It feels like old times again. James glances over at his wife, grinning as they sing the words to Def Leppard’s song together.
‘You got the peaches, I got the cream!
Sweet to taste, saccharine!
Cause I’m hot, hot, say what, sticky sweet
from my head, head, to my feet!’
They’re driving on Arizona’s most famous highway, Route 66, heading west toward the great state of California. James rented a sweet candy red twenty sixteen Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible, a car he’s wanted since childhood but will never be able to afford. The top is down and Carol’s long blue hair blows freely in the headwind.
James taps the steering wheel’s volume button, cranking it up high. His forefingers become drumsticks, pounding away at the air in front of him as they sing-scream the final chords together. ‘Pour some sugar on me, yeah sugar me!’
James reaches across the center console and grips Carol’s bare thigh. Her skin is heat wrapped in satin, filling him with the same desire it always has. She lays her hand on his and squeezes. Bright spots of rose bloom in her cheeks as she shares a glance with him, blue eyes wide and dancing with adventure.
This is exactly what their relationship had needed. The excited spark in Carol’s eyes confirms it. Five years of suffocating monotony isn’t good for anyone, least of all for Carol, a lioness with a falcon’s spirit. Confined in suburban cages for so long had dulled and depressed her, but the wind is bringing back her natural shine, one mile at a time.
Carol squeezes his hand harder. When James glances over, his pulse quickens. Carol’s cheeks are flushed, her eyes slightly glossed over, smiling seductively. Slowly, Carol slides his hand up her inner thigh, forcing him to lean over the console. James doesn’t mind. The heat at her center is deliciously inviting, like a bonfire on cold winter nights. Licking her lips, Carol unbuttons the top of her blue Levi shorts, unzips them, and shifts back and forth in her seat, sliding them down just enough to make room for his hand. James knows what Carol wants and obliges her gladly, his heart pounding against his chest, erection pushing almost painfully against the wall of his jeans. Carol leans back against the 'vette’s headrest as James’ fingers push into hot velvet. He can't seem to look away from the rapid rise and fall of her chest.
Which is why James doesn’t see the metallic gleam of something sharp lying in the middle of the road. There’s a terrific bang as the driver’s side tire blows, and suddenly his attention is focused on keeping control of the car as it jerks to one side. Heart in his throat, he manages to pull safely over to the roadside.
As the dust settles in the sudden quiet, James meets Carol's eyes, her face a mix of amused embarrassment. He thinks, almost killed for a little pussy, and begins laughing.
“So, is that why you decided to kill her? Because she fucked up your rental car?”
Detective Connelly was getting tired. Three hours of interrogation and the son of a bitch still hadn’t cracked. Worse, his story hadn’t altered even a smidgeon.
“What? No!” The perp said, his pale face shaking vehemently. “I told you, it’s not like that! I love my wife! She’s my muse, my light in the dark, you know?”
“Yeah,” Connelly retorted, “and I love dealing with lying scumbags all day. Best part of the job, right Khalid?”
Connelly’s big, muscular partner had an all-star linebacker’s shoulders and the face of an anvil. Take one look at the guy and you’d think he’d pound you into dust as soon as look at you, but Khalid wouldn’t hurt a fly. Intimidating as hell to look at, sure, but most everyone called him a paper tiger. Except for the perps, of course.
“Chill, Connelly.” Khalid replied. His tone was deep, soothing, and persuasive. It said, ‘I’m on your side buddy, you can trust me’. If the perp believed it, he was dumber than his slack-jawed appearance suggested. “Look, James, let us help you. We just want to clear the air, that’s all. All we know is that you left Lupton with Carol and you showed up without her.”
“Here!” The perp shouted, “I came here! Straight here! One of your men picked me up in Kingman, nearly a hundred miles away from my car! Do I look like a god damn bird?”
Connelly shrugged. “Maybe you hitchhiked. Why don’t you tell me how you got there?”
“Oh my God, is this department full of cephalopods?” The perp said in a strained voice. The detectives exchanged blank glances. “I mean are you guys deaf?! We’ve been over this already! Why aren’t you out there looking for her? What if it’s too late?!” His voice cracked at the end, eyes shining with unshed tears.
Bullshit, Connelly thought. A fucking circus act, and not a very good one.
“Calm down, James, no need to get angry.” Khalid rebuked. “Half the department is looking for your wife right now. Just tell us what really happened. Help us make some sense of all this.”
