Michael stared at the battered metal sign ornamenting the gatepost and thought that this idea, which had seemed really great earlier, wasn't a good idea at all. In fact, it was a pretty stupid idea, and he was glad he hadn't been the one to think of it. He hadn't been greatly enthralled about coming out here in the first place and what little alcohol-fueled motivation he did still have was rapidly dissipating.
He stood frozen in the shimmering headlight beams of Tom's Ford pickup truck, his figure casting an elongated shadow many times his height onto the rutted tracks of the lease road on the other side of the barbed wire gate. The sign was meant to be a deterrent and as far as he was concerned, it fulfilled its function perfectly.
His older brother, Kenny, had let him out of the truck to take down the barbed wire stretched across the dirt track, but now he could not take another step towards the wired up post. His eyes again absorbed every detail of the bullet-riddled metal sign, a faded skull and crossbones grinning back at him, red spray-painted letters like dripping blood warning, "Enter here and die".
He shifted his stare to the hollow-eyed skull decorating the opposite gatepost, one twisted horn marking the remains as those of some hapless steer.
Finally, he again focused on the square sign attached to the center of the barbed wire gate, neat black letters proclaiming "Trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law".
He nearly jumped out of his skin at the loud blare of the horn. "Will ya hurry up!?" Tom yelled. "Let's get this show on the road!"
Michael turned and shielded his eyes with his hands. He couldn't see anything but the blinding glare of the headlights. Making a decision, he stepped around the fender of the truck and approached Kenny's window, knowing his brother was more reasonable than his self-centered friend, Tom.
"What!?" Kenny snapped impatiently as Michael came adjacent to the truck window. Pointing back towards the wire gate at the ominous NO TRESPASSING sign dangling there, he anxiously replied, "Don't you see that sign there? We could be arrested if we're caught out here. Dad wouldn't like that at all".
"Who's out here to catch us!?" Kenny retorted. "There isn't a house for a couple of miles around and it's one o'clock in the morning. Cripes! Will you just open the gate!?"
"What? Ya chicken, shorty?" Tom chimed in, laughter snorting from his nose.
"NO!" Michael retorted. "I just don't want to get in trouble and cause Dad to lose his job or something."
And who's the chicken around here anyway? Who's the one opening the gate and who's sitting safely inside the truck? And why'd your dumb butt agree to do this anyway? Michael berated himself for even deciding to go out with his brother and Tom tonight. But Becky Scott had cancelled their movie date because she wanted to visit her Grandma this weekend. So, when Kenny asked him if he wanted to hang out with them he figured he might as well. Mistake....big mistake.
"Aw, yer Dad's the Chief of Police," Tom stated, derision in his voice. "He'd just hobnob with Sheriff Barnes and get ya off if ya get caught. But like Red here says...who's gonna catch us? Besides, people come out here all the time to see the Green Light".
As much as he hated to, Michael had to admit the argument made sense. He'd heard the stories for years. The Green Light was a local legend and many of his high school classmates boasted that they'd seen it....whatever it was. He was as curious as the next guy to see it.
Certainly, everyone knew where to go see it. Ten miles out, turn left at the old red barn, go about one mile down the country road, take the first lease road on the right after the wooden bridge, and you were there. And here they were.
Shrugging, Michael turned back to the gate. Pointedly ignoring the signs this time, he walked straight to the gatepost and lifted the wire loop over the top. He dragged the barbed wire gate across the lane, the middle support post scoring the ground as he stepped gingerly across the deep ruts. Dropping the gate in the knee-high growth of weeds at the side, he headed back to the idling truck. Kenny climbed out and let him in to slide over into the middle of the cab once again.
With a teeth-rattling grind, Tom put the truck in gear and let out the clutch. The truck rolled forward slowly, bumping over the cattle guard at the entrance to the rutted track. Once across, he gave the truck some gas and shifted up with a jerk. Michael grabbed the dashboard with one hand to hold himself in place.
Already, he was becoming well acquainted with the disadvantages of being stuck in the middle as he bounced from one bony elbow to another every time the tires hit another pothole. Occasionally, the overgrown high center of the rutted road brushed and thumped against the undercarriage of the truck, and he fervently hoped the truck didn't get stuck out here.
