In the Darkness

The road was endless. A long black stretch of asphalt, shrinking into an even darker abyss. John’s eyes strained against the onset of drowsiness. The headlights of his 1986 Honda Civic could only reach so far. The distant landscape was shadowed in emptiness. There was no moon tonight, at least none that could be seen behind the thick, ominous storm clouds above. All that John could see from behind the wheel of his aging, broken down car, was an endless span of open highway, twenty feet at a time.

The radio had cut out as soon as John had left civilization, and the tape deck hadn’t worked in decades. The only sound to listen to was the irregular clunk and chug of the ancient engine and the calming whir of the tires over pavement.

John struggled to stay awake. For over an hour he fought with blurring vision to stay in his lane, or at the very least, to stay on the road. He knew the wise thing to do, would be to pull over and sleep on the side of the road until morning. Yet, for fear that his lemon of a vehicle wouldn’t start, and having gone without seeing another driver in miles, he felt more comfort in driving through the night, or at least until he found somewhere with a service station.

The car veered to the right, sliding off the road and into the dry desert dirt. John’s eyes snapped open and he yanked the wheel left, correcting himself.

“Damn it, John!” He said aloud, “Stay awake! Come on!” He was angry with himself. This trip was stupid. He’d known it the second he’d left his crappy studio apartment, climbed into his crappy rusted out car, and headed down the crappy empty highway. Who drives halfway across the country for a woman you met online? They’d only been talking for a month, and only on the phone in the last week! Was he really that desperate?

“You’re an idiot,” John told himself. “A big. Stupid. Idiot!”

Something blue shimmered in the distance. John leaned closer to the dash to see it. It was reflective and square. A sign.

Gas. Lodging. 5 Miles.

“Thank God!” John smiled. “I guess I won’t die tonight after all.”

Something darted into the road. It was large, brown, and covered in fur. John’s Honda connected with the animal. 70 miles an hour. With a loud crash, the windshield cracked into a million spidery lines. The animal toppled over the hood, slid backward on the roof and slammed onto the trunk before slipping out of sight; vanishing into the dim red darkness of John’s tail lights.

John stepped on the brake pedal with both feet. The car stalled and fishtailed before skidding to a halt. A loud hissing came from the front of the car as steam billowed up into the black abyss. Peeling his fingers off the steering wheel, John slowly opened the door and climbed out of his car. A brisk wind cut through his clothes and sent a chill up his spine. John’s hoodie, a thin black jacket, designed for looks and not warmth, was useless in this climate.   

The front end of the Honda was crushed. The radiator was clearly cracked, or worse. He’d be lucky if he hadn’t bent an axle.

John turned toward the rear of his car and stared into the darkness. Nothing.

“Shit,” John mumbled. “This is what you get. Head out into the middle of nowhere for someone you hardly know, and you wreck your car hitting a deer. Perfect!” He walked around the back of his car, a sudden throbbing feeling coming from his knee.

I must have slammed it into the dash, he thought. just great….

“I guess I can’t be any worse off than you though, right?” He said toward the darkness as he walked. “I mean, I was going pretty fast. For your sake, I hope I killed you.” He hobbled back down the road, following the swerving black tire marks he’d made on the pavement. There was blood on the ground. Spots of it here and there, small puddles. The further he walked, the more he found until finally, he came upon a large, thick pool of red liquid.

“Oh man,” John said. Kneeling down low, and listening to his knee pop as it bent, John inspected the blood. There were tufts of coarse brown fur floating in the pool. A trail of the dark red ichor led away into the darkness off the road.

“I should feel sorry for you,” He called out. “But you wrecked my!”

John headed back to his ruined vehicle and climbed inside. He turned the ignition. The engine sputtered and spat, whined and wheezed, but wouldn’t turn over. John’s head lowered onto the steering wheel as he let out a long low groan.

“Biggest. Stupidest. Idiot.” He said beneath his breath.

He threw the car in neutral and climbed out. With one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding onto the open door, John pushed the Honda off to the side of the road. What should have taken only a minute to do, took fifteen, and by the time he had accomplished moving his car out of the way, John was exhausted.

