The road became hilly outside the city limits, with the horizon intermittently dipping from view to reappear like black tar lapping onto the car hood. With no halogen glow behind him, and no road signs in front of him, Aloysius had no notion how far he was from his destination. The blue arc of the spacecraft again emerged, hugging the western sky like an ominous, monochromatic rainbow. Eventually the curvature of the Earth broke this beacon’s spine, and his sights were left to trawl emboldened darkness.
The unmistakable high top of a Cadillac ambulance poked up in wild carrot ahead, and with the presage of an ill-placed crypt. He deduced from the corroded fenders and busted siren light encasement that the vehicle was long abandoned. Its easy proximity compelled him to get out on foot and consider the terrain. Blades of grass from the road had appeared scorched, but on closer examination in his headlamps, they crawled with black field crickets. Thousands of the insects chirped in the glow, and the bug-phobic man was inescapably in the middle of them.
It was not what he saw but what he thought he heard that made him press an ear to a mud-caked passenger window: radio static. The rusty rear of the ambulance door gave with a ghastly screech, but the dark hull gave up only a stack of uprooted road signs.
Puzzled, the traveler was already backing away when the meadow beyond the skulking wreck blinked. The inkiness between the light source and him might have been measured in one mile or a hundred, but it was impossible to gauge the distance given the briefness of the flash. Another burst of light arose farther along the horizon. A third occurrence confirmed something was getting closer, though the sparks dropped out of the night sky with devilish steps. These were likely road lamps going off and on. The few poles that populated the countryside marked crossroads and billboards, but the witness would not guess how many lay between the advancing light and the derelict vehicle. He returned to the shoulder of the road once the specter disappeared behind a copse of trees, and in his preoccupation was slow to glance at his pants—they were covered from cuff to belt with crickets.
Mortified, he dashed to the front of his car and began flinging them off. The beam of a lamp aided in the mad removal of the pests, although, in bending forward to inspect his socks, his line of sight overshot the taillights. Something back on the road moved steadily toward him; the shape suggested neither light poles nor another car. He stood up in a slow burn and waited for a hint to identify it.
The cry of the crickets crowded any sound that may have accompanied the mysterious object, so he circled to the driver’s side and poked guardedly to the rear bumper. His first impression was one of a bird. A heron flying low over the pavement, perhaps. Yet as it drew nearer, the thing most resembled a blowing paper sack. He waited for it to pull even with a mailbox reflector a quarter of a mile away, to gauge its true size and speed—the sack-like apparition easily dwarfed the reflector.
Grasping its enormity, Aloysius scrambled into his car. The form was now nearly intelligible in the rearview mirror, though once the ignition was engaged, it dissipated over a cornfield in a will-o’-the-wisp. The driver pulled back onto the lonely stretch of highway with the sense he was being followed.
The road remained stingy with clues, but frequent glimpses in the rearview mirror yielded alarming developments. His phantom had returned, and was faintly visible in his taillights. It not so much glowed as shifted on the landscape like a mirage of water wafting off sweltering blacktop. Aloysius hoped against hope that it was another car—albeit one with its headlights inconsiderably turned off. Equally unnerving, its distance was fixed to his speed, as if a dogged shadow of unvarying length.
The driver pulled onto a side road after a couple of miles of the unwelcome pursuit. He did not travel far but switched off his lights to wait for whatever it was to pass him. Seconds went by in anticipation, and then a minute; he regretted leaving the highway. Whatever was behind him must have also stopped, and lurked close by.
With no choice, Aloysius turned on his headlights to see his way back onto the main road. When his taillights lit up the path to his rear, the shadow of a large object was pinned to the scraggly brush on the far shoulder. His pursuer was forward of the intersection and hidden from direct view by high weeds. Terrified, the motorist hesitated, but in his moment of indecision the companion crept quietly away. The road was rejoined, although what had been behind the traveler was now disconcertingly in front of him.
Another two miles had Aloysius prematurely easing when something else turned up. What seemed an unusual massing of leaves scurried across the highway ahead, but it was too far away to plainly see. There was nothing in this assumption to merit concern, though, in glancing around at the trees speeding by his car windows, the driver saw no evidence of strong wind. He proceeded cautiously, and noted (also with dismay) not a single stray leaf was anywhere in sight.
A second wall of leaves was spotted a half a mile down the straightaway—only this time they moved in the opposite direction and imitated the movement of a lumbering four-footed animal. The driver slowed to watch the leaves clear the white line. They swiftly broke up to catch in bramble, yet without a decibel or mummer to their scattering. He knew the next time they would likely pass closer to the vehicle, so kept his foot ready to brake.
With his gaze fixed on the way forward, Aloysius was not paying attention to the way back. The rearview mirror did not disappoint, as the dark animalistic form was soon again crossing the road behind him; it burned hypnotically in the embers of his rear lights, and delayed his seeing a tree lying in the middle of his path.
The driver slammed the brakes and swerved into spitting gravel; screeching tires brought him to within feet of the sprawled trunk. His trembling hand grazed the cell phone on the console: Swarm-like static crackled in its earpiece—it had been on the whole time. The frantic man looked through the rear glass to see a storm of dead leaves barreling up the highway in his direction—coughed out of hell! He clicked off the phone in a gasp, but not before red and yellow leaves plowed into the back of the Saturn with inconceivable force. The maniacal design quickly disintegrated along the dark road.
A badly bent road sign hailed him over the roadblock: Eastfawn One Mile
The arrow on the sign pointed southward across his path.
Chapter Twenty-eight, Section Three/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.