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  • Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry
    Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry
    by Craig Terlson

    A collection of short stories where the humour runs dark and the slipstream bubbles up.

     

    ...imagine if Raymond Carver called up George Saunders and Joe Lansdale, and they all went drinking with Neil Gaiman.

  • Correction Line
    Correction Line
    by Craig Terlson

    “… it's clear that Terlson is way ahead of the curve in terms of crafting an engaging premise that reaches for elevated territory and reinvents enduring archetypes of action and suspense.”  J. Schoenfelder


    "Sometimes brutal, often demanding and always complex, this novel will repay the reader who likes their assumptions challenged and is happy to walk away from a book with minor questions unanswered but the big ones definitely dealt with! It’s likely to satisfy those who enjoy Hammet and/or Philip K Dick and who like their fiction very noir indeed."   Kay Sexton

     

    "I love a novel that you can't put down, and this is one of them."  L. Cihlar

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Thursday
May162019

Chapter Six - Fedora

"What kind of vehicle is that mister?"

"Never seen one of those before."

"Says Ford on it – but not like one I ever saw."

"It's a truck," I told them.

"Like hell. No truck I've ever seen."

They took turns speaking and staring at first my truck, and then at me. The one with the baseball bat didn't speak. He just paced around the vehicle, or as they called it, vee-hick-kill.

"You guys on the way to some sort of show? A live play, or some weird renaissance fair thing, but out of 19--"

I stopped talking when the guy with the bat smashed out one of my headlights.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" The one with the squarest, biggest melon of a head, barely contained by a black fedora, pointed a finger at me through the open window.

"And what kind of words are those – ray nonsense?"

"You making fun of us, fella? You want some nonsense, we'll bring you some."

He smashed out another headlight. Then the guy with the tire iron tipped his grey fedora back and swung down on my hood. I pulled the door handle and smashed all my weight against it. I caught the lead fedora in the small of his back. He let out a whoomp sound and hit the asphalt. I sprang out of the truck without one single plan in my head.

"Grab the son of a bitch."

A fist swung toward me, and then a fiddle swept through the air. It clipped the side of my head and stung like hell. I felt a line of blood slide down my forehead. On reflex, I kicked out, caught somebody in the knee. I heard it crack. Whoever it was, they hit the ground with a scream. I tried a spin kick - don't know where the hell that came from, maybe some long ago martial art movie – and made contact with a face. When I tried another one, Tire Iron guy grabbed my ankle as I spun around in mid-air. He brought the hunk of metal down on my back. He was in a bad position, so it wasn't a full hit, which was a damn good thing. I stumbled, trying to hold it together.

In the midst of swearing and a rustle of bodies I was slammed against the truck, and then pinned like a kid's insect project. The end of the Louisville smashed into my guts, left me wheezing for breath. Spots of light hovered at the corner of my vision. I gasped for air, blood reached my nose and then my bottom lip. I pushed against the arms holding me, Louisville and tire-iron guy. They drove me back against the truck. It hurt like hell, but I figured if I could fight back, then they hadn't broke anything. Yet.

Lead fedora, the black-hatted fridge head, was up and breathing heavy into my face.

"Sammy. Pop the hood on this jalopy."

Fiddle-guy opened the truck door. He let out a whistle.

"Take a lookee at this." He swung his arms back at his friends.

"The hood Sammy."

"Yeah, well where the hell is it? I've never seen anything like this. Oh, here we go. What happens if I pull this?"

The hood popped just as another vehicle was heard coming down the highway. It was coming fast, engine revving, and all of us looked up. It was another antique looking one, but some sort of sports model, roadster, I think they were called.

Things moved slow and fast at the same time.

 The car fishtailed, slammed on its brakes and slid across the road. My attackers swore as gravel from the shoulder sprayed up, hit their chests and necks. A rain of pings sounded against my truck.

The man was up and out of the car, but not as quick as the dog through the window.

"What the hell?" Louisville man unpinned me and swung and missed at the beast as it leapt for his throat.

My arm throbbed. I knew that animal.

A shotgun was racked. Black fedora man stopped in his tracks. The man in front of the roadster was tall. No, he was gi-fucking-normous. He swung the gun around and fired at one of the antique car's tires. He pumped once, and shot out the other one's.

He racked it one more time and swung it back at us.

Nobody said a goddamn word.

A boot slid against the gravel. It sounded like an avalanche.

