Free Summer Reading: Saying Goodbye

It’s time to kick off summer reading, and the first title available this year is Saying Goodbye.

Available this week for free on Kindle, download your copy today!

Saying Goodbye
Truck driving is a lonely profession. It is hard on both the driver, and the families that love them. One of the hardest moments in the drivers life if after being on the road for weeks, they return home for a couple days before leaving again. They leave, and it is then that they must say their goodbyes. For this driver, he must say his final goodbye.

….and add the Audible narration for only $1.99


Dead Friends: Chapter 7

Lizzie didn’t want to go back there. She didn’t want to go back into the house that her friend had died in. She didn’t want to go back inside the small, wooden, decrepit place that some random stranger, old and naked, had come at her and tried to eat her and God only knows what else to her. She didn’t want to go near the place of that shadow man, but even more she didn’t want to go near the maggots.

Why was that troubling her? She didn’t know, and since she’d last been there, she had plenty of nightmares. She’d dreamed about the shadow man and his ticky-tat way of talking. She’d dreamed of the old man as she stared up at him with his member dangling in her face, but the ones she truly feared, the ones that woke her up in a sweat was when she dreamed she was in a bath tub covered in maggots, all of them with their hungry mouths. They were all eating her alive, tearing her apart and laying their eggs inside of her, more maggots bursting out of her.

As she stepped out of the back seat of the car bringing her back there, the image of that single white wormlike creature as it fell on her from the man’s penis kept leaping into her thoughts. Though unlike how it happened, she kept remembering it wrong. In her thoughts, it fell into her open mouth made its way into her stomach and was eating her while lying its eggs. With the butterflies she felt in her stomach, she couldn’t help but think there was some truth to nagging sense.

“Lizzie? You okay?”

Lizzie looked over to her friend who had brought her back there. She didn’t want to be back there, but they needed to get her keys and somewhere in there she had dropped them. The police when they went there hadn’t found them. They’d found her phone, but that was it. Well, the phone, and the bodies. They had found both her friend and the old man, but it was with the old man that things got weird. It was then that the cops questions had turned from helping her to questioning her about what happened because according to them, it couldn’t have been the way she had told them.

She went into the hospital three days ago, had been questioned by the police for the last two days both at the hospital and at the motel room she stayed in upon her release. They didn’t believe her story, and as much as she wanted to run away from all of it, she hadn’t. Something kept her here, pulled her, tied to it by something unseen.

“Are you sure your okay?” Elisabeth asked. Lizzie looked over at her and her boyfriend. She was thankful they had brought her out there, but tepid as she was only beginning to know these people. Elisabeth, it felt like Lizzie was using her to fill the void that Sarah had created, though Sarah, dead or not, was still trying to be her best friend. Her boyfriend though, was just as nice as Elisabeth was, and he had suggested they come out there. Well, he’d suggested coming out by himself so he could get Lizzie’s car and look for her keys.

What had possessed her to say she wanted to come back here? Sure, he’d need someone to come with him as they’d have two vehicles but anyone could have rode with him. She doubted Elisabeth would have come. The girl barely left Lizzie’s side, becoming her protector the more the sheriff dug into her with questions.

The old man…how could he have attacked her and killed her friend? He’d been dead for a week. The sheriff knew the man and had been at his funeral when they put him in the ground. He’d died of bone cancer barely able to lift his own arm, not able to walk for the last three months when the cancer got bad, so how had he attacked them?

Lizzie didn’t know. She had no answers of her own other than what she saw.

Maybe she really was crazy…


Lizzie looked over at her, blinking away some of the thoughts though many remained. She just had to not get lost in them. Don’t focus on them right? That was easier said than done.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just trying not to remember the last time I was here.”

“I get that.” Elisabeth’s boyfriend said. Lizzie struggled to remember his name and felt she should really remember it by now as they’ve hung out for more than a day.

“Chuck, you mind going in first? I’ll stay out here with Lizzie while you check it out.”

“Sure, let me get killed in the spooky old death house.”


The color drained in his face as he realized what he just said. Elisabeth was making jerking motions with her head towards Lizzie and while Lizzie couldn’t see her face, she was sure it was more than just the nod she was using to communicate how insensitive he’d just been.

“Oh my God I can’t believe I just said that.”

It was alright. Lizzie barely even noticed as she had slipped back into her thoughts and looking at the small house in front of her. She hadn’t really looked at it the first time. Sarah had been talking but Lizzie had been on the phone with Richard. Her brother had been having a melt down because his caregiver had a family emergency. Samuel, her brothers normal caregiver had called her and told her what was going on. Samual had called their service and Tommy, the backup, was on his way. She was sure that had been explained to her brother, but he had still called in a frenzy. He had continued on and she had to listen to him rant in that computerized voice as he typed it from his end of the call.

“It’s still a dump.” Sarah said as though she could read Lizzies thoughts. Lizzie looked over, across the car to the other side and there she stood. Of course her dead friend was still with her. No matter where she went, Sarah followed now, though she did have the decency not to follow her into bathroom.

Lizzie tried to pretend she wasn’t there, but it was hard. Closing her eyes never helped. Wishing the nightmare away didn’t do anything. Sarah was there wether she liked it or not.

Sarah was right though, the house was a dump. It looked like it had once been painted a drab yellow, tough not that much of the paint was still visible as much of the original color had long peeled away. The remnants of the paint lied in a bed of debris around the base of the house having been torn away after years of neglect and vicious winters tearing at it..

Outside, you couldn’t really see that the windows were blacked out. With the sun coming down and the boards that looked hastily placed to cover them, the house just looked dark inside. Her uncle really didn’t want anyone seeing in, or he didn’t want to see what was out there. Had her uncle seen the shadow man? Had he been hiding from him?

Maybe there were answers inside? She hadn’t thought about that before, but there could be something in there that explained that thing.

Now your just reaching. You know that. You just don’t want to go back in there and trying to give yourself reasons to go. Nevermind that you’ve come all the way back out there, you need to go in or else you’ll be running the rest of your life afraid to face anything.

And somewhere inside her, she was okay with that. Why not just run away from everything.

“Okay, well, I guess I’ll go in then. It’s unlocked right?” Chuck said as he neared the door. It was obvious he didn’t relish the idea of going in alone.

“Should be. I doubt the sheriff’s department locked up after themselves and I’m not sure where my keys are.” Lizzie said as she finally moved, taking tentative steps around to the front of the car. The dried leaves crackled beneath her, fallen from the trees overhead. There were a lot of them. She was surrounded in trees. The whole area was nothing but trees, and then a clearing with an old house. It was like the house was hiding from modern world, and the only connection to it was that small driveway barely wide enough for one car. “Be careful, the woods all rotted on the stairs.”

She had stopped him just before he had stepped onto the first step. There were only three of them to reach the small landing and the front door overhang. It was odd how it was set up. The overhang was blocked off, walled on three sides so that it didn’t allow for those inside to look out past the person directly at the door. Visitors had to walk up the stairs next to the house. It didn’t allow for someone inside to look out, but outside no one could see in.

Why would he be so worried about someone looking in? It was obvious the overhang was not a part of the original design as the wood was unpainted and it didn’t fit in with the architecture. He had to have built it himself.

“Your uncle was nuts.” She didn’t know who had said it. It was getting hard as Lizzie could no longer tell if it had been Sarah or Elisabeth who said it. They both sounded alike to her.

“I see what you mean. One of the boards collapsed, probably one of the deputies that’d been trampling around out here. I should be okay using the sides.”

“You be careful.” Elisabeth called after him. He disappeared and then there was a door slamming shut, what must have been the screen door as he entered the house.

“I don’t like him going in there alone” Lizzie said.

“This house is a dump. Why did your uncle live out here. It’s in the middle of nowhere, hidden in trees. I’ve heard of getting off the grid but this is going too far.”

“And you live here because?”

“Hey, I live in town. Sure it’s small, but I grew up here and I like it. I know everyone. But this…” Elisabeth holds her hand up motion towards the house and the surrounding clearing, “This wanting to know no one. He was hiding from someone.”

“Well, he did leave me a lot of money.” Lizzie said quietly, biting back what she wanted to say. That dread turning in her stomach. Her gut told her that he wasn’t out there to hide from someone, he was hiding from something and that eventually it got him.

“Yeah, I’d be careful with that money. You got no idea where it came from?”

“None.” Though it was becoming nice having it. The lawyer had somehow found out she was in the hospital and had let her know he had the money already put into her account as of yesterday, a full week sooner than anyone had expected. That allowed her to get ahold of someone, a person that one of the nicer deputies had suggested, that would come out and clean the mess of the kitchen so she wouldn’t have to see the blood.

Once Lizzie had told the lawyer about it, he had taken care of all the details. Lizzie didn’t have to worry about any of it. She guessed with money, none of that stuff was important anymore though the revelation was still mind boggling.

Lizzie started towards the side of the house. She had to see it, to see where it happened but she wasn’t sure she could go in the house. Not yet, but if she went around back…

“Hey! where ya going?” She heard Elisabeth rushing to catch up.

“You can see into the kitchen from the back clearing.”

“I thought you didn’t want to go in there.”

“I don’t. I just want to see in, see where it-“

She didn’t finish saying it as she went around the corner. As she walked along the side of the house she could see more of the back and it was different from what she remembered. When she had left the kitchen through the back door, it had been a small clearing, no buildings just woods, but now she could clearly see a large shed. It was unpainted and old, but definitely used. She saw a well trampled path that ran from the house to it.

What had her uncle been doing in there? It was large enough to fit three cars and something she’d more often find on farms for those large tractors. Back there amongst all the woods, she couldn’t see a way for them to bring in any large vehicles.

But that shed wasn’t why she was back there, and she forced her attention away from it as they came into the back yard.