Well, John thought, at least there’s a gas station and lodging five miles from here. I’ll just walk there, and have someone tow my car.

John grabbed his backpack from the back seat of his car, slung it over his shoulder, and began marching into the darkness.

It wasn’t long before John realized the mistake he had made. Without a flashlight or a proper jacket, the dark moonless desert became an inhospitable purgatory. It was only by feeling the ground beneath his shoes that John could tell whether or not he was still on the road. The brisk chilly wind that blew across his face, stung and numbed his skin.

In the distance, thunder rumbled softly, like a low roar.

“Please don’t start raining!” John moaned. “Please!”

The throbbing in his knee was getting worse, and now, John was beginning to limp. He was certain it was bleeding, though he couldn’t see it in the dark. Lighting flashed several miles off, lighting the sky with a brief moment of purple. The landscape was desolate and barren. Even in the light, there was nothing to see.

Hours seemed to pass.

When the twinkling lights of the gas station began to appear along the distant horizon an overwhelming feeling of relief washed over John. His feet were aching. He had never owned a decent pair of walking shoes, always choosing the more affordable knock-offs of brand name designers. Of course, by now, this was just one more thing he regretted about this evening.

His knee throbbed and he was certain it needed medical attention. His limp had worsened and he feared that as he approached the gas station, he would look like a disheveled hunchback, hobbling along with his backpack, and be shot on sight, by whomever hill-billy owned the place.

Still, the thought of being caught in the storm which seemed to loom ever closer was worse than his fears of whomever he would meet up the road.

The gas station, to John’s surprise, was rather modern and well lit. The smooth gray pavement throughout the property grounds was clean and reflected the light coming from the bright white fluorescent bulbs hanging from the awning above. The pumps were new, unlike the old fashion pumps from the 1950’s which John had expected. The building itself was new. A large gray box with large open windows in the front, displaying all there was for sale inside.

From here John could see a tall man, with a long brown ponytail standing behind the counter. He wore a muted blue and gray button up shirt, typical of the uniform worn by gas station employees.

Also from here, John could see the lodgings the sign had mentioned. A long, single story motel stretched into the distance behind the gas station. It too was modern and well kept. A tall sign, now visible from behind the gas station, written in bright neon lighting read: The Desert Wolf Motel.

Thank God, John thought, at least this place doesn’t look like a shit hole. He walked up toward the gas station. The tall man inside turned and saw him. Instantly he ran around the counter and exited the building to greet John.

“Hey there, everything okay?” The man asked.

“Mostly,” John answered. “I’m just glad you’re not carrying a shotgun.”

The man looked confused, but offered to take John’s backpack, and ushered him inside.

“You want me to call someone for you? I don’t mean to sound rude, but you don’t look all too well.”

The building, while air conditioned, wasn’t as cold as it was outside, and John was grateful for that. Here, he could see how well stocked the place was. Snacks, soda, food good for road trips. He looked at the man in the ponytail. He was tall, maybe six feet or more. He had a thick brown goatee, and the hair at his temples was beginning to gray. He had to be about forty, John thought.

“Is there a service station here? Or a mechanic? I hit a deer with my car a few miles back. I’m going to need to tow it, or whatever’s left of it, back into the city.”

“Oh wow,” The man said. “Yeah, the deer out here have no common sense. Like to run out in front of the cars. You’re not the first person to come in here saying that; but I have to admit, no one’s car has ever been totaled by one before.”

John chuckled. “Yeah, well no one’s had my car before. It was just waiting for a reason to fall apart on me.”

“Well, we don’t have a service station, but my brother’s got a tow truck. It helps to have one when you’re out here. A lot of people run out of gas along the highway, we bring them back here and fill them up. He and my sister are back at the motel. I’ll show you, see if we can’t get you back home.”

John smiled. “Thank you.”

“Not a problem, the name’s Calvin, Calvin Allman.” The man replied.

“John, John Pratt; and seriously, thank you.”

