Robert Pettus, author of Cologne At A Touch, is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of Cincinnati. He has previously published short fiction in Apocalypse-Confidential.
Cologne at a Touch
That’s what the advertisement on the wall of the pisser said. It was a large metal square container. Buttons spherically surrounded the middle casing of its door, displaying apparently classic scents such as Obsession, Eternity, and Polo. Luke stood staring bewildered, detached… foggy. He swayed back and forth, as did his piss as he made it – at least mostly – into the grimy toilet. The bowl wafted up a stench so fowl that Luke wondered, even from within his stupor, how anyone could possibly buy cologne when the obvious smell invading their nostrils was that of literal rank shit.
He stumbled while finishing his stream, falling back and pushing open the stall door, splashing a bit of urine on his pants.
Cologne at a Touch…that’s what the advertisement on the wall of the pisser said.
He zipped up before leaving the restroom. He was at a gas station/donut shop combination near Lexington, right off the Bluegrass Parkway on Versailles road. He was heading back to Cincinnati after a night of seeing his parents back home in Abry. He and his dad had a bad habit of staying up, drinking coldbeer late into the early morning, playing darts, and listening to classic rock. That was what happened the night before, and instead of paying the inevitable price, Luke delayed and chose to continue the party.
A sixer of PBR and an additional 16oz. Miller Lite slid across the counter to the clerk; a baker’s sixer, as Luke had always called it. She grabbed them, scanned them, and placed them roughly into a black plastic bag.
“Early morning for you, huh, hun! This dog hair all you need?” She was chewing gum – periodically smacking her lips.
Luke didn’t like when people he didn’t know called him hun. Hell, he didn’t really like it when anyone called him that. Nobody he respected ever called him that, and he was sure that anyone he could ever develop a respectful relationship with would ever call him that. It pissed him off. He stared at her vacantly:
“Yeah, that’s it.”
He placed his card into the chip reader, removed it, ignored her as she moved to hand him his receipt, and hurried out of the building. The smell of fresh Krispy Kreme donuts was briefly intriguing – he hadn’t eaten since before the bulk of last night’s bender – but he decided against it. The beer would be enough. Pork chop in a can, as his dad always said.
The parking lot was empty. The sky was still dark. It was early – not yet light outside. The wet, chilly morning air was refreshing. The sleeping city was comforting. Luke opened the doors of his withering maroon Toyota Scion and tossed the beers into the passenger side.
He would crack open the first one as soon as he felt he had clearance – a little past the Kentucky Castle, in Versailles. The Scion sputtered down the road. The horses were already awake, grazing in the morning dew of the Bluegrass. Fog rose up into dark nothingness, readying itself to be inevitably split by the emerging sunlight. The path home to Cincinnati was clear.
The road was rickety. The sky was orange. Everything was clear but also somehow simultaneously damp and murky. The steering wheel held true. The gears of the speeding Mazda Protégé were shifting cleanly – from third, to fourth, to fifth.
John was on the road back – on the Bluegrass Parkway – from Lexington to Bowling Green.
He passed the gas station with the Krispy Kreme donuts and morning PBR’s just as Luke was pulling out, not that he would have noticed even if he’d seen the little Scion – he wasn’t in the frame of mind for noticing things. He was, however, certainly in the mood for speeding. He had been speeding for going on ten hours, and there was no stopping the bus any time soon, as far as he cared to tell. The heat from the radiated tangerine sky fueled his speed. The speed he had done also, undoubtedly, fueled his speed. That and the bag of mushrooms he had scarfed down like a famished squirrel. He was still riding those hard, too; he knew that from that overhead orange blur; from the unnatural luminescence glowing from the yellow lines in the middle of the road.
John was loving it.
He needed some cigarettes, though. A couple smokes with the windows down would do him some good. So a couple of miles down the road from the Krispy Kreme PBR station, he stopped at a Speedway.
He passed the gas station with the Krispy Kreme donuts and morning PBR’s just as Luke was pulling out, not that he would have noticed even if he’d seen the little Scion…
Wrenching the shop door open unnecessarily aggressively, he smelled the sweet, heavy flour of those shitty biscuits they use to make breakfast sandwiches. Upon experiencing this scent, and as if by instinct, he robotically walked over and grabbed a sausage biscuit.