The kitchen door was open, the screen door twisted at the bottom hinge, the top broken so that the door hung off to the side. The wooden interior door still open as it had been and now as she walked up she could see that the small metal stairs that were supposed to lead up to the door had been pulled away and set to the side where there was nothing but the kitchen wall, looking obscene with their stairway to nowhere. It would have been funny if she wasn’t where her friend had been killed. It did make her wonder about the sickness of the mind that drove her uncle to move them over there, never wanting whoever climbed them to get in.

“Lizzie! Wait up.” Elisabeth called. Lizzie wasn’t sure why she was supposed to wait. She was standing there by the back door. She hadn’t run around the house, so why would it take Elisabeth so long to catch up.

“Hey, what are you doing back here?” Chuck said, looking at her from where he had been standing in the kitchen.

Lizzie barely noticed either of them, her eyes transfixed on the last place she had seen Susan alive. The tile floor was spotless. The cleaners weren’t supposed to clean up more than the mess the bodies had made, but as she looked in, the kitchen was clean. All of it. She was sure the kitchen hadn’t been that clean in over ten years as it actually now looked like a room that food could be prepared in. It was amazing and they had all done this in just one night.

It truly was amazing what mountains money could move. Who ever had come out there had gone the extra mile, that was for sure, and to have been out there on their own. Lizzie didn’t think she’d ever be able to stay out there by herself. It was all just too creepy. Too much nature, all the bugs and animals. Never mind that the last time she’d been out there, there had been a homicidal deadman out to massacre them. How had her uncle been able to do it?

“Lizzie, we should get away from here.” Elisabeth said. She came up to her gently wrapping an arm around her shoulders. It was soothing and Lizzie wanted to melt back into the woman as she guided her away. Lizzie didn’t want to go though, pushing away from those comforting thoughts as she twisted out of Elisabeth’s grip and looked back at where her friend fell.

“I did… I died there.”

Lizzie didn’t have to turn to know that Sarah was also behind her. She could hear the tears in the dead woman’s voice and knew those tears were for her own death. Lizzie wanted to turn to her but do you comfort the dead?

Maybe that was what she needed to do. Maybe Sarah was a ghost and until she came to deal with it, she’d always be there to haunt Lizzie?

As much as it hurt Lizzie to have her there with her, she wasn’t ready to let Sarah go. She couldn’t help Sarah with her grief when she was barely holding on to her own?

“-nothing..” Chuck was saying, though Lizzie hadn’t heard anything else. They were talking around her about her and she tried to shake free from the thoughts that kept tying her down so she once again could to focus. There’d just been so much in such a short time it kept drowning her in randomness.


“I’d been through the house. I found your phone and keys but other than that, I couldn’t find anything. You sure you lost your purse in here?”

“I thought I had. I don’t know.”

“Well here’s this.” He said as he held out to her her phone, dead from lack of a charge, and her keys. As she studied the phone, she saw the spiderweb or cracks down the screen. She’d hoped she hadn’t dropped it, but looking at the damage she must have.

At least now she could afford to get a new one.

That didn’t comfort her, but as it dawned on her more and more it felt more like a rock growing in her stomach. Just ‘buy it’ was giving her a sour taste.

“Thanks.” She said, her voice flat as she flipped over the phone and saw the scratches on the back. They made up an odd pattern that tickled the back of her mind. She turned the phone back so she could look at the screen. Looking at that shape in the back hurt her eyes, though she didn’t know why.

“Was there anything else we need out here or should we go?” Chuck said as he jumped down the short distance to the ground.

She wanted to say yes, but found herself reaching up and climbing into the little kitchen. She didn’t know why, she didn’t want to go in, but something inside called out to her. She could feel a thrumming course through the wood as she touched it. The air was different, cooler, and she knew if it was winter and cold outside, that air would be warmer. It wanted her in there, and would accommodate for her. She just had to finish going in.

“Woah.” Chuck said as both Elisabeth and him reached out, both grabbing her and pulling her back. She didn’t fight them. They were right, but as much as she knew it, she still wanted to go in there.

“Lizzie?” Elisabeth moved to face her and look into her eyes.

“I’m fine. We can get out of here.”

“You sure?’

“Yeah, lets just go. I don’t ever want to come back here.”

“Yeah, the place is a dump.” Chuck said as he lead them back to their cars.

“You know you love it out here.” Elisabeth was teasing him, wrapping her arms around him.

“In the woods, yes. This house, no way. I saw inside there. There’s voodoo, or witchcraft shit all over in there. I think I’m cursed for just walking through it.”

“You’re kidding.”

“He’s not. Sarah and I saw some of it when we’d gone through. It’s disgusting and creepy in there. I’d never want to stay the night.”

Elisabeth studied the two of them as they stood to look back at the house. In the woods, something rushed through some of the underbrush, and it was loud in the silence around them. There were no birds chirping and Lizzie didn’t hear any flies buzzing around her. The slight breeze pushed back strands of her hair, but the leaves surrounding her remained still and silent.

Where were the mosquitoes. It was fall, but they shouldn’t all be dead yet. There had been plenty in town, and had even been some really big nasty ones larger than she’d ever seen back home. She was here, out in the woods where they should be attacking and feeding on her like a pack of vampires at a feast.

Into the trees, there was the occasional sound of something scurrying, but even those sounds were few and far between. By the house, it was silent, dead, and that silence grew, pressing more as she had now realized it and listened for it. The open clearing and space around her was closing in, suddenly feeling much smaller, almost on top of her.

“Okay, well, I’m thinking we get out of here unless there was something else you need.” Elisabeth said. Chuck nodded and she turned to Lizzie.


“So you get what you needed?”

Lizzie nodded, holding up her keys and her phone.

“Okay, so we’re probably going to head back to my house. You can meet us there if you’d like. You remember the way right?”

“I don’t know. I might just head back home. I should check on my brother, see that he’s okay, and see how Jess and Dennis are doing. Sarah was their friend too.”

“Yeah, you don’t have to follow us. I didn’t know if you wanted to drive this late or not.”

“I’m not sure.”


Lizzie looked back at the house. The sun was lowering on the far side of the house casting the shadow towards them. She just didn’t know how she felt or what she wanted to do. Where should she go? She didn’t know and if left alone, would probably just sit in her car at some parking lot crying. Was that a bad thing? It probably was, but still just felt right. She didn’t want to be around people right now, no matter now nice they’ve been to her.

“So what are you going to do with the house? Sell it?”

“I don’t know.” But she did know. She wasn’t going to do anything with it. She’d be back there again. She didn’t know why, but there was something in there she needed. She should go in and look. Her back muscles wouldn’t relax until she did. That little nestling of a panic attack she’d had all morning, that shortness of breath that never left her wouldn’t go away until she did.

She watched as her friends climbed into their car and she walked over to her own drivers side door. As they pulled away, she opened her door and got in. The world around her feeling like a dream that was fading and for now it was time to leave. She wasn’t going to go back in, not alone.

Sarah was waiting in the car’s passenger seat. She was still crying.

“I’m dead.”

Lizzie nodded.

“I’m dead, and I’m still here. What am I, a ghost?”

Lizzie shrugged. What did she say to her dead friend. Lizzie sure as hell didn’t have any of the answers.

“Can we get out of here please.”

Lizzie nodded again, starting the car and turning around to drive down the driveway. They got to the end of the drive and saw that Elisabeth and Chuck had stopped at the end, waiting to turn on the main road.

Lizzie didn’t feel like she was really there. Everything around her slipping into this unreal around her and she just sat there watching. She saw as the brake lights dimmed on the back of the car in front of her and then creep into the road. Then the truck felt like it came out of nowhere as it struck the car. The car had been a small compact. The semi was a large behemoth of a vehicle in comparison and had been going way to fast at it struck the little car on its broadside.

Lizzie just sat there, not knowing how long for her to comprehend what she had just seen. It had been Sarah tugging at her arm, telling her to call 911 and telling her she needed to rush to help them.

Help who? It couldn’t be? No, not again. But yes, it was all happening again, and more of her friends were probably dead.

Slowly, Lizzie pulled herself out of her seat, getting back out of the car. She knew what she would see, but walked to where the car was positioned against a tree, both sides smashed in by the multiple impacts. There was no rush. Why? She knew what she would find.

Throwback Thursday – Looking back at Hatched…

Here’s the first chapter of “Hatched.” Looking back, I had a lot of fun promoting this book, but my favorite was meeting up with none other than Svengoolie and give him some new reading material.

Free on Kindle Unlimited


“This is the Screamin’ Demon heading westbound on I-80. I need a bacon check, come back,” Bruce said into his radio. The road seemed clear ahead of him, but it was a dark night, hard to see past the overpasses where there might be a pig hiding back in its sty waiting to write him up on some paper. The last thing he needed on this last leg would be a damned ticket. He had already been on the road steady for thirteen straight days and was ready to take a hot shower and sleep in his own bed. He had four days off coming up on his return leg and was itching to spend almost all that time in his own bed. His icebox had been acting up for the last couple days, costing him a lot of time with having to make additional stops to check on his load. A couple times, he had to work on the unit to make sure it stayed cool and kept the meat he was hauling from going bad.

His CB crackled to life. “Hey, Demon. This is the Cat Scratch Express just coming from that way. You’re all clear to exit 93. Smooth sailing.”

“10-4, Cat Scratch. Keep an eye out as there is a bear sitting in that rest stop just past 112. He’s perched and ready to pounce.”

“10-4. Put the hammer down and catch you on the flip side.”

“Stay safe.”

“Same. Cat Scratch out.”

Well, at least the road would be clear. That was one less thing to weigh on his mind. He would be able to make his way into that little truck stop outside of Ottawa, fill his tank and bed in for the night. Come morning, he would carry on south toward Bloomington-Normal. By mid-day, he would be home.