Back outside, into the darkness away from the bright lighting of the gas station, Calvin led John across the empty parking lot toward the motel.

“It’s not a problem. I’m happy to help. Besides, we don’t see a lot of folks out here, nice to see a friendly face once in awhile.”

Lightning flashed nearby, and thunder boomed loudly. John could nearly feel the bass vibrations, like a subwoofer at a rock concert. The storm was getting closer.

“Looks like it might rain,” Calvin said. “Hopefully we can get your car before it does. The rain can be a real mess out here. Turns everything to mud, and practically washed the road out.”

Calvin approached the front entrance to the motel and opened the door for John. John entered the building and was again, pleasantly surprised by how modern and clean everything looked.

He found it amusing that out here, in the middle of nowhere, such new and brightly lit places could exist. This was not like the stereotypes he had come to assume he would find.

“This is nice.” John couldn’t help but mention.

“Thank you,” a woman said coming around the front desk. She was tall with black hair and fair skin. She couldn’t have been any older than thirty. She was attractive, John thought, but masculine in some ways. She wore a thin purple tank top and black fitted jeans. Her exposed arms were well defined, and while not large, he could tell she was strong.

Calvin followed John, entering behind him. “This is my sister, Lonnie.” He said. “Lonnie, this is John. He totaled his car a few miles back. Says he hit a deer.”

Lonnie frowned. “Oh no, I hope you’re okay.” She said.

“I messed my knee up, but I’ll be alright. I feel worse for the deer.”

“The poor thing,” Lonnie said. “Did it suffer?”

John felt bad. He hadn’t even seen the animal, and at the time, he wasn’t very concerned with its well being. “To be honest, I don’t know.” He said solemnly. “It ran off into the dark before I could see it. All I know is that there was a lot of blood.”

“That’s too bad,” Lonnie said.

“Well,” Calvin interrupted. “Not to be a downer or anything, but I told John here, that Joseph could help tow his car back into the city for him. You don’t mind him using your phone either, do you? I’m sure he’s got family back home that’s probably worried about him.”

John shrugged. “Not really, but I will be standing up my date.”

“Well, that’s unfortunate. Lonnie, do you mind grabbing Joseph?”

Lonnie gave Calvin a long silent glare. John pretended not to notice, but something was exchanged between them. Something they didn’t want to say aloud.

“Joe’s not home right now, Cal’. He went out.”

It took Calvin a minute to say anything.

“Right,” He finally said turning to John. “I forgot, he’s not going to be home all night. But I tell you what, I feel bad about leading you on like that. So how about we put you up for the night, here in the motel? No charge.”

“Sure,” John said reluctantly. He hadn’t wanted to stay in the middle of the desert all night. He hadn’t wanted to stay in the motel. It was different when he was dozing behind the wheel and still had a car to drive with. He could leave at any time. But now, after seeing the odd, unsettling exchange between these siblings, he didn’t feel comfortable being stranded.

“We’ve got cable TV, a pool, and a hot tub,” Calvin said. “It’s not the Ritz, but it’s clean, and it’s better than being outside.”

Lonnie could see the hesitation on John’s face. She smiled, “Have you had anything to eat? I bet you’re starving. I was going to make some dinner for Calvin and myself. How would like to eat with us?”

John felt bad suddenly. Was it that obvious that he didn’t want to be here? These people were simply trying to be nice, weren’t they?

“That sounds great, thank you.” He said.

“Cal’, why don’t you take his bag to Room 102. John, if you want to come with me, I’ll take a look at that knee of yours.”

John nodded and followed as Lonnie led him down a well-lit hallway behind the front desk. They passed an open room, what appeared to be a lounge for employees, and stopped outside a closed door at the end of the passage. Lonnie pulled a set of keys from her pocket and unlocked the door. It was an office.

“Come on in,” She offered, turning on the light and standing aside.

John entered the small room. It was clean and well organized. Again, this dispelled the stigma he had about motels in the middle of the desert. Lonnie entered in behind him and ushered to the large, leather chair on wheels behind the desk.

“Have a seat.” She said.

