The car was almost out of gas. Larry and Vince were almost out of friendship. Larry stuck to the back country roads, driving like a maniac. He’d already scored half a dozen kills, wiping out farmhouse mailboxes.
“This sucks,” Vince said.
“The hell with it,” Larry said.
“The hell with what?” Vince said.
“The hell with you,” Larry said.
He swerved the car for no reason and drank his beer the same way. Vince was the college graduate. Larry, the dropout. The world disgusted them equally. Which was about all they had left in common.
“Look the hell out!” Vince said.
“For what?” Larry said.
“That thing!” Vince said. He pointed through the windshield at a hulking mass, ugly on the road before them. Larry braked hard, going into the downhill hairpin turn, not really caring whether he hit the thing or not, just riding his instincts, into the grave if need be.
Fifty feet past the turn, Larry screeched the car to a halt. The shape in the road bent half upright and crawled not on its knees toward them.
“What the hell are you doing?” Vince said.
Larry checked the rearview mirror and gave no reply.
The shape ambled closer. It wore a trench coat stained from the years and a scraggly beard netted with many prizes. Moonlight dappling down through the trees made its approach all the more hideous by lending it a certain beauty.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Vince said.
“Shut up, College,” Larry said. “This bum might be good for a few laughs.”
He had high-top sneakers and a face in there somewhere, Larry observed. Vince cranked the window up on the passenger side.
“Suicidal jackass,” Vince mumbled.
While Larry was distracted, the old man disappeared from the rearview mirror, only to reappear on the left side of the car inches from Larry’s face.
“Boo,” the old man said.
“Jesus Christ!” Larry said. But it wasn’t.
The old man hung on the door with his too-long arms dangling down inside the car.
“You boys need a lift?” he cackled and wheezed.
“You got it ass backwards, old man,” Larry said.
“Maybe,” the old man said. “Maybe I do.”
He seemed to be laughing at Larry’s nonchalant bravado. Vince squirmed farther away against his escape hatch.
“I say we floor it the hell out of here,” he said.
The old man grinned through what teeth he had.
“Naw,” Larry said. “I think we’ll give this guy a lift. At least until we decide where to dump his body…”
Non-threatened, the old man climbed aboard. He sprawled across the back seat of the classic Impala, filling the compartment with his whole history all at once, carried in the smells and sights of him, as well as the words waiting unsaid in his throat.
Larry squealed the tires for no reason and jetted them through the darkness.
Chin on chest, the old man spoke with eyes focused upon the rearview mirror up front. “You boys out from the city?”
“Who the hell cares?” Larry said.
“Not you,” the old man said. He lifted a scraggly finger toward the passenger side. “Him. He’s the interesting one.”
“Screw off, old man,” Larry said.
The next instant he found a box-cutter at his throat.
“Holy Christ,” Vince said.
The old man leaned into the front seat whisper-soft and agile. Larry’s bladder let go and darkened the crotch of his jeans.
“Well, lookit Mr. Pissy Pants here,” the old man said.
Larry kept his foot on the gas as if aiding his escape.
“Why you wanna hurt us, old man?” Vince said.
The box-cutter withdrew from Larry’s throat. The figure in the back slumped again into the shadows.
“Hurt ya’? I’m here to help,” the old man said.
Larry took a swig of beer and snorted it through his nose. “What the hell we need from you?” he said.
A flash of yellowed teeth responded. “Wait and see. Wait and see.”
At a cornfield crossroads, Larry pulled over to air out his jeans. Vince took a roadside leak before suffering the same fate. The old man stayed in the car.
“If we both rush him we can dump him on his ass before he knows it,” Larry said.
“Sure,” Vince said. “You might look good with that knife stuck in your throat.”
“Well, what’s your idea, candy-ass?” Larry said.
Vince watched the cornstalks sway upon the night wind.
“Get myself a new best friend,” he said.
The old man waited them out. He seemed half-asleep when Larry pounded on the roof to rouse him.
“Time to get out, old man,” Larry said. “You’re not as much fun as I thought.”
Nothing in the car moved. “Sure I am,” the old man said. “Just give me a proper chance ta’ prove it.”
Vince, at the passenger side door, shrugged, then climbed in.
“You two lovebirds havin’ a fight?” the old man said.