Something in the sleeper area started to smell. There was that locker room smell of old gym socks that had been growing stronger throughout the cab, but something else also reeked back there. He would have to clean out the whole truck to find out just what it was. He should have washed his clothes along the way, but he was itching to get home, see his wife, and maybe even have a tea party with his little girl. His wife had told him about how his little girl had thrown a tea party the other day for her and her stuffed animals. He missed it, just like he missed other things, but he hoped he could still get some of that special time.

Maybe over the weekend, he would get the energy to pull himself out of bed and take her to Build-A-Bear. It wasn’t a special occasion, but he wanted to make it special. After all, this was his last long haul. After this run, he was officially done with his contract. He would now be driving only five days a week and be home every night. His truck was now paid for. It was his. That meant his life was back in his hands again. No more big companies pulling his strings.

He let out a yawn and scanned the road ahead of him. Nothing had changed. A long stretch of interstate lay in the glow of the headlights as the road stretched off endlessly into darkness. His eyelids were heavy and his body was growing stiff.

These long hauls, the cross-country runs, were nice at first, got him out to see much of the countryside, allowed him to see places that he otherwise probably would have never seen. He had traveled from the Grand Canyon up to Maine and every mountain road in between. There wasn’t much to the great U.S. that he hadn’t seen, so he decided it was time to hang up the saddle. His ride was over, or at least this part of it. Hell, it had been fun when he was a new driver, but that had been over ten years ago. He wasn’t that young man anymore. He had a family and they missed him as much as he missed them. He needed to get home.

Two weeks after his contract ended, he would start up with another company based out of his hometown. Smaller company, pay wasn’t as much, but he would be home every night and his weekends would be free and clear. He would be with his own truck, and if it didn’t work out, he could always go somewhere else. His contract was over. He was no longer tied by the shackles of a lease. He was free and, as he tried to wipe the sleep out of his eyes, he couldn’t think of anything better. There wasn’t anything he wanted more.

Up ahead, he could see the one-mile warning for exit 98. The Clock Tower… That was it. That was the name of the damned place at the exit. The diner was in a truck stop that was open twenty-four hours. He would be able to pull off, get some chow for his food tank and get some diesel for his fuel tank Then he’d settle in for a nice, long shower in one of their stalls.

Tomorrow, he would deliver the load, then hightail it to freedom. Free to drive the remaining hundred miles to home. He would be able to drop the the load at around two in the afternoon, so he would be pulling into his own driveway in time for supper.

As his blinker shouted in its rhythmic tick-tock tone, he started to ease his rig into the exit lane. He already felt the anticipation of getting home and sleeping in his own damn bed.

He looked over at the parking lot of the Clock Tower. The lot was full, but the little diner looked nearly empty. Most of the trucks were probably just idling, their inhabitants either asleep or occupied with some lot lizards.

Bruce nestled his rig midway to the back. He didn’t want everyone thinking he wanted some action, but he didn’t want too many people around him in the morning, waking him up before he was ready. He always preferred to sleep in, miss the morning traffic, and drive later than most other drivers.

Soon, he would be home. He just needed to drop off the trailer, take a short stint through a couple small towns, then he would pull into his own driveway. Bruce reached for the door. A Grand Slam sampler sounded good, and he was ready to shovel it down.

A small spider started to crawl down the inside of the window. It was just a small little thing, harmless, but Bruce still stopped and backed away. He never did like spiders. As a kid, anytime one would bite him, he would always break out in a rash. On more than one occasion, he had to be rushed to the hospital because of a bad reaction to the venom. His airways would close up and he would nearly pass out.

A small little spider, but he knew that little creature could kill him if he gave it a chance. He didn’t have one of his little pink pills with him to toss down, if needed.

Bruce looked around the cabin. In his passenger seat, there was a case for an audio book he had been listening to earlier. He was sure the person who lent it to him wasn’t going to like spider guts on the back of the case, but he grabbed it anyway.

He slammed the case against the window and slid it down, making sure the spider was thoroughly smashed, its insides making a smeared trail along his window. It was dead, guts splattered over the large name, Stephen King, and smeared across the image of a dome.

Bruce tossed the case back into the passenger seat and climbed out of the cab. “Damn, I hate spiders,” he mumbled under his breath.

* * * *

John didn’t know what woke him. He lay there, the little light from the streetlight outside giving him just enough illumination to make out dark shadows in his room. With the lights off, no one, other than himself, would ever be able to find anything as it was all just heaps of dark shapes at odd angles. In the little light, tree branch fingers danced across the walls. If he didn’t know better, he could imagine large shadow hands reaching across his room, looking through his stuff.

Yeah, like they would ever find anything worth a damn, he thought. All he had of value was his stash, the large bag he had just brought back from little Chicago, which was tucked nicely away in his closet under a pair of soiled undies that would turn anybody away.

The bud was safe. Ah, yes. The bud was safe.

“Precious sweet bud, let you ripen so fine. Precious sweet bud, I’ll make you mine,” John said in the small, dark bedroom of his apartment. A slight smile crept across his lips as he thought about the bag. He had tried to grow his own before, but it never dried right. He wasted a lot of seed and, in the end, taught himself it was just too much damn work when all he had to do was take a small little drive to Little Chi-Town and he would come back happy.

John felt a slight tingle on the hairs of his nose and rubbed at his upper lip. He turned his head, breaking free from his daze, to look at the envelope sitting on his dresser top. He could just see it, slightly hanging over the edge. Damn bitch probably put itching powder in the shit, he thought. When he had opened the envelope, the only thing written inside had been “Enjoy”. Now there were just faint traces of the white powder left.

And he had. He had never been a big fan of the “nose candy”, but was never one to turn away a good high when it came his way. He was just surprised to see it coming from Miss Psycho Queen. He guessed she still wasn’t going to take his “get lost” for an answer. Damn, why did he have to date the crazy ones. The ones who would never go away no matter how hard he tried.

He pushed himself up, sitting, placing his feet on the hardwood floor. It was cool against his skin, which felt good in the warm, stuffy heat of his place. He wished like hell he could afford a damn air conditioner, and thought about possibly stealing one from somebody’s window. He reached over and fumbled to turn on his basketball lamp. He had to fight with the little switch to get it to turn on, grumbling with himself as he fought with it. On his third attempt, the lamp finally clicked on, the light flooding the space.

Out of the corner of his eye, he swore he saw little black things scurrying out of sight. They had been at the corner of his vision, which made it hard for him to be sure. By the time he turned his head, any traces were gone. Probably figments of my imagination, he thought, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He didn’t have the cleanest of places, but at least it had never been one known for roaches. Still, he could have sworn he had seen something, but then it was gone, probably buried deep in one of the different piles of dirty clothes littering the floor of the small room. Well, if they had gone in there, they were surely dead by now.

Ugh, why the hell was he up in the middle of the damn night. He leaned forward and pulled himself up from the mattresses on the floor. His bedroom had the barest of essentials and the mess stretched wide. The mattresses on the floor, his clothes thrown about, trash littering the floor in the general direction of the kitchen area. He had a heavily worn, badly tattered couch that had stuffing coming out at various seems along the back edges. Across from it was his television. The only thing in his apartment worth a damn was his 37” flat-panel television that he was currently renting-to-own.

He looked through the open door of his bedroom, toward the living room. Still on, but in sleep mode, the television cast a soft glow. It was always the centerpiece of the apartment. The only thing that wasn’t old, tattered, and a piece of crap.

John stumbled across the room, walking over the piles of clothes as he made his way to the front hallway. His eyelids were heavy, and as he stumbled, he wondered why the hell he was even trying to make his way to the bathroom. The heavy pain in his stomach and the burning sensation coming from his bowels reminded him why as he stepped into the little bathroom and clicked on the light. It flashed a few times before coming to life.

He barely caught a glimpse of his pale reflection in the mirror as he stepped past it to the toilet. The seat was up—ah, the life of a bachelor—and he didn’t even worry about closing the door behind him. Keeping his eyes closed, he listened to the sound of water on water, feeling the easing release of the pressure that had been building up. Sometimes there was no greater joy.

As he finished and opened his eyes to flush, he noticed the red of the toilet water. It was dark crimson, similar to the life force coursing through his veins. That had better not be coming from him. He looked at it, studied it, trying to see if there were any way it could have come from the water itself. He reached forward and flushed. As the red liquid went spiraling down to unknown locations of the sewer, fresh, clear water replaced it.

“Ah, fuck me,” he said to himself. Last thing he wanted was to be pissing blood again.

John groggily stepped over to the sink to wash his hands. He wasn’t the most sanitary of persons, but he had been taught to do so as a child and it was one habit he had never broken.

However, he was stopped by the pale reflection looking back at him with deep bloodshot eyes and dark circles under them. His hair was greasier and more ruffled than usual. His lips, his face without a glimpse of color to them. He was never one to focus on himself, but he was sure that if he looked that way when he had gone to bed, he would have noticed. He looked like a dead man walking. How the hell could he have missed it?

Then there was the dried blood under his nose. Just a little stream of it coming from his right nostril. It was so tiny, as though he had a start to a nose bleed. However, before it had really progressed, it had stopped and now was scabbed over.

John leaned forward so he could get a better look into his nostril. He had a sudden itch, forcing him to quickly start rubbing his nose. The itching grew stronger, a tickle becoming like fire and nearly bringing tears to his eyes as he rubbed both inside and out of the nostrils. He tried to wipe the sleep from his eyes as he peered through the darkness.

He could barely make out what looked like a hair sticking out of his nose. It was a long, black hair that stuck out at an odd angle. He reached up, readying himself to pluck it out and the sharp pain that would follow.