John obeyed, staring up at the young woman, who was now rifling through a filing cabinet. She retrieved a box labeled, First Aid, and set it down on the desk. She opened the box.

“Let’s see that knee.” She said.

For the first time since arriving John, looked down at his leg. The light blue denim of his jeans was stained with a thick sticky red. It ached terribly. John attempted to roll his pant leg up but winced as it stopped on his calf.

This, John realized, was the third time his sense of fashion had caused him pain or discomfort. His skinny jeans were too tight to roll up his leg. At some point, John thought, he would rethink his entire wardrobe, just for instances like this.

“Stand up,” Lonnie said.

Using both hands on the armrests of the office chair, John climbed back to his feet, putting his weight on his good leg. He looked up at the tall woman. She towered over his five feet and eight inches.

Without a word, Lonnie crouched down and began undoing John’s belt.

“Woah!” John exclaimed.

Lonnie looked up, “You’re bleeding.” She said matter of factly.

What the Hell have I gotten myself into, John thought. He watched awkwardly as this attractive and muscular woman undid his fly, and pulled down his pants.

“Sit.” She said.

Slowly, unsure what else to do, John sat back down. His knee was swollen and bruised. A large gash split the skin on the inside of his leg. Silently, Lonnie went to work, grabbing alcohol, wipes, gauze, and tape from the first aid kit on the desk. She poured out a bit of the alcohol on a cloth, and gently wiped at the wound.

“Does that sting?” She asked, looking up at John.

He could feel himself blushing. All the blood running into his face, making him hot. He stared into her eyes, noticing the vibrant emerald pigments on her irises’.

“Not, much.” He stammered.

Lonnie smiled but went back to her work without speaking.

Calvin suddenly entered the room, holding a beer in each hand.

“Hey, I’ve got-woah! Sorry!” He turned and closed his eyes.

Lonnie didn’t speak, as she simply continued to clean and dress John’s knee. John was glad for the distraction, however, and struggled to find his voice.

“Check out my knee. Looks pretty bad huh?” He said.

Calvin turned back toward John and looked at the wound. “I’ve seen worse.” He said. “Want a beer?”

John grinned. “Yes please, after the night I’ve had, I could use one.”

Calvin laughed a deep hearty laugh. “That’s what I was thinking. Here.”

John took the beer and drew a mouthful from the bottle. “Thanks.”

“All done,” Lonnie said standing again. She put the unused supplies back into the kit and replaced it back into the filing cabinet where she had found it.

“I’ll go start on dinner.” She said. Calvin stepped aside, allowing his sister to pass through the door. As she left, she turned and smiled at John. He could feel the blood returning to his face again. Sheepishly he attempted to smile, before throwing back another long swig of his beer.

Calvin chuckled. “Don’t let her get to you.” He said. “She’s like that.”

John pulled his pants back up over his legs and buckled his belt. He looked down at the blood on his jeans and frowned. “Do you have a laundry room?” He asked. “I’ll pay of course.”

Calvin waved it off. “Come on, I’ll show you. Do you have something to change into? I don’t think I have anything small enough for you to wear. Or were you planning on coming to dinner naked? I’m sure Lonnie wouldn’t mind.”

John stuttered. “I- uh-”

“I’m kidding, kid. Calm down.” Calvin replied with a smile.

“Sorry,” John said. “I have some shorts in my bag.”

“Come on, I’ll show you where your room is.”

John followed Calvin down the hall, back toward the lobby and out the front door. The wind had picked up, and a light rain began to sprinkle the ground. They walked around the corner of the building and stopped at the second door down the row of small rooms. A metallic plaque on the dark wooden door read, 102.

“We like to keep the first one empty,” Calvin said handing John a key. “Makes it look like we have guests when we don’t. Lonnie likes to tell people there’s a writer renting the room, looking for some peace and quiet.”

John took the key and unlocked the door. The room inside was small but neat. A bed sat in the center against the far wall, and on top lay his backpack. A flat screen TV hung on the wall opposite, and a small dresser rest under it.

