The Cutlass Sierra maintained its steady course, rolling smoothly down the country road. The scenery had not changed for hours, or so it seemed. It was the brightest of blue sky days, with a crisp morning air and a plush scent of sweetness. August, in its glory had arrived, and the warmth gave a promise of new possibilities.
There were patches of thick woods that marked the countryside, but what was prevalent was the corn. The stalks were tall and ripe for the harvest, standing like a green army in perfect rows that appeared to go on forever. The yellow bounty on the husks was mature and ready, and this is the farmer's pride: the golden ear that is plucked from the crackling shell.
One could get lost viewing such beauty, but for the travelers on this day it was nothing but a dreary sight that offered nothing ahead nor behind. It was a meaningless, uninspiring landscape, offset only by the scarecrow that hung like a dead man on the horizon.
There were three of them: Robert, Kory, and Jennifer. They were indeed a strange combination, a trio of misfits who did not get along very well, and existed only in the strange worlds they created. Their personalities were big, selfish, and dysfunctional, clouded by misguidance and gross negligence.
It was nearly a miracle that they could stomach a long drive together, yet they endured the discomfort due to a single bond: their connection to a woman named Missy Faire.
It was the day of her wedding, a commitment the Midwest looks quite favorably on despite any restrictions of finance or opportunity. Missy was fortunate to have met Chad, a quiet but strong-hearted soul who offered her an escape from her life of sorrow. They were already living together and made arrangements to give their vows in a gazebo in the backyard of their home. They wished to keep the ceremony simple but beautiful, as this was a reflection of their own love.
The trio existed from the shades of her past, when her life was ill spent and often times cruel. They had their own special way of bringing Missy down, though she still cared for them, much to her detriment. They were each a year her junior, and had not heard from her since she had graduated high school. The lapse of contact began to convince them that she was slipping away for good, but they each received the small, but artfully crafted invitation in the mail. Robert was the only one who owned a car, and Kory and Jennifer had no choice but to ask him for a ride. Robert agreed because he did not wish to go to the event alone. It only took a short while to determine the confines of the Cutlass was far from adequate for the little group. For a healthy spirit, the ride would have been a pleasant one, but what gathered on this venture was a controller, a narcissist, and a derelict.
“How much longer till we get there?” Kory groaned from the back seat. “I'm sick of lookin' at this fuckin' corn.”
“About two hours, I think,” Robert mumbled.
Since the beginning of the trip Robert had said few words, and drove with his cold eyes on the road, rarely blinking. He was hunched over like a gorilla, pushing the Cutlass too fast and huffing with impatience.
“Well, I don't know why they had to choose a place so far away,” Kory snorted, as he shifted back and forth restlessly.
Kory was about half the size of Robert, a scrawny rail-shaped boy cramped in a moth chewed suit he had dug out from the back of his closet. With one look at him, it was easy to see he was not the kind to usually dress up for anybody.
“I don't know why you were even invited,” Jennifer said casually.
Sitting with perfect posture next to Robert, the buxom young female wore a pink form-fitting dress. A small pocket mirror was balanced elegantly in her left hand, while she stroked a small makeup brush under her eye.
Kory stopped fidgeting and leaned abruptly forward. “Do you have to keep looking at yourself? It's kind of pathetic.”
“You're kind of pathetic,” Jennifer retorted with a thin smile.
Kory leaned in closer, almost touching her ear, but Jennifer pretended the proximity did not bother her.
“I have the right to go to this wedding as much as you do,” he growled. “Missy and I were best friends for a long time.”
“Yeah, like five years ago,” Jennifer replied laughing. “She told me about you…. You had this huge crush on her and kept it a secret for years. When you finally confessed your feelings, she told you she didn't feel the same. You closed up like a clam after that, and to my knowledge you haven't dated anyone since then, or made any friends for that matter.”
Kory clenched his muscles until the veins in his arms popped out in blue webs. “You're not so perfect yourself!” he blurted. “I heard you were the one who tried to steal away her fiancé, Chad!”
Jennifer turned now, lowering her mirror and meeting him with eyes that flickered with hate. “That was only in the beginning, when they were dating, not engaged….”
