Fiction Friday: Highway 491

I drove down Highway 491 in early June of 2008. My watch said 3am and I hadn’t seen any other cars for at least an hour. I started to get that uncomfortable feeling. The one you get when things don’t feel right; like something bad will happen. I looked out the windows up at the sky. I expected to see a bunch of bright lights flying around. I never believed in aliens, but for some reason I kept looking up.

I finally stopped looking feeling foolish. I put my eyes back on the road and I saw it. It felt strange that I didn’t see it before; a circus tent with cars parked all around. Some of the cars looked old, but shinier than mine; like restored classics. I couldn’t understand why a circus performed in the middle of the night. 

Is my watch broken?

I had driven for a while and needed the rest, so I pulled over. I at least wanted to see the old cars from all decades; as much as 80-years-old.

I never saw a circus themed car show. After looking at a few of the classics, I went inside to see what the show.

The smell of popcorn attacked my nose as I entered. I could feel something crunching under my feet though I didn’t hear it from the loud music. Peanut shells covered the ground. An elephant in the center ring balanced things on its tusks. No one stood at the entrance, so I found myself a seat.

Everyone in the audience wore clothing from different decades. I didn’t notice at first how strange people looked. When I saw a man with one of those curly mustaches throwing popcorn, I started looking at everyone. One section had a group of soldiers dressed in World War II uniforms. A bunch of flower power hippies threw flowers instead of popcorn in another section. No one noticed me or any other people around them. The performances in the three rings hypnotized the audience.

I leaned over and spoke to the man next to me.

“What kind of show is this?” I said.

The man looked at me confused and uncomfortable. Without answering he returned to watching the well-trained elephant. After the elephant, a group of clowns ran out from behind the trainer and started goofing around. I decided I had stayed long enough and began to leave.

A man in a candy-striped jacket and straw hat stood at the entrance with an over exaggerated smile. He put one of his hands up.

“You cannot leave.” He said.

“I’m sorry I didn’t pay, but no one was around.”

“Admittance is free, but you cannot leave.”

The wide smile on his thin face and shrill voice made me uncomfortable. 

“Why can’t I leave?”

He snickered.

“It is almost time for the finale. You do not want to miss that.”

He gestured for me to sit back down.

I returned to my seat but looked back every now and then to find the creepy man still standing there watching me. Before the clown act ended, I noticed a young man and woman walking into the tent greeted by the creepy man. I found it strange that the girl wore a blue shirt that said Clinton 2016. I took my chance and snuck out behind the creepy man while he spoke to the couple.

As I left, I could hear the Ringmaster on the loud speaker.

An excerpt from “Highway 491” from the short story collection The Morbid Museum.

Throwback Thursday Poetry: A Child’s Nightmare

Happy Halloween!

“time for bed”
my mother said
“you have school in the morning”
she tucked me in
kissed me then
crept away silently
i laid there for a bit
and then the feeling hit
something was watching me
i sat up rather quick
turned the light on which lit
my room and i saw nothing
with a sense of relief
i try to go to sleep
but alas i still feel eerie
over to the closet i sneak
and i hear the door creak
then dive back in bed like a swimmer
oh it’s just the cat
“get out of here Matt”
it’s calm in my room once again
the closet door flies
and something skulks in
in fear i throw the covers over my head
i hear something breathing
i feel my heart racing
i hope i’m just dreaming again
the blankets get yanked off
in the air i am tossed
i land on the floor and crawl under the bed
something grazed my coat
my heart is in my throat
there’s something walking towards me
it’s feet have claws
which probably slice logs
it’s skin is slimy and black
i’m screaming in fear
but nobody hears
and the creature tries to grab me
another comes from the side
and another from behind
they drag me back to the closet from which they came
it’s dark in this place
can’t see my hand on my face
and several monsters are above me
their mouths are wet and slimy
“MOMMY!” i am crying
and like hungry lions they begin to feast

Early poetry from James. From the poetry collection Pariah Bound: The Lonesome Poetry.

Fiction Friday: The Demon’s Favor

I first met Mr. Yao at a political rally, although this meeting didn’t occur in the conventional sense. Everyone attended the rally to raise money for street repairs. It didn’t seem like the sort of thing anyone would protest against. But you never know what motivates other people.

Everyone’s cheers and chanting fell. Muffled screams and load pops moved closer to the door. A man with a white beard crashed through the glass doors.

“Everyone run! He’s got a gun!”

Screams filled the room. Only the loud pops from the rifle broke through the screeching and yelling. I hid around a corner with two others. People fell like sacks of potatoes. Blood crawled along the grout between the tiles. Constant screaming. More rifle pops.

The active shooter turned towards me. I closed my eyes with my hands in the air; waiting. The screaming stopped; no noise.

Am I dead?

I waited a moment. Silence. I opened my eyes. Everyone stood frozen in place; like wax figures.

Is this death? Does time stop when you die?