“Thank you,” John said entering. He was saying that a lot tonight. I really am lucky for finding this place, he thought.

“No problem,” Calvin answered. “I’ll let you get cleaned up. I’m going to go close up the shop, make sure the station don’t blow up. You can head back to that lounge area we passed on our way out. We’ll probably have dinner in there.”

John nodded as Calvin began to walk away.

“Oh, and there’s more beer in the fridge in there, help yourself.”

John waved and shut the door. What the hell, he thought. Could tonight become any more bizarre? He walked, still limping, to the bed, and took off his pants. his thoughts returned to the strong and strangely beautiful, green eyed Lonnie. Was she just messing with him? If so, it had worked.

He found a pair of basketball shorts in his backpack and slipped them on. And what was all that about their brother, Joseph? John folded his jeans and took them into the bathroom. That look they had exchanged…

The drizzling rain outside began to pour. The noise of the water hitting the roof sounded like popcorn popping, amplified a thousand times. Lightning flashed, lighting the sky outside the curtained window. A loud crack shook the room and rumbled for several seconds. The storm was right above them now.

“At least I’m not still out on the road,” John said.

Then another sound came up the parking lot, from the road. It was a truck. Joseph perhaps? Maybe, John thought, they could tow his car back into the city after all. The truck came to a screeching halt somewhere. John could hear the door open and close as someone climbed out.

John went to the small, tidy bathroom, and checked himself in the mirror. He looked well enough, he thought.

“Why are you making sure you look good?” John murmured. “Who are you trying to impress?” But he knew the answer.

Moving as quickly as he could, John ran back through the rain toward the lobby. He entered the building already drenched and looked around. It was empty. And why wouldn’t it be? He made his way around the counter and entered the spacious and comfortable looking lounge. There was a couch and a TV on one side of the room. On the other was a modest sized dining table and chairs. In the center of the room was a pool table and against the wall behind it was a fridge.

John strolled across the room and helped himself to another beer. The rain outside seemed louder in this room than it had in his own. It was so loud in fact, that he hadn’t even noticed the man lying on the couch moaning in pain.

He was tall, thick, with long blonde hair. He was naked and covered in blood.

“Holy shit!” John shouted. “Oh my God!”

Lonnie entered the room “What’s going-Joseph!” She rushed to the side of the man on the couch.

This is their brother, John wondered.

“Joseph, what happened?” Lonnie exclaimed.

The beast of a man, slick with bright red blood, simply moaned.

“Go get Calvin!” Lonnie said, looking over her shoulder at John.

John nodded and ran back out into the rain still holding the beer in his hand.

What happened? That guy looked messed up, John thought.

The rain felt like bullets, falling down at a hundred miles an hour. Each droplet was a freezing, stinging incentive to move faster. The path back toward the gas station seemed further than it had been when he had been shown to the motel.

Calvin was inside the shop counting down his till, a small pile of cash on the counter when John came sliding in on wet shoes. Calvin looked up in surprise. He could see the worry on John’s face.

“What’s wrong?” He asked flatly.

John was panting, out of breath, out of shape.

“Your brother-” He breathed. “He’s at the motel-he’s hurt.”

Calvin dropped the money in his hand and ran past John, out the door. John wheeled back around and did his best to keep up with the giant ponytailed man ahead of him.

Rain fell into his eyes, and John had to squint to see where he was going. Calvin had already gone inside when he finally made it to the door. Lightning flashed again, and thunder boomed.

John silently entered the lounge. Calvin had removed his shirt and was holding against a wound on his brother’s body. Lonnie was sitting on the couch, Joseph’s head in her lap. She was combing his hair back with her fingers and crying.

Unsure what else to do, John quickly ran down the hall, toward the office, and opened the filing cabinet. Inside he found the little red box with the bright white letters, First Aid. He picked it up and ran back to the lounge. As John returned he heard the siblings speaking.

“Joe, what happened?” Calvin asked.

“I turned, I could feel it coming, so I went out to hunt.” He coughed.

“It’s okay, just tell us what happened.” Lonnie soothed.

