“No night is a good night,” Robert had always said to his co-workers at the lumber mill. “Not even if it’s raining.”
And that was true for Robert; he had never liked the dark. It simply rubbed him the wrong way and he always tried to take the day-shift. Tonight, however, he had been called in because of an accident at work. Robert was now locking up the mill, putting the finishing touches on the day. Grumbling, Robert made his way out to his old Ford truck, parked under the only lighting in the entire parking lot. There had once been much more lighting, Robert remembered, but that was back when the mill was doing well and the town was still swelling.
Robert was about twenty pounds overweight, fifty years old and always wore his John Deere hat. Tonight he was wearing a pair of old work jeans, a black and red checkered shirt, and one of those coats that looked more like a life preserver than anything else. His ID badge hung forgotten out of his right coat pocket. It was raining hard that night, so much so that Rob fumbled three times trying to insert the keys into the lock. He opened the door – it creaked. He’d have to fix that sometime, he thought, and hefted his large frame onto the bucket seat. Robert always hated walking to his car in the dark – he forced himself to take slow and deliberate steps because he knew if he bolted the fear would only encroach faster and before he knew it he’d have another heart attack. One thing he always did, though was slam the door as soon as he sat down, as if some malevolent spirit was about to get in with him.
He stuck the key in the ignition and twisted. The old engine made a cough, and then cut out. “Damn truck,” he cursed absently, following the same routine as always. “Shoulda dumped kerosene all over ya, lit ya up, an’ then danced around the flames. Woulda served a better purpose.”
He tried again, and this time the decrepit thing whined to life, subsiding into a low cough that he could just barely hear over the rainstorm. Flipping the wipers on and putting the truck in gear, he pulled out of the parking space and headed towards the parking lot exit. Turning right, he headed down Ridgeback Road. Robert’s home was only about twenty miles from the shop – he enjoyed the driving, it was like a sort of meditation for him. Robert would spend this time collecting his thoughts and soothing his nerves, listening to the radio. “Speaking of the radio,” he mumbled, pressing the on button and turning the dial. He found a rock’n’roll station and kept searching, he thought that kind of music was for drug abusers and idiots. When he had first heard a rock song, he had commented, very dryly, that it sounded a lot more like static than like any music he’d ever heard. Finding an oldies station, he sat back and began to enjoy the nice drive home.
It wasn’t so bad, he thought, driving in the night time. It was better than the day; the darkness around him allowed him to almost store his thoughts there, making it easier to think. Rob had spent his life in labor and was not seen as the smartest brick in the wall. He had, however, gotten accepted into Princeton in that far-back past, but he had denied that life for one of simplicity. Robert enjoyed working with his hands – that was it. On his free time, though, he’d read about time travel philosophy and many other complex topics. He also had those bills to pay for the water and the power; the company wasn’t paying as much as they used to. Robert feared he might even have to move and find other work. What he really feared, he realized, was the breach in routine. Robert was the kind of guy that liked order, liked knowing that when he went to bed at night he’d wake up to the same pleasant things, and that they’d never change. But there was that one time…
All of a sudden, the engine gave and stalled out. Sighing exasperatedly, Robert guided the ancient vehicle over to the shoulder, and put on the parking break. He reached behind his seat and grabbed the large flashlight he usually kept for just this sort of emergency. Opening the door, he gingerly stepped out into the rain. Wishing he had brought an umbrella, Robert was instantly soaked. Cursing under his breath, Robert slammed the door and switched the flash light on and shone it about. It was pitch black – no moon – no stars. All he could see was about three feet in front of where he shone the high-powered beam.
“Great,” he grumbled. “Only guy in this town who hates the dark and I get stuck in it.” He hunched over as he walked to the front of the truck, looking for the release switch. Robert found it under the grille and pressed it; a loud pop resounded. Opening the hood, he kicked up the stand, and peered inside, the beam trained.
Robert was pretty good with cars – he had never believed in taking a car to the mechanic. He was a do-it-yourself guy way before that fad had taken hold. When Robert didn’t know how to do something, he’d find out. This particular truck had given out on him so many times he knew the engine better than it knew itself. He also knew there was clearly nothing wrong with it this time, everything was in perfect order. So why the stall? He thought to himself. Just then, he heard a distant rumble from down the road.
