Sheriff Betty parked on the shoulder of Creek Road—well, “shoulder” was a generous description, given that her cruiser was practically in the woods, and that she had to force back knee-high overgrowth just to get her door open. Most of these back roads were only roads in the sense that they were slightly wider than walking trails. That made this little phenomenon with which she presently faced even more puzzling, the one she was eyeballing in her headlights as she kicked her way through tangled grass.
She’d come upon another derelict. This one was a four-door sedan that looked like it might be a couple of decades old—she wasn’t certain of the make or model at first glance, and walking around the abandoned vehicle didn’t offer any answers. The paint may have been cream-colored in a past life; now it looked like the skin of a bloated corpse, mottled and sickly. The sheriff aimed her flashlight through the driver’s side windows. The interior was brown leather—there might have been a small stain in the driver’s seat, she couldn’t be sure. Doc Spence kept telling Betty she needed a prescription for her eyes, reading glasses at the very least, but she hadn’t budged in her refusal. A woman cop took enough crap as it was, no matter who her daddy had been. She didn’t need bifocals compounding the issue.
The sedan’s plates were a mystery unto themselves. There was no indication as to what state they were from. No registration stickers either—the sheriff could only assume that they were fakes, and bad ones at that. No wonder the car had been ditched out here just south of Timbuktu. Whoever had been using—or misusing—this rolling eyesore must have finally figured out that the vehicle was a little too distinctive in its absurdity.
Betty knelt and leaned in to get a good read on the plates. The block lettering said NV-GO. Or maybe that last one was a zero, not an O. She scowled and grabbed the radio mic clipped to her shoulder. “Dispatch, wanna put me through to Jared or Abel? Got another ghost car.”
She recited the car’s limited description, along with the plates—November Victor Golf Oscar, or maybe Zero on that last one–—but she didn’t expect the dispatcher’s computer to get any hits off that, and she was right. Meanwhile, she imagined, Jared over at the salvage yard was being awakened by a middle-of-the-night phone call. A few moments later he was on his CB and being patched through to the sheriff.
“Where you at, Betty?”
“Creek Road. It’s an odd looker if I’ve ever seen one. Not sure what else to tell you.”
“You said Creek Road?” Unintelligible muttering followed. Betty needn’t be able to make out the words to know they were colorful. Then Jared grunted, “I’ll see if I can get the truck out there. Creek Road. Damn.”
While she was waiting, Betty tried the doors. All stuck fast. Trunk too. The locks themselves were weird. She’d never seen these yawning triangular keyholes. Betty went to take a good look at that possible stain on the driver’s seat. It was there, all right, but it didn’t scream “blood” any more than it did “coffee” or “beaver fever.” That last one was the nasty byproduct of drinking creek water, and it in and of itself may have justified abandoning a befouled vehicle.
When Jared’s rig came trundling along, Betty had to return to her cruiser in order to try and move it over further, providing the tow truck enough clearance to situate itself in front of the mystery vehicle. Jared managed to make his way past the other two cars, although from the sound of it he took a few low-hanging branches with him. The bearded, bleary-eyed man slid out from behind his wheel and walked back to have a look at the derelict. He cast a glance Betty’s way, arching one bushy eyebrow. Jared wasn’t a day over thirty but he already looked like his old man, both in countenance and posture. He pulled the hook and chain down from the boom arm on the rear of his truck. Betty got out of her car to join him.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Betty went to take a good look at that possible stain on the driver’s seat. It was there, all right, but it didn’t scream “blood” any more than it did “coffee” or “beaver fever.” That last one was the nasty byproduct of drinking creek water, and it in and of itself may have justified abandoning a befouled vehicle.[/pullquote]
“Wanna see if you can jimmy it open and put ’er in neutral?” Jared asked without looking up. He knelt with a grunt and began slinging the tow chain around the derelict’s bumper. “Hope this bumper holds. Can’t reach that axle with all the goddamned thistles under here,” he muttered. “Pardon my French.”
But Betty only half-heard him as she headed back to her car to retrieve a slim jim, then started working on the driver’s door of the derelict. Couldn’t find the lock mechanism inside the door. She moved the slim jim back and forth and it seemed like there was nothing at all to catch onto. Was this thing even a car?
That seemed an odd thought, yet it stuck in the sheriff’s mind as she circled the vehicle.
“Can’t get any of these doors open,” she finally said with a sigh. Jared shrugged and turned on the winch attached to the boom. The derelict’s front end lifted out of the underbrush and its foremost tires settled on the truck bed’s rubber mats.
“We’ll see what happens,” Jared said, returning to his cab, and a second later he started to ease forward. Would the derelict’s rear wheels lock up and fight him? Betty waited for the screech of metal. Blessedly, none came. The derelict rolled after the truck without any complaint.
Jared braked and leaned out his window. “You want to come by tomorrow to process ’er? I’m dead on my feet right now.”
“That’s fine. Good night.” Betty watched as the two vehicles, moving in tandem like mating junebugs, crept down Creek Road and were eventually swallowed by the trees. Betty felt plenty bushed herself. Tomorrow she’d spend the morning poking through that car. Until then, dreamless sleep. At least that’s what she’d hoped for…
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, coming in April from Cold Fusion Media!