and parted, as a smooth, slick dome slowly pushed past it. As it forced its way out, more of the milky liquid gushed forward, hitting the floor with a wet slap. Now, the dome thing was fully extended, with a thin trunk of a neck that bent back and revealed its face.

Lex’s heart felt as though it would pound out of his chest when he saw it. The eyes were large and almond shaped-deeply set, widely spaced, and black as oil. Its nostrils were little more than slits that flared outward, oozing forth more of the creamy goop. The creature peeled back its lips, revealing two rows of small, jagged teeth that looked like unpolished diamonds. As its mouth opened, it blew forth a spray of steam that rained down upon Lex’s naked flesh.

Then its eyes changed.

The deep, black orbs parted to the sides, revealing two smaller, dark pupils set against a light green.

They looked almost human.

Almost.

“Do not fear me, for there is nothing to fear. Not anymore, my love.”

When he heard the voice- the sweet, soothing voice, he looked around the room, expecting to see the woman he’d heard Carlton and Bossy speak of, but there was only Bossy knelt behind him, transfixed. Lex turned back toward the creature. Then he realized the voice was inside him.

She was inside him.

“Do not fear, for there is neither the need nor the time for it. I’ve a job for you.”

“What are you?” Lex thought.

He suddenly felt calm.

Safe.

Warm.

“I am what I have always been. It is what you are now that concerns me,”she said. “You bear something of great importance to me. To my kind. They are inside you. Just as I am.”

“What is it that you want me to do?” Lex thought.

“When the time comes, you will know. When the time comes, we will show you. For now, I need you to accept me. I need you to receive…me,” she said.

Lex’s head felt light, and his stomach tickled. He tingled all over, and beads of sweat suddenly coated his body.

“Do you accept me?” She asked.

Lex answered without hesitation.

Yes. Yes I accept you,” he thought.

He doubted he could have answered any other way.

He didn’t want to answer any other way.

With that, the thing that protruded from Carlton’s belly pushed itself further out, and hung over Lex’s midsection. Its mouth opened, revealing a long, thick, forked tongue that protruded slowly outward. From dime sized holes at the tip of each fork countless tiny tendrils flickered, swirling about the creature’s mouth like fine hairs blowing in the wind. As the tongue ran along Lex’s chest, he felt the tendrils tickling against his skin. They moved about his flesh with purpose, until, finally, they froze and hovered over his chest, his neck, his eyes, and his groin. He could feel a charge in the air emanating from them. Goosebumps formed over his body. A bloom of sweat broke out over his brow.

“This will hurt you. It is necessary,” she said.

“I understand,” He thought.

And then the tendrils struck, burrowing into his flesh all at once, preceded by some sort of spark that sent a shock through Lex’s body. His jaw clenched so tightly that his teeth creaked as they grated against each other. He could taste blood in his mouth, mixing with the bile that rose from the back of his throat. He could smell something burning. He could feelsomething burning. And as the pain grew, so did the feeling that what he was doing was right.

It was destiny.

He knew this because she made him know this.

And, as he succumbed to the pain and drifted into unconsciousness, Lex was secure in the knowledge that when he awoke, it would be to something big.

Something wonderful.

droooom drooooom drooooom droooooom

 


*****

 

And in the dream, he could see people on the streets below him.

He floated past them and waved and they smiled and waved back.

But they weren’t people at all.

 


*****

 

“HRRRRRRMISSSSSSTAAAAA?”

clickclickclickclick

The voice was muffled. Distant.

“HRRRRRRMISSSSSSSSTAAAA?”

clickclickclickclick

Clicking… A rapping. It was far away but drew closer and closer and closer.

Then there was warmth on his face, the light…

“Mister? Are you alright in there?”

Lex sat up and felt a pain in his neck that ran down his spine. As he turned toward the window, the policemen frowned at him. Lex squinted at him as the early morning sun assaulted his eyes. He blinked through the pain and rolled down the window.

“Oh, man, I’m…I’m sorry officer. I…” Lex paused for a moment, and looked around him. “My truck…”

The policeman stared back at him.

“What about it?”

Lex tapped the steering wheel with his fingers and then scratched at his mouth.

“I broke down,” Lex said. “I broke down…it was raining…the truck just died…”

Lex thought long and hard. There was something else, but it wasn’t coming.

“I’m sorry to be a bother, officer,” he said.

“No bother. Rain was fierce ‘round here last few days,” the policeman nodded toward the front of the Durango. “S’long as I’m here, want me to take a look? See if we can get ya’ goin’ again?”

Lex nodded and smiled.

“Yeah, I’d appreciate that,” he said as he reached down and popped the hood.

The policeman sloshed through the puddles that surrounded Lex’s truck and ducked under the hood.

Lex tipped the rear view mirror and checked his reflection. His hair was matted down to one side, and his face was red, bearing the imprint of the passenger door’s molded plastic lining. He rubbed his hand across the stubble on his chin, yawned, and flipped the mirror back.

“Try it now,” the policeman shouted from under the hood.

Lex turned the keys in the ignition, and the Durango’s engine roared to life.

“Wow! You’ve got the touch!” Lex yelled as the policeman slammed the hood shut.

“The wires, they was just wet. They do that on these new ‘uns. ‘Specially in rain like we had,” the policeman said.

Lex smiled and held out his hand. “Well, thanks officer…” Lex peered down at his badge, searching for a name.

“Folks round these parts jus’ call me Bossy,” he said with a smile.

Lex paused, feeling something jiggling loose in the back of his memory, but then he lost it and nodded.

“Well, I thank you Bossy. You probably saved me a lot of walking.”

Bossy grinned.

“Not a problem. You take care yerself,” Bossy said as he walked back to the patrol car parked behind Lex.

Lex put the Durango in gear, slowly rolled out of the puddles and back onto the road, and tapped his horn twice. He peered into his rearview mirror and saw the policeman hold up one hand, and Bossy smiled.

Good guy, he thought.

As he drove, a gnawing ache filled his belly, followed by a loud gaseous groan.

“Woah, down boy!” he said, patting his stomach. His stomach responded with another groan, and a long, satisfying fart that filled the cab with a stink even he couldn’t stand.

“Jesus!” he cried out, laughing as he rolled down the window. The crisp morning air flushed out the stench, and felt good and cool. He left the window open and hung his arm out the side.

As he drove he felt good.

He felt better than good.

He felt amazing.

And when he saw the sign for the interstate ahead, he felt a tingling in his stomach that was more than the hunger.

It was anticipation.

He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he was excited about heading back to Boston.

Something was waiting for him at home. And he couldn’t wait to get there.

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