On the Road
The road was slick with rain, the day dim and overcast, and the woman's white umbrella stood out like a beacon alongside the road.
It was late afternoon, long past the time when the schools would be letting out and as yet too early for the evening crowd to be stirring, and when one factored in the weather he was surprised to find anyone at all out and about - maybe this was just his lucky day. The tires hissed as he slowed, then pulled over and rolled his window down and waited for the woman to approach.
She did so hesitantly, and he took a moment to study her face - black hair, pale skin with dark eyes, thin and nearly colorless lips that were barely noticeable until she smiled nervously. Even her clothing was lacking color with her acid-washed jeans and pastel blue shirt.
"You lost?" she asked.
shook his head. "No, just seeing if you'd like a ride. Pretty
shitty weather to be walking in."
"That's not far from where I'm going, I can at least get you close."
She hesitated again but after a moment folded her umbrella up; he leaned across the seats to pop the door open for her.
His attention was drawn by her feet as they stepped in - she was small, petite, and he watched as she slid her legs over on the seat and carefully placed those tiny feet among the empty bottles and food wrappers that littered the floorboard.
"Sorry, not cleaned in awhile," he offered. She simply smiled and tucked her umbrella between her knees.
He didn't carry passengers often or for long so he'd never cared about the trash or the cigarette ashes and stink that coated the inside of the car, and why should she care anyway? She was a temporary passenger, nothing more.
"So, Galloway. What's got you headed there?" He checked his mirrors then pulled back onto the road.
"I'm meeting someone."
"Ah." Expected, then...well, most of them said that. "Couldn't come pick you up?"
"No, this is a spontaneous arrangement."
He grinned at her. "The best parties always are."
She stared impassively back at him. "It's not a party."
She went silent and turned to look out the window; he fumbled the pack of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket before digging for the lighter. "Want one?"
"No, thank you."
Further attempts at small talk were met with outright silence so he gave up and went to smoking. He finished off three before the exit sign for Galloway appeared; as they cruised by it the woman finally stirred and glanced over at him.
"Did you forget where we're going?"
"Relax and enjoy the ride, I'll get you where you need to be."
She nodded and he noticed an eyelash on her cheek. Her skin was so damn pale...bet she bruised easily. He didn't notice any blemishes either - he wondered if that perfect canvas of skin extended below her neck.
As he studied her she sighed heavily and sank back into the seat, the picture of ease, every muscle relaxing as she raised a cigarette to her lips and took a long drag.
...wait, when had she...?
He blinked and looked at the road. He'd offered and she'd said no-
-his own cigarette was still hanging from the corner of his mouth, the pack in his lap.
She cracked her window and blew smoke toward it, bringing one foot up to rest on the dashboard.
"What was her name? The last one, I mean - Sarah? Sabrina? Started with an S."
Tall girl, skinny - you like us skinny - had the braids? Pretty
He had to scramble to dig the lit cigarette out of his pocket as it dropped from his slack mouth. "Excuse me?" was all he could think to say.
"And before that it was Ashley, and before that was Candance. Before her it was Paulina and then Rachel, Sarah, Barbara, and Cheryll, but you'll always remember Gina...people like you always remember your first. It was a real rush wasn't it? All those pretty blues and purples later."
"The fuck are you-"
"-she didn't even scream," the woman went on, studying the cigarette in her hand with a detached curiosity.
He jumped and jerked the wheel when she snapped her head around to stare at him, those dark eyes now a stark white. She calmly reached over to tug the wheel back straight; her hand was cold and he had the wild sensation of sand paper that was both sopping wet and dry as bone. Bone...bone white skin, leathery and chill and-
"Let's have a chat."
He opened his mouth to respond, anger warring with a sudden unease, but the sound died in his throat as she began to talk instead.
"'Shut your face bitch, you don't know what you're talking about, you're going to get it.' I've heard every justification a man like you could possibly imagine, plus a lot of things you're too stupid to think of as well."
