The Rat Man


The black swallows the dark ribbon of asphalt as soon as the weak headlamp beams die.  The vast desert around is an amorphous silhouette only delineated by the stars stabbing the velvety sky above the mountains obscuring the highway.  The drone of the Volkswagen’s engine rings in the interior, the dashboard lights casting eerie pale green on two young faces staring at the passing tumbleweeds and Joshua trees crouching at the gravel shoulder.

There’s no moon to cast silvery illumination on the scene.  There are no following cars to light the car’s cracker box interior.  Ahead, out of range of the headlights, a semi roars through the night, setting a pace the couple is content to follow.

The cross-country journey from California to Georgia is shortened as much as possible each time they take it.  They drive through the night when they can, sleep in a motel only when exhaustion overtakes the determined, stubborn husband, and the wife demands only the finest in roadside amenities for relieving full bladders.  The miles pass beneath the car in seeming endless procession, but they are on a limited budget, both for time and money, and sacrifices must be made.

They’re approaching a bastion of civilization, a tiny puddle of lights and humanity in the midst of the ocean of black.  An oasis of a sort.  It’s visible just before the base of the mountains when the terrain dips and the road angle permits.  When it rises again, like a mirage the glittering blue, orange and yellow jewel vanishes without a trace.

She sighs.  The long trip can be grating.  They bicker sometimes.  But now, boredom and monotony have the better of her.  She stares at the pane of glass to her right, but sees more of her own reflection than the geography beyond.

The car jolts and shudders, and her husband swears under his breath as the rocking taps her forehead into the window.

She jerks her head forward in time to see the huge trailer ahead of them, marked by a series of amber lights strung across the top edge of its rear and the crimson burn of tail lights, swerve hard left, tipping wildly as if to topple.  Smoke of melting rubber launches at the tiny car, blocks their view for an instant as it plumes around the semi, then clears to reveal the truck swinging back to the right, regaining its wheels.  The blast of the air horn stabs the night.

“What was that all about?” she asks, rubbing her head.

“I don’t know,” he mutters.  “Crazy sonuvabitch musta fallen aslee—”

The VW bounces and rattles, skitters to the side as if driving on loose river rock or crumbling cobblestones.  She gasps and slams her hands against the dash and the passenger door, stomping her feet to the floorboard to brace her body in the high-backed vinyl seat.  He curses again, fighting the wheel, and risks taking one hand from the wheel to reseat his jarred glasses back to his face, the car sliding left.

The road is a carpet of tiny bumps, teeming and roiling nearly to the dividing double yellow line at the center.

Rats.  Millions of rats.

She gives a stark shriek, deadened and hollow in the tiny bubble of the car.  On the road, in the lane ahead of them, a figure looms amidst the rodent hoards.  The high collar of the black cape on his shoulders rises to the brim of a top hat seated above a gaunt, bony face of ghastly white, the cape’s tail lost in the swarming vermin at his feet.  The rats scrabble up his back, arms, legs, and tumble down as he walks along the middle of the road, into oncoming traffic.

She draws breath to scream again, but terror locks the sound in her throat as the car’s tires find purchase on the asphalt again, around the slick, bubbling brew of rats, and begins to go around the ghoul.  A lunging step takes him near the center line, and he bends to stare with jaundiced bloodshot eyes into the passenger window, following the car as it passes with his head, bluish eyelids and lips within reaching distance of the glass.

She tries again to scream, but only a sobbing hiss escapes.  He accelerates as fast as the tiny motor will permit, and within a few seconds the specter is lost to the blackness behind them.  The road crests then slopes down, and ahead they can see the glittering jewel of the tiny town ahead once more, beckoning them to hurry through the miles to its safety … and light.

=======================================================

This is a true story as related to me by my parents, so I’ve posted it here instead of on my fiction blog.  Hope you enjoy.

-JDT-

All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.

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13 thoughts on “The Rat Man

  1. Willardesque! Love the way the town bobs in and out as a mirage. Makes it feel foreboding.

    Thanks, Jaymie! I, of course, have no memory of this person, but my parents swear to the story. I thought it fit the season. 🙂

  2. Where did you say that road was? I don’t want to go anywhere neaar it.
    http://www.sandysays1.wordpress.com

    Hi, Sandy, thanks for stopping by my little corner of the blogosphere. All I can tell you about the road is it was either Interstate 40 running through Arizona or New Mexico, or it was Route 66 in the same general area. I don’t recall the details of the story well enough to say authoritatively, but I’ve driven the route many times since and have not seen the man in question. This occurs more than 40 years ago, so I think you’re safe now. 😉

  3. You are a magnificent, utterly brilliant weaver of tales, Darc. This is fantastic. So descriptive and captivating. Made my heart leap.
    If this is a true story, I’m staying off 40 and 66 forever.
    I loved this–really, really loved it. BRAVO.

    Well, thank you D! I, personally, thought it wasn’t my finest effort, but I’m so flattered you liked it! … and yes, this is a true story — IF one can ever be sure of truth from one’s “family”.

  4. Dane, when you are “on” you are simply the best there is. You weave words like a Navajo weaver making a blanket to keep one warm. This is delicious and wonderful and many an adjective I haven’t learned yet. Fantastic and brilliant will have to do. I’ve been on I-40 from where it begins near LA to St Louis though never at night. After this I will stay clear after dark.

    Aw, thanks Sara! I’m really glad you enjoyed it. I traveled this road at night with my then-toddler son and wife, and I have to tell you it’s not as described anymore. It’s a freeway like many another, so I think you’re probably safe should you need to speed along in the fog-wreathed night. 🙂

    • It was a freeway when I was on it. You have fog in the last line. And see I told you they would love your childhood memories.

      Technically, these aren’t my memories; but I’m glad everyone’s liked them. 🙂 I like fog for atmosphere, but I don’t think there’s any where this fellow was. 🙂

  5. Bravo Dane! Gripping and visual. I loved it. Who doesn’t love a thick fog rolling in like a blanket at this time of year! The eyes were masterful, you painted the picture expertly.

    Thanks, Beth. No fog in this one — I wonder which part gave you that impression, so I can fix it? — but I appreciate the compliment. (And, yes, I LOVE a good, thick fog — in fiction OR in real life. 😉 ) This was the desert of the American southwest, so it’s a nice, clear area without the water for fog, as I recall. (Not from this story, of course, but from subsequent journeys. Heh. 🙂 ) Thank you again and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    • Nope, came from Sara’s comment. Sorry, even a girl cannot multitask a million things. *sigh* It is a very good story. Long empty roads are my haven … or were until now. LOL

      Hehehe! Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it, and thank you again!

  6. That was the best kind of scary story: the kind that doesn’t try to get into my head to horrify me later while I’m trying to fall asleep, but just makes me feel all the more safe and content to be right where I am.

    A man covered in rats in the middle of the road? Creepy!!

    Well, it’s certainly something they haven’t forgotten. 🙂 I think getting in your head is fun, though, Spark … so you better watch out for me … HA! 😉

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