Quarantined | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Horror Bookmark and Share


QUARANTINED By: Dallas G. Releford The next car that passed me on that cold, dark, rainy October night splashed water all over my cold, shivering, tired body. Of course, I was sure that all the vehicles that had passed me in the last couple of hours had splashed water on me too but I was just too depressed to have even noticed it? Then on the other hand, there weren’t that many people traveling on Route 62 through Ohio at ten o’clock on a dismal Friday night anyway. So what did a few splashes of water matter in comparison to the torrential downpour that I was now being drowned in. Most sensible people were probably either partying or at home watching the Movie Channel. Most sensible people would have saved their money and would have had their car repaired but I just wasn’t one of those sensible people it seemed. Almost all of the money that I earned was spent on my college education. I mean, working in a rundown pizza place at night and going to class during the day wasn’t the life that I really wanted but I hoped that by doing so I would have such a life someday. I guess all the folks that had passed me by pretending not to see my upturned, cold thumb thought I was crazy. Just maybe I was crazy but a man does what a man has to do. The most important priority on my agenda that stormy, wet night was that I had to get to Cincinnati before noon the next day. As I splashed on down the long road, treading in cold water almost over the tops of my shoes, I wondered if I would ever get there. The next couple of hours waned away along with my strength and determination. Maybe I just imagined it but there seemed to be less traffic the farther I traveled into the country. I had seen exactly two cars in the last two hours, one old truck without any taillights and another car that passed so fast that I couldn’t tell what it was. It was big (maybe a Cadillac or Lincoln) and black as the night around me but if only the driver had stopped and shown some mercy toward a poor, hitchhiking college student. Mostly I didn’t care what it was because it had four wheels and was moving and that was all I needed to get me to my destination. “It’s so good to hear from you again,” my mother was saying over the telephone and the conversation still was fresh in my mind. In fact, I could hear almost every word that she said. After all, hadn’t I repeated it in my mind at least a thousand times since I started out on my trip earlier in the day? “Greg honey, you really should call me more often. I mean, don’t you think so? After all, your mother cares so much for you and the rest of the family wants to know how you are from time to time.” “Yes mother,” I had said agreeing that I should call her more often but I didn’t explain to her that I went to class all day, worked four hours every night and studied in my spare time. That would be making excuses and my dear mother didn’t like for me to make excuses. She just wanted results. I also didn’t tell her that I was trying to save money to get my vintage 1968 Mustang fixed. I mean, those transmissions aren’t cheap you know. “I’ll try to call you more often Mom,” I lied hoping that she wouldn’t see through me this time as she normally did. Maybe all mothers had that ability, to see through you I mean, but my mother must have had an extra dose of whatever mothers have in that respect because she hardly ever missed anything. “Well that’s fine,” she had said, “but that’s not all the reason that I called you. I really did want to find out how you are but I’ve got some good news for you. Elizabeth is coming home this weekend and should be here tomorrow. She really wants to see you and since you two haven’t seen each other since last Christmas, I thought we’d have a little party for you. Do you think you can arrange to be here son?” Of course, mother, I had thought, but I didn’t dare say it that way out loud to her. I can just hop in my trusty old Mustang and zip down there. Of course, I can push it up the hills and let it roll down the other side and I should be there sometime in the next few days. “Of course Mother,” I replied. “I can be there tonight or early Saturday.” I forgot about the Physics class that I never missed on Friday afternoons. I really wasn’t a physics fan but I was a fan of Miss Purdy, my teacher. With all the right curves and angles, she should have been a mathematics professor but I really liked it when she explained the motions of the planets. It was the only class that I ever had that I actually wanted to sit in the first row. Perhaps it helped me to forget about my love and affection that I had for Elizabeth for a little while? We had ended the conversation with me promising to be there and with me wondering what excuse I would use to get out of working that night. Friday night was one of the busiest of the week, of course. Maybe I would just call in sick since I had worked there for two years and had never missed a day, or night in my case? Mr. Taylor wasn’t too happy with me but at least he didn’t tell me not to come back to work. The Sun had been shining as I packed a few things in my backpack and headed out of the rented apartment on West Park and down the street. The weather made me feel a little better but I still was concerned about my job. After all, it was the only one I had. I mean, I hadn’t missed one stinking day since I’d started working there and Mr. Taylor didn’t even want me to take off a day even after I told him my mother had some devastating but not totally fatal disease. If only that was the worst of it, but it wasn’t. I had just crossed the railroad tracks and headed down past the R & R Trucking Company, Incorporated when the rain started. It was light at first and since the Sun came out occasionally, I thought that I wouldn’t have any trouble making it through it, especially if I could catch a ride. I’d hitchhiked enough to know to keep off the freeway and not to expect any rides in the city. People there just ignored anyone with a turned up thumb unless it was a beautiful blonde and then they might just slow down to get a look and go on. Nobody wanted to stop in all that traffic for any reason and I can’t say that I blame them. The first car to come along that actually stopped and asked if I wanted a ride was not a car at all but a wrecker. It was one of those fancy wreckers with all the chrome trim and decorations that make you wonder if they ever do any real work. Even in the rain and darkness, I could see the chrome trim and that is the most distinctive thing that I remember about that truck. They always look like they’ve never been dirty but how do you pull a lot of other vehicles without getting at