He slid its plastic wrapping across the counter, looked manically up at the clerk, and asked for a pack of L&M reds.
This cashier didn’t call him hun. She didn’t say anything to him. She looked like she had had just as rough of a night as Luke or John. She was currently experiencing the pain and mental anguish they would also inevitably experience.
Upon getting back into the car, John briefly laid back and relaxed. He put his key in the ignition and turned on the radio. Life’s Been Good by Joe Walsh rang out at max volume throughout the vehicle. John packed his cigarettes in rhythm with the music. He sang along, altering the lyrics to fit his current situation:
“I live in hotels, tear out the walls! Ain’t got no accountants… so I just… bail!”
“My Protégé can go pretty fast! I lost my license, but I still drive!”
After finishing his first cigarette, he tossed it out into the parking lot and opened the glovebox to store the rest of the pack. Upon opening the box, he noticed a small zip-lock bag of white powder laying there innocently.
“Well, holy shit!” he yelled excitedly, “I must have ganked some before I left! Hell yeah!”
He opened the bag, scooped out a healthy portion onto his pointer finger, and quickly sniffed it.
Although already in good spirits, he was now in an even higher state of mind.
John got back on the road, quickly shifting gears – faster than was likely advisable – back into fifth. His car was wobbling, but he thought it was probably vertigo from mixing the shrooms with the glass.
That wasn’t the case.
The Protégé slid and then spun into the guard rail, smashing the passenger side window, throwing literal glass all over John. He was wide awake. He (wrongly) considered himself alert. He was unhurt.
Luke cruised through the interchange from Newtown Pike to I-75 North. The PBR was tasting smooth – fueling his spirits as he scampered down the highway in much the same way gas fueled his car. War Pigs by Black Sabbath, coming through 92.1 WBVX classic rock, was playing at max volume. Luke was singing along:
“Generals gathered in their masseeeeeeeeees! Just like witches at black masseeeeeeeees!”
He thumped with his palm on the dash in rhythm with the countdown-like guitar riff. He was staying in the lane furthest to the right, watching his speed closely.
His phone started ringing. Glancing down, he tried to judge whether or not it was worth answering. It would ruin his jam session. He noticed it was his brother, John. Thinking it strange that John would be calling at such an early hour, he decided to answer:
“Hey! What’s up?”
“What would you do if your tires got slashed?” said John.
“What? What do you mean? Where are you?”
“I’m…. uhh… somewhere. What would you do if your tires got slashed?”
“Your tires got slashed?”
“Uh…yeah… somebody slashed them. What would you do?”
John was speaking in a stupefied, vacant tone of voice, almost as if he barely had any idea where he were.
“Where are you right now?” said Luke.
“I’m on the side of the road. Someone slashed them. What would you do?”
“On the side of the road? Like in Bowling Green?”
“No, I’m on the BG, heading home from Lexington.”
Luke realized that he had likely passed John on the road less than an hour ago. He should turn around and go get him, he knew, but he was drunk. Cops would inevitably show up sooner rather than later. Plus, he didn’t want to risk driving back through Lexington again.
“Are you sure someone slashed your tires?” he said.
“Uh… yeah! Somebody slashed them!”
John wasn’t making any sense. It was as if his mind, at that point, was only capable of focusing on a singular, only possibly true, feature of his current circumstance.
“Look,” John began, “You need to get the hell out of there. You’re fucked up, I can tell. Start walking down the highway, away from your car, and call an Uber. Get the Uber to take you back to Abry; it’s only 25 minutes away. You can stay at mom and dad’s.”
“An Uber?” said John.
“Yes!” yelled Luke, “Call a fucking Uber! And when you do, send me a screenshot of the order confirmation so I know that you did it.”
“Okay, okay,” John conceded, “I can do that.”
He still, it was very clear, had absolutely no idea what was going on.
Luke hung up the phone, exhausted. He turned the radio back up. It was Paranoid, also by Sabbath – a double feature. He grabbed his PBR and took a healthy swig. The road was still clear, but the darkness was dissipating. Light shone through the clouds, through the windshield, into Luke’s eyes. He winced, noticing his dormant, perpetual headache for the first time in a few hours. He slapped on his sunglasses, blinked a few times while adjusting to the shift in tint, wiped the newly beading sweat from his forehead with the bottom of his t-shirt, and forged ahead.