As he prepared to grip the hair, it twitched and started to move. He pulled his hand away and watched it pull itself back into his nose, disappearing into the darkness of his nostril.

“What the…?” John whispered as he leaned closer to the glass. The itching sensation grew so unbearable, he wished he could just rub it until it bled and the skin was raw, peeling away.

He was tired. He just wanted to get back to his mattress and the model who had been sexually assaulting his dreams.

John let a smile start to spread across his face as he pulled himself back from the mirror. He reached down and flushed the toilet. As he got ready to turn out the light, he glanced in the mirror, seeing the hair had reappeared, longer this time. It moved, shifting, then pulled itself back into his nostril.

Then the owner of the hair emerged. A small spider crawled out of his nose. John stood there, watching, his hand hovering just above the light switch. He was too afraid to move or pull his hand back as the spider perched on his upper lip.

John stopped watching it through the mirror and tried to look down at his upper lip. His eyes burned from the strain of focusing on an object so close, and all he could make out was the large black shape.

How had the thing been in his damn nose? How long was it up there? How had it survived when he had been squeezing and rubbing his nose when it itched? Ugh, even worse, what would have happened had he squashed the damned thing while it was in there? His stomach turned at the thought of it and he had to stifle a gag.

Keeping his eyes focused on the spider, John lowered his hand away from the light switch and moved back to the mirror. He could feel the spider’s legs on his upper lip. It shuddered as he moved, as though it were trying to surf him like a wave.

John looked back at the mirror, the black shape still sitting on his upper lip. A fucking spider. He could barely fathom how it had come out of his nose. He leaned over the sink, figuring it was time to try and knock the thing off and wash it down the drain.

He turned on the faucet and fumbled for the stopper so the sink would slowly fill with water. He didn’t turn the water on too fast because he didn’t want the sound of it to be too loud and scare the spider. With his luck, it would start crawling all over his face. However, so far, it seemed to be content with just sitting there.

John started to raise his hand, getting ready to shake his head and knock it off at the same time. He rocked back and forth briefly to get himself prepared, then swung.

The spider quickly ran back into his nose. It was again on fire with the itching sensation. However, this time, he could actually feel it moving around in his head. It ran deeper into his nose, and he could feel it forcing its way back into his airway.

John coughed, the lump moving up and down his throat. He gagged, trying to get it out. He put his finger down his throat to try and force himself to throw up, but the spider fought against him. It kept running around his throat. Tears came to his eyes as he tried to cough as hard as he could. His throat burned and became raw, but still nothing.

John dropped down to his knees in front of his toilet and reached his arms out, as though he had been drinking and was now praying to the porcelain gods. He tried to heave, but nothing came up. He could barely breathe and couldn’t make himself gag anymore.

Leaning onto the toilet, he wanted to cry. His body felt like it was burning up. He imagined he could feel the heat emanating off him. He was too hot. He looked at his arm, expecting it to be red. It was still pasty and pale.

He thought about the pot he had smoked earlier in the night. Damn, he hoped someone hadn’t laced his shit. The last thing he wanted to worry about was that.

Please, he thought to himself, let it just be one hell of a motherfucking bad trip.

A lump formed under his arm near his elbow. It just seemed to appear from nowhere, but protruded out grotesquely. It was nearly three-quarters of an inch in diameter and a half-inch tall, pulling the skin tight and making it red.

Suddenly, the lump broke through the skin. Another spider appeared, crawling its way out of the skin and onto his arm. Blood dripped from the hole as the spider started to run down his arm. John quickly started to claw at the spider with his other hand, trying to kill it. He nearly got it a couple times, but it was quick and kept dodging his attempts. It turned around and quickly ran back into the hole it had made in his arm.

He clawed at the hole, trying to tear away at the skin and get the spider out. His long, dirty nails pulled at his arm, but the spider continued to run underneath his skin and toward his hand. When it made it to his wrist, John quickly felt around above the sink, trying to find his razor. His arm, blood running down from his efforts to claw out the spider, was draped over the toilet.

He could barely see above the ceramic porcelain of the sink to see where he was reaching, but he heard things falling as he felt around—his toothbrush, the large heavy sound of the shaving cream splashing into the water filling the sink.

John finally felt his hand clench around the plastic handle of the razor. It was a cheap dollar shaver, but he hoped that if he dug enough, he would get the damned spider out. Damn the things. He wanted them out. He hated spiders. More than anything else, he hated spiders.

He brought the razor to his wrist and was about to start tearing away at the flesh when he noticed there were no longer any lumps, anything moving. His skin was clear. An unhealthy pale cast to it, but it was clear of anything hiding beneath it. He still had blood trickling down his arm, but the spider seemed to be gone. Same with the spider in his throat. He didn’t feel as though something was blocking his airway.

He reached out to the sink and used it to help him stand.

He still didn’t feel quite sure of himself and felt like he might still be trapped in a nightmare somehow. That he never truly woke up or he might just be caught on a bad acid trip.

He looked at himself in the mirror. He still looked like death warmed over. He was tired and wanted to go back to bed. It was calling for him, like a siren song reeling him in.

His ear tickled. As he reached up to pick at it, he felt the familiar sensation of the spider’s legs on his skin. He shook his head, trying to get at it as he felt it starting to crawl toward his face, its legs leaving small stinging sensations along the unshaven roughness of his skin. Then, after one big shake, he felt its release and saw it land on the floor.

It just lay there. Before it could regain itself, John quickly stomped down on the cursed thing. Strangely, he expected it to squish between his toes, as he was still barefoot. Instead, he barely felt anything. He pulled his foot away, seeing black dust where the remains of the spider should have been.

Space Truckin’: Free Fall

“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.


“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.”


“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.”


“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.


Enjoying this story? You can read the rest of it free on your kindle with Kindle Unlimited.

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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



*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

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.

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“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.


“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?”


“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?


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.


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.

One Bad Night

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
“One Bad Night” is available for purchase as a Kindle Single and in Audio
“One Bad Night” is also featured in the Last Exit anthology.

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


“What’s up?”

The wheels turning and burning, Rodney focused on the road. He had just clicked on the little button hanging from his ear, silencing the jingle reverberating in the small cab. He didn’t have to look at the caller ID. While he drove in the setting sun of the West Coast, his wife, Angie, was back east where the sun had long ago set. She was the only one who regularly called him at that hour.

“So how’s the driving today?” Despite the miles between them, her voice sounded clear, but he knew it would probably be cutting out soon. It always did when he was in the mountains.

“Usual. Just driving along in my automobile.” He couldn’t help but say his everyday joke in a singsong manner, even though he wasn’t in a car. The long tractor trailer was not just some automobile that anyone could drive down the road, and he was one of the many truck drivers who drove the large machine across the country.

“Oh, hun… Everything going okay?”

How did she always know? He could try and fake being upbeat and positive, but that woman would still pick up on it. He didn’t know how she was always able to do it, but it was downright supernatural.

Somehow, she had picked up on how his back ached, his head pounded, and he was five hours behind schedule due to the shipper hanging him out to dry. Maybe there was something to her being his soulmate. She had long since told him as much, but he was not the lovey-dovey type.

“It’s been a long day,” he said, sighing.

“Tell me all about it.” Her voice stayed chipper, and he could feel it slicing away some of the bitterness he had been holding. Still, he didn’t want to talk about his craptastic day. Not yet.

“How was your day?”

“Oh, the usual. My little cling-on at work was her usual self…driving me nuts. She has no clue what personal space is, and it smells like she never showers. She gets right up next to me and I have to fight not to gag.”

“It’s only a couple more weeks.”

“I know, but why did it have to be me who trained her?”

“Because you’re the best RN there is.”

“If you say so. So, Mr. Avoidance, how was your day?”

“Ugh…” The sigh was long, no matter how much he tried to cut it short. It was hard not to close his eyes and get lost in thinking just how bad it had been. Well, it could have been worse. You might as well just tell her. It wasn’t all that bad, was it? If he allowed himself to admit it, he guessed it hadn’t been too bad. He was alive and no one got hurt. It had just been a lot of wasted time, which would cost him in the end. “Bad.”

“Bad bad, or just bad?”

“Bad bad.”

“Oh, hun, what happened?”

“Well, to put it simply, I can either be home this weekend or we can pay the bills…and even making it home is a little sketchy.”

“Why? What happened?”

“Been sitting at a dock since yesterday.”

“You’re kidding me.”

He wished he were kidding. He explained it to her, although she already knew much of it as it was an old trucker’s story. Sitting unpaid at a dock was an often and frustrating occurrence in the life of a truck driver, and it was never good when it happened to you.  When it did, it always hurt.

Yesterday, he arrived an hour early at the shipper, mainly because he wanted to get there before traffic got bad. He was used to getting to places early. It was a good practice because, most times, he was awarded with getting loaded quickly and getting back on the road, keeping the wheels turning. If the wheels weren’t turning, he wasn’t making any money.

Truck driving wasn’t like other professions. It hardly ever paid by the hour or the number of loads you hauled, but usually by the mile. By getting to a shipper early, he was able to get to his next stop that much sooner and, with any luck, back on the road with a quick turnaround. As the saying went, “If the wheels ain’t turnin’, you ain’t earnin’.”

So when he arrived at Terrance Cans, he hoped he would be in and out. After only five minutes, he was close to screaming as he walked back to his truck, getting ready to back up to a door, having no idea how long he would be sitting. His load wasn’t ready because the cans hadn’t been made yet. Not only that, but the line was down, they were waiting on parts, and there was no ETA on when his load would be ready. He just knew it wouldn’t be today.

So he would have to sit there, unpaid, waiting until who knows when for his cans to be made and loaded.