least a little oil on them? This particular one was candy apple red and the owner obviously had done a lot of work to pay for it. Or, maybe the bank was financing a lot of decorations and trim. Actually, the owner didn’t look old enough to have held a job very long but that didn’t matter to me. The only thing that really mattered was that I would be in out of the rain for a little while. If I were real lucky, they would be going all the way to Cincinnati to pick up a car or something. It also didn’t matter that he had his girlfriend with him. She was a beautiful little petite blue-eyed blonde who scooted over by her boyfriend and held onto the chrome gearshift. “Get on in here,” she invited me, “and get in out of the rain. Where are you headed for? Are you a college student?” She must have asked ten questions before I had time to climb up into the high cab and get into the wrecker beside her. I could tell right away that she was from the country or had a country background by the way she talked and she was the most friendly person I’ve ever met. Her boyfriend looked like a “grease jockey” because the white Tee shirt and the jeans he wore was splattered with grease, mud, oil and some kind of red liquid that had left stains all over his clothes. So I wondered if he had got the stuff all over him and kept it off the truck. Or, maybe he had cleaned the truck with the Tee shirt? At about that time I felt real guilty about thinking such things because they both seemed to be real nice and it was considerate of them to even stop and pick up a complete stranger. I put the thoughts into the back of my mind and tried to adjust to the situation. “My name is Greg,” I said, “Greg Henshaw.” “Hi Greg,” she said with her beautiful blue eyes staring right into mine. “I’m Sherry and this is Josh. We were just going down to Grove City. Josh has a sister there. She lives on Ventura and I guess we’ll spend the night there. Say --- let me help you get the seat belt on Greg. It’s kind of hard to do sometimes and you have to have some experience in doing it. Now, where did you say you’re going?” For a few minutes, I completely forgot why I was going to Cincinnati. She leaned her warm body over my lap trying to recover the lost end of the seat belt from between the door and the seat. I couldn’t help but notice her shapely form and felt her warm body even through my wet trousers. I also noticed that her clothes (which she wore with a very tight fit) were also torn and had the same stains that her companion’s clothes did. I figured they had been working on some stranded motorists vehicle and hadn’t had time to change their clothes. She finally recovered the seat belt and together, we managed to get it fastened to her satisfaction. I got my satisfaction from the satisfaction that she got helping me get the seat belt fastened. “You sure ask a lot of questions,” I replied, “but I’m glad to meet you guys. I don’t mind though. I’m used to answering a lot of questions especially since my mother asks a lot and so do my teachers. Yep, I’m a college student and I’m going to Cincinnati to see my mother.” “Oh, is something wrong with her? Is she sick?” Sherry asked. I became a little concerned as Josh went through the gears never missing one until we were doing about sixty on the wet road. I could hear the tires as they strained to gain traction as he changed gears. I hoped he wasn’t a speed demon. The last thing I wanted was to end up in the ditch even if I was in a wrecker. “Oh, well not really,” I replied not wanting to give away too many family secrets to complete strangers. “I’m just going on my monthly visitation,” I added lying as much as possible. “Where does your mother live?” Josh spoke up before Sherry could start talking again. “Cincinnati,” I replied hoping that I would get to ask some questions myself. One of them in particular that I wanted to ask but was afraid to was why they both were so pale. The skin of both of the young people looked like their bodies had been drained of every last drop of blood. Even in the dark with the only light coming from the illumination of the lights on the dashboard, I could readily see their pale faces, arms and hands. It didn’t really bother me that much but for a day that had started out fine, it was getting stranger by the moment. My mind told me that anyone that was that pale just had to be dead but they sure didn’t seem like they had left this world. For one thing, they were pretty active for dead people. I finally decided that they were not dead because that only happened in the movies. You’re walking along a lonely country road on a dark night, then here comes a car and the people inside are zombies or something. But that couldn’t possibly happen to me because I didn’t believe in such things. Not only that but wouldn’t their bodies be purple or something if they were dead? My mind pondered these and other questions as I tried to appear normal myself while trying to figure everything out. “Yes, I’m going to Cincinnati to visit my mother,” I emphasized trying to be the casual hitchhiker just trying to get from one place to another. Had I imagined the warm body that had stretched across my lap or was she somehow dead but still maintained her body heat? The situation was getting more puzzling by the moment. “That’s great,” Josh replied. We can get you as far as Grove City. You should be able to hitch a ride from there. You know you have to take Route 22 south from Washington Court House don’t you?” Of course, I did know that but I acted a little surprised at his suggestion. “Oh yeah,” I said, “and I’m sure glad you reminded me. Have you guys been going together for a long time or are you married?” I knew the question was a little personal but I just had to change the conversation some way. I was beginning to clinch my teeth together as I always did when I was scared out of my wits. I was changing my mind about these characters not being strange and I sure didn’t want them to know that I felt that way. Sherry thought that my comment was funny and put her hand on my arm as she answered. “Oh, don’t be embarrassed,” she said seeing my discomfort, “we’ve been going out for a couple of years now. Just about everybody around here knows that. Are you married?” It just came to me right out of the blue. Her hand wasn’t warm now. I must have imagined the warmth I had felt earlier because her hand was as cold as ice on a December morning. “Oh, I’m not embarrassed,” I said, “but I was trying to make idle chit-chat. I’m afraid that I couldn’t afford to get married if I wanted to right now. Do you guys get down this way much?” “Sure,” Josh answered, “we come down this way quite frequently. Have you had any other rides tonight Greg?” “Not since I left