Strange Race

The last intact panel of glass had blistered and so stood upright magnifying the scene outside of the phone booth in which Russell Scales was standing.  His veins burned all up and down his arms, clinging like vines to tree trunks.  His temples were fixed in flex because his teeth were clenched to stop himself from grinding them to powder.  His jaw jerked, lips reverberated—shockwave spreading and collapsing.  His left eyelid recoiled behind his eyeball so that for a moment it seemed to float in the air.  And then an immediate return to his default clutch.  Sweat hardened on his face in leprous salt craters.  He pulled the phone from the hook and pushed some coins into the slot. 

His jaw jerked.

It pulled the cramp in his neck.

A storm sat on the horizon behind him in a crimson sky scratched through with charcoal lines like some terrible mistake—unable to be erased, blotted out, or forgotten.

He mumbled into the receiver, into the silence.

Scales was tired of it; ultimately exhausted by his survival.  Cyclones pogoed into the line of fire toward the back of the rubescent dome.  The atmosphere was alive with lightning.  “You told me not to bother.  I have to tell you, to get this off my mind,” he said.  Debris clattered against the metal frame of the phone booth.  “But I know I’m not getting through.”  A coyote with an open wound in its flank strained through the rootless panorama.  He counted its steps; noted the silence of the gory beast’s struggle to persist.  Looking at the cord he had been absentmindedly twisting he saw it was severed and for the first time felt the handset moving untethered against his ear.  He spun round and round in the booth; sweating, hyperventilating.  The ruddy sky became a lung heaving for air and finding little.  Dead satellites pushed out by its surface fell once more into their unknown orbits independent of all control but physics.  He saw the wind before he felt it blowing through the booth, wheezing in his ears.  His little brother again.  Gasps muffled through the thin attic wall.  Scales staring at the corroded brass lock slid shut to keep his brother from escaping.  Just a game, he reminded himself.  Just a game.  “I didn’t know he could die.  I swear, Mom, I swear I didn’t know.”

Scales jaw jerked.  He bashed the handset into the faceplate.  The coyote was swallowed into the wasteland.

He came up short when he reached for the door.  Confused, he pushed his hand out again grinding his forearm along the shard crowned frame.  His affect plateaued, “Memory was a name.  Name was a game.”  Walked across the crushed gravel lot, “Game was the same.  Same gets the blame. The blame game.”  Boots kicked up dust flying faster than Judas’ dying prayer.  He put a hand on his motorcycle, “Name of the highway,” he put his ass on the seat.  “Name of the highway is…”  He kicked the starter.  Nothing.  “Highway is…”

“Unknown.  Shut up and ride,” Scales heard.

He looked down, braced and watched the road fly beneath the knucklehead.  He rode toward the horizon, away from the storm.  A cobweb of nerves short circuited around his elbow and he released the handlebar but still the cycle rode straight.  The engine roared.

“At least one of us is in control,” he heard.

“I need to take a car next chance I get,” Scales said.  The cycle accelerated and a recriminating thunder pealed atop the highway.

A jagged line of ruby glass cut a shark’s grin at the end of the lot beside the highway.  It glowed with the headlamps of a car coming up the highway.  The blood fell to the ground and splattered.  Four men stepped out of the car beside the phone booth.  The driver put up his hand to motion them to stand still.  The driver went to the booth and ran his finger over the busted faceplate and then along the glass where Scale’s blood stood.  He ran his finger through the blood and put it on his tongue.  His jaw unhinged with a loud rusty metal clang and chomped shut just after he had pulled his finger away.  He nodded to the others at the car.

© William L. Domme