His mouth suddenly felt as dry as her hand had, and he stared ahead at the road and tried not to think of the lingering sensation of moisture on his knuckles.
She took another long inhale, the skin of her face losing its pearly luster and taking on a duller gray, like the ashes hanging from the tip of the cigarette. A moment later she let the cigarette drop into her lap, one hand raised to her face to investigate fingernails that were rapidly taking on a black coloration.
"That rush after the kill wears off pretty quick, doesn't it? You know it's wrong, and you know the need for that rush is pushing you to do riskier things. You know it's just a matter of time before someone catches up to you, or one of your targets manages to escape before you finish. You don't know how you got here but you want out and yet here you drove by what could have been your out."
She reached over to slide the key from the ignition, and he blinked long and slow - when had he pulled over?
He glanced to her again and found himself unable or unwilling to look away as her features deteriorated even futher - the hair went lanky and greasy, hanging in clumps around her face; her skin withered and pulled in against her bones; the flesh around her fingernails pulled away to reveal the nails extended far into the finger, nearly to the knuckle, and had changed into gnarled talons; her eyes shriveled until they were wrinkled white points swimming in empty sockets.
"What the hell are you?!" He'd finally found his voice again and tore his gaze away as he yanked on his doorhandle, the entire car rocking - the door did not give.
"A reminder. A conscience. A prosecutor. Demon, devil...take your pick. I'm a lot of things."
The dome light above their heads came on then abruptly dimmed and flickered weakly; he tore a cuticle wide open as he frantically clawed at the door's lock, sucking in huge noisy breaths as the air became oppressive and heavy, like inhaling molasses.
Finally the lock popped and he spilled out onto the wet pavement face first, his toes hooked on the frame of the door as he scrambled to drag himself from the vehicle. He was on his feet and sprinting across the road a moment later, blindly charging into the woods and stumbling as his feet slid in the mud and the wet leaves.
"Now, here's the situation as I see it."
The voice was right at his ear as he caught a foot on something among the detritus and went sprawling. He flipped over and flung a handful of leaves as he did so.
He was alone.
"You ain't human!"
"I thought I'd implied that already. Not one for sublety are we? Now, as I was saying-"
He stumbled and fell four times before getting his feet back under him.
The car...if she was out here-
"-here's how I see this situation. We can head back to Galloway or we can continue this game - your choice, of course. I do have an appointment elsewhere tonight so don't take too long thinking on it."
There was a water-filled hollow that he fell into next, leaves on its surface having effectively disguised it; he slogged through, knee-deep and sliding in the mud underneath, his own frenzied motions of looking around throwing him off balance.
"This area has one of the highest crime rates in the county. I bet the police would be thrilled to have someone do the work for them, and there's a lot of families still waiting for closure."
He found the edge of the hollow and clambered out and again ran for the road. If he could just get out of here...
"...but you knew that, come to think of it. You've got the newspaper articles hanging in your kitchen."
Car, car, car...
There it was. Empty.
came tearing out of the trees and staggered for it, throwing himself
into the driver's seat and slamming the door shut before hitting the
locks and reaching for-
keys, she'd taken the keys-
-floorboard. He could spy a glint of silver among the wrappers and he jabbed himself in the ribs with the gearshift in his rush to grab them and fumble the correct one into the ignition.
The engine had barely turned over when he slammed it into Drive and floored it, tires squealing and the back end of the car fishtailing on the asphalt.
And then...that place rapidly disappearing behind him.
He was wet and cold and shivering uncontrollably; with a shaking hand he turned the heat to max and let the air blow in his face, the soft rush of air and his own beating heart the only sounds to be had inside the car.
What the hell...had that been?
