1. Midnight Rider
It was just past midnight when our—well he ain’t exactly a hero, a man called The Squid—pulled off the highway in Wendover to get himself some coffee and diesel. His big black Mack truck rumbled into the Flying K with all the subtlety that a pair of brass knuckles has for a glass jaw. The anthropomorphic chrome octopus hood ornament on his truck held a deck of cards in one hand and a mud flap girl in the other. It’s an awful strange ornament, but then The Squid is one strange dude, and the ornament was probably how he got his handle ’cause he sure wasn’t in the Navy, leastways that I know of. Despite his being a long-haired weirdo outta Shakey City—that’s Los Angeles for those of you that don’t speak Trucker—The Squid’s a pretty congenial fellow. He’s forty-something and dresses for comfort in shorts and rock-&-roll T-shirts along with a favorite cardigan sweater from his longtime girl, Jeanie. The Squid’s a generous tipper, he picks up hitchhikers and ain’t afeared to give anyone that Nazareth or Deep Purple T-shirt off his back. Quick with a joke or a song, he’s the kind of guy that always gets free pie and an extra smile from the waitresses, but he never lets it go to his head neither. Always on time with his loads, The Squid is always “Truckin it up.” That’s just the kind of trucker he is. You’d like The Squid, he’s good people.
Anywho, it fell on April 30th or Walpurgis Nacht—that’s “Witches Night” for a quick translation—back in 1986 that The Squid and his good buddy Ogre got themselves into a bizarre mess of trouble with a heap of near-impossible-to-believe repercussions, and this time it weren’t The Squid’s fault neither. You see, when he stopped off at that Flying K, he had no idea what was heading his way from so far off, and a man can sometimes get mighty surprised. But I’ll take a step back now and just let the story unfold for you in its own way.
After fueling up, The Squid went inside the diner and sat himself down on a ripped vinyl stool at the counter. A waitress in a teal uniform with shockingly red hair looked him up and down. “What can I do you for, hun?” A lit cigarette dangled from her lips with a long cherry of ash teasing that it was about to drop.
“Java, darlin’. I gotta get to Denver by tomorrow afternoon.”
She winked and poured him a cup. The fading cherry from her cigarette fell into the steaming black coffee. The Squid’s eyebrows raised. She turned to walk away.
“Uh, ma’am? I’m gonna need a fresh cup.”
“What, ’tain’t good enough for ya, sugar?” she asked with a red-stained smile.
The Squid squinted, wondering at her teeth and deciding it must be lipstick. “No, I mean, yes. I need a fresh cup; your ash went right in the java. I don’t mean to be picky, but come on.”
“So? So, I need fresh java. Come on, I got a long way to go and a short time to get there.”
“Uh huh.” She pushed the soiled cup a couple spaces down the counter and grabbed another from somewhere beneath. The Squid peered inside to inspect the potential lack of cleanliness as she poured it full. “Here you go, Your Majesty.”
She snorted at that and walked away.
Ogre, a tall beer-bellied trucker with a Dixie-flag ball cap, walked in, slapped The Squid on the shoulder and sat beside him. “You made her mad. Gotta watch out how you treat people, Squid. You can’t go getting personal about how people run their business.” He grinned wide, his smile framed with a Fu-Manchu mustache beneath tinted aviator shades that he never took off.
The Squid turned and shook Ogre’s hand, answering, “The thought did occur to me, but I wasn’t gonna drink that.”
Ogre laughed, reached for the tainted cup and swallowed it, ash and all, then loudly belched.
A full body shiver wracked The Squid. “You’re a sick man.”
“Like Sun Tzu said, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.’”
The Squid shook his head, “Never mind, I ain’t even gonna try and correct that.”
“How’s the highway been treating you?”
“Good, good. I gotta burn rubber to Denver and then pick up a load and get it to Tucson.” He leaned up off his stool looking for the vanished waitress. “Where’d she go? Fix her weave? I need to order some grub.”
Ogre nodded. “You catch more flies with honey than liquor, Squid. Plato said that.”
“You have got to get your white-trash facts straight, my friend.”
Indignant, Ogre spouted, “White-trash facts? Squid, I am the most well-read trucker on these highways. Don’t make me draw you a picture.”
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Like Sun Tzu said, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.’”[/pullquote]
The waitress returned and Ogre smiled at her. “Evening, ma’am. I’d like a dozen eggs and a side of bacon and do you have any…” Ogre glanced out the window and noticed the flagpole. His demeanor darkened. “Squid, do you see that?” He pointed an accusing finger outside.
Ogre grimaced and sputtered, “Out there is a gold-fringed flag on that flagpole! That is the flag of an Admiralty Court and here we are in god-fearing, five-wife-loving Utah!”
“Nevada,” corrected the waitress, with the cigarette stuck to her heavy lipstick.
Ogre frothed, standing up and shouting loud enough for the handful of other patrons inside to pause and look their way. “Last time I checked this was still America! Not a U.N. Charter stop-and-shop. Take that flag down now!”
The Squid put a hand on Ogre’s shoulder. “You can’t go getting personal about how people run their business. It’s still an American flag. He’s had a long day,” he directed the last sentence at the waitress.
Ogre slammed the counter shouting, “No, this will not stand. I’m gonna give my diesel back! I’m taking my business elsewhere! You Commie sons of bitches!”
“Ogre, calm down.”
“Am I wrong here?” asked Ogre, his breath coming in angry spurts.
Dark as it was outside, a bright flaring light arced overhead accompanied by a wretched grating noise akin to colossal nails on a titanic chalkboard. It turned everyone’s attention away from Ogre’s tirade. Appearing to be some type of rocket or craft, it tumbled violently in a downward spiral through the night sky. Green and orange flames backlit the grey smoke trailing behind like a twisted comet. The waitress’s cigarette fell from her slack-jawed mouth.
Holding fingers in their ears, The Squid, Ogre and others stepped out the café doors to watch. The weird light sparkled and fizzed, turning a variety of colors as it cascaded eastward. It looked like it would hit just a couple miles away. Then there was a thunderclap and blast of brilliant green light. Dust fell from the eaves as tremors rippled through the truck stop.
Ogre slapped The Squid on the back. “That’s right down I-80! Let’s go take a look!”
The Squid glanced back to see the waitress picking her nose while pouring another cup of coffee. “All right, let’s go look. We’ll find somewhere else to eat…”
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, available now!