John fumbled his phone after hanging up, bobbling it in the air and then catching it just before it fell and cracked on the road. Did someone slash his tires? Why would anyone do that? He got out of the car. Light, coming through the clouds and signaling the beginning of the day, distorted the unreality of the previous orange nightly glow, shifting it into a much more real yellow sunlight and blue sky. He walked around his car, to the back tire on the driver’s side. It was totally ripped to shreds. He stumbled back in confusion, falling briefly into the road as a car sped by. Its blaring horn alerted him and he instinctively fell forward back onto his car – his sweaty palms imprinting themselves on the windows.
He should call an Uber – Luke was right about that. He had to get the fuck out of here. He grabbed essential items from the center console, locked up, and started walking south down the highway, in the direction of Abry.
Opening the Uber app was a chore in itself. He temporarily forgot his unlock code, which was simply 0000. He was trying the last four digits of his social, his birthday, his mother’s birthday – any collection of four number that might make sense. He even, amazingly, took out his credit card, as if to insert it into his phone. Upon realizing that his unlock code was 0000, he began to understand how absolutely fucked up and detached he at the moment was.
The gravel, trash, and glass lining the side of the highway crunched under his black Nike tennis shoes as he trekked along the shoulder. The road was completely straight; John could see miles down the highway, until the heat of the emerging day blurred it into a mirage-like haze. He wasn’t sure if the blur was being caused by the heat or by the effects of the drugs, or some combination of both.
Opening the Uber app was a chore in itself. He temporarily forgot his unlock code, which was simply 0000.
After unlocking his phone, he ordered the Uber with little trouble. Annie was on the way – she would be there in 18 minutes, which was actually pretty fast, considering how far outside of Lexington he was. He began feeling hopeful. He took out his iPod, one of the old classic models with the spin wheel in the middle, and clicked on his classic rock playlist. Train in Vain by The Clash filled his ear space, unavoidably creating some pep in his step. He shuffled down the road more leisurely than before – actually having a good time. The drugs, though slowly wearing off, and though certainly disrupted by the sobering events of the car wreck, where still going relatively strong. The hot mirage, at first seen as a threat, now looked like the source of new adventure.
Luke tried to forget about his decision not to go back and pick up his brother, but it was no use. He was a piece of shit, and sometimes his choices made that unfortunate fact all too clear. The beer was still flowing, though. The Black Sabbath was still blasting, but he wasn’t having any luck getting into it. He was in a lousy mood. His Toyota Scion, as if confirming his label as a piece of shit person, grumbled in agreeance.
The day was continuing to brighten and emerge, and with it so were John’s spirits. So what that he blew a tire on the side of the road? Was that such a big deal? Was it going to be the end of the fucking world? Hell no! He was still speeding pretty good. He had on a solid, comfortable pair of kicks. Hell, he actually liked walking. It was a good day.
Cars sped by periodically, whooshing and creating a very brief sense of dread as their gust pushed him, when he unintentionally staggered too close to the edge of the road, safely back into the shoulder. He wondered where the hell Annie was, and then looked at his phone and noticed it had only been 10 minutes. No matter, he was still having a good time. He became a little pissed at himself, however, upon realizing that he had left his cigs in the car:
“How in the hell could I be so fucking stupid?” he said to himself, “That’s like the one thing you absolutely need for a long walk of shame down the highway!”
He was right about that, but it dampened his mood for only a couple of minutes. He was fucking walking – downhill, even – and he couldn’t be stopped.
Upon reaching the bottom of the hill, he stepped onto a bridge, grabbed the guardrail, and looked over the side, down into the water, about a hundred feet below. Light reflecting off the muddy green flow shone up and momentarily blurred his vision, inducing a throbbing headache. He was nonetheless excited, despite the pain. It was the Kentucky River – the major artery that for millennia had grown the bluegrass and nourished its wildlife. It was a signal that he was indeed going in the right direction, which – considering he was simply walking down the highway – should have already been easy enough to determine, but considering his current mental state, was never absolutely certain.
He stopped for a second and looked again at the water, almost convincing himself he could see little bluegill and smallmouth bass swimming around down there.
