by Bryan Grafton
Artist: Francisco Mathews
He had been driving for what seemed like hours now. That was the problem when you owned your own business you had to do everything yourself. He had been in the undertaking business all his life having inherited it from his father. Now he was old, real old, at the end of the road so to speak, but he had no one to take over the business from him when he passed for he had no children. He had a couple of employees but to them working for him was only a temporary job before they moved on to something better.
No one was interested in buying the business from him. Probably because they realized that when you were in business for yourself, your time wasn’t your own. You always were on duty. Like tonight when had to go out of town, because none of his employees would work overtime, and pick up a body down in Faithville which was a good hundred miles from here. He had gotten a strange call from some sweet little old lady down there who didn’t exactly identify herself but nevertheless convinced him to come and get the body of a dearly departed loved one that needed to be buried in the family plot here in town.
He wanted to postpone it until tomorrow but she started crying and he being a soft touch caved and said he would come and get the dearly beloved tonight no matter how long it took or how late it was. That and the fact that her voice reminded him a little of his deceased mother convinced him, against his better judgment, to go. She did offer to pay extra though but he told her that wouldn’t be necessary. He couldn’t charge a sweet little old lady now could he? He’d get there tonight no extra charge he told her. So he set off right after he closed up shop.
And tonight of all nights was a terrible night to make such a drive. It was pitch black out, no moon out, not a star in the sky, plus it was foggy to boot as he drove his hearse down the two lane blacktop asphalt highway. He was stuck on a two lane highway because Faithville was not near any interstate and was literally off the beaten path out in the middle of nowhere in the sticks. It made for slow driving and though he had driven this road before, things, what he could see of them anyway, didn’t look familiar to him tonight. Now he saw something.
There it was up ahead, a signpost, no a stop sign. He didn’t remember a stop sign being there before but nevertheless he brought his vehicle to a stop in front of it and looked both ways. But there wasn’t any cross road there. He didn’t know what to make of it but being a good driver he proceeded with caution, edged out, and proceeded on down the road. Strange he thought. But then it got even stranger for he realized that he was no longer on a two lane road any more.
He was now on a one lane road. And though it was dark he also noticed that there was no shoulder along the sides of the road either to the right or to the left of him. He was on a strip of road just wide enough to accommodate his hearse with not an inch to spare on either side.
“Just where in the hell am I? I’ve got to be lost. Somehow I must have made a wrong turn back there somewhere. I’m going to be late now.”
He blurted all this out loud pushing the panic button. Then he realized he needed to calm down, get hold of himself.
“There’s got to be a town around here somewhere. I’ll stop at the first one I come to and get directions,” he said to himself in a quivering shaky voice.
His one way conversation with himself continued for the next mile or so as he kept looking ahead for signs of a town. But there were none, no signs of any kind at all. In fact there was nothing at all along the sides of the road, not even ditches, nothing except the solid blackness of the night. Then for some reason or other he looked up into his rear view mirror and saw that there was no highway behind him anymore. For as he drove over it, the highway behind him began to crumble, disintegrate, and break up into little pieces that fell off into space and disappeared.
That meant only one thing. There was no turning back now. He’d had enough. He needed to stop, get on the phone, and call roadside assistance per his car insurance for help. He applied his foot gently to the brake pedal but there was nothing there. It was as if it had come loose somehow and when he pushed it all the way to the floor nothing happened. The vehicle kept going. The brakes didn’t work. He panicked. He let up on the gas pedal but the hearse did not slow down any. It kept going at the same steady speed. He looked at the cruise control. It was on. He hadn’t set it on cruise control.
He tried to unset it but it stayed on no matter how many times pushed the cruise control button to off. He took out his phone, but being so nervous, he fumbled it and it fell to the floor. He leaned over for it taking both his hands off the steering wheel for just a second or two to feel for it. Then fearful that the hearse would go off the road and slide into oblivion he grabbed it. But the vehicle had never swerved. It kept going straight ahead. The steering wheel was locked in place.
Oh God now what?
he thought as he punched in the pre-programmed number of his roadside assistance plan. Soon as he got all this figured out he’d call that sweet little old lady and tell her he’d be late and when he thought he would be there. But he couldn’t get a dial tone, none at all.
“Jesus I must really be out in the sticks (styx) somewhere,” he thought, ‘if my phone doesn’t work.”
He slumped back down into his seat, defeated, hands no longer on the wheel, his hearse driving itself onward, giving him the ride of a lifetime. Then his phone rang. He was afraid to answer it but then he saw that the number was that of the little old lady.
“She’s probably wondering where I am,” he thought. He answered it not giving
her the chance to speak first. “Ma’am,” he said, “I apologize but I got lost and I’m going to be a little late.” But before he could say another word a voice intervened.
“You’re not lost. You’re not late son. You’re on your way home that’s all.”
The voice hung up. He could have sworn that voice sounded just like his mother’s again. But then again maybe all sweet little old ladies sounded the same. All this was stressing him out something terrible. He was deathly afraid now as to what might happen to him next. He was emotionally and physically drained. He’d been driving for what seemed like eternity now and if he had been at home he’d have been asleep safely in bed. He’d
needed to lie down and get some sleep.
Wherever he was or whatever was happening to him was beyond his control anyway. Might as well get some sleep, wake up refreshed, and get a fresh handle on all this then he said to himself. No sense worrying about the hearse going off the road now was there. That wasn’t going to happen. He looked at the gas tank gage. It was on empty.
“So what else is new,” he mumbled as he climbed over the seat, went in the back, opened the coffin for the body he was to get, climbed in it, laid down, and stretched out. He propped the lid open though. He didn’t want to close it for fear he wouldn’t be able get it back open, especially under these strange circumstances, for then he really would be in a world of hurt. He fell asleep. The limo hit a bump, the prop came loose, the lid flapped shut, he was home now.
My latest book is entitled Cowhide about a woman trail drive boss, her motley crew of misfit drovers, and their misadventures on a cattle drive from Texas to Missouri. It is available on Amazon.