Authors: Peter Meredith
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Benny hesitated, his foot coming off the gas to hover over the brake, his instincts to help someone in need, fighting against his better judgment and a natural inclination to laziness. Then, seconds later it was too late. The girl on the side of the road was behind him and just a diminishing blur in his rain-streaked mirror. She had seemed very small.
“Ah crap,” he whined, his foot still uncommitted. He was a thin man and would have been considered short if not for his neck, which resembled that of a turkey’s: long, thin and ringed. Just then it was torqued around as he tried to squint into the night. He never stopped for hitchhikers; it was stupid and dangerous. Yet this one had been simply a girl.
“Yeah, but I’m already late.” He had downed three too many beers and now it was after one in the morning. In his mind he knew Jane would be waiting up. She wouldn’t greet him with a kiss, instead she’d nag:
Where have you been? How much have you had to drink?
She'd ask even though she knew exactly where he’d been and that he'd drank too much.
He was late; it was cold; his wife would kill him...these rationalizations against doing the right thing failed when he thought how small the girl on the side of the road was. She had to be freezing out there and was probably scared out of her wits. He was on an upslope and without gas pushing his aging Jeep Liberty, he was slowing rapidly. Behind him, down the hill, the girl was only a wavy, ghost-like figure in white.
“She’s probably a runaway,” he said to himself as further argument to just keep going. Runaways meant all sorts of trouble: drugs, thievery, maybe even prostitution. Why would he want to bring that sort of mess home to the wife?
The Liberty was now crawling along and his foot went to the gas, but a last thought went through his head: what if someone else picked her up? Someone not so nice as Benny Robinson. A pedophile maybe, or a rapist, or, God forbid a serial killer?
He sighed long and wearily before putting the Liberty in reverse. It hummed back toward the girl who was standing in the same place, drenched to the bone. She didn’t even look toward the car heading right for her.
“Fuck. She’s on drugs for sure,” he said. Benny was all set to regret his decision to come back for her until he saw how fantastically young she was. She didn’t look any older than eight. “Fuuuuck,” he said again, this time slowly, letting the word draw out until he had backed the Liberty to a stop right in front of her. He leaned over the E-brake and opened the passenger side door, expecting her to jump in. However, she didn’t. She only stood there wearing nothing but a hospital gown that clung to her skinny body.
“Get in,” he yelled to her over the downpour and the slapping rhythm of the windshield wipers. She didn’t budge. “It’ll be ok,” he cried louder. “I won’t hurt you.”
She swayed for a few moments and then moved with awkward and jerky motions. It was bizarre--she was bizarre. For some reason she stepped up onto the seat instead of sitting on it. It was like watching a manikin that had come to life.
“No, step down there. Not on the seat. Put your foot…down there,” he said, trying to guide her without being too “touchy.” He was afraid she would bolt and he didn’t like the idea of having to run around the forest trying to catch her. When she had finally folded herself properly into the car, he asked, “You ok?”
“I’m…fine.” The two words crawled out of a phlegmy throat in a low growl. The answer had been an automatic reply, given without any thought whatsoever. Benny guessed there wasn’t much going on in that bedraggled blonde head. She sat staring straight ahead, her mouth partially open, her eyes dull and unfocused. He glanced back up the road, wondering where the hell she had come from. There wasn’t a hospital anywhere around there as far as he knew. He was just west of Hartford, Connecticut on a lonely stretch of road. There wasn’t much around them but trees and a whole lot of rain.
With his long turkey-neck twisted back his eyes fell on the gym bag he had thrown onto the rear seat. He started to reach for it but stopped as the girl finally came to life. Her head quivered on her neck and she bared her teeth like an animal about to attack.
, Benny thought. It was as though she wanted nothing more than to tear out one of his ribs with her small feral teeth. If he had to guess, what with the hospital gown and all the weirdness, he supposed he was dealing with some sort of mental case. But where there was a loony bin around there he didn’t know.
“It’s ok,” he said, bringing up the bag nice and slow so as not to freak her out anymore. “I’m getting you a jacket to keep you warm.”
In answer she pulled her lips back even further and in the dark her mouth seemed strangely virile and hungry. Her hands started opening and closing and she bunched in her seat, again like an animal ready to spring.
“Ok, you don’t want a jacket? That’s fine. I’ll just turn up the heat.” With exaggerated movements he turned the heat up to its highest setting. “Is that better?”
The question confused her. She started rocking, staring out the front window, making a gurgling sound deep in her throat.
Benny gave a little cough. “My name is Benny…or Ben if that’s easier. What’s your name?”
She didn’t answer. Instead she balled her hands into fists and her eyes grew large as if she were about to explode. Though it was dark inside the Jeep Liberty, he couldn’t help notice that there was something wrong with the girl’s eyes. They were very dark; the pupils were deep pits and seemed to be the size of quarters. The whites of her eyes were like those of a frightened horse. They were two little crescents below those black pits.
“You don’t look so good,” Benny said, putting the car in gear. “I think I’ll take you…” He stopped in mid-sentence as her chin, a little point of a thing in her heart shaped face, jerked in his direction. Her lips were curled into a snarl. “Just relax. It’ll be ok,” he said, holding out a hand to her. She struck at it fast as a spitting snake, drawing blood with her ragged nails. She went to strike again and that was when he saw that she had part of an IV sticking out of her arm. Thick black blood oozed from it.
He pulled his hand back. “You need to settle down,” he said sharply. “Or I’ll kick your ass out. You don't want that.” When Benny had seen what sort of shape the girl was in he had figured he would find the nearest hospital for her. Now he changed his mind. There was a State Trooper station not far down the road. In ten minutes, she was going to be their problem.
