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Road like a River

'Road like a River' is a dark fantasy published by MuseItUp Publishing in January 2013.

See, there's this guy. He's called Charlie. Or that's the name he uses... And, like, he drives this big ol' truck. And, see, sometimes he picks people up. Gives them a lift.

And nobody ever sees them again. Not ever.

Well, not alive.

ROAD LIKE A RIVER. Because nobody - not god, not demon, not poly-dimensional trans-optical hyper-sentient autonomous non-organic entity - nobody touches the truck.



The truck's lights speared the night.

Sounded dramatic, he thought. But it weren’t like they could do much else. Dark was dark, and light was light. Damn beams didn't know no better than to keep goin' ‘til they hit somethin’ solid, or got plumb tired an’ gave up. So sure. What the heck. Let ‘em spear.

He stared out of the windscreen, as he had so many nights. He didn't have to look at no map. Barstow was long gone behind, and Sweetwater was a ways ahead. Sweetwater, Abilene, Fort Worth—that was I-20. El Paso didn't count. El Paso was I-10, and he weren’t drivin’ I-10 tonight. Pecos to Marshall, then the world stopped, ‘cos this was Texas. Round here, nobody gave a damn about anything as wasn’t.

He jammed his way up through the gears, then jammed them down again. Weren’t like he had to. I-20 wasn’t big on hills or bends. But he liked the sound, so sometimes he did it anyways. He reached to the dash and turned up the radio, 92.3—Lonestar. Blair Garner was sayin' as how that-all had been Sugarland, and this-all comin' up was Kenny Chesney. It didn't matter none. He couldn't jam the gears all the time, an’ the radio was noise at least.

There it was. Big Spring. About right. Soon enough, anyways. Past Big Spring an’ before Sweetwater. Real pain in the ass, havin’ to sub-contract the way he did these days. But the truck was too easy to notice, an’ it was the only way to get what he had to get. He looked quickly at the black lily hanging in the middle of the windshield, swinging with each sway of the rig’s cabin.

Soon enough, there she was. Right by the side of the Road where she was supposed to be. Caught in the beams, wavin' and, from the looks of her, hollerin' fit to bust. He started to jam the gears down. The rig always took a while to get stopped. Still, he knew the woman behind the truck would be comin' along. Likely, runnin’. There wouldn't have been anything else along here since she'd been...well, since. The rig slowed to a stop, and he waited, watching in the mirrors as she stumbled down the Road. He leaned over, and pushed the door handle.

"Mister...?" She stood there, looking up into the cab. That made it okay. She'd asked. He only ever did it if they asked.

"Y'all need a ride, missie?" Y’all. It weren’t Texas-right, still it would do. And, of course, she needed a ride. That's what sub-contractors were for. They still had to ask. Every time, they had to ask. Then they was his.

"I...where you goin', mister?" She looked as though she’d heard all sorts of stories about late nights and long roads. And drivers. Probably heard this one, too. Not that she had a lot of choice. ‘Course, none of them knew. Knew what they were choosing.

"I-20." She looked puzzled. “Oh, just my little joke, missie. Wherever this Road goes, I'm goin'. All the ways to Marshall. I'd tell you where else, but everybody knows there ain't no world outside of Texas."

"Can...can I ride to Eastland? I...I landed at Midland. There was this guy..."

She looked half scared, half fightin’ mad. She had good reason for both. Just didn't know why, yet. She only thought she did. He decided to make it a little easier for her.

"Right. There was this guy. An’ he offered you a ride, an’ you thought he looked cute, right?" He shook his head.

"Cute? Hell, I only needed a ride!" Her face flushed. “Okay. So he was cute, too.”

"No need to look embarrassed, missie. You ain't the first." She'd better not be. He had to pay enough to get them where he could—but never mind. Not yet, anyways. "So he drove ‘til you was in the middle of nowheres, an’ it turned out he weren't so nice, right?"

Now she really looked pissed. “He’d’ve been singing fuckin’ soprano if he hadn’t drove off as quick as he did.”

