The snow was coming down harder now, the flurries growing larger and gaining in intensity with the coming darkness. Not at all a situation any normal woman would care to find herself in. Yet there I stood, alone, hungry, waiting. Minutes passed until at last I saw the headlights of an automobile in the distance coming toward me.
I took a few steps closer to the edge of the pavement. I could hear the full throated sound of the exhaust as it drew near then slowed before coming to a stop. The car sat there, idling. It was an old vehicle, a dark four door sedan of some kind. The windows as well as the rest of it fully covered in snow, except for the front windshield. The wipers struggled dutifully to keep it clean. Finally, the passenger side window opened halfway.
“Are you okay Miss? Do you need a ride?” A man’s voice asked. Before I could respond, he spoke again. “I’m heading on in to Madison if that helps?”
“That would be great, it’s getting pretty cold out here.” I replied.
“Hang on, that door wants to stick when it’s cold.” He said. I waited patiently as he made his way around to the passenger side and then tugged on the door until it opened. He swung the door wide and then said. “There ya go Miss, all ready for ya.”
He was an older, heavy set man with large hands and a sparse beard. He wore a thick wool sweater and a black fedora which he kept pulled down low just above his eyes. I slid into the seat and began brushing the snow from my clothes as he shut the door sharply behind me. The interior of the car smelled of stale beer and cigarette smoke. A couple of empty bottles clanked together on the floorboard as I settled my feet.
“My name’s Jack.” He said, as he worked the gearshift. The transmission made a groaning sound. The old sedan lurched forward leaving a plume of blue smoke behind it.
“Nice to meet you Jack, my name is Cassandra and I appreciate you stopping to help me.”
“Well now, that’s a nice name.” He said. “Kind of rolls right off the tongue. I don’t think I’ve ever had, I mean, ever known anyone named Cassandra.”
“ Well thank you. It’s an old name actually of Greek origin.” I told him.
“That’s interesting, anyway, it’s my pleasure. No way I’m gonna pass on by and leave a young lady out in this to freeze to death. Oh no, let it never be said that old Jack didn’t have a good heart. It’s just a lucky thing that I came along, what with some of the things that go on out on these roads at night.” I nodded in agreement. He cracked his window and reached for a pack of cigarettes on the dashboard.
“Do you mind?” He asked.
“Not at all.” I replied. I watched as the lighter sparked and a thin ribbon of flame ignited the tip of the cigarette. He took a long, deep draw.
“So your cars broke down I guess?”
“I’m afraid so, and if that’s not bad enough, my cell phone is dead.”
“Well don’t you worry, we’ll be in Madison before too long and when we get there you can charge up your phone. I know a guy who runs a garage on Thorton street, he’ll send out a wrecker for your car.”
“Again, thank you.”
“Sure thing. So do you live in Madison Cassandra?”
“No, I’m on my way to visit some people there. How about you? What brings you out on a night like this. Going on a trip ? I asked, motioning toward the leather suitcase in the backseat. He glanced back at the suitcase, then took another long draw before answering.
“No, that’s just my good clothes and shoes and things. I need to attend a funeral tomorrow and with the weather like it is I thought I might better head out tonight. They say it may be worse in the morning.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that.” I said.
“Well, there’s a lady I used to work with at the post office, it’s her daughter. I’m a retired mail carrier you know.” He shook his head. “It’s a shame too. She was a pretty young thing.”
“So how did it happen Jack? I mean if you don’t mind me asking?”
“She was murdered.” He said solemnly. “It was gruesome. They found her naked body in a dumpster at a construction site.”
“My God that’s horrible.” I said.
“Well, it gets even crazier, believe it or not. Her mom told me that it looked like strips of her skin had been cut and peeled off like pieces of bacon or something. It would take a sick sort of bastard to do something like that. There’s a lot of evil in this old world that’s for sure. A whole lot of evil.”
I shook my head but remained quiet. “Death is a crazy thing though.” He said. “One minute your young and happy with your whole life in front of you and the next your in the cold, cold ground. I think that’s the scariest part of it really, not knowing when I mean. It’s out there somewhere, coming for all of us sooner or later, like some big dark cat stalking each one of us. All it takes is one wrong move, one bad decision, and it’s all over. Just like that poor girl. She was eighteen.”
“It sounds like you’ve put quite a bit of thought into it Jack.”
He lit another smoke then turned to me and said. “Too much probably.”