Columbus,” I replied wondering why he wanted to know. “Do you have a reason for asking? Does my wet clothes give me away?” “Oh no,” he said, “nothing like that. There was just a black Cadillac that passed us back there a ways and I was wondering where he was going so fast.” “Actually I haven’t seen too much traffic tonight,” I admitted. “I guess it’s just too messy out for most folks.” “Might be,” he agreed and shoved down the accelerator a little more as the speedometer needle edged up toward seventy. “I just wondered since it was such an unusual car and you don’t normally see someone driving a “caddy” that fast.” I wanted to say that you didn’t normally see someone driving a red wrecker that fast either, especially on a rain-soaked road but I kept my mouth shut. Maybe I made that decision because I was silenced by fear. My lips trembled and my legs shook. I thought I was going to lose it all over the seat then and there but I surprised myself. It all began when little bits of skin with red flesh on the other side of them began falling off on my lap. I somehow managed to glance over at Sherry. By the light of the dashboard, I could clearly see several spots on her face that had holes in it. It was like someone had taken a piece of glass and stuck it into her cheeks and just kept cutting away. It also reminded me of an old house we had lived in when I was a kid. The old house had paper on the walls and even on the ceiling. I guess there was plasterboard underneath because every time it rained real hard the paper and the plasterboard would come crashing down on the kitchen table. There would be little pieces of the stuff in all shapes and sizes. That was what the skin reminded me of when I first saw it but it didn’t take me long to see where it was really coming from. I tried to remain calm but it was hard. I also wanted to tell Josh to stop the vehicle so I could get out. I would rather walk in the rain than ride with two dead people but I didn’t even dare to mention it because I didn’t know what would happen if they realized that I knew they were dead. I don’t even think that they knew they were dead. But I can tell you that I’ve smelled death before and that truck cabin was starting to smell like the chicken that got trapped in the back of my fathers van one hot summer day. It was in there a week before he finally found it. My father didn’t like to drive and only went to town about once a month but he checked the van every day after that. By the time we got to Grove City, I had pissed my pants twice and quickly brushed away several handfuls of flesh and skin from the once beautiful girl sitting next to me. Since my pants were already “soaking wet”, they wouldn’t have noticed it anyway but I was worried that they would say something about the falling skin. I couldn’t even begin to guess how I would respond to that. “How far do you guys go?” I asked trying to find any way that I could to get out of that truck. “If you want you can just let me out in town and I’ll freshen up somewhere and rest some before going on.” Neither of them seemed to notice the large white flakes on my pants and on the seat beside me and between my legs. “Oh no, we won’t hear of that,” Sherry pleaded with me. “We’ll take you all the way to the edge of town. Josh’s sister lives on one of those streets and there’s a small restaurant there right on 62 and you can stop in there. They call it Ma’s Kettle but they have a rest room I’m sure. They also serve the best fried Catfish you’ve ever eaten in this part of the country.” “That’s great,” I replied, “but I don’t want to put you guys out any.” “Oh, it’s not a problem,” she said slapping me on my wet pants leg again and ignoring the flesh that came off the palm of her hand. If I didn’t get out of that truck pretty soon, I was going to be riding with one big glob of human flesh and two beings that were nothing but skin and bones, mostly just bones. I don’t know how I made it but I did. It was still raining and the wind was blowing pretty hard when they pulled into the almost deserted parking lot of Ma’s Kettle on Route 62. I never was so glad to get out of a vehicle in all my life. I felt extremely lucky to be alive after that experience. I still remember Sherry yelling at me out of the open window with the raindrops hitting her right in the face. “Y’all behave now and don’t take any rides in black Cadillac’s.” I turned and walked toward the front door of the restaurant after waving goodbye to them. There were several people sitting at booths near the window inside and all I wanted to do was get inside myself. I’d had enough of red wreckers for one night. As I reached the front door, something told me to turn around. I guess it was intuition or maybe I just wanted to make sure they were gone and they were. I looked in both directions but didn’t see anything. I hadn’t heard anything either. It was just like they had never been there and maybe they hadn’t been? Maybe I just imagined the entire incident? “Where did you come from young man?” The red headed lady with the cute freckles all over her face at the counter asked me. “What will you have tonight?” “I came in that red wrecker that just pulled out of the lot,” I informed her, “and I’ll have some of your catfish and a hot cup of coffee.” “Well you can get the catfish and the coffee but I never saw any red wrecker in the lot,” she said seeming dismayed that I had said such a thing. “And you look like you’ve been out in the rain for a very long time. Hitchhiking maybe?” “Yes, going to Cincinnati,” I replied removing my backpack and placing it on the empty green-topped stool beside me. I noticed six or seven other people in the restaurant, most of them I thought were truckers and I was hoping (and praying too) that maybe just one of them would be going my way. I glanced back at the people sitting in the booths but nobody had paid any attention to me. “Do you think anyone here will be going toward Cincinnati?” I asked taking the menu from the rack and glancing at what they had to offer. Actually, food was the last thing on my mind right at the moment. I could still see the pieces of flesh falling in my lap and all over the seat next to me, even between my legs. Worse yet, I never got the smell of death out of my burning nostrils. “Anybody Cincinnati bound tonight?” The waitress who I later found out was named Beatrice, yelled at the top of her voice. Most of the truckers just shook their heads or ignored the question altogether. Beatrice looked at me sadly almost as if she were feeling sorry for me and something told me she had seen a few hard times in her life too. “I guess you’re out of luck for the night. If you hang around until daylight you might get a ride a little later,” she