• Aaron Deck

Back Roads



Sitting in their driveway, minutes away from laying a strip of black, burning rubber along the asphalt outside their house, he’d called his mother. He’d turned to her, as he so often did throughout his life, and asked what Nancy had really meant.


“She said I was boring. Predictable,” he said.


“Well,” his mother had ventured wearily. “Have you two done anything lately? Romantically, I mean.”


“Like go on a date?”


“More than that. Women want to know that they’re loved,” she said. “Spontaneity does the heart good.”


His raw, calloused hands had gripped the steering wheel as he’d replayed the last few months in his head. There’d been no grand gestures of affection from either side, just the steady routine of two people who’d fallen in love and felt comfortable residing in it. There was nothing wrong with this approach, according to Tom. He tried telling his mother as such, equating his and Nancy’s relationship to the one he shared with his coworkers on the fishing boat. It was a relationship of trust and very few surprises. Tom’s mother listened intently and then told him he was wrong. She got as far as saying that the heart was a much more complex vessel than any lobster boat he’d worked on since age fourteen before he’d hung up.


Now, many miles away from both conversations, cruising the backroads, Tom let his mind wander aimlessly. He was done dissecting the fight. He reached down and flicked on the radio, bubbly rock music emitting from the speakers. It was a song Tom knew but opted not to sing along with. His pickup banked around a curve and the wide Atlantic Ocean was illuminated in his headlights. He took in a deep breath, feeling the salt in his lungs. It was good. Familiar. He suspected that he loved the ocean more than his fiancée but would never admit it to himself. It was this thought that he carried with him as he parked his truck on an embankment, fished a freshly bought six-pack from beneath the bench seat, and strolled down to where he could let the water lap at his bare feet.


He drank all six beers while he skipped stones into the ocean and looked up at the night sky sprent with stars. Shooting stars had always been his favourite, and he still wished upon them like he had in his childhood. There was no magic in them, he knew, but it was a habit he never dropped. This night, when one trailed a magnificent purple hue behind it, he wished for the courage to be more adventurous. The courage to be spontaneous. The courage to save his relationship.


Walking slightly askew, Tom made his way back to his truck. He hucked the six empty cans in the bed, then slid in behind the wheel. He reached under the seat and produced a second six-pack, cracked a fresh beer and took a long swallow before placing it snugly in his crotch. He put his pickup in first and drove off.


Because of the tranquility of the ocean, and the six new beers in his system, his return speed was slower. The radio was cranked up and Tom sang along with it, his left arm cocked out the window. He’d just finished negotiating a tricky S-turn and came roaring out onto the straightaway when his headlights picked up a figure two-hundred meters ahead. It was a person, Tom was sure, but he couldn’t tell the sex. All he saw was the headlights reflecting off the patches of white on the person’s shirt. As he drew closer, he saw that it was a man waving his arms, wanting Tom to stop. He almost didn’t, but had a hazy recollection of his earlier wish. He took a swig of his half empty beer and swung his pickup to the shoulder, stopping a few meters before the man.


Leaning out the window, Tom shouted to the stranger. “Hop on in, dude. I’ll take you wherever you need to go.” He burped and then sucked in a quick breath. “Within reason, anyway.”


Instead of going around to the passenger side door, the stranger ran towards him. Tom’s instincts made him draw back. The stranger was still waving his arms as he pulled even with Tom’s face. The man had an appearance that made Tom instantly question his decision to stop. The stranger’s shoulder length hair was sticking up at odd angles. His shirt was caked with dirt and torn along the bottom. His face gave off no trace of age as it was slathered in mud and sweat.


“Thank-fucking-God you stopped,” the stranger belched out. “This is insane. I can’t believe this shit is going down. Holy cow. It’s like it’s straight out of a sci-fi novel or something. Oh man, those green eyes staring back at me gave me the start of my life, I tell you.”


“Slow down,” Tom said with a thick, slow voice. “I don’t understand a single thing you’re saying.”


The stranger gave no indication that he’d heard. His speech picked up speed until it seemed like he’d pass out from lack of oxygen. Tom tried to piece together a coherent story but failed. The stranger’s monologue was one about something he’d found in a field close to the road. Something with green eyes, probably a fucking coyote, with multiple arms but no legs? Something that slithered across the mud to get at him? The monologue was punctuated by multiple “fucks,” “shits,” and “holy cows;” all of which came at the most inappropriate times.

Waving a hand at the stranger, Tom cut him off. “Listen, I don’t understand a word you’re saying to me. This story makes no sense. I’m leaving.”


