January Giveaway

Let’s start off the new year right! I am giving away free books!

In the first giveaway of the year, we are going to try and do it right! We have prizes that range from signed copies to free audiobooks.

Grand Prize: Sign copy of Into Darkness and two free audiobooks (When the Demons Know Your Name And Inside the Mirrors)

Additional prizes include free audiobooks and free kindle versions. The winning first and second prize winners will receive a random selection of titles.

First Prize: Two winners will receive two audiobooks and an ebook book.

Second Prize: Two winners will win a Kindle version of one of my books.

Deadline for entry is January 31st, 2018

OPEN TO U.S. RESIDENTS 18 YEARS OF AGE AND OLDER ONLY

ENTER YOUR EMAIL FOR A CHANCE TO WIN:

*By entering contest you are joining Jason R. Davis’ mailing list.

**Purchase not necessary to win any prizes

***Contest is in two parts with grand prize being equal for both existing and new mailing list entries

Space Truckin’: Free Fall

Free Fall

(Space Truckin’ Part 1)

 

Will was once a truck driver. When he was on Earth, his days were spent alone, traveling the highways for months until he went home to see his wife and family. Then Space Trucking became the new thing, and they didn’t want pilots. They wanted men like him, the ones who were used to the isolation.

Now he is a new breed of driver. He is a Space Trucker, and his job is simple enough. Haul the load and drop the load. Just now he is in space, and his destination; Mars.

*********************

Published by

Breaking Fate Publishing

© 2017 by Breaking Fate Publishing Publishing

All Rights Reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.  Please purchase only authorized electronic and print editions, and do not participate in or encourage any form of piracy of copyrighted materials.  Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Please visit us online at http://breakingfatepublishing.com
“Free Fall (Space Truckin’)” is available for purchase as a Kindle Single and in Audio

Edited by Kim Young
Cover Art & Design by Jason R. Davis
Copyright © 2017

*********************

Free Fall

(A Space Truckin’ Story)

 

“Hey, Dad. When are you coming home? It’s been forever since we’ve had a chance to hang out, and I know I was away at camp last time. Mom sent me there, and when I got home, you were already gone. We miss… I miss you. Come home, Dad.”

Will reached a hand out to the computer screen, slightly touching it, as he watched his daughter do the same. He was trying to keep the torrent of tears at bay. He had told himself he wasn’t going to cry and, damn it, he was going to keep that promise.

Her tears came first. From the glow of her lamp behind her computer, he could see the little glint. He couldn’t see the lamp, but watched it twinkle off the little tear creeping down her cheek. Then another one came down the other side of her sweet, innocent face, and he heard her sniffle. He knew it would just be a second before she would pull her hand away from the screen to wipe her nose, then she did.

That was all it took, although his tears didn’t flow down his face. In just half a G of constant acceleration, the tears hung at the edges until more formed, then the little drops of saltwater floated around the cabin. Eventually, they would hit something, or he would drift into them and the wetness might actually reach his cheeks. Right then, he longed to feel their touch. It would allow him to share in what his daughter was feeling…that moisture, those tears, that hurt as she looked at the screen. Her tears were coming faster, and he watched as her chest heaved in sobs.

“I love you, Dad,” she said, quickly reaching forward, grabbing her laptop. Then his screen went dark.

He didn’t reach as quickly for his own. There was no reason for him to hurry. It wasn’t a live communication as he was out of range and anything that would be fast enough for them to talk without any kind of unbearable delay, so it was just easier to send the video messages. This one was her latest as she had just gotten home from camp, realized he was already gone again, and knew it would be at least another six months before she would see him.

It had already been two months since he left. He was ready to get back and stay home the full time this time. As it was, he could have stayed home and been there when Angie got back from camp. Had he known she would have been home, he probably would have. If her mom hadn’t been such a pain in his…

            Don’t let yourself get worked up thinking of her. It won’t do you any good. Don’t go down that road. Just calm yourself, take deep breaths. Deep breaths.

            Her mother, that selfish woman he had been married to for nine years, had lied to him, allowing him to believe Angie had been sent away to school. That cocksucker of a new boyfriend of hers had money, and Wendy got most of his, so he had little way to verify what they told him. It wasn’t like he was home all that often. He had no way to research or look into it. How would he have known Angie was only away at camp? She was supposed to be overseas doing some kind of school internship.

He could have spent some time with his daughter before coming back out here. He didn’t have to hurry. He had plenty of time to use. He could have stayed home, seen her, spent time with her. Instead, he had taken that woman at her word, allowed her to tell him his daughter was gone.

            And if you continue to just sit here and allow yourself to get pulled further into thinking about it, you are only going to make it worse. Your daughter’s home, she is safe with the beast, and you are now almost a million miles away from Earth, driving your rig to Mars. If you start thinking about it too much now, you’re just going to continue thinking about it, then you’ll be falling back into depression again. Space is the last place you want to be suffering from that. It isn’t like you can just pull into a truck stop, like the old days, and start talking to someone.

And it wasn’t like he could just pull into a truck stop to “find” someone for a little “me” time, even though he’d never done that before. He hadn’t been one of those drivers who found comfort in another woman’s arms when he was out on the road. He knew many other drivers who did, but he stayed faithful, even though she never believed he did.

He reached forward and clicked “Save” on the message. He knew he would probably never watch it again. It would get stored in the internal storage of the on-board computer system and just sit in his personal folder. It would get lost in the depths of family photos, music he had made sure to download for the journey, some TV shows he had been behind on from his last trip out, and whatever movies he could sneak off the net before he had launched back out.  Yes, it was illegal and, sure, it wasn’t right, but when you were gone from Earth for eight months at a time, there was a lot to catch up on. There was just no way to pay for it all before he left.

William was one of the few in the fleet of “truckers” who were now on the space highway hauling ice and whatever else was needed for the terraforming efforts taking place on Mars. Few meaning there were only about a hundred or so, but it wasn’t a job in high demand right now. Not too many people wanted to take on the risk or could deal with the isolation. After all, this whole project was not like what sci-fi books or movies portrayed. This was a corporate run, which meant everyone was in it for a profit, and profits meant being on the cheap.

N.P.T.H. Tech, the subsidiary of the larger search company that started it all, tried to run things as cheaply as possible. They cared more about their computers and its self-driving capabilities than the human component. He was more of a hindrance in their machine than actually a help. Sure, he was knowledgeable about fixing things on his rig here and there, but he wasn’t a true pilot or “driver”. He was just a passenger, only there to allow them to get government approval…not that they really needed it.

It was well-known that N.P.T.H. could have easily launched the whole project from any country, and the laws were kind of lax with it being a space-borne project. He launched up to an orbiting station, the Alpha, at which his rig would dock. His load looked more like a train. The lead car housed his living quarters, followed by a row of ice blocks or shipping containers linked together, and ending in the “caboose”.

On Earth, the whole system would be a mess with cars trying to slip in and out, nothing able to keep them from going all over once the thrust was applied, but this system was developed for lower gravity. The propulsion came from the caboose, the propellant converted from excess ice in the rear car, and the links kept straight by cables along the corners of each car. The cables could pull in or extend a little, depending on how everything needed to adjust while the rig was in motion

N.P.T.H., or even their parent company, was a business. Astronauts cost money, and since their self-driving system, which would be nearly legal on the highways across the United States, was such a good system on roads, why not use it in space? And if the system could drive itself, why pay for an astronaut or scientist? They weren’t used to the isolation, have a higher education, and might cause ripples. Worse yet, they might look at the technology under the hood and steal it for a competitor. Why bring on those people when there are cheaper alternatives?

Will was not sure when or how someone started to look at truck drivers to become these “space truckers”. Maybe it was when one of the high-priced execs was stuck in traffic one day, sitting behind an eighteen-wheeler, and started thinking about that driver sitting behind that wheel all day. Maybe he looked into it and found that these people drove fourteen-hour days, stayed out on the road for months at a time, and were locked up in their own self-imposed isolation away from wives and kids.

They realized they wouldn’t need scientists. They just needed gear jammers, someone to sit in the seat and be a passenger as this behemoth drove itself.

It was an interesting system. He would haul the loads to the station on Mars, drop off his load, hook up to the empty containers, and bring them back to Earth. In a way, it wasn’t any different than his trucking job had been. He would be out for the eight months it would take for a round trip, then he’d get four months off before he would go back out.

This last time, however, he had only been home a month. In that time, he had nearly gotten himself locked up, fought his ex many times, and had a couple of bar fights and an all-night drinking binge. The whole mess had him on such a downward spiral, he felt as if he needed to go back out again. Being home wasn’t doing him any good if he couldn’t see his little girl. Burn and turn, make some extra money, and when he got back the next time, they would be able to do something really nice with his four months.

But he could have stayed. He could have been home longer.

A light flashed on his console. He had another incoming message, but unlike the message from his little girl, this one had the standard tag on it. It was from his dispatcher, Audrey. She was a nice girl, but she needed to learn it wasn’t necessary to check in with him every day.

He touched the screen, sniffling in the last of the tears as he did. They kind of clung in the back of his throat, not having the force to really pour out of him like they should. In a second, a young woman, blond hair cut short in a bob that he was surprised to find out was coming back in style, appeared on the screen.

“Hey, Will. Just checking in. You’re halfway there. Yeah!” He watched as she did a little happy dance in her seat, and he couldn’t stop the side his mouth from curving into a small smile. It was funny how these young pups seemed to be the ones behind the screens now. The computer world was for the young. He would always be the gear jammer, just going where this younger generation sent him. Although it made him happy to think that his daughter would soon be one of these young people running things. “Everything is right on track. You don’t need to send me a reply or anything, unless you need to talk. I’m always here. You know that. You guys out there… You are all amazing, and I’m just amazed at how you keep those rigs running so safely. We’ve been two hundred and ten days without an accident. Safety is all over how astonishing that is. We have now set a record, and so now everyone’s worried about when the shoe will drop and something will happen. Don’t let it be you. I’d hate for it to be one of my drivers to break the record. You be safe out there.”

The communication cut off as she gave a little wave, then stopped the recording. He continued to look at the blank screen for a moment before his little smile wavered and the silence of the room around him closed in.

He knew she would be sending that message out to the others, as well. She had about eighteen people she coordinated. Each one was a few days behind the one in front of them, all on their own trajectory to meet Mars orbiting around the sun, and running in a continuous loop. With how Mars had an elliptical orbit, it was somewhat funny how one of them would leave after another driver, but be able to get home first just by how their launch window was.

Well, it was time for him to start his day. He’d been sitting there long enough listening to messages. It was time to get something done.

He spent the next five minutes checking, seeing all the systems were running fine. There were no anomalies. He was on course. Everything was the same as usual. All the automated systems were running as they should. Everything was normal.

The propulsion system was converting ice to fuel, just like it should. The flow was optimal. There was nothing he needed to do but sit there.

Damn, this is going to be another long day.

He unfastened his seat belt, feeling that artificial sensation of gravity give way as nothing held him. He was left to just hover, his body floating above the grav chair. It was always so disconcerting to no longer feel his weight against the chair, even though he had never truly felt it. It had only been the pressure of the strap that had kept him there, not his actual weight.

He had to find something to do. There was the aft propulsion he should check on. It would only be another day before the caboose ended its long burn and the cab would fire its engines.

He was never at a constant speed, but at a state of constant acceleration.  It gave him the little gravity he did have, but meant he was either accelerating or decelerating.  There was never a time when the rockets weren’t burning, so tomorrow, when the accelerating rockets cut out, the decelerating rockets would fire, starting the two months of constant deceleration. There would be a sudden jolt and a wicked twist, then his stomach would feel like it was upside down.

There were still plenty of system checks he should perform. They were mandatory, just like doing the logs every day. Check this and that, make sure this system was a go, that this valve was regulating properly. He made sure to check them every week. It wasn’t a big deal if they didn’t get checked daily. However, now that the big burn was going to shift, he really should look more into it, make sure it was all good to go.

It always was, just like everything else on this damn automated rattrap. He didn’t know why he even bothered.

He reached out the on-board tablet mounted on the console and unfastened it from its dock. The screen immediately lit up, requesting his passcode. Why the hell he needed to enter a passcode on a rig where he was the only person made just as much sense as why there were EVA suits for five people stored in the maintenance lockers. Just another of the many mysteries of wasting money.

He typed in the eight digits that made up his daughter’s birthday, then cursed under his breath when the screen flashed “invalid”. It was never easy typing in the damn thing when gravity was loose around him. He took a deep breath and slowly retyped it, making sure each number registered correctly.

Before he could finish, a light flashed on the console, indicating a message. This time, it wasn’t a delayed video message, but a live audio message. He pressed the box on the screen, letting the table float near his head as he reached out to pull himself back into the grav chair.

“Hey, Space Cowboy. This is the Young Duck. Comeback.” A very young and excited voice filled the small room. He quickly reached to turn down the volume. There was always something odd with how the live audio feeds came in at such a higher volume than the recorded messages. Someone once said it had something to do with compressing something else, but it didn’t matter to him. All of that was all over his head.

It was always good when he was able to hear another voice. It often occurred when a return driver just happened to be within a relatively close range. It didn’t always happen, and when it did, they typically had maybe an hour or two before they’d lose the ability to talk in near real time. After that, they would drift far enough apart where the delay would make communication harder and harder until it would grow unbearable.

Truthfully, it wasn’t usually the delay that stopped the conversations. Will didn’t know how it was with other drivers, but he wasn’t the most talkative. He liked the chance to talk for a little bit, but two hours was a stretch. Any longer than that, he just didn’t think he had in him.

“This is the Space Cowboy. You on your deadhead?” He knew the other driver must be, but it was just as good of an icebreaker as any.

“Sure ‘nough. Already kicking in the reverse burn and we’re almost home. It is going to feel good. Damn, I can’t wait to get that paycheck and those four months off.”

So much energy, so much fire. Young Duck was probably just that. Some young pup who was probably doing his first solo run.

“We?”

“Yeah. I got a passenger heading back. One of the locals from the station who needed to get home and couldn’t wait for the next rotation.”

“Coffer?”

“Yeah. She’s got it bad. They have me keeping her in restraints.”

Coffer was what some of them got when they had been out there too long. It was a form of cabin fever. That confined feeling when someone couldn’t get out, just staring at the same walls all day. It drove some of them to a form of mental breakdown.

One of the first cases had been pretty bad. The man had been locked in his room on the station, lying in the dark. He was convinced he was dead and in a coffin. Somehow, that coffin feeling, being trapped in the darkness of space, that claustrophobia of being in a small box, had come to be known as Coffer Syndrome.

Sadly, it wasn’t all that uncommon. Many times, it set in quickly, usually with the new shuttle jockeys. Young Duck would be a perfect candidate as it often happened to those who were the most energetic and new to driving.

“Yeah, well, keep those restraints on her. They can get dangerous if she gets free.”

