I had lived in one place for pretty much my entire life. In Las Vegas, sin city, they say nothing ever leaves. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. As much as I wanted that lame saying passed around by tourists to be true, it wasn’t. I lived in Vegas for 18 years. I loitered around casinos, picked up drinks in bars, and watched as jets go in and out of the local Air Force base. As I climbed into my father’s truck it finally hit me. Now it was nothing more than my dad and I as we drove down a deserted highway towards a new beginning.
“This will be good for us.” My dad, Dean, said as he kept one hand on the wheel and the other on the gear shift. It was an old Chevrolet with rust spots and a busted stereo, but it had lasted us for a little over a decade. I couldn’t complain too much.
“You keep saying that, but it still doesn’t seem like that’s going to be how it turns out. ” I said as I buried my head into a map. Dad didn’t care for a GPS or a smartphone so I always ended up being the navigator. When I was younger I hated it, but I got used to the responsibility as I got older. Knowing how to read a map was a lost art for my generation, so in a way, I was kind of thankful for it. I had a GPS on my phone, but the signal out in the middle of nowhere wasn’t always reliable, so I stuck with the map.
“I’ve only been there the one time. It was when I came to look at the house, but from what I saw there is plenty to do in Chiminal Hill.” He proclaimed. Chiminal Hill was the name of the town our new home was in. I wanted to call him out on his lie. I dug around and pulled up some research on the small town online. There was a school, a grocery store, a town center, and a bunch of other small businesses. there wasn’t much to do for a high school senior like me. Everything I found that talked about it made it sound like a dreadful place to live. It always looked as if it were about to rain. Grey skies and murky weather.
The way they constructed the town was unique, to say the least. Every building aside from the houses in the suburbs were far apart from each other. So far that no one could walk anywhere actually. There was a bus system set up for the residents not old enough or who couldn’t drive. It wasn’t anything compared to an inner city bus system, but it was something. Despite the size, the population wasn’t impressive. There were only a few thousand people in Chiminal Hill. In other words, everyone was up in each other’s business. The crime rate was sporadic as hell. One month there was nothing and then in the next, there would be a string of unsolved murders. I sighed at the thought of such a place.
I didn’t have a choice though. Dad worked for the DEA and they needed him there in Chiminal Hills. He mentioned something about a drug cartel or underground crime lord. I had no idea what he was talking about. I wished someone could have stationed him there after I graduated. I had one year left and it didn’t look good. It seemed like it was going to be a lonely summer for me. My friends were all gone, back in Vegas still able to hang out every Saturday night. It was an all day trip each way to get to Chiminal Hill. I wasn’t counting on them to come to visit very often, or at all actually.
I recalled the day Dad first told me about the big move. I had gotten home from school a bit later than normal and found him sitting in his usual place on the couch. Generally, he never got home before I did. My father was very engrossed with his work. He ended up staying at his office much longer than normal roughly every day. My dad never sugar coated anything he said. He was always straight forward and chose his words with heavy thought. I didn’t get the stereotypical scene. I wasn’t at the dinner table with the rest of my family when Dad told me the news. No, those days were gone. They left around the same time my mother did. In a twist of irony, my mother overdosed on heroin when I was only ten years old. That’s why Dad was always so hell-bent on doing his job. Or it may have been because he was running away from all the memories he had of her. I don’t think there was a way to find out without asking him about it.
“We’re moving next month,” he said to me as soon as I walked through the door.
“Oh. Okay” I said back to him.
That was the extent of our conversation that wondrous July night. It was my birthday that day too. Happy birthday to me right? I should have asked him why, but I found out later on anyways. I spent the rest of my time in Vegas with my friends. We didn’t do anything special aside from a small party they surprised me with. They were all good friends and I it depressed me to know I wouldn’t see them in a long time. For our last huzzah together we grabbed some booze and climbed onto the roof of Trump Tower. All that money and power and they can’t keep a few teenagers from getting past security. My dad would not have been proud of me if he found out, but I don’t think he would have punished me for it either.
My eyes ran across the map as I traced our path down the road we were on. It was going to be a good two or three hours before Dad needed any directions. I reached into the back behind my seat and pulled out an old CD player I had since I was a kid. Inside was an album I had made for myself with each of my favorite Styx songs on it. My dad had his old truck and beat up maps and I had my old music and a beat up CD player. As much as I wanted us to be different, we were exactly the same, only a few decades apart in age. There was something ironic about hearing Renegade played in my ear as I reclined my seat back. For the life of me though, I couldn’t figure out what it was about it that gave me that thought.
I started to space out while the CD ran its course. I started to get tired. It may have been from all the traveling we had gone through or it was because I bored. I don’t know. The sun started to drift down toward the horizon and blinded me. I looked over at my dad. He had already fished out his aviator sunglasses and wore them as if he were some sort of fighter pilot from Top Gun. “Hey, wake me up whenever you need the next bit on where to go,” I said as I closed my eyes to protect them from the sun’s harsh rays. “And don’t forget to take your sunglasses off when the sun goes down” I added in as a helpful reminder. My father wasn’t an idiot, but he did have a bad habit of losing things that were right under his nose, or in this case, on top.
The last thing I remembered before I dozed off was the sound of my father laughing. He didn’t do very much of that in those days. Work had pushed him closer and closer toward his breaking point. He kept going though, like a well-oiled machine. Right as I thought of that, the song on my CD switched to Mr. Roboto. Sometimes I remembered what dreamed about. The strange scene that unfolded in my mind was quite the spectacle from what I could remember. Robots and jets and epic rocks bands were everywhere the eyes could see. With every dream though, sooner or later the dreamer has to wake up and come back to reality. For me, in that moment, I woke up and found myself in a nightmare.