The dirt road curved past the pumping unit, the mechanism's motor sporadically backfiring, softly popping in the still night as the behemoth moved up and down, the counterweights ceaselessly turning as the giant steel rocking horse pulled oil from deep in the ground.
Beyond the pumping unit, the track deteriorated into a sandy path, the barely visible trail meandering over the long slope before them. As Tom drove further up the hill, the grassy pasture on either side disappeared and a dark grove of Bodark trees, scrub pine and sand plums closed in alongside.
The truck crested the hill and slowed as the tires bogged down in the loose sand. Abruptly, Tom braked to a complete stop and shut off the motor. He reached forward and clicked off the headlights.
"We better stop here," he stated. "I don't wanna get the truck stuck."
"Yeah, good idea." Kenny agreed. "We'll walk the rest of the way."
As they climbed out of the truck, Michael wondered just where they were going. He knew they'd driven at least a mile up this track, winding up in the middle of nothing but scrub brush and sand. And the night was dark as pitch. No moonlight and no farmhouses anywhere close by. The air was hot and still too, pressing in thickly around him. There wasn't even enough of a breeze up here to stir the leaves on the sand plum bushes.
And they were very close to the river. The river was low after a month with little rain and the dank smell of stagnant water drifted to his nose. If he shoved his way a few feet forward through the brush and sand plums, he'd probably wind up right on the wide, flat riverbank.
A soft rustle to his left captured his attention. He peered intently into the brush, watching for movement or anything unusual. After a few moments, he decided nothing threatening lurked there. Their arrival had probably just startled a rabbit into flight.
Michael turned from his intent study of the local plant life to find himself alone in the darkness. Tom and Kenny had moved on up the trail, leaving him standing there. He strained his ears to hear them, but their footsteps made no sound in the soft sand. In fact, he couldn't hear anything now but the sound of his own breath whispering through his nostrils and the soft ticking of the cooling pickup engine. No crickets, no rustling leaves, no big bullfrogs harrumphing. He couldn't even hear the soft lowing of the Hereford cattle in the pasture behind him.
His heart rate picked up as a shiver of fear crawled up his spine. He knew there was no reason to be afraid. He was standing next to the truck just a few miles from his home in a cow pasture next to a sleepy river. Still, the thick darkness seemed to swirl around him, closing invisible hands around his arms and legs, preventing his escape. Sinuous fingers touched his throat, threatening to choke him.
He broke into a run, stumbling up the sandy path. "Kenny!" he croaked out as he ran. "Guys! Wait up will ya?!"
His heart hammering in his chest, he raced across the uneven ground, his eyes frantically tracing the dark silhouette of the treeline against the lighter night sky to keep to the trail.
He cried out as a hand grabbed his arm, yanking him abruptly to a stop and spinning him halfway around.
"What's yer hurry, Murray?" his brother asked teasingly. "Going to a fire?"
Michael bent over and grabbed his knees, gasping painfully for breath, his heart pounding from fear and exertion. After a few seconds, he finally regained enough composure to reply to his brother's sarcastic query.
"Uh no...." he gasped. "I...just couldn't...see you guys in the dark. You went off....and left me and...and..." his voice faltered to a stop. What was he going to say? You went off and left me and I was scared out of my wits for no reason at all? Yeah right.
"...and I was afraid you guys were gonna get lost out here".
"Uh huh," Kenny said flatly. "Right. Well, try and keep up this time, 'kay? Then you won't have to worry about us getting lost. I'd hate for you to have to wait for a couple of weeks while we stumble around in the wilderness with the truck keys."
Tom guffawed, his snorting laughter loud in the stillness. Michael's hand curled into a tight fist, a sudden urge taking root in his mind to flatten that long pointy nose right into his obnoxious face. But they were already turning away, and he wasn't getting left behind again.
Besides, if he did flatten Tom's nose he'd just pay triple in the end. his 5 foot 6 inch frame wouldn't hold up well to Tom's six foot bulk in a brawl. Tom was the star of the "A" string's defensive line for a good reason. And it wasn't his sparkling intellect.