“I am. Keeping the meds in her, too.”

“Good.”

“How long you been out?”

“I start my reverse burn tomorrow.”

“Ahh, damn. Sucks man. Still got another six months. How ya doing with it?”

“Just another day.”

“Really? How long you been doing this?”

“Six years now.” Six long years, and getting longer. This job wasn’t getting any easier.

“Damn. I don’t know if I could do this for six years. Though it’s gotta be nice. Hell, the mad pay… You gotta be rolling in the dough.”

Will didn’t want to be the one to break it to the kid. When drivers headed out, nobody told them they had to pay for all the prepackaged food and stuff they sent off with them. When they got back after eight months, they deducted all those expenses, as well as anything he may have damaged in flight, and took that off the paycheck. It was another one of the ways they got a person out there, making it so he had to stay. Sure, he got four months off when he got home, but his cell phone would be turned off and he’d lose his apartment while he was out. It was hard to find places that supported renting to someone for just four months.

He might make a decent paycheck, but it never seemed to add enough to get him out of the hole he always seemed to dig himself into.

“Yeah, just keep raking it in. So, any word from the station? Any news?”

“There’s talk. The Martians are all up in arms about the robots. They need new parts, but aren’t getting them from Earth. Plus, they’re all bitchin’ about their rotation being so damn long. Man, there is this one hot MILF there. Next time I get back, we’re going to-”

When the radio started to hiss and break up, Will wasn’t too worried about it. The kid was probably on a trajectory farther out than Will had originally thought. It wasn’t the worst thing, though. The kid was somewhat annoying.

Young pups… Why was the energy and excitement for things always wasted on the youth? Was he ever truly that young?

He let his head fall back to the headrest, feeling a little moisture touching the edge of his eye. His chest had that little ache, and each breath was pulled in with effort.

He already knew what was going to happen to the kid. He would get back to Earth, expecting to get some huge paycheck that would turn out to be a third of what he thought. He would say it was still more than he would have made if he continued to be a gear jammer back on Earth, and he could still have a lot of fun with four months off.

Then the kid would get home and his parents would be older. If he had a girlfriend, she would have run off with someone else. Of course, he had been sending her messages. When she didn’t respond, he just thought she was really busy with work. If she did respond, her responses would be short and sporadic. He would go home, if he still had a home, and find all her stuff gone from the apartment. Or he would go to her place and the door would be locked, and when he knocked, a man would answer, asking who the hell he was.

The kid was in for one hell of a shock when he got home. Will almost felt sorry for him, but it was the nature of the beast. If the kid was going to make it, he would have to learn that they were gone for eight months at a time and things didn’t wait around for them. Life moved on, and they were now just tourists to Earth.

“Fly safe,” he said into the silence, knowing the kid would never hear it. With any luck, the kid would be okay.

He made sure the timer was set to wake him an hour before the burn, then he keyed the lights and undid the safety harness before floating back to the sleeping compartment. As the timer on the light counted down, he made his way to the bed, then secured the safety net around him. When the timer hit “0”, everything other than a few emergency lights turned off.

Tomorrow would be a new day, another day closer to getting home.

 

. . . .

 

“What in the Sam Hill?” Will grumbled, fighting against his restraints. Around him, alarms blared, lights flickering from red to orange and back to red. The ship itself, heavy by Earth standards, shook harder than what should have been possible. The harness strapping him onto the grav couch pinched him tightly as everything shook, causing the fabric to automatically tighten, which he thought was one hell of a flaw. He tried to undo it the damn thing so he could find out what in the hell was going on, but it wouldn’t release. The clasp was locked so tight that even when he found the release button, it wouldn’t budge. The catch was caught against whatever fasteners were in the mechanism and it wouldn’t let go. He was stuck in the damn bed as who knew what was going on in the ship.

The alert klaxons raised in pitch around him. Another great design. If an alarm was ignored, it must need to be louder. He tried to figure out how the hell to get out of this damn grav couch, but he could barely think over those alarms. What happened if he couldn’t get up to turn them off? Would it get loud enough for his ears to bleed?

He pushed and pulled on the release of his restraints while holding in the button. It still wouldn’t budge as his efforts grew more frantic. In his head, he could feel the strain wearing on him, the start of pain at the edge pushing in on his thoughts. If he didn’t change something soon, a migraine would attack him while he had to deal with that damn overbearing alarm.

How…much…more…can…I…take?

After a bunch of short tugs on the release, he gave it one long pull…and it opened. The straps holding him in place loosened and he was free, his body rising in the room.

However, he was rising faster than normal. The sudden release should have bounced him up a little, but he was rising faster…and not straight up. He was moving at an angle. Something wasn’t right.

He reached above his head to a handhold and grabbed it, twisting himself around. Not having the time to worry about putting on his uniform, he stayed in the one-piece undergarment he had been in and pulled himself out of the hatch.

It didn’t take him long to reach the control room, what he always thought of as the cab of the “space truck”. Half of the console was flashing, and the touch screen that handled most of the automated systems was flickering. He could see part of  an image that he thought was the main information screen, but then it would shake again, leaving him with a jumble of numbers and letters.

This system was supposed to be able to run by itself and was never supposed to be like this. This was something out of one of his first nightmares when he had been a first-year. Being in space had been a very upsetting experience, and there had been quite a few video messages sent home of him freaking out. Sometimes, he would be a crying mess after just a warning message would appear, sure that the whole system was going to go dark and he would be left adrift out there, never to see his wife and daughter again.

This shouldn’t ever be like this. Not unless something really bad was happening. Not unless the system was lost in… What had the techs called it? There was something… Some kind of cycling.

He tried to think about what the techs had said. They had told him something he could try. One of them had laughed about it, joking that it was the solution to almost all tech problems. Whenever something happened, it was the tried-and-true fix.

Damn it! What the hell was it?!

He racked his brain, but he just couldn’t think. That noise erupting around him, the edge of sleep still not fading away, his brain still fuzzy. Dreams sticking at the edge, calling for him to come back to them, lay back down. Just turn off that alarm and go back to sleep.

Turn that alarm off! It was so loud; he just couldn’t think over it. He needed to turn it…

Turn the system off. Restart it. That was it. He needed to reboot the system. He needed to cycle it all down by removing the side panel and finding the processing core.

It sounded so complicated, something a tech should be doing, but they had shown him how to do it multiple times. It was just a simple button he had to hold down for ten seconds, powering everything down. Then he’d wait thirty seconds before pressing the button again. They said it was no different from his computer at home, although he hadn’t admitted to them that he didn’t have a computer at home. All he had was his phone and his tablet to play games on. It didn’t matter. He remembered where the button was.

The system made a few beeping sounds as it restarted, then there was a long squeal. He wasn’t sure if it was actually coming back to life or if he had just screwed the whole damn thing up. Just what was it supposed to sound like? Was the screen supposed to flicker like that? It flashed some damn logo, then went back to a black screen. Was that normal?

A bead of sweat trickled down his cheek before it lifted into the space around him. He felt warm. Was the ship’s thermometer screwed up? If it had quit, the ship should be cooling down, not getting warm, especially since he was traveling away from the sun. To him, that meant the ship’s systems were out of whack.

And how the hell would you know that? Even your basic knowledge of trucks is rudimentary. Even with the slightest problem, you always had to call on-road to come out and fix it. Remember that one time you ran out of antifreeze and had to wait for five hours just so someone could come out there and put water in your radiator? How would you know if it’s the thermometer, rather than something more serious?

He could just be nervous. His stomach had knotted, and he could feel the taste of last night’s food working its way back up. It had been a long time since he had vomited in zero gravity, but he never wanted to repeat it. Just the thought had him remembering the stench he had lived with for four months. The smell had been cycled from the air immediately after the mess had been contained, but psychologically, he smelled it the whole remaining trip.

Now he smelled it again.

The screen flickered a few more times before he saw the familiar logo, then the icons he was used to. Everything looked normal. Maybe it had just been a computer glitch.

Yeah, one hell of a computer glitch.

Then a large “danger” symbol flashed on the screen, everything tinted red. The icons blurred in the background as the danger symbol kept flashing.

What the hell did that mean? Well, he knew what it meant, but what was he supposed to do about it?

Taking a stab in the dark, he pressed the “danger” symbol. A box appeared, containing a message.

 

Hull has been breached. Propulsion is being released. Please exit the vehicle and repair.

 

Below the message was a button.

 

Click here for directions.

 

Feeling like an idiot, he clicked the button, not really sure what they expected him to do. Sure, he had the minimal training on how to do some of the crap that might need to be done, but no one ever seemed like they expected him to actually do any of it.

Another box appeared with what looked like the EVA gear. Beside it stood a person. The screen then started to go through an animation, walking him through what they expected him to do.

The acidic feeling in his stomach turned to a large lump of clay. This didn’t look like something he was going to be able to do. He was in way over his head.

Why in the hell did they choose him for this crap if they knew he was no good at it?

Because he was one of the few idiots willing to do it. There weren’t a lot of candidates, and the turnover rate was terrible because most hotshots lasted one or two trips before they quit. Too many lost themselves to cabin fever.

They didn’t care if he knew how to handle this. They lose a load, or him, it was just a write-off. He was just a write-off.

Everything on the cheap. Yeah, but how cheap was that EVA suit going to be when he got into it? How well-made was it going to be? Could he even fit into the damn thing?

When the animation ended, there was the option to replay it. He pressed the button, trying to pay more attention on what he was about to do.

 

. . . . .

 

It felt odd, definitely not like anything he had expected a spacewalk to be, and nothing like he had ever seen on television. Not that he was into all that science fiction garbage. He didn’t think it was all that realistic, but that was before they had started doing these space trucks. Lightsabers? Really? Who would use such a thing? How was that even practical?

It wasn’t.

But this thing he was in now was a damn box with arms. It looked more like what some kid would put together in his or her garage while playing with Dad’s tools. It was bright white, and the outside felt like some kind of soft plastic over a hard exterior. It wasn’t something he could really explain, other than it felt almost like touching skin.

Once he was in it, it felt like a coffin. There was some kind of gel substance he had lowered himself into, then the lid closed over him. Tubes ran in for him to breathe into, and he assumed the tubes down below were supposed to take care of his bodily fluids. He didn’t want to know what happened to it.

When the ship “launched” him out of the undercarriage, he knew the box he was in shook. He could see it in the screen showing him an outside view, but he didn’t feel it. The gel must have been some kind of shock absorber.

He tried to take a deep breath, but the maintained air filtering in wouldn’t allow him to. The flow was steady and consistent, and he let out a silent curse through clenched teeth. Why was this damn machine keeping him from taking a deep, calming breath if he wanted to?

Don’t waste oxygen, you idiot. That’s what the machine is trying to tell you. Listen to it. Get the job done and get back in.

            That annoying little voice in the back of his mind was right. He knew what he needed to do, or so he hoped. He had watched the animation five times, saw where the propulsion breach was and the quick fix the computer had recommended. It sounded simple enough…if he didn’t think too much about the spacewalk aspect of it. He would just head out to where the gas was leaking, then apply the super strong duct tape to the hole. It really wasn’t duct tape, but the roll of sticky material had that feel to it. It was that “fix everything” solution engineers and mechanics loved to use. Duct tape and WD-40, the solution to everything. He had to give it to the space guys for coming up with a space version of it.

His little coffin briefly fired a thruster, shifting him around. It was automatically doing everything. He just had to use the glove things near his hands. They were odd little gloves that he fit his hands into, allowing him to move the arms outside. He would use the arms to adhere the space tape, then he would be on his way again.

It all seemed so simple, he wondered if a robot could do the job. It had to be almost like what the robots did on Mars. They used robots for almost all the terraforming work. The people in the Mars station were only there as computer monkeys, typing all day on their machines.

Yeah, and none of them risked their lives to go out and fix a hole in their station. They would just tell their robots to do it. Or maybe the robots would fix the hole without being told.

He didn’t have a robot in his little space truck. It probably cost too much. Life was cheap, but robots cost money. We couldn’t risk one of those now, could we?

Maybe the coffin was automated, but he’d still have to be in it to work the controls, which he prepared for by putting his hands in the gloves. The material seemed to tighten around them, and he had a brief moment of panic that he wouldn’t be able to get his hands back out. Just to make sure, he pulled his hands, yanking them free.

See, there is nothing to worry about. You are not going to lose yourself to some damn machine. It still needs you, you need it, and everything is going to be fine. Now, quit freaking out about every little damn thing and get this fixed. The longer you take, the more off course you’ll get and the harder the burn will be to set everything right. The animation said so.

            “Forty below and I don’t give a f-. Got a heater in the truck, and I’m off to the rodeo,” he sang to himself, remembering the old trucker’s song he used to listen to back on Earth. When shit was going bad, he always found humming a few verses seemed to put some calm back into him.

He opened his eyes, putting his hands back in the gloves as he practiced working the arms. Then he closed them again to keep from looking out at the large black expanse of nothing he could see through the little visor in the suit.

“Eighteen wheels and a dozen roses,” he sang, changing to a more positive tune, although it made him think a little more of home. While he wasn’t itching to see his ex anytime soon, it really wouldn’t be the worst thing. He had loved her once, and maybe she hadn’t kept his little girl from him on purpose. Maybe it had been an accident. He would be home soon, then he would see them both. He would hug his little girl, getting lost in that smile.

How long ago had it been…years maybe, when he had come home from being out on the road.  He had been away for too long and had come home to see a  large gap in the front of her mouth. She had lost several teeth that summer, and he made sure the tooth fairy got back pay for all those missing teeth he hadn’t been home for.

The jets turned him around again so he was now facing the ship. He could see the little hole, gas leaking out in a white mist. He couldn’t believe that little hole was causing him all that trouble. Had he not been so close, he wouldn’t have been able to even see it. It was the size of a pinhole, maybe smaller.

He hoped it hadn’t gotten him too far off course. The accelerated burn of the reverse thrust might not be so bad.

He reached out and fastened his safety line to the side of the ship, the magnetic clamp firmly grasping the metal. It was a small, thin cable designed to keep him from falling behind the ship. Once the line clasped into place, the magnetics sent a signal to his suit, confirming the lock, and the suit’s thrusters quit their burn.

The ship was still in a state of acceleration. If he were to let go, he would stay at his relative speed while the ship continued to accelerate past him. It was so strange. He didn’t feel like he was accelerating, the motion having a constant pull against him, but that was how it was out there. He just always lived with that feeling in the back of his stomach, as if something wasn’t right.

That was why so many new space jockeys got nauseated so much at first. It took a while to get used to the feeling.

He put his discomfort out of mind as he went to his work, using the metal arms to fix the hole. It wasn’t that hard. The controls felt intuitive and, in a strange way, he rather liked using them. Hell, it gave him something to do. Better than the nothing he did nearly every day. This was actually a nice distraction away from all the rest of it. He finally had a purpose.