“I could go for a fucking dip!” He yelled loudly to the river.
He turned and looked back up the hill and saw a car speeding toward him:
“That’s my girl, Annie!” he said cheerfully. He was right about that.
The music was still blasting and the beer was still flowing. The Scion was holding true – cutting a path through the open road back to Cincinnati. The Lexington-based classic rock station had faded, being replaced by an alt-rock station from Ohio. That made no matter to Luke – he loved jams from both the 70’s and the 90’s. He continued his sing-a-long, this time to Weezer:
Say it ain’t soooooooo! Your drug is a heart breakeeerrrrrr!
He was really getting into it. He had almost even managed to forget his decision to leave his brother stranded on the side of the road – its memory only briefly flashing through his mind every couple of minutes or so. He was having a great time, but he needed to remember to watch his speed and avoid swerving. He kept telling himself that. He was also beginning to feel a little drowsy. Nothing too major – the booze and tunes were keeping him in good spirits – but his body’s natural urge to sleep was finally fighting back against his never ending party. He batted his eyes and – after nearly smacking it against the car horn – jerked his head back into an upright position. He cracked a window and let the hot, dry wind blow in from the interstate. That snapped him back into a more alert state of mind. He checked his phone for new messages. There were none.
Annie drove a red Camaro. She pulled up onto the shoulder, nearly smashing into John as he staggered back, squeezed against the guardrail, involuntarily turning and looking back down to the river below. He was all of the sudden not in such a mood for a dip anymore.
She had the top down. She had music blaring – it was Forever and Ever, by Randy Travis.
John, almost regretfully departing from his wonderfully lonesome trudge down the highway, got into the car and – even in his mentally mangled state – remembered to buckle in. Annie turned to look at him, yelling over the music:
“Hey there! I’m Annie, your Uber driver! We’ve got quite a haul ahead of us, don’t we! All the way to Abry! That’s quite a trip!”
“Yeah, it sure is,” responded John. His mood, upon getting into the car, sank. He wasn’t speeding or tripping quite as hard as he once was, he left his smokes in the car, and now he had to ride with this strange Annie lady.
Annie was a large woman. She sat domineering over the steering wheel of the Camaro – driving it as if in a race. She was wearing an old looking brown dress with a pale green turtleneck underneath. A gold crucifix hung down from her neck; entangling with the flowing sides of her brown hair. She was singing:
I’m gonna’ love you forevvvver! Forever and ever, amen!
“I just love this song!” she said, “It’s so… wholesome! You just can’t beat it! Don’t you agree?”
“Yeah…” said John, “I’d say it’s pretty damn wholesome.”
“Hey!” shouted Annie over the music, “No cursing in my vehicle! Else I’ll spit you out right back on the side of the road where you came from!”
“Oh,” said John, “I understand. I’m sorry.”
John both looked and felt more and more miserable by the minute. He needed to relax. He decided to recline his chair, looking back into the tiny backseat and, while leaning back, noticing a large sledge hammer in the cushion of the leather seat.
“What are you doing with that big old thing?” he said with a tone of genuine innocence.
“Oh, that!” responded Annie, “Oh, you know! Never know when you might need to bust something up! But no, really! I’ve been out at my sister’s house, helping her tear down an old shed. That thing was absolutely rotten! Falling apart! I don’t know how she let it get that bad… Old sledge busted it right up! It will bust up most things, that old girl! Lucille, I call her!”
John didn’t respond, He kept staring back at the hammer, not because he was scared or curious about it, simply because he was zoning out. He was mentally detached. In any other case, he would have stayed awake and made sure he arrived home safely, but he was currently in no condition. He was crashing. He yanked the lever of his seat and crashed his chair into the backseat of the car and passed out almost instantly upon impact.
The wind blowing in from the highway through the window – buffeting his face as he cruised at a moderate speed – only for a brief time sparked Luke’s wakefulness. Eventually, inevitably, he began floating off to sleep in spite of it. He slapped himself. He chugged the rest of the beer. He cranked up the volume as high as it would go – Creep, by Radiohead, now screamed out through the well-worn speakers:
What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here…
Luke again dozed, drifting further off the road than he yet had, only awakening just before smashing into the guardrail; the rumbling, grating VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV sound from the treads on the roadside being the only thing that kept him from destroying his trusted Scion, and his own person – which he admittedly didn’t care for too much. Wake up bumps, as dad always called them. Or growlers – he had heard that one too.