Tom saw the stranger’s eyes go wide as he put his truck into gear; his movements doing more than a slap in the face would have done. The stranger lurched forward and grabbed Tom’s arm through the open window.


“Please don’t leave me,” he said, the words coming out in a thick whine. Tom tried to shrug off the stranger’s hand without looking directly at him. When the grip tightened, he turned to face the stranger while bringing his free hand around. He meant to pry the stranger’s hand off him, or punch out his lights if that didn’t work, and stopped when he got a good look into the stranger’s eyes. While the story he’d been told was like a delusion from a mental hospital escapee, Tom saw no trace of slipping sanity in those eyes. Instead, he saw a mix of determination and fear.


“Alright. I won’t leave. But you’re gonna have to calm down,” Tom told the stranger. He felt the grip lighten but it was not removed. He reached down for a fresh beer and immediately felt the grip retighten. He fished out two cans and handed one to the stranger who gave the beer a queer look before releasing his grip and taking it. The stranger cracked it and drank off most of the can in one long swallow. He burped a breath full of beer into Tom’s face.


“Thanks,” the stranger said.


Tom nodded his head in acknowledgement and cracked his own. He took a sip, set it down, shut off his truck, and slipped the keys into his front pocket. Immediately, they were swallowed in near darkness. The stars overhead did little to illuminate this tract of land. He stepped out of his truck and into the rapidly chilling air, bringing his beer with him. He took another quick drink and looked the stranger in the face.


“So, tell me again what happened, but make some sense this time.”


“Holy cow, I don’t know,” the stranger told him, finishing off his beer, crushing it, and throwing the can into the ditch. Tom made a grunt of disgust.


“Okay, then. Can you tell me where it happened?”


“Back that way,” the stranger said, pointing off in the distance on the opposite side of the road.


“Can you take me there?”


“Can’t rightly fucking say I want to go back to tell you the fucking truth. Thing ate my dog. It’s dead.” The stranger paused and sighed. “Got another beer?” he asked.


Tom reached into the truck and found another. Every inch of his body screamed at him to get back in his truck, put that fucker in gear, and get the hell outta there. His less-than-sober self told him that if he’d wanted an adventure, here it was. Just go with it.


“Go with it,” he echoed to himself and passed the beer over.


“What?” the stranger asked.


“I said, ‘what’s your name?’”


“Maynard.”


A handshake was exchanged and the two of them began to relax, if only a little. Both were now dealing with something a little more familiar; something more ordinary. Tom reached back inside his truck and produced a flashlight and the last two remaining beers, slipping them into his back pockets.


“I guess it’ll be best if you show me where this thing went down.” His tone was of a man who would accept no quarter. He flicked on the flashlight, a thick black industrial one, and shined it across the field. Far away, something gleamed. Maynard tensed visibly when Tom turned back to him, the beer can crinkling as he crushed it within his grip.


“Don’t,” Maynard said.


“Don’t what?”


“Don’t go out there.”


“You waved me down, asking for help. This is the help you’re getting. You either follow me, or I’ll leave you here in the dark.”


“Please,” Maynard whispered.


“It’s me with the light, or it’s darkness. Your choice,” Tom said as he crossed the road and walked down into the ditch and then into the field beyond. Maynard followed close behind.


Tom swung the beam of light from left to right as he walked. He was looking for holes. A broken ankle meant he was no good on the fishing boat. A broken ankle meant he would be laid up on the couch for six weeks or more. A broken ankle meant financial death. A broken ankle would mean the end of him and Nancy as well. Behind him, he heard Maynard taking in quick, tense breaths. He heard more crinkle sounds coming from the can in Maynard’s hand and wondered absently how much of it would be left by the time they arrived at their destination.


The beer can was a distorted wreck when Tom’s flashlight happened upon a gouged and burnt out rut in the ground. It was half a foot wide in diameter and two feet deep. The mounds of dirt on both sides of the track had been scorched black. The rocks along the bottom of the rut, melted on impact, had since cooled. To Tom, it looked like a picture he’d once seen of the walls of the Grand Canyon. Waves of different colors were imprinted in the rocks. He scanned his flashlight both left and right. To his left, the rut widened. He followed the trail with the flashlight until the beam caught on something a hundred yards off. It was a metallic object that reflected the light into a prism. Tom saw shards of red, yellow, green, and blue light shoot off the object and out into the darkness.


“What the fuck?” he stammered to himself. Beside him, Maynard had dropped his can into the grass.


