by Will Endres Jr.
The charcoal black El Camino roared down the deserted road, its exhaust rattling and snarling like a vehement beast. Sparse streetlights illuminated the car for just a glimpse before the shadows swallowed it again.
Derek Gathers tensely rolled down his dirt-stained window long enough to flick a cigarette butt out before rolling it up to avoid the cold, mid-spring air rushing in. An orange shower of sparks glowed for an instant from the cigarette and then it faded into the cold, inky blackness.
He ran his thick, blood-stained fingers through his tangled, brown curls and glanced at the rearview mirror. One after another the light of the street lamps melded into the blackness of the night behind him.
Something flashed in the rearview mirror in the corner of his eye as he looked back at the road in front of him. At first it looked like a person in the distance, but as he jerked his head toward the mirror there was only another fading streetlight.
* * *
“I hope you go to Hell, you son of a bitch!” Giovanni Assanti had said in his thick Italian accent. “I give you a job, I give you a life!” There were tears in the old Italian’s eyes. “How do you repay me? You ruin my business! My livelihood!”
“What do you want from me?” Derek demanded. He threw a cleaning towel on the floor near the brick oven where fresh bread was made every morning and pizza was cooked every night.
“You are a bum!” Giovanni said, thrusting a threatening finger at him. “You do nothing but drugs! I could have tolerated that at least if you were a hard worker, but you are not even that! I lose all my workers, yet only you are here!” The old man put a hand on Derek’s cheek. “I treat you like a son; I took you in when you were little. You had nothing but the streets to call your home.”
“My parents abandoned me, Giovanni!” Derek shouted, smacking away the old man’s hand. His head was swirling. He was regretting the line he just snorted earlier. It only made him angrier and it gave him the shakes when he was angry.
“That’s right,” Giovanni said. “Your mother and your father left you here. It was supposed to be a vacation. But I found you. God made sure of that!” He pointed toward the ceiling of the kitchen as if God was peering through the plaster.
The Italian pointed to a small portrait that hung above the door to his office. “St. Anthony watches over you just as God watches over all of us. We were all lost children when we were separated. But when we are brought together, God shines his light upon us, even if it’s for a moment. But now the shadows have swallowed us again, Derek.”
“You don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Derek said in an accusing tone. “You aren’t a servant of St. Anthony or Christ or God for that matter! Yeah, you took me and the others in. Yeah, we’re all outcasts! But what makes you think you are a servant of God? You made us slaves! ‘Clean up this mess, Boy! Scrub these pots, Boy!’”
Derek was always pleased with himself at his dead-on impersonation of Giovanni. The other workers always found it funny — at least before he had talked them all into quitting the night before. “We knew what it was like to be an outcast. You have no idea what it’s like!”
Giovanni looked at him as if he had been slapped in face. “What do you mean?” he asked. “Like you, I am an outcast! I came all the way from Sicily! I was kicked out long ago by my family! I found a place here in these Adirondacks! This northern New York! This is my New Sicily!” Giovanni’s eyes were red with tears. “This is your New Sicily!” He moved closer with his arms extended to embrace him.
“Get off me, old man!” Derek shoved him away. Giovanni reeled backwards, tripped on the towel on the floor and his arm went into the oven. The searing hot flames of the oven instantly caught Giovanni’s sleeve on fire. Derek smelled burnt hair and flesh and stepped back as Giovanni released a scream of pain.
“You idiot!” Giovanni shouted. He swore in Italian as he frantically tried to extinguish the flames.
“Get away from me!” Derek shrieked. He shoved the old man to the floor and turned to run. Something hit him between his shoulder blades and he spun around. A surge of fury welled in Derek. It was as if all of his frustration and anger were brought out at once. He looked down at his feet and noticed that the old man had thrown his eyeglasses at him.
Giovanni stood up slowly. He had managed to extinguish the flames. He raked in his breath as if it pained him to do so. There were tears in the old man’s eyes as he glared at Derek. “You can go to Hell, Derek!” Giovanni wheezed.