"Car."

He was talking to me.

"You want me to just leave the--"

"Car."

The dog had Louisville pinned on the ground, teeth bared, a low growl that sounded like violence could erupt at any second. The bat sat alone on the road. Black fedora man looked back at the other two. Fiddle guy still on the ground, cradling his knee, shook his head.

"We don't want any trouble there, big fella."

"Good."

"This one a friend of yours?"

The gi-normous man raised the shotgun so it was in perfect line with black fedora man, then slid it out in a small arc, pointing at each of them, dipping down to focus on the two not standing.

"Shit. He's going to kill us, Pete."

"Car."

My guts ached as I walked over to the giant's car. I went in the back door. The man walked back, keeping the shotgun trained on the four men. Once in the car, he whistled. The dog growled, bared his teeth again at Louisville – though with his eyes slammed shut he might not have seen it. Then another whistle, this one lower -- and the dog that looked like a wolf jumped through the window.

The driver spun a u-ball on the highway. I watched the fedoras through the back window. Nobody moved at first, then they all moved together. There were no motions towards us, nobody shook their fist and ran down the road like you might expect. They gathered around the one I kicked, helped him up, gave him his fiddle. They all dusted themselves off.

I leaned forward in the car.

"I heard your name is Walt."

"She calls me that."

I waited for more explanation, or even what his real name was. I know he was the one L had introduced me to, the one who had the way to escape. I was having a helluva time putting together, and it was really starting to piss me off. But I guess when Walt showed me whatever the fuck he showed me, my brain got scrambled. I hoped that wasn't a permanent thing, because I had kind of grown fond of knowing my A, B, C's, and the capital city of Slovenia. Did getting unleashed in time mean that I lost all the stuff I thought I knew? Or did I just figure out that none of it mattered one shit.

"Listen, Walt. Those guys in the cars and whacking sticks. Are they out on the highway like me? Did they go through a rip or did I? I need to get a foothold here. So, you wanna tell me what the fuck just happened? "

"Something that will always happen."

"What?"

The giant drove the car and refused to say anything else for miles.

"Walt, when am I gonna make sense of all this?"

"In time."

"I'm getting damn sick of that word."

 

<<<<>>>> 

 

New Chapters of Bent Highway will appear weekly (or more) at this blog.
Please, comment, share, or give a shout on twitter. (Or like the link on facebook... people are still on facebook, right?)

Direct links to all the chapters here.

Friday
May102019

Chapter Five - Truth

So chalk girl had a name, or an initial at least. I ripped the note off the steering wheel, slammed the truck door and cranked the engine. Drive. What the hell else was there to do? Lately, driving was the only constant in my life. The only thing that moved me forward.

I thought back to that day I had cut out from Harold and his Lime Green Slurpee. Or it might have been a Big Gulp, who knew, who cared? I had lived in the same town, with the same hockey rink, same bar, the same beer on tap, and the same shoe leather pizza. I stayed in the same place all those years, but I was still adrift, never really at home. After both my parents died and my sister left town for who the hell knows where, the sadness moved into a lingering depression, and then a deep apathy settled in and stayed.

I know a part of me longed for another time, any time, just not my time – I couldn't imagine an age that was any better than any other. I didn't long to go to a simpler time like the oldsters were always saying. The future wasn't that appealing either, with it's flying cars and pills that gave you a full meal in one swallow. But I wanted to live in some other time when life made more sense. Or at least something that was more beautiful, or maybe it was about more simple, or both. If I was honest, I didn't know what the fuck I was looking for. I just knew I had to get the fuck outta Dodge.

I didn't hit the road looking for adventure. I didn't have romantic notions of long twilight drives on open roads with stars shining down on me like God's pinpricks of truth or some crap like that. Truth was listening to the smack of a grasshopper nailing your windshield and brushing away his fronts legs with your wiper, or hitting a bump that used to be a racoon and now was part of the road. I was surrounded by life, fields of wheat, barley and mustard, creatures scooted through the long rows, birds overhead flew in arrow formations, swirling with wind. And there was death everywhere – hawks that plucked mice from the field, bobcats that ripped apart rabbits on the run, plants that withered and collapsed back into the very ground that birthed them.

I let my mind drift between those two states of being: alive and dead. Which one was I escaping from? I had done the alive thing for more than thirty years. I considered plowing into a speeding locomotive just to try the other state for a while.