said. “Tell you what, the fish is on the house but don’t you tell anybody. You’ll have to pay for the coffee. I can’t let you off without paying for something you know.” “Yes Miss,” I said, “thank you. I really appreciate it. I don’t make a lot of money and what I do make goes for my schooling. Won’t you please let me pay for this?” “Don’t even think about it,” she said smiling. “Your meal will be ready in a few minutes.” It was nearly one-thirty when I finally decided to start walking south again. The rain had let up a little and Beatrice managed to find me an old yellow rain coat (that nobody used anymore) complete with a hood that would give me a little shelter from the downpour. In a few minutes, I was walking south again. The houses gave way to nothing but trees and shrubs on both sides of the road. This made me feel even more eerie and somewhat uncomfortable. I wasn’t really happy about what had happened back there with the wrecker and my greatest fear was that they would show up again or worse yet, some other ghost, goblin or zombie would come to take me back to someplace I really didn’t want to go. The rain continued and I continued walking, splashing water with every step. All I could see ahead and behind me on both sides of the road was wet, dark trees with their limbs swinging gently in the wind. As I struggled onward, it was almost like they were beckoning or even waving me to go on and not to stop. Maybe they were encouraging me to keep at it but I took it the other way. Maybe they were just trying to reach out and grab me and then pull me into the woods where some terrible dragon with a long tail with a vicious stinger was waiting for me. It was like something out of my nightmares that I used to have but didn’t have much anymore, until now. I was out there alone and almost everything took on a ghostly appearance. Even the rocks that were high up on the banks of the road looked like gremlins or some other evil creatures of the night that was just sitting up there all hunkered over waiting to pounce on me as I passed by them. I couldn’t see any lights anywhere and I wondered where all the houses were in this part of the country. I knew there were farms all around me but the houses were so far apart that I couldn’t see them on a clear night much less on a night when the heavy sheets of rain obstructed everything from view. I thought of Beatrice who had been so kind to me and who had pleaded with me to wait until morning before starting my journey again. By the time I had walked five miles down route 62, I was beginning to wish that I had listened to her. The dragon from the Reign of Fire movie was hiding behind every rock, behind every tree and was even flying high above me but I was too scared to look up into the falling rain to see if he was really there. I kept looking back almost expecting to either see the red wrecker or hear it pulling up behind me. The very thought of the black Cadillac stopping to pick me up didn’t exactly thrill me either. Why had Josh been so interested in the Cad? Maybe he was just curious but to me it seemed like he had more of an interest in it than he was letting me know about? Maybe it was just my imagination playing games with me but my nerves were on edge since I had left home that morning. The thought of walking down 62 in the pouring rain with a million night creatures all around me didn’t do much to soothe them either. It seemed like I had walked a million miles already but judging from the mile markers I had only walked about five miles when I saw a dim light way back off the road to my right. As I approached a dirt lane that led to an old house that was located far back in the woods, the light disappeared. Had I been imagining things or had someone just gone to bed and turned out the lights? My legs hurt and I was soaking wet. The raincoat did little but warm up my body, cause me to perspire more and made my body a water soaked sponge under the coat. I needed to get to some warmth before I caught a cold or worse yet, pneumonia. The very thought of approaching a strange house late at night didn’t appeal to me and I knew deep down that it was the wrong thing to do but I was desperate. So I traded walking on the wet, hard pavement of the road to walking in mud and water as I sloshed up the dirt (now mud) lane. I could feel the sticky stuff sucking at my feet as I headed toward where I thought the house had been. If I followed the driveway (you could hardly call it anything less than a dirt road that was now a mud road), then I should be able to find the house, I surmised. After a commendable struggle with the mud and water, I was standing in front of the old house. It didn’t look like it had been lived in for years but you never knew out here in the country. Many old houses were still occupied. Old farmers lived on the same farms that their ancestors had lived on for hundreds of years. Just because the windows were broken in places and the front door was standing half-open didn’t mean that someone didn’t live there. Maybe they had just forgotten to close the door and maybe they didn’t have enough money to get the windows replaced? What really made the place look eerie and haunted was the fact that all the paint had peeled from the outside making it look old and shabby. The dark gray two-story dwelling that stood in front of me didn’t seem too appealing but it was the only chance I had to get in out of the rain. Taking a deep breath, I cautiously stepped upon the first wooden step and heard it creak. Two more steps and I was standing on the rain-soaked porch in front of the half-open door. There was nothing but total darkness in the house. I knocked several times on the door but didn’t hear anything. Something deep in my consciousness told me that I didn’t want to hear anything. It also told me that I really didn’t want to go in there. I pulled out my small MAG-LITE and turned it on. Pushing the door completely open, I shined the light inside expecting to see some gruesome monster or maybe a zombie waiting there for me. I was quite surprised to see absolutely nothing inside. There wasn’t any furniture, garbage or anything to indicate that anyone had ever lived there. I ventured inside halfway thinking that I would stay for the night but then I realized that the house had many rooms including several upstairs. I have always been afraid of the upstairs and the basement. What if someone or something was in one of the other rooms? It seemed that in every movie or horror story I’d ever read that something terrible dwelled either in the basement or up in the dark attic. I knew that I would have to explore the entire house before I was even the least comfortable with spending the rest of the night there. The other two rooms in front of the house had obviously been used for bedrooms because I could see where the bed legs had cut into the floor leaving round, rusty rings in the old torn, faded vinyl rug. The kitchen and the utility room were all empty so I started up the old rickety stairway. Every step that I took made an eerie creaking sound that vibrated throughout the house leaving my nerves just a little more devastated. At any moment, I expected someone to grab me by the shoulders and turn me around or maybe choke me. This sent shivers down my spine and made my legs weak in a way that I can’t really explain so you’ll understand how I was feeling at that moment. About half way up the rickety old stairs, I decided that I had had enough of the place and that I’d rather be out in the rain. As I reached the bottom of the stairs, I was a little relieved that nothing had grabbed me by the shoulders or had slapped me on the back. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet, so to speak. I noticed a door that led to a room that I had not realized was there. Cautiously, I knocked on the door but there wasn’t any answer. I wasn’t sure if I should check the room out or just get out of the house and start running as fast as I could. One thing was for sure and that was that if I didn’t open the door then I would never know what was behind it. It was that insane curiosity that got me into deep trouble. But checking it out was more difficult than I figured. I expected to find absolutely nothing there but what I did find really surprised me even more. It had been a library but everything was covered with dust that was a quarter of an inch thick. There were several bookshelves half filled with books but most of them were on the floor. I kicked one and it fell apart. I suppose the books hadn’t been touched by human hands for several years but the rats, bugs and moisture had done a lot of damage to the paper. On an old library table also covered with dust and pieces of the ceiling was a stack of old newspapers. Curious, I began looking at the dates on the papers and was surprised to see that many of them were recent. There were papers going all the way back to 1927 and I was even more surprised to see that some stories were circled by either red ink or a red magic marker. Personally, I had the sudden urge to get out of the place because the red markings reminded me of the red stains on the clothes of the teenagers. It looked just like human blood. FLU VIRUS KILLS SEVENTY-FIVE PEOPLE IN HARRISBURG! The headline on the second page was circled in red as was all the others and they all dealt with diseases of some kind or the other. I quickly looked at the date on the front of the old, yellow stained paper. It was dated, June the 38th, 1928. I searched through all the papers and found pretty much the same type of headlines circled in the same red ink. I started with the older papers first and worked my way toward the future. I was getting more nervous about being there in the room and somehow didn’t feel that I was alone. Since I didn’t hear anything or anyone, I attributed the feeling to nerves and concentrated on the headlines. BUBONIC PLAGUE KILLS HUNDREDS IN BRAZIL! (1928) OHIO HEALTH OFFICIALS WORRY ABOUT SPREAD OF STRANGE DISEASE (1929) TWO LOCAL FARMERS DIE FROM SMALLPOX (1931) DEATH FROM MEASLES ON THE RISE LOCALLY (1941) AIDS PLAGUES LOCAL COMMUNITY (1987) ANTHRAX SCARE IS A REALITY (2001) I was spellbound. Why would someone be so interested in so many diseases unless they were a doctor or something? I felt like I was being watched all the time I was reading so I dropped the last paper on the table and slowly turned around expecting to see some monster again but nothing was there but the darkness in the hallway and the creaky stairs beyond that. I looked through another stack of papers on the other end of the table and found the same strange, red markings circling certain stories. The first paper I picked up had the lead story on the front page circled. AIDS KILLS THOUSANDS IN AFRICAN NATION (1987) The next paper I picked up was the Wilmington paper and it had a story circled on the fourth page. I almost missed it but it was the pictures that caught my attention and not the fact that it too was circled. LOCAL TEENS DIE FROM UNKNOWN, MYSTERIOUS VIRUS (1999) Beneath the headlines was a sub-title that read: Mysterious disease strikes two local teenagers. Two teens were killed in an automobile accident on Highway 62 just three days before their wedding. They were on their way to a specialist in Columbus. Both teens became sick after reporting that they were picked up by a strange man in a black Cadillac near Grove City while hitchhiking a few days ago. Officials declined to comment on the incident but Ohio State Patrol officers said in a comment to this paper that the red wrecker they were driving was completely demolished. Their father who also refused to make a statement to the reporter supposedly owned the wrecker. And, beneath that, were the pictures of Sherry and Josh. I figured that the pictures were their high school pictures because they both looked a lot younger than they had when I saw them that night. Of course, the fact they had been dead for a couple of years might make them look older but I still knew the pictures were taken in high school somehow. I suppose that high school pictures just look like high school pictures. I couldn’t believe my eyes or believe what I was reading because the story only confirmed that it wasn’t my imagination that had completely terrified me that night. The newspaper story went on to say that the family had lived on Route 62 when the accident happened and that the kids were buried there on the farm. There were many details about the children, the family and about the funeral that most local papers usually disclose in these types of situations. I stood there frozen to the floor trying to absorb what I had been reading, attempting to understand what was happening to me. Why had they picked me up and why hadn’t they told me about the stranger in the Cadillac? What would have happened if the stranger had picked me up? I didn’t even want to think about that either. I just wanted to run from the house but my legs wouldn’t let me. I wanted to know more about what was in the newspapers but I finally figured I had learned enough. Were the kids looking for the stranger in the Cadillac and had they come back from the grave to find him? Maybe I was reading this all wrong but my college education told me that it was pretty likely that what I was thinking was true. Some how and some way, I made my way out of the house and back out into the falling rain and the howling winds that early morning. The water splashed in every direction