As they trudged further along the trail, Michael noticed that they were moving downhill now, the faint track curving deeper into the dark grove of thorny Bodark trees. He thought that the darkness here seemed thicker, the air more stifling, pressing in from all sides. And the woods seemed too quiet. Although Michael thought that he probably wouldn't hear a pack of wild dogs run past him now. Not since Tom had decided to start talking a few minutes ago.
Tom's self-involved soliloquy involved his current girlfriend, Kate, and Michael gritted his teeth as the pompous jerk related, in excruciating detail, the backseat activities of his last date with her. Michael happened to sit across the table from Kate in study hall last semester, and he didn't believe a word of the garbage Tom was spouting about her.
Glancing idly around, he wondered what in the world a nice girl like Kate saw in this guy, and he certainly did not understand how his brother could stand to be around this idiotic dolt, much less be his running buddy. Perhaps Tom possessed some deeply hidden personality traits that Michael hadn't seen yet.
On second thought, probably not. Tom had switched topics and now described, with full sound effects, his exploits on the football field. Obviously, according to him, the team would not survive the upcoming football season without him, and all the college recruiters were already panting for him to sign on with their team next fall.
Michael decided that nothing evil resided in this grove, because if it did it would have already eaten Tom. He knew he was ready to bite his head off.
This whole endeavor was pointless. He was tired and hungry and thirsty and itchy and hot. Sweat trickled down his face from the exertion in the summer night heat. Bloodthirsty mosquitoes floated around him, seeking every opportunity to suck him dry.
With a muttered curse, he slapped a mosquito into mush on his forehead. Then he lifted the tail of his shirt to his face and swiped the perspiration and ruined mosquito from his skin.
At least fifteen minutes had passed since he'd joined back up with Tom and Kenny. Nothing green and mean had appeared to threaten their existence. Obviously, extreme blood loss due to giant river-bred mosquitoes would be the cause of their demise.
Walking a few steps behind, he noticed Kenny waving his arms wildly in the air around his head and decided a suggestion to retreat back to the truck might be accepted at this point.
"Hey", he said. "There's nothin' out here. Let's just go home. I'm tired."
He received no acknowledgment to his more than sensible idea. Kenny probably couldn't hear him over the drone of Tom's dulcet voice.
"HEY WHAT?!" Kenny demanded, stopping dead in his tracks.
"Why don't we go back? There's nothing out here," he repeated. "I'm tired and hungry and there's some leftover pizza in the fridge with my name on it."
"Well, I don't know..."
Kenny paused, his stillness indicative of deep thought.
Michael pressed his argument further. "Come on. We're being eaten up by mosquitoes and boredom. I can think of a lot better stuff to do than wandering around in the sticks. Cruising Main Street on a Monday night is more exciting than this."
"Yeah, maybe you're right," Kenny relented. "I'm beginning to think this Green Light stuff is all a bunch of bull anyway."
YES! The triumphant shout rang silently in his mind. Finally, his brother sounded like his usual practical self.
"Yeah, let's head back to town," Kenny added. "Leftover pizza sounds pretty good right now."
At his words, Michael turned and started back in the direction of the pickup, Kenny following close behind.
"Now WAIT A MINUTE!" Tom loudly protested. "We came out here to see something, and I wanna see something!"
"Come on, Tom..." Kenny argued. "There's nothing out here but brush and snakes. Let's just go."
"Snakes?" Tom squeaked out.
"Yeah, snakes," Kenny added. "Diamondback Rattlers or Water Moccasins. Take your pick, pal."
"Er...yeah. I guess it is getting late," Tom suddenly agreed.
As Tom trotted past him, Kenny chuckled quietly and slapped his brother on the shoulder. "Come on, Mikie. Let's hit the road."
Michael and Kenny walked side by side towards Tom who had stopped to let them catch up. As they passed, he fell into step beside them.
"So, what are we gonna tell Steve and Terry?" Tom asked anxiously. "They knew we were coming out here and they're gonna ask."
"Well..." Kenny replied. "Tell them we came out here, saw a couple of heifers, got ate up by a thousand and two mosquitoes and went home."
"We can't do that!" Tom exclaimed.
"And why not?" Kenny queried.
"Well...er...I don't know...guess 'cause they'd be expectin' a story...ya know." Tom replied.