The conversation lagged after that, mile after mile passed without another word between us. I didn’t mind, I was content to watch the snowflakes sacrifice themselves on the front windshield only to melt away harmlessly. I looked forward to the end of the drive and a good hot meal. Eventually, I began to notice a change in Jack’s demeanor. He seemed deep in thought, preoccupied. From time to time I would hear him whisper or mutter words or phrases under his breath. More than once I had caught him steal a glance at me then look quickly back at the road. His gloved hands slid nervously back and forth on the steering wheel. Suddenly, he turned to me and said.
“Cassandra, I hate to ask you this, and it’s a little embarrassing, but” He hesitated before continuing. “It’s another few miles before town or even the next rest stop and I could really stand to use the restroom.”
I raised my hand and said. “Not a problem Jack, I understand, really.”
“Great.” He said. “It’s just that a man my age.” Again, I raised my hand.
“It’s fine seriously, I mean it’s not like your going to pull over somewhere and kill me right?” He stared at me for a second, then we both laughed.
“I’ll tell you what, there’s a gravel road a little ways up on your side. I used to deliver mail there years ago, just a single house but the family have long since gone. If you could help me look for it, I’ll pull off there. I won’t be long I promise.”
You see, that was the ploy he used. The excuse to get me away, all to himself to do whatever he wanted. The trap had been set and would soon be sprung.
“Wait is that it?” I said pointing.
“Yes it is, little lady.” He said in a jovial voice.
The old sedan slowed and then turned. Gravel crunched softly beneath the tires and the dual exhaust purred as we crept farther from the safety of the highway.
The snow had stopped by now and a full moon appeared from behind the clouds. We passed a rusted sign that read Blind Curve. The cold rays soon revealed a house long since abandoned. Planks and plywood covered both the doors and windows. The old home sat in sad disrepair. A broken down swing set stood as a reminder of a place where children once played.
The tires spun a little as Jack dropped the old sedan into low gear and pulled alongside the house and into the backyard. He placed the car in park and set the brake.He then slid the seat back as far as it would go. Reaching back, he opened the suitcase and retrieved a bundle of zip ties which he placed on his lap. He took off the gloves and turned on the dome light. A soft glow now filled the interior of the sedan. Jack removed the fedora and placed it gently on the dashboard.
“You see these?” He said, raising a large gnarled finger to his brow. A series of x’s had been carved one after another into the skin of his forehead.His thin lips parted into a broad smile while his tongue licked each chipped and yellowed tooth.
“You see these?” He shouted. “Eighteen of em. One for every bitch like you that was stupid enough to take a ride with old Jack.” He tapped again at the incisions, the smile growing wider. “You know what happens now, little Miss Nineteen?”
I politely returned the smile and said. “Actually, I do.”
His screams shattered the silence of the winter’s night. His eyes darted wildly from side to side as I ripped open his rib-cage and laid hold of his still beating heart. Then, using only a single claw, cut it free of it’s restraints and pulled out my bloody prize. I watched as his body twitched and his legs kicked, then fell still. I drank deeply of the sweet aortic blood and savored every morsel of the fresh warm meat.
Poor Jack, there was so much he didn’t know, couldn’t know. He thought he had just happened upon me and that it would be his lucky night. He had no idea that it was he who had stepped into my trap or that it was I who had laid in wait for him. I, who possessed the gift of foresight as well as the ability to take on any form I so desire. Be it man, woman, child, which ever best serves my needs. A being of superior intellect who easily adapts to any culture and can quickly master any language. Skills practiced and perfected over many ages.
It was his face I saw as I left my lair and walked toward the highway. I knew exactly when he would come along, nothing was hidden from me. I had seen it all. I was well aware of his intentions, how he had cleverly tampered with the passenger side door so that it couldn’t be opened from inside. The window that lowered only halfway to impede his victims escape. The suitcase that contained his tools of torture, the abandoned house, yes, all of it. Oh, he was a bad one, a killer, a predator, but that made no difference to me. I hadn’t fed in days and indeed he would be my next meal. For me, the hunt is simply a means to an end, no one more deserving of their fate than the next. The use of deceit, even that, borne not of malice but instead necessity. I must survive, and to survive I must eat, and to eat I must kill.
It’s different here in this world. There are those who stalk and take their own kind, their own species. I do admit I take some pleasure in their demise. That moment when they first realize that their no longer the hunter but instead the prey. The panicked eyes, that look of sheer terror as they witness the transformation to my true form before devouring them. Yes, there is a certain satisfaction in that case.
I’ll have all I need for a while here. Food, warmth, a place to hide until I again feel the need to hunt.
Thanks Jack. You did have a good heart after all. Humans are such frail creatures, so easily fooled, but so very, very, delicious.
Credit : R.K. Hopkins
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