When he had talked to his wife yesterday, he had been cheerful, hoping his load would be done soon so he could get back on the road. When he heard them putting a few pallets into the trailer, he got excited. He would have to drive all night, but he’d slept most of the day, so it wouldn’t be a problem. He was just ready to get out of there.

But the light by his trailer stayed red, silence descending.

Four hours later, then eight, and he still wasn’t back on the road.

When morning came, he was starving, having eaten all the snacks he kept in the truck. He had lost all his patience and still hadn’t heard anything. The night shift had already left, and the day crew all stood outside in their smoking area, puffing away.

Finally, he went back in to find out that the “fix” they had used on the line hadn’t worked and it was back down. The parts should be there in an hour, then they’d get the line back up. Until then, he was one of ten other trucks, all of them sitting there, waiting.

Rodney told her much of the story, maybe exaggerating a little here and there where it felt good. He never actually threatened to hit the smug dock worker who was laughing at all the truckers trapped there, but he had come close. Telling her he did those things, the things he would never rationally do, always calmed him, although he knew how much it stressed her out to think he was capable. He didn’t know why telling her those things helped take some of the edge off. Maybe it was the darkness in him he knew was there, but always held down. That dark corner of his thoughts that scared him, thinking what he might do if he were pushed.

He always hoped that darkness was just his imagination. He couldn’t ever do any of that, could he?

Rodney finished telling her his story, capping it off with him storming out of there just over an hour ago, having lost nearly two full days. He had taken off down the road, nearly hitting two pedestrians who weren’t paying attention and had walked out in front of him. In truth, they had just stepped off the curb, but it felt good to pad the story.

“But why can’t you make it home? It’s only Tuesday.”

“We’ll see, hun. But, right now, I don’t think we can pay rent. I pretty much just had my days off sitting at the dock. If I come home, that would be four days off this week not making money.”

The line was quiet. He knew she was thinking about what he had just said, but also upset by the truth of it.

“What about Tina?”

And there it was. Rodney was already upset. He wanted to be there, already afraid he wasn’t going to make it before all of this happened.

He wasn’t ready for this conversation.

He saw the sign for the truck stop on the large billboard, seeing it was three miles away. He didn’t want to lose more time, but he needed coffee and something more than beef jerky. His gums were bleeding from how much of the toughened meat he had eaten, and he thought he’d be sick if he ate any more.

“Did you hear me, Rodney?”

“What do you want from me, hun?” he asked, hearing the defeat in his own voice. He didn’t know what he could do and, right then, he really didn’t care. All of this, his life, just seemed to get more and more to the point of what did any of it matter? What was any of this for?

“I want you to be here for our daughter’s birthday.”

He closed his eyes, letting out a long sigh. The sound of the rumble strips on the side of the road were loud, echoing in the cab of the truck as he drifted off the road. He pulled it back with a quick jerk, keeping it from going past the shoulder.

His heart beat loudly in his own ears as he got the truck under control. When the exit for the truck stop came into view, he flipped on his turn signal. He needed that coffee more than he thought.

“Okay, hun. I’ll be there.”

“Okay. And babe.”

God, he loved her voice. How did she always burrow her way into his heart and soul? She was his calm.

“Yes, hun?”

“Be safe. We’ll make it though. Okay? We always do.”


“I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

He ended the call and put the phone in the little slot in the dashboard as he pulled into the small truck stop. He eased up to one of the empty stalls on the fuel island, listening to the hiss of the brakes as they released. Part of him was too tired to even get out of the seat, contemplating just sitting there and letting his body crash into exhaustion. The sun was setting, the orange fire stretching to the pink and red haze of the day escaping. He wished he could shut down, let his day be over like so many others did, but his day was just beginning. He had a long night of driving through the Rocky Mountains, which would be endless stretches of nothing, lost in canyons so deep, even the sky wouldn’t be visible.

He grabbed his thermos and emptied it as soon as he opened the door. This was a full thermos of coffee kind of night.

$ $ $ $

The truck stop was a dump, but it wasn’t like he didn’t expect that, being so far in the middle of nowhere and probably the last diesel stop for a hundred miles or more. You would think being the last stop for such a long distance would invite one of the big chains, but it was also so far from anywhere, it had to be hard to keep the shelves stocked. The crap he did see in there was all out of date and looked like it fell off the back of the truck. They had a pickle, one of those packaged monstrosities truck stops sold in their coolers, that was two years past expiration. He brought it to the cashier’s attention, but she just shrugged. Rodney saw her putting it back in the cooler as he walked out the door.

The place was nasty, and he wasn’t looking forward to the burger he had bought. It might end up putting him out of service somewhere in the mountains.

The day just keeps getting better, he thought as he walked around a tanker truck parked next to his. As he looked around, he could see it was the only other truck in the place. With the little light from the overhead, he saw what looked like mud coating it from front to back. It was one of those older Peterbuilts, or maybe a Kenworth. One of those long-nosed trucks the two companies kept copying from one another. It was odd, though, as it had a moose guard on the front, spikes sticking out about two inches. They looked sharp, too, and Rodney was sure that if the truck ever hit a deer or something, the creature would be ripped to shreds by this modification.

Whatever works, he thought, climbing into his own rig, tossing the bag containing the burgers onto the passenger seat. He put the coffee in the holder he specially made, then turned the key. The engine roared to life with much more energy than he felt. He took a few swigs of his thermos, feeling the hot liquid working its way down his throat. He knew it wasn’t going to do much for the headache pulsating in his temples, but it might help keep his lids open.

800 miles… That was all he had to go. It would be a day-and-a-half, then Rodney could find another load to get him north. Maybe he would be able to make it home before his little girl’s birthday. It would be a stretch, but it might be possible. He just needed to haul and get it done.

Rodney put the truck in gear and steered toward the exit. He had barely made it ten feet when he heard a loud air horn. His heart leapt into his throat as he slammed down on the clutch and brake. He slid another foot in the gravel and stopped just in time to see the tanker that had been next to him tear past, its horn blaring.

“What the hell, man? In a hurry much?”

He watched as the truck didn’t stop at the exit, tearing straight across and onto the interstate.

Rodney grabbed the mic and turned on his CB.

“Hey, man. In a hurry or what?”

The CB crackled in response, then he heard a loud rumbling through his truck. It shook the cab, then he felt it shaking him.

When the CB cut out, he was left in the relative silence of his idling truck.

Shaking his head, he put it into gear, easing it to the stop sign and stopping to check for any traffic. He looked all around him, not wanting to take the chance of cutting anyone else off. Then, as his heart tried to calm itself back into a normal rhythm, he eased onto the interstate.

Well, at least I’m awake now. Damn a-hole.

$ $ $ $

His stomach felt like acid and fire had combined and were twirling around while he tried to pay attention to the road. It wasn’t easy. Their movements and gurgling sounds kept threatening to take away most of his attention, although it was easy to get distracted.

It hadn’t taken long before he hit the first mountain, and was now chugging along up the steep slope. He had no idea how steep it was because that information was only at the top, meant as a warning for those going downhill who would have to stay in lower gears while riding their brakes. With him going up, there was no concern he would build up too much speed. As it was, he was in sixth gear, getting close to the need to drop to fifth as he slowed down to thirty miles per hour. He kept one eye on the road as he came up on a tight curve, and his other on the RPMs, waiting for it to drop low enough to downshift.

This was exhausting, and it was still early. Something about a truck chugging along at slow speeds, endlessly climbing, was tiring. It took so much out of him, but he never knew why. Maybe it was just the low, dull, endless rumble of the engine.

His head grew heavy and he felt his eyelids lower. It was so tempting to just nod off. Even just to pull over to the shoulder. He could set the brakes and take a quick nap.

Rodney heard the rumble strips, his eyes shooting open. He was on the shoulder, having very little space before the guardrail and then a wall. The road had curved, but he hadn’t. Pulling hard on the wheel to swerve back into his lane, he saw it. The tanker truck was just in front of him, going much slower than he was. It must be overweight because it was quickly dropping back in his lane as he worked to gain control of his own truck. The interstate was wide, consisting of three lanes to accommodate the right lane being reserved for the slow trucks like himself, but he was going faster than the tanker. He had to swerve more or they were both going to run into the mountain.

He pulled harder on the wheel, feeling everything shift in the truck. He had to lean into the turn, putting his weight into it. It was going to be close. The tanker had lost a lot of speed. The driver must have missed a gear because even if he were too heavy, he shouldn’t be dropping back this fast.

Rodney wasn’t sure if he was going to get over in time. He swerved hard, keeping a close eye on the red lights of the tanker as they drew closer. When a loud horn blasted, he barely had time to register the four-wheeler as it shot by him, barely missing the front of his truck. Rodney was nearly in the middle lane, but the car hadn’t even tried to get over. Instead, the driver had felt the need to blare the horn at him as he struggled to keep his rig from jackknifing, rolling, or colliding with the truck in front of him. If he made it through this, he might have to check his pants for crap or his back for angel’s wings.

He watched through his blindside mirror as his trailer cleared the back bumper of the tanker while he steadied out in the middle lane. His truck fell to such a low RPM for the gear, it lurched. He downshifted, eyeing the truck next to him. He made the gear, his truck slowly crawling past the tanker. It had to only be going a rough fifteen miles per hour, but Rodney was now down to just a little over twenty.

As he came cab to cab with the other truck, he looked over, trying to give the other driver a nod of acknowledgment, but he couldn’t see in the darkened cab.

He grabbed his CB, nodding to it, not sure if the driver could see him. There was the glow from the console in his cab, but it was faint. He might be nothing more than a shadow, as well.

“Hey, buddy. Sorry about that. Thanks for letting me by.”

The CB crackled with no response as Rodney crept on past.