"Well then, tell them to come out here and find out for themselves," Kenny suggested. "Or better yet, make something up, genius. That's probably what everyone else does."
"Do ya think so?" Tom asked hopefully.
"I know so. Just make sure it's wilder than anyone else's story. We've gotta keep the myth alive," replied Kenny sarcastically. "It's up to you, Tom, to make sure the Legend of the Green Light never dies."
Tuning out their voices, Michael fell back a few steps. Tom had launched into an imaginative description of an alternate sequence of events, and he really didn't want to hear it.
Instead, he focused his attention on the ground in front of him, stepping carefully over the uneven trail, listening intently to his surroundings. He hoped to hear something...anything...over the annoying drone of Tom's low voice.
He fell back a few more steps. He figured there was no danger of losing track of Tom in the dark, and he wanted to listen. The ominous silence around them set his nerve endings tingling. Michael had gone on his share of night fishing trips and campouts. He knew the lack of sound all around them was unnatural. He should be able to hear cicadas buzzing or frogs chirping...crickets or night birds...a coyote yipping...something alive.
With a start, he realized he didn't even hear the mosquitoes whining around his ears anymore. His steps unconsciously slowing, he listened intently for one of the pesky insects to zip past an ear, waited for one to dine on his face. Nothing. The mosquitoes, like everything else, had apparently vanished.
Icy fingers crawled up his spine, an involuntary shudder running through his whole body. He didn't like this. Not one bit. He quickened his pace as he noticed he'd fallen farther behind than he'd thought.
Mentally gauging the distance to the truck, he figured they had about a quarter of a mile left to go. Not close enough for comfort. Michael had not fallen so far behind that he couldn't hear Kenny and Tom talking, but his level of tension dropped as each quick footstep brought him nearer.
He knew he was being ridiculous, letting his imagination run wild. He was getting himself all worked up over nothing. So what if there weren't any frogs or owls around here? So what if the mosquitoes had all tanked up and left? So what? Nothing, that's what. His lips curved in a wry smile. Mrs. Marston kept telling him he needed to put his imagination to good use, pour all his creative excuses for not getting his English homework done into his computer keyboard.
The smile left his face as a prickly tingle raced up the nape of his neck and over his scalp. He raised his hand to his head to find his short hair standing on end. Shocked, he whirled to face the darkness behind him. His heart racing, he looked wildly around, but there just wasn't anything there. Yet, he could feel the hair on his arms rising too. He stared down at his arms, but couldn't see a thing in the deep gloom.
Yet, as he stared down at his arms, a pale, sickly green glow crept over his hands and up his arms, growing brighter as it moved. Reluctantly, he slowly raised his eyes to locate the source of the green glow. He stood frozen, his arms still held out before him, his mouth agape and eyes locked wide on the apparition rapidly forming from tendrils of green light coalescing from the thin air before him. As he stared, the wispy threads of light swirled into a luminous ball, hanging suspended in the air several yards back down the path.
His mouth moved wordlessly, his voice hung up in his throat somewhere. The Green Light was right there and he couldn't even speak.
"G-g-g-guys," he croaked, his voice barely above a whisper.
Mesmerized, he closely watched the orb of swirling light, now fully formed and hovering above the trail. Several seconds passed, the apparition motionless now but for a constant flux in the light intensity, an almost imperceptible undulation of form in its midst.
Michael couldn't determine the light's size against the featureless backdrop of woods, but he guessed the thing to be about a couple of feet in diameter. Although it was difficult to distinguish the edges of its form for the extremely brilliant light it cast all around, illuminating the ground and woods nearby.
His fear diminished as he appraised the light's potential threat. He had no clue what the thing could be or where it came from. He'd heard the Green Light dismissed as "swamp gas" before, whatever that was. But the thing appeared to be harmless.
Realizing he still stood frozen in the trail, he turned to call Kenny and Tom back, but violently started when he found them standing beside him, their own wide eyes frozen on the swirling green light.
"What do you think that thing is?" Tom asked, voice quavering.
"Well, Tom...I'd say it was our Green Light, wouldn't you?" Kenny replied absently, his eyes focused unerringly on the miasmic orb.