That’s when I met Mr. Yao. He walked up to me while everything else remained motionless.

“Good evening, Mr. Pion. My name is Mr. Yao. I have a proposition for you.”

“What?”

“You see, you are about to get shot. I can stop this from happening. I can save your life.”

“How? What’s happening?”

“As you may or may not have noticed, I have stopped time. I can only hold it for a couple more minutes, so you must make a decision. Would you like to live…”

He pointed at the active shooter.

“…or die?”

“Of course, I want to live!”

“Excellent!”

With a smoky poof, a stack of papers and a pen appeared in Mr. Yao’s hands.

“I need your signature before we can move forward.”

I stared at the contract.

“What’s the catch?”

“Simply this, I do a favor for you today and in return sometime in the future, I will call upon you to do a favor for me.”

“That’s it?”

“That is it. Nothing more and nothing less.”

“What if I don’t do your favor?”

“Then you die like you should have to today.”

He remained calm and cool during the whole conversation. Everything about him looked pleasant except his smile; that wolfish grin.

Is this a lie so he can eat me?

“Time will be starting up soon, Mr. Pion. Sign or do not. It is your choice.”

I walked forward, took the pen, and signed my name.

“Excellent!”

He turned the page.

“And sign here.”

He turned another page.

“Initial here. Initial again. Sign here. Mother’s maiden name. Sign again…”

“Can’t I do this all with one signature?”

“And finally, stab your index finger with the pen and smear the blood on this page.”

“What?”

“I am kidding. That is a terrible joke.”

“What the hell, dude!?”

“Hey, lighten up Mr. Pion. I saved your life. And please do not call me dude.”

With a puff of smoke, he was gone.

“NO!” The shooter said.

The rifle jammed. Police fired their pistols. The shooter dropped to his knees and the rifle fell to his side. He choked on his own blood and fell to the floor.

“The target is down! Move in!”

The shooter looked up at me, struggling for words.

“Your turn.” He said.

***

Seven years passed, and I never thought of that day; a bad dream long forgotten. I lived alone, with my dog Max. I got home one evening excited to see my floppy eared friend.

“Hey Max. I got you a new bone.”

“Hello Mr. Pion.”

“Jesus Christ!”

With a lump in my throat and chest pounding, I grabbed the umbrella next to my door. Max put his head on the floor with his tail wagging in the air ready to play.

“Your jasmine green tea is delicious. And my name is not Jesus.”

“Who are you? How’d you get in my house? How’d you get passed my dog? Why are you sitting in the dark drinking my tea?”

“I am very offended that you do not remember me, Mr. Pion. I only saved your life many years ago from a misguided shooter. But to answer your questions, you may recall my name is Mr. Yao. I come and go as I please and Max is unaware of my presence, and I’m waiting for you to turn the lights on. Allow me.”

He snapped his fingers and the lamp next to him lit up. Max didn’t acknowledge him and acted as if only I stood in the room.

“I apologize; I didn’t recognize you.”

“No harm; no fowl. Do you recall the agreement we made?”

With a poof, a stack of papers appeared in his hands.

“I owe you a favor, don’t I?”

“Excellent memory, Mr. Pion. Yes, it is time to repay that debt. I am afraid you will not commit to what I am going to ask of you. Do keep in mind, by signing this document, you have already agreed to the undertaking. Would you like to review the contract before I continue?”

“I remember the agreement. Let’s get this over with.”

“Very well. Please sit down and enjoy this fabulous tea with me.”

A cup of tea poofed onto the coffee table. I couldn’t help but examine it before taking a sip. The aroma climbed up my nostrils with hot steam almost burning my nose. I burned my tongue and the roof of my mouth. It tasted sweet, as though Mr. Yao knew exactly how much honey I like in my tea. How did he make things appear out of thin air?

“Simply put Mr. Pion, in exchange for your life, you owe me another life. As I have said, you have already agreed to this and backing out now is not an option. We cannot go back in time to when you should have died so you must take a life. You can choose the life, or I can choose for you. I will give you one day to decide. I will return this time tomorrow.”

Poof.

He vanished as quick as he appeared. The cup of tea left with him and Max never noticed things coming and going in my living room. The lump in my throat wouldn’t go down and I felt nauseous. I’d never taken a life.

I couldn’t sleep. Max snored all night on the floor. I felt anxious the next day. Small children even scared me.

“Hey, mister? Bang! Bang!”

“Steven don’t point your toys at people!”

I walked by a movie poster covered with monsters and demons and a big, bold ‘Coming Soon’ on the bottom. Every time someone spoke, I heard something different.

“You gonna kill some people?” 

“What!? What are you talking about?” I said.

“I said, do you have a light?” 

“Oh! No, sorry.”

I avoided everyone the rest of the way home. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I decided not to go through with the contract.

It must have a loophole.

~ An excerpt from “The Demon’s Favor” from the short story collection The Morbid Museum.