He blew out a breath, letting his already frayed nerves calm. Maybe he could start to relax and have a decent night of driving.

Wondering if there was anything on the radio, he reached for the nob, jumping when there was a blast of an air horn. It howled through the night, and he couldn’t stop himself from jerking the wheel. He swerved to the right, remembering too late about the tanker. He looked in the side mirror and watched as he went into the tanker’s lane, cutting him off. The truck swerved with him, hitting the guardrail, sparks flying into the night as the tanker screeched to a stop.

Rodney swerved back into the middle lane, then signaled that he was moving to the right lane. There wasn’t much of a shoulder, but he had to stop and make sure the other driver was all right. He needed to report the accident. He needed to-

“You’re dead…”

The voice seemed to echo in his cab, a deep rumble that shook through the speakers and carried a touch of ice with it. It took Rodney a moment to figure out that it had come from the CB.

“Hey, man. Sorry. You okay? I’m coming back to see if everything’s all right.”

He stopped the truck on the side of the road. He was still half in the right lane, but it was as far off the road as he could get. He put on his flashers and had started to climb out the driver’s door when he thought he heard heavy breathing coming through his speakers. The breathing grew in intensity, slowly forming into a primordial growl.

He thought about getting on the CB and calling back to the driver, but the sound frightened him. That was stupid. The driver was probably just shaken up or in shock. Rodney had to go back and make sure the man was all right, then report it.

There was definitely no way he would make it home for his daughter’s birthday now. He’d be lucky if he didn’t end up delayed by the cops for most the night. Worse yet, what if someone was really hurt and they decided to lock him up?

His shoes hit the loose gravel and rock that had fallen from the canyon walls around him, crunching as he started walking back. Damn curve of the road made it hard to see just where the tanker was, but he could hear the rumbling of the engine. It was getting closer…or was that just the echo from the walls around him? It was hard to tell.

Then he got blinded as the driver from the tanker turned every light on. The jerk didn’t just turn on his lights and brights, but had turned on his fog lights, as well. He also had a row of lights across the top of the truck, but they weren’t regular lights. They were spotlights, and Rodney was caught in their blinding intensity.

He felt like a deer, but it took a second for that thought to kick in. He heard the sound of the truck getting closer, but with so much light, he had just stopped there.

When he realized what was happening, he moved quickly, barely making it between his truck and trailer, hiding in that little gap as the tanker roared by. Its air horn blew, the closeness causing everything around him to shake. He heard something shatter, but held onto the air lines as he tried to catch his breath.

Even when everything quieted, Rodney was afraid to move. His vision danced with circles of light, and he had to count to thirty before the darkness settled around him. There were still purple and green spots swirling, but he felt he could see enough to poke his head out.

All he saw was dark interstate. No cars passed, and the other truck was gone.

He closed his eyes and leaned back, letting the air lines hold him up, focusing on his breathing.

What the hell is that guy’s problem?

Slowly, he eased out and kept a watchful eye for semis emerging out of nowhere to run him down. He started to think staying awake wouldn’t be an issue, but heart attacks? Those were becoming a growing concern. Damn…

$ $ $ $

Rodney eased his truck to the top of the hill, although in the darkness and with the mountain walls on each side, it was hard to tell he was at the top. If his truck hadn’t started to speed up and he quickly had to shift out of fifth gear, he might not have known. And maybe he wasn’t. Maybe this was just a brief respite before continuing to climb.

Then the wall on his passenger side fell away to a deeper darkness, his headlights no longer reflecting off the dull rock. Up ahead, he saw the sign warning that the was coming up on a 7% downgrade, then another sign telling all trucks to exit into the brake check area.

He hated pulling off. It was just more time wasted, and he knew he had a pretty light load…only thirty thousand pounds. His brakes weren’t worn, so there shouldn’t be anything to check.

But if he didn’t pull in and there was a bear hiding, it would take longer to get written up than just pulling in for a few minutes to check everything out. And it never hurt to check. Five minutes to check his brakes, then if something was wrong…

But nothing is ever wrong. This is such a waste of time.

He put on his turn signal and listened to the engine brake idle him down. He missed the days when it was an unmuffled roar. Now it sounded like a little whimper as it slowed him down.

He pulled into the little parking lot, his attention immediately focusing on the tanker truck.

“Yeah, I got you now, you son of…”

He could feel the heat rise as his heart pounded. The tanker was parked in the far stall, away from the one light hanging from a wire overhead. He was nearly hidden in the shadows, just sitting there. Rodney didn’t see anyone walking around, no light from a flashlight as if the driver was actually checking his brakes. Nothing. The whole area was still.

He set the brakes and climbed out of his rig. He hadn’t planned on doing anything more than just a quick walk around, checking his own trailer for any smoking brakes, not that there would be. He had been going uphill. The whole thing was pointless.

But when his shoes crunched on the gravel of the parking lot, the image of that truck rushing past him flashed in his memory. He could still see the inside flap on his semi, his heart leaping into his throat as he tried not to scream.

Before he knew it, he had his long-barreled flashlight in hand, walking toward the truck. This wasn’t him. He was not a fighter, but for that one brief moment as he gripped the flashlight, his knuckles going white, he couldn’t see himself being any other type of person. The anger was a rumbling pot of boiling water.

He reached the driver’s door and pounded on it, stepping back, waiting for the man to climb down.

The night was still around him. The light shining behind him was far enough away that he felt like he was on the edge of everything good in the world. He was near the shadows, on the verge of that darkness threatening to overtake him. He felt the chill of it, a coldness reaching up inside him.

His grip on the flashlight loosened as he faced a man he didn’t want to be. Already ashamed about missing her birthday, could he go home and tell his daughter how he had beaten a man senseless? He could see himself doing it, too. That anger was on the fringe, begging him for control.

He looked down at the flashlight. It wasn’t there to light his way and he hadn’t brought it to. He wasn’t even holding it right. He had gripped it more like a club, ready to bring that heavy barrel down on the man’s head.

He took a step back.

This wasn’t him.

He took another step away from the tanker.

He flicked the light on, letting the beam light the way back to his truck. He didn’t bother walking around to check his brakes. There weren’t any D.O.T. officers hiding up there, and he had enough. The night had turned into a nightmare and he just needed to get it over with. Getting down this hill was the first stretch in a long, exhausting run, and he just needed to do it.

He put the truck into gear and slowly drove past the other. The windshield was covered in dirt and grime, making it impossible see in, even if there were light to do so. Even still, he swore he could feel the glare, like someone was watching him.

            Good. Let the jerk look all he wants. He’s not going to get the best of me.

            Rodney had just turned on his blinker, preparing to merge back onto the interstate, when he heard the crackle and hiss of his CB. Then a low, rumbling laugh built until a deep, raspy voice said, “I’m coming for you, tough guy. You should have come in. We could have had a nice little conversation.”

Rodney shifted into another gear, not realizing he was accelerating faster than he should. He was already in fifth gear, but he wasn’t watching his speed, his focus locked on the lighted display of the CB.

“You were all big and bad with that flashlight. Why didn’t you open the door? I had it unlocked, waiting for you.”

Rob heard the whine of his engine and tore his eyes from the CB, looking at his gauges. His RPMs were high, nearing two thousand, and he was doing nearly sixty-five in eighth gear. He should be upshifting, but that wasn’t right. He was on that damn hill. He was losing it.

“Come on, man. Pay attention to what you’re doing,” he cursed to himself, slowly applying his brakes. It wasn’t like in a car. He couldn’t just push on the brake pedal and slow down to the speed he wanted to go. This was a thirty-five thousand pound vehicle with another thirty thousand pounds in his load. He had to slowly, gingerly push down on the brake pedal, bring it down five to ten miles per hour, then let off for a few seconds, hoping the engine brake would keep it from gaining too much more speed before he applied the brakes again. It was a process, and it wasn’t simple. This was where accidents happened. He had to keep paying attention or he would lose control.

“I told you, you’re a dead man,” the driver said, his voice barking out a vicious laugh as he said it. Again, Rodney felt like he could feel the driver’s eyes on him. He chanced a look back through his driver’s side mirrors.

What the hell is this guy’s problem? There’s road rage, but this guy is talking about killing me!

He didn’t see anything in the mirror, then narrowed his eyes. Was that a shape farther back? Could it be the tanker? If the truck were still parked at the brake check area, he should be getting out of CB range soon. There weren’t any lights on the interstate behind him, but was that a tanker truck with its lights off? It was so dark back there, but sometimes there was just a brief glint, like the moonlight shining on something metallic.

Rodney slowed to downshift into seventh gear. Releasing the clutch, the engine brake roared to life, now in such a low gear, it would slow the truck without much work. He could start to breathe a little easier, maybe even relax.

The CB crackled. “Peekaboo,” the voice rasped, back to that cold, flat menace that shook his cab.

Rodney looked in his side mirror just in time to see the bright lights fill the night, reflecting on the canyon walls, blinding in his mirror. He wanted to look away, but he couldn’t. The tanker was approaching fast.

            Come on. There is no way this guy is actually going to hit me.

But he was coming faster, getting closer.

This only happens in movies. This isn’t possibly happening to me.

He took a chance and upshifted, not liking the idea that he was going to be speeding up on the downgrade. He took his eyes off the mirror. He had seen a sign just a second ago about an upcoming curve. He needed to watch for it before the other truck slammed him into it.

Rodney was glad he did as the lines turned to the left. He put his weight into the turn, his truck lurching forward from the shift, the engine brake straining at the high idle. It didn’t like the higher gear, and he tried to caress his foot on the brake to keep it manageable. He felt like he was fighting a losing battle, though. He knew it was getting away from him. He hoped like hell that his load wasn’t shifting in the back.

“Run, little mouse. Run.”