He finished with the first “bandage” and looked at it. The silver of the space tape was bright compared to the dull gray of the aging metal around it. Would it truly hold once they started the reverse burn and this part of the ship went from being the control center to being the caboose that had to slow everything down?

It just wasn’t in his nature to trust one piece. While he enjoyed being out there, having a purpose, he didn’t want to be doing it again any time soon.

He pulled another stretch of tape from the roll and made another line. Then he pulled a third, placing it on the craft.

Better.

He smiled, looking at his work. That should definitely hold up. If the space tape did its job, this would work. He just had to believe those space scientists knew what they were doing when they developed the stuff. He didn’t want to find out it was just duct tape with glossy metal backing. He might never go back in space if that were the case.

He pulled his hands out of the gloves so he could tap at the controls on the screen below the window in his box. It took only a few taps for him to bring up the status of the rig. The system no longer flashed danger, but the alert icon was still on the screen. He tapped it and the little dialogue box appeared.

 

System fault. Course warning.

 

Below the brief message was the little box he had grown so accustomed to over the years. He tapped the “Okay” button, but wasn’t ready for the jarring shock immediately afterwards.

Around him, the space seemed to blow up, the metal exterior of his ship shaking. Everything seemed like it was on fire, and the internal sensors of the suit flashed with the growing familiar red warning.

 

Exterior temperature warning. Shutting down.

 

He could feel it, too. Suddenly, the suit no longer was the comfortable controlled temperature to which he had grown accustomed. It radiated heat, the gel around him growing increasingly hot.

            Wait… What? Shutting down?

Just what was shutting down? If the suit shut down, how was he supposed to control it? How were the thrusters supposed to get him back inside the ship?

He fought to pull in breath. The air felt as thick as syrup and was getting hot. The moisture evaporated inside his mouth, and the hairs in his nose felt like they were burning. He tried to blink, but his eyes were stuck open as the warmth got more intense.

            Just what was going on?

He tapped on the touch screen, but nothing happened. The screen was frozen, the “Okay” button the only thing left on the screen. Everything else had blurred and was impossible to read. He kept tapping on it, then slammed his fist on the pad as hard as he could. The sweat on his hands blurred the screen further, then it went black.

“Come on, you damn piece of…,” he grunted, his teeth clenched. The gel around him was getting hard, as if the material was losing its elasticity. It was becoming solid…and shrinking, giving him room to move. But when the box shook, it slammed him into the sides. It was getting hard to move against the different directions the box seemed to want to go. It really was turning into a coffin. He was dying here.

You have to do something. Come on. This damn tablet… Why did every damned thing in this box have to run from the damn tablet?

The gloves didn’t, but what the hell could the do with those? Grab something? Like what? He couldn’t even see anything through the screen. It was all just white noise out there. Everything was too bright. Even with his eyes nearly closed, he couldn’t make anything out. Was he going blind?  Was this what it was like?  He had always imagined going blind like everything just went black. Was it just the opposite?

He knew of one other occurrence people claimed to see white. Could he have died?

That didn’t explain the heat, and he didn’t care how much of a heathen he could be. He did not feel like he could be going to hell. That just didn’t fit. He was a good person.

He put his hands back in the gloves. They no longer had the suction as the lining had stiffened, now fighting against his motions. He had to use them, but would he be able to find something to grab onto?

The coffin slammed against something, sending him hard against the far wall. Even in the thermal protection suit he was wearing, he felt the searing heat, like he had fallen into an open flame. His skin felt as if it were melting. Was the suit even still there? It didn’t feel like it, the heat scorching him past the point he could even feel the heat any more.

He was no longer sweating, his body no longer possessing the ability to cool itself.

            Can I really survive this?

He felt some resistance in the gloves, the hands closing into a fist, forcing his own hand closed. Had something just slammed into the robot arm outside, or was the glove no longer operating?

Pushing against the sensation, he tried to force it open. The glove resisted and he pushed harder, but it didn’t respond. He was sure it was wedged against something, or maybe shattered.

Suddenly, there was intense gravity. He felt the coffin spinning wildly, slamming him against the back wall. The gel seared into his back, the heat setting it alive. It felt like second-degree burns all across his skin…and that was being optimistic.

As the gravity grew stronger, the coffin rattled vigorously, slamming him back and forth until the gravity became strong enough that he was stuck against the back wall. Even though he could smell his burning skin, there was no way he could pull himself forward to relieve it.

            This stuff was supposed to be designed so it didn’t melt and burn like this. Those damn lying scientists. Never trust ‘em. Those bastards always think they are too damn smart.

And if you don’t start getting smarter, you are not going make it through this. Don’t be getting all pissed at people who are not here. It’s not going to do you any good. Come on. Get it together.

            Remember that one time you blew a steer tire? You had to fight that bitch while she wanted to take you into the woods. You had to work it, fight with it, and just go with the flow. There wasn’t much you could do. You briefly sped it up to take weight off the tire, then just let the rig do its thing as you eased her over to the shoulder. Ease it in and let her decide when she is going to stop. Doing it any sooner will only cause it to roll and everything will to go to hell.

            So just how was he supposed to ease it in? This wasn’t like a tire blowing out. He was out in space. He had no idea just what was going on. His little tablet thing that was supposed to keep him updated was freaking out, and it was so damn hot and bright that he couldn’t see anything. It was as if he were caught in a…

No, that couldn’t be it.

He forced himself to stare at the little window in front of him. He could see the intense white light, but it was flashing. Because he was spinning, it wasn’t a steady light, and he had brief moments where the darkness of space could be seen.

He was spinning next to the ship. The reverse thrust jets had fired, starting the braking process. It had started early, probably because the ship was off course and was trying to correct itself. When it had suddenly jolted because it was now decelerating rather than accelerating, it had jarred his coffin, throwing him around as the ship he was connected to had gone from being the cab of the truck to the caboose.

Of course, he had not physically moved. Both ends of the craft were identical, depending on whether the ship was speeding up or slowing down. So the engines at what he would often think of as the back of the rig had now turned off, the ones firing on the section he was now by.

That had to be what was going on, but how was he going to be able to stop it. He didn’t think he could get back to the access door with the jets firing as they were. He would have to get closer to that intense heat, and with the computer system having issues, the suit having who knew what kind of damage, and who knew what else had gone wrong, he wasn’t sure it was possible. The coffin had to be venting from somewhere, and he doubted it could withstand this much longer. He knew he couldn’t.

How was he spinning?

If the cable was attached to the rig, it shouldn’t have been able to come undone.   But then how was he spinning?  He should be slamming against the trailers, not that the thought of being slammed continuously into the ice containers was all that appealing.

So if the wire weren’t holding him to the rig, what the hell was going on?

The box rattled and slammed again. His head hit something hard and he felt a searing pain throbbing through his temple.

Too much more of this crap and his brain was going to go to putty. It was hard enough to think and now that throbbing… An orchestra was trying to play some crazy drum heavy ensemble piece through his head, bringing the whole marching band to accompany them. Stars were forming all around his vision, flashes of light pushing at him. When he looked away, something else caught his attention out of the corner of his eye.

He looked down and saw that the tablet wasn’t blurred anymore. The dulled screen, which had been so unresponsive moments ago, was bright, vibrantly displaying the standard home screen with its normal set of icons. He saw the engine status icon, and even though he was sure he already knew what was happening, he pushed on the glass. The screen vibrated in recognition of his touch, then faded in to display the engine status. The braking thrust had begun. His rig was slowing down, the sky around him a bright array of color as the propellant worked to slow the momentum of the beast.

He grimaced and went to the next screen. The special icon for his EVA, although it seemed so wrong to use the archaic symbol of the old space suits on the original moon landings for the square picture. When pressed, it took him to the status of his pod, then the tablet started to flash with warnings. First was the battery flash, which he cleared by tapping “Okay”. So the tablet was now on battery power. Then it flashed with a network error connection. The tablet was no longer wired to the rig’s network and had been switched to the local intranet. He clicked it as the building dread came back to him.

The pod wasn’t as hot as it had been, quickly cooling around him. Where his skin had severely burned, it still felt hot, but the rest of him was starting to shiver a little because of the chill pushing in on him.

The light was fading so he knew he could look out the portal if he wanted to see what was out there. He didn’t feel he was ready yet.

He tapped “Okay” and waited for the next warning. Any time now, there was going to be that message saying pod disconnected or life support warning. Something was about to tell him he was done. He had gone longer than most, survived past the odds, and had started to think of this as a regular job. He had taken for granted just how much a bitch space could be. He knew she was cold-hearted, that she came for all of them. Now, it was his turn.

The tablet beeped, but it wasn’t another warning. He was lost, drifting, slipping away into his eternal darkness. He was on the threshold, death was at his door, when he heard the familiar sing-song tone of an incoming message.

He saw his daughter’s face. She had sent him another message. He looked at her smiling face, that picture he had taken so many years ago, using it as her profile picture for when she sent him a message.

That picture had been taken on a good day. It was before the fighting, before the wife from hell had started to tear into him. They had all been happy then, or he liked to remember it that way. He couldn’t remember the fights, but he remembered that smile. He remembered the roller coasters and cotton candy. The state fair with music playing at a far stage, too many people, too hot, too muggy, but there were still the smiles. Her riding on his shoulders, and that picture… She held his phone up while he held her. It was her first selfie. It would always be on his phone, and it would always be with him.

He clicked on the smiling face.

“Dad! I can’t believe what Mom did. She told me. Can you believe that? She lied to me, Dad! Grr.”

He tried to figure out what had happened. It was obvious that his daughter was upset. The laptop she was talking into was placed on her desk, but she couldn’t stay seated in front of it. She was walking back and forth, running her hands through her long hair, then looking at the screen. She was so animated, her hands were a blur. She seemed to have her own sign language, but the motions were going a mile a minute and the video feed couldn’t keep up.

He had never noticed the blurring of a transmission before, but the person was usually seated.

“I just found out what Mom did. I can’t believe…”

The signal glitched. He could see her moving, but the sound sputtered with only syllables coming through here and there.

He blinked away the wetness in his eyes. It took a few times, as the moist wall didn’t want to go. Then he felt the tears drift away, but not down the lines of his face. They just slipped away, floating around him.

He finally looked up to the portal to look out.

“I mean, how could she do something like that, Dad? That’s just so cruel. She has to be the most cold-hearted bitch.”

Outside, he saw the true cold-hearted bitch. It was staring right back at him. That big nothingness of space. So much out here, yet so little. Everything so far from one another. As his pod rotated, he watched as the rig he had been so used to thinking of as home came back into view. He had to be twenty feet away from the third car. He could see the strands of cord keeping what was essentially just a large block of ice attached to the rig.

The cord that had once connected him to the rig dangled just on the outside of the portal. It floated there, free in space. He was also floating there, free from any attachment in space. There was nothing connecting him to anything back home. It was all just slowly moving past him and there was no way he could get back to it.

The fourth car moved past him, then the fifth. He was moving away from it, and the pod was getting colder.

“Dad, I really miss you.”

He looked down at the screen. The video cut out as the rig got farther away, the signal getting weaker.

Yeah, it would never be any clearer than what it was now. He was never going to see his daughter again, even in the video. He could only listen to her. She seemed to have calmed down, but there was a sadness now. He could hear her sobs, feeling his own rising up inside him.

“I hope you make it back soon. I know it’s supposed to be another six months, but… I don’t know. Maybe your ship will break down and you’ll have to come back early. I just…”

Her words hung there, and all he could think about was how much he wanted to be there to give  her a hug.

The eighth car passed him by. There would only be a couple more before the caboose became visible, although he wouldn’t see it. He was still rotating around. He would be facing away from the rig when the caboose finally made its slow trek past him.

“Dad, can I ask you something?” A flicker of light made him look back at the tablet. He was surprised to see he had video again.

“Yes, hun. You can ask me anything,” he said, the silence of the pod being the only response, but he watched as her eyes looked through the millions of miles to stare deep into his own, seeming to wait for his response.

“When you come back, can I live with you? I can’t stay with her. And, well, maybe I can come out there with you. I know you’ve said no in the past, but I can’t stay with her. I miss you. Please, take me with you.”

When the pod made its way around again, he could see the caboose already past him, slipping away, moving into the distance.

“Dad, I love you.”

He looked back to the tablet and saw that the video had frozen as she was looking at him, awaiting his answer. He wished he were on the rig, connected to a strong signal so he could send back his message. He wanted to tell her how much he loved her, that she could come with him. He could ask for a transfer, maybe stay on Mars and keep her there. Or maybe he could go back to just driving a truck. It would be a pay cut, but he could take her on the road with him. It wouldn’t have the schools and the learning he was sure the families on Mars had, but she would be with him.

They had to have something on Mars that he could do. He was just some driver. He had never been special. Just some road jockey who had gotten lucky enough to land this cool gig out in space. It had made his daughter think he was so cool. He was an astronaut, a space trucker, out there amongst the stars. How awesome was it that her dad got to leave Earth and travel back and forth to Mars.

He wasn’t special. He was just some guy who sat in a rig for eight months.

Now he wasn’t even that.

He looked at that image, his daughter looking at him through the distance, as his life left him behind.

 

Enter for your chance to win!

IDKindleBThe Creator of Nightmares returns! Into Darkness is coming out August 29th and in preperation of this release I am giving away a variety of prizes. Prizes that range from signed copies to free audiobooks (Unfortunatly not the audio version of Into Darkness as that will not be available until later this year.)

Davis has terrified his readers in his three previous novels and now returns with a new horrific journey.

OPEN TO U.S. RESIDENTS 18 YEARS OF AGE AND OLDER ONLY

ENTER YOUR EMAIL FOR A CHANCE TO WIN:

 

*By entering contest you are joining Jason R. Davis’ mailing list.
**Purchase not necessary to win any prizes
***Prizes will be given away randomly and will from entries from the time of this posting to August 29th

Special Sneak Preview

Into Darkness featured on Weird Darkness with a special artist rendering, you can watch as the story comes alive!

Into Darkness is set to release on August 29th, but as of today you can listen to a special sneak preview of the first chapter. Featured on Weird Darkness with a special artist rendering, you can watch as the story comes alive!

Darren Marlar has done an amazing job and has agreed to narrate the rest of the audiobook.

Into Darkness

A creature, part of the darkness before God created the heavens and earth, has awakened. It had slumbered, hibernating from the light. Now, it is hungry and wanting to feed…

Bobby, a local kid, and the police chief have gone missing. Everyone in the small town turns to former Chicago cop Rob Alletto to find them, but as he starts his search, more people disappear. Rob is quickly overwhelmed. The night seems to come alive, taking these people. Alletto must find out why and discover a way to stop it before the whole town slips…Into Darkness.

PRE ORDER TODAY!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07463MS2F

Review copies available now upon request.