“I-I was tracking something, I could smell it, and I didn’t- didn’t realize- it was so dark- I was crossing the highway and something hit me.”

John felt his heart drop into his stomach as both Calvin and Lonnie shot their gaze into his direction.

Oh my God, he thought. Oh my God! But, it couldn’t have been! “No,” John stammered. “I can’t tell you exactly what I saw, but I know I didn’t see him!”

Their brother was crying. “I didn’t mean to.” He sobbed. “I couldn’t help it. I felt the change coming, I didn’t have control.”

Lonnie shook her head. “No, baby brother, it’s not your fault. Sshh.” Tears were streaming down her face.

Then, without warning, the bloodied and naked man fell silent. Calvin shook his brother. “Joe? Joe?”

Oh my God, John thought. I killed him! His head began to swim, the room started spinning. I killed him!

Lonnie stood, her beautiful emerald eyes were now like green flames, glaring deep into John’s soul.

“He was just a pup.” She said, her voice a flat, hoarse remnant of what it had been. “He couldn’t control it yet.”

John felt tears begin to well up in his eyes. “I never meant-” He couldn’t speak. He felt terrible.

Calvin placed his shirt over his brother like a blanket, then stood next to his sister, staring at John with dark, angry eyes.

“We’ve learned to control the change,” Lonnie said. “We’ve even managed to avoid changing altogether. But right now…”

John’s eyes went wide with disbelief. He watched in horror as the woman standing in front of him, slowly changed. Her stature began to grow, her clothes stretched and strained under her new size. Her muscles bulged. He stood transfixed as her shirt and jeans tore away revealing the rippling and veiny skin beneath. Then, as she grew too tall for the room, hunching down onto all fours, he watched as thick black fur began to sprout out of every pore. Her face stretched and elongated into a snout. The small red box in John’s hands slipped out of his fingers and fell to the floor.

Then, just as it had with his sister, Calvin’s body began to shift and change. It was impossible. John knew what he was seeing couldn’t happen, and yet, he was witnessing it. Lonnie’s body was no longer a hulking human at all. Instead, now, she resembled something far worse. She was a wolf. But no ordinary wolf. A massive wolf, a bear-sized wolf. She snarled and growled. Her lips pulled back, bearing large white fangs, each one longer than any one of John’s fingers.

Without thinking, John bolted for the lobby. He ran straight for the front desk, and leaped over it with ease, ignoring his injured knee. Never before had his heart pounded so hard. Never had he felt such fear. He pushed through the front door, never looking back. He could hear the beast behind him, tearing through the lobby, breaking furniture as it moved.

He simply ran. He ran as hard and fast as he could. The rain, a thick shower of icy cold water, came down, blinding him. He wasn’t even sure where he was going. Still, he ran.

John felt as the pavement ended and his thin canvas shoes splashed into the mud. He kept running. Nothing, he thought, could keep him from moving, nothing except for-

Suddenly a deafening howl filled the air, cutting out the sound of the rain. It was the long, slow moan of something evil. Then, came another howl, answering the first. They were hunting for him.

John’s foot stopped, and he fell. His shoe was caught in the mud. He climbed to his knees, looking back toward the motel and gas station, unable to see it in the dark storm. He yanked his foot free, the shoe remaining in the muck. He ran again, and found, purely by luck, a large outcropping of rocks.

He ducked down into a crevasse between the rocks and held as still as he could. He could feel his pulse pounding in his ears. His breathing was hard and painful. He knew they were out there. Searching for him.

The terrible howling began again. This time it seemed more distant. They were further away. Maybe, John thought, the rain was making it hard to track his scent. He prayed for deliverance.

Please God, please! I didn’t mean to kill him! I swear I didn’t!

The air became warm, almost hot. John shut his eyes. The warm air left, then returned. Then came again. Something was breathing on him.

Slowly, John turned his head toward the short blasts of hot, stinking air. With fear gripping every ounce of his body, he opened his eyes. Staring back at him in the darkness were two fiery emeralds.

The End  

 

Written By Rick Bishop