Regardless of their name, they saved Luke. He swerved, slightly overcorrecting, back onto the road – through the right lane and into the center lane – forcing a semi-truck to also abruptly swerve, its trailer swaying uneasily. It blared its horn, skidding with authority into the empty left lane.
Luke was back on the road. He waved apologetically at the truck driver. He vowed to stay awake. He was less than an hour from Cincinnati.
John woke up, startled, without any idea of where he was. He looked around. He thought to himself:
“Where the hell was I when I passed out? What was happening in my fucking life?”
He couldn’t for the life of him remember. He promised himself he wouldn’t get so goddamn unnecessarily fucked up anymore. He kept thinking, trying to remember, and finally it all came back in an instant.
“Fuck!” He yelled.
He remembered the glass and the shrooms. He remembered the cigs and singing to Joe Walsh. He remembered crashing his car at daybreak and walking like a lonesome hero down the road. He remembered getting picked up by Annie. He remembered Randy goddamn Travis. He remembered leaning into the backseat and seeing that hammer. That fucking hammer.
Upon regathering his memory, his eyes widened. His neck shot up and his eyes darted wildly around the room. He had absolutely no idea where he was. No fucking clue. It looked to be a small shed, though clearly new. The walls, though cheap, were very obviously recently installed. He smacked the wall nearest him hard, with obvious ignorance – especially in his current situation – of the benefits of stealth, noticing that it was paper thin. It was some fake, flimsy paneling. It sounded hollow. It bent when pressured.
John rose, intending to get up and open the door, or – if necessary – bust out of this goddamn place. He jerked up and fell hard back down to his bed. He was strapped in, and unlike the walls, the straps were no joke. He was stuck. He looked around the room. He could hear the ticking of a clock. It was one of those old black plastic clocks common in high-school classrooms. The ones students always look at, waiting for the signal of the end of the day. Like the students, he also looked at the clock, though he knew he wasn’t going anywhere.
The truck driver wasn’t happy. Luke, his tiny Toyota Scion now cruising only yards ahead of the front of the massive truck, tilted the rearview mirror so he could see into the truck’s cab. He saw an angry, wild-eyed man very aggressively giving him the finger and screaming, a missing front tooth on full display. Luke flipped his turn signal and veered back into the lane furthest right. He wanted to resume his safe, modest pace so he could focus on getting home without falling asleep. And, of course, also to focus on slamming his last beer before his estimated arrival time of twenty-three minutes.
He made it over into his perceived safe-lane, only briefly veering into the emergency lane – its gravel and treads again jerking him into a more correct position. He thought he was in the clear. He was wrong.
The semi, its red cab now flying ahead, swerved across the highway toward the right lane. Luke looked and saw the truck’s cab again billowing and swaying uneasily. The advertisement on the side of the truck read MARS in bold red and gold lettering. Nearly lifelike, massive candy-bars seemed to be falling out of the cab as it swerved across the highway, as if they might fall into the road and obstruct traffic like a tree trunk.
The truck made it into Luke’s lane, settling and slowing just ahead of where he and his Scion were cruising. Luke’s eyes snapped open. Fear and anxiety crept up his spine and into his scent glands as he – despite all of the booze – for the first time truly smelled danger. His brother’s accident hadn’t fazed him – not all that much. Nearly crashing hadn’t worried him either – that sort of thing happened all the time. But seeing and knowing that someone – someone driving a massive, unstable truck – was trying to harm him, snapped Luke back into reality. He felt afraid. He felt sober.
John had been lying on the bed for what seemed like hours. It wasn’t really hours – it had only been twenty minutes – he knew that from the constant ticking of the clock. It seemed like a long time, though. He had no idea where he was. He had nothing to do. He could barely move. The clock, other than the siding of the wall, was the only thing he could look at. Staring at a clock, somehow, was the more interesting choice.