Last Exit Audiobook

I just received the audiobook for Last Exit today, and was able to sign off on it! Looking forward to the reactions as people are able to listen to Darren Marlar as he narrates more of my work. This has been a long running partnership as he has narrated a number of my titles and I have enjoyed each of them. By how you have reacted to his narration of my work, I get the sense that many of you agree.

Without further ado…here is the sample for the upcoming audiobook release of Last Exit

Coming Home

Coming Home by Jason R. Davis

How do you explain to your son that his father will never make it home? How do you explain death? Even if you believe in God, you still have to explain to a child that his father is with God. How do you stop him from trying to join his father?

Martha has to find a way as she struggles with her own grief to explain about her son’s father no longer either. Though the father doesn’t make it easy on her with his ghostly phone calls to their son, telling him that his father is coming home.

*********************

Published by

Breaking Fate Publishing

© 2017 by Breaking Fate Publishing Publishing

All Rights Reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.  Please purchase only authorized electronic and print editions, and do not participate in or encourage any form of piracy of copyrighted materials.  Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Please visit us online at http://breakingfatepublishing.com
“Death at Germantown” is available for purchase as a Kindle Single and in Audio
“Death at Germantown” is also featured in the Last Exit anthology.

Edited by Kim Young
Cover Art & Design by Jason R. Davis
Copyright © 2017

*********************

How do you explain to your son that his father will never make it home? How do you explain death? Even if you believe in God, you still have to explain to a child that his father is with God. How do you stop him from trying to join his father?

When the son is only six, barely grasping the principles of life, it seems impossible. That unforgiving job of trying to describe it in a way they can understand. Loss is never easy, especially when it comes to the young.

“Damn him,” Martha said to herself, knowing she didn’t truly mean it. It was just so much easier to express rage at the man who had turned her life upside down. She had loved him so much, had stayed married to him through the good times and the bad, even when he had not made it easy for her to do so.

“Damn him. Damn him. Damn him.” Even though she kept saying it, she could feel the tears threatening to fall again.

She watched as the car in front of her slowly moved up a spot. She quickly wiped at her eyes, first the left and then the right, then eased her car up another spot. The line was moving as usual, so she still had about two minutes before she would be in front of the school and Matty would be climbing into the car.

She looked at the passenger seat and saw the mess of tissues scattered around. Oh god. She hoped no one from the school would need to talk to her. She didn’t want anybody to see the tissues and the state her car was in.

She probably shouldn’t even be driving in her state of mind. She kept thinking about the phone call she had received an hour ago, still trying to figure out how to tell her son that his father was never coming home.

The car in front of her moved up another spot and she followed, edging closer to that moment.

 

 

. . . .

 

 

She looked at her reflection in the mirror, but the haunted shadow looking back at her wasn’t familiar. What happened to the smile that was always there, even when she wasn’t happy, and where did those dark circles come from?

She couldn’t meet the person she saw in the mirror’s eyes because she knew how much of a coward that person was. She had never been weak before, always facing things head-on. Who was this person looking back at her? Whomever it was, she wasn’t proud of her. There was nothing there to be proud of.

“Hey, Mom, what’s for lunch?” Matty said as he ran into the bathroom. His cartoon must have ended, as he never strayed from in front of the TV while it was on…even during the commercials.

She’d rather he be outside, as too much television rotted the brain, but she couldn’t bring herself to yell at him today. It made it easier on her for him to just sit there and watch whatever he wanted.

She still hadn’t told him about his father. She had chickened out yesterday, deciding today would be better. It was Matty’s birthday weekend, though. How could she tell him before his birthday? What kind of mother was she?

But how could she not? It would only lead to him thinking his dad was going to make it home for the party. But he wasn’t going to make it home today, nor any other day. Putting it off was only going to make it worse.

“Just make yourself a jelly butter, okay?”

Matty stayed in the door as she looked over at him. She could feel how raw her eyes were and all she wanted to do was rub them some more. They were tired, puffy, and red. After rubbing them last time, not sure if she imagined it, she heard what sounded like sandpaper. Were they really that dry? They sure felt like it.

She wasn’t sure how much strength she had left.

“Mom, when’s Daddy getting home?”

And there it was. She had hoped to avoid the question a little bit longer, but as much as she tried to put it off, she knew her time was up.

“Go make your jelly butter and I’ll be out in a minute. Okay, hun?” She knew distracting him with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, what Matty had called a jelly butter since he was three, would only last a little while. She had to tell him soon.

“Okay, but can we call Daddy after? He promised he’d make it home in time.”

She nodded as she leaned over the sink, both hands grasping at the sides while she bit back the tears. “You know he can’t always control it, hun. Sometimes his loads get delayed.”

“But he promised.”

“I know. Go make your jelly butter.”

When Matty left the upstairs bathroom, the floodgate on the tears she has fought to control let loose.

 

 

. . . .

 

 

John had been a truck driver for five years before he met Martha. They had both been in Texas at the time. He was down there visiting with his father, and she was there as a pharmaceutical sales rep. John and his father could only survive each other’s company for a short time, which they had already exceeded on this trip. Needing some space, John found himself in a bar. Martha was there on a blind date.

However, the date had not gone well. The guy had been a scumbag of a lawyer and was so full of himself, he barely even noticed when she had gone to the bathroom. Instead of returning to the table, she found herself at the restaurant bar and, somehow, they started talking.

They never agreed on how the conversation started. Years later, Martha still claimed it started with John mocking her shoes…a pair of hot pink heels. According to him, he said no such thing, but had seen her in the mirror and walked up behind her, telling her beautiful women weren’t allowed to cry. It was the law.

Sure, he may have eventually said something like that, but it had all started with the shoes.

Sometimes being there during the hard times makes for the best relationships. When her lawyer “friend” eventually found her, John was quick to get rid of the guy. In return, she was there to listen to him complain about his father.

They made plans for the next two evenings, then he was gone, back on the road, and she went back to flying around the country. They talked, meeting periodically, finding that their jobs complimented each other. Whenever she knew she was going to be in a city for a while, he could set his home time for there and they would have the weekend together.

Within two years, they were married. A year after that, Matty was on the way, and six years later, she was still a stay-at-home mother. They had made enough from his job to get by, and the house payments weren’t too much. The plan had been for her to stay home for another year, then get back into sales locally. It wouldn’t pay as much, but she would be home every night, and he would still be home every other weekend.

Now, he was gone…

She wiped away the tears again and sniffed back the runny nose before looking at her reflection. She could hear Matty downstairs making his sandwich.

She knew she would find a mess in the kitchen…jelly would be all over the place, peanut butter on the floor. It didn’t matter how many times she showed him. There would always be the mess. She wouldn’t yell at him this time. It was time to tell him.

 

 

. . . .

 

 

She found the kitchen just as she thought she would, although the peanut butter on the seat of the chair was new. She wished she had seen it before sitting down. She had to work to control her anger when she stood back up and could feel the stickiness on the seat of her pants.

Another time, she probably would have laughed it off, especially if it had happened to John. She could imagine them all laughing at how absurd it was, maybe even having a little peanut butter food fight. In the end, they would all be covered in peanut butter and jelly.

However, the fantasy didn’t match the reality. Had it really happened to John, there would have been yelling, Matty would have had to clean up the mess, then be sent to his room where he would pout and cry until supper. Still, the scene that played out in her head was a good daydream, one she wanted to keep and hold onto for a while.

“I’m sorry, Mommy,” Matty said for the second time. She hadn’t heard him at first, still caught in her own daydream. He probably thought he was in really big trouble.

“Don’t worry about it, hun,” she said, sitting back down. The damage was already done. She’d have to clean it later because she just didn’t feel like she could deal with it right now. “Come over here. I need to talk to you.”

He slipped off his chair and walked over, his half-eaten sandwich in hand. He had pieces of it around his mouth, and he smelled like he had bathed in it as he neared. Once he was within range, she grabbed him and pulled him up onto her lap.

“I need to talk to you about Daddy.”

“Okay. He said he’s going to be here for my birthday party tomorrow.”

“I know, but-”

“And you said Aunt Lucy is bringing Tommy and Michael, and you invited Danielle and Luke from school, right? It should be a great party. You remembered about the cake, right?”

As he kept going, she kept trying to interrupt. All he wanted to do was talk about his birthday party tomorrow night.

“Matty.” He finally stopped and looked at her. “Your dad’s not going to make it to the party tomorrow night.”

“Yes, he is. He promised.”

“I know, but you know how there were times when he said he’d be home and then something happened and he wasn’t able to make it?”

“But he’s going to make it this time. He told me.”

“I know he promised, but something happened and Daddy’s not going to make it.” She was working her way towards it, first trying to get him to not blame his father for not being there. Then maybe she could wait to tell him the rest until after the party, let him have his birthday without the knowledge that his father was never coming home.

When she looked down to meet those eager eyes, she didn’t see the crying or upset boy she expected. Matty was a bright kid. He had to understand what she was trying to tell him.

“You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”

“I do, but you’re wrong.”

“I’m sorry, hun, but I’m not. Daddy won’t make it home for your birthday.”

“But when did you last talk to him?”

She felt his question stab through her, having to sniffle back the sudden urge to give into the tears. Closing her eyes, she counted back from ten to get herself under control.

“Matty, he’s not coming home.”

“But, Mom, you’re wrong. I just talked to him. He said he’ll be home tonight. He misses us and can’t wait to get home.”

 

 

. . . .

 

 

Martha had been doing the laundry when she got the call. It was Friday. John should have been home late that night, so she wanted to have all the clothes done beforehand so she could do his on Saturday.

He always came home with two weeks’ worth. Although he usually fussed about trying to do it himself, she liked doing it for him. While some stank to high heaven, they all bore his scent and, well… It gave her some time with him while he slept.

He would always sleep in late that first day, and while she enjoyed sharing the bed, she was used to sleeping alone and found it hard. She often got up early. Doing his laundry was her way to be with him and not be with him at the same time.

She was lost in piles of Matty’s socks, taking her time to pull them inside out because the boy could never take them off correctly, when the house phone rang. At first, she ignored it, knowing that a call at this time of day would probably be some telemarketer. It was so much easier just to let the machine pick it up. If it were important, they would call on her cell.

As soon as the house phone quit ringing, her cell started. While the landline was in the kitchen, the cell was sitting on top of the dryer. She didn’t recognize the number, but the display said it was someone in Virginia.

“Hello?”

“Ms. Miller?”

“Yes. Can I help you?”

“May I ask your first name?”

“Martha.” She paused, not wanting to give out any information without first knowing who was calling. However, the guy on the other end already knew her last name, probably knowing her first.

“Hello, Martha. This is Deputy Taggard of the Virginia Highway Patrol.”

She heard the soft timber of his voice, but barely understood what he was saying. After she heard he was from the highway patrol, it was hard to focus.

When she hung up, she found herself sitting on the floor, the vibration of the dryer on her back. The deputy had given her the number of the medical examiner in her county who would talk to her if she needed. Right now, all she felt was the urge to curl up on the floor and pull herself as close to the dryer as she could get.

John was dead. He hadn’t killed anyone in the accident, which was a good thing, but the deputy had hinted that it had been his fault. He was driving past the time on his logs, running on coffee and uppers to keep his wheels moving, but it hadn’t been enough. He had fallen asleep and driven off a bridge.

She knew there had to be more to it than that. John was a good driver and he wouldn’t fake his logs. Sure, he would push himself every now and then, but it was usually just to get to a truck stop to shut down. He had never gone beyond his limits. He was much too safe for that.

But what did it matter? He was gone, and she didn’t know what she was going to do now. What was her life without him?

 

 

. . . .

 

 

“What do you mean you just talked to him?” Martha asked, wiping bread crumbs from Matty’s cheek. When she met his eyes, he smiled.

“He called, Mommy. I talked to him. He said to tell you he’d be home late. He misses us and can’t wait to get home.”

“Mathew…” She opened her mouth, but the words escaped her. They were trapped around her heart and clutching at her chest. Mathew, your dad is gone and never coming back. Why was that so hard to say?

She knew why as she looked into those large, round, innocent eyes that put the weight of the world on her shoulders. How could you destroy his childhood, taking away his happiness? Yes, she wanted to put it off until after his birthday, but it was still going to shatter him.

“Matty, something happened to your father. He was driving and there was … there was an accident.” Her voice caught and she tripped over her words, but there it was. She had finally gotten it out. She watched him as he looked at her. She expected tears, but his brows raised in question. He didn’t understand.

She had to wipe away the tears from her own eyes before she continued.

“He was hurt badly, and he won’t be coming home.”

“But he will, Mom. He called me.”

Why had they never allowed Matty to have a pet? This would be so much easier to talk about had she already had to explain about the death of a pet.

She could tell him the same thing her mother had said to her when she was young, but her mom was a devout Catholic. Martha hadn’t stepped foot in a church in nearly ten years. She wanted to say, “Matty, your dad is up in heaven now,” but she couldn’t. It would be like telling him that daddy was off with Santa Claus, like a fairy tale.

“Matty, Daddy died. You know, like…” Her mind was blank. Hadn’t they watched a thousand cartoons? There had been families dealing with death in a few of those, but why was it so hard to remember any of them now?

She remembered a lion. That was relevant, but why? Then it came to her.

“Remember how Simba’s father died and went up to the clouds?”

“Yes.”

“When Daddy had his accident, he died. He’s up in the clouds now.” She hated lying to him, but how else do you explain death to a six-year-old?

She watched Matty to see if he understood. He still looked confused and wasn’t getting sad like he should. Was that shock? Had she traumatized him that much?

“Matty?”

He looked at her, the confused expression falling away. He smiled. “What?”

“Do you understand?”

“I understand, Mommy, but you’re wrong. He just called and I talked to him. He said he had an accident, but was okay and running late. He apologized for not being here and said he’ll be home late tonight. He really misses us.”

Martha looked up from her son’s eyes and used the palm of her hand to wipe away more tears, sniffling. She knew this would be hard, but he was making it impossible.

As she looked around the kitchen, she noticed the phone was off the cradle and sitting by the open jar of peanut butter. The smudges of peanut butter and jelly around the receiver were visible from across the room.

“Matty, could you bring me the phone, please?”

He slipped off her lap and ran to the phone, bringing it back to her. She was starting to wonder if maybe the state police had it wrong. Could John have survived the accident? The deputy had sounded so sure, and the details she had been given of the accident made it sound like they had a definite confirmation that he had been in the truck.

Could they have been wrong?

She scrolled through the received calls with a flutter of hope that maybe he had called. What should she be looking for? It wouldn’t be his cell because that was with the police, so she would have to look for calls from Virginia numbers.

There weren’t any. There were no Virginia numbers, no calls from out of state, and no calls from numbers she didn’t know, other than the one from the deputy. There had also been no incoming call after her mother called early that morning. The phone had been quiet ever since.