The perp leaned forward, hid his face between his hands and sobbed. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for the last 3 hours! I feel like a fucking parrot!”
“I know, James, I know,” Khalid said soothingly. “But just one more time, ok? You ran over something in the road, blew a tire, then what?”
The perp took a deep breath, blowing it out shakily. “Fine. Like I told you, we started hoofing it, you know? I looked at Carol and said . . . “
“How’s this for a vacation starter, babe? Like halfway through making a batch of cookies and finding out you’re out of sugar, huh?”
Truth be told, James feels a bit nervous. The sun is a red-hot nickel ball hovering above their backs, they’re miles away from the nearest exit, and for some reason, both cell phones are on the fritz.
“It’s no walk in the park.” Carol replies bitterly, then grimaces and softens her tone. “Sorry. It’s just so hot out here without any wind. We’re going to spend our first three days recovering from third degree sunburns.”
As long as we don’t end up beef jerky too, James thinks, but shakes off the thought. Sooner or later, another car would come by, and they’d catch a ride to the next exit and a working phone. Thank God he’d purchased that Triple A membership.
“Do you remember the meerkats?”
Now where the hell had that come from? Meerkats? James remembered them, sure. From their honeymoon. They’d stopped in San Diego for a couple days and gone to the zoo. There was an exhibit with about seven or eight meerkats, enclosed in a netted dome with a bunch of hollowed out logs for them to play on. Carol had been taken in by the little dark patches of fur around their eyes, but James remembered them mostly for their odor. It’d been August, and the summer heat had been intense. The enclosure smelled of urine, feces, and the sharp tang of sweat. He’d gotten a migraine and needed to visit the gift shop for an Advil.
“I think I can recall them, why?”
“I don’t know, I just started thinking about them. They were so cute. I asked if we could get one as a pet, remember?”
“Yeah.” Come to think of it, the air smells a bit like those meerkats had. Strange. The desert air was usually dry with light herbal or floral scents. Perhaps there’s a dead animal nearby.
A blood curdling scream comes from somewhere far ahead, shattering the desert silence like a brick through glass. The sound reminds James of wild cats he’s heard while watching nature channels on television, but this one seems far too human. Carol gasps, free hand lifting to her mouth as she squeezes his painfully. Together, they back toward the safety of the car.
The scream comes again, louder, closer. James’ arms break out in gooseflesh. His courage fails and he turns, intending to run, but freezes before he can take another step. Beside him, Carol gasps and clutches his arm.
There’s a man standing not three feet away from the Vette. Only he’s unlike any person James has ever seen.
Despite the awful heat, every inch of the man’s body is covered by a gray hooded robe. James can’t see the man’s face, but his head seems far too long from crown to chin, shoulders far too wide to account for such a narrow body. It’s as if a large strip of cloth has been draped over a giant version of Lumière from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The man’s at least seven feet tall if he’s an inch, and his arms appear to reach all the way down past where his knees should be. Inside the cowl, James can only see darkness.
For a moment, the man only stands there, watching them. James positions himself in front of Carol, ready to protect her but unsure what to do. Something about this man is giving James a case of the creeps. A tingle travels up his spine and turns to a full shiver.
The man raises a hand as if to hail them. Loose fabric slides - falls, really - down his arm, revealing thin, skeletal-like arms and fingers covered in the purplish skin of a dead man already days buried in the grave.
James takes a single step back, forcing Carol to back up with him. His eyes go wide, nostrils flaring, heart leaping into his throat like a terrified house cat startled by the family dog.
Whatever that thing is lets out a screech James will never forget. It mimics the one they’d just heard, only it’s a thousand times worse, like the screams of a dozen jaguars and terrified children recorded, mixed and played back warped slow on a synthesizer. The sound tears into his soul, latching on like an eagle’s talons, ripping painfully at his mind and body. Carol screams and covers her ears.
Turning around again, James pulls Carol after him and screams, “RUUUUUUN!”
They run like the wind, like a runaway train, heedless of direction or destination. James only knows they must get away from that thing. The screech comes again, closer, and James shrieks, leaving his throat stinging and raw. His chest and lungs fill with sudden sharp pain. He can’t go on like this for much longer. James fights the urge to shut his eyes as panic sets in, but it’s a losing battle. His eyelids have become slits through which he can see little more than blurred coppery landscapes.