He reached up and fumbled to turn off the CB, but he wasn’t looking. He turned the wrong knob and the cab filled with static, hissing and popping as he kept his attention on the road.

He dared a glance back, seeing the tanker falling back.

He gasped in relief, letting it out in a long sigh as he made it through the curve of the road. When he felt his truck starting to slow, he knew he had made it to an incline. He took another breath, trying to slow his heart.

As the road straightened and he started climbing, he enjoyed the slowing of the truck. When it reached the point to downshift, he did, knowing the tanker behind him was going to fall farther back. Thank goodness for the heavier weight of whatever the other driver hauled.

He looked in his mirror and watched the driver behind him turn off all his lights.

Great. Now what is he doing?

“You can run, but you can’t hide from me, mouse.”

Rodney reached up to the CB, finding the right knob this time. He turned it off and sighed in relief as the light faded from the display.

The truck would keep falling back, so he had a few minutes, but that wouldn’t last. He had to call the authorities, but what was he going to tell them? There was another trucker making threats? When he thought about it, it seemed like a pretty weak reason to call the local police. If he called them, he would probably be pulled over, too, then put through a level one inspection, which could tie him up for another four to six hours.

Screw it. He reached forward and grabbed his phone from the cradle on the dash. He unlocked it, punched in 911, and brought it to his ear, not taking the time to connect his Bluetooth. Laws be damned. He took deep breaths as he checked his side mirrors again, trying to see if there was any sign of the other truck.

It seemed like the night just swallowed it up. There had been plenty of moonlight before, but now it was just darkness, a sea of black. He could barely see any of the canyon walls, his trailer only visible in the mirror by the small dot of light marking its end. Even that seemed far away.

He looked back at the miles of road stretching out before him, his lights shining into the endlessness, a yellow and white line disappearing into the night.

Suddenly, it hit him. His phone wasn’t ringing.

He pulled it away from his ear, using that hand to upshift, the screen lighting up in the dark cab. When he got the truck into gear, it lurched forward as he pulled his phone up to look at the now dark screen. Damned thing. He swiped it again and looked to see it was just as he feared. No signal. These damned mountains always played hell with cell reception. He didn’t think the cell companies even tried to expand their coverage out there because it was never there when he needed it.

            Can you hear me now? No? Well, get out here and get me some service!

Suddenly, he was slammed forward. The phone flew out of his hand, hit the windshield, and disappeared on the other side of the cab. He hoped the screen would have some light, but once it was out of sight, there was no trace of it.

He didn’t try too hard to look for it as his gaze locked in on the road ahead of him. He took a second to glance in his mirror. He already knew who was there, but it was instinctive. However, just taking his eyes off the road made the truck jerk in that direction, his hands pulling with the motion. He fought it, keeping the truck straight, but before he managed to look back, the burst of speed diminished. He had the sudden feeling of being pulled back. His seat belt felt like it had tightened, but he knew that was impossible. The force that had been pushing him back against his seat now had him leaning forward against the restrictive belt.

He took a second to breathe. There was that shimmer of hope deep within him that tried to say everything was okay, but what had just happened? He thought he had heard the sound of screeching metal and two heavy objects slamming against each other. That couldn’t have been, could it?

As he tried to take a deep breath and think about what was going on, he became blinded by light. It was like the sun was speeding alongside his truck, coming from behind, quickly moving around to his left side. Then a sonic boom of sound echoed through the cab, rumbling into his skull.

The truck shook again, forcing him to jerk hard to the right. Rodney had to grip the steering wheel hard as it threatened to twist out of his hands. He fought with it, putting his weight into it. He ground his teeth, fighting to keep it from slamming into the rock wall.

Suddenly, the sound of screeching metal diminished and the force released him. The truck swayed under the new freedom, going left, then he compensated and it went back to the right. He could now hear the whining of the engine as he idled high, the truck going faster than he should.

He upshifted and flipped the switch for the engine brake. The engine roared, but he could feel the pull as it tried to slow him. He eased down the brakes, as well, but the weight kept shifting as he fought to gain control of the truck.

It was hard to see the speedometer or RPMs, but he still heard the whine. The light was so bright, the tanker truck staying on his left side, keeping pace. The light penetrated when he glanced to the left, shooting needles through his eyes.

He straightened the truck, gaining control as he slowed. Rodney realized it was slowing faster than the engine brake was able to. It got so low, he had to downshift.

He risked glancing out the driver’s side mirror. The tanker truck fell back when he started to go up another hill. Thank God.

Stars danced across his vision when the lights were no longer close enough to blind him. They were still annoying, but not something he couldn’t deal with.

That was it. This had to end. What the hell was this guy’s problem? Doing this kind of crap was going to get them both killed or, at the very least, hurt. No, both of them dying was almost a certainty. Semis were not toys. These rigs were meant to be driven by professionals, not testosterone driven jerks who were just big kids playing with powerful toys.

Rodney switched the CB back on. He had to downshift again as they continued to climb, the tanker falling further behind.

“What the hell’s your problem? It was an accident. I said I’m sorry. If you want to pull over, we can have words. You can kick my teeth in, do whatever to make you feel better, but if not, just let it go, man.”

Rodney clipped the mic back to the side of the CB and focused back on the road. The hill seemed to be longer than the previous two had been. He only had to downshift down to fifth gear, holding steady just below thirty miles per hour, the night seeming to drone on with the endless hum of the engine. Nothing responded on his CB, and his engine was a subtle rumble that threatened to put him to sleep. He had no idea how long he had been going up before he saw the yellow sign up ahead that marked another 7% downgrade coming up.

His chest grew tight. It was time to see if the driver was going to back off or not. He wished he had his cell phone. If he could get a call out to 911, maybe they could get someone out there. He didn’t care what problems it caused him. At least this psycho wouldn’t be after him and he would be alive.

He tried to scan the cab again to see where the phone might have landed, but it was no use. He couldn’t see much past the bright on-board company computer. The damn thing was always an annoyance during the night. Even if he dimmed it to the lowest setting, it would still be too bright. The glow made it too hard to see anything on the other side of the cab. What if he did see it? Was he going to try and reach across the truck and grab it?

“Do you know what they call this next hill?” The voice on the CB had lost some of the viciousness he had felt before. Maybe this guy had gotten all that crap out of his system.

Was Rodney really just going to let it go if he did? How would he explain the damage to the trailer? He could come up with a story about how a car sideswiped him, but it was so dark in the mountains, there was no way he could identify them. He couldn’t call it in because there was no cell reception, and he couldn’t send it in through the company computer because there was no safe place to pull over and type in a message.

The lie didn’t sit well with him, but if it meant he lived, it was worth it.

He was just grateful that he would see his wife and hold his daughter in his arms again, seeing their smiles.

He grabbed the mic and keyed it. “Not a clue.”

“Dead Man’s Drop.”

Rodney gave a nervous laugh. “Really? Who calls it that?”

“Locals. Unlike most the hills around here, this one doesn’t have a pull-off ramp. If you lose control, there is nowhere to go.”


“You get to the bottom, there’s a nasty curve. If you come down too fast, over the edge you go. It’s a straight drop. That guardrail isn’t going to do much more than buckle and break when you hit it.”

Rodney looked at his driver’s side mirror. He could see the tanker back there. He no longer had all the lights on, just the headlights, like a pair of eyes looking back at him, watching him.

He took a deep breath. “That sounds bad.”

“Yeah. It’s a rough way to go. Seeing yourself falling to your death, knowing there’s no way you can stop it.”

Rodney tried to swallow down the large lump in his throat. He suddenly felt very parched, reaching for the thermos of coffee. He wasn’t sure what to say, but it sure as hell felt like there was an underlying threat there.

“You ever have anyone ride with you, driver?”

Rodney looked at the CB, then in his mirror. He neared the top of the hill and had to upshift before he grabbed the mic.

“My wife’s been out with me a time or two. Sometimes we’d go out and use the truck to drive to some vacation getaway.”

“You ever have any pets?”


“Yeah, well, when you have no family at home, it gets lonely. Sometimes a dog is all the family you got.”

Rodney upshifted again, keeping an eye on his gauges, making sure the engine brake was on and keeping him from going too fast. He didn’t dare upshift another gear, and as the engine brake took hold, he let the semi glide down the hill, occasionally tapping the brake to keep it from going too fast.

This was how it should be. It was still a long, tedious process, but there was no rush or fight with it. Not when you knew what you were doing. It was all just a matter of paying attention.

He still kept a watchful eye on the tanker coming up behind him. It wasn’t charging, though. It stayed right behind him, steady. He wasn’t passing him, but he wasn’t slamming into him, either. It was almost like back in the day when drivers looked out for each other and ran in convoys to keep an eye on one another. That was back when the D.O.T would try to clamp down, and some places were out to get drivers for no reason. There had been a time when truck driving was like the Wild West. If you didn’t have a brother to watch your back, you could turn around and find a figurative knife stabbing you there.

Rodney waited for the driver to say more, but the seconds ticked away. He finally grabbed his mic, wanting to keep the driver talking, keep him calm.

“I can imagine.”

“It’s sometimes not easy having a pet out here. They get rambunctious. Sometimes you have to keep the window down and just let them hang their head out. They like that, feeling the wind blowing their ears back. You can almost see them smile.”

“Sounds like something really amazing.”


Light suddenly flooded around him, then came the angry roar of the tanker’s air horn. Rodney knew what was coming before he felt it. He heard the smashing and grinding of metal as he was slammed back against his seat. The truck suddenly became a missile racing down the side of the mountain.

“His name was Sampson, you son of a-” His horn blew, muffling the rest. “His corpse is on my passenger seat. You ran me into that mountain and said you’re sorry. You’re going to be sorry.”

