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Two-Lane Blacktop

A man in a pick-up on a dark rainy blacktop sees a woman’s arm jut out for help from the side of the road.

By C. L. NicholsPublished 2 months ago 7 min read

Rain had let up. Patrick twisted the turn lever, setting the wipers to intermittent. A few drops gathered on the windshield before the blades stuttered across, flicked them away. In the pickup’s low beams, slashes of white glinted sharply on the blacktopped rural road but the edges faded to shadowy murk. He focused on the headlights’ reach, squinted as he passed an abandoned car on the shoulder.

Patrick glanced into the rearview and, as expected, found only night. This was no high-traffic throughway, and the thunderstorm kept away back road boozers.

When he looked ahead, a white arm jutted from the darkness into the opposite lane on his left. A woman’s face flashed by, mouth open wide. Patrick thought he heard her muted cry.

He jammed the brake. In the oversized side mirror, her shape turned red. The truck slued sideways, tires shrieking. The rear end swung around and slid to a stop, front angled toward her bent figure.

Stooped and sagging in the truck lights, she remained red. The woman was matted in blood.

Something large came out of the dark, loomed over her, then took hold and pulled her out of the light.

This time he was sure when she screamed.

Patrick reached to unlock his door, paused. What just happened? Who, or what, had grabbed her? Could it be a trap? Maybe, but he could only assume she was in danger.

He unlocked the door, pulled the handle. As one foot dropped to the macadam, he groped behind his seat for the tire iron. Gripping the heavy tool, he stood, faced where they’d gone.

Patrick took a step forward. Then another. His cautious boot heels echoed through the dark.

Then stopped.

A five-foot circle of pavement, slathered in blood mixed with a thick mucous fluid, shimmered like oil on water. The heavy rain had let up less than ten minutes ago. This was more recent.

Patrick stared down at the gore then snapped his head up at an odd sound. Not footsteps. Something dragging itself forward? Something at the side of the road, just out of the truck lights. Something large.

He raised the tire iron, waited for it. Whatever it was.

A raindrop struck the top of his head. Others followed. The staccato sound on the pavement quickened, became a downpour. Patrick could no longer hear the dragging noise, and now he could hardly see the weapon he clutched head high.

Something bumped him. Something solid.

He swung the tire tool, connected. It was like smacking a slab of beef. There was no reaction. No scream of pain, no bellow of rage.

It shoved again. Patrick was pushed away, nearly falling. He caught himself and spun around, bringing the iron down as he turned. The wet metal slipped through his grasp, arced into space. The storm masked its fall.

Empty-handed, Patrick turned toward his pickup. Its light, distant and watery, was a beacon of escape. Where was the creature, and what about the woman?

Water on the roadway splashed waist-high as he began to run. He twisted his head to look back, but the black rain was a closed curtain. Patrick looked ahead, tried to make sense of the situation. Survival was his goal. Just get out, come back with help.

Something stumbled into the roadway in front of him. Backlit by the headlights, it was smaller than he’d thought. It dropped onto the road, lifted one arm toward him. He stopped, stared. The woman.

Patrick searched the dark at the edge of the road, swiveling his head side to side, then hurried forward to kneel beside her. She groaned, struggling to speak, but no intelligible words came forth.

Covered in the same blood and mucus as the mess on the pavement, her mouth formed the gash of an open wound. Even the pounding rain did nothing to wash it away.

Like afterbirth, the gummy slime coated her entire body. The thick fluid had begun to harden. The glaze cracked as she moved, lifting herself and forcing out breath.

“Help me.” Her speech was strained, and she gasped with the effort.

Light splayed across her face, gave it a glossy sheen that distorted her features. The substance was quickly setting, and she’d soon be in serious danger.

The light…

An idling engine cut through the downpour. Patrick turned, saw a man standing behind the open door of an older pickup, watching.

“Having trouble?” the man yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth, keeping behind the door. He obviously didn’t trust the situation. “Hey, what’s wrong with her?”

The man reached back inside for something, killed his engine. He left the lights on, a bridge between the two trucks.

“Stay back,” Patrick shouted. “Something’s here.”