Turning, he saw a bright mist from around the bend, followed by a black sedan, coming from the other way. The light illuminated the whole area about him and he saw… he blinked. A well-built figure of a man stood about ten meters down the road, but he wasn’t wearing any clothing and was completely jet black, from head to toe, with no discernible features. As the car drew closer to the figure – he was standing in Robert’s lane - the form raised his arms slowly, as if attempting to make a snow angel in the air. Where the figure’s arms had been was what seemed to Robert as a swirling vortex of blackness that gave off the image in his head of wings. But then the car passed – and darkness flooded his vision once more. Almost instantly fear shot through Robert like cold juices splattering his stomach.
Shining the beam down the road, Robert found the figure was gone. As what anyone else would do, Robert shrugged it off as a figment of his over-active imagination. Who would want to think there was something out there like that with them? The answer was nobody. So Robert locked that thought up in a little black box and labeled it delusional. He walked back to the driver’s side to try and start the truck again. He opened the door and his jaw dropped, agape.
There, sitting in the passenger’s seat was a lovely thin, brown haired woman of about twenty. She had soft, delicate features and wore the type of outfit that you might expect at a Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. She recoiled at the sight of him and began to speak in jumbled, fearful spats.
“I’m sorry…I just…I just…”
“What the hell are you doin’ in my truck!?” Robert exclaimed. He was regaining his composure now – this was no supernatural figure in the night, this was some stupid woman who had snuck into his truck.
“I just…it was raining so hard and…I needed a ride…I saw your car in the – ”
She whimpered. “Should I get out, then?”
Robert begun to open his mouth to say “Yes, you bitch!” but then he realized that he’d be leaving her out here, in the dark, in the rain, with nothing but the clothes on her back and the possible aspect of a jet-black creature who’s nature was most likely not benign. Sighing, he acquiesced to her hitching a ride, got in, and to his surprise, started the truck on the first twist.
“It never does that,” he mumbled, glad now to have some company to talk to. He should pick up hitch-hikers more often, he thought. Most people thought it was dangerous but it’s either that or die lonely.
“Does what?” she asked, looking at him with big, oval eyes.
“Starts like that,” he said. “Where you headed?”
“I’m headed for Jo-Ann Lane, it’s about – ”
“I know where it is,” Robert cut in. “It’s a long road and I’m not headin’ that way. I can drop you off at the beginnin’ of it.”
“Please!” She begged. “I don’t want to go back out there. I can make it worth your while.” At this, she took a single index finger and ran it lightly along the length of her leg. She was wearing a short skirt, and it aroused that within Robert which hadn’t been used in awhile. It was true – the last time was been about twelve years ago – and he had paid for that! Still, though, was it really right to do such a thing? She could be his daughter. To hell with it, he thought, he couldn’t do such a thing.
“Sorry, sweetheart, but you’re much too young for me.”
“Not as young as you think,” she said, giving him a beaming smile. “Look – maybe not that, then. I’m desperate,” she raised her hands, patting the air, “Not like that, mind you, but I am desperate not to have to walk down that long, dark road alone, in the rain. I’ll do anything!”
“Got any money for gas?”
“No. I wouldn’t have offered you sex if I had something else. No offense.”
“None taken,” he said, offended. “Well, I really don’t feel like all that driving, but I don’t blame you. I hate the dark.”
“Ever since I was a kid,” he said, kicking the truck into gear and merging back into the lane. “It scares the bejeezus out of me.”
“Same here!” she screamed happily. “I thought I was the only one over ten who thought that! And look at you! You’re like what…sixty?”
“Fifty,” he said, looking out the window.
“Oh…sorry…I didn’t mean – ”
“Naw,” he said, turning back, “It’s alright. I…well…” He liked her a lot, she was vivacious, and naďve. Robert found her suddenly very attractive. In fact, all he wanted to do was pull the truck over and wrap her in his arms. He didn’t know why – it was just something about her screamed “Take me!”
His conscience spoke up then, a dull whine. How could he want to sleep with a girl young enough to be his daughter? It was gross, it was inhuman! Rich old men usually had young wives, though, he thought. Making the decision, he said, “Well, I’ve decided.”
“What?” She asked, placing a finger on her lips, questioningly.
“I’ll take you down the road for what you offered,” he said. The idea of saying what she had bargained with stung him. It seemed okay, though, to speak of it indirectly.
“Oh, good. Do you want it now or when we get to my cottage?”
“How about when we get there,” he said. Robert all of a sudden felt very awkward, like he was telling the doctor about some embarrassing mark when he was thirteen or so, and puberty problems were at their height. “I don’t mean to be so crude…please don’t think less of me because I am accepting this…”
“Oh, not at all,” she said, smiling. “I’m pretty sure you’re experienced, anyways.”