My father slammed on his breaks and jerked the wheel to its side. My throat smashed against the seat belt. I woke up and saw the road rotate to the right. My dad was breathing hard, his eyes wide as they stared further down the road. His hands gripped the steering wheel, locked in place. His head swiveled back and forth. He was looking for something, but what? Whatever it was, it terrified my father beyond anything I had ever seen him before. What was worse was that I couldn’t see it either.
“Damien, call 911,” he said to me though a shaken voice. His hands trembled as he reached for the .40 caliber Glock he had mounted underneath the driver seat. I obeyed without question, reached into the back seat, grabbed my bag and pulled my phone out. I wanted to ask him why we were calling 911. Wasn’t he 911? Another look at his hands and I figured it out. We weren’t safe with him in this state. Whatever was out there, he felt as if couldn’t protect us from it alone. My phone was an iPhone 6. My father may have been cheap with some things, but one thing my dad didn’t skip out on was my phone. He was always worried I’d get into trouble and if I did, he wanted me to have a reliable network and phone. All that preparation didn’t mean jack for shit to me now though. Across the top of the screen was a vivid display that indicated I had nothing only one bar. What did I expect since we were out there in the middle of nowhere? The bad signal was the same reason why we weren’t using it as a GPS. I still needed to try so I hammered in the numbers and waited for the other line to pick up.
“Hello Damien,” someone said on the other line. The air went deathly cold. I hadn’t said a word and yet this person knew me by name. Did they had me in their caller ID? That was impossible though. I had never called them before. Why would I when I had my dad on speed dial? My dad, who must have had the hearing of a bat at that point, shot me a look that told me he had the same train of thought I had.
“Hang up the phone right now, Damien,” My father said to me as we both scanned into the open wasteland around us. There was nothing to block our view. We still couldn’t see anything beyond the area exposed by our headlights though. Why was he like this? What happened while I was asleep? What was it my father had seen? Why did they know my name? I wanted to switch places with him so I could start to drive. After some coercion, I got my way. Together we shuffled ourselves inside the truck so that I was in the driver’s seat and he was in the passenger’s. I backed up bit by bit to make sure I didn’t roll us off the other side of the road. When I straightened the truck out with the road they were there. Right beyond the point where we could see, in the black of night, they were watching.
There was at least a dozen of them. Each of them had dark leather clothes draped over their bodies. On their head was a mask with a pointed front end to shape what appeared to be a birds’ beak. On the mask were clear glass circles for their eyes to peer through. Some of them held canes in their hands, others chose a black top hat instead. A friend of mine back in Vegas wore a similar costume once. He called it a plague doctor. According to him, they were people who got called out during the Black Death in the thirteen-hundredth century. They filled the beaks of their masks with herbs and antidotes while they tended to the sick and wounded. There was something that stood out about these guy’s outfits when compared to my friend. The obvious one was that my friends fit kind of like a robe. There’s had long pants and sleeves instead. The other difference was far more sinister. I didn’t realize it at first, but when I thought back to that moment a haunting revelation came to me. The main difference between these guys and my friend’s costume was simple. While my friend’s costume was slick and shiny, theirs looked bloody and used.
“You see them too, right son?” my dad asked me. “I’m not hallucinating?”
“Yeah, I see them too Dad,” I answered.
“Run them over.” my dad told me. I hesitated. Did my dad tell me to kill someone? “Damien, get us moving. Run them off the road if you have to!” he barked at me. I slammed on the gas pedal, but nothing happened. I tried again and still, nothing happened. The Plague Doctor’s began to shuffle forward closer to us. I looked down at the dash and noticed our gas gauge was on empty. How is it empty? There was no way my father drove this far without passing a gas station. That wasn’t like him at all.
“Listen to your father, Damien Diabolus,” I thought I heard him say. He looked at me and I knew in a fraction of a second that it wasn’t his voice that had said that. The voice came from behind us. Right behind us. The truck was only a two door with a bit of space behind the seats for storage. Last time I looked in the back was when I grabbed my bag. It was the only object back there. There should be nothing back there.
There was something back there.
Both of our heads turned toward the center of the vehicle. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the elongated beak of a mask. It drifted further forward between my father and I. In a panic, we both jumped out of the seat. I hit the pavement hard. It was alright since it was the safest spot available in that moment. Down there I avoided the bullets my father launched from his gun through the interior of the car. Did he hit whoever or whatever it was inside the truck? I didn’t take the time to check. Instead, I jumped into the bed of the pickup and threw open the metal chess held up against the back window. Inside was a loaded Ruger .22 carbine rifle. It was yet another old item in my family, but it was one I was also very familiar with.
I watched my dad take up a defense with me in the bed of the truck. He fired a shot at them as they took the necessary steps to surround us. I didn’t see a body fall or even stumble. There was no way my dad could miss such an easy shot. I fired the rifle in succession to his second shot, but I somehow missed as well. It was as if they would move out of the way in the last microsecond. We couldn’t stop them. They moved in closer and closer, but then, as if they were air, they vanished. We were both low on ammo, so I felt it would be a good time to reload. As the magazine hit the bed of the truck my vision changed. One of them had materialized right in front of me a mere inch or two from my face.
“Welcome home, devil dearest,” it said with a familiar feminine and muffled tone. It was the same one from inside the truck earlier. I was able to tell from the way her voice sounded. What did she mean by ‘devil dearest’ though? I didn’t have any time to ponder on it. She pummeled my throat with the tips of her index and middle fingers from both hands. Then, like an intense poison had shot through my veins, I blacked out. The last thing I remembered, aside from the throat jab was a sudden feeling as if I was drowning. Then the sight of a pair of hazel eyes as they glared at me through the mask. They were empty and faded as if their owner was already dead.