Jennifer clawed deeply into her purse until she located her wedding invitation. “She's forgiven me for that, obviously,” she declared as she held it in front of him. “We were close friends, and we still are.”
“Yeah, she's your close friend…” Kory said in delight to have struck a nerve. He leaned back comfortably, folding both arms behind his head. “And you screwed her over by going after her man just because you saw something you couldn't have.”
“Shut up, asshole!”
Jennifer's eyes washed over with tears, and she tilted her head back to prevent her mascara from running. The memory came flooding now, of the thrill she had felt when she ran her hand up Chad's muscular arm. Chad had reacted ambiguously, staring with a face that revealed both attraction and revulsion. This only excited her more, and she snaked her fingers to massage his shoulder, and then his neck. Chad backed away, and the next day was nothing short of humiliation when Missy confronted her.
“Listen up…” Robert interjected.
The tone of his voice was low but enough to render them both silent. The stocky boy turned his head with a violent jerk, and produced an icy gaze.
“If you two don't knock it off, I'm pulling over and you can walk the rest of the way.”
Robert began to gulp at the air as if he was suffocating, and a small patch of flesh began to twitch on his cheek.
“We all have a history with Missy,” he snapped. “I was her boyfriend for over a year, and as far as I'm concerned, I'm worse off than Kory, because she did like me in the same way, and I lost her. I blew it, I fucked it up–it was my fault!”
Robert loosened one hand from the steering wheel and landed a hard punch to the dashboard. A minute passed in silence.
When the nag of curiosity became too overwhelming, Jennifer leaned sheepishly toward him, and spoke in a doll-thin voice. “What did you do to her?”
“I liked her too much,” Robert replied instantly. “I got too possessive. I tried to control everything she did, and it chased her away. And yes, after we split up we had the We'll Still be Friends talk, and maybe I agreed to that, and had to pretend. And maybe I still haven't accepted that, and my feelings haven't changed.…”
Robert's eyes became fixed to the road once more, but his breathing remained rapid and heavy.
“I'm sorry,” Jennifer uttered.
“Well, we obviously all have our issues with this,” Robert continued. “But we're going because we care about Missy, right? It goes without saying that she is a very special person. Hell, she is probably the most special person that I have ever known….” His voice began to rise again.
“I've lost her to this Chad guy. I accept that, but the last thing I want is to show up to this wedding with a couple of jack asses who tear it all down. I'm going to smile and keep my mouth shut, and I expect you two to do the same.… Hell, maybe I won't be able to keep my mouth shut.… I'm starting to not trust myself, and to be honest, I don't trust either of you.”
The silence fell over them again. Though the urge hung in the air hotly, they all held their tongues, and chose to wait until the mood subsided. Eventually, Jennifer held up her pocket mirror once more, and Kory rolled his eyes back to the corn fields and blue sky.
Somewhere along the country road they were crossed with a dark obscurity. The Cutlass was moving rather quickly, but they all had the opportunity to see it. The carcass of an animal was lying just off the pavement, as if it had been struck with one fatal blow from a vehicle that sent it flying a few feet into the grass.
Kory opened his mouth, which he did to his own surprise, since he had made the conscious decision not to utter another word until they had reached their destination.
“Hey, what was that thing back there, on the side of the road?”
“Dog,” Robert replied.
“No, I don't think so,” Kory said. “It had a different kind of face. A raccoon or gopher maybe.”
“What?” Jennifer snickered. “It was some kind of bird.”
“Bird?” Robert said. “A bird doesn't have fur. I saw fur, and paws.”
“It had to have been a bird,” Jennifer insisted. “I saw wings.”
“Nu-uh,” Kory moaned.
“Yes, wings for sure. They were folded over its body. It was probably a chicken hawk, or a falcon.”
“Dogs don't have wings,” Robert growled in irritation.
“Oh Jesus…” Kory whined.
“Well, we can just go back there and find out,” Robert half shouted. In an instant his foot landed on the brake pedal, and the Cutlass skidded to a full halt.
“Are you mental?” Jennifer gasped. “You want to turn this car around just to look at some dead animal?”
