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On a dark road

Started by Richter, December 19, 2012, 03:29:02 AM

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Richter

"It's not like that damn movie with the bus or anything." 

The old man behind the counter was still talking.  I was held there only by the prospect of change for my $20, otherwise I'd have been long out the door. 
The neon tube behind me shifted a pitch in the death throes buzz it had been in the last two times I'd been through this place.  Well dusted condoms and packs of cheap "Backwoods" cigars lay just behind the counter.  Strange candy bellow cans of dip and more mundane "Malboro" cartons.  Everything seems fake in a gas station minimart, but this one had some sort of monopoly.  Dirty linoleum, scratched metal rack shelving, ecru drop tile, and the bare plywood wall behind the proprietor.  It all added up to the last place I wanted to gas up the car, feed up myself, and head on.

"The skitters will still come though, if you linger.  Best just keep on."

His voice was gravel.  Like Belezebub long retired.  I tried to balance civility against revulsion. 

"Right.  Thanks."

He eyed my items.  Pint of chocolate milk, jerky, and mints.

"No coffee huh?  The ones that go for coffee on that road burn out.  You know to keep the energy up."

He handed over my change with studied slowness, and I retreated with the food to my truck. 

Shit, I'd been rude.  Stone faced jerk, another yankee too good to chat it up.  Fatigue and stress were eating me, low blood sugar adding to the paranoia.  No helping it, I slugged back from the milk carton before starting the engine.  I leaned my head against the wheel for a second.  Trying to center my head, trying to let the flotsam of 20 hours of uninterrupted thought clear my head.

Beyond the flood light island of the gas station it was dark.  No woods, no sky, no features, just an inky black.  What you get beyond the electric beacon of human presence some nights.  I could see the curb and the road beyond, barely.  Just another few moments then I'd go.

Then I stopped wondering what he'd meant about the skitters.

Didn't take any guessing, I knew what was there when I saw them.  At first I thought my eyes were acting up.  Looked again and it was gone.  Well, for a quarter second's relief until I saw the next.  Lithe and quick like a shadow coyote.  It slithered without obvious legs, but somehow pulled itself along on two protruding...hands?  It vanished close to my front wheel well.  Then something was scratching at the undercarriage.

Engine on, I was leaving NOW.  I barely remembered the headlights as I pulled on to the road.  For all the good they were doing, anyways.  They cast at best twelve feet of minor illumination.  That had driven me nuts for the first few hours.  Thought my alternator was going on a two-lane state road between Nowhere and Fuckall.  The truth of it?  I still wasn't sure.  I just drove.

The radio, as usual, was producing only laconic jam session blues.  You know, the kind that sound like heartburn, late at night when the band just won't stop playing.  The AM dial was static, aside from the occasional electronic distortion that just MIGHT pass for a scream.  This may as well have been hell.

What did I know about it anyways?  Well, for one  I'd been to the same gas station three times.  I was sure of it after this stop.  Same guy, same prices, same bad neon bulb.  I hadn't checked to see if the things I bought were replaced.  I'd make a few notes on the next stop, if I had one.  I wasn't going in circles, I was sure of that.  No turn offs.  Not even a driveway off the side of the road.  I tried to tabulate more details to fend off the rising panic.  Simple logic.  Stay cool, work it out.  Or die.  Maybe.  No stress.

The odometer and the clock weren't synching.  My watch and the dashboard clock were consistent, but the mileage was going squirrely.  It never quite meshed with the speed or the time.  I reset the trip odometer in hopes of getting some grasp back on my progress.  I was starting to think it had ticked through forty twice though. 

Made me reflect back to just before I entered kindergarten.  Mom walked me into the school and I met the teachers.  Introduced myself like I was taught, and they ask me to count to fifty.  Weird thing was though I tended to loose track after forty, forget to go up to fifty.  I don't know what I'm in for, and I'm just this kid sitting there focusing real hard on counting right...

Whoa, OK focus, eyes on the road. 

(More as it happens)
Quote from: Eater of Clowns on May 22, 2015, 03:00:53 AM
Anyone ever think about how Richter inhabits the same reality as you and just scream and scream and scream, but in a good way?   :lulz:

Friendly Neighborhood Mentat

Eater of Clowns

Oh fuck yes.

I'll be following this one, Richter.
Quote from: Pippa Twiddleton on December 22, 2012, 01:06:36 AM
EoC, you are the bane of my existence.

Quote from: The Good Reverend Roger on March 07, 2014, 01:18:23 AM
EoC doesn't make creepy.

EoC makes creepy worse.

Quote
the afflicted persons get hold of and consume carrots even in socially quite unacceptable situations.

Don Coyote

A road trip in hell? Yes please.


Mesozoic Mister Nigel

JESUS FUCK RICHTER.

Now I'm scared to go to sleep.
"I'm guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk," Charles Wick said. "It was very complicated."


Scribbly

I had an existential crisis and all I got was this stupid gender.