After a time, the doorknob began rattling. It was an old, shaky knob – made of rusty brass. It was tightly connected to the brittle wood of the door, shaking around in counterclockwise fashion as it rammed against the door. John knew someone was trying to get in, not only because the fucking door was rattling around, but also because the minuscule bit of light shining in through the skeleton keyhole had been plugged up.
He laid back down, pretending to be asleep. He had absolutely no idea how that would help him out, but he figured it was his only option considering he couldn’t move.
Closing his eyes was frightening. She would soon be standing over him, he knew. Standing over him with that axe, perhaps. He pressed his eyes more tightly closed, as if the increased pressure would further shut out the inevitable reality of the situation. The door handle continued rattling. Finally, it jerked open.
The truck driver wasn’t letting up. Luke tried slowing down. He slowed to less than 40 miles per hour. It made no difference. The truck driver slowed – the truck’s breaks groaning from the sudden force – as quickly as Luke. The driver was seemingly hell-bent on exacting whatever justice he felt he was due. Since slowing down clearly wasn’t going to work, Luke then tried speeding-up. He gunned his Scion, slamming the gas pedal to the floor as it hummed in increasing pitch as if to question Luke’s decision. It shifted gears laboriously – jerking, sputtering and revving loudly as it jetted down the highway. He had created some distance between himself and the semi, but only for a short time.
Luke glanced into his center console. He saw an old package of Orbit spearmint gum; quickly grabbing it and tossed a piece into his mouth. He began chewing vigorously, hoping the friction and the grinding of teeth would relieve some of his anxiety. It didn’t work. The truck was now barreling toward him, going much faster than a semi ever should. It made up the distance in no time; the Scion – doing as well as it could – was no match for the truck. Luke again looked in the rearview mirror and saw the wobbling bed of the truck rushing toward him – swaying back and forth in time like a metronomic doomsday clock – like a steel, gaseous, bellowing reaper.
Luke swerved back to the slow lane, again trying to avoid his oncoming doom. There was an exit a mile ahead – Exit 159: Dry Ridge. The sign advertised a Wendy’s, a Cracker Barrel, and a Pilot gas station. Luke again floored it, hoping he could swerve onto the exit before the truck driver noticed.
Skidding chaotically onto the ramp, Luke sped toward the red light, completely intent on speeding through it if necessary. From behind he again saw the truck. It had made it onto the same on-ramp and had not at all slowed its pace.
As Luke sped through the light, he veered hard left. He was clipped by an oncoming mini-van, which then swerved right, in the direction of the on-ramp, directly into the semi-truck. The van crashed into the side of the truck, denting one of the previously perfectly painted Mars bars. The van flipped and spun into the guardrail – its windows shattering and spraying all over the road. The semi, now more wobbly than ever, continued its trek toward Luke. Losing balance at the last moment, the truck bed fell crashing onto the top of the Scion. Luke pressed both his hands to the ceiling of his car, as if to blunt the force of the truck. He closed his eyes. Luke, along with his car, was crushed.
Sweat trickled down John’s face. He knew his sleeping act was worthless, but he still couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes. Only a couple of seconds ago, he had felt a shadow cross over him – a slightly cool force, and an even darker shade from within his already purposefully manufactured blackness. He knew that when he opened them, he would see his fate.
No one said anything. John kept waiting for the sound of a voice, but it didn’t come. She was waiting. She didn’t want to alert him to her presence; she would allow him to open his eyes on his own terms. He could feel her smiling. That terrified him further. He couldn’t do it, but he had to. Finally deciding to accept his situation, John opened his eyes.
Luke was somehow still conscious. He coughed. He coughed again. Blood expelled from his mouth and stained his white Nirvana shirt. Dave Grohl’s hair quickly dyed from brown to dark red. He couldn’t move. The windows of the Scion were shattered, but there was no way of escaping out of them. His ribs were crushed – that was a fact. His wrists were also completely twisted. He felt pain in his face just below his left eye socket – that was probably broken, too. He let his head fall back, as much as was possible, and stared out the window. The tractor of the truck had flipped over, also slamming into the guard rail, though the on the other side of the road as the minivan. It was lying on its side. Smoke billowed from its engine. The driver’s side door, facing directly skyward into the burgeoning sunlight, opened. As if unharmed, the driver jumped down to the road and began walking toward Luke.