"Yeah, but WHAT is it?" Tom asked again.
"It's gotta be a trick," Kenny suggested. "Something somebody's rigged up to scare people."
Michael hadn't thought of that, but somehow he didn't think it was a hoax. The Green Light had an ethereal quality he didn't think could be fabricated. And it didn't seem to have a source like it would if someone were using a device to cast the luminous orb from some hidden place in the woods around them; no projecting beam of light emanated from the darkness. Obviously, the thing wasn't suspended from anything overhead, and there was no wire or string stretched across the trail or they would have run into it when they passed through there just moments before.
"I don't think so," Michael replied. "I think that whatever it is or wherever it came from, it isn't a trick or something manmade. I think it's real."
"Well, I think it's a trick," Kenny insisted. "And I'm going to check it out right now."
"No, don't!" Michael grabbed his arm, stopping Kenny as he took at step toward the light, gripped by a sudden conviction that the Green Light would do his brother harm.
Kenny yanked his arm free from Michael's tight grip. "Nope, I'm gonna find out what this thing is once and for all. It's a trick and I'm gonna prove it."
Suddenly nauseated, Michael watched his brother stride down the trail, his tall figure silhouetted against the sickly green glow. His brother's shoulder-length red hair stood out from his head, the ends floating in the light. Raising his hand to his head, he found his own hair still standing on end. This thing seemed to be emitting some strong electrical energy.
Icy shards of fear splintered through his bloodstream. Heart choking his throat, he ran after Kenny, bent on tackling him to the ground before he got any closer to that light.
Michael had only run a few feet toward Kenny when he realized his brother had stopped dead in his tracks. His eyes shot past him to the hovering orb, freezing in shock as he watched the light dance frenetically in the air, the speed of its gyrations increasing by the second.
"COME BACK, KENNY!" Michael screamed, his voice shrill with barely restrained panic.
Before Kenny could react to his brother's vociferous plea, the green orb swooped straight up the trail, right in their direction.
Galvanized into motion, Kenny spun and raced back toward him, the malevolent green light closing in behind.
"RUN, MICHAEL!" Kenny yelled, his long legs eating up the ground as he sprinted madly up the path. "RUN NOW!"
Michael didn't hesitate a moment longer. Spinning on heel, he broke into an all out run. He stumbled across the uneven ground, unable to see a thing after staring at the brilliant light. He gasped in pain when he ran into the thorny branches of a Bodark tree at the side of the trail.
Tearing himself loose from the grasping limb, he ran again, his eyes now easily picking out the path because the green light emanating from the much closer orb lit the way.
Running hard up the sloping trail, his ragged breath tearing his throat, he hoped frantically that Kenny followed close behind him. He glanced quickly back over his shoulder, but jerked his eyes forward again when he stumbled over a clump of sand and grass.
It couldn't be much farther to the truck now. The top of the rise was just ahead. He thought he could hear Kenny panting behind him, and he hoped that wasn't just wishful thinking. He suddenly wondered where Tom had gone.
He had his answer when he heard the pickup engine roar to life in the distance. Tom had already reached the truck. At least they would be able to take off as soon as they got there.
Michael crested the rise and ran full out across the flat hilltop. He could see the pickup lights now, and he headed straight for them. Thank God they were nearly there. His legs had turned to rubber beneath him, and he struggled to draw breath as he found himself stumbling more often than before.
A grinding sound reached his ears. Tom had put the truck in gear, and the transmission whined as he backed the truck around, the tires apparently bogging down in the sandy soil. He hoped that Tom didn't get the truck stuck out here now, because he wasn't going to be able to outrun a rock shortly. In fact, his panic-fueled blood pumping through his pounding heart was the only thing still holding him upright on his feet.
And the panic was being fed by the fact that the green illumination of everything around him grew brighter by the second. And he didn't think it was because the insubstantial sphere was getting brighter. The thing was getting much closer. Still, he couldn't bring himself to look back even though he desperately wanted to make sure his brother was still behind him.
When Michael was only about 30 feet away from his goal, Tom ground the gearshift into first and floored the accelerator. Michael couldn't believe his ears. The jerk planned to leave them behind. Michael didn't even have the breath to yell.
