The asphalt directly in front of the minivan and the grass and trees immediately on the street’s edges were the only things visible on the winding country road. He used his brights when there was no oncoming traffic, but outside the arcs of light there was only blackness.
“The address, 2136 Emerald Road, is immediately on your right,” the phone said.
“You must have punched in something wrong,” Bradley said. “There’s nothing out here.”
“No, I’m sure I put it in right. I don’t get it,” his wife said, looking out at the shapes of trees going by.
“Dammit, Jamie, we don’t have time for this.” His hands were shaking on the wheel.
“Relax. What did Dr. Koumas say?”
“Can we please not bring up that witch doctor now.”
“Mom, you want me to try on my phone?” Emilia asked from the back seat.
They felt a jarring double thump under the wheels.
Alex looked up from his book. “What was that, Dad?”
Bradley watched the dark lump receding behind him through the side mirror. “I think an armadillo,”
“Did you kill it?” his son asked.
“No, it was already dead.” He said assuringly.
“Why is the car rocking?” his wife asked, sitting up. “Brad, we have a flat.”
He slowed down and looked for a shoulder that was safe to pull off onto, but the street dropped off into bottomless ditches on both sides. He found a narrow gravel road that cut into the tall oaks and turned in. It was a circular driveway with an impressive colonial style house recessed behind the trees. There were lights on in the entryway. The rest of the windows were dark.
A wall of thick air hit him as he opened the car door. Even this late at night, it was warm and sticky. He could hear a dog barking somewhere near the house.
“Do you need some help, Dad?” Alex asked.
The cicadas’ whirrings were so loud he could barely hear his son’s voice. “That’s ok. Stay in the car,” he yelled and shut the door.
He walked around to the back of the van and lifted up the hatch. Digging under the mats for the spare tire and jack, he realized he didn’t know where they were. He’d have to look at the manual, if he could even find it. He put his hands up on the bottom of the trunk when he heard the crunch of footsteps on the driveway. Stepping around from the back of the car, he saw the silhouette of a man approaching him.
“Sorry for pulling into your driveway,” Bradley shouted. “We have a flat.”
The man was in overalls and no shirt. He had a Cardinals cap on and a peppered beard. Bradley could now see the man was carrying a shotgun at his side.
“Not my house,” the man said. “Just doin’ the neighborly thing and checkin’ things out. Y’all need some help?”
“I think we’re fine, thanks. Just have to locate the spare tire.”
“That an Odyssey?” the man asked stepping closer. “My nephew has one of ‘em. Ask too much for them things, in my opinion.”
Bradley laughed nervously. “Yeah, they’re expensive.”
“Good cars, though. I’m afraid you won’t find the spare in the trunk there,” he laughed. He walked over to the side of the van, yanked on the handle and the door slid open. Jamie let out a gasp. The children stared back at him in terror.
“Sorry ‘bout that. Didn’t mean to scare y’all,” he chuckled lifting the bill of his cap. “Your eyes are ‘bout as wide as deer in the headlights.” He smiled at Bradley who was walking as casually as possible toward him. The man noticed the kids looking at his 12 Gauge and back up at him. “Don’t worry ‘bout the gun. We country folk always got one around, ‘specially lately. You’re gonna need to clear out for a second, though, sweethearts. I believe the spare is right there beneath your feet there.”
The children looked at their father. He nodded and waved for them to get out. Alex and Emilia stepped out and stood next to him.
The man set his rifle on the ground and got inside the van. Bradley looked down at the shotgun and then at his wife who was looking back at him through the passenger window. The hum and buzz of the cicadas was deafening, closing in on him somewhere in the darkness. He looked down at the gun again. He thought he saw blood on the end of it. His eyes darted up to the large house in the distance. Why was it so dark?
“Yup, there it is.”
Bradley turned to the open van and saw the spare tire and tools under the floor. “Ah, thank you so much. I would have never looked there.” He wiped the sweat from his lip and forehead.
“Ya want, I can pull it out for ya. These things can be mighty heavy.”
“If you don’t mind, that would be great. Thanks again.” Buzz Whir Hum “My name’s Brad, by the way, and this is my wife, Jamie, and this is Alex and Emilia.”
“Nice to meet y’all. My name’s Jesse, but I mostly get called J.J,” he grunted while pulling the tire out.
“Well, thanks so much, J.J. I wouldn’t have found it without you. We…”
“No offense, Brad, but you don’t look the type’s changed many tires. Am I right?” he laughed taking the tools out.
“I think we’re ok…”
“I’ll give ya a hand and get it done right.”
Bradley gave a quick glance at his wife. The man was already loosening the nuts. He looked at the shotgun again. J.J. seemed to be in an awful hurry.
Whir Whir Buzz Buzz Hum
“Somethin’ got ya good,” the man said as he pulled off the damaged tire.
“I think we hit an armadillo.”
“Yup, see a coupla bones stuck right in there,” he said, pointing to the holes in the tread.
Bradley leaned closer, wiping his forehead. “Wow…unbelievable.”
“Funny lookin’ things. Don’t seem to quite fit in. Look so innocent, but boy can they do some damage.” He mounted the spare on the axle. “I tried gettin’ rid of ‘em for months on my property,” he chuckled while turning the handle to bring the car back down. “I tried traps, poison, nothin’ worked. The only thing that worked was shootin’ em.” He laughed, tightening the bolts.
Whir Whir Whir Whir
Stanley picked up the shotgun and pointed it at the man’s back.
“No, Brad!” his wife screamed from inside the car.
The man turned around, still on his knees in front of the tire. His face was wet and his eyes big. “Wait a second, Brad. Someone’s gonna get really hurt with…”
“Move away from the car,” he said, raising the gun’s sights to his eye.
The man stood up slowly and raised his hands over his head. “Listen, Brad…”
“You think you can mess with me and my family?” Whir Whir Hum Whir “Move!” He motioned with his rifle to the right of the car.
The man sidestepped slowly in the direction he was told.
His wife frantically put down her window. “Brad, he’s done nothing to us! He’s helped us. Remember what the doctor said.”
Bradley could only see the man’s head above the gun’s barrels. The rest was blackness. “Kids, get in the car.”
“Brad, think of the kids. It’s not worth it.”
The children scrambled into the van and shut the door.
“Listen, sir, I don’t know why…”
“That way,” he said pointing the rifle in the direction of the house. “We’ll see how innocent you are.”
Jamie and the children watched the two men pass in front of the van and down the driveway until they were small silhouettes beside the pillars of the lighted porch. They disappeared inside.
Hum Hum Whir Whir Whir
There was a loud shot. The dog began barking again.
“Mom, what’s going on?” Emilia pleaded.
Jaimie jumped in the driver’s seat, her hands shaking, trying to get the key in the ignition. She started the engine and turned on the headlights. To her left, the ghostly edge of the forest illuminated. Jaime strained to see the front door. She turned on the brights, but it only blanched the trees in the foreground, making the porch even more difficult to make out.
Whir Whir Buzz Buzz Whir
A figure staggered out of the house. It was running toward them, the shotgun flashing back and forth in its hand. She saw the cap first, then the overalls covered in blood.
She slammed the car in reverse and, after a second, back into drive and pressed the pedal as hard as she could. The van lurched forward. The man tried to raise the rifle but was hit mid-motion, the children screaming as he rolled off the hood. Jamie looked through the side mirror and saw the dark lump receding behind her.