The Dark Places
By Jordan Gaza
You could have said we were being silly. Heck, you could have even said we were being stupid. But you certainly could not have said that we didn’t know what we were doing. The wind was jagged, sweet, whistling and combing our hair like a sharp-tongued old lady’s fingers. The sky was coral pink, swirling with a faded, shattered indigo that indicated that night was soon upon us. The car that we were speeding down the empty stretch of road with was stolen--out of some old, Christian man’s driveway, no less. But, honestly, he wasn’t using it.
At that point, I don’t think we could have been much happier. We were utterly alone with no chance of that fact changing anytime soon, penniless, and starving. But we were happy. Sometimes I think that’s all that really matters.
The broken, empty shotguns rolled about the backseat of the car, dried out husks of a fabled former glory, while we perched in the front seats, surrounded by gutted fast food containers and forgotten articles of clothing. Alonzo drove (since he was the only one to have a license) and I sat in the passenger seat, staring at the road ahead for lack of anything better to do. I don’t know why we bothered to be so formal about it: I probably could have driven just as well, given him a break. But the old fear of a whining cruiser with flashing lights kept Alonzo firmly in his position and me in mine. Old habits die hard, I guess.
We had been driving for four months, only stopping to rest, scrounge for food, and fill up the tank. It was dangerous, really, to be driving about with nothing to protect ourselves, save a couple of metal baseball bats and a chain, but we didn’t intend to let the opportunity arise where we would need to use them at all. We drove all night, slept all day. The monsters seemed to like the night better.
Alonzo looks nothing like me, yet people still used to say we could have been brothers. For all my clunky, gangly limbs, he’s made up with solid, corded muscle and straight stature. He’s dark and graceful, like a crow in the dim purple of a faded day, confident and even ominous to those who look at him from afar. But, like a crow, the second he opens his mouth, you lose a little bit of respect for him. For all of his apparent eloquence, he sure speaks like a moron. A loud moron, at that. I don’t think he means to sound so ignorant; he’s just undereducated and over-opinionated. I think he doesn’t even know what comes out of his own mouth sometimes. He’ll say something smart, his small tongue like a whip, and then he’ll freeze, wide-eyed and frightened, like he’s surprised even he had the guts (or lack thereof) to say something as stupid as he just has. His thick, country-bumpkin drawl doesn’t help his self-induced sticky situations much. He’s an idiot, but I still love him.
He was always teasing me, back when he used to smile, saying how much of a girl I was.
“You sure you ain’t my girlfriend, Jack?” He used to grin and tousle my corn silk hair. It’s true that I’m slender and fair and soft, with big eyes and big lips, but that doesn’t mean I’m a girl. I’m the farthest thing from it, in fact. Ask Alonzo himself, when he’s in a talking mood, and he’ll tell you how I can whip him from here to the Pacific Ocean. I’m small, but I’m fast and my knuckles are sharp. As an added bonus, I’m better educated than he is, and I don’t have that stupid accent of his: when I say something, I throw a few fancy words in here or there and people are much more likely to believe me.
“Oh, he’s a smart boy, he’s okay,” they’d say. “Now that friend of his…”
Alonzo talks his way into messes and I talk him out. The road, however, doesn’t listen to accents or fancy words and, so far, it had been treating us pretty much the same. Our hair was lank, our eyes scrubbed cloudy, our fingertips stained. We didn’t want to be in that car, we wanted to be home. But we were happy, I suppose.
All I remember about the old life was that there was a kitchen and a woman and a strong smell of good things to eat. It was when we didn’t have to worry much about where our next meal came from. If we were hungry, that lady was there, ready to cook. Oh, I remember, she loved to cook. I also remember that she had spicy, cinnamon-red hair that fizzed out of her bun like soda bubbles. Her dress was always stained with flour and the green juice of the grass near her garden in the backyard. She smelled like extract of vanilla and her voice was just as sweet, just as rich. She had that same, lazy drawl as Alonzo, but she was much more educated and wise than he was, so she could use it better: use it to intoxicate you and lull you to a warm, dreamless sleep in her kitchen, where she fed you silky cream and hot cookies. I think her name was Lolly. I can’t remember much. The road scrapes your memories clean off the rind of your skull, like one of those spoons with serrated edges on both sides. All that mattered now, I suppose, was that we were on that road and that’s where we were going to stay until we found someone else in the same situation as ourselves. We almost had it one day.
“Jack. Jack, Jack, wake up. C’mon, wake it! Look.” One of Alonzo’s thick hands rousted me from sleep, skimming my limp form from the thick liquid of dreams and draining the excess. I rolled about the front passenger seat, bleary and irritable. I mumbled for him to go to hell. He shook me again.
“Now, I said wake up, dammit!” A hard shove sent me flailing into the land of the living, and against my door.
“What, what, what, god, I’m awake!” I shouted at him, angrier than I ought to have been. But, really, sleeping is the only peace I get in that godforsaken car. Besides, not much else to do while we drive. It was my domain and his intrusion certainly wasn’t welcome. Alonzo’s dark face swam into focus next to me, darting between giving me a wide-eyed glance and concentrating on the road.
“Look,” he commanded again, pointing in front of us.