From some unknown place inside, Michael found the strength to pour on more speed. The truck had bogged down in the sand again, but Michael knew that when Tom got the truck out he would be gone. Michael reached the passenger side door and yanked it open even as the wheels came unstuck from the clinging earth.
As the truck leapt forward, Michael threw himself into the truck cab. Tom roughly shoved him away as Michael landed against him.
"WAIT!" Michael choked out as he struggled for breath. "WAIT FOR KENNY!"
Michael gasped for air, waiting for Tom to respond. But Tom wasn't listening. He shifted into second as the truck bumped over the rough ground. Michael grabbed the back of the seat with both hands and stared wildly out the back window, searching behind for his brother.
And there he was, running as hard as he could toward the rear of the truck, his body backlit by the malevolent green light and his face ruddy in the reflection from the taillights. And that green thing followed relentlessly behind, only a few feet away now.
Bouncing from side to side, the passenger door still flapping open, the truck picked up speed despite the rough terrain. A hot tide of anger rising inside, Michael grabbed a fistful of Tom's shirt collar and yanked him sideways.
"Will you SLOW DOWN!?" he yelled, his nose an inch from Tom's. "Let Kenny get into the DAMN TRUCK!"
Finally, Tom looked Michael full in the face, panic running rampant behind his wide, unfocused eyes.
Tom grabbed Michael's fist and twisted, trying to pry his collar free, but Michael tightened his grip, giving the shirt another hard jerk for good measure.
"Kenny is back there! Slow DOWN!" he shouted, finger jabbing at the back window.
Slack-jawed, Tom jerked his staring eyes to the rear, his foot easing off the gas pedal as he turned.
They watched as Kenny grabbed the tailgate and jumped onto the bumper, levering his body into the back of the moving truck. He tumbled across the ribbed pickup bed and hit the front with a painful thud.
Tom jerked his eyes forward again as the pickup ran into some Bodark limbs alongside the trail, the spiny tenebrous fingers screeching across the fender and cab, pushing the gaping passenger door inward. Michael snatched the door shut as Tom yanked the steering wheel hard to the left, almost turning the truck broadside to the track as he fought to straighten his course.
The pickup skewed forward again, the wheels gaining purchase on the sandy trail once more. Back in control, Tom poured on the gas. Shifting into third, the truck roared down the hill, bursting from the dark enclosure of trees. The Green Light still shadowed the vehicle, just visible above the tailgate a few feet back.
Both hands gripping the back of the seat tightly, Michael tried to keep an eye on his brother and watch the green orb while bracing himself against the continual buffeting as the truck bounced and jolted over the broken ground.
Michael could see him clearly in the wash of green luminescence from the brilliant orb. Kenny grasped the chrome side rails with both hands, his body pressed into the corner of the truck bed and his feet braced against the wheel well, his face a frozen mask of wide-eyed fear.
Suddenly, the pickup lurched hard sideways, throwing Michael against the door. Pulling himself back into place, he glanced quickly around. He noticed they had returned to the rutted lease road, the pumping unit looming up on the right. He braced a foot back against the floor board as the truck bumped in and out of the ruts, the high center banging against the undercarriage.
Michael looked back again. Kenny remained firmly planted in place, and the Green Light still paced them as they neared the main road, not falling back but not gaining either. That was good. They should be able to easily outrun it once they could get more speed.
Even as he thought that, Tom slammed his feet down on the clutch and brake pedals. Michael jerked around in surprise as the truck abruptly slowed. His heart sank. The cattle guard. He'd forgotten.
A hideous scream of pain brought him back around in his seat, raised on both knees, his hands pressed against the rear window glass. He tried to see his brother as the truck bounced maniacally over the spaced pipes of the cattle guard, still moving too fast.
Then Tom cried out, his foot slamming the brake pedal all the way to the floor just as the truck hit the main road. The pickup skewed halfway around in the road, twin plumes of dirt flying out from beneath the rear tires. Michael flew backwards into the floorboard, striking his head on the dashboard as he fell.
The engine sputtered and died as the truck lurched to a stop in the middle of the deserted road.