“You said that already, Old Man!” Derek snarled. “I’m sick of you and so were the others who worked here! Why do you think I talked them all into quitting last night? They were tired of how you treated them! You treated them all like slaves! Just like me!” Derek forced a snicker. “It didn’t take much talking to get them to leave either.”
“You had no right to do that! This was a simple life for them! And for you! Why couldn’t you accept it?” Giovanni winced as he clutched his singed arm.
“And I was never your son,” Derek said, seething. He was sweating so bad he felt he was melting into a pool at his feet. But for some strange reason he felt as if cold eyes were boring into the back of him and he felt a shiver run down his spine. “You’re just an old Italian bastard who’s so superstitious that he thinks that angels and demons are everywhere doing the work of God and Satan! Get real, Old Man! Your God is an idiot if he thinks highly of you to do the work of a Saint!”
Giovanni’s lip curled into a snarl and he charged with one fist clenched. His other arm was useless as he kept it pressed against his abdomen. As Giovanni readied to swing at him Derek picked up a knife from the nearby counter and held it out before him. He did not expect the old man to rush into him, however, and the blade slid easily into his stomach. Blood somehow splattered in Derek’s face.
“My boy...” Giovanni said, looking down at the weapon in his belly and then to Derek’s face. A line of drool seeped from his lower lip. He fell backwards and the handle of the knife slid from Derek’s weakened fingers. “You have abandoned me, my boy.” Giovanni’s voice was weak, a trailing whisper. “May the Devil take your soul.” And there, on the floor of the kitchen in his own restaurant, Giovanni died with the knife still in his stomach.
Derek’s mind raced, yet he could not collect one single coherent thought. He panicked as he looked around the kitchen. They were the only people in the building. It had closed almost two hours ago. There was no one there to help the old man or to call the police.
Derek’s mind raced. This was bad. Doing drugs was one thing the Law didn’t like. Killing someone was another, even if by accident. It took almost an hour for Derek to drag Giovanni’s body to the dumpster and bury it beneath a pile of garbage. It took him a matter of seconds to race away in his car.
* * *
With no muffler the El Camino made quite the racket as it raced upon the asphalt. As the black car sped up the barren street, Derek wiped his scruffy chin and felt a gooey, cold substance. He looked down at his finger to the blood. He briskly dragged his sleeve beneath his mouth and looked into the mirror to inspect for more.
Something was there, in the darkness of the light. It was a shade running through the spotlight of the street lamps. Derek wasn’t sure if it was the cops. But it couldn’t be. How would they know about Giovanni so fast? And why would they be running after his car? It had disappeared into the shadows again. It was too far behind for him to take a good look at it. Whatever it was, it was closing in on him.
Rain started to come down upon his windshield. It was a mist at first, and then gradually became stronger and Derek was forced to turn on the wipers. They screeched back and forth in a tantrum against the hard downpour. Derek jerkily pulled another cigarette from the inside pocket of his corduroy jacket and punched in the cigarette lighter. As it popped out, Derek reached for it and instantly his eyes were drawn, yet again, to the rearview mirror.
“What the Hell is that?” he said with the cigarette squeezed between his lips.
It was close. Although it was only fifty yards away, the deluge of rain made it difficult for Derek to observe it clearly. It was a black mass, like someone running very fast with a broad, black cloak billowing behind him. Just as he was about to slam on his brakes and take a look, it was gone. He tore the lighter from its holding place and ignited the end of his cigarette.
“Damn!” Derek spat on the floor and then fell into a fit of coughing from his cigarette. “Is that his ghost or something?” He shook his head in disbelief. “No, that’s stupid!”
He pushed the gas pedal as far as it could go. The faster his car went the more Derek could smell the exhaust. It was almost unbearable. The cocaine in his system wasn’t helping either. It was electrifying, coursing through his veins. His thoughts were frantically flashing through his mind and his movements were almost uncontrollable. He kept envisioning Giovanni’s face as he was dying. The sound of the old man’s painful scream filled his ears.