I was in the midst of picking out which railway crossing when I met L.

It all came back, flooded in, the whole conversation, her face, those great lips, the smell of the bar in Clarksville. Everything.

     "You want to talk about it?"

     That was how she introduced herself.

     "You're assuming I have problems," I said.

     "We all do, but I think you have more than most." She sipped a glass of clear liquid. "But let's start with me saying that no matter what happens, you're not getting in my pants. Just put that the fuck out of your mind."

     "Fine with me." It had crossed my mind. "But what's the point of telling you anything? It could all be bullshit. A line of mistruth. I can pretend to me anybody."

     "Try me."

     I told her about my life the last few years. I started out trying to make it more interesting than it was – but then she reminded me of the pants comment. Right. So I laid it out. Bored as hell. Waiting for something interesting to happen, or someone to put a gun to my head, or possible do it myself.

     "What about you? What's your deal?" I asked.

     She drained her drink, motioned at the bartender and crossed her legs.

     "Similar story, maybe mine had a bit more rape and abuse in it. Fear creates a kind of boredom. So does anger."

     "So what did you do?"

     "Well, I thought about the bullet to the head approach. Until I met a guy who showed me the ultimate escape."

     "You're a junkie."

     "Sure, call it that. But not like you think. I met a man named Walt. He showed me a way to escape this plodding life, where one second follows another, and then that drips into a minute and hour, into a month and a year. Before you know it, you're in the rest home watching the Price is Right. And you actually give a fuck who wins the showcase."

     I laughed.

     "Never thought of it that way."

     I watched her drink for awhile.    

     "So who's this Walt guy? Can I meet him?"

     "Sure. But you'll have to get pissed first." She motioned to the bartender again, pointed to her glass and to me.

     A table full of shots and glasses of draft later, I fell into a wide crack in the floor – that's the only way I can describe it. I don't remember much of the journey through it, dark outlines of people, a lot of country music. As weird as it all was, the twangy guitars and vibrating mandolins made sense. I landed in the middle of a field – or I stood up in one anyway.

     It was high noon, just like in that old oater. I swore I heard a clock ticking, but it could have been a mind-retina burn from the movie. A tall figure came toward me, walking through waving prairie grass. A wolf trotted beside him. When he was just about on me, I saw that the wolf was just a dog, or at least part dog. Icy blue eyes stared at me like I would look good with a gash in my throat.

     I glanced behind me. Chalk girl had not followed me into the crack.

     "Sun."

     The voice rippled through the air, a deep bass that I felt in my chest. I bent my neck, held my hand across my eyes and peered into a dagger of light.

     "Son."

     I couldn't figure out if he was talking to me, the dog, or just pointing out the obvious. Just then the ground swelled underneath me, I lost my balance as it rolled. Flat on my back, I felt a series of diminishing ripples move under me and away. It was like being on a small boat. Except I wasn't.

     "Wave."

     I stood, my knees still a bit shaky, getting my sea legs, in a wheat field.

     "Where is this?" The field stretched out in every direction, not a building or a road in sight.

     "Straddle the line, your body, your blood, needs to be in both places."

     I was surprised when the giant man strung together so many words. I gave my most intelligent response.

     "What?"

     The dog moved toward me and I flinched.

     "Both places."

     I relaxed as the animal brushed up against me, nuzzled my hand just like the German Shepherd I had as a kid. Something flashed in the hand of the giant that Chalk Girl called Walt. I let out a scream that I didn't know I was capable of producing.

 

 

     I clenched the steering wheel remembering the pain. Was it the blade or the dog's teeth that sunk into my arm? And what happened after that?

     I was shaken out of the memory as I braked to avoid a couple of cars crossing the highway. They must have been on their way to an antique show. I never was a car guy, but I guessed these were from the forties, and still in mint condition.

     Now that I thought of it, which city were they headed toward that would have a car show? And why didn't I remember the highway being this rough before? I flicked on the radio to try and catch a local station. More country twang of course, but at least this had a bit of a swing to it.

     "Well there you have it ladies and gents, that new sound we've been hearing a lot of lately, from Bob Wills and a fine group of fella's called the Texas Playboys. Sweet sweet melodies."

     New sound? I recognized the name and was pretty sure the guy they mentioned had been dead for years, decades even.

     I leaned over to twist the dial, my hand stopping as I slammed on the brakes. The two antique car owners had turned their cars around and formed a barrier across the road.