He went heavy on the gas, one eye on the road and one eye on the girl, who had begun to pant. The rain picked up, thrumming hard on the roof. When he jacked the wipers to full speed she panted faster as if trying to keep time. Despite all this, Ben wasn’t afraid—she was probably no more than fifty pounds after all. What he felt most was some sort of instinctual disgust. He was repulsed by her on a gut level, and when a passing truck illuminated the interior of the Liberty, that revulsion went beyond the subconscious.
Benny gave a glance at the girl and did a double take. He had thought she was a dirty blonde, but now he saw her hair was so pale it was practically white. It was on her scalp where the dark color showed through. Her skin was black with what looked like dirt, and there was more of it in her ears and down the back of her neck.
But it couldn’t have been dirt, not with all the rain. It resembled black lichen or maybe mold…
“Whoa,” Benny said, under his breath. The Liberty had drifted to the shoulder of the road while he had been staring at the girl. He corrected his course and then glanced again at her and saw that now she was staring back. Or rather she was glaring at him in hatred.
“Don’t…stare…bitch,” she said. Her words had come growling up from deep in her throat.
“Sorry. I’m just worried about you…” He glanced again at her in midsentence and she screeched over his words.
“Fine,” he said, swinging his eyes back to the road and subconsciously accelerating. As much as he wanted them to, his eyes wouldn’t stay focused on the road. Benny likened it to driving with an angry cheetah in the seat next to him and, of course, he had to sneak another look.
“No!” the girl screamed and then launched herself at him.
Her right hand grabbed the steering wheel, her left raked across his bare arm as she pulled herself towards him, her greedy teeth searching hungrily for his neck. In that split second he saw her gums were black like a dog’s and that her tongue was coated with that same filthy, awful mold.
She was strong for her size, but still light compared to him, so he was able to hold her back from his throat. Her teeth snapped and gnashed the air just inches from the soft skin of his neck. She was absolutely wild and with some justification his right hand found her neck and he squeezed without regard for her age or her sex. He squeezed hard, hoping she would respond to the pain.
She ignored the fact that he was crushing her windpipe; all she cared about was tearing a chunk out of his flesh. Like some sort of snake she twisted and slithered in order to get at him.
With a long grunt he forced her back and held her at arm’s length. Her right hand had never left the wheel, which meant…
Tha-dump…Tha-dump…Tha-dump! The sound was urgent, loud, and brief. In the second before the crash, Benny was filled with the dreadful knowledge that he had strayed too far over the edge of the road and that with this little fiend attacking him he’d never be able to right the vehicle quickly enough.
In slow motion he turned from the monstrous thing he had by the neck and saw that the Liberty was pointed straight toward a steep embankment. Benny had been doing seventy in rain-slicked conditions and now he slammed on the brakes. They locked up tight and with dirt under the front wheels and wet pavement under the back, the Liberty spun.
Benny knew to turn into a skid; however his world had become a merry-go-round of flashing white teeth, of rain running sideways and of black forests going in every direction. He hesitated a half-second too long and then it was too late. The Liberty went off the road and began to roll.
During the first rotation every window blew out and the roof crumpled down four inches. The girl let go of his arm to go ping-ponging around the interior of the car sometime during the second rotation. In the middle of the third, something struck the crown of Benny’s head and the world went soundlessly black.
When he awoke, the night was quiet save for the steady ticking of the cooling engine and the pitter-patter of the rain. It was coming in through the front where the windshield had been and was striking him square in the face. The angle was strange; it didn’t make sense until he realized that the Liberty had settled on its rear quarter; it was nose up in a sharp gully.
Benny tried to move, to look around, but a terrific pain engulfing his right neck and shoulder stopped him. With a shaking left hand, he explored where the pain was greatest and felt something jagged coming up through the collar of his shirt. It was his clavicle and it was an absolute misery to touch. “Oh, God,” he whispered, wondering how the hell he was going to get out of there when he could barely move.
He began feeling around the door with his left hand when something behind and below him at the bottom of the car, stirred. It was the girl!
It hurt like a beast to turn his head so far around, but he was suddenly petrified of the little girl. In those last few seconds before the crash it was as though she had changed. She had stopped being human and had become a—his mind wanted to reject the word “monster”, but it fit far too well. He remembered he had squeezed her throat so hard that it would have crushed the larynx of a normal girl but she hadn’t even blinked.
With a whiney moan in his own throat he turned and saw that the girl had been injured as well. Along with many gashes and wounds, her left arm was folded beneath her at a horrible angle. Her elbow had been broken in the crash and now it bent the wrong way--her flesh was split open from the unnatural position and there was something dull and white showing through that resembled the cartilage off the end of a chicken drumstick. The sight of it, even more than his own injury, made him want to puke. The feeling grew worse when she ignored her mangled limb altogether and climbed to her feet. For a second she stood where the back window had been, her bare feet in mud.
Then she started to climb, baring her teeth and drooling as though hungry, her eyes were all black now.
“No!” Benny screamed. He tried to turn; he tried to get away, but his right side was practically paralyzed and he couldn’t reach his seat belt with his left hand. In desperation he looked around for a weapon, anything he could use to stop this horrible creature, but there was nothing. Then she was on him, her small teeth tearing into his neck, her body shaking like a terrier with a rat until she tore off a chunk of hot flesh.
With Benny howling in misery and uselessly calling for help she chewed the flesh of his neck, slurped the hot blood, swallowed and went back for more.