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They Beckon

The 18-wheeler rolled through the midnight terrain at a constant speed of 75 miles per hour. The trucker hadn’t given his name. The hitch-hiker with his mop of tangled blond hair, his ragged camouflage backpack, and his unchecked wanderlust wouldn’t have remembered it anyway.

It was a lonely stretch of interstate somewhere on the map between one coast and the other. It didn’t matter if it was Minnesota or Texas, Florida or Idaho, it all looked the same in the dark. The stars were a scattering of illuminated pin pricks on a blanket of impenetrable cosmic blackness. The vegetation along the road looked like an undulating mass of living shadows.

“Thanks again,” said the hitch-hiker.

The trucker nodded. “You’re welcome again. Glad to have some company.”

“I bet this job can get boring sometimes, huh?”

The trucker shrugged. “You get used to it.”

Then the engine whined and the wheels sputtered. The cab vibrated and the trucker whispered an irritated curse.

“I’m not a mechanic, but that doesn’t sound good,” said the hitch-hiker. He straightened up and scanned the highway for other vehicles. They were alone.

The trucker grimaced, clutching the gear shift and fighting back against the massive grunting engine. The semi decelerated. “Well, we might be walking if I can’t figure this out.”

The trucker pulled onto the shoulder then switched on the hazard lights as the semi eventually rolled to a stop.

“Well, the truck stop is only about five miles back,” stated the hitch-hiker.

“Listen to me,” said the trucker.

The hitch-hiker studied the trucker’s face. He saw large blood-shot eyes and quivering lips. A maddening fear had rushed up from somewhere deep within the trucker’s soul and the hitch-hiker suddenly wished he had declined the invitation for a lift at that truck stop isolated by miles of lonely highway.

The trucker took a deep breath before saying, “If you see people outside ignore them. They’ll try to get you to come with them. I’ve seen this before on isolated patches of road late at night. I can get the truck going again if you give me time.”

“Is this a joke?” asked the hitch-hiker. “Because if it is it’s not funny.”

The trucker shook his head. “Their eye’s beckon. Do you know what that means? Beckon. To summon, to invite. They’ll want to take you away.”

“Man, this is some weird stuff,” said the hitch-hiker. He went for the door, but the trucker reached out his hand to stop him.

The hitch-hiker recoiled from the trucker’s grasp as if assailed by something cold and unnatural.

“Look! They’re here,” said the trucker.

The hitch-hiker looked into the night. A figure appeared. Then another and another. In the glow of the headlights he saw a mob of somber faced travelers who seemed to stare back at the hitch-hiker as if astonished by his very existence. Men and women, young and old, casually swarmed the shoulder of the highway. And they did beckon.

One of them, a man in his 30s wearing dirty clothes, held a small suitcase in one hand and with other waved for the hitch-hiker to join their ghastly horde. Then the others waved and nodded and called out in silent cries for the hitch-hiker.

The sound of the ignition kicking up shattered the silent spectacle. The trucker turned the key, but it wouldn’t turn over. Instead the engine sputtered and whined. The trucker cursed under his breath.

“Who the hell are these people?” asked the hitch-hiker.

“I’ve seen this before,” was all the trucker would say.

The hitch-hiker locked the door. He looked at their desperate features and heard their soft wailing moans. A deep desire was burning within the small mob of maybe two dozen midnight interlopers. A pretty young woman with long chestnut hair moved through the crowd as if gliding. She came to the window and smiled.

“Come to us,” she whispered.

The engine shuddered and came to life.

A wild-eyed man with gray hair rushed up beside the woman. He looked ragged and crazed like most of the homeless men the hitch-hiker had met in his travels. He held out his hand as if waiting for the hitch-hiker to embrace it.

Now the trucker shifted the semi into gear and the cab jerked forward.

As the truck rolled onto the highway the mob followed along the shoulder. The hitch-hiker watched them beckon with their eyes and hands as if their very lives depended on luring him out of the cab. The truck gained speed and the mob continued their horrific pleas.

Eventually the truck went fast enough to put distance between the two men in the cab and the mass of specter-like people. The mob did not chase after. Sensing that their effort was rebuffed they became sullen.
The hitch-hiker watched them disband; some disappearing into the blackness of the woods on the right. Others spreading across the lanes to be engulfed by the darkness of the night. The hitch-hiker watched their silhouettes grow small in the passenger-side mirror. A minute later the two men were alone on the meandering highway once again.

Though the hitch-hiker wanted to ask questions, he couldn’t find the courage to ask them. They drove in silence for nearly an hour.

The trucker pulled off an exit. The hitch-hiker looked over.

“Where to now?” asked the hitch-hiker.

The trucker said, “I should show you what that was all about.”

Five minutes later the trucker pulled into the gravel parking lot of an abandoned country western bar. They climbed down from cab. The trucker led the hitch-hiker to the back of trailer. He produced a key and unlocked a padlock.

The hinges creaked as the trucker swung open the doors. It was dark inside. The trucker climbed inside. “Come on,” he said.

The hitch-hiker took a moment for a cautious glance of his environment. The darkened windows of the bar reminded him of the eyes of the roadside mob. He shuddered and climbed into the trailer.

“There’s a light. Turn it on,” said the trucker.

The hitch-hiker stumbled forward, grasping for the supposed light. Behind him he heard the gravel crunch beneath the trucker’s boots. The doors slammed shut. The hitch-hiker turned and rushed toward the back. He charged into the doors, trying to knock them open. He bounced off, falling to the floor. Darkness surrounded him as if to swallow him whole. He screamed. Then he heard the click of the lock.

He screamed again as the trailer lurched forward. They were on the road again. He flailed his arms searching for escape. In the dark he felt something hanging from the ceiling. There was a light after all. He pulled on the string and the trailer was awash in light.

Around him he saw faces staring back with cold dead eyes. He saw contorted bodies heaped into piles. Along the walls of the trailer he saw shackles and below those shackles speckled outlines of the human form painted in dried blood. He tried to scream again, but found that his lungs wavered in the stagnant air surrounding him.

He suddenly felt dizzy. His knees buckled then he feel to the floor. Scattered around him were the discarded items of dozens of the trucker’s victims. Backpacks, purses, wallets, clothes, shoes, and more.

The semi sped on into the night, mile after lonely mile. By three in the morning the trucker saw a sign for a place called Ruby’s Diner & Gas. In black letters plastered across the top of the billboard were the words: TRUCKER AMENITIES AVAILABLE 24 HOURS. His lips curled into a wicked grin. It got lonely on the road, thought the trucker. Thank god for truck stops.

Credits to: Nightwatch_SRB


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