     My truck squealed to a stop. Two men got out of each car. White shirts and suspenders, sharp creased pants with neat cuffs, all of them wearing fedoras, all of them smoking. But what most caught my eye was the tire iron one of them carried. Another slung a Louisville slugger over his shoulder, the third guy held clenched fists at his sides. The last guy held a fiddle, but not like he was about to play it.

 

<<<<>>>> 

 

New Chapters of Bent Highway will appear weekly (or more) at this blog.
Please, comment, share, or give a shout on twitter. (Or like the link on facebook... people are still on facebook, right?)

Direct links to all the chapters here.

Friday
May032019

Chapter Four - Tequila

The Spireton was more shack than bar, and shack was a helluva compliment. Six scarred tables from a nearby bingo hall were placed haphazardly in the room. A row of red vinyl stools lined up against the bar, all ripped but one. Water dripped from a crack in the ceiling into plastic pail. It wasn't raining out. A yellowed sign behind the greasy haired bartender read Occupancy: 54. Between us and the other patrons we still had 49 more to go.

"Do you have Tequila?" She leaned against the bar.

The bartender peered down her t-shirt. "Might have a bottle somewhere. Don't sell much of that stomach-burner."

"Do you have any lime?"

"This ain't some fucking fruit bar." He ducked down below the bar and started to rummage in one of the cupboards. After a bit of clinking and crashing he pulled out a dusty bottle with a golden label and black writing I couldn't make out. "My cousin brought this back from Mexico. Tastes like turpentine if you ask me."

He set two highball glasses in front of us and poured until each were half full. The liquid was the colour of a bush fire.

"You want some coke in that?"

"This will be fine," she said.

He looked down her shirt again and then back at me. A voice from one of the bingo tables yelled for a pilsner.

She handed me one of the glasses.

"How are you doing? Things beginning to straighten? This will help."

She brought the glass to her lips threw her head back and drained it. Damn, there had to be four fingers in there. I took a sip and my mouth caught fire. I'd drank tequila before, but never like this–I was thinking the bartender's cousin had brought him turpentine. She made a flipping gesture with her wrist. I brought the glass up again and finished it. I slammed the empty glass back down gasping, trying to stifle a huge cough. Someone snorted from the back of the room.

"Two more."

"I like a goddamn chick that can drink." The bartender sloshed another four fingers into each glass and winked.

"You wouldn't like me after a few of these. Trust me." She carried both glasses over to a bingo table and slid out the chair. She put both drinks in front of me and repeated the wrist thing.

"I--"

"Drink."

Pilsner guy started to say something, until she gave him a dick-shriveling look. She got up, walked across the bar to a dusty jukebox. I watched her bend over,  someone muttered "damn". In a long pull, I drained one of the glasses. The fire travelled down my throat, swirled in my guts and then found some unknown path up to my skull. A wheezing violin player cranked up, followed by wavery mandolin strings. A high-pitched voice sang about shifting sand. I brought the other highball to my mouth, the rim felt thick on my lips, invisible odours drifted up the sides, my eyes watered. I knew the song. I was just about to name it out loud and then my head folded in on itself. I fell back in my chair, reached for the edge of the table, and waited for my body to slam into the concrete floor. Instead, I went through it. My body tumbled and turned in an inky liquid, glycerin bubbles floated up. Was that up? One by one the circles burst with a soft ping.

I set the glass down. Empty. I was now sitting on one of the vinyl stools, but these were navy blue, and shone like a freshly waxed Corvette. It was a bar like the Spireton, but not quite. For one thing, the place was three-quarters full. A trio of musicians teetered on a stage crammed into the corner. They strummed a Hank William's cover.

"Buy you a drink?"

I spun around and glared at the chalk girl – it was her, but she was dressed differently. In Spireton, she had wore a painted on black t-shirt and tight Levis. Now, she was decked out in a peacock blue dress with a floral pattern, her black hair held back by a lime-green hair band. Her lips were still the same shade of stunning red. When she smiled, they opened up into arc of white that excited me and scared me at the same time.

"Where are we?"

"When might be a better question. We're still in the Spireton." She smiled.

The band stopped, there was scattered applause as they walked off the tiny stage.

"We went through a rip."

The word just came out of me. I looked down at my checked sleeves. I've never worn plaid in my life. I stared farther down into a pair of dust covered cowboy boots, shit-kickers we used to call them.

