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Monday, October 21, 2013

Once upon a road...

            When Roland had started along the road, the sun had just been setting but the air had been pleasant and warm, despite the heavy feeling that usually came before a storm.  Now, not three hours later, the rain was pissing down and the canvas trench coat that he wore did little more than cling to his skin wetly.

            He stuck his thumb out as a truck roared by, but it didn’t even slow down and Roland found himself exponentially more drenched, if possible. He swore and pulled the coat tighter around himself, his red baseball cap sagging under the weight of the collected water, and he glanced behind him as the roar of an engine split the air behind his head and the sharp bark of a car horn made him jump a foot.

            Roland swore loudly and stuck out his thumb, realizing that it was something of a moot point as the car had already slowed and the passenger window had rolled down. A man in a smart black suit smiled out at him in a way that seemed spectacularly predatory and he snapped his fingers at Roland as if he were a stray dog, “Get in.”

            The hitchhiker leaned in to get a better look and mumbled, “I’m on my way to Wichita,”

            “I didn’t ask where you were going, I said ‘get in.’”

            Everything in Roland’s subconscious made him pause, but he shrugged to himself and climbed inside the sleek black sports car. As soon as his butt touched leather, the driver laid a foot down on the gas hard, the momentum of the car keeping forward made the door slam shut.

The hitchhiker sucked in his breath and adjusted his heavy rucksack across his lap, “Where are you headed?”

“Does it really matter?” The driver asked, and Roland assumed that it was a rhetorical question. He waited awkwardly until the man elaborated, “I’m going to Ashland.”

“Really?” Roland looked at the man again skeptically, “Isn’t that pretty…well, rural?”

“What, I don’t look rural?”

“Your car certainly doesn’t.”

The driver smiled at him and his teeth glinted in the green lights of his dashboard, “No, I guess it doesn’t. I’m a businessman, and so I end up going to some pretty strange places. I’ve been around a while, seen a lot…nothing surprises me anymore, not even being sent to a Podunk town to, well, enforce policy.” he emphasized ‘enforce,’ and Roland was left with only one possible definition. The driver glanced over at him with eyes that seemed small and hawk like in the dark, “What’re you called, stranger?”

“Roland Beringer.” Roland began to extend a hand, but then realized that he would rather that the driver keep his hands on the wheel, “And you?”

“I’m Abel.” The driver offered no last name, but instead fished in his pocket for a cigarette box and a lighter. Once he’d found them, he lit up with a strange measure of grace, and took a long drag.

Roland coughed awkwardly and Abel smiled at him, “You don’t smoke?”

“Can’t say I do. It's a nasty habit,” he balked, “Sorry, no offence meant.”

“None taken. You are right,” he smiled at the cancer stick, “these things’ll kill you.” Abel glanced over at Roland and his eyes walked over the young man from head to toe.

Roland slouched self-consciously under his gaze, all too aware of the differences between himself and Abel. Where the driver was stunningly handsome, sleek, tailored and almost dangerous looking with his high cheekbones and jutting, cleft jaw, Roland was cute at best. His reddish brown hair was cut badly and mostly hidden under his cap, and while his individual features should have been very good looking, the finer points were hidden beneath his terrible fashion choices. Between his torn, dusty cargo pants, an obnoxiously patterned red Hawaiian shirt and ball cap, he looked like a man old beyond his years who was on permanent vacation.

He adjusted his rucksack again and glanced down at his army boots, the intensity of Abel’s stare making him wonder whether the man was considering raping him or eating him. After a few moments, Abel’s eyes flicked back to the road and he smiled, “You definitely are the most colorful thing I’ve run across lately.”

“You should drive in the day more, that’s where color lives.” It sounded lame even to him, and Roland cleared his throat, “Wanna listen to the radio?”

“I only have my own music, the radio doesn’t work.” Abel pressed the play button and piano music flooded through the car.

Roland couldn’t help but laugh, “Wow…I don’t know what I was expecting…”

“I like classical.” Abel’s eyes narrowed and he looked affronted, “I’m no fan of modern music. It’s too loud and it has no real nuance to it. It’s all ‘bitch,’ and ‘twerk,’ and other stupid words that are designed to make inner city kids feel like badasses. None of them know what it is to actually be tough, to face real tragedy.”

“Uh, you don't think that decaying urban centers have their own share of tragedy?”

            “Not like the things I’ve seen,” Abel stared straight ahead, his eyes narrowed, “The shit that I’ve been through, the things that I’ve done... terrible things.” he shook his head, and his flowing black locks fell beautifully around his shoulders in a way that would have made a great shampoo commercial, “I’ve been around, kid. I’m older than my years, and I tell you what, nothing compares to the messed up things that I’ve-“ he abruptly stopped and looked dramatically out the window, “There’s a gas station, and I’m on fumes.”

            Roland shrugged, grateful that the man had drifted off, “Sure. I could use a bite.”

            Abel looked at him and a strange smile slid across his lips, “Interesting choice of words.”

