The Coffin Hop is in day five now. Twice I have teased folks with excerpts from Southern Bones. Let me make this up to those who have read those excerpts. The following story is one I considered placing in the collection—it made it through a couple of rounds, managing to not get cut until the next to last round of decisions. It’s a very short piece—less than 1900 words.
Being that this is The Coffin Hop, I would be remiss if I didn’t make sure and mention the link to all of the other hoppers. Please, check them out—there are over 100 authors and artists participating in the Hop. You will find something for every taste out there. Go here and hop, hop, hop along.
Before you leave, enjoy this little piece titled, Like Gravel Under Foot And when you’re done, hop on over to Amazon as well and check out my newly released collection, Southern Bones, which can be found here. Also, would you mind liking the Amazon page and consider leaving a review? This writer would appreciate it.
Without further adieu, here is Like Gravel Under Foot.
Not where I wanted to be. Not where I wanted to go. The car sat on the side of the road. Beth and a guy that used to be a friend were behind me in a town that used to be home. I kicked the fender as smoke billowed up from the engine.
“Piece of crap.”
I laid my head on the top of the car, fought back tears that threatened to spill, and took several long breaths. My mind scrambled for reasons things ended the way they did, but found none worth believing. Could it have been my fault? Maybe I just didn’t provide Beth with enough love or money or… or… maybe she just wanted someone else. It didn’t necessarily have to be my fault, did it?
The constant wind-whip of speeding vehicles rocked me the car. Some idiot honked his horn as he passed. I looked up, flipped him the long finger. The afternoon stretched out before me. The sun, though still high, couldn’t send the chill of the late fall day into hiding.
There wasn’t much in the car I wanted, but still I reached for the lock, pushed it down and slammed the door, taking only a back pack and a coat I feared I would need if I didn’t find somewhere to hunker down before night fell. It was laughable, locking the door of a car with a blown engine, one that would sit by the interstate until it was tagged and towed away to some impound where it would rot forever.
I hunkered my shoulders against the passing cars and their passing draft and walked on. Gravel crunched underneath boots, and though they weren’t the loudest sounds the world has ever known, I felt I understood it better than anything else at that time. The cracking, popping of small rocks against one another, ground into sand over time by cars, weather… or boots, it’s much like the heart when a man finds a friend in bed with his wife. There’s the crack and crunch and then the pop of dreams, hopes, desires, all within seconds of seeing two bodies intertwined together that should never have known that type of intimacy. There’s the grounding to dust of a heart underneath the weight of betrayal and pain. Yeah, I understood those rocks, and at the time, I felt as sorry for them as I did for myself.
The horn of the truck pulled me from my thoughts. I scampered further off the side of the road, onto the grass, my heart thumping, body shaking with adrenaline of almost being ran down by a semi. The truck slowed and coasted to the shoulder, as if trucks really coast. The brakes let out a loud, long hiss and the driver hopped out.
“Damn, son,” he said in a thick southern accent. “I’m sorry ‘bout that—you was walkin’ in the road and all. It was all I could think to do.”
I stood my ground, not knowing what to say or do and wishing like Hell that old rig would have hit me and ended this sack of crap life of mine. The burly guy walked up to me, his graying beard hanging down his chest, his blue eyes like two round marbles inside deep sockets. The hair on his head was as scraggly as his beard and an unbuttoned red and black checked flannel shirt hung off his shoulders, showing a grease stained white T beneath it.
“Boy, I really am sorry ‘bout that,” the trucker said when he reached me. “Are you okay?”
We stared each other down for a moment, my heart rate slowing and the rush of blood in my ears no longer sounding like waves along the beach.
“Can I give you a ride somewhere?” he asked, a bit on edge I guess.
“If you don’t mind. The next town would be fine.”
He nodded and clapped me on the shoulder. “Sure. No problem, buddy. Cleveland is about thirty miles on down the road. It’s on the way to Chattanooga.”
“Awe, hell no—we’re a good ways from that. It’s another Cleveland, right along this here interstate. Good, friendly folks.”
“Sounds good,” I said. “Let’s go.”
Most of the ride was kept in an uneasy silence, the driver cutting his eyes at me every few seconds as if he expected me to whip out a knife and slit his throat. I got the feeling he regretted making the offer the moment I accepted.
“So, why are you walking on the interstate?”
“Car broke down. Had to foot it.”
He nodded. “That red thing on the side of the road a couple miles back? Is that one yours?”
“That would be the one.”
More silence followed. I liked it that way.
Don’t talk much, do you?”
“Don’t have much to say.”
“So, where are you coming from?”