"Now you're getting it. I keep telling Walt that tequila works a lot better than water. Eventually you can do it with water or any liquid, but it's never as effective, or even as fun."

"Walt's the tall guy," I swallowed and touched my knee, "with the knife."

"That's what I call him. I don't why, but he reminds me of Disney. The theme park, not the guy."

"One of the scarier rides," I said.

"It's the only way you can straddle both lines. Of course, you need to be close to a rip. Eventually you won't black out any more, and it will still hurt when a rip is close. That's what you felt in the diner. You want a beer?" She held up two fingers and waved them at the clean cut guy swiping down the bar. "Black Label." She turned back to me. "Hell of a beer. Nothing like what we have now."

"We've talked about this before haven't we?"

"Yes, but I don't expect you to remember everything yet. When Walt first cut me, it was six months before my head cleared." The bartender plunked down two stubbies and opened them for us.

"Why?" I asked.

"It just takes a while that's all – you're wired to experience life in a linear fashion. Think about it this way: recalling the past can release a powerful emotion. It's more than simple nostalgia, for some of us it's a deep longing, or a pain we're trying to escape. We let our minds drift back to a different time, both when we dream at night and in our daydreams. You've done that right?"

I nodded.

"But why do it?"

"Walt figured out a way to go farther than dreaming. He tuned himself to the rhythm of the chronos."

"Chronos?"

"Time. He found its rhythm, its flow. And then he started to find the rips."

"Places it didn't flow?"

"Right." She closed her eyes in a such a long blink that I thought she'd gone to sleep. "But here's the thing. Walt understood that we stand in all those places at the same time."

"What places?"

"The past, present, and future. The rips were a short cut to each."

I took a deep swallow. The cold beer eased the lingering flame of the tequila. I couldn't figure out why I wasn't drunk out of my skull. People in crisp Stetsons and bolo ties swigged back mugs of beer. Most of the women were in dresses, hair piled up high and lipstick that gave chalk girl a run for her money.

"This is bat-shit crazy, you know that?"

"Yeah, you said that last time." She swigged her beer and winked.

Someone hit the table across from us, an open-palmed smack, and the place erupted in laughter.

"How did he find the rips?" I asked when the sound died down.

"I'm not clear on that. Something to do with astral projection." She laughed. "Remember that? There was a big movement in it for awhile – a couple of doctors swore they could prove it but no one took them serious. Everybody was wrong. Anyway, that's where Walt found the rips and Philo."

"Sorry, you lost me again."

"The thing you called a wolf." Her elbow spasmed. "Drink up." She gulped down the rest of her beer.

"What? Why – we just got, uh, here."

She turned her neck fast, like someone had grabbed it and twisted. I looked to a space behind her. A huge mother of a cowboy took a step toward us. As he walked, he unsnapped a side holster and pulled a knife out damn near as big as his hat.

I abandoned the beer, let the last swallow dribble down my front as I leapt from the stool. Out of the corner of my eye, another figure appeared, large and moving fast. A flash of metal appeared in his hand, and as if someone took a snip out of what happened, he was on me, his breath hot against my face, smelling of freshly toiled ground. I opened my mouth to speak.

"Walt."

A guttural sound, in-between human and animal.

"Let it happen," Chalk girl's voice from across the room.

It felt like someone had just sliced off my kneecap. My eyes slowly filled with ink. I slipped through a crack in the Corvette vinyl.

I awoke face down in the back of my truck. I got to my knees and stared at the empty parking lot. A neon Closed sign shone out of the Spireton bar window. The "C" and the "d" were burnt out. A memory flash, and I checked my knees. Both intact.

I climbed into the driver's seat. A note was thumbtacked to the steering wheel.

"Just Drive."

It was signed, "L".

 

<<<<>>>> 

New Chapters of Bent Highway will appear weekly (or more) at this blog.
Please, comment, share, or give a shout on twitter. (Or like the link on facebook... people are still on facebook, right?)

Direct links to all the chapters here.

Tuesday
Apr302019

Chapter Four Teaser

M is slowly trying to put his scrambled egg brain together - and Chalk Girl will help him... possibly.

Here's a teaser for the next chapter - up by the weekend, or sooner.

 

Chapter Four - Tequila

"Buy you a drink?"