She looked back at Matty, who was smiling.

“See, Mom. Daddy’s coming home.”

 

 

. . . .

 

 

After that, she let the subject drop and carried on as the day passed. She tried to keep busy, always working to think of other things, but there were momentary lapses when John would sneak into her thoughts. She would be putting away a dish and come across his “Handsome Devil” coffee mug, or she would walk out to the garage and see his motorcycle. It was almost the time of year when he would take her out and she would feel the wind through her hair.

Later, as she was doing laundry, she came across one of his favorite shirts…an old, well-worn ’85 Chicago Bears shirt with many holes. He loved that shirt and wore it often. She hadn’t washed it yet, putting it to the side.

After she tucked Matty in for the night, she put John’s pillow into the shirt, using it like a pillowcase, then cuddled up to it. She could smell him, the slight linger of diesel fuel mixed with mild sweat and his deodorant, which she always said smelled like pineapples.

Her room was dark, the night quiet. It took her some time before she finally drifted off into a restless sleep.

 

. . . .

 

She didn’t know if it were a dream remnant or if she actually heard the winding down whine of a diesel engine as it downshifted through the gears. She grabbed tighter to his pillow, pulling it deeper into her bosom. His essence wrapped around her, and she could feel the shirt moisten from her tears.

“Why did you leave me?” she whispered into the cold, dark room.

When she heard the gravel crunch under the tires of a vehicle pulling into their driveway, her eyes flew open and she jumped out of bed much faster than her sleep rattled brain could take. She felt the wave of dizziness as she hurried to the window, fighting to keep upright. She found the curtains and pulled them aside, expecting to see his rig pulling in.

Maybe it was all a mistake. Maybe he actually was coming home and would be there for Matty’s birthday. She could run downstairs, wrap her arms around him, and give him the best kiss since their wedding. Maybe it would even be a little better. A kiss after he returned from the dead.

But no one was there. The driveway was empty, other than her own car parked near the house. There was no semi working its way up the long driveway.

She realized that she didn’t hear the semi or the crunching gravel anymore. The night had gone quiet, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

Sighing, she walked back to the bed, falling into it, looking at the bedside clock. It was almost three in the morning. She wasn’t sure if she would even be able to get back to sleep, and if she did, it would almost be time to get up again to get a jump on the day.

There was still so much to do. Sure, the cake was already baked, but she still had to decorate. There were all the balloons to put around the house, and she wanted most, if not all, the decorations up before Matty woke up and came downstairs.

Much to her surprise, she did slip back into sleep.

 

 

. . . .

 

 

Her eyes flew open with the sound of the crashing door, and she barely had any time to prepare before Matty flew onto her bed and into her arms. He was crying, sobbing hard, and when she wrapped him in her arms, she could feel him trembling.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” she asked, running her hands though his hair. She looked at the clock. It had just turned three. She had only been back to sleep maybe ten minutes.

“Daddy’s home,” Matty said through his tears. “Daddy’s a monster.” He went into a new set of trembles, grabbing her harder.

“Hun, I told you. Daddy’s gone.”

“You said Daddy was dead.”

“Yes, Daddy passed away.”

“But he’s here, Mommy, and he’s a monster.”

“Oh, Matty.” She pulled him closer. “It’s all okay. No one is going to hurt you. It was just a bad dream. Okay?” Matty nodded, but he didn’t relax his breathing. Whenever his grasp started to relax, he quickly reached out to get another strong grip on her.

She stroked his hair. She should have realized he would have nightmares, and should have suggested he sleep with her, at least for the next couple of nights until he started to get a grip on it.

Suddenly, Martha heard something creak outside her door. It sounded like someone walking along the hard wood had stepped onto the soft spot. What if someone were in the house? Maybe that was what woke Matty up and had him thinking it was John?

She had the revolver in the gun safe in the closet, but that was too far away. She would make too much noise if she got up and went to it. Of course, there was another option. When John had suggested it to her, it seemed silly and childish, but it was safer than an unsecured gun in the house.

While she kept Matty tight to her chest, she leaned over and reached into the night table and pulled out the pellet gun, aiming it at the door. In the light of day, she doubted anyone would ever mistake it for a real gun, but in the dark, she was confident it would scare the hell out of anyone trying to get at them.

When she heard the footsteps getting closer, her breath caught in her chest, and Matty whimpered.

“Daddy’s here,” he whispered, crying, “and he’s a monster.”

The door slowly swung open, creaking as a cold gust of air rushed in. In the doorway, a shape stood. In the moonlight streaming through the window, she could make out a faint outline. Somehow, she could tell it really was him. John really was standing there. She didn’t know how he had made it, but he had. He was there and had made it home just for them.

She pushed Matty a little to the side, wanting to rush to him and take him in her arms, but Matty wasn’t letting go. But it was John, her husband. She had to rush to him and welcome him home. Who knew what he had gone through to get there. She needed to comfort him.

He took a slow step forward, then another, dragging his right leg.

The light illuminated his legs first, making her see why he was dragging one behind him. Just below his pelvis, there was a long sheet of metal imbedded into his right leg. He shouldn’t even be able to stand, let alone walk.

She stopped trying to get up and pushed herself back on the bed, pulling Matty against her as she sat against the headboard.

“John?” Her voice was faint as she watched him approach.

“I…came…home…like…I…promised…” The voice sounded nothing like John’s, but she still knew it was him. He rasped and gurgled, each word sounding like painful torture as they worked themselves out.

When John took another step forward, more light hit him. She could see his shirt torn in many places, burned and dirty, metal fragments buried in the fabric, the burned impression of a steering wheel across his chest.

She didn’t have to see the rest of him to know. She didn’t know how he made it home, but he had…although he really was dead. She didn’t know how she could handle this.

Close your eyes. Don’t look, said a voice in her head, and she knew she should listen. He was about to step closer so she would see his face, see the confirmation. Her sanity would never be able to handle it, and Matty… What would it do to a six-year-old mind?

When he took a step forward, she saw what was left of his face, a sheet of glass cutting through half of it. Parts of skin were torn away. His teeth were exposed, much of his jaw missing. His left eye was gone just above where the glass had cut through. Most of his nose had fallen away, and there were cuts all over.

“Happ-”

When she noticed the sound came through a large gash in his throat, his mouth not moving, her screams were all she heard as she slipped away into her own darkness.

He had kept his promise. He made it home…just not alive.

The Rest Area

Now available in the Library…
“The Rest Area”

Published by

Breaking Fate Publishing

© 2017 by Breaking Fate Publishing Publishing

All Rights Reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.  Please purchase only authorized electronic and print editions, and do not participate in or encourage any form of piracy of copyrighted materials.  Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Please visit us online at http://breakingfatepublishing.com
“Death at Germantown” is available for purchase as a Kindle Single and in Audio
“Death at Germantown” is also featured in the Last Exit anthology.

Edited by Kim Young
Cover Art & Design by Jason R. Davis
Copyright © 2017

*********************

Light pooled below the yellow incandescent bulb; it was barely enough to light all the way down the bleak wooden pole.  Alone, isolated, only a small moth flew around it, slamming into the warm sun-like glow, and bouncing off from the heat.  The moth, never learning the tale of Icarus and never learning from its own flight, continued to get too close to its own sun.

The single streetlight in the small rest area was not enough to light the surrounding area, but it was the only one there.  Darkness surrounded it, making the little building tucked back near the woods feel that much more like a small shack that time forgot and civilization ignored.

Randy could care less or give two shits about it.  He saw the sign, an arrow and the words that said “Rest Area”, and he was quickly downshifting.  The roar of the engine announced to all life nearby that he was coming in.  He came in fast, breaking hard, trying to slow down to slightly less than a reckless speed as he whipped it in.

The rest area was small.  He had seen that from the highway but, as he was navigating his big rig down the narrow entry ramp, he saw just how small it was.  There wasn’t anything there.  He saw the light and the small road that had a little more gravel to its shoulder to accommodate for parking a single rig.  Thank God no one else had been parked there for the night or he wouldn’t have been able to stop.

He pulled the truck over.  The hiss of the air brakes releasing was a loud “whoosh” in the silence, quickly followed by him opening his door and nearly jumping down from his seat.

Whoa.  Breathe, in and out, in and out.  Wha, wha wha, whoo.  Wha, wha, wha, whoo.  He felt like he was training some dumb broad for Lamaze class as he worked his lungs, keeping his stomach tight, clamping down on his ass.  His legs were straight, making him walk like something out of an old universal picture.  He was the Frankenshit, hurrying to an outhouse near you, trying to make it before that brown stain would creep down his pant leg.

He hadn’t even seen the little shack when he stopped, nor did he care.  He would just take a shit on the side of his truck if he had to and, with how damn dark it was out here, he doubted anyone would even catch him.  It always seemed so dark when you were this far north.  He didn’t know if it had something to do with all the damn trees, or that they just used cheap ass bulbs in their streetlights.  Outside of New York City, none of the northeast seemed to be well lit up.  Now, being only five miles from the Canadian border and driving up through Connecticut, it seemed to be as dark as the devil’s twat.

He made it across the little road, and had to waddle to step onto the curb.  Luckily, no cars had been rushing to get in because he wouldn’t have seen them coming and he doubted he could move out of the way.  He would just splatter on their windshield, becoming that brown streak running along their hood.

“Come on, baby. Just hold it in there a few more feet,” he muttered to himself, concentrating on his breaths as he said it.

The door was a dim outline in the low light, not even fitting snug in its frame.  Graffiti, which seemed strange so far north, was painted along the front of it, symbols that reminded him a lot of what he saw whenever he made it out to California.  What were gang signs doing all the way up here?  That didn’t make any sense.

He wasn’t going to dwell on it.  He reached forward to where he thought the door handle should be, the light barely showing more than vague shadows.  His hand found the cool metal and he pulled.  The door stayed closed.

“Come on!”  The fucking door was stuck.

He didn’t waste time looking at the door, but he did have an uneasy feeling around him.  Something was wrong, something didn’t fit.

He pushed the uneasiness away, allowing it to flow through him in a shiver that buckled his knees.  He steadied himself and pulled again, this time putting forth more effort.  There was a squeal of metal on metal as hinges that had long rusted closed protested.  As the wood rattled against itself, frame fighting against warped door, it finally let go with a crying scream of release.  He was forced back by the suddenness of it and the door, with the springs attached to it, quickly slammed itself shut.

He was able to stop himself from falling.  Damn, this place was really starting to get under his skin, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to be made a fool of by some damn door that –.

He closed his eyes and had to fight against the pain that ripped through his stomach.  It felt like a freight train wanted to barrel its way out his ass, and he had to fight it down, clamping his ass cheeks together to hold back the engine.  His body was trying to resist him.  He was going against nature and it wanted no part in it.  His stomach screamed for him to just release it, to let the pain end. No way!

Just breathe, one…two…just continue to control that breathing.  Keep that flood of shit from spraying down your leg.  Just breathe.

He heard a groan from the pit of his stomach, and could feel the tension release.  It was a reprieve.  He didn’t have long, though.

He rushed over to the door and yanked hard. This time, it gave quickly.  His forward momentum propelled him into the bathroom, and he felt like a bull leading a charge as he barreled in.

It was dark, lit only by a single bulb in the center of the room.  Shadows loomed in the corners, and he could see that there were two stalls.  At one time, the doors may have been painted white, but now they were a dark brown with spots of black here and there. They also sported the same graffiti that was outside.  He quickly went into the handicapped stall and slammed the door.  It barely fit and he had to force it closed, but he didn’t bother latching it.  Hell, it took him so much to close it that he doubted the latch would have worked anyway.

The relief that went through him was wonderful.  It felt like a dam broke loose and he could just feel the pain forced out of him.  The demon exercised itself, and sweat beaded across his forehead.  The room around him suddenly felt like it was on fire.

He closed his eyes and let his head rest against the cool wood of the stall wall.  It was a rough surface and he doubted it was as cold as it felt but, right then, it was like a little heaven on earth.

He had made it. He didn’t care how long he sat there, he just relished in the absence of the pain that had been seizing at him.  There was only an emptiness that was so pleasant it could be mistaken for pleasure.  It was an absence of the pain, and it was wonderful.

He kept his eyes closed for what seemed like most the night, just relishing in his head touching the cool stall wall.

Time seemed to lose itself, and his mind just wanted to swirl around him.  Thoughts came, some reminding him that he had a load sitting out there, and he should be hurrying up and getting back on the road.  Others nagged at him about what he had seen out of the corner of his eye on the way in.  It really was a beautiful night, though it would have been nice if there had been a moon to help give the area some more light.  It was just so dark up here.

It sure had been quiet.  He had vaguely noticed it, largely because of how loud he had been and how the door had slammed shut.  His surroundings just seemed to swallow the noise.  There had been no echo, but there had been no other sounds, either.  He knew he was only a few miles from a small town.  There had to be houses nearby, and one of them had to have a dog.  There should be some kind of barking to acknowledge the noise he was making.

What about bugs?  He wasn’t sure if there were locusts local to the area but, being from the Midwest, he was used to their endless droning whine…the ins and outs, highs and lows as they buzzed through the hours of the day and night.  Was there really nothing like that out here?  He highly doubted it.  He had been out on the east coast plenty of times.  He never came this far north all that often, but he was still near enough that it couldn’t be all that different.  There were birds.  There should be some chirping or something.

Wasn’t this the year he had read about some big migration of bugs?  It was supposed to be some epidemic of massive proportions, enough to throw the whole east coast biosphere out of whack or some crazy shit like that.  Those things were supposed to be noisemakers, too, right?  Didn’t they have some kind of racket they made?

However, when he had gotten out of his truck, it had been silent.  Not just a little silent, or the occasional creature making a noise.  The area had been like a vacuum; there hadn’t been anything.  Even the noise from the interstate seemed to have disappeared.  It was like he was gone from it all.

Something wasn’t right.  He had a vague sensation that his head was growing heavy.  Something just wasn’t right about this.  He tried to think about what it was, but his thoughts drifted and shifted, and he couldn’t seem to focus them.

He pulled his head up and looked around the shitter walls and the door.  He had thought that it had once been white–with the little light, it had looked that way–but now it looked darker.  He saw a tint to it, like it had actually once been red, was painted white, left to fade, and was now going a dirty brown because of the mold and shit that was allowed to coat it.

More graffiti signs and words covered over the faded inner walls.  There were scratches all over it, but on top of it all in large sharpie print were the words, “Yuz gonna die”.

He let a smile touch his lips.  However, his guts were already twisting and he was afraid that round two might be eminent.  The revelation on the wall, the words telling him he was going to die, didn’t help to keep it in.

