~ written 5 may 2014 ~
You are sitting across from a man who will be dead in less than an hour, by your hand.
I love you, he says.
You tell him likewise, as your eyes flit impatiently to the clock on the wall.
You are sitting in a diner attached to a gas station. There are two helpful signs outside: one says GAS, the other says FOOD 24H. The vinyl seat coverings groan like tiny earthquakes as you shift your weight, so you keep as still as possible. It is 2:27am, and the effect of the screaming fluorescent lights and the sporadic clapping of dishes is like the cold rapping of a hammer against the dead CRT screens that are your eyes.
You are staring at your loosely coiled hands flanking a cup of steaming coffee. The vapour moves too angrily to track, and so you look instead at the point where the upper part of the handle connects to the mug itself; the two are not perfectly flush, and the small bump where they join reminds you of the dark blue mug still at your late partner's house – that was your favourite mug and your thumb felt comfortable against that imperfection.
Your arm moves automatically to the mug and your thumb falls in its habitual place. But the handle itself is uncomfortably thin, and the other fingers of your left hand must press against the body of the mug to afford you the proper leverage. At the disruption of this familiar gesture, your arm freezes mid-motion, while the backs of three fingers scald themselves against the cup. With your hand extended, you notice a small smear of blood sliding out from behind the cuff of your riding jacket. In the screaming fluorescent light, the blood is dark purple, and still wet.
You are sitting hunched over on your motorcycle. The small illuminated panel just below your head glows crimson; the gauges are refracted in the visor of your helmet into twisted, motionless flames tickling the underside of your eyes. You are travelling at 82 miles per hour.
The galaxy above splits the night sky in two. It slashes vertically to a point on the horizon perfectly aligned with the straight desert road ahead. Your headlight only extends a dozen or so feet before being consumed by the darkness, but you know the road well. It is straight and well-kept and there are no animals on this stretch worth slowing for.
You feel a dark pursuit behind you, and accelerate along the star-spangled boulevard.
What the fuck took you so long, asks the bald man.
You are sitting on an upended log about ten minutes off of the main highway, staring into the blue and nearly invisible flames of a small propane campfire.
Sorry, you answer.
You fucking piece of shit.
Do you have any idea what these people do to people, asks the bald man.
In the silence you can hear the soft continuous exhaling of the open propane valve.
Give it to me, he says.
You reach into your riding jacket and pull out two bulging, sloshing aluminum packs. As you hold them out at arm's length, you notice that your legs are rocking you back and forth on the small log. You study the small divot of sand piling up at the forward limit of your motion.
Fucking kids, says the bald man as he crosses around the fire to take the packs. Yours or his, he asks after massaging them, one in either hand.
His, you answer. Mostly his.
He sits back down. Now you little shit, he says, gesturing with the packets, if we're lucky they'll take this offering in the spirit intended and I won't have to regret bringing you into this little venture of mine. If I'm very lucky they'll just bleed you for the rest of it and I won't have to share my take.
You feel a faintly lingering nausea turning into a fast fever. Your eyes are cracked and sandy, and your chest is burning.
The bald man looks at you for a long time. Oh, he says. Oh...oh, ha ha ha ha. His laugh is like the snapping of rough kindling. Oh, jesus fucking christ. You're sweating, kid. You're sweating pretty fucking bad – ha ha ha ha.
He spits into the fire, grinning in the ghost light.
You fucked him didn't you, asks the bald man. Once more for the road huh? Ha ha ha ha. Was that before or after you drained the bastard? HA HA HA HA.
Heheh, well that's your mistake, kid, but my friends might take to you better this way.
Your breath is becoming ragged.
But I mean talk about sloppy fucking seconds, ha ha ha ha...
You feel your skull clamping down on your eyes.
I mean I hope for your sake he was still warm 'cuz I hear a cold one'll just ruin your whole fucking day.
You begin rocking faster as the fever scorches your veins. There is a roaring in your ears.
Holy shit you never go down on anything that bleeds, kid. HA HA HA HA HA.
Shut the fuck up.
The bald man keeps laughing and laughing and laughing and roaring and your forehead is going clammy and cold and you are falling up into the sky and backwards all at once and as the bald man stands again to float spasmodically towards you the whole world turns to stars and you pass out.
You wake up some time later to the smell of charred meat and the cackling of open flames. The heat along one side of your body is oppressive, and where it radiates along the back of your neck you feel the sweat pooling and the dirt caking.
You turn your head towards the conflagration.
The bald man is lying face-down in the small propane campfire, fully ignited and blistered down to the shoulders. His torso has been twisted such that his feet point up towards the gently awakening sky.
Your skin tingles.
Viscera have been spilt around the area, the pools of blood closest to the inferno seeming to quiver and steam. The aluminum packets have been taken. You push yourself up on exhausted, dripping arms and take a moment to scan the horizon and the wilderness it subsumes.
Thank you, you speak in a thought-wisper to the slowly disappearing shadows.
You writhe slowly, one hand pressing hungrily between your legs, while you lower your lips to the ground and into one of the warm pools of gore, tasting fresh blood and sand and an exhilarating dawn.
(nick rudzicz, 5 may 2014.)
[CC BY 4.0]