I spun around and glared at the chalk girl – it was her, but she was dressed differently. In Spireton, she had wore a painted on black t-shirt and tight Levis. Now, she was decked out in a short floral dress, her black hair held back by a lime-green hair band. Her lips were still the same shade of stunning red. They opened up into arc of white that excited me and scared me at the same time.

"Where are we?"

"When might be a better question. We're still in Spireton." She smiled.

The band stopped, there was scattered applause as they walked off the tiny stage.

"We went through a rip."

>>>>>>>>>

Drop me a line. Thanks for reading.

Sunday
Apr282019

Chapter Three - Doctor

 

 

I awoke, if I ever was asleep, staring into a clipboard that hovered above my face. The guy wasn't wearing anything that would identify him as a doctor but I figured he had to be – he had that look of someone that studied your personal areas. A curvy woman with horn rimmed glasses and a rat's nest of hair stood next to him. She smelled of roses dipped in clorox.

"I said do you often have this loss of consciousness?"

"Sorry?"

He looked at the woman, she grimaced, he said something under his breath.

"I see. You have had another one." He wrote something on the clipboard. "Do you remember coming in here? They told me you were in a diner." His thick grey mustache danced as he spoke. "You don't seem to have any injuries, except for that nasty cut on your forearm. I thought about stitching it but thought that --"

Three parallel steri-strips were pasted against the partially scabbed over gash.

"Shit. My knee!"

I threw back the white sheet, unaware of my nakedness. The woman didn't turn away but lurched forward, her eyes widened.

"You been having problems with your knee?"

I ran my hands along the smooth, unbroken skin covering my left kneecap. I glanced at my right, just in case I was wrong. Neither of them had a scratch.

The doctor glanced at the clipboard. "Have you had problems with an addictive substance? Previous psychological treatment? Exhibitionist tendencies?"

The woman smiled at me.

I brought the sheet back to cover myself.

"Francine, I think you should--" the doctor started.

"Who brought me here?"

"You were in your truck," said the still smiling, kind of leering, woman. Francine seemed about right somehow.

"What do you mean in my truck? You said I was in a diner. Who brought me here?"

"Now take some breaths. We don't need you passing out again. "I'm Doctor Little. Don't you recall our previous conversation?"

"I've never seen you before."

"Some men drove here from the diner. I guess they put you in the truck. You must have left the keys in it, so they drove you here."

"Who did? Where are they now?"

The doctor and Francine exchanged glances.

"Are you feeling feverish?" Francine asked.

"Now Francine, you took his temperature already, and it was fine."

I closed my eyes and tried to remember back to before. In the diner, we were drinking water. Her face grew large in my mind.

"The woman, with the really white skin... where is she?" I asked.

The looks on their faces told me that if I didn't start making sense, they'd be ordering a full brain scan and psychotic strip down. Or Francine would be stripping something.

"Really, Mr. Stilton--"

"Who is Mr. Stilton? That's not my name."

"Oh," a quick glance over to Francine,"there was a note, in your pants, we assumed that was you."

"What note?"

"Mr. Stilton, if you have a previous condition it would help us diagnose any..."

"Stop calling me that."

I threw back the sheet and swung my legs over the bed.

"Where's my pants?"

Francine, taking in another eyeful, turned away when I met her gaze. She went into an adjoining room and came back with my jeans. She laid them on the bed. They were dirty, but bloodstain free.

"Underwear?"

"I'm sorry, we cut those off, we had to see if you had some, um, internal injury that would account for your, uh, condition." He ran his hand over his mustache and coughed.

"Condition? Wait a second, what kind of doctor are you?" I took a quick glance around the room, no tongue depressors, no blood pressure machine, and it had a funny smell. The poster of the kitten hanging from a branch clinched it. "You're a vet!"

"Well, of course. The only medical doctor we have comes by every two weeks, unless there's an emergency. We thought of calling her but we couldn't find anything that would warrant her..."

"Am I done here?" I wanted to ask why they hadn't cut off the jeans. Something told me it was Francine's decision to slice the underwear.

"You're free to go anytime. But don't you think you should stay a bit? We could call the other doctor if you wish."

I pulled on my jeans, riding bareback, what the hell.

"My wallet? Or did you have to cut that too?" I glared at Francine.

She scurried into the other room and came back with my keys and my wallet.

"If you wanted to find out who I was why didn't you just--" I stopped as I flipped through several bills and the faded photo I'd been carrying for years.

"Something missing?" The vet asked.

"Where is it?"

"I assure you, we took nothing. What are you missing?"