He looked closer.  Under the words, he could see hundreds of tally marks.  They were haphazardly drawn down the face of the wall.  Every once in a while, there would be a name scratched into the wood.  None of these names looked like they were done by the same hand…some were done with shaking hands; some looked like they had been done with a quick scratch of a pen; others were deep, with long gouged strokes to indicate they were done with a knife.  All the names were crossed off with what looked like the same tool that had cut in the tally marks, and some of the names had dates next to them.

He saw one, Simon Parker, with today’s date.

He looked at the name and found himself reaching out to touch it, but he couldn’t because the door was too far back from the toilet. He saw that his hand was outstretched and realized what he was doing.  What did it matter if some asshole had decided to write their name up on the shitter’s wall?  It’s not like it was something he wanted to do.  He would never desecrate something that would make some other underpaid asshole have to come in there and paint back over it.  However, looking at the wall, it didn’t look like anyone had been in to paint over that mess in quite a while.

Time to get this done and get back on the road.  He reached over and stopped.  Where the toilet paper should’ve been, there was a hole and what looked like someone’s eye looking at him.

“Hey!” he yelled.  He hadn’t heard anyone come in.  He didn’t know how someone could be over there without him having heard it.

The eye blinked and then moved away from the hole.

“Hey, asshole!  Enjoy the fucking view?!” Randy said into the silence.  He quickly grabbed for wads of toilet paper.  Some asshole was over there, taking perverted looks at him.  Somebody just crossed over a line.  Fucking looking in at him while he was taking a shit.  Who the hell does that?!  Someone who wants to be beaten to a bloody pulp, that’s who.

He reached back for more paper, looking away from the hole in the wall for the first time, and looking down at where he was grabbing.  Then he looked past his hand and down at the tiled floor.  A dark liquid was coming from the stall next to him.

“Oh, come on!” he yelled and pounded his fist on the wall.  “What the hell you doing over there?!  Shitting on the floor?!”

He looked down at the mess that was creeping towards his boots.  Great, now he was going to have shit water all over him.  He was going to be walking around, touching the pedals of his truck with shit boots.  It didn’t matter if he washed that crap off.  He’d still know.  He’d be thinking about it weeks later.  He’d have to pick something up from his floorboards that fell down there, and he’d remember that he touched there with shit boots.

He tried to pull his feet back as far as he could.  The shit water wasn’t moving that fast.  In fact, it was slow, sluggish, not like how water would move.  This was much slower and just seemed to seep its way across the tile.

Then he heard something hit the floor.  It rolled under the stall door, like someone had gently tossed it, bouncing up slightly as its nose hit tile and then the head spun around to face him.

Randy heard the splatter, as his stomach released what remained inside of him.  It twisted, he could feel puke threatening to race up his throat.  His stomach had already gotten rid of everything, but that didn’t stop his body from wanting to throw up so he dry heaved. All of him just wanted to be sick.

The head’s eyes were looking up at him, but it was upside down.  It was…put together wrong.  The mouth, which was open in shock, was in the forehead!  He could tell it was a younger guy, probably around his early twenties.  He had an earring in his ear, and was probably one of them New York fags on his way to Canada or some shit.

It doesn’t matter.  The man wasn’t going to get where he was going because he was missing something.  Where was his body?  That’s probably where all the blood was coming from.

Was there still someone over there?

Randy quickly looked over at the hole, scared that he would see the eye looking back at him.  He didn’t see anything so the man must be out in the urinal area, waiting for him.

He looked at the door, not wanting to think about what waited out there for him.  What was the man killing with?  Images of all kinds of horror movies flooded his mind.  He was never a big fan, didn’t watch them all that often, but he still knew enough to be familiar with Jason and the like.  What did they use?  There was that chainsaw one, then the machete, the butcher’s knife, and many other kinds of instruments.

What would he use to cut a man’s head off?  He didn’t know because he wouldn’t do that crazy ass shit.  He couldn’t ever see himself killing someone but, if he ever wanted to, he’d just pull out his .38 and shoot the sonofabitch.  He wouldn’t be taking a machete and chopping heads off.

He remembered a name and a date.  Simon Parker and under it was today’s date.  He looked back down at the head.

“Guess that’s you.  Tough break,” he said under his breath, looking at the head.  The blood was around his boots now.  It ran up against the basin of the toilet, and he could see the red color as it moved along the white smooth surface.

He’d run full speed, rush the door, and get the hell out of there.  He’d make it to his truck and, if something followed him, he would reach inside, grab his gun out from under his seat and the special compartment he personally configured there, and shoot the asshole.

Yeah, his fat ass was going to outrun someone.

You bet your ass you are because if you don’t, you won’t be getting that cake at your next birthday, he thought.

He looked down at the pants around his ankles.  He was going to have to pull them up quick and slam the door.  The door swung inwards, but that didn’t matter.  The hinges were small and weak, and the wood looked old so it should just bust when he ran into it.  Then he’d hit low, like the good ol’ football days from nearly thirty years ago, and take out whoever was waiting for him.

He reached and grabbed, mentally and physically preparing himself.  He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, holding it.

In the stall next to him, he can hear what sounds like little whispers, but he can’t understand what they’re saying.  It doesn’t matter; he can’t think about that.

Go! He mentally screamed.  He propelled himself up and lifted his pants up in one motion, not worrying about clasping them closed, and slams into the door, putting all his weight and momentum into it.  There’s a loud snap and the hinges pop, the wood of the door barely slowing him.

Don’t stop, keep moving, he kept saying to himself.  He had to fight the urge to look around, to see what was around him.  He had to move carefully as his boots wanted to slip on the blood soaked tile.  Midwestern winters and running on ice helped him as he ran.

Don’t look, just don’t look.

He wanted to.  He wanted to turn and see it; he wanted to look in the mirror as he was passing it; he wanted to see who was back there, see what they had done with the body.  It was some sick fascination, but he didn’t know why.  It must have been that human nature, the one that caused people to slow down and gawk at nasty wrecks on the road when they went by.  He wanted to know–.

Just a little further.  You’re almost to the door, he chanted to himself, over and over.  He had to keep going, push himself.

He slammed into the door…and came to a dead stop.  The door held in its frame.

Behind him, he heard a crash come from the other stall.  He chanced a look at the mirror, and saw that its door burst outwards and Simon Parkers body had been flung out.  The body was nude and cut to shreds, with flesh dangling.

Randy turned back to the door and slammed his weight into it.  This time he could hear the warped door protest against the frame.

“Fuck” he yelled, as he stepped back and came at the door again.  He had to get out of there.

He slammed into it and, with a loud squeal, it opened and released him.  He stumbled through it.  He was out, but now he had to get to his truck.

He staggered a few steps towards the sidewalk, and stopped.  The sidewalk, everything, was gone!

He looked around, but there wasn’t anything in front of him.  It was all just darkness, like the world just dropped off after a couple more feet.

He turned around and saw that the building was still there, but the woods beyond it were gone.  There was him, the building, and then nothing.

No, that wasn’t right.  He had heard something else, and it was still in there.  It was crashing its way towards him.  He could hear it.  It was like the locusts back home, but louder and deeper.  It was as though one of those locusts was ten times its normal size.

That alone was enough to send shivers down his spine, but he could feel his knees give out when he heard an answering call from the darkness around him.  It wasn’t just one, but many.  They were there in the darkness, and it sounded like thousands of them.  They droned on, in and out, high and low.  The sound moved around him and with that low deep base of their call, he could feel it growing in his chest.  The sound, the pulsating noise, seemed to take over his heart.  He tried to fight and keep it on his own rhythm, but he could feel it dwindling to match their slow melody.

Then, the one that had been in the bathroom came to stand in the door and he finally saw it.  It was tall and slender; its legs came to points that seemed to step down into the cracks of the tile; its arms weren’t arms, but what looked like knives that dripped crimson.  Then he looked at what was probably his face.  It was long, with what looked like a jaw coming halfway down its torso.

It stepped forward, coming towards him.  Once it fully emerged from the door, it folded out its wings.  It grew to its full height, and towered over him.  He had no way to compare how tall it was, but it seemed like it had doubled in size.  It came towards him, and he couldn’t do it.  He couldn’t stay there.

“No, no, no, no!” he said, stepping back.  He realized that he had reached the edge, but he didn’t hesitate.  He continued to step back.

He felt like he was falling for a brief moment before the first sensation of pain cut through him.  He knew that they’d be swarming around him, that they wouldn’t let him get away.  He just hoped that wherever he was falling would kill him fast.

The Revolutionary’s War: Death at Germantown

“Death at Germantown” featured in a special holiday episode of Weird Darkness. Watch now as this historical horror fiction comes to life…

Let me start out by thanking Darren Marlar when he decided to do a special holiday episode of #WeirdDarkness. He contacted me yesterday as he was recording DEATH AT GERMANTOWN for the upcoming Last Exit audiobook release and fell in love with the story. He wanted to know if it would be okay to include it in this special holiday episode commemorating the birth of the United States. How could I say no to that?

I hope that everyone enjoys this short story, which I will be including in the library of this site later this weekend if you find the audio version too intense. This title is available at a part of Last Exit, now for sale in Print and Kindle and soon to be available in audiobook.

Death at Germantown is now available as a Kindle Single if you would just like the short story by itself to be a part of your Kindle Library.

Beware the spiders…

***** CAUGHT IN THE WEB only 99 cents this week! *****
“The newest book by Jason Davis strikes all the right chords. Here Mr Davis channels Stephen King and the dark apocalypse of The Stand and Cormac McCarthy.” – Amazon Reviewer
On Sale this week, get your copy of Caught in the Web for only 99 cents.
“Better Than The First One” – Ursula Raphael
Caught in the Web

In the morning, the invisible spiders had hatched and had spread. Now the small town of Hammond is under quarantine and the inhabitants are fighting to survive. They face something they can’t see, and no one, not even the military has answers. They just know they must escape before it’s too late. They must stop themselves from being caught in the web.
“As the second book in the series, I fully expected to not understand characters and their relationships and grasp the current situation. I have to say, this is one of the few books that I’ve read as part of a series without reading the previous installments first that actually made sense.” – Goodreads Reviewer
Get your copy today!
https://www.amazon.com/Caught-Web-Invisible-Spiders-Book-ebook/dp/B00TMMDP36 
Enjoyed the print or ebook version? Get the audible copy read by Darren Marlar at a reduced price with the kindle purchase.
Audible

https://www.audible.com/pd/Fiction/Caught-in-the-Web-Audiobook/B012GSYL6C

Roadside Assistance

Published by

Breaking Fate Publishing

© 2017 by Breaking Fate Publishing Publishing

  

All Rights Reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.  Please purchase only authorized electronic and print editions, and do not participate in or encourage any form of piracy of copyrighted materials.  Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Please visit us online at http://breakingfatepublishing.com
“Roadside Assistance” is available for purchase as a Kindle Single and in Audio
“Roadside Assistance” is also featured in the Last Exit anthology.

Edited by Kim Young
Cover Art & Design by Jason R. Davis
Copyright © 2017

******************************

The world around him was a dark place, lost in an endless nothingness of gray.  Miles of road had faded away and vanished beyond the short glow of his headlights, but the fog never seemed to end.  Yellow lines flew by on his left, coming from nowhere and disappearing behind him.  The white line to his right was a steady beacon that guided him and kept him on the right path.  Neither could be seen for more than a couple of feet beyond the hood of his truck.

The fog seemed to stretch on forever, and he had no idea how many hours he’d been captured in it.  Curves in the road would suddenly appear and try to catch him off-guard.  They would twist left, then right and, before he realized it, he would be going up another hill.  His truck would accept the challenge of the harsh rise in the earth, and he could hear the roar of the diesel engine growling under his feet.

The latest hill was a long stretch that curved in and out.  His engine was fighting with fury as the RPM’s slowly lowered, until it could go no further without shuddering.  With the engine screaming, he downshifted so the higher gear was released, and there was the quick grab as the lower gear engaged.  The engine steadied, and he continued up the rise.

His speedometer showed that he was now down to thirty miles per hour.  Even at that speed and with the weight in the trailer behind him, it was a fight just to keep the large truck on the road.  His 8-speed transmission, along with the low horsepower engine of the company truck, made the climb almost unbearable.  Even with the throttle open all the way, he was still inching along at a crawl.  He wondered if he’d be able to walk faster.

He reached forward and grabbed his coffee.  The taste was bitter and it had lost much of its heat.  He had filled the cup when he’d started out that morning, but the warm, soothing liquid had soured as it cooled.  He put it back into the holder, and rested his hand back on the gear shift.

He hoped that the mountain would crest soon so he’d be able to shift back into higher gear.

He could feel sleep crusting at the corners of his eyes.  The night seemed like it would last forever, and the fog made the road disappear into nothing.  Fog always felt like that to him.  Even if it was daytime, he’d have to fight to keep his eyes from betraying him.  However, they felt like they were more closed than open at night.

He wished he could just pull off somewhere, step back into the sleeper, and get a few additional hours of shut eye.  He had time so he could afford to do it, but it wasn’t time that kept him from pulling over.  No, it was the damned fog.

He wanted to stop at one of the little emergency pull-offs and tuck himself away because his eyes really needed it.  The lines were moving on him, swaying back and forth, making it harder for him to stay between them.  He would love to just pull off into the haze.  It seemed like it was calling to him, pulling at him.  Sleep was beckoning him and he desired it more than anything.

He just never saw any place to pull off in time for him to stop.  His load was too heavy, and it would take a lot of braking distance.  Being barely able to see past his hood, he wouldn’t be able to stop until he was long past the turn to any of the pull-offs.

Another one came and went, and he watched it pass with longing.  He never thought he could crave anything this badly; it was just sleep.  All he had to do was close his eyes and it would come; he’d be lost to it.

He knew that if he closed his eyes, he’d be dead.  If he was lucky, he’d only get himself killed.  All it would take would be for his eyes to stay closed too long, a gentle drift of the wheel, and he would either roll the truck or be barreling down the side of the mountain.  He knew that his rig would take out the guard rail like it wasn’t even there.  He was driving an eighty thousand pound missile, and the thin piece of metal guarding the side of the road would do little to stop it.

He finally reached the top of the long ascent, and the rig started to speed up because his foot still held the accelerator to the floor.  He got it to the right RPM’s and then slammed it into the next higher gear.  He shifted his way through the gears, getting back to speed now that he was on level ground.  When he finally reached his last gear, he could already feel the truck starting to head back down the hill.

With a flick of a switch, the engine brake roared to life, trying to slow his momentum.  Now, with the truck not going uphill, he had to fight it from going too fast on the downward slope.  His load was heavy, and his engine brake was calling out in frustration, trying to slow the truck down.   He wasn’t sure if he’d missed the sign or if this state just didn’t post the percentage of the grade, but he didn’t know how bad a fight he was in for.  The truck was already speeding faster than he would have liked, and he had no idea just how far the slope descended.

