Destination unknown: Bayou leaves driver searching for reality
Henry had been driving a truck for 14 years and thought he’d been to every commercial park in the Louisiana bayou, but he didn’t recognize the address or shipper coming across the Qualcomm. He was tired and it was late, but the five hours of drive time he had left were enough to make the pick up before having to shut down for the night.
He cursed the GPS for sending him on an unfamiliar route, but he stuck to it anyway. The old Pete groaned and creaked as it rocked down the road. She wasn’t fast, but she was a good truck and had never left him stranded. He settled into driving mode and soon became hypnotized by the white center lines, which seemed to be going by faster and faster, even though his speedometer showed an even 65.
Henry chalked it up to being tired and hungry, and his thoughts wandered to what he’d eat for breakfast.
The first giant bug to hit the windshield snapped him out of his reverie; it sounded more like a bird than a bug. He checked the speedometer again, the white lines were nothing but a blur, and he knew he was going faster than 65, but the Pete maintained she was rolling at a legal speed. Another bug hit the grill and sounded like an M-80 exploding on contact.
He’d driven these parts enough to know there were some huge, scary insects in the swamps, but the size of that one had to exceed anything he’d ever seen. It alarmed him, but he wasn’t about to stop. The side of the road was so pitch black he couldn’t even see if there was enough of a break down lane to pull over.
The next windshield shot was completely different. A black mass, the size of a small dog, landed on the passenger side windshield with a soft thump. This time he knew it didn’t have anything to do with being tired or hungry, something weird was going on. There was no way anything could land on a truck going 65 (or more) miles an hour.
Henry flipped the wiper switch and heard motors squeal with exertion trying to push the unknown creature off his window. Hairs on the back of his neck stood up as the object slid sluggishly across, finally freeing the blades and allowing the wipers to slap back and forth. He told himself it wasn’t the sound of claws scraping down the windshield he heard as it fell away, but the distinct noise was unmistakable.
Feeling shook up and a little silly, he tweaked the CB volume to see if he could ground himself with a little late-night banter. Static and a strange buzz were on channel after channel. No human voices were out there anywhere. With three miles left to the stop, he reduced the volume and tried hard not to have the heebie jeebies.
Glowing lights in the near distance promised human company and a return to normalcy. Shrouded in a sudden, thick fog, lot gates opened as soon as his truck turned in. A decrepit guard shack sat empty and dark. The only choice was to follow a narrow driveway toward the weirdly lit warehouse. There was no turnaround. Blackness and unknown territory filled every other option. Henry had never experienced darkness like this, the headlights barely made a difference. He could only see directly in front of the truck for maybe three feet. It was as if the night had consumed all illumination except for the warehouse lights.
Creeping along at 10 miles an hour and wishing he could go 50, he ignored the eyeshine his feeble-looking headlights caused several times and kept telling himself this was the swamp, there were animals everywhere. He also ignored the sick-sweet smell of rot and convinced himself the odor had to do with whatever refuse the warehouse produced.
As mysteriously as it had come, the fog lifted and Henry could see the docks on the warehouse. Only one door was open, and his skin prickled when he realized it was number 13. The CB crackled, making him jump like he’d been pinched.
“Hello driver! Back it on in. We’ve been waiting for you!”
The friendly voice and the fact that there was finally some human contact made him feel silly for being so jumpy. He was glad to hear they were waiting. It meant he’d be loaded and ready to get the hell out of this spooky place as quickly as possible. Henry didn’t care if he ran out of hours before he got to civilization. He’d drive illegally and on 16 flat tires to get away from here. He backed it in and got out of the truck to pick up paperwork and check his grill for damage from the bug explosion earlier.
Darkness engulfed him as soon as he exited the truck. Henry couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. Even his trusty Maglite couldn’t cut it for more than a few feet. As soon as he got close to the grill, the overwhelming smell of rot hit him full force. He stepped back and shook his head to keep from gagging. When he had composed himself, he shined the light towards the area he thought had been hit. There were bits and pieces of what looked like a very large lizard, but he knew that wasn’t possible. The smell was so strong, he couldn’t get any closer without throwing up.
A voice in the dark scared him so bad he almost threw up anyway. The shadowy figure materialized beside him, holding a stack of dirty paperwork.
