This story is by Stephen Carter and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Something woke Kyle from his deep sleep. He was wringing wet and panting like a Rottweiler in August. Wisps of the dream clung like gossamer: Standing in the abandoned, rotting house laced with moonlit shears that billowed on the breeze, the naked beauties beckoning him to join them. They were vampires, or succubi, or some other form of evil soul-sucker, but he sported a petrified woody regardless.
As a reader, he hated dream sequences, felt they were nonsensical contrivances meant to seem clever, creative, or insightful. They only padded word counts and derailed stories. As a writer, his rule was never use them. Still…
Third time that week the nightmare had haunted him, his subconscious was desperately attempting to sell him something. Perhaps this dream was destined to be in the novel he was procrastinating. He needed to chew on it, digest it. After all, rules are ignored when convenient.
I’m-In-Trouble panic punched him in the gut as the smell of brewing coffee notified him that he had overslept again. Like his dream, third time that week. His alarm sat perched less than a foot from his head, but he’d been too (drunk) tired to set it. At least he’d programmed the coffeemaker.
He leapt from bed, double-timing it to the bathroom to piss. Not a speedy process by any standard, his flow little more than a trickling dribble. At thirty-five, he was too young to be worried about prostate issues. Even so, maybe it was time to visit the ass mechanic.
He flushed, stepped to the sink, and brushed his teeth. He wet his hair, scrubbing it back, then swished and swallowed a mouthful of blue antiseptic kerosene to mask the bourbon and bile stench rising like sewer gas from the pit of his stomach.
Kyle skipped the deodorant process to save time; he could not afford to get fired. He worked the evening dispatch shift which gave him nights to (drink) write, and the days to sleep. It was a honey of a deal with rare benefits that deposited a regular paycheck into his meager account. Unemployment was not an option. Not having (booze) food was terrifying. So was living on the street. So far he’d managed to avoid it, but he was close. Too close.
He threw on yesterday’s clothes and ran to his car, forgetting his coffee.
The drive to (Fuck-em-all) Pack-n-Haul forced the usual maneuvers through an obstacle course of idiots. Housewives on cellphones, their SUVs full of spoiled brats, changing lanes erratically so they’d be first in line, everywhere, all the time. Workers on their cell phones heading home, changing lanes erratically so they could be the first in line everywhere all the time. Truckers on tablets and cell phones hogging the passing lanes so they’d be first to drop their loads.
The world had become a zoom-past, cut-you-off, my-time-is-more-precious-than-yours-because-I’m-a-self-entitled-prick-go-fuck-yourself kind of world. Courtesy and common sense had been replaced with self-obsession and reckless endangerment. Speed limits were mere suggestions, brakes used only when the accelerator wouldn’t serve, and horns came accessorized with a middle finger and an “Asshole!” Every quarter mile was a race, every driver Jeff Gordon, every vehicle vying for first place. Driving during rush hour, even against the grain, was a life-threatening, high-speed roller coaster ride without the safety features and souvenir photo.
Kyle didn’t normally play the “I gotta be first everywhere all the time” game. He usually stayed in his lane, drove the limit, and let the Flow – with a capital F – carry him where he needed to go. However, today could be life altering. Today he was in a hurry— no, a big fucking hurry because he could not – COULD NOT – be late again. If he goosed his caboose he just might make it on time.
It was starting to sprinkle when he swung his silver ten-year-old Camry around a pink Jeep Wrangler with a sticker that read, SILLY BOYS, JEEPS ARE FOR GIRLS. He passed a Volvo and an F150, and slipped in front of a blue Malibu, drawing an accessorized horn blast as the two lanes rolled to a stop at the red light. Well deserved, he thought, but screw em anyway. He had to get to work.
He turned his wipers on the least annoying intermittent setting, and looked around. His pulse, pounding from the adrenaline rush, roared in his ears. He’d placed second in the race to the light, third if you counted the other lane. The car in front was a black Acura, the vehicle next to the Acura was a cargo van. The Acura would be quick off the line. He’d blow past the van, no problem. Then off to the races.
He gazed up at the light. “Come on, come on, come on…” He tapped the wheel – tap-tap-tap – his balls tightening, his foot twitchy on the brake.
The light turned green, the Acura took off. Kyle raced after in desperate pursuit. He was beside the van immediately, then pulling ahead. The van driver took exception, accelerating to stay abreast.
“What fresh form of douche-baggery is this?” Kyle muttered, pressing the accelerator further.
He began to pull away, closing on the Acura. He was already ten miles over the ignored fifty-mile-per-hour speed limit, pushing toward fifteen. His rear bumper cleared the van’s front end. A few more feet he’d have room to slide into the left lane.
The van sped up closing the gap.
“Asshole.” Kyle mashed the gas peddle, the Camry responded with typical Toyota giddy-up. He shot into the opening on his left, forcing the van to brake, receiving his second accessorized horn toot. He lowered his window and returned the salute, his heart thudding in his chest, exhilaration thrumming through his veins.
Kyle looked ahead seeing only open road. Victory!
He didn’t notice the changing stoplight until it was too late.
He mashed his brakes. The road was layered with a fresh, rain-activated oil-slick; his tires failed to grab, the Camry no longer under his control. He hurtled seventy-miles-an-hour toward a white Ford Escape already in the intersection.
He stared into the wide blue eyes of a pretty blonde holding a cell phone, horror dawning on her face.
Kyle clawed at his forgotten seatbelt, but the brakes had it locked. And he was out of time. There was no preventing the inevitable. Just before impact, he noticed the two towheaded angels in the backseat watching a movie. Profound sadness washed over him.
Contrary to myth, time did not slow down. It sped up, slamming him into the side of the No Escape Ford Escape with a force that lifted his Camry and folded the SUV in half. He saw the young mother’s face splatter crimson, shattering her window, as he blew through his own windshield face first. From the corner of his remaining eye he saw the child on the passenger side rag-doll into her brother, heads colliding, his smashing the window, both exploding in a Pollock painting of blood, bone, and grey matter.
Mercifully, he saw no more.
The coroner tweezed a jagged shard from the chest of the young mother. Her face had been shredded and her skull pulverized, but her torso was in tact so he had started there. He’d work on the kids later, after his dinner digested. He glanced up as the lead investigator entered, smearing Vicks Vaporub above her lip.
Detective Rivera had seen her share of violence and gore, but this one… “Whattaya got, Doc?”
“I’m sure you can guess the cause of death.”
“Extensive trauma suffered at the hands of an extensive asshole?”
“I know what you’re thinking, and yes, he’d been drinking during the previous eight hours, but blood-alcohol was within limits.”
“Okay,” the cop said. “Guess that’s all I need…” She hovered, gazing at the small sheet-covered lumps on the tables behind the doctor. “What a shame though. Just a goddamn shame.”
“Yeah,” the doctor agreed. “For what it’s worth, the son-of-a-bitch had advanced colon cancer. Woulda been dead in six months.”
“Too bad it didn’t get him first.”
The coroner nodded and returned to work.
Something woke Kyle from a deep sleep. He was inside the abandoned, rotting house laced with moonlit shears that billowed on the breeze. The naked beasties were there, beckoning him to join. They were evil soul-suckers and he could smell the rot wafting from them like rising sewer gas. He struggled to back away but was drawn forward.
It took a moment to realize that the high-pitched wailing piercing his ears was coming from him.