and the mud was slung all over my clothes as I ran with all my might down the long driveway. All I wanted to do was reach the road and head south toward Cincinnati no matter if the man in the black Cadillac was out there or not just waiting for me. I knew my destiny. It was obvious that I was going to meet this stranger somewhere and at some time in my life so why not face him now and get it over with? I knew that he was death and he was my major opponent in life. I had to find a way to defeat him if I was destined to meet him that night. If I was going to see Elizabeth and my mother ever again, I would have to figure out something, some plan that I could use to outwit this master of death. I reached the road and started walking south again. Both sides of the road was still inhabited by the wet, dark trees and once again every little rock and stump became some gruesome creature waiting to gobble me up. It wasn’t those things that frightened me so much as did the fear that the red wrecker or the black Cadillac would suddenly come up behind me. I kept listening but the wind was blowing so hard now that I probably wouldn’t hear any vehicle until it was upon me. If the Devil could send evil into the world to conquer and frighten me then why couldn’t God send a guardian angel to help me out? I pondered on this as I walked along the cold, wet highway. The wind was almost blowing me off the road and I was getting worried that a Tornado might be in the area or that one might touch down and jerk me off the face of the earth like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Somehow I figured that this possibility was the least of my worries. I had only traveled about five miles when the worst of my fears came true. In the back of my mind, I thought the rushing noise was indeed a Tornado but as it got closer to me, I suddenly realized that something was coming from behind me. Almost too afraid to turn around and look, terribly afraid of what I might see, I finally did manage to turn my head just as two dim headlights hit me in the face. I couldn’t tell what kind of vehicle it was until it pulled up beside me and stopped. I prayed for an old farmer and his aging wife but all I got was a black Cadillac and some dark figure sitting behind the wheel. The window on my side of the car rolled down and I was relieved to see an old man with a smile on his face that greeted me. “Where are you going on such a night?” He asked in his country voice. Could this be the fearsome thing I had been terrified of? Could he be the one the two dead kids were looking for? I was a little relieved and felt completely at peace as I looked at the old man. The smile was enlightening and his tone of voice relaxed me completely. “Better get in,” he insisted, “there is a Tornado warning in effect --- they just announced it on the radio --- we have to get to shelter somewhere around here. I think there is an old house back there. I just passed it. We can get shelter there. I would imagine there is a fruit cellar or something there where we can take shelter. Go on, get in and I’ll turn this rig around and we’ll be on our way.” Ushered on by an old man with a black overcoat and black top hat that was pushed back on his head revealing his long, white hair, I somehow managed to get into the big vehicle without spilling my supper. His clothes looked like those Eliot Ness used to wear in the Untouchables television series except everything was black, like the night. The old man however didn’t bear any resemblance to anybody that I had ever seen before and he sure wasn’t Robert Stack. I’ll admit that I was scared senseless and maybe that was the reason I was so easy to coax into the Cadillac but maybe the cold rain had something to do with it too. The fact that he had said we were under a Tornado warning also helped to convince me that any shelter, even in that old house, would do for a little while until the storm had passed. I guess that what it boils down to is that I was more scared of the Tornado than I was the old man. I mean, he seemed so helpless, kind and harmless but I still kept my hand on the door handle, just in case I had to make a quick exit. He spent several minutes trying to turn the big machine around in the middle of the road and I thought for a moment that we were going to be sucked up into the upper atmosphere before he finally got it headed in the right direction. He turned into the driveway and we went sideways and nearly hit the trunk of a huge Maple tree before he got it straightened up again and headed toward the house. I heard him murmur something but couldn’t make out what he said but it sounded strangely like a curse word. “When I stop the car, you run for the front door and make for the basement,” he instructed, almost yelling so I could hear him above the roar of the wind. Trees were swaying back and forth and some were flying past me as I rushed upon the porch with him right behind me. This was just before the roof of the porch was sucked up into the dark night sky with a thunderous creaking of metal and the sound of cracking timber, planks and rafters. I heard the roof of the house creaking too just as we reached the basement door and made our way down the dark steps toward the safety of the underground shelter below. “There went the roof,” he exclaimed as we reached the last step and turned to see debris rushing by the open stairway door. I pulled out my little MAG-LITE and turned it on. I didn’t have much time to explore the basement but I was looking for some safe place to be just in case the entire house was blown away. At the far end of the basement, there was a heavy steel door set in a concrete wall. It looked like the wall had been built quite recently and the door and frame didn’t appear to be very ancient either. There was a huge padlock on the door so I headed toward that hoping that I could somehow get the padlock off. I figured that a concrete wall would provide us with some protection unless the entire house was pulled off the foundation and I hoped the storm would pass by us before that happened. “Let’s get that door open,” I yelled to the old man and he quickly realized what I was getting at. He grabbed a sledge hammer from the work bench and after a couple of swift, powerful blows the lock fell to the floor with a noise that was covered up entirely by the loud roar from what I figured was the Tornado. If I didn’t know what was happening, I would have sworn that the storm was actually a huge freight train bearing down on us from some other universe. “Get inside,” he yelled as he jerked the door open. We both entered and closed the door behind us. It was dark inside the small room except for the faint, dancing ghostly light from the flashlight