A strong tug on his arm breaks through the panic and pulls James to a stop. He looks over his shoulder and sees Carol has collapsed.
Her name forms on his lips, but James is unable to voice it without breath of his own. Dropping down to his knees in the sand, James’ muscles cry out as he crawls to Carol’s prone form. Her skin is hot and much too dry, but there’s still a pulse, thank God. They must have run until she passed out, either from lack of sufficient oxygen or from dehydration, he isn’t sure which.
Now what? Whatever that thing was, it doesn’t appear to be chasing them anymore. James allows himself to feel a moment of relief, but then realizes he can no longer see the road. There’s only sand, sparse patches of cracked earth and tufts of wild grass. Shit! How far did we run?
Faint imprints in the sand lead back in the direction they came from, but it won’t be long until the wind covers them up. Do we head back, try to find the road? The thought causes his heart to drop into his stomach, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a choice. If he doesn't move soon, Carol will die.
Groaning, James stands, stoops, and places Carol over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. He doesn’t know how long he can carry her like this, but he has to try. His throat feels like fresh baked clay, his face hot and feverish, head bowed toward the ground like a religious monk.
A loud, echoing grunt locks his knees, causing him to nearly trip. It makes him think of the noises the raptors made in Jurassic Park. Eyes wide, he glances up and sees the figure in the long robe. It stands still, a stiff arm raised and pointing directly at James. Another grunt escapes it.
“No, please God no,” James whimpers, and turns without hope.
Another one stands less than a hundred yards away, pointing in the same way. But this one’s hood is down, and what James sees will give him nightmares for the rest of his life. The head, hairless and shaped like a giant egg, is not human. Its skin is that same purplish gray, seeming almost blue under the bright sun. It has no mouth James can see, and no nose. Two intelligent black eyes the size of large oranges shine with dull, reflected light.
Another grunt causes James to whirl to his right. Carol slides off his shoulder, falling to the ground, but he hardly notices. There’s a third one now, and as James watches, a fourth one hazes into existence beside the third. He spins and sees more, materializing like Captain Kirk from the Starship Enterprise, until he’s surrounded by at least a dozen of them.
As if on some signal, screeches erupt simultaneously from them all, harbingers of doom. James cries out and drops to his knees, squeezing his eyes shut, covering his ears with gritty hands. Pain flares in his chest, bright with sudden, massive pressure, like being squeezed by the hand of God.
A raspy breath escapes his clenched teeth as he topples over sideways. The last thing he sees is one of those things moving nearby. Its bare feet and legs are covered in purplish gray skin. It has no ankles. The world goes black.
“So that’s it?” Connelly said, voice dripping sarcasm. “You want us to believe, what? That aliens abducted her? How stupid do you think we are, James?”
The perp’s shoulders slumped wearily. “I know how it sounds, but —”
“Do you?” Connelly slapped a hand on the table and leapt to his feet. “Because it sounds like you’re on something, man! You think you’re the first person to try using aliens as an alibi? Give me a fucking break!”
“Yeah, it sounds like a wagon load of horse dung sewed into the lining of a leather jacket and slapped onto a fucking camel, don’t you think I know that? Look, I never said it was aliens, I’m just telling you what I saw.”
“If not aliens, James, then what?” Khalid asked, settling back in his chair. He shared a glance with Connelly, who pointed a spinning index finger at his temple.
“I don’t know what they were,” the perp replied stubbornly, “but they weren’t human. Now, can we please get to the business of finding my wife? Those things took her, I know it! She could be anywhere right now!”
“Hang on,” Khalid said, “we’ll come back to that in a minute. What happened next?”
“I don’t know, man! When I came to, it was dark. I could make out lights in the distance, city lights, it turned out, but I was still in the desert. My thirst was gone. I thought I’d had a heart attack, but my chest felt fine. I didn’t realize it, but I was miles away from where’d we’d left the Corvette.” The perp’s eyes flicked to Connelly’s, and he gave a rueful shake of his head. “I know, crazy.”
“And Carol?” Khalid prompted.
The perp shook his head. He looked lost as he stared at the ceiling, tears streaking down his cheeks. “Gone, man. Disappeared. I was alone, engulfed in the desert's parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.”
About the Creator
Thanks for reading! I enjoy writing in various genres, my favorites being horror/thriller and dark/epic fantasies. I'll also occasionally drop a poem or two.
For a list of all my work, and to connect with me, go to www.kennypenn.com
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme