As ever, the amazing Chuck Wendig has put forth a challenge this week, the Random Title Challenge. I actually used a random number generator and rolled #2. I wasn’t sure how to get it to work and even thought about using one of the other titles, but with some amazing input from real life on Saturday – everything from flat tires to people watching at an all day concert – I was able to come up with something. It is 995 words and I hope you enjoy.
The Equal Amateur
Driving in the dead of night on a two lane highway is like the typical death story those who make it back tell – a shining light up ahead with ghostly darkness all around. The only difference is the occasional glare of on-coming head lights highlighting the yellow tick-ticking of the lane marker rushing by.
Thank God she isn’t alone, even if her companion is snoring in the passenger seat, drool seeping out the corner of his mouth to land on his sticky tank top. He almost sleeps more soundly now than he did when he was a baby. She takes in the dark brown waves framing his teenage-blemished face and sighs in wonder at how quickly time has passed.
Not so, the trip. Driving for three days is no joke, but their destination is fast approaching, only about eight hours away. Abby glances in the rear view mirror and fiddles with the radio. She hasn’t been able to get anything but static since the sun went down. She sighs and goes back to other ridiculous techniques that just might keep her eyes open but most likely not.
Her thoughts are on maybe pulling off to the side of the road to take a nap when the car does a strange lurch and a weird grating noise from the front right lets her know the tire has gone flat. It takes some maneuvering, but slowly letting off the gas and turning the car slightly to the right, she eventually comes to a rumbling stop on the side of the deserted highway.
“What’s going on?” Aaden’s voice is thick with sleep and he’s rubbing his eyes, slowly straightening from his hunched position.
“We have a flat tire.”
“Do we call someone? What do we do?”
Abby laughs. “No, buddy. We change it ourselves and hope there’s a gas station not too far away.”
“Seriously? God, Mom! This sucks!”
“Don’t I know it! Come on.”
He sighs as they both get out of the car and head to the back, leaving the doors open to give them some light.
“Have you ever done this before?”
She laughs again. “Well, yes, but damned if I remember.”
Suitcases, blankets, pillows, a heaping pile of junk lands on the dusty roadside in order to accommodate lifting the fake bottom where the spare is stored in the trunk. They spend some time yanking and pulling, trying to lift the tire out. “Maybe if you twist it…” Just as she says it, he starts twisting a screw in the center that holds it in place. She smiles. “We figured that out at the same time.”
He gives her a grunt in response as he pulls the spare out and she grabs for the mechanism she knows will lift the car. She looks at it warily, twisting it this way and that, wondering how the tiny metal contraption is going to manage its purpose. She follows her son to the side where he is already twisting the lug nuts off the flat. For having changed a tire once but Aaden not at all, they seem to be on equally amateurish ground.
He stops what he’s doing long enough to grab the jack out of her hand and before she knows it, he has it under the car and he’s twisting something to make it lift. Maybe he is actually better at this than she is.
“Here, Mom. You do this while I finish getting the lug nuts off.”
Kneeling in the dusty gravel is not an option so she plops down on her butt and starts turning the metal thingy. Is it even working? She can’t tell, but she continues anyway, trying not to think about how creepy night sounds can be on a dark, lonely highway in the middle of the night.
Aaden has the lug nuts off and tries to lift the spare onto the car. “It needs to be higher. Do you want me to take over?”
“No, I’ve got it. It doesn’t seem like I’m even doing anything, but I can hear the car lifting.”
He hefts the flat back to the trunk while she gets up to check the height. She doesn’t realize how heavy a spare tire is and it takes her by surprise. She doesn’t even get it off the ground before Aaden is taking it from her and turning to put it on the car. Feeling useless, she decides to put things back in the trunk and starts to head that way when a shadow moves by the back of the car.
What the hell?
She blinks and freezes in place, her hand gesturing wildly behind her in Aaden’s general direction.
“Aaden!” She whispers anxiously.
She is staring hard at the shadow as it slowly materializes into a form and becomes what she thinks is a man. She feels Aaden behind her and she closes her hand around his arm, using her body to shield him.
“Hello?” Her voice is shaky and she wishes it wasn’t, but she is freaking out. How the hell does a man just appear out of nowhere like that?
The man stands with feet planted level on the ground, his hands folded in front of him. Most of his body is lost in the shadows of his dark clothing blending with the night, but his too pale face looks painted on and he has a halo of black hair surrounding it, falling down past what the darkness allows her to see. What she can see clearly are his eyes – glowing blood-red, shot through with white.
Frantic, she is just about to urge Aaden into the car when the shadow moves. Faster than she can follow with her eyes, he… it… descends on them, lifts them into the air and carries them off. Their screams echo across the inky desolation and blend with the crickets making soft music that floats upward, hovering in the air momentarily before vanishing into the wind.