“I fucking told you this was a bad as shit idea,” Maynard whined. “We need to go. We need to get the fuck outta here. Yes. We fucking need to go now!”


Tom barely heard him. His mind was twisted around the object to his left. Part of him tried to rationalize it. Just a shooting star that has fallen to earth. Think of the money this will bring for you and Nancy, it exclaimed. Another, smaller part of him began rambling. Whatever it is, it killed Maynard’s dog. Get gone. NOW! Tom reacted to neither part of his brain. He stood looking towards the shining metal object, stunned.


Tom was hit from behind as Maynard’s body was thrown into him. He crashed to the ground. The wind was knocked out of him and he lost his grip on the flashlight. It rolled into the rut, the beam of light constantly lit upon the metal object.


“What the fu - “ was all Tom could get out before hearing a blood curdling scream that made his testicle shrivel up inside him. The weight of Maynard was slowly being dragged off him as the screaming continued. When he could, Tom rolled over and saw something out of his blackest nightmare chewing on the legs of Maynard as he tried to claw his way away from the creature. In the dim light, Tom could barely make out any details, but what he saw his mind told him was impossible. Eight eyes shone low and green. They were in a semicircle, encompassing what he assumed was a head. The mouth, slowly munching on his new friend Maynard, was filled with big buck teeth; sharper teeth would have made the eating easier on both human and space creature he thought absently. Below what he assumed was the head was a slithering body that trailed out and was lost in the night. Attached to the front end were seven appendages, each with three long, gnarled phalanges; like the teeth, the phalanges were blunt. Doubt this thing could open a beer can, Tom thought absently again. He tried to scoot away on his butt, but the two beer cans made it uncomfortable, so he rolled over again and pushed himself to his feet.


“Help me!” Maynard bellowed, his hands reaching out for any purchase to pull himself out of his impending doom.


Ignoring him, Tom moved over to the flashlight and picked it up. He shone it directly on the creature and immediately regretted his decision. He pissed himself. Maynard’s screams tapered off as he bled out while missing both legs below the knees. Tom was left with the sounds of the creature feasting, and the whirling of helicopter blades; he would forever recognize them due to being saved more than once by the Coast Guard.


He ran then, in which direction he didn’t know, just away from the creature. His flashlight beam bounced haphazardly across the ground in front of him, the wild swings of his arms carrying it at crazy angles. Because of this, he missed the rock jutting out of the ground and smashed his left foot onto it, breaking a toe or two. He fell, sprawling to the ground.


While clutching his broken toe and muttering curses under his breath, he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. His blood stopped dead in his veins, panic blasting through his brain. It wasn’t until he heard voices, human voices, that he allowed himself to relax.


“...down this way, I can see the beam of light,” someone off in the darkness said.


Tom rolled over to his side and plucked the two beer cans out from his back pockets and placed them behind him; he didn’t feel like sharing them.


Two figures materialized out of the darkness but Tom could make out neither details nor dimensions. Both figures were dressed completely in black; black shoes, pants, suit jackets, and hats. He picked up the flashlight and shone it beside and behind them, not wanting to blind them.


Both of them appeared to be holding some type of hand pistols, but they looked awfully bizarre to Tom’s drunken eye. The figure on the left raised his pistol and pointed it at Tom.


“Hey, what the fuck are you doing?” Tom spouted, instinctively flinching away.


“Were you with the other man?” The man not pointing a gun at him asked.


“What other man?”


“The one missing his legs.”


“Is he dead?” Tom choked out.


“Yes.”


“Is it dead?”


“So you saw it, then,” the man not pointing the gun said. It wasn’t a question.


“Yeah, I did. Do you know what the fuck it was?”


“It doesn’t matter.”


“Are you kidding me?” Tom asked, incredulously. “That thing probably came from fucking space. How can that not matter?”


As an answer, the man holding a gun on him did something with his thumb, and the pistol in his hand began to buzz and glow an odd hue of colour Tom had never seen.


On instinct, Tom rolled to his right while directing the flashlight beam into the faces of the two men dressed in black. The gun barked once and a flurry of rainbow colour was spit forth, burning the grass where Tom had been sitting mere moments ago.


While the two men in black were temporarily blinded, Tom grabbed a beer can, took aim, and launched it at the man who’d shot at him. It cracked him in the forehead and he stumbled back, dropping his gun. Tom lunged forward, letting go of his flashlight, and collected the gun off the grass while he still had a slight advantage. He pointed it at the man who’d tried to shoot him and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. He crab-walked back while his thumb searched near the handle for whatever the man had flicked before. It hit something and the gun began to buzz and glow. He scooted back and his hand hit the last beer can. It slipped out from under his hand and his weight shifted as he pulled the trigger. His aim went wild and hit the man who hadn’t drawn down on him before, but was doing so now. The man was instantly vaporized, leaving nothing but the stench of rot and a wisp of smoke.


“Holy fucking shit,” Tom whispered.


Suddenly, a blinding light was shining directly in his eyes. He reached up with his free hand, trying to swat it away, knowing it would do no good, but still operating on instinct.


“What did you do?” He heard from behind the light.


Tom thumbed the switch again, causing the gun to glow and buzz again. The light bobbed out of his eyes as the other man in black sidestepped.


“I did what you’re trying to do to me, now take that fucking light out of my eyes.”


The beam blinked out, casting him into spotty darkness. Then, he was tackled to the ground, which wasn’t much since he was still on his butt. He fired wildly and hit nothing but air, probably vaporizing molecules, he thought randomly.


Tom felt a fist knock the gun out of his hand while another came down and smashed him in the face. With automatic movements, he pushed his hands up, feeling the man’s neck against his palm. He squeezed and shielded his face from another punch as his vision slowly came crawling back. Soon, both of the man’s hands were trying to pry Tom’s from around his throat. Tom felt his fingers trying to be bent back and clamped down harder. With his free hand, Tom reached behind him and pawed the ground until it clutched his final can of beer. That done, he swung it around with all the force his supine body would allow. It cracked the man against the top of his skull and exploded, raining beer down onto both of them. All the hand fighting ceased instantly. The man crumpled to the side.


By the time Tom reached his feet, the man was lying prone, his face in the dirt, breathing heavily. Tom took that as an opportunity to beat feet. He grabbed the gun first, then picked up his flashlight and searched the ground for the previously thrown can of beer. He found it, orientated himself as best he could to where the road was, shut off the flashlight, and began walking in that direction. He stuffed the gun into the waistband of his pants as he did so, careful not to touch anything that could fry his nuts.


As Tom walked with a slow stagger, he listened for the sound of anything. He heard crickets and the occasional vehicle passing far off in the distance. What he didn’t hear was the helicopter. That unnerved him. He went far wide of where he thought the creature had crash landed and eventually stumbled across the road. He noticed that he was a good half a kilometer from where his truck was parked. He crossed the road and decided to approach his truck from the opposite direction from whence he came.


His beer was empty by the time he reached his truck and he had the beginnings of a hangover. He assumed it was from his adrenaline dump, and wouldn’t have been wrong.


Steadying himself behind the wheel of the truck, he thought of what story he’d tell his fiancée.


By the time he pulled up in front of their house he’d settled on no story. He would tell her the truth.


Nancy was sitting in their living room with red rimmed eyes when he got home. She looked up at him, an apology poised on her lips, but she never got the chance to say it. He apologized first, then regaled her with his tale as he was throwing their second-hand clothes into a pair of battered suitcases. She tried to ask him questions, but each time was cut off by his ramblings.


“Are you drunk?” she asked when he’d finally run out of steam.


“I was. But I’m not now. I’ve got a bad hangover, though.”


She nodded once, as if that settled it. Tom felt the night’s previous anger wanting to get out but quashed it. He still had an ace in the hole.


“If I’m making it up, then where did I get this?” He said, producing the gun from his waistband.


“What is that?”


“It’s whatever they shot at me with, and what killed the space creature.” Tom saw the look his fiancée was giving him and quickly continued. “Here, I’ll show you. Let’s go out to the garage.”


Holding hands, they walked to the garage where three quads were in several states of repair. He pointed the gun at the most broken, the one he was using for spare parts, and thumbed the switch. It glowed and buzzed once more. Nancy squeezed his hand while he squeezed the trigger. The rainbow laser shot out and the quad vaporized, leaving behind that same rotting stench and wisp of smoke. He looked over at Nancy who was staring forward with wide eyes.


“What the - “


“Yup,” he replied. “We gotta get out of here. I dunno if they saw my truck and took my plate, but that’s a chance I don’t want to take.”


“Where are we going to go?”


“I don’t know. Somewhere. Anywhere. We just gotta get away for a bit until things cool down.”


“What about our families and friends?”


“We can’t say anything to them. It wouldn’t be safe.”


“But - but - “ she trailed off.


“Yeah. I know. Think of it as an adventure,” Tom said and smiled.


Nancy swallowed.


“Okay. An Adventure it is, I guess.”


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