He shook his head, trying to jostle the image of the old man’s death from his brain. He stared ahead into the black void marked only by rain glistening beneath each streetlight the El Camino drove beneath. The road was a long one, and the only option besides going forward was going back. Derek tried to push the gas pedal farther into the floor, but it could only go so far.
As he rolled down his window he gritted his teeth as rain crashed onto the side of his face like needles. He grumbled as he rolled up the window, looking nervously into the mirror as he did so. The dark thing was directly behind his car.
He shrieked a high-pitched scream. He could see the large, black, amorphous shape in the streetlight that had just passed overhead. It was like a dark cloud that even the red glow of his taillights couldn’t reflect upon it.
“It’s gotta be the Devil!”
He screamed again and tried to push down the accelerator further, but it was already floored. The El Camino was roaring down the road and then it fishtailed upon the wet asphalt. Derek’s right foot leapt from the gas pedal and both of his hands gripped the steering wheel as he corrected himself.
Derek forced his unblinking eyes to glance back into the rearview mirror, although all he wanted to do was escape. The creature was gone and there was also no sign of it in either of his side mirrors.
Far ahead was an intersection. All Derek had to do was stay straight and he would be in the city within a couple of minutes. His right foot eased the gas pedal toward the floor again, not caring about the wet conditions of the roads.
Derek wiped the sweat from his forehead and reached into his coat for another cigarette. There was a pit in his stomach and it slowly ascended up his esophagus. A cold-sweat covered his body and his vision was getting cloudier every waning second. The cops would find him soon enough, Derek knew that. They’d figure it all out even though he tried to hide the evidence. He had been too hasty in his escape.
“I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it!” Derek whimpered as he frantically scanned around him. “It’s not the Devil, it’s not the Devil!”
“No, it’s not the Devil,” a raspy voice said in the passenger seat next to him.
Derek screamed and jerked the steering wheel. His car fishtailed and the exhaust roared in argument to the reckless driving.
“Try to compose yourself,” the figure rasped. “We have only a short moment.”
Derek managed to regain control of his car. He couldn’t believe his eyes or his ears. Seated next to him was a silhouette, a shade of some sort of being. Derek didn’t know what it was. Was it a demon or the Devil himself?
It sat relaxed as if Derek had agreed to give it a ride. He couldn’t tell if it was looking at him, but he felt that cold, tingling sensation all over his body. It was the same feeling he had before he killed Giovanni.
“Keep your eyes on the road, Derek,” the shade said. “Ten and two, like the rulebooks say.” It gestured with its hands as if there was a steering wheel in front of it.
“What are you?” Derek’s voice blurted out louder than he had intended.
“Let’s just say that I am a recruiter of sorts,” the shade said. “I’ve been watching you for a while and I was beginning to think you wouldn’t be suitable for us. But you showed your potential.”
“What do you mean?” Derek asked. “Potential for what?”
“For our line of work,” the shade replied. “We have an opening for you, and you’ll fit in just fine. We have an offer you can’t...” The shade paused as if it was smiling. “I won’t bother you with a cliché, Derek, but let’s just say you won’t want to pass this up.” The shade’s head moved as if scanning the interior of the car. “I like this car. It has personality.”
“What am I supposed to do for you?” Derek asked shakily.
“Well,” the shade said as it pointed ahead at the intersection, “you can’t join us here. Let’s take this piece of junk to the Darkside, shall we? We can get started there.”
Derek looked ahead at the road as his bellowing car sped into the intersection. Despite all of his frantic attempts to find the brakes with his boot, it didn’t matter. All of the pedals were missing as if they had never been there at all.
“You might want to get those brakes checked,” the shade said.
All Derek saw then was the bright headlights of an eighteen-wheeler as it crashed into him at full speed. The truck driver saw only Derek screaming inside his car. The transport jackknifed into a screeching halt and smoke wafted from the tires in a thick cloud.
After the smoke dissipated, the shaken truck driver searched for the car he thought he had smashed into. All he saw, however, was tire tracks leading into the darkness.
Copyright © 2009 by Will Endres Jr.