“Go to hell, you bum,” Larry said. He bounced into place behind the wheel and shot gravel from beneath the tires making their exit.
After a moment of quiet, the old man said, “What makes ya’ think I ain’t already there?”
Winding roads followed. The night kept on coming, straight toward them. No amount of wind through the cabin blew the old man’s stench away.
“What the hell are you doing out here?” Vince said.
“Waitin’ for you guys,” the old man said.
“You mean company? A ride?” Vince said.
“Nope,” the old man said.
Vince spoke with ego, just to spite Larry. “Why’d you say I was the interesting one?”
“Just the truth,” the old man said. “After so many years I can’t tell nothin’ else.”
“I ain’t feelin’ entertained,” Larry said. “That’s the cab fare you promised, old man.”
“Larry, shut the hell up,” Vince said.
Larry wondered how to crash the car just on the passenger side.
“Question is,” the old man said, “what the hell are you guys doin’ out here? Besides lookin’ for a makeout spot…”
Larry honked a few blasts on the horn because it was there.
“We came out celebratin’,” Vince said. “I graduated.”
“And I didn’t,” Larry quickly added.
“Ape school will still take ya’, dropout,” the old man said.
“How’d you know I dropped out?” Larry said.
“What else could ya’ do?” the old man said.
“College wasn’t his thing,” Vince said.
“I went ta’ college,” the old man said. “Learned everything there. Still came out scratchin’ my head over women and the world.”
“What else is there?” Vince said.
“Amen, brother,” the old man said.
Larry tipped his beer bottle all the way back. Then he smashed it hard off a stop sign otherwise ignored in passing. Up in the mountains, the air got cold and thin. Expensive housing developments dotted the landscape below, as the city approached.
“Them cookie-cutter lives ain’t for me,” the old man said. “Can’t be what the world wants or you’ll be nothin’ at all.”
“You sure look like nothin’ to me,” Larry said.
“Difference between bein’ and becomin’,” the old man said. “Can’t ever catch what ya’ chase. Need the wisdom ta’ just be what ya’ are.”
The old man pulled a flask from the inside pocket of his soiled trench coat and took a hit.
“What’d you do, piss in there?” Larry said.
“Maybe I did. Maybe that’s where the wisdom is: in my piss. It sure ain’t in yours. We’d have smelled it by now.”
Vince laughed. Larry didn’t. They went over the top of the mountain and down the other side.
“I’ve got things I want to do,” Vince said, “but the world will never let me.”
The old man scowled and scratched and spit. “Give yerself permission, boy,” he said. “Don’t get a job. Don’t waste your life pleasin’ others. You’ll never get that time back. Live, for chrissakes. Just live!”
Larry snorted again. Vince nodded. Daylight peeked over the towers in the distance. The city approached.
“Here’s my stop, boys,” the old man said. He pointed to a burnt out abandoned lot coming up on the left, where the brick buildings were only half fallen down. Larry jerked the Impala to a stop just shy of the rubble.
“Figures you’d live in a garbage dump,” Larry said, “with all the trash that comes outta your mouth.”
The old man threw open his back door. “Take care a’ Mr. Pissy Pants,” he said to Vince. “He’ll spend his life miserable an’ never even know why.”
Vince grinned, more on the inside than out.
The old man crawled out and moved away without a backward glance. He disappeared into the ruins, into places the daylight couldn’t find.
“Maybe it was his home,” Vince said. “Maybe it burned down.”
“I should’ve burned him down,” Larry said. He checked the floor for more beer bottles and couldn’t find any. “You ready to go home?” he said.
“Sure,” Vince said. “I’m ready to go.”
Mark Joseph Kevlock
Mark Joseph Kevlock has been a published author for nearly three decades. In 2018 his fiction appeared in more than two dozen magazines, including 365 Tomorrows, Into The Void, The First Line, Toasted Cheese, Literally Stories, The Sea Letter, The Starlit Path, Fiction on the Web, Youth Imagination, Bewildering Stories, Ellipsis Zine, Scarlet Leaf Review, Terror House Magazine, Yellow Mama, Down in the Dirt, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Mystic Blue Review, and Friday Flash Fiction. He has also written for DC Comics.
If you enjoyed ‘The City Limits‘ leave a comment and let Mark know.
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