Time seemed to freeze for a few seconds as no one moved or made a sound. Then Michael grabbed the door handle and pushed the door open, tumbling out onto the dusty road. He scrambled to his feet and grabbed the side rails, peering intently into the back of the pickup.
The bed of the truck was now pitch dark, and he couldn't see his brother at all. He twisted around, eyes scanning frantically for the Green Light, but he confirmed what he already suspected. The mysterious apparition had vanished back into thin air.
As he stepped around to the bumper, he heard a soft groan from the dark bed.
"Kenny? You alright?" He asked anxiously.
As he stepped up onto the bumper and into the back, the rear cab light flashed on. In the glare of the light, he could see Kenny curled in a tight ball in the corner. But as he knelt down beside him his brother sat up, clutching his head, another groan slipping from his lips.
"Kenny?" he asked again, laying a hand on his shoulder.
"Yeah, I'm all right. I think....." Kenny answered shakily. "Is that thing gone?"
"Yeah, it's gone." Michael replied, glancing around again. "I don't know where, but it's not here right now."
"Well then, let's get the hell out of here before it comes back!" he exclaimed. Kenny grabbed the side rail and rose to his feet. Michael breathed a great sigh of relief.
After sliding over the side, Kenny climbed into the truck and Michael slid in beside him. They both turned to look at Tom, his eyes locked on the windscreen in front of him, his white-knuckled hands tightly clutching the steering wheel.
"Tom, are you okay?" Can you drive?" Kenny asked, peering into his face.
Tom turned to look at him. "That thing flew over the windshield and disappeared right in front of me." Tom stated dully. "What was that thing?"
"I don't know, Tom," Kenny replied, shaking his head. "But let's go home now. We'll think about it later."
Tom nodded his head and turned the ignition key. The engine started right up, and Tom let it idle for a few moments, unfocused eyes frozen on the rearview mirror, apparently deep in thought. Finally, he reached over and flipped off the rear cab light. Slowly turning his head, he stared intently at his friend, his face barely visible in the dim glow of the dashboard.
"You ARE all right, aren't you, Kenny?" he finally asked.
"Yeah....I'm fine, Tom." Kenny replied slowly. "Just gotta change my drawers when I get home, that's all."
"Okay...I just...I wasn't trying to...ya know...back there..." Tom stammered.
"I know you wouldn't leave me on purpose, Tom." Kenny stated flatly. "Don't worry about it. I'm not going to. Let's just go back to the house and get that pizza. Okay?"
"Okay..." Tom agreed, nodding his head.
Tom headed the truck down the road toward the highway, gearing up with the usual grinding noises.
Half-turned in the seat, Michael watched closely out the rear window until Tom turned the pickup onto the highway into town. Then he finally relaxed and faced forward, slumping in the seat as a bone-numbing weariness crept through his body.
No one spoke a word on the way into town, the miles passing in heavy silence until Michael reached over and clicked on the radio.
Metallica blared intrusively from the speakers as Tom turned right toward downtown. Main Street stretched empty through town, the First National Bank sign flashed the time up as they drove past. Michael stared back in disbelief. 1:45 a.m. , in lights, sailed across the electronic board. Just under an hour ago, they'd driven out of town to find The Green Light. He felt like hours had passed while they were out there. An eternity.
He replayed the details of the last hour in his mind, at a loss to explain the mysterious light out on the river. He still had no clue what the thing was or where it came from. But he knew one thing with absolute certainty. He would never set foot anywhere near that lease road again. Michael wasn't telling a soul about it either. He could warn people away, but that would just guarantee someone would go out there to see it up close and personal.
Jerked from his thoughts as the pickup bounced over the railroad tracks, he glanced around. He'd been so deep in thought he hadn't even noticed when Tom turned down their street. He peered at their house, halfway down the block. The dim blue light from the television flickered around the edges of the curtains in the living room window. He also noticed the rear of his Dad's squad car, bristling with radio antennae, jutting out beyond the driveway hedge. Looked like Dad was home already and probably engrossed in a late night movie.
Tom pulled into the driveway next to the squad car, and shoved the gearshift into neutral, letting the engine idle. He stared intently at the windshield, seemingly intrigued by the splattered bug remains marring the glass.