He chuckled. "It's okay. Jump in." She climbed into the cab. Her suitcase was in the long-gone car, but her purse was in her hand. That's what he told his sub-contractors. Keep the case. Throw them their purse. It didn't work else. "Long as you can afford the price, you can go anywhere I'm goin', lady." She got scared again, and grabbed for the door. But it wasn't time for that. He smiled. "No need to be frightened, missie." Not yet, anyways. “You got a penny?"

"A penny?" Scared and pissed were gone, replaced by confused. Good. She was off balance. How he liked it.

"Jus’ my little joke. You got a penny, I'm your driver."

"And if I don't? Got a penny, I mean?" She smiled, her first. He let her enjoy it a while.

"It don't make no never mind. Like I said..."

"Here." She smiled as she handed him the penny. He waited. She raised an eyebrow.           

"Cain't drive nowhere with the door open, lady." She reached over and pulled the door closed. He kicked the rig into life and jammed up through the gears.

The truck's lights speared the night. The wheels ate the Road.

"You been doin' this long, mister?"

"Mister? Heh. I stopped bein' mister to pretty ladies a long, long time ago. You can call me Charlie, lady."

"Charlie. I knew a Charlie once..."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her smile again, lost in a memory. "Seems you did, lady.” He looked back through the windscreen. “Yup. Guess I been doin' this a while."

"I bet. You look like you should be retir… Oh. I'm sorry."

"Like I should be retired? Heh. You keep goin' red, you better hope the wind don't change. You'll stay thet way, you will. It's okay. It don't bother me none. I guess I'm just not good at bein' in one place."

"You see a lot of places, mister? Doing this, I mean."

He nodded at the black night outside the cab window. "Sure. You see much, lady?"

"Well, it's dark. But it isn't always dark, right?"

He shrugged. “Guess not." The light glowed up ahead. He started to jam down the gears.


He could tell she knew how far it was to Eastland, an’ he could tell she knew they couldn't be there yet. The fear was coming back. Good. It was nearly time. Nearly time for her to find out why she should be scared. "You ain't goin' to be goin’ no further, lady. See, you paid. Now? Now I deliver." Her face drained of blood. She struggled with the door handle. But it was too late. This was it. What he did.

He pulled into the parking lot. He grabbed the lily, snapping it from its string, and got out of the cab. He could hear her. She was screamin’. It wouldn't make no difference. Not here. They all screamed here. He opened the door on her side, watching her cringe back into the seat. "Time to get out, lady." She didn't get. Not many did. He reached up and took her hand, pulling. He was old, but he was stronger than he looked. It didn't take long.

Out of the cab, she screamed some more. "Help! He-e-elp!" 'Course, nobody came. They never did. They knew better. The lights in the roadhouse windows burned. White ones, bright and clean. Red ones, shadowed and near dark.

"Shut up.” He clamped his hand over her mouth. His hands, long practiced, tightened. He turned her head toward the Roadhouse sign. He held her there, making her look at it. Then he forced her head back. Her eyes met his for the last time. Yes. It was there. The look. They one they all got.  When they finally knew. The knowledge. The acceptance. It was what he waited for. The thing that let him do it. So he did it.

He let her go.

"Go on in. They’s waitin'." He handed her the lily.

As he walked back to the rig, she called to him. "Hey, Charlie. You like the truck better? Than the boat, I mean?" She turned away, and walked toward the Roadhouse, the lily cradled in her hand. He chuckled as he got back up into the cab. Yup, she was quick. She'd do okay.

Driving away from the Gates, Kharon tossed the penny into the back of the truck to join the rest. He had another delivery, an’ this one thought he was in Kansas. Turning off I-20 onto I-70, he heard Blair Garner talkin' 'bout the plane crash at Midland. Then Blair was gone, lost in the crackles.

The truck's lights speared the night.


Comments's picture

Wow! I love it. Good luck with the book.

Graeme's picture

... Lady Marian smiley

Indeed, I think Lady Charlie did a wonderful job on it. And you have to feel sympathy for her - this is the second time she's had to suffer me. She did the cover for 'A Comedy of Terrors' as well laugh.

If you were able to see the photograph of a night road that was used as the basis for the cover, it's amazing (well, to me it certainly is) to look at how Lady Charlie transformed it. It really is Charlie's Road on the book cover devil.

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