Blurring the lines between dark fantasy and reality… Life is but a dream.
– HAVAHEART’S TRAP –
By: Michael Allan Scott
I pull off the highway, bumping across the potholed parking lot. Tired and thirsty, I ignore the shabby mom and pop storefront and go in. Hope they have Coke.
At the battered drink case, I feel it. Something’s wrong. Behind the counter, she rings up the only other customer as I rummage around in the bottom for colder cans of Coke. Why’s everything warm?
She comes out from behind the counter, moving toward me tentatively, as though secreting deep-seated anxiety. In a small voice, she asks, “May I help you?”
“Do you have any cold ones?” I ask, holding up a lukewarm can.
Her liquid gaze drops to the floor. Soft brown locks slip from behind a delicate ear to hide her face. She fidgets in place, embarrassed. I can’t help but notice she’s attractive. Not really her small frame, although she’s perfectly proportioned—and shy, camouflaging her figure with a plain-patterned housedress. No, it’s something more than physical—a vulnerability, a familiarity. Curiously, I’m drawn to her. Do I know her?
Almost a whisper, she says, “I don’t think it’s working right.”
I volunteer. “Let me take a look.”
She brightens slightly, a faint hint of a smile sparkles her eyes.
I crane my neck to see the thermostat is set on “max” cold.
She follows me around to the cooler’s back side.
At least it’s plugged in. “Where’s your fuse box?”
Doe eyes look up into mine as she points to a doorway.
I must have seen her before … somewhere.
“Maybe it’s back there,” she says.
I move to the doorway, noticing shadows. Too dim, even for a shabby little convenience store. What’s she doing here? Trading time for tarnished pennies… “How long have you worked here?” I ask, figuring not too long, as pretty as she is.
“I bought it after my husband died.” She looks away. “About a month ago.”
I knew she didn’t belong here. Trying to catch her eye, I want to ask why.
Haltingly, she tells me, “I needed something to do. A way to make a living. I thought … if I had things people needed. It would be all right. But I’ve been having trouble.”
“Taking on a new business can be quite a chore,” I say, trying to keep the conversation alive.
We step into the back room—cavernous, rough-cut steel and fissured masonry. Stark, with an ancient air of rust, decay. Too little light for too long. Its dankness sucks my breath away, gripping my throat with icy fingers. Startled, I stop—echoing footfalls trailing off into dead air. What is it?
Dead center, I turn around. She watches expectantly as I look at each massive wall, bottom to top, wondering what’s wrong. Rusted beams suspend a corrugated tin roof. Shards of blustery sky penetrate gaping seams. Crumbling masonry doesn’t quite reach, leaving ragged gaps of grey daylight. A quick shiver echoes through my soul. I’ve been here before. She’s hugging herself close, shivering. She feels it too.
Why is it so cold? I crouch to inspect the shadowy floor. A deep chill seeps out of the disintegrating concrete and rusted rebar. Goose bumps ripple up my arms, standing the hairs on my neck straight up. With a forced smile, I look up into her wide eyes, trying to reassure. “I don’t see anything.”
She stares, clutching and shivering.
Standing, I look up and around, trying to figure it out.
She glances furtively. Dusky walls, daylight seeping through the cracks and corners, rays of blue-grey light filtering through the roof. She feels it too. Her voice trembles. “I never come back here.”
Now I see it—igniting me like a flash fire. What’s holding up the roof?
She gasps, seeing it too.
“Get out!” I reach for her as I sprint for the doorway.
Tin roofing creaks as the walls teeter—a subsonic rumble penetrating my bones. Tearing metal screeches and concrete crumbles, spewing clouds of dust as the roof caves in. The walls, crashing down—chunks of masonry tumbling to the floor in a thunderous roar.
The ragged end of a rusty beam slams me to the floor, crushing my rib cage, rupturing my lungs, squashing the life out of me. I don’t even know her name.
I peer through scintillating luminescence. Who is that? Looking down on my mangled body pinned beneath the rubble, I realize I didn’t make it.
Angled rays of hazy light catch the dust in swirls and eddies. I see clearly, suddenly knowing where I am … who I am.
Glancing around, I rise to leave. And there she is, her leg grossly twisted beneath her splayed form. Dark blood oozes into crumbled cement, seeping from under her head. Yet as I stare at her broken body, she moves, backing out of that lifeless husk. And now she’s rising, too.
She stares at my crushed corpse. Looking up, she sees me, starting badly. Amazed, I reach out for her. She rises to me, extending an ethereal hand. I can hardly believe my good fortune. We will be together after all.
Pulling her close, I look into her eyes. I do know her. We pause above the tangle of twisted metal and fractured concrete. Dust swirls around us as we stare into each other’s eyes. I’ve always known her.
Suddenly a chill runs through me, a sense of dread. There’s still danger here. This was no accident, no fluke of nature. We must hide, leave—get away from this place. It’s a trap!
Pulling her along, I dive down to the parking lot. We scramble into my car, ducking below the dash. For the moment, we’re safe. But from what?