Luke tried to hide, but had nowhere to go. He heard the click and step of the truck driver’s cowboy boots approaching.
John couldn’t see anything at first. The door to the shed had been opened, briefly blinding his sight after opening his eyes and revealing himself from the safety of his closed-eyed blackness. Once his eyesight started clearing, he saw the image of Annie standing over him. She looked no different than he remembered, but she was nonetheless somehow more terrifying.
“Hello!” she said.
John said nothing. He shielded his eyes from the light and squinted into her eyes, instinctively trying to look as innocent and prey-like as possible.
“Helloooooo, I said!” She then lifted from the ground the axe she had had in the Uber. She flopped it down onto John’s knee, giving absolutely no heed for its weight. He groaned in pain.
“How do you like my shed?” she began. She raised the axe and swung it slowly around the room, as if using it as a presentation tool. “I love this place!” she continued, “It’s my happy place, and you’re my happy person! At least for today, that is! That’s why I drive my Uber around, for the most part! The extra cash is okay, but I love catching delinquents like you, just so I can take care of them. Its police work! That’s what I’m doing! It’s God’s work! You’ve got a substance problem, I can tell that for sure. Walking down the highway early in the morning, broke down vehicle, eyes blood shot and droopy. But you still looked happy! You definitely have a substance problem. Substance problems are no good – absolutely no bueno! You can’t have a godly society with drunkards waltzing down the highway in the early morning! Not to mention you cursed in my car! She’s fragile, my vehicle! You can’t do that!”
“Whaa… what?” said John, “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“There’s that cursing again!” shrieked Annie. “That’s why I have Lucille, here! To rid the world of nasty people like you!”
She then raised the axe and brought it down directly into John’s skull.
It was dark for him again, as he had liked it.
Luke’s vision began blurring as the truck driver approached. The pain he felt, in combination with the glaring sunlight, made it difficult for him to see anything – but he still noticed the shape of his impending reckoning.
“Well hello there, boy!” the truck driver said, squatting down to ground level and making eye contact with Luke. His eyes were manic – completely crazed. Red veins ran wildly from massive dilated pupils like dark matter fleeing an ancient black hole. He continued glaring, moving his head closer to Luke’s. He leaned inside the car, carelessly placing his hands on the broken glass in the window. It cracked under the pressure of his palms.
“You really pissed me off, you know that!” he said, “You nearly made me lose my goddamn load veering across the road like that! I don’t fuck with that bullshit! My load is my goddamn livelihood! Someone fucks with my load… that means that I fuck with them! Just like I’m about to fuck with you!”
“But… but!” Luke – much like his Scion – sputtered.
“But, but what!” screamed the truck driver.
Spit sprayed into Luke’s face. It smelled like cigarette smoke, stale coffee, and asshole.
“You’re coming with me!” he continued, “And you’re not going to like where we’re going!”
He reached his hand into the car, grabbing aggressively at Luke’s arm to pull him out. He kept jerking Luke around, seemingly unaware that Luke was still strapped into his seatbelt. The squeezing pressure was, for Luke, almost unbearable. The pain he was already experiencing, combined with the pushing and pulling from the truck driver, only crystalized the damage his body had taken from the crash.
The truck driver kept tugging at Luke’s arm:
“Aw, shit!” He finally said, “Didn’t even realize you were buckled in! You well-behaved little bastard!”
He then shifted his hand over to unbuckle the seatbelt. The belt clicked.
After that there was another, unexpected percussion – a very loud pop. The truck driver fell, his head crashing into the car door.
Blood from the gunshot wound spilled all over Luke’s face. The dead eyes of the truck driver – his face only inches from Luke’s – stared at Luke vacantly. Luke witnessed the rapidity with which his previously dilated, colorful eyes shifted into a less animated, more passive state.
Another face leaned into the door:
“Son,” it said, “Son? Are you okay?”
“Fuck no I’m not okay!” yelled Luke. He began heaving, struggling for breath asthmatically.
“Let’s get you out of here,” said the police officer. He then looked to signal the rescue squad, who had just showed up.
Luke passed out. It was more comfortable than being awake.
If you’ve enjoyed Cologne At A Touch, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.
For online archive of short fiction (longer pieces) on Mystery Tribune website, you can visit here.