Patrick waved at the man, who either didn’t understand or else ignored the gesture. He stepped from behind the door and came forward, one hand held by his side.

Something moved into the road between them. A dark mass, larger than the pickups but impossible for Patrick to distinguish form or figure, settled over the man. The flat report of a gunshot echoed, then a scream sliced through the storm, abruptly cut off.

The dim headlights beyond the deluge became visible again. The road was empty.

Patrick looked down at the woman, who seemed oblivious to anything going on.

“Let’s go,” he said then helped her stand as far as she was able. “My truck.” They needed to get away, or at least find a better weapon.

With no warning, the dark mass blotted out the headlights of his own pickup.

Had the creature circled around that quickly, or were there more than one? He looked toward the fading lights of the other man’s truck, far away.

“Come on.” Patrick turned them around, made for the other vehicle.

With each splash of their feet, he expected to be caught. Water streamed off their combined shape. They slogged through the shallow stream that the highway had become.

The light behind them brightened. The thing had moved again.

Rain had let up but remained steady. Soaked and trembling, Patrick supported the woman to the driver’s side door of the old pickup. As he propped her beside the rusty door, he saw the stranger on the ground near the rear of the truck. Checking that the woman wouldn’t fall, he hurried back and knelt next to the man.

Nausea gripped him and he gagged. The man’s head lay on the ground, neatly scissored from its body beside it.

A pistol lay in running water beside one hand that jittered in the current. Patrick lifted the gun from the thin stream, stood, then was slammed against the rear fender.

He put the gun into the slab of meat and pulled the trigger. The shot was muffled as the bullet entered the creature.

It slammed him again into the truck. He dropped the gun, shoved with both arms. The thing moved away into the dark.

Patrick looked down for the handgun but couldn’t find it. He turned back to the pickup.

The woman was gone. The creature must have taken her.

A dragging sound moving away from the pickup made Patrick step to the edge of the shoulder. Was it fleeing with the woman? He doubted the bullet had made much difference.

He followed.

Water rushed halfway up his boots. Even in the dark, Patrick made out the wide furrow left by the creature. The path headed away through tall weeds into the countryside. Rainwater raced downhill and quickly filled the deep ruts.

Fifty feet out, beside a usually dry creekbed now flowing swiftly, he came to a huge mound made by chunks of mud. Tracks led to the top of the spiraling heap. Patrick slipped several times as he climbed it, then looked inside, surprised by the light below.

A bright beam fell upon the woman, slumped to one side of the cavity. A huge mass sat in the center, away from the light, so Patrick couldn’t make out its shape. Against his better judgment, he climbed down into the creature’s lair toward the woman. He needed to get her out of there.

Near the bottom of the pit, Patrick glanced at the thick shaft of light that came out of the opposite side. He felt disoriented and couldn’t understand what he was seeing.

Something large… lowered? … on a thick cable from the source of the light. Patrick squinted. It looked like a man-sized glob of raw meat.

From out of the dark mass of the creature, something shot up toward the glob. Patrick gasped. It was a claw, attached to a jointed arm. The pincer grabbed the meat, and suddenly the cable tightened and reversed direction. The entire mass of the creature rose with it, the pincer clamped tightly on the bait.

As large as a city bus, the creature took shape in the bright light. Patrick finally identified its form. A huge crawfish.

As the line lifted, Patrick reached the cave floor and looked up into the light.

One huge blue eye pulled back to reveal the grinning face of a freckled, red-haired boy. As the crawfish neared him, the giant stood up in overalls and straw hat. Patrick heard his booming laughter as the crawdad passed through the hole above and disappeared.

The boy shouted to someone Patrick couldn’t see, then ran away to show his prize catch to whomever else was there.

Patrick shook his head in disbelief, looked again at the light, then over at the woman. After one last glance into the light, he ran to her, helped her to her feet, then started up the slope toward their own side of the lair.

Together they climbed out into the rainy night.

thrillerShort StorySci FiHorrorFantasy

About the Creator

C. L. Nichols

C. L. Nichols retired from a Programmer/Analyst career. A lifelong musician, he writes mostly speculative fiction.

clnichols.medium.com

specstories.substack.com

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    C. L. NicholsWritten by C. L. Nichols

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