Peering over the dash, I see a shimmering wraith-like form hovering over the pile of rubble, its malevolent energy glistening. It’s snooping around the wreckage, hunting … for us.
It catches me looking.
Turning to her, I see my terror reflected in her wide eyes. We gotta get outta here!
We’re racing down the road, but how? Not in the car. Running? No. Flying, hand in hand, just above the cracked asphalt. Is it chasing us?
Veering off a long stretch of empty highway, we dive into a pile of age-worn boulders stacked next to a deep, twisting gulch. We slip into tiny, dark spaces beneath the jumble of giant stones, safe for now.
We huddle together under the rocks, waiting. After several dusks and dawns, we decide to move on. I need to go back and find out what’s going on. She just wants us to be together. She pleads to move on, away from here, away from it. I never knew I could be so close to anyone. I didn’t know until now, but I’ve always been looking for her. I want to stay with her forever. But I have to know. What is it and why is it after us?
She pulls me to her and we stay in each other arms for a while longer.
I creep through the tangle of weeds toward the highway’s dusty shoulder. She scooches up next to me, hiding in the underbrush. Looking across the sunbaked road, we’re shocked. The dingy little convenience store and its ominous back building stand intact. We look at each other in disbelief. What happened to the roof, the walls—our corpses?
We watch fretfully as the sky spins through several cycles of light and dark. Together, we weather time with crumpled cans and grimy scraps of plastic. Tattered bits of paper flutter around us, detritus blown by empty gusts crossing the lonely highway.
As the setting sun fires yet another twilight, our vigilance pays off. The glistening wraith-like form reappears, hovering over the floating tin roof. Hunkered in weeds and windblown trash, we watch our trapper, transfixed. It’s not of this Earth.
A frisson of fear runs through me as the corrugated roof quivers. A slight tremor runs through stark walls. Suddenly the roof caves in and the walls collapse, belching clouds of dust in a thundering din. The wraith-like malevolence shimmers through the dusty orange haze. It pounces on rubble, spreading itself over twisted tin and broken masonry like a shining cloak. It finally retracts, carrying two translucent spheres embedded in its shifting mantle. The centers of the small iridescent-skinned spheres move and sparkle as if alive.
A faint, airy tinkling, and more wraith-like forms materialize, shimmering with spectral hues in the fiery twilight. They all carry little spheres of their own and begin shifting the spheres around, swapping them back and forth, examining them closely.
She trembles next to me and I move to comfort her, realizing too late that they’ve seen me. Pouncing on us, they tear us apart. I hang on with all I’ve got, but she’s ripped away. I just found her… Absorbed, I’m wrapped into a tiny sphere. She wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for me. I’ve lost her.
Everything goes dark.
Spaced and hungry, I’m too long on the road. A tired facade of uneven masonry huddles between ancient cottonwoods, shimmering in the midday heat. A cracked and yellowed plastic sign announces the roadside café in faded red letters. Neon beer signs stare unfocused through grimy windows at the endless ribbon of asphalt.
Slowing, my tires raise small clouds of dust as I pull into the rutted parking lot. I hesitate, afraid that if I shut off the car I’ll have to go in. And from close up, I’m not sure I would eat the food. Maybe just a Coke.
The bell jingles as I open the weather-beaten door—the bell’s tinkling, sucked into a thickening silence. It’s as still as a mausoleum, its emptiness broken only by the sagging tuck-and-roll booths and worn counter. I’ve never set foot in this place, yet it seems like I’ve been here before.
I cross the peeling linoleum to perch on a rusting chrome stool topped with cracked red vinyl. I toy with a tattered menu from the salt and pepper rack, waiting to see if anyone’s here.
She pushes through the kitchen’s swinging door—her faded salmon uniform rustling with her natural grace. Her dark eyes catch mine with a tentative glance, a touch anxious, as if in recognition. She’s more than a little attractive. Yet, it’s not her dark hair, fine features, or petite frame to which I’m attracted—no, something in her eyes. She seems so vulnerable, so familiar. Have I seen her somewhere before?
In a small voice, she asks, “May I help you?”
“How ’bout a Coke?”
Deep liquid eyes glance at the floor. Small fingers push soft brown locks up behind a delicate ear, uncovering her silky smooth cheek. She fidgets in place, embarrassed.
Softly, she says, “The cooler’s down. We don’t have any ice.”
“Oh,” I say, disappointed. I want her. If only …
She lifts her doe eyes to meet mine with an undefined urgency, almost hopeful. A faint hint of a smile tugging at the corners of sculptured lips. Her eyes twinkle, despite her shyness. She almost whispers, “Maybe you’d like something else?”
Do I know her? Painfully aware of her nervousness, I look away. Does she really want me to stay? Her familiarity unsettles me. In my own embarrassment, I rise to leave. “Thanks, anyway.”
Copyright © 2014 by Michael Allan Scott, all rights reserved.
I hope you found this dark little fantasy entertaining.
Of course, your comments are always welcome.
For more on Michael Allan Scott, the mystery writer and the Lance Underphal mystery series, go to michaelallanscott.com
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