Richter

The road seemed to drawl in front of me.  It had gone from mind numbing straight to an almost banal curve to the left.  Then an amble back to the right.  The asphalt was rough and noisy.  Tar with rocks sticking up through it like you find on old back roads that have passed out of the care of civic upkeep, not the flat homogenous blacktop of new paving.  The lane lines faded, and the remaining paint hugged down into the valleys between the jagged amalgam, as if trying to shy away from my headlights.  Strange paint creature, a sort of thermal vent dweller, destined forever to darkness.  Cringing from the odd sensation of illumination.  The nightmare condition of light upon its white or pale yellow albinism, shooting pain through transparent skulls onto exposed pineal glands.

It hit me then I'd forgotten to take a leak at that gas station.  I was in too much of a hurry to vacate once I realized it was just a repetition.  I risked tapping the dome light on to read my watch, disdaining the clock in the dash.  Twenty minutes, maybe, since I'd hit the road again.  Odd, for all the times I'd checked the dash clock against the speedometer and odometer, I never clued in on the time as anything other than frame of reference.  Jeez, I must be getting worse, I'm normally sharper.

Did the second hand just tick backwards?

I was about to make a study of this when I remembered that running the vehicle really ought to have more of my attention.  The right side tires churned sand and dirt on the roadside in sympathy to my distracted state, and I got the truck back onto better cruising territory.  The imperceptibly slow curve had gone right a bit more.  Just as I was distracted too.  Huh.


The low beams had only showed the nondescript pavement, darkness beyond.  The unknown above my hypotenuse of observation.  I tried the high beams to spy out a spot to pull over.  Lot of good that did. The high beams gave up the frame of reference that was the road.  I've seem fog, snow, or misting rain make high beams seem like cones stabbing forward into the dark.  This dark only swallowed them, not even returning a hint of where the light was going.  I had a moment of near vertigo.  An understanding that the abyss was right in front of me, that all I needed to do was give up the consensual experience of gravity, and I would tumble in.  Wondering and pondering replaced with the certainty of an eternal screaming fall into nowhere.  I turned the high beams off.  The road came back.

I pulled over then, no longer caring where or how.  Luckily there was no curb or berm, and left the car running, lights on as I got out.  Quasi –level grass, stunted by exhaust fumes, and nearly saturated by road sand.  Longer grass beyond that.  I half expected a tree line even farther, intending to make some supplication to modesty by at least peeing on a tree.  There was none to be seen.  I didn't feel like trekking far from the truck anyways, not here.

I absently kicked a beer can off to my side before doing my business.  There was some basic physical relaxation in finally getting relief.  Any thrill of being exposed to the world, unashamed, was swallowed by the dark as certainly as my headlights.  The dark yawned and leered, as if I was just another bright morsel to be absorbed.  My eyes absently followed the can I'd kicked.  It seemed to almost static out.  Like the dark was a grain that covered it over before rending unto it the fate of UHF.  I blinked, and went back to relieving myself.  I was outside of my security blanket, my gas powered automata, and my mind cringed away from delving too deeply into the reality around me.  Who was I kidding?  Maybe if I acted like I didn't notice, it wouldn't eat me...
Quote from: Eater of Clowns on May 22, 2015, 03:00:53 AM
Anyone ever think about how Richter inhabits the same reality as you and just scream and scream and scream, but in a good way?   :lulz:

Friendly Neighborhood Mentat

Mesozoic Mister Nigel

This is flat-out amazing. The writing is incredible.
"I'm guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk," Charles Wick said. "It was very complicated."


Richter

I finished pissing and stalked back to the car.  I'd like to say I walked back determined and uncowed, assured and strong.  Nope.  I was strung out and I knew it.  Too scared and tired to bolt.  It was being alone in your house at night, afraid of the shadows but not wanting to run.  Two more of the skitters rushed away from the driver's side door as I rounded the vehicle and got in. 

I'd swear something else , out past where I'd peed moved.  Something big.  Almost thought I felt, or heard a low mournful tone, like whale song.  Something huge and serpentine seemed to slide into the sky.  Plane or something.  At least I hoped, trying to beat down thoughts of the skitter's natural predator, a renegade cryptid plesiosaur...  I slid the truck into gear and got back on the road. 

A pair of headlights pulled up behind me.  Too close behind me.  Old, yellowed lights, like halogen shone through parchment, riding 5 foot off my bumper.  My first response was one of revulsion.  Some local ass who knew every twist, and could take the stretch at 80 in the dark, knowing just WHEN to brake and turn.

Then the habitual irritation of driving let up, and I had a rational notion - there was more than that repetition of the gas station out here.  There was at least someone else.  How to get their attention though?  I threw on the hazards and pulled towards the side again, hoping they'd stop to help. 

It took me maybe few seconds to confirm where my hazard lights button was and hit it, looking back up the headlights were gone.  I eased over anyways, rolling down the window, looking behind me.  Only the dark, punctuated by 5 foot splashed from my rear blinkers.  The something dark and mechanical roared by, passing me too close, roaring on in the tones of a v8 with a failing muffler.  Without any lights, of course.   

I got back underway again.  The gas station was almost predictably up ahead.  I walked in, numb on autopilot, I didn't know why, I just needed to ground my brain in something that wasn't that road in front of me.