that I held in my hand and for a moment, I was too stunned by the sound of the storm to explore the room with the light. The tired eyes that were mine naturally followed the beam of the light up to the ceiling only to discover that it too was made of solid concrete. Not concrete blocks, but poured concrete and I could imagine that there were many steel bars of steel in that ceiling. I think they call those bars rebar, or something like that. I reckoned that we would be relatively safe down there. I was right in one way, we were safe, from the storm anyway. I was just a little more calm now and casually moved the small light around the room with the expertise of a teenage detective looking for some clue to a horrible murder hardly aware of the other person in the room with me. The room was approximately twenty-five feet by twenty-five feet. In other words, it seemed to be a perfect square. That wasn’t too unusual but what was unusual was the emptiness of the place. I had expected to find it stocked with enough supplies to last a family of four for several months. The fact it wasn’t a bomb shelter like I first thought it was caught me off guard. Someone once said, or at least I read it somewhere, (Stephen King I believe) that if you eliminate all the unnecessary words from your story that you end up with the necessary (or something like that) and that was what I was attempting to do. The only difference was that I was trying to eliminate all the unnecessary facts from my life rather than the words in a story. The technique was the same but it would take a lot of eliminating to make sense of everything that had happened to me in the space of one single day. The one factor that I couldn’t eliminate was the old man. He kept coming back to haunt me and I wondered what significance he played in all this. “Well, I guess we’re stuck down here for a long time,” he said from behind me and I turned around and as I did so the flashlight beam caught him right in the face. I staggered back and almost fell to the floor due to the horror of what I saw. I managed to keep myself from collapsing right there on the floor by summoning up all the strength that I had. It was the old man in the black hat and topcoat but it wasn’t the same face that he had worn when I last saw him. What I did see was death that had finally come to claim me. He had done a complete transition (of the worst kind) from being a kind old man to being an old man without any flesh on his skeleton. Instead of the light complexion that I had seen before, there was a rough, green skin that reminded me of the bullfrogs that I used to catch as a kid. Instead of a mouth and lips there was just a slit below two holes that had previously been a nose and nose holes. And, the eyes were the most foreboding things that I had ever seen. I tried to look into the two dark, ovals but I felt like I was looking into another world where great, dark secrets were kept; secrets that no human could look upon and live. It was an inner world where sacred things existed and were not intended for humans to see; not living humans anyway. “What --- who are you anyway mister?” I asked with my lips trembling like a mass of Jell-O about to slip off the spoon of some two-year old kid. “Your worst nightmare,” he replied and he didn’t sound or look anything at all like Clint Eastwood. “And we’re your worst nightmare Sars,” a familiar female voice said from behind us. The room gained a slight, pinkish glow and it took all the strength that I could summon up to turn and look behind me but before I did that, I could see the look of terror in the eyes of the creature in front of me. “Michael Sars,” the voice continued sounding like what I imagined the voice of a pixie or fairy would sound like. That left me with some hope that I was dealing with just a common, ordinary everyday fairy that had come to my rescue but I knew somewhere deep back inside my throbbing mind that it just wasn’t so. “Sherry! Josh! What are you --- how did you get into the room?” I asked knowing very well that they could go just about anywhere they wanted to go and at the moment I was relieved that I wasn’t alone with the monster. “Well Greg,” Sherry said, “you’ve done something that we have been trying to do for the last several years and you are to be congratulated.” “And what is that?” I asked realizing that she had ignored my previous questions but I was willing to settle for any kind of conversation at the moment. I didn’t need the flashlight anymore because the glow from their bodies (even though it was pink) illuminated the entire room and I could see them clearly. Josh was holding some strange gadget in his right hand that resembled a huge MAG-LITE with a handle on it. I surmised that it was some kind of weapon but I really didn’t know what it was. Whatever it was, the creature they had called, “Michael Sars” seemed to respect it. “You finally got Mr. Sars here to come into our little trap even though you did it unintentionally. Of course, it was pure luck but the Tornado seemed to have something to do with it. We figured that he might be traveling up and down 62 tonight trying to pick up a victim or two and when we saw you we decided to keep an eye on you. We were close by when he stopped to pick you up. It wasn’t too hard to follow you two here and into the basement.” “But that still doesn’t answer my question (actually, I had many questions about this time and one of them was when was I going to quit pissing in my pants) about how you got here and why?” I asked as calmly as I could. I was attentive enough to notice that they both had lost some more flesh and at the rate they were going, they would be just bones before the night was over. “I guess you do have the right to know all about this,” Josh admitted holding the gadget even higher and aiming it directly at Mr. Sars. “Yes --- he really does,” Sherry admitted. “You see Mr. Henshaw, humans go about their daily lives not knowing and sometimes not caring about what goes on around them. Mr. Sars here, on the other hand takes advantage of that attitude of most people. He sort of fills in the holes they leave in the world, as things go. Mr. Sars is a carrier. There aren’t enough things killing people everyday so Mr. Sars has to make sure that the death rate exceeds the birth rate, if you get my drift.” “I don’t quite understand what you’re saying,” I admitted. “Mr. Sars is one of many aliens that walk among us. His job and it is a dastardly job that he enjoys very much, is to infect as many humans with every disease that he can. You see, he can catch or accumulate diseases but his system is immune to just about everything on the earth. He simply collects diseases and gives it back to us. He has caused more