"Which one of you swiped my I.D.?"

"We wondered why you didn't have any."

"Until we found the note," Francine reached into her breast pocket and took out a folded yellow square. She handed it to me, her fingertips, long nails with a daisy yellow polish, stayed a few extra seconds on my palm.

I read it.
We found this man sitting outside his truck in the parking lot of the diner. He said his name was Stilton. Then he passed out. Please help him. We have to leave for a family reunion.

It was signed, Chris and Kelly. A smiley-face was drawn at the bottom.

"We were gone to lunch, just egg salad sandwiches that Francine's mom had made. And when we came back there you were in your truck. Out cold. I guess these people drove you and your truck here. When you didn't wake up, they figured that was the best they could do. So they left."

"For a reunion." Francine added.

There was no phone number or address on the note. The letters were hard to read, a pen almost out of ink – under the smiley-face there was another word that I couldn't make out.

I thought of what the girl with the white face told me about escaping time.

"What does this say?" I asked.

"We couldn't figure that out either. Francine has a guess."

"Clarkesville."

"Never heard of that, where?"

Francine gave an awkward smile. "You know, like that old song. The last train to."

My head had been pounding ever since I gained consciousness. It now threatened to burst and spray brain matter across the vet's office.

"You have any pain killers?" I bent my knees, stretching out my legs, forcing blood flow back into them.

"Mr. Stilton, we cannot give medication without –"

"Just some damn aspirin."

Francine fished around in her pocket and brought out a blister pack.

"These will probably do something," she said.

Doc gave her look and reached for the pack. I pushed him aside, grabbed the pills, and jammed the note in my pocket.

"You should stay and get checked out," Francine urged. "People aren't all that different than dogs."

"I've had all my shots."

Francine ran her tongue over her lips. I made a quick exit, almost running by the time I went through the door. The doc yelled out, saying I should go get checked out by my regular doctor. I spun out of the lot, spitting gravel chunks at the sign with the little dog and cat in doctor outfits.

I pushed the speedometer on the truck as far as it would go, keeping one eye on the temp gauge. I popped the pills out of the pack and downed them. I trusted horny Francine that they were actually for pain, and not flea and heartworm – or fuck, some sort of pet viagra. The road ahead shimmered, in the distance a pair of buildings looked like splotches of overripe fruit against a sky the exact shade of the empty ice cube holders in my fridge back home. It was a weird thing to remember. I hardly remember what my place looked like. As I whipped by them, I spied a thin man on scaffolding, slapping orange paint with a huge brush. I could see the droplets splash and hang in the air before settling on the weathered surface. I shouldn't have been able to see that.

I urged the pedal down farther – having no idea where I was going, if I'd find the sedan again, or what I'd do if I found it. I flipped the switch on my radio, filling the cab with harsh guitar rock and some guy screaming. I turned it up and pushed the speed over 85. The temp gauge jerked. The pounding in my head softened to brushes on the edge of a snare. Shush-shush.

I passed a green Pontiac, driven by a redneck with a buzz cut and a tattoo of the queen on his neck. As fast I was going, certain images moved in slow perfect clarity – like some Einstein relativity problem. I perceived moving objects as if they were standing still. But the large granary in the distance appeared to be moving away from me. I squeezed my eyes shut for a second, and tried to refocus. When I opened them again there it was, the black sedan, it popped out of nowhere, less than a quarter mile ahead. There were no access roads that I could see – it was like it dropped out of the sky. Somehow, I knew I'd come across it. Just like last time. And probably some other times that I couldn't remember.

I pulled in close behind, following the s-curve of the road, and tried to peer into the back window. The sheen on the glass reflected back light, not like a mirrored surface, but fragmented like cheap Mactac for bathroom windows.

The granary pulled in front of me after the curve, or that's what it looked like. Spireton. A handmade sign was drilled into the post underneath the town name – Corn and Bacon Festival, Aug. 3-5. The sedan pulled into the lot of the Spireton Hotel. I followed.

I watched the back door open and a white leg appear. I started to wonder if that vet had give me some sort of sedative, or even a hallucinogenic. Movement played tricks on my eyes. Trails of colour swept behind her legs as she approached the truck. I rolled down the window.

"Come on in. You look like you need a drink."

The sedan idled. I cranked my neck and tried to see inside.

"Just the two of us," she said and winked.

I saw every lash move on her white face.

 

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