Maybe he would get lucky and it would be a short, straight hill and he’d have nothing to worry about.  His wife had always told him he needed to think more positively.  Maybe he would.  Maybe this hill would start a change in his life, a new him.  When he reached the bottom, he could call her and tell her everything was going to be okay.

His ex-wife.

Things weren’t okay.  They weren’t okay now, and they weren’t ever going to be okay.  A long way up usually meant a long way back down, and he had been climbing that hill for what seemed like an eternity.  In the fog, his perception of time was warped, but he was still pretty confident that it was a long drop.

The truck quickly pushed itself well past the speed he wanted her to go so John pressed down on the brake, but he didn’t want to push down too hard or too fast.  If the road turned out to be slicker than he’d thought, all it would take would be for the rig to slow down too fast before the air brakes on the trailer had even engaged.  Then the nightmare would truly begin.  The rig would jackknife, the trailer would slide down the road past his track and pull him into a spin.  It would be unrecoverable, and his life would be left to the fates. The semi would become deadly to any vehicle in its path.

If he was lucky, he would see the trailer sliding around him in time and would have two options.  He could try and save it by flooring it and trying to outrun the trailer.  He would be going at top speed down a mountain that he didn’t know and he’d still be a danger to those on the road, but he’d have a chance to regain control.  With any luck, he’d come to a runaway ramp and be able to turn off into it.  That way, he and his load would be saved.

There was still a lot of risk, though, and he could be speeding at 80 miles per hour or more.

The other option was sacrifice.  The moment he saw the trailer coming up alongside him in his side mirrors, he could crash the truck.  He could try going left into the median, but that would probably put him in a much faster spin. If he sacrificed himself by turning the wheel to the right, he would take out the rail, but no one else would get hurt…unless there was a house at the bottom of whatever mountain he was going down.

The brakes were a bad option unless he did it just right so, instead of applying hard pressure to slow his speed, he eased his foot down.  It took a second for the air to rush through the lines and the brakes to engage before he felt the rig slowing.  He counted to five, watching as the speedometer roughly matched him.  He slowed one mile per hour for every second he applied the brake.  Once he hit five, he let up on the pressure.

The truck quickly accelerated forward again, picking up speed like he had never even applied the brake.  The engine whined loudly, but John doubted that it could be heard far beyond the fog.  He was convinced that the fog muted sound as well as his sight.  It was easy to believe that he was the last man on earth.  Was he?  It had been so long since he had seen another vehicle.

Again, he pressed the brakes before the truck could gather too much speed, counted to five, and watched the speedometer fall.  He let up and, again, the truck lurched faster down the mountain.

He should have started his descent in a lower gear, he thought.  He knew better.  In this weather, he never should have tried to get the truck back up near the speed limit.  Because he didn’t know how bad the downgrade was going to be, he should have been in a lower gear.  It was stupid to act like everything was fine and he could just float down the hill.  It wasn’t like he was hauling a light load.  No, he was nearly overweight.  There was no way he could take too large of a downgrade without having to take off down a runaway ramp at some point.

He also couldn’t keep applying his brakes this heavily.  He was getting back up to speed nearly as fast as he was taking his foot off the brake.  His brakes would be smoking soon but, if he was lucky, they wouldn’t catch fire. In a way, he’d be lucky if the flames leapt out, blew one or more of the tires, and that would be the end of it.

What did he have left anyway?  Christine?  How long ago was it that she told him she didn’t ever want to see him again?  Two weeks? Or had it been three that he had come home and found her in his bed with another man?  He’d come home and caught her, yet she still had the audacity to kick him out of their house.

He knew it was because she blamed him.  Somehow, somewhere through the years, her love for him had soured into hatred.  He had seen it in her eyes as she screamed at him and chased him out, as though he had been the intruder.

The image of the two of them together still lingered in his mind.  First, she looked at him like a trapped animal.  Then her face changed, and he had seen the hurt in her eyes.  Somewhere inside, he knew that she still loved him, but that hadn’t been enough for her.  She had needed something else, and she hadn’t been getting it from him. The look had been replaced with one of satisfaction, then cold hate.  All the years of their life together had shown through in that instant, and he knew that they were done.

He didn’t want to think about it and, right now, he sure as hell didn’t want the images to invade his concentration.

He let his boot off of the brake, not sure if he could see a flicker of light in his mirror.   With the fog, he had no way of seeing the back lights of the trailer.  If it was sliding around him, he wouldn’t see it until it was too late.

“Fuck it,” he said to the empty truck.

He kept his foot off the brake, and he quickly picked up speed.  He could feel the truck becoming a weapon that, if he decided to target it, he wasn’t one hundred percent sure he had enough control left to aim.

He wouldn’t aim it, though.  He was just tired.  He felt like he just wanted to be done.  He just wanted to let his head fall forward and stay there, his eyes close and stay closed.  He wanted the nothingness, the void outside, to suck him up.

Suddenly, he felt the ground beneath him change.  His descent was slowing.  His speed was still excessive, but was no longer increasing.

His eyes grew heavier.  He hadn’t realized just how much the acceleration had actually revived him.  He reached for his coffee, and again tasted the acrid flavor of what had once been a rich, full-bodied extreme blend from one of the truck stops.  Extreme blend was such a joke.  It would get his heart racing like it was going to explode, but his eyelids would still feel like they were tied to anvils.

The truck reached the speed limit, and he allowed his foot to move back to the gas pedal.  He wasn’t going back up another hill, which was good.

He thought maybe he should just pull off to the shoulder for a while.  He could sleep fifteen minutes.  That would be enough to keep him going.  He just needed a quick power nap.  He could even stay in his seat.

He glanced along the side of the road.  His weariness hungered for rest; it was a tiger wanting to be fed.  He wanted nothing but to fall into a quick coma.

He could, too.  The shoulder had become wide enough for him to pull off.  He doubted any state patrols would stop by in this fog, and he wouldn’t be there long.  Why not?

Why?  For the same reason that he never allowed himself to park on the shoulder when he was tired…because if he did and some idiot happened to hit him, he was still at fault.  Even parked along the side of the road, the truck driver was always at fault. The other driver could be asleep at the wheel or just a bad driver, but the truck driver was always to blame.  If he was lucky, there were no injuries.  Injuries meant criminal charges; deaths meant involuntary homicide, if the driver had a record.  It wasn’t fair, but it was the life of a truck driver.

Drivers lived with the constant fear of mistreatment by the law.  They were always targeted by either a patrol officer who had a chip on his shoulder, or someone out to make their unofficial quota for the month.

John was thankful for the anger that was starting to push back some of the drowsiness.  While distracting him from the road, his thoughts made the weariness lift a little, and he could think about some of the wrongs they had done him.  He could think of why he had to be working for the company he was with now, and that was because of his high CSA score with the DOT.

Who were they to get on him for his past?  Some pieces of it he hadn’t even thought of in years.  Why should they come back to haunt him all this time later?

The company he was forced to work for now, one of the few that didn’t look too closely at driving records and infractions, was also the company that was pushing him to go far beyond what his body was telling him he could handle.

He wiped his eyes of some of the sleep that had crusted there.  He knew it would be back soon, but he wiped it away anyway.  He wanted the sleep gone, he wanted his life gone, he wanted–.

He pulled his hand away from his eyes just in time to see the large alligator teeth standing tall across the lanes of the interstate, all twisted and gnarled shapes of rubber and metal that would bite into his own tires and tear them to shreds.  He didn’t have much time to react, and there wasn’t much he could do anyway.  The blown tire in the road was fresh and if he hit it wrong, his own tires might go.  He wasn’t too worried about the tires on his cab, they could take the punishment, but the tires on the trailer would barely pass an inspection.  They were already filled with notches, and the tread on them was barely at the legal minimum.  If they hit the debris directly, who could say if they would blow? It wasn’t a chance he wanted to take.

He swerved to the right, trying to keep an eye on his trailer.  He didn’t have much time.  He knew that if he was going to keep the tires from hitting the warped rubber and metal in the road, he had to get as far over onto the shoulder as he could.  The debris was covering both lanes so there was no point in trying to go to the left. Even though he had the road all to himself, his instinct was always to go right.  It was precaution.  If he did go left and someone just happened to be passing him, he’d slam them into the median or, in a worst case scenario, send them spiraling into oncoming traffic.

He looked away from the mirror, not sure if he was going to miss the tire or not.  The fog stole his view of the rear of the trailer, and he wasn’t sure if he was going to miss it or not.  It looked like he should, but it was hard to tell.

“Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!”

He turned his gaze forward and glanced at the shoulder, just in time to see the source of the blown tire in the road…and he was heading right for it.  “Fuck!”

On the shoulder of the road was a large passenger bus, pulled off at a bad angle, its flashers trying to penetrate the fog.  They weren’t doing a good job, and he barely saw it in time to veer back to the left.

His right mirror clipped the back left corner of the bus, shattering.  Hundreds of little shards shot out in a whine of protest, as they left the frame of the mirror and crashed against the passenger window.  Little scratches formed a mosaic patchwork of the world outside, lasting for less than a second.  There was a loud crack, and he barely saw the mirror frame as it smashed into the window.  It suddenly became a spider web, barely able to hold itself together

He could hear the squeal as the corner of his trailer grazed the corner of the bus. The view to his left had disappeared.

With the window a mess and the mirror gone, he had no way of seeing how hard he was about to hit the bus.  He also had no way of knowing if his trailer was going to slide around him, jack-knifing along his flank.  If that happened, the bus would be lost because the trailer would slam against it and push it through the guard rail.

Another sound blasted into the morning air.  His imagination flared with the image of the bus falling, the thought that they were still on a mountain and that the bus was going over a great cliff.   In his mind’s eye, he saw the bus teeter back and forth on the edge for a few moments then, like some grotesque cartoon, slip over the edge.

The tractor made it back onto the road, but he still didn’t have much control over it.  He was turning the wheel frantically, now back to the right.  His foot was off the accelerator, and he had somehow remembered to switch off the engine brake.  Now he was easing it with the air brake, just putting slight pressure on it to keep from causing any more of a skid.

He chanced a look into the driver’s side mirror.  His trailer was still behind him, but it was swaying badly.  It was leaning to the left and looked like it was on the verge of tipping.  If it did that, the tractor would be taken with it and he’d have to rely on good luck to keep him from going over the edge of the shoulder.  The truck would be on its side, and he would be left to the fates until it eventually slid to a stop.

The shoulder past the bus was clear.  He had to fight the truck so he wouldn’t lose control or go over the side.  The road was slanting back up so his speed decreased greatly.  He was thankful that he could slow the truck down and inch up the slope.

The truck came to a stop.  The smell of burnt rubber and burning brakes filled his nostrils.  He didn’t let himself relax, though.  He quickly pulled the two knobs on the dash, and heard the air hiss as it escaped from the lines.  This allowed the parking brake to grab the rig and keep it from going back down the hill.

Then he was out the driver’s door and landing on the ground.  He hadn’t even tried to lower himself because he didn’t have time.  He had hit that bus, and his heart was racing with the thought of all those people falling in a twisted metal coffin of death.

His lungs burned and his chest felt like it wanted to collapse in on itself.  It hurt to breathe, and there were tears escaping the corners of his eyes.  He wasn’t sure if it was from the pain, the worry, or just from the exhaustion that was threatening to come back.

Part of him still felt like this may be a hallucination. The fog still pushed in from all around him; it felt like it was even in his mind.

Maybe he hadn’t even hit a bus.  Maybe he had imagined all of it and he was actually asleep, still at the wheel, rolling over or falling to his own death.

He made it to the back of his trailer.  After seeing nothing wrong with his driver’s side tires, he hurried over to the other side.  Everything was fine so far.

He stopped when he rounded the back corner of the trailer and saw the shredded tires.  Both the outside tires had blown, and now only fragments of rubber were clinging to the metal of the rim.

“Fuck,” he said quietly, as he had a selfish thought…his career was probably over.

He reached into his pants pocket to grab his phone.  He needed to call it in, get the repair crews out, and get both tires fixed.  He also needed the emergency crews in case someone was injured, or even dead, inside the bus.

He patted his pants and was momentarily surprised that he didn’t feel his phone.  Of course it wasn’t there.  He’d been driving and he always emptied his pockets on long trips.  Wallets dug into his ass, and it was hard to answer a phone that was in your pocket.  He often kept both of them in the little recess under his stereo, but he hadn’t thought to grab them.

What about the people on the bus?  He still hadn’t heard anyone call out.  He would have to go back for his cell phone later.  Right now, he had to make sure everyone in the bus was alright.

He could barely see it.  The thick fog kept it well hidden, but he could faintly see the flashing hazard lights.

“Hello!” he called out, as he started to walk towards it.

His heart was starting to slow down and, as he walked toward the bus, his lungs weren’t hurting as much.  He still felt like there was a large weight pressing down on him, but he no longer felt like he was going to pass out.

“Hello!  Is everyone okay?!” he called out again.

As he yelled, it felt like the fog around him soaked up the sound.  He never heard the echo that he would have expected, and there were no morning sounds.  He didn’t hear any birds singing, there were no car sounds along the interstate.  Most valleys had rivers or towns in them, but even those were now silent.  There was no sound at all.  Even his truck, left idling behind him, was growing faint.  It sounded like it was getting farther and farther away.

The hair on the back of his neck was starting to stand on end.  He felt like he was drifting into an episode of the Twilight Zone, and like the world around him was changing.  Maybe he was walking into…what did they call it?  Another dimension.

He tried to laugh at the thought, but could barely crack a smile.  Something wasn’t right here.

He had to work hard to ignore it.  What was he?  Some little boy that let childhood fears take control of him?  Yeah, just keep thinking that, he told himself.

He reached the bus, glad that it hadn’t been pushed over the railing.  It hadn’t even been pushed near the railing.  The loud sound he had heard must have been the explosion of his own tires.  That was at least some good news; he was already starting to feel a little better.

“Hello?  Is everyone alright?!” he yelled again, as he looked from the back of the bus to the open door.  Fog swirled around him, and it seemed thicker here.  It seemed like it was billowing out from the bus itself because inside was a massive wall of gray.

He tried to look through the windows, but couldn’t see a thing.  It seemed like lighter spots spun and twirled within the darker gray, moving in and out of each other.

It was like watching a container of water as food coloring was added.  The colors would at first swirl around each other, then mix together.  The fog, however, wasn’t mixing together.

Where was everyone?

Well, just because it was a passenger bus didn’t mean it had been full.  The bus could’ve been empty.  Okay, then where was the driver?  The door was open so someone had to have survived the accident.

Maybe the driver had been thrown when he hit the bus?  He could’ve been thrown over the guard rail, or he could be somewhere along the pavement.  He was probably hurt, or passed out.  If he’d been thrown when his truck had hit the bus, then he probably had a nasty head injury.

John turned away and looked briefly around at the surroundings.  Well, he might as well get the worst possibility out of the way first.

