Wide-eyed, Colton let out a gasp.
Charlie scowled as he turned his bloodshot eyes onto Colton, and he tucked it in the waist of his jeans. “Go back to sleep.”
He closed his eyes, but there was no way that Colton could sleep. The mystery of what lay in the bed of the truck intrigued him, and his mind swam with curiosity.
“You’d better do as I say or I’ll pull this truck over and take a belt to you.”
Colton planted his head against the rear window and pretended to doze while the balding tires, guided by a long stretch of ruts, kept the squeaky suspension constantly complaining about every little bump.
Colton dared to crack open an eyelid and looked out of the corner of his eye. His father leaned over the wheel, squinting to see beyond the dust-glazed windshield as the vehicle crawled along in first gear. A squirt of washer fluid would have cleared it, but the pump didn’t work and hadn’t worked in some time. But it was on the old man’s to-do list along with the other things that he’d not gotten around to doing. The list was just one of the sore spots around the Bishop house that was a catalyst for arguments.
Hitting a minefield of potholes sent the empty beer cans on the floorboard bouncing around. The jangle sounded like a percussion of clunky wind chimes. Immediately, the old man responded by dropping the speed of the truck, but the vehicle continued to jostle along like a wacky, kid’s ride in an amusement park.
The brakes squealed as the truck rolled to a stop and his father cut the engine.
He heard the driver’s door open then it slam closed. A moment later the corroding hinges groaned as the tailgate dropped, then thudded when the length of guide chain played out. Curiosity had him in its grip. He wanted to turn and look, but he knew better. Instead, he listened.
Whatever had been in the bed of the truck hit the ground with a thud. Dry leaves rustled and grounded twigs snapped beneath the hard soles of work boots as his old man drug it away.
Colton sat there until the sounds grew faint. Only then did he find the courage to open his eyes and slowly turn to peer out the rear window and witness his father dragging something through a scrubby patch of Yaupon saplings. The sheet encasing the bundle let go a loud rip as the one of the spindly branches snagged the material. The old man took time to stop and curse it. He gave the plant a swift kick as if the tree consciously and deliberately perpetrated the act. He then continued his journey that led to a grove of Mayhaw trees growing along the bank of a canal. Both the old man and his mysterious cargo in tow were soon swallowed by the shadows.
Something struck the roof of the truck. A shock of fear ripped through Colton’s stomach like a bolt of lightning and left his heart racing. Easy there, Hoss, he chided himself. No such thing as a ghost. It was only a falling limb. His thoughts ran amok. He fought to keep the details from the urban legend connected with Blood Road out of his mind, but lost the battle. A gruesome vision of adolescent lovers dying at the hands of a maniac flashed inside his head. Their slashed bodies were left hanging in the tree to drip blood onto the roof of their car.
Colton heard another tap on the roof and reminded himself it was only a story.
Colton got the courage to stick his head out the window and look up.
Something swooped out of the tree, took wing, and flew off into the darkness. He almost peed his pants. His rational mind told him that it must have been a large bird, but his ten year old mind told him that it could have been something else, like the malevolent spirit of the lunatic looking for its next victim.
He jumped out of the truck and ran. The pasty light of the moon was enough for him to follow the trail of whatever his father was dragging. He zigzagged through the wooded area until the ground turned soupy. The muck sucked on his shoes with every step. The old man would kill him if he ruined them. He pulled his shoes off and placed them on a tree stump then forged ahead and didn’t stop until he heard the rhythm of a shovel striking ground.
Beneath a canopy of trees, the old man was busy at work Colton took refuge behind a loosely woven wall of bramble and watched.
A swarm of hungry mosquitoes found him. He dared not swat the annoying little buggers and alert the old man. It wasn’t long before the bloodsuckers became too much to bear. Whatever the old man was burying would have to remain a mystery. Ghost or no ghost, he was going to back to the truck. As Colton took a step back, his heel snagged a cord of vine that sent him crashing to the ground. flat onto his back. Colton let out a cry of pain and punctuated it with a swear.
The outburst alerted Charlie Bishop. He drew the pistol from the waistband of his pants and aimed the open bore directly at Colton’s hiding spot. “Come out of there, or I’ll shoot.” He cocked the trigger back.
Afraid that if his old man might shoot and ask questions later, Colton jumped to his feet and tore through the thorn-spiked vines ripping clothes and skin along the way. He stepped out into the moonlight with his hands stretched high. “Don’t shoot, it’s me,” yelled Colton.
Immediately the old man turned the gun down and leveled his narrowed down eyes at Colton’s. “What the hell is the matter with you, boy? I told you to stay in the truck.”
Colton’s eyes were glued to the sheet. The rip in the cloth gave Colton a hint to what secret it held.
“Come here, boy.”
Fear had him rooted to the ground.
“I said get over here.”
Colton managed to break free of the terror immobilizing him and slowly walked over to his father.
He grabbed Colton by the shoulders. “This has to be our secret, boy. Do you understand?”
Colton couldn’t find his voice. With his eyes still fixed on the tear in the sheet he nodded.
“Good.” The old man thrust the shovel into Colton’s hands. “Cause you’re a part of this now.”
The scene disintegrated into a slurry white noise and mental static. Colton snapped back from the memory, but it left the same old feeling of dread crawling around inside his belly that he’d felt that night.
If he were going to go back to Paradise, he would need more Jack Daniels, a lot more.