Rodney fought with his own wheel as the truck tried to slip around him. The tanker pushed on his trailer, causing it to zigzag, the load swaying, making it nearly impossible for him to fight with it. When he turned left, the trailer tried to go right, the rear wanting to meet him on the left. If he gave in, he would jackknife, rolling both truck and trailer. So he would have to turn the truck back right in order to have the trailer push left, but the rear would still fight to meet him. Worse, he couldn’t hit the brake. If he did, the trailer would swing around and he’d be in an uncontrollable spin. He had to keep going faster, upshifting to dangerous speeds in an effort to do the only thing he could do to outrun the devil on his back.

They were going downhill, which made it easy to go faster than safety permitted. It worked. His truck started to straighten, his speed starting to build. He didn’t dare look down at the speedometer, riding the accelerator instead. The engine screamed at him, not liking the higher RPMs. He was already going faster than the speed limiter on his truck allowed. If he weren’t going downhill, he would have maxed out at sixty-five, no matter how hard he pounded on the throttle. There was just no more speed for him to give.

But the tanker truck was heavier. Even if it had a limiter, which he didn’t think it did, it had mass on its side, and Rodney could see the approaching lights in his side mirror. It was coming again.

He saw a yellow road sign on the right, but he couldn’t look at it. He was fixated on those headlights glaring at him. They came up behind him, crashing into his rear bumper.

It didn’t matter if he saw it or not. The other driver had already told him what was coming, and if he kept trying to outrun him, there was no way he was going to make it. He was sure to end up flying off the cliff, becoming a pancake on the ground below.

What could he do? If he slowed, the maniac would just continue to push him, making him spin and slide until he jackknifed, rolling off the cliff in a mangled mass of metal. If he sped up, he wouldn’t even see the curve. He would just break through the guardrail like it was paper.

There was no good option.

He wanted to just let his head fall to the steering wheel. Fighting was useless anyway. Why not just relax his shoulders, pound the wheel with his forehead, and let the tears pour down? He was never going to see his wife and child again.

And maybe he deserved it. If he had killed the man’s dog, took away his only companion, maybe this was his punishment. He definitely shouldn’t be behind the wheel. Not tonight, maybe never again. It was obvious he was too much of a danger on the road.

Screw it.

It was a long shot. No, the idea had no way of working. It was sure to kill them both, but it didn’t matter. It was something that, deep down, he always wanted to try. Some days, he thought about doing it just to see what would happen. It was like his last day bucket list kind of idea, like trying to drive a semi through a fast food drive-thru. Something so ludicrous that he knew he would never do it, no matter how much he’d like to try.

But now was the time.

He pulled on the lever toward the center of his dash. The handle was well-worn so that only a couple letters marked what it was for. ‘T  L   AK’, and even those were barely visible. It didn’t matter. He knew what it was for.

Air hissed, sounding like it exploded out from under his dash. He never knew why it sounded like there was air escaping from under there, even when there might be an air leak somewhere else, but it did, and it now rushed to escape from the trailer brakes. He barely had a chance to look in his mirror before he felt the heavy jolt pushing him into his seat belt. He felt the sting in his shoulder as it cut in, his body mass becoming heavy as the force pulling him back became stronger. The lever wanted to jump out of his hand, but he held firm, keeping it low.

Smoke now surrounded him. The truck slowed to the sound of squealing metal and screeching rubber. Then he heard the scream of an air horn and saw the tanker fly past him. He was quickly slowing, the tanker just beginning to slam on his brakes. Rodney didn’t have time to watch him as he fought for control of his own truck, although as it were his back brakes doing most the work, he didn’t have the wheel fighting against him.

He downshifted and the engine brake whined, slowing the truck. He let off the lever and pumped his brake. Now that the lever wasn’t pulled, all the brakes in the truck worked, not just the rear most trailer brakes.

He looked in his mirror, thankful to see that the trailer was still there, smoke billowing out from under the tires. Then he saw the flames.

“Crap!” he cursed, quickly letting off the brakes, the truck lunging forward. His brakes had caught fire, and his back tires would catch soon, as well.

He had to stop. He had been slowing, the trailer brake had slowed him considerably, but he was still going downhill. His only option was to keep braking, hoping the trailer brakes would hold for just a little longer.

His lungs burned. He hadn’t noticed he had started to hold his breath as he gently applied more pressure, easing it down to fifteen miles per hour. He quickly downshifted, the engine roaring as its brake bogged down in such a low gear. He eased down the air brakes again, keeping an eye on the driver’s side mirror, praying that the flames didn’t climb too high.

The truck eased to a stop. He had gotten it as far to the side of the road as possible, his hazards blinking on the canyon wall to his right. He didn’t wait for the truck to settle as he quickly released the air brakes and jumped out, grabbing the fire extinguisher from his side compartment.

He could hear the screeching of the hot brakes as they didn’t want to hold the truck. He ran up the steep road, fumbling with the extinguisher, never having used one before. He hoped he had it right as he extended the little hose and tried to find the base of the fire to aim at.

It didn’t take long for him to realize it wasn’t going to work. The fire continued to build and wrap around the tires. When the rubber started to melt, Rodney he was sure one of them would blow at any minute. He was too close to them, and he winced with every pop, sure that he was about to get hit by flying debris.

The extinguisher emptied and he heard air hissing out, the small canister having nothing more. He was done.

He backed away from the trailer, the flames following him, chasing after him. They would continue to chase him until he got to the front, then they would consume his truck. Well, the company’s truck, and he wasn’t too sure he cared enough about the company to care about the truck. Things would be a lot worse, though, if the cab caught fire.

Crap. He rushed towards the front and started lowering the landing gear. It crunched as one side hit the uneven ground, and he didn’t try to force the other. He leaned under the trailer and pulled the fifth wheel handle, then ran to the front, pulling on the air lines to get them free.

When the rig pulled out from under it, there was a loud crash as the trailer dropped the rest of the way to the ground. He continued on, getting a little distance between himself and the trailer. He went about fifty feet before he stopped the truck and started looking for the cell phone, keeping an eye out for the tanker truck. He wasn’t sure if the driver was going to come back. As his trailer was now ablaze, a beacon for anyone nearby, it wouldn’t be hard for the other driver to find him, and with the smoke trapped in the valley, Rodney wouldn’t see him until it was too late.

He grabbed his phone from the floorboard, glad to see it still had a charge, frustrated when he saw the “no signal” icon in the upper right corner. Didn’t matter. The phone would get signal somewhere. He had to try to contact authorities, which might mean leaving the scene until he could call.

He was exiting the truck when the first tire blew. It was a loud explosion that echoed in the canyon. Then the next tire, followed by another. He wasn’t sure when the fourth tire blew as a loud rumbling started to overshadow the sound. He had no idea what it was, but the echo was all around him. It sounded like the grating of stone, heavy masses of rock colliding.

Then he saw the first of the small rocks land on the trailer, pinging off the metal ceiling like hail in a strong fall storm.

He looked up, knowing it was impossible to see anything through the smoke, but he felt it when the ground around him started trembling. There were loud cracking sounds that he was sure came from above him.

He didn’t have time to secure anything. If he went back, he could be caught in the oncoming avalanche.

His life had never involved much physical activity. It had become worse once he started driving a truck, spending most his time either driving or sleeping in the back. Exercise was not a part of his daily routine, and as he tried to run down the road, he felt that mistake catching up to him. His lungs quickly burned with the demand for more air. With the smoke around him and the running, it was getting harder and harder to get any. He saw stars in the smoke and not the sky. His legs felt like they should be hurting, but he couldn’t tell because his knees were filled with so much pain, everything else could communicate with him later about how much they hated him.

When the first big rock fell, he didn’t look back. After the third rock, he chanced a quick look over his shoulder, thankful he had gone far enough that his truck was only a shape in the smoke and he couldn’t see any of the destruction.

When the haze lifted, he looked around at the dark interstate. The glowing fire behind him lit the night in such an odd way, he could see a little bit in front of him, seeing the curve. He hadn’t realized just how close to it he had been. Had he not slammed on the trailer brake when he did, he would have flown straight through the guardrail.

Like the tanker truck did.

Rodney looked at the stretch of missing guardrail, wide enough for a semi. He walked to it slowly, mesmerized. The driver had wanted to kill Rodney so much, his own life hadn’t mattered. And for what? Because of an accident? Because Rodney had accidentally slammed him against the wall? It wasn’t like he had done it on purpose, and the guy was partly to blame. He had blared his horn at him, making him look. Sure, if Rodney hadn’t been so tired, he probably wouldn’t have drifted over while looking, but still. The guy shouldn’t have…

Rodney remembered that the driver had told him something right before that last attack. He had been telling him a story, something about a companion. Rodney knew the road out there could get lonely. Even with his daily phone calls with his wife, he still felt the loneliness. There were nights when he sat in his bunk and all he wanted to do was hold her, feel her warmth beside him.

How would it be out on the road if there were no one waiting at home for him? He couldn’t imagine it.

So, if all a person had in the world was their dog… If someone took that away from him, how would he handle it? Well, he doubted he would go homicidal, but could he really be sure of that?

He stared out into the darkness.

He wasn’t sure about a lot of things. A man was dead, and it was partly his fault. Where did he go from here? The moment he called the authorities, he could end up in jail for vehicular manslaughter. Thirty years in jail, if he remembered correctly, although that was different from state to state. If he walked away, there was chance his truck would be lost in the fire and avalanche. He could try and make a clean break, go back to see his wife and daughter, but would he be able to look them in the eye?

No, not after all this.

He stared at that endless darkness below him. The nothingness was so inviting, he felt like he could lose himself in it. What would be left of his life? What was going to happen now? He took another step forward and sat down on the edge, debating if he should walk, wait, or just push himself over.