“Jeezo Pete, man! You scared the hair off my legs! You can’t be sneaking up on an old man like that. You’ll be the death of me.”
There was no answer from the figure. He couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. The darkness was oppressive, he felt like he was breathing it into his lungs.
“Don’t y’all have any lights around here? This is the darkest damn place I’ve ever seen. And what the hell kind of bugs come up out of that swamp smelling like death’s asshole? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Your trailer is ready, sir.”
“What the hell? I’ve only been here 10 minutes. Y’all got jet packs on your forklifts?”
Again there was no answer. Henry took the paperwork and looked at it. The filthy pages were curled around the edges. He noticed the invoice was handwritten.
“Y’all don’t have computers either? No lights, no computers. What the hell am I hauling, covered wagon wheels?”
He looked up and realized he was talking to himself. He’d had enough of this weirdness and made quick work of getting back into the safety of the truck. He couldn’t put the load information into the Qualcomm, the screen had gone as dark as the night around him.
“To hell with this, I’m gettin’ out of here.”
The drive out was as creepy as the drive in, and for a minute he was afraid the gates weren’t going to magically open to let him go. But they did, and soon he was back on the pitch-black road. No longer concerned with anything other than making it to some semblance of civilization, he hammered down. The Qualcomm stayed dark, but Henry had an uncanny sense of direction and soon made his way on to a state route he recognized.
When Henry felt there was a comfortable distance between him and the strange warehouse, he started looking for a place to shut down. An old gas station, long closed and forgotten, offered an open, empty lot. It wasn’t the Petro, but it would have to do.
Unable to turn on the Qualcomm, he decided to wait until the morning to fool with it. He was exhausted and fell into the bunk. He was almost immediately asleep. Strange dreams of fire and people screaming filled his sleep. He tossed and turned fitfully, but did not wake until the loud knocking on the side of his truck brought him out of it. Daylight and a state trooper filled his driver’s side window. He had never been so happy to see a full-grown man in his life, and he jumped up to open the window.
“Yes sir? What can I do for you, officer?”
“You Henry Thorson?”
“Yes sir. Is there a problem?”
“I’d say so. You were reported missing four days ago. Where in the hell have you been?”
“That can’t be right, sir. I was dispatched just last night to pick this load up. This was the first place I could find to shut down. My Qualcomm fritzed out on me, so I wasn’t able to do my loaded call, but it sure as hell hasn’t been four days.”
“That’s not what your dispatcher told us. He said you dropped off satellite Monday night. It’s Friday morning. They were afraid you had sunk to the bottom of the swamp somewhere.”
Henry looked at the now-functioning Qualcomm. Seventy-two unread messages and, holy shit, it was Friday morning, just like the officer said.
“I don’t know what’s going on here, sir. I picked this load up last night at the Tiernery Warehouse and came straight here to shut down.”
“Tiernery Warehouse? Shit son, that place hasn’t been open in years. There’s no way you picked anything up there, unless it was ashes. Burned to the ground about 30 years ago and killed everyone in it. You been drinking?”
“Officer, I swear I haven’t. Let me get my bill of laden to make sure of the warehouse name.”
The dirty, ragged paperwork he had thrown into the passenger seat was gone. He searched the truck while the cop waited.
“I don’t know what’s going on. The paperwork is gone.”
“Henry, I’m gonna do you and me favor right now and give you the opportunity to leave without answering any more questions, mostly because you’re the second driver I’ve had tell me they picked something up at Tiernery in the past six months and I’ve got no damn idea how to even begin the paperwork on something like that. Now call your dispatcher and tell him you were laid up drunk, because if I were you I wouldn’t tell anyone else about what happened here.”
“What do I do with this load?”
“Don’t you understand? Ain’t no load, son. You been down the road to hell and back, and thankfully you didn’t bring any freight with you. Now get on back to the highway and try to forget this ever happened, cause that’s exactly what I intend to do.”
Henry felt like he’d lost his mind, but he knew what the trooper was saying was true.
“Yes sir. Yes sir, I sure will.”
“Don’t come back this way no more, ya’ hear?”
“You sure ain’t gotta tell me twice.”