His stomach twisted and churned and his fingers began to tingle as they warmed, feeling returning and the air getting decidedly more humid as the heat met with his wet clothes. Briefly he considered a cigarette to calm his nerves, but the thought of a cigarette made him recall the woman's pale face and in an instant he relived the horror of watching it wither and change, and those hands, those eyes-
He pulled over, got out, and vomited into the grass, all the while nervously looking over a shoulder, fully expecting the disembodied voice to whisper in his ears again. What if he turned around and found her back in the car?
she wasn't there. Thank God.
Still shaking and feeling empty, he slid back into his seat and pulled back onto the road; the miles went by unnoticed and he didn't consider stopping until his dashboard gently chimed to draw his attention to the gas gauge - he would have to stop soon.
The gauge's needle was slipping dangerously close to the E when an exit sign loomed out of the gloom, informing him that Manchester was only three quarters of a mile away.
The thoughts repeated over and over in his mind as he drove - what had that been, how had it known so much?
...what would happen now?
His headlights illuminated the exit and he took it to find himself in another tiny town amongst the woods; it didn't take long to locate Manchester's only gas station and refuel, but when he got back into the car he found himself sitting, gripping the steering wheel, and repeating those questions again. What could he do now? Did he dare risk driving back home and crossing through where he'd left that thing?
Maybe there was another route he could take - hours of backroads would be worth it to not confront that monster again.
The gas station had a small shelf full of maps of the county and also a travel atlas; he bought the atlas and returned to the car to plot his route, but as he got in the dome light illuminated one thing he hadn't noticed before.
The umbrella was in the floorboard, bright white against the garbage.
He flung it into the parking lot before speeding away again, the atlas forgotten on the passenger seat as all he could focus on was putting as much distance between himself and Galloway as possible.
It grew darker, the rain came down harder, and oncoming headlights continued to remind him of the flickering dome light - such a minor detail, but the thoughts associated with it were enough to send him into dry heaves.
He just had to get away, just had to put some distance between him and it...
The white umbrella stood out like a sore thumb on the side of the road.
The young man could only grin to himself as he slowed to a stop to honk at the woman - in the light from his headlights he could see she was thin as a rail and soaked from the knees down. She turned to squint at him, hand shielding her eyes from the glare, and he honked again until she came to the window.
"Hey babe, want a ride?"
She smiled at him. "Nice car. I'd hate to ruin your leather seats, I'm pretty wet."
"No worries, get on in and tell me your name."
She shrugged and folded the umbrella, opening the door and slipping inside; he watched her gaze roam over the chrome-trimmed dash. "Like what you see?"
"Pretty slick. Graduation present?"
"You know it."
He pulled away from the shoulder and gunned it, watching as the odometer inched toward seventy.
"You're pretty young to be doing this, you know."
He snorted. "Please, I speed all the damn time-" His words stopped as he saw from the corner of his eye the muzzle of a gun, the light from the radio glinting off its body.
"I didn't mean the speeding. Let's have a chat on why you really picked me up." She smiled disarmingly as she pointed his own gun at his head.
He hadn't even heard her open the glovebox, or seen her move, or-
"Mugging gives you a pretty good rush, right? Just like speeding."
"Oh, wait, hold that thought-"
The headlights came from around the bend ahead, bright and harsh and in their lane. Brakes squealed as both parties locked them only moments before colliding head on.
When he'd swam back to consciousness he found himself laying flat on his back on the pavement, the smell of gasoline and blood thick in his nostrils. There was a man laid out next to him, and sitting serenely between them was the pale woman, smoking a cigarette and untouched by the rain.
His mind was trying to fathom why he felt no pain, or rather, why he felt nothing - not even the chill of the rain as he laid there with water pooling in the little space between his nose and his eye.
"I'll let you two get acquainted. By the way, probably wasn't smart to keep Sarah's scrapbook in the trunk."
The woman's movement of plucking the cigarette from her mouth and tucking it neatly between the lips of the other man drew his attention and he stared numbly at her as she rose and began to walk away.
He heard the soft whump of the umbrella opening, then she was gone.