The Passenger: Part 1

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Overdrive contributing blogger Wendy Parker‘s annual piece of Halloween fiction starts below. Check back Friday, Oct. 30, for the finale. Read “Be Careful What You Wish For” for 2014’s tale. 


“Nighttime is the right time, we make love
Then it’s his and my time, we take up…”

He shyly sang to her, so happy to have a new love interest by his side as the old Impala chugged along, slicing thick darkness from humid Alabama midnight. She was lovely, but unfortunately, she was young, and had begun to decompose a lot faster than the older ones did. It was a sad fact — the youth today are just soft, inside and out. He had maybe three days with them, as long as he kept the car running and the air on, and just as he was getting to know them, their faces slid off.

He flipped the radio off and let himself settle into the “dangerous thought” zone. The idea made him chuckle, as he remembered the preacher’s grievous warnings about dangerous thoughts leading to dangerous actions. He was riding around Southern Alabama with the corpse of a girl he bought, very much alive, at a rest area in Louisiana for $75, they were way past the dangerous-thought zone.

“With a name like Cuss, you’ve got to be good.”

Momma wasn’t even original enough to come up with her own schtick. She ripped off the Smuckers commercial every time she scolded him. She didn’t say anything when she beat him, but she’d let him pray with her afterward, and any attention from momma was good attention, so he would pray and ask forgiveness.

“Why did you name me Cuss, momma, why? You never even gave me a chance to be good, with a name like Cuss.”

“I just knew, Cuss. I knew you never would love Jesus the minute you were born.”

Momma was his first passenger — he took her to her beloved Jesus, and she was tough, she lasted a good long time and he learned a lot with her. She was his mother, after all, who better to teach him? No one cared when momma left. She was alone, he was all she had in the world. Her checks kept coming direct deposit, and her bank card was automatically mailed when it needed to be updated. All he had to do was maintain the shack his daddy left her enough to warrant a mailbox and his mission was funded. Seeing that granddad was a preacher, and momma was so devout, it only seemed right to think he was acting by proxy in the name of the Lord, even if momma was right about him never loving Jesus.

He looked over and lovingly stroked her bluish cheek, happy to have set her free from the awful life she would have surely led if he’d left her with the scum who wouldn’t look for her when she didn’t come back from her trick. He was going to take her to a nice place and show her some beautiful scenery and leave her to rest. He glanced back at the road just in time to realize he had strayed to the right, into the breakdown lane. Flashing lights from a disabled flatbed loaded with sod warned him to slam on brakes just in time to avoid running the car completely under the trailer. The hood peeled back in a perfect “V” down the middle, but miraculously, it stopped before decapitating Cuss and his already dead girlfriend.

This was, by far, the creepiest run Rupert had ever done. He knew better than going to Florida in January, but the warm climate was too tempting to pass up and the rate was great going in. If he’d been smart and turned, he’d have made his money anyway, but he spent three days on the beach and had to take a crappy sod load to get out quick, so he could get back to Chi-town and his regular run. Sod to Louisiana and steel rods from there to home would do the trick — he just hated the sod loads. They always ended up somewhere in B.F.E., which is exactly where he was when the trailer tire blew.

He got as far over into the breakdown lane as he could and about the time he set the brakes, he felt the impact of something plowing into the rear of his trailer. All he saw when he looked in the mirror was the outline of a mangled car, up under the left hand side of his trailer. This wasn’t a minor accident, someone was likely to be hurt. He had to check on the passengers and call for help, he knew that, but he also knew this was going to seriously screw him, whether or not it was his fault.

He braced himself with a quick “Lord, please don’t let anybody be dead” prayer and scrambled out of the cab toward the can-opened car.

Cuss considered his survival of the accident further evidence his mission was divine. The passenger had become disarranged during impact, she was flung at an unusual angle towards the dash, arms akimbo, oddly devoid of running blood from her clearly gashed forehead. His need to straighten her over-rode his dizziness and initial shock from the impact, and he pulled his legs from the ruined dash so he could turn fully to gather her back into her place as the passenger. He wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her — this wasn’t her chosen spot.

Rupert got to the window and realized the driver was alive and the trailer hadn’t gotten to the windshield of the car, but the top corner had peeled a trough through it before it stopped. The fog filtered windows revealed two blurry figures, one of them scrambling over into the backseat to get out the back door of the sedan.

He grabbed the handle from the outside and jerked while the ghostly figure on the other side of the fogged up windows kicked from the inside and the door gave way with a “pop” and a smell that Rupert remembered from growing up on the West Side of Detroit, and that smell was death. He didn’t expect anything good when Cuss jumped out of the car, and his first impression of instant internal alarm was absolutely correct.

Cuss was disappointed the driver wasn’t a little old man — they were feisty, and he’d only had to take one as a passenger, but he’d never helped anything as big as a trucker to the other side. This one was going to be tricky. He played it nice. Flies to honey.

“Hey man, I’m cool, you OK? I came around the curve, must have been closer than I thought I was.”

Rupert’s neck prickled when he heard the guy speak. It was like he was talking to an animal, trying to coax it closer. He instinctively stepped back.

“Is there someone else in the car? Are they OK?”

Cuss plastered on the best salesman smile he could muster, jerked his head toward the car and said, “Oh her? Yeah, she’s fine. That’s my girlfriend, she’s asleep.”

The marionette smile scared Rupert enough to cause him to move quickly toward the safety of his cab. He wasn’t sure about anything other than the fact that the chick in the car was definitely not asleep, and the dude driving it was either messed up from a head injury, or a dangerous weirdo, at the very least.

Cuss hesitated — he didn’t want to spring before the moment was right, and he missed the opportunity. …

Tune in Friday for the finale … 

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