All the questions were irritating. I glanced at the guy. He had been staring at me, but then looked straight at the road in front of him. He tapped his pork-link thick fingers on the steering wheel and licked his bottom lip with a fat tongue. I wanted to laugh—he outweighed me by nearly a hundred pounds and he was nervous.
“If it matters,” I said. “I left behind a cheating wife and a not so loyal friend. As far as the name of the town—I’d just as soon forget it all together.”
He nodded. “Fair enough.”
Silence sat with us the remainder of the trip. I stared out the dusty windshield as the truck ate up mile after mile of interstate. We turned into a grungy looking truck stop a half an hour later than I thought we would.
“I gotta piss,” he said and then pointed to my right. “Just down that road about a mile is Cleveland. You should be able to get you a room for the night. Cheap hotels ‘round there and, if you’re lucky, a piece of tale will be walking around the parking area.”
He opened the door and hopped down. I unzipped my bag, pulled out a wallet and fingered out some cash. A moment later, bag zipped and back on my shoulder, I slid out the truck and walked around to the front. Holding out the money, I thanked the man.
“I can’t take that, son. It’s the least I could do after damn near killing you.”
I nodded, pocketed the money. “Thanks again for the ride.”
He shuffled away and into the diner, a bell ringing as the door opened and closed. I followed the road into town, my bag a little lighter and my burdens, well, they were somewhat lighter as well.
Cleveland’s a small town with only about a dozen real businesses in it. The one I wanted was the hotel and it sat near the end of the main street, beyond the small one car police department. Inside the parking area was a homely looking girl with long legs and wearing an outfit that said if she bent over she would show the world all her goods, both front and back. I thought of getting to know her better, but then scrapped the idea. I hoped not to be there too long.
Inside the hotel room the bed was hard, but a welcome reprieve from the day just passed. I closed my eyes, dozed and woke an hour or so later. The shower of hot water on tense muscles relaxed and rejuvenated me. I thought of taking a nap, maybe spending the night. Then I thought better of it. I had a job to finish. I took my bag and coat and made my way to the small diner near the center of town. The food was greasy and the coffee thick—and better than anything any of those fast food joints can come up with.
“You gotta phone I can use?” I asked the elderly, blue haired waitress after paying my bill.
“Round the corner by the men’s room.”
I nodded my thanks and walked back to the bathrooms. I hadn’t seen a payphone in years. Honestly, it made me smile. I dropped several quarters into the slot, dialed and waited.
“Briarsville Police Department, how can I help you?” the pleasant voice on the other end said. She sounded young and beautiful, like my Beth.
“Yes, Ma’am,” I started. “I was just riding with this guy in a light blue Peterbuilt rig—got a ride after he damn near ran me down. He was acting all nervous and jittery. We talked for a while before he let me out at Ruth’s Truck Stop off 95. When I was climbing down from the truck I noticed some pictures and a bloody knife under the seat. There was also a torn pair of bloodied panties. I glanced at the pictures when he went to the bathroom—the photos looked like a couple of folks had been sliced up pretty bad. I’m almost certain they were dead.”
“Sir, where did you say this was?”
“Just off 95 at Ruth’s Truck Stop.”
“Where is the driver now?”
“I don’t know—I got the hell out of there as soon as I saw the pictures. If he’s capable of doing that type of work on two people, I didn’t want to know what he could do to me.”
“Do you know where he was heading?”
“He said something about Chattanooga.”
“And what did—“
The phone went back on its cradle. The dispatcher had all she needed to know, and if I was lucky I would be long gone before they got anyone with half a brain to track down the trucker. I walked out of the diner, leaving a tip on the table. I lit a cigarette and took a long drag, letting the smoke fill my lungs and lighten my head. Twenty minutes later I was back at the interstate and the sun was going down.
I smiled as I reflected on the day. I had taken pictures after I finished off my wife. I made her watch, you know, as I took out her love—and my long time friend. I didn’t bother with torturing her—she would have begged me if I had given her a chance. I may not have been able to finish things then. But there was one particular picture of Beth and her sex toy, their bodies cut to ribbons, their heads on the pillows of the bed she and I once shared. Yeah, that was a good snapshot. I had tossed one it in the restroom on the backside of the diner and made my way to the road. I didn’t know how many men had pissed there since my ride had but it was just one more piece of evidence to link him to the murders. After all, somebody had made an anonymous phone call.
As night settled in for the long haul, I walked the interstate, shoulders hunkered against the wind as vehicles raced by me. I still felt sorry for the gravel beneath my boots, but I no longer felt the crushing pressure and pain of betrayal. In the distance sirens cut through the night.