For several moments, no one moved or spoke a word. Finally, Michael shoved the door open and climbed out. He left Kenny and Tom sitting in the truck and headed for the house.
When he stepped through the front door into the living room, his Dad flicked on the halogen lamp beside his chair, dispelling the stroboscopic illumination from the TV and effectively blinding Michael for a few moments.
A sudden flurry of gunshots and cursing deafened him until his Dad lowered the television's volume with the remote control.
"You all right, Mike?" his Dad asked. "You look a bit pale."
Still blinking in the bright light, Michael spotted the open pizza box on the coffee table next to his Dad's battered straw cowboy hat and gun holster. Dismayed, he stared at a half-eaten slice of pepperoni pizza, a few scattered crumbs, and a considerable expanse of greasy cardboard box bottom.
"Yeah, I'm fine, Dad. Considering..." He finally replied.
"Considering the pizza's probably all gone."
"Oh yeah. Sorry. Figured you were eatin' out tonight with the Scott girl."
Michael thought about correcting his Dad's obsolete information about his plans for the evening, but the door opened behind him as Kenny entered the house.
Seeing his Dad's eyes widen in surprise, Michael spun around to look at his brother.
Shock speared through his body.
"What the hell happened to you, son?" Dad asked sharply.
"Er...what?" Kenny asked anxiously, looking from Michael's frozen face back to his Dad's.
Although he didn't get a good look at his brother out on the road, he still couldn't believe he hadn't noticed.
Kenny looked back at Michael, questioning him silently with one raised eyebrow.
"You're hair's all singed on top." Michael whispered, leaning closer to Kenny. "And you're arm's all red. Did that thing burn you?"
"Yeah, I guess it did. It was really bright and hot when it flew over me, and I threw my arm over my head." Kenny whispered back. "It doesn't really hurt though."
"You mean it did that and didn't even touch you!?" Michael hissed back.
"Yeah, I should have known." Kenny murmured. "It bubbled the paint on the roof of the pickup. Tom's Dad is gonna be pissed when he..."
"You boys can quit yer whisperin'. I don't think I wanna know what you've been up to." Dad said pointedly. "Just don't do it again. Looks pretty damn dangerous to me."
Gathering up his hat and holstered gun from the coffee table, he rose to his feet. "I'm going to bed now. See if ya can stay out of trouble..." he added, disappearing into the dark hallway.
Michael and Kenny watched the doorway intently, listening to the bootheels clunk ponderously across the hardwood floor to the master bedroom.
When the bedroom door clicked shut, they turned to each other.
"We should find something to put on that burn," Michael suggested. "And your hair..."
Looking at the wiry, singed path of devastated hair across the top of his brother's head, he shook his head doubtfully. "You might have to cut it off."
"Oh well, whatever. I'm not worried." Kenny replied nonchalantly. "Tom's the one with problems on his hands. He has to explain to his Dad how that pretty red paint on his new pickup got ruined like that, not to mention the scratches down the right side, all without mentioning..."
Kenny glanced quickly at the hallway door. "Well, you know..." he continued.
"Yeah, I wouldn't want to be Thomas P. Fenton the Third when his Dad sees that truck." Michael readily agreed. "I sorta feel sorry for him."
Michael sighed. "Come on. I'll help you put some of that Aloe Vera afterburn stuff on your arm." he offered. "Then I'm going to bed. Dad ate all the pizza and I'm beat."
"Okay, sounds like a plan, Stan." Kenny replied.
Together, they walked down the hallway and into the bathroom.
Michael rifled through the cluttered medicine cabinet for the burn lotion as Kenny raked his fingers through his hair.
"Guess you don't wanna go with me to check out that glowing tombstone in Carterville next weekend, eh?" Kenny inquired slyly.
Closing the medicine cabinet, Michael met his brother's eyes in the mirror, observed the smirk on his face.
"Not no, but hel..." his retort caught in his throat as a face suddenly appeared in the mirror between them.
They both gaped at the reflected face of their Dad who had slipped up behind them barefooted and dropped a large hand on each boy's shoulder.
"By the way, boys." he smiled benevolently into the mirror. "Hope you remembered to close the gate."
|RUN HOME||DARK CLOSET TALES|