deaths in the last hundred years than all the wars that man has ever fought.” “But what is his reason for doing this?” I asked not yet getting the full meaning of why he was here on the earth. “He is the advance invading force, if you will,” Josh said angrily. “His purpose is to spread as much disease as he can and kill as many humans as he can so that humanity will be so weak when the main alien force decides to attack that we will be helpless against them. Of course, their ultimate goal is to wipe out every life that is on the planet so they can just zip down and take over.” “So you’re saying that hundreds of these creatures are going all over the earth spreading disease with the ultimate goal of killing everyone here, is that it?” “Yes, Greg,” Sherry said. “We can’t kill them because they have so many diseases in their bodies. Some of those diseases are so deadly that our science cannot hope to defend us against them. If we killed them all then these horrible plagues would be released upon us, all at one time.” “So what do you suggest we do with them?” I asked not yet understanding exactly how to handle such a situation. “Quarantine,” Josh replied. “We have already managed to get several of them but we were after this one specifically.” “Oh, he was the one that gave you the disease shortly before your wedding day, is that correct?” I asked. “You found out about that --- and us huh?” Josh asked. “The newspapers upstairs told me some things about you,” I answered not wanting to lie or deceive them anymore. I really felt sorry for them even though they scared the daylights out of me. “Yes, I suppose most of it is true,” Sherry said, “but you should also know that there is only one way out of this room and that you have a choice to make.” “What do you mean, a choice?” I asked really getting confused at the moment. “When he infected us he did so with some alien bacteria that caused us to bleed through the pores in our skins. The bacteria would have killed us but we decided to end it before we had to go through all that suffering. After the wreck we came back to seek revenge. We found several of them but could not find Sars here. We built several of these enclosed rooms in old abandoned houses, garages or anywhere that we could find a secluded place to build them. They are sort of like time portals to another universe side-by-side with this one. Once we have these creatures in that portal we can transfer them to that other universe where they will be quarantined for a very long time and can’t do the human race any more harm. It’s sort of our gift to the world that we left behind and our way of getting revenge on Sars here for what he did to us.” “But I thought that “revenge was the Lords” or something like that,” I said without actually thinking about what I was saying. “SO --- IT --- IS!” Sherry said slowly and smiled and a few more flakes of flesh fell from her jaw. “So what about this choice you were talking about? What does a choice have to do with me?” “Well Greg,” Josh said with a sad look on his face (even a zombie or whatever he was had a sad look as long as he had his eyes still in his head and not all his flesh had fallen off). “You’ve unfortunately been exposed to many or most of these diseases and soon will perish from the earth. You can’t go back to see your mother or girlfriend again or you will spread it to them and others. You might make it home and you might not make it home so your choice is whether to go home and perhaps kill the ones you love or go with us and help us fight these beings. That will mean that you would be so employed for perhaps, eternity.” “You call that a choice?” I asked and then quickly added hoping that I hadn’t hurt his feelings (if zombies have feelings, that is), “But I think that you already know which choice I will make.” “Yes, the only one you can rightfully make,” he said and smiled. “Now let’s get this creature quarantined in the next dimension so he can’t do any harm.” He pointed the weapon at the alien and a great green beam shot out from it. The entire room was flooded with the green light and I couldn’t see anymore. I’m not sure I wanted to see anything else but I didn’t have much choice. When the light had dimmed, they all were gone. I was left alone in the room and trapped by my own curiosity and bad luck. “WHAT ABOUT ME?” I yelled at the top of my voice. “We’ll be back for you later,” the voice of Sherry said and I didn’t doubt her for one moment. “Don’t worry, you’ll go fast and you won’t suffer much.” “Much?” I wondered just how long it would be until it would all be over. So, here I sit in a dungeon that I didn’t ask to be in and surrounded by four walls that keep me imprisoned. I know you have asked yourself why I didn’t just get up and walk out the door but I tried that only to find that the door was gone just as if it had never existed. When they said there wasn’t any way out of the vault, they really meant it. I suppose there is a lot more to this story than I’ve been told or more than I have come to realize but you will have to use your own imagination to figure out what I’ve missed. Remember that if you eliminate the impossible then everything else becomes probable. My thoughts were more concerned with my mother and Elizabeth than with dying. I had a funny feeling that my death would come swiftly and that I wouldn’t have to wait too much longer to join Sherry and Josh on their mission that would last for eternity. I suppose that when we had quarantined all the aliens that we would surely find something else to do, after all, eternity is a very long time. As for me, Sherry and Josh took me to Cincinnati and showed me a newspaper story that told it all. COLLEGE STUDENT MYSTERIOUSLY DISAPPEARS WHILE HITCHHIKING ON ROUTE 62. And in a sub title just below that: A local college student was last seen at Ma’s Kettle on Route 62 late Friday night. No body or remains have been found and local police are baffled as to what happened to him. He was expected at his mother’s house in Cincinnati but never appeared there. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be the last person to disappear while hitchhiking on Route 62. We would be busy trying to prevent these incidents from happening so if you are hitching across Ohio do not get into any black Cadillac’s because there won’t be any room for you in the red wrecker that is following close behind. Oh yeah, there’s one more headline to make this story complete. It was hidden on page 12 of the Columbus paper about six years after I became a member of the goon hunting team. ELIZABETH PARSONS WEDS FAMOUS MEDICAL DOCTOR AND RENOWNED RESEARCHER IN UNKNOWN DISEASES. Isn’t that just peachy? The End
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