He stepped over to the guard rail.  It took him a couple of steps to reach it, making him doubt that the driver could’ve been thrown that far.  However, if he had, John didn’t think he would have survived.  When he got to the side, he saw that it wasn’t a metal guard rail.  It was a cement barrier, which meant that they were on a bridge more than likely. If they were on a bridge, it also meant that it was probably hundreds of feet down.  It wasn’t something anyone could have survived, unless they had wings.

Yeah, it was too far to be thrown.  The front of the bus hadn’t been hit that hard and even if he was propelled out of it, the furthest he would have traveled would have been to the base of the barrier.

John turned and looked around at the ground outside the bus.  He couldn’t see very far, but he didn’t see any blood.  He guessed that if the driver had fallen out of the door, he would have been hurt and probably bleeding.  So where the hell was he?

“Hello?!”

He was surprised that there still hadn’t been a single car or truck drive by.  The fog was bad but, even in the worst conditions, there were always a few idiots out driving around.  Tonight he had been one of them, but he couldn’t imagine that no one else was out there.

He walked back to the open door and reached in to grab the metal bar, fumbling to find the step below him.  He couldn’t believe how much thicker the fog was inside of the bus.  He could even feel the coldness as he reached in.  It felt like the inside of the bus was 20 degrees cooler than outside.

As he stepped up onto the first step, a shiver went right through his bones.  He fought to keep it from shaking him, but he actually felt his bones rattle together.  All of this just wasn’t right.

Why was he doing this again?

He had to make sure that, if anyone was in there, they were okay.  He hit the damned bus, he may have hurt someone.  He doubted it now, after seeing how he hadn’t even moved the bus, but that wasn’t to say he hadn’t given someone a heart attack.

However, wouldn’t he have heard someone by now?  He looked down the aisle of the bus, but he couldn’t see anything except the fog that swirled around him.

“Hello?”

He took a step forward and reached his hand to rest it on the front barrier that separated the seats from the front of the bus.  The vinyl was well-padded, and felt like ice to the touch.  Everything was so damned cold.

Just past the barrier, he felt a bone-chilling breeze.  The fog swirled with it and, for a brief second, he could see the shape of a person sitting in the front seat.  Just as fast as he saw it, it was gone, the fog hiding it again. He was left standing there alone

He was sure he had seen it, though.  He hadn’t been able to see any features, but he was sure it looked like a person.   His hand was only about two feet in front of it, and he stood only another two feet above that.  The fog didn’t allow him to see anywhere near that far.  The person could have been a mile away but, in this mess, he never would have been able to tell unless he actually touched it.

If he was there, though, then he would’ve also been able to see him, right?  Why hadn’t he done anything?  Why hadn’t he said anything?  Why hadn’t he responded to him?

“Hello?” he said again, the goose bumps along his arm prickling in the cold, foggy breeze.  The hair on his arm was stiff.  He hadn’t worn his coat because it hadn’t been that cold outside.  He didn’t know that it was going to be like a meat locker in the bus.

He allowed himself to believe that’s why the goose bumps had formed on his arm.  He leaned in as he was reaching out.  He didn’t want to, but some instinct, something deep inside, warned him not to look any closer.  It told him to go, get out of there and run back to his truck, climb back into his cab, and get out of there as fast as his rig would go.

Being involved in a hit-and-run would cost him his job. After this, he would never be able to drive again.  However, he had a feeling that would still be better than anything he was about to find in the fog.

He couldn’t stop himself, though.  The wheels were already in motion.  The momentum was propelling him and, like his truck, once it was up to speed, it was hard to get it to stop.  He was too damned stubborn and bull-headed…add that to the long list of reasons Christine had said she didn’t want him anymore.

It was just a long list of excuses, but he had known there’d been some truth to it.  It didn’t make what she’d done any more forgivable, but maybe he had pushed her.  Maybe he did share some of the responsibility.

His hand touched something hard and frozen.  It felt chiseled, as though it was made out of stone.  It seemed moist, yet frozen at the same time.

He ran his hand along it.  It had bumps along the center, but smooth areas on either side.  The smooth part felt indented and sunken.  He went back to the center and felt another impression.  The surface in this area was soft to the touch and gave a little as he pressed in.  It wasn’t as cold as the other spots; there was actually a little warmth to it.  There was something else there, something that felt doughy on the surface.  Under more pressure, it felt hard beneath that.

When he was close enough to see, he realized that he was touching a man’s open eye! It stared blankly up at him with the expression of death, the features frozen in place. His finger was pushing in on the man’s iris.

John fell back.  His feet tangled beneath him, and he slammed against the barrier. He bounced back, and slammed into the coin collector in the front of the bus.  He felt a stabbing pain that jarred him.  He turned and landed on his side on the hard, rubberized floor.

A hot pain ran along his side, and it felt like he had been clawed on the way down.  He knew he hadn’t scraped it, but it sure felt like it.  He wanted to scream out, but he ground his teeth together to fight it.  Starbursts flashed before his eyes, and he was oblivious to everything else. The pain in his shoulder and head didn’t hurt nearly as much as his side.  He couldn’t believe the intensity of it.

He felt along his back.  He knew he wasn’t cut, but putting his hand there helped to calm the sensation a little.

It slowly faded and he started to pull himself up.  When he twisted to the side, there was a twinge of pain, but he could handle it.

He stood and looked down the length of the bus.  If the first man was dead, was there any point in going the rest of the way?  He doubted there were any survivors; if there were, someone would have called out by now.  He knew he hadn’t been the one to kill that man.  He looked like he had frozen to death.  Who knew how long the bus had been out there?  Maybe they had all died from exposure.

It had been a mild winter, though.  The last day it had been cold enough to even have ice on the roads was four or five days ago, and he didn’t think it had been cold enough to freeze a man. He was pretty sure it has to be colder than 32 degrees for that.  Plus, there was no way these people could have gone undiscovered that long.

But just how sure was he?  He was no doctor, and he wasn’t sure how much traffic was normally out there.  He was more scared than sure, and didn’t trust his own thoughts.

He was done with this.  He turned to leave.  He would drive a few miles down the road and then call it in.  The cops may give him hell, and he may never drive again, but that didn’t matter.  He wasn’t going to stay around there. This shit was just too damned strange.  He had to get out of there.

He saw a light out of the corner of his eye.  Somehow it shone through the darkness of the fog, momentarily blinding him. When he turned, he could see that it was coming from the back of the bus and was moving back and forth.  He couldn’t see the shape of it, but someone had to be doing it.  They must be up and walking around.

“Hello?  I’m here to help.  Come here, I can help you,” he called out. The light shifted.  Though he couldn’t tell if it was coming toward him or not, whoever it was had definitely heard him.  It was reacting to his voice.

“I can help you.  If you need it, I can get you an ambulance,” he said.  He was trying to keep his voice calm, though he could hear it cracking a little.  It was also higher than usual, and was almost like he was trying to calm a baby.

The light didn’t come closer. Instead, he found himself walking towards it.  It was like it was beckoning him.  He had told the person to come to him. Why was he going back there?  However, if the person was hurt, they probably wouldn’t be able to walk.  They had been in an accident, after all.

He still wanted to turn and run, to get out of there and escape whatever horror movie he’d found himself in.  He wasn’t a hero so why was he still walking back there?

He didn’t know.  His feet were no longer obeying him and he couldn’t stop.  The light was calling him, was pulling him, and he was helpless to turn away.

As he slowly made it down the aisle, he saw more shapes in the fog.  The passengers of the bus all sat in their seats like wax figures, motionless, staring blindly off into distant space.   As he walked, he could see them more and more clearly.  As he moved closer to the back of the bus, the air grew cooler, but the fog became thinner.

Halfway down, he was fighting to keep from shivering.  The hair along his neck and arms was frozen.  Even his skin was beginning to hurt from the cold.  His lips were going numb and he could feel his eyes freezing.  He couldn’t explain it, but his whole body was frozen.

The bodies sat motionless in their seats.  Some seats had just one passenger, like the man that had been at the front of the bus, but some seats had two.  Most were adults, but he had seen one woman with a little girl.  The little girl had been asleep in her mother’s lap, with her arms under her head as a pillow, when she died.

He no longer cared about what happened to those in the bus.  He had never really wanted to know, but now he downright didn’t care.  He just wanted out, wanted to get away.  It still wasn’t too late. He could just turn and take off towards the door.

Even if he did, he somehow knew that the door to the bus was closed.  He didn’t know how he knew, but some instinct told him that it was already too late.  The door was closed, and he was stuck there now.

With them.

It didn’t matter.  He couldn’t run because his legs weren’t listening to him anymore.

He neared the back of the bus and the fog started to thin in front of him. When he expected that he would finally see the light and whoever held it, it faded away.  The fog parted around him in a swirl of gray and dark blue.  It pulled back in on itself, faster than the eye could see.

Within two unsteady heartbeats, the fog around him was gone.  It still swirled outside, but it had been sucked away inside and he was left with the darkness.

The only illumination was a slight red glow that ran along the runners on the floor of the bus so that passengers could safely make their way to the bathroom.  He looked at it for a while because he couldn’t help himself.  He felt like a moth, he was so attracted to it.  It led straight into the back, and disappeared past the door to the bathroom.

“Hello?” he heard himself calling out toward the bathroom, as though someone might be in there.  He knew nobody was, but his body seemed to ignore the fact.

Nobody was in the bathroom.  Nobody was in the bus.  He was all alone.  He was all alone with a bus full of corpses.

He thought that should have worried him more and he should have been more afraid, but all he felt was cold and numb.

Suddenly, he heard a noise behind him.

In his mind, he was whirling around to face an attacker, but his body actually moved much slower.  His mind raced, waiting impatiently for his body to catch up.  He already knew what was there, and he was ready for it.

He had already accepted it, and when he turned, he saw them—the passengers.

All those people that he had passed when he walked down the aisle were standing now, their cold, hungry eyes were looking at him; lifeless, yet showing him their desire.

The closest one stepped away from its seat, and walked down the aisle.  The rest of them followed her.  They moved slowly because, well…why should they hurry?  He wasn’t going anywhere.

They’d waited until he was at the back of the bus before they moved so now he was trapped.  He could try to hide in the bathroom, but what would that get him?  He’d maybe last a couple of hours, but they’d probably have the door broken down in a matter of minutes.  They’d waited until he had no way out and there were too many of them between him and the exits.  He was trapped

The windows around him now seemed to steam up, and the air in the bus changed.  It was no longer the ice cold chill that had been running along his skin when he had first come in.  It seemed like it was getting warmer.  Somehow, with the bodies awakened, there was a pulsating heat.

He looked around frantically.  There had to be some way out.  He looked at the window closest to him.  It was all that separated him from the outside world.  He looked at one of the glass panels, and thought that it was cracked in the middle. Then he remembered that passengers could push this window open to let in a little air, but it wasn’t meant to open far enough for someone to get out.  At the most, it looked like it could open to about a six-inch gap. He’s a big guy.  He would need it to open all the way to be able to get through.

The corpses had been walking towards him when he glanced away but, when he looked at them again, they had stopped just a couple feet away and were watching him.  He wondered what they were looking at.  They had him.  Why not just come and finish it?

He looked back at the window, and then over to the one on the other side.  He briefly thought about the other windows in the bus, but they were too far away and there was no way he could get to them. His only chance was these back two.

Did he really think he could escape?  He was actually beginning to believe he could.  After all, he thought he had seen…yes, he had!  There was a small crack in the window to his left.  It had probably happened when his truck had hit the bus.  It wasn’t much but, with the glass already starting to weaken, maybe he could smash the window and get out that way.

It wasn’t a great idea, and he wasn’t relishing jumping out a bus window and landing onto the ground below.  There were a lot of things that could go wrong.  He could jump out the window and get hit by a passing vehicle, for instance.  There still hadn’t been any, but he figured it would be his luck that another car would just happen to come by when he was escaping.

Then there was the fall.  He was a large, fat man, and he wasn’t going to hit the ground softly.  He would probably break an arm or a leg, and maybe a couple of ribs.  It was going to hurt like hell.  Then what?  He’d run to his truck?  He would probably barely be able to move, and he wasn’t sure how fast these things could move.  However, even at a slow walk, he was sure they’d be able to catch him.

He couldn’t think of any other ideas, though.  No matter what he chose, nothing seemed to play out in his favor.  At least if he went for the window, he would have done something.

He looked back at the corpses.  They still stood there watching him.  What the hell were they looking at?  Why were they not rushing him?

Then it occurred to him…he was their food.  They were playing with their damned food.  They were watching him, enjoying his fear.  They were going to wait until they knew he had given up, and then they’d get him.

Well, he wasn’t about to give up.  Death had been a lot easier to accept when it was him choosing to die.  He was sure as hell not going to let someone take that damned decision away from him.

John dashed to the window and slammed his body into it.  His shoulder pounded the glass and he heard a loud crack.  He reeled and bounced back.  No looking behind; he didn’t want to see if they were getting closer.  He was purely focused on the window.  The glass hadn’t broken, but he had heard something give.  Maybe it was breaking away from the frame.

He smashed against it again and the sound of cracking got louder.  He pulled back again.   He was starting to feel pain throbbing in his arm.  The glass still didn’t show any further sign of damage, but there definitely was something happening.  Maybe it was the fiberglass of the outer frame giving way.  He had to keep trying.

He rushed forward again.  This time, he could feel the faint touch of icy fingertips graze his skin.  They’d been closing in, and he’d just avoided their grasp.

He slammed into the window again and heard an audible snapping sound.  An explosion of pain shot up his arm.  Something was very wrong.

As he stumbled back, he saw that the window was still undamaged.  However, his arm wasn’t. Lightning strikes of pain shot from his shoulder to his elbow, but he could no longer feel past that. He looked down and could see the faint outline of bone trying to break through his skin.  He took another stumbling step backward, then his legs gave away.

As he fell, he looked up and could see hands reaching out for him, dead eyes looking down.  On the closest face, he saw a smile touch the corner of its lips.  As he was falling, he could see something red just beyond the corpses, something that he’d missed before.

He hit the ground with teeth rattling force.  Blood was leaking from his mouth and he could feel the stinging pain in his tongue, but it was nothing compared to the pain in his arm.  All of it was making his head swim.

What was it that he’d seen?  The little red thing there by the window, what was it?  Why had it seemed so familiar?

His eyes focused on the red thing again before a face blocked his view. He knew what it was and it made him sick.  At the bottom of the window was the “Emergency” release.  It would have dislodged the window, giving him a chance to escape.

Cold fingers tugged at him.  They were pulling at his injured arm, and he felt warm liquid splashing against his face.  He knew they had pulled his arm off.

He heard a scream.  It was a hideous sound from somewhere in the darkness.  It seemed far away, but echoed.  He could feel it reverberating through him.  He hoped that whoever it was would be okay…

Then the last of his mind slipped away.