“It will only take a minute,” Robert replied sternly. “Besides, we're ahead of schedule.”
“This is so stupid,” Jennifer sighed.
“Yeah, who gives a shit,” griped Kory, who sunk down until he was out of line with the rear view mirror.
The protestations had no effect on Robert, who whipped the car around and headed back the way they came. In less than a minute they were at the plot of grass where the carcass was lying under the hot sun.
Robert grunted, and then rolled down his window to gain a clearer perspective. He stared blankly at what lay below for several seconds, and said nothing. Finally his hand moved ghost-like to the shift bar, and the Cutlass purred lazily.
“Well…?” Jennifer asked in annoyance, who was furthest away and unable to see adequately.
“It's…” Robert began. “It's uh.…”
Kory's face pressed against the window, until the flesh of his nose was mashed like warm clay. “What in the hell is that thing?” he cried.
The corpse that lay on the green grass was no dog, gopher, falcon, or chicken hawk. It was a creature unlike anything they had ever witnessed. It was a four legged mammal, approximately a foot and a half in length, with the build of a slender canine. Its fur was shortened to a shiny pelt, and its head was a perfect orb, with a snub nose resembling a bat. Its ears were large and floppy, also doggish, and lengthened to a pronounced line of thick jawbones. A large pair of black wings was enfolded against its taut frame, and a long tail, almost skeletal in nature, protruded from its back end. It was covered only with a thin film of skin, and appeared as if it was a foreign fossil, somehow obscenely attached.
The creature lay on its back, with its paws reaching skyward. A set of deep seated eyes were open to the shifting wind, staring with a glassy lifelessness.
“Wicked!” Kory exclaimed, as he leaped out of the car. “Totally wicked!”
“Oh great…” Jennifer muttered. “Kory is finally interested in something, and it happens to be dead.”
Robert got out next, and soon both young men were standing over the animal in their pressed black suits, gawking in wonderment.
“C'mon you guys…” Jennifer called from inside the car. “Let's go, this is kind of creepy.”
“Jennifer, you've got to come check this out!” Robert exclaimed. “And bring your camera!”
“No shit!” Kory said with bulging eyes. “We gotta take a picture of this!”
“Oh good Lord…” Jennifer groaned, as she begrudgingly opened the side door. “I'm in a bridesmaid dress for crying out loud!” Jennifer tugged up the fabric of her pink gown slightly with one hand, while clutching her camera with the other. Robert snatched the device from her as soon as she reached them.
“Incredible, just incredible,” he said, as he took off the lens cap and began to adjust the focus.
“That thing is freaky…” Jennifer said, taking a few steps back. “I don't like this. Let's go, okay?”
“Hey, maybe we should take it with us. We could put it in the trunk,” Kory suggested.
“No!” Jennifer squawked. “We are not keeping some dead thing in the car! I'm not going to a wedding smelling like a carcass!”
“But if we prove we've discovered a new species, we'd be famous,” Kory said smiling.
“Hell no!” Jennifer shouted.
“Just calm down you two,” Robert instructed.
Only seconds before he clicked the shutter button, the long skeletal tail of the creature made a single, but sharp twitch. With speed greater than the measure of human reaction, the animal shot up from the grass in a menacing jump. Its dead looking eyes lit up in a yellow fury, and its mouth flew open to reveal two rows of triangular teeth, dripping with murky saliva.
The camera lay on the ground, unused. It dropped when Robert felt a vicious sting on his hand.
“Oh my God!” Jennifer screamed, as she ran back to the car and slammed the door.
The black wings of the creature unfolded, casting horrid shadows upon the greenery. They were rubbery, claw hooked extensions, that beat with the rapidity of a hummingbird. To look upon them was to risk instant hypnosis. Hovering above, the creature stretched itself vertically, and its bony tail rattled in a matching sequence.
“I think it bit me,” Robert muttered, as he rubbed his hand sorely.
“Screw this…” Kory yelped. Turning frantically, he dashed back to the car and leaped inside to safety. He expected to see Robert right on his heels, but when he turned the boy was on the ground, crawling on all fours in the thick grass.
“Robert!” Jennifer wailed. “What's wrong with Robert?!”