"Having a rough night out there, eh?" 

I looked over to meet his gaze.  His face was a smirk that managed mocking and sympathetic knowing in equal parts.

"I need to stop.  I..."

"No telling what goes through a man's mind, out there."  he looked down and away slightly, a move I think I saw in "Big Lebowski", another odd trick of body language.

He paused.  I had nothing to offer back.

"Heard a fellow talk about a sense dep tank once.  Like a soundproof covered hot tub.  You just float in the dark, nothing from the outside to keep your brain tweaked.  Only the inside stuff."

"So I have to see if I like the sound of my own head?"

He almost chuckled, like a galvanized pail of peastone being jangled.

"Sort of.  This fellow, he said it was useless to try to KEEP your mind busy.  Just had to let it happen.  He'd have this half hour session of reflection, all Charles Dickens and three ghosts.  Run through what he was, how he affected people, and what the result was.  Can bullshit everyone but yourself, you know?  After that, then he could dream."

"Think I see.  Thank you."

"No sweat.  Good luck out there."

"Really, thanks."

I left before he replied.  Response wasn't important anymore, it was more about making sure I said it.  Moving again, I let my head hash out the stuff it had been trying to duck.  All the focus on the road, all the weird metaphors, it was all smokescreen hiding the actual hot button issues from myself.  I didn't ruminate or get too circular, like I do too much.  I was too tired.  Just ponder, file, move on.  It was like running a defrag. 

Maybe it was just a matter of time.  Maybe I had to go through the self examination, some sort of fucked carebear bullshit.  Maybe I just got lucky and got out before big black nessie circled around to eat me.  Eventually dawn limed everything a dull gray.  As gold began to touch the horizon, and I started picking up things like signs, route numbers, and other traffic again, I pulled off to really sleep.

After about two hours I met a brusque sheriff on his way to work.  He gave me a breathalyzer and shooed me on to a local motel when I passed it.  I slept most of the day, emerging to order pizza, then back asleep.  I was on my way again the next day.

24 hours lost out of my total journey didn't bother anyone by the time I was done.  Good, since I didn't even feel like making excuses.  How do you tell people you drove through a fucked up Japanese horror video game?  Was there a lesson to it?  Hell, I can't put it in a way that doesn't sound stupid.  We all get through life's unannounced tests.  Or we don't, and there are missing person's reports and unsolved case files enough to hold it all.
Quote from: Eater of Clowns on May 22, 2015, 03:00:53 AM
Anyone ever think about how Richter inhabits the same reality as you and just scream and scream and scream, but in a good way?   :lulz:

Friendly Neighborhood Mentat


Aidian

Well done. Leaving it vague on most ends is a brilliant touch, and makes it much more impacting for me than the "look, it's a langolier in a different costume" sort that's come up before. Bravo.
Slightly Diseased Pheromone Discharge of Saintly and Superhuman Proportions

Richter

Thanks.  I wanted to play Lovecraft - vague with a sort of scattered insomnia.
Quote from: Eater of Clowns on May 22, 2015, 03:00:53 AM
Anyone ever think about how Richter inhabits the same reality as you and just scream and scream and scream, but in a good way?   :lulz:

Friendly Neighborhood Mentat

Cainad (dec.)

Quote from: Richter on December 23, 2012, 01:01:50 AM
Thanks.  I wanted to play Lovecraft - vague with a sort of scattered insomnia.

Now that you mention it, I think you nailed it. Tapping into Lovecraft's themes without aping his style or content: primal, animal fear for one's life and sanity in the face of things that are unknown and perhaps unknowable. Curiosity overruled by the need to preserve oneself.

"Lovecraftian" doesn't have to always mean tentacles and cosmic space fungi.

Richter

Quote from: Cainad on December 23, 2012, 01:23:14 AM
Quote from: Richter on December 23, 2012, 01:01:50 AM
Thanks.  I wanted to play Lovecraft - vague with a sort of scattered insomnia.

Now that you mention it, I think you nailed it. Tapping into Lovecraft's themes without aping his style or content: primal, animal fear for one's life and sanity in the face of things that are unknown and perhaps unknowable. Curiosity overruled by the need to preserve oneself.

"Lovecraftian" doesn't have to always mean tentacles and cosmic space fungi.

Exactly!  Lovecraft tapped into more than odd vocabulary and pretentious tone(dialect of the time?).  He described things without actually saying WHAT they looked like.  He let the "nameless faceless" aspect hang out there, and people would fill in their own personal horror.  He left room for people to project onto the events.  It's the same with his narrator / protagonists.  Leave them vague, and let the reader put themselves in their shoes.

It's also a great framework to play with an unreliable narrator who KNOWS they are unreliable.  That dissociation of knowing you are getting unreliable is a great feeling to play with in horror.
Quote from: Eater of Clowns on May 22, 2015, 03:00:53 AM
Anyone ever think about how Richter inhabits the same reality as you and just scream and scream and scream, but in a good way?   :lulz:

Friendly Neighborhood Mentat

Mesozoic Mister Nigel

Brilliant. I LOVED this.
"I'm guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk," Charles Wick said. "It was very complicated."