The road stretched before the rusted hood of the car, endless and grey and cracked, like a row of caulk between the tiles of a filthy shower. The desert we had been driving through had morphed, gradually, into lowlands that were covered in stubbly grass. Every now and then a plains grouse would flutter over the short vegetation, startled by the roar of the car. In the distance, not two hundred feet away, a gas station squatted in the grass, seemingly dilapidated and empty. An old open-closed sign rattled wildly in the dry prairie wind.
“We can’t stop there,” I said. I didn’t add my fear of the monsters being there. Alonzo began to pull up to the over-grown driveway. I grabbed for the wheel.
“Are you crazy?” I cried, “They might be there, hiding! We don’t have guns, we can’t kill ‘em!” Alonzo pushed me roughly aside, giving the wheel a full turn and swinging us into the parking lot. The car groaned in disagreement. As we crawled to a gradual stop at the far end of the cement expanse, Alonzo reached behind him and grabbed one of the baseball bats. It was yellowed and filthy, stained with age and other unmentionable things.
“We don’t need no guns,” he said in a monotone. “Now c’mon, you wimp.” He opened his door, jangling the keys out of the ignition, and lumbered out into the parking lot. Nervously, I glanced up at the sky. It was getting darker by the minute. The whole point of us driving all night was so we didn’t have to be with the monsters. Night was their domain and they claimed everything and everyone that the darkness touched. They were slow, though, and could not run to catch up with a speeding clunker. In the car, riding the slick back of Night, we were safe.
Alonzo was already half-way to the gas station. He turned around to glare at me, his raven hair fly-away in the dry wind.
“Well, you comin’ or not?” he called to me. Hesitant, I stared back at him blankly.
“Oh, fer pete’s sake, get outta the car!” he barked. I reached into the back seat and grabbed the other baseball bat, my breathing ragged. A sense of urgency gripped me, the kind that someone usually gets when they’re in one of those nightmares where they know they have to get away, but they just can’t. Night was coming, we had to get out of there. If Alonzo wanted this so badly then, fine, I’d humor him. But just for a while. Then we had to leave and drive so fast all of the bad feeling in the pit of my stomach would be ripped away and replaced by safe, familiar hunger.
I scurried to Alonzo’s side, my own bat dragging on the ground behind me.
“Get that bat up,” he growled at me evenly. “If there are monsters in there, then they’ll be able to hear you a mile away.” I whipped the bat up and hefted it over my shoulder. Alonzo wasn’t really afraid of the monsters anymore. He used to hide from them, just like I still do. But somewhere down the line, somewhere along the road, his heart hardened into a solid little ball of gristle. That was around the same time that he stopped smiling.
We quietly approached the gas station’s front, Alonzo in front of me, his bat cocked in the ready-to-fire position. The front door was glass, horribly dirty and smudged from disuse. One of the metal opening bars had been ripped off and thrown off to the side; it now lay in a pile of long grass, rusting. That was no doubt the work of the monsters. They were slow, but they were strong.
Alonzo crept to the glass door and peered inside, his weapon at the ready. From where I was standing, the interior looked dark and gloomy. The window that normally allowed the cashier to look out at the pumps was glazed over with dirt, any remaining view choked by junk food displays that had been jammed up against the glass. I pointed this out to Alonzo.
“Look,” I whispered. “Someone must have tried to hole up here at one point.” He glanced over at me from his position by the door, eyes dark.
“Yeah? I don’t think that went so well for ‘em,” he rumbled back, holding up a human femur that he produced from the grass beside him for me to inspect. I gripped my bat tighter. Alonzo threw the bone over his shoulder with the air of a man who was just putting out a cigarette butt and began to inspect the interior of the station once again. He motioned for me to join him. Hesitantly, I obeyed, scrambling to pull my tingling legs along. I squatted behind him, holding my own weight up with my bat.
“Do…do you think they’re in there?” I whispered. Alonzo didn’t answer at first, still staring into the dark, muddied abyss beyond the glass. I waited for him to come back to reality. Right now, he was a lion on the prowl, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce and go in for the kill. It was best not to disturb him when he was like this. He had developed a taste for blood. Finally, his eyes refocused and he glanced over at me.
“Well,” he exhaled, “Those bones I just done found're old, already bleached by the sun. They need to feed every other night. If they was still here, I think they’d be more bones around, fresher ‘uns. Can’t take no chances now, though, can we, Jack?” He smirked at me with his eyes.
“That’s the point, though!” I whispered harshly. “We could still be driving right now! We didn’t have to come see if there were monsters here. You’re so stupid! Let’s just go, okay?” I began to rise, but Alonzo caught my arm. His thick hand completely encircled my forearm. He pulled me back down roughly and hissed,
“You’re stupid! You make too much noise, they’ll hear you!”
“’They’? What the hell do you mean ‘they’? There is no one and no thing in there! We have to go, Alonzo! It’s getting dark!” I growled back.
“You’re such a worry wart. We got plenty of time. ‘Sides, even if they ain’t in there, there’s pr’olly food. We hain’t eaten in almost two days.” Alonzo picked up his bat and began to creep towards the door.
“Alonzo!” I hissed after him hoarsely. He ignored me, beginning now to push open the glass inch by inch, being careful to not make too much noise.
Friday, August 7, 2009
The Dark Places
The Dark Places