A strange green foam spilled from Robert's mouth, and he coughed and spit outward in a daze, unable to direct himself. His skin turned a similar green color, and then with a final excursion, he fell face forward.
“Robert! Robert!” Kory yelled. Trembling, the young man pushed the door open a few inches.
“Don't!” Jennifer shouted, while she leaped over and rolled up the driver window. “Please stay in the car!”
“We've got to do something!” Kory shouted. Cautiously, he planted his soft heeled shoes on the ground.
The creature held its position momentarily, and then soared high into the sky, appearing like a small dark blot against the sun.
Kory rushed over to where Robert lay in the grass, and turned his heavy body over.
His eyes were pried open with a vacant expression, and around his lips was a ring of pasty white. Kory grabbed Robert's wrist desperately, but there was nothing.
Jennifer began to beat on the driver side window with her fists, but the sound came only like a distant rain patter. The flitting thing had descended, blurring downward in a blackened arrow to the corn, and then out again. The lapse was brief before it crossed Kory's path.
It seemed to possess an intelligence far beyond that of any animal. Cunningly, its bony tail was a rudder in the falling wind, gyrating with sharp acuity. The monster followed him, dipping inward with its jaws ever so slightly, when Kory came too close to a door handle. It waited, toying and teasing him while he circled the Cutlass, too captured by fear to make his move.
Jennifer watched helplessly, separated from Kory by the shiny window glass. It hummed slowly past her, and she cried out in horror when she caught its lurid expression. It was grinning.
Exasperated, Kory let out a boyish screech and then bolted for the cornfield, hoping he could separate himself from the monster in the endless vegetation.
He only traveled a short distance. With his back turned the creature latched upon his neck and sunk its razor teeth into the exposed flesh. He fell into the rich loam, flopping in the dirt until paralysis gripped and silenced him. The last sound he heard was the cutting flap of wings.
Jennifer yanked the shift bar down in a fury, and stomped on the accelerator with both heels. The Cutlass jumped forward like a rodeo bull, and soon the cornfields were flying past her, blurring into thick walls of nothingness.
She did not know how long she drove, or where she drove to. After the shrieking died off she began to sob, staining her pink dress from a black trickle of mascara tears.
There came a period of silence, almost a strange meditation, when by the grace of her own instincts, her mind was pushed far below a veil of protection. Fear and confusion became two lost echoes, a pair of dim relatives that danced in the distance. There was only the open landscape now, the suspension of thought, and bright sunshine.
She found herself pulling into an old gas station, and fumbled briefly to retrieve a quarter from her purse.
She stepped out of the car, and pushed open the door of a phone booth. Her fingers placed the coin in the slot carefully, and then with the utmost care, she unfolded the beautifully designed wedding invitation with her thumb and index finger. She did not think to dial 911, or even to call home, but pushed the ten digits of the new residence of Missy Faire.
She answered on the third ring, and spoke with the glowing sweetness of a bride to be.
“I was going to try to steal him away again,” Jennifer whispered at the receiver. “I'm sorry….”
Her frail words were not heard.
Jennifer's body slid down the back of the phone booth as the creature clamped its razor teeth to her ankle. It had hung itself on the car axle and waited ever patiently, until she was calm and unprotected. The poison coursed through her, burning a hot river by a monster of her own design.
Her green skinned hand held desperately to the phone, while she folded onto the dirty booth floor. With her mouth muted of screams, her dying fingers let go.
She stared at the dangling device, as if the cord was tied to the last line of existence, to the last root of sustenance.
Missy's gentle voice came once more, calling like an angel. “Hello?”
Chad and Missy were married on that day, pledging their love to one another in a gazebo adorned with fresh flowers. It was a strong and blossoming union, unthreatened by the forces of dominance, egotism, or apathy.
The flitting thing rose high into the summer clouds, and traveled far over countless fields and green pastures.
When it finally slowed its course, it descended by a small, sleepy little town whose foreign name can be translated as “The Veil of Paradise.”
It flapped its black, claw hooked wings, and fluttering softly, it laid down on the side of the road.
|Copyright 2011 Jason Epple, All Rights Reserved.|