            The car pulled into a gas station that looked as old as the state of Kansas itself, and as soon as they stopped at the pump, Roland practically threw himself out of the car and wandered inside. He browsed the chips, trying to think of a good reason not to get back into the car with Abel and finding nothing convincing. The man was strange, sure enough, but he hadn’t done anything too off kilter.

            He was just fishing through his pockets for change when Abel practically materialized beside him. When Roland looked over at him, he decided that the fluorescent lights did nothing for the driver’s skin, which was pale and tinged yellow around the edges from years of smoking.

            Abel cracked a smile at him and snorted, “Christ, you are pale.”

            Roland awkwardly picked up a bag of chips and shrugged, “Says you. You are really pale yourself.”

            “Desk job.”

            “I thought you were in enforcement?”

            Abel winced, “Okay, okay, don’t go around shouting about it. We’re all set to keep going, you ready?” Roland opened his mouth to object, but Abel didn't wait for an answer. He half pushed half herded the hitchhiker outside into the rain, the unpaid for chips still clutched in his hand.

            “Wait!” Roland started to protest but  he found himself suddenly in the car beside Abel. The man drove hurriedly away and once they were back out on the road, Roland cleared his throat, ”You didn’t give me a chance to pay for the chips.”

            “Those things are crazy over priced.” Abel lit up another cigarette, “Go ahead and eat ‘em, teach those jerks a lesson.”

            “What jerks?”

            “The guys who priced ‘em.”

            “They were just doing their jobs, they don’t decide how much they cost-“

            “Where are you from, Roland?” Abel interrupted him, and the hitchhiker suspected that he did it just to shut him up.


            “Ha! No wonder you are so pale!”

            “Well, I’m not really from there. I’m from Wolgast.”

            “Wolgast? That near Weehawken?”

            “Uh, no. It’s in Germany.”

            “No shit!” Abel looked at him sharply, “You don’t have an accent, though.”

            “I’ve lived in Milwaukee for a long time.”

            “That’s a shame.” They drove in silence for a while until Abel finally blurted, “No wonder you wanted to pay for those chips! You Germans are sticklers for rules, aren’t you?”


            “Yeah, if there’s one thing I know about Germans, its that they love their rules! I mean, look at Hitler.”

            Roland’s eyes narrowed, “Look at him what?”

            “I mean, how else could that guy have come to power? It’s because the Germans were so lost without their rules that they welcomed the first genocidal maniac that took the podium.” he switched on the music again, and Roland frowned when he realized that it was a piece by Richard Wagner.

            “There were other reasons, you know? And we aren’t all Nazis. In fact, the memory of Hitler is very abhorrent-“

            “Well, yeah, because you guys lost.” Abel grinned broadly.

            “No, because Hitler was a sadistic, crazy bastard who did unspeakable things.” Roland scowled darkly.

            The driver shrugged, “Yes, he did. Humans are capable of terrible things.” he emphasized the word “humans” strangely, and Roland began to regret his being a passenger in the car even more, “So, how long were you in Milwaukee?”

            “It felt like a hundred years.”

            “Wisconsin will do that to you.” Abel put out the cigarette on the dashboard, “I’m from Kentucky, myself.”

            “So, you a big Jefferson Davis fan?” Roland asked flatly.

            Abel glared at him darkly and they drove in silence for roughly half an hour. Finally, Abel grunted, “I get hungry this late at night.” Roland held out the unopened bag of chips and Abel cracked a smile, “No, not for that.”

            “What do you want then?” Roland asked, tentatively.

            Abel looked him over and the hitchhiker suddenly recognized the look of deep hunger in the driver’s eyes, “Something more…substantial I think. I’m a man of some strange appetites.”

            “Like what?”

            “I don’t know. The things in this world that used to sustain me do little for me anymore. I have left worldly pleasures behind, and have been searching for something less…conventional.” he grinned broadly.

            Roland swallowed hard, “This isn’t like that movie is it? Like ‘Deliverance?’”

            “No, you misunderstand me. I’m not interested in your flesh, or in the flesh of anyone, really. Sex is passé, tedious…it lost its allure ages ago. No,” he added, with a smirk, “What I want lies beyond the surface.”

            “Oh, for god’s sake!” Roland rolled his eyes and reached over with a hand and smoothly tore open Abel’s jugular with fingernails as solid as metal. Abel’s hands jerked and the car swerved sharply to the side of the road and into a ditch.

            Abel screamed, but not from the wreck. It wasn’t as if he were able to see it anyway, as his own fluids had painted the windshield opaque. The glove box popped open and a bone saw and duct tape toppled out onto Roland’s lap, and the driver’s intentions suddenly had become clear. Roland shoved his pack out of the way and pulled Abel’s twitching body across his lap as if he weighed no more than a doll and began to daintily sip the blood from the gash in his neck. Once Abel had stopped moving, Roland lifted his now solid black eyes to the ruined dashboard and switched the radio over to an R&B channel.

            He smiled down at his prey and muttered, “There. At least you can die to something with a beat, you prick.”

            Abel let out a long, unflattering squeak and finally died. Roland looked around him at the trashed remains of he beautiful car and rubbed his brow, “Ah, Scheiß! Looks like I’m walking again…”

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