He smiled warily at that, and said, “Not as old as you think.” Truthfully, though, the few times he had had a go he wasn’t that great – even finishing before he was supposed to. That was probably why he had never tried very often, out of that feared look he’d get after he had finished, that one that said, “Wow, that quick?” and hit him at the very core, like being hit in the balls with a sledge-hammer. Silence followed for the next few minutes, intermittently broken by odd scratching noises on the bottom of the truck.
“What is that?” he asked of the woman.
“It’s probably nothing,” she replied.
“No,” Robert said, “I think I want to check it out. This old girl could have a leak somewhere.” He pulled the truck over once more, put it in park, and got out into the rain. Upon shining the flashlight beam down on the underbelly of the truck, he found nothing out of the ordinary. Standing back up and feeling a crack in his back, he looked through the back windows at the woman. Her face looked haggard, pale, as if she had just seen a ghost. Walking back to the open driver’s door – it was no use trying to keep dry now, he figured, Robert asked, “Something wrong?”
“Can we just get out of here?” she murmured. “I just want to get home.”
“Why? It’s perfectly safe,” he said, trying to console her. So far, she had seemed normal to him but now he thought he saw something in her eyes – something that resembled fear, but also a secret.
“Can we just leave!?”
“Alright, alright,” Robert gave in, sitting back down in the truck and shutting the door. He pulled back on the road, and a few miles later found Jo Ann Street, a little-used dirt road that waxed sharply off to the left. He turned into it and winced as the truck began to rumble over many nooks and bumps in the road. No one ever came down this road – nothing was down here. This was also why it had never been paved. Robert thought it odd that such a girl would live down in these parts but decided not to mention it, wary of his reward at the end of this ordeal.
“About a mile down you can take a right,” she said. “Then about another quarter mile and you’ll reach my cottage.”
True enough, Robert found a right a mile down, and took it. Soon he descended upon a circular driveway of dirt next to a barren looking cottage.
“Are you sure? This place looks like it’s been deserted for years,” he told the woman.
“No, it’s good old home. Would you like to come in?” She gave him another one of those smiles, and he felt more than willing to comply. He shut off the car, leaving the keys in the ignition. They both got out and began to walk towards the house.
“Oh, by the way, I never got your name,” she asked.
“Oh. Mine is Julia.” She stuck out her hand, and he shook it, raising an eyebrow. Stranger and stranger, he thought. The door was unlocked and she opened it with the ease of experience. The room inside was surprisingly well furnished, with a fire already burning. Pictures lined the mantle, a bear rug hugged the floor and two plush chairs and one rocking chair sat surrounding it. A small portal led to a bathroom on the far end of the room. Julia excused herself, telling Robert to make himself at home while she prepared herself for him.
Sitting down in the rocking chair, he soon got restless and made his way over to the mantle near the fire place. It was hot and humid outside but surprisingly cool in the cottage, even with the fire burning. He looked up at the pictures – they were old, very old. He could tell most of them were from the 1800s by the slack faces in the pictures. He walked down the line, most were family photos – Robert figured Julia’s late relatives. He heard her open the door and began to turn but one picture caught his eye. It was black and white, and sitting in the same rocking chair he had sat in was Julia, with that same slack stare. He turned, ashen.
“I’m so sorry, Robert,” she said. Her eyes looked distant, almost vacant. “You’re a nice guy.”
“Huh,” he murmured, backing towards the door. “I don’t understand.”
She sighed, taking a step towards him. “Nothing’s wrong, Robert, come here, good, get your reward.”
Robert shook his head. He had seen the picture – he knew something was amiss. One fleeting thought of hope hit him, though. “Was that picture on the mantle you’re great grandmother or something?”
“Was it engineered?”
“Then…what…are…you?” Robert asked, fumbling behind him for the knob on the door. He hoped she didn’t notice. Robert was draped in a cool sweat, and felt every bone in his body as if he had just been through a battle. Was this what it felt like to be really scared? Was this true fear? Probably, he thought.
“I’m human,” she said. “It’s just…I’m overdue for my appointment with death. I…am still running from him. I can slow him down, though, appease him, if you will.”
Barely a whisper: “What are you saying?”
“If a hungry beast is chasing you and you give it a decoy, something else to satisfy its hunger, it’ll stop for awhile,” she said. “I am over a hundred and fifty years old. When I was twenty I found out a way to cheat death – but he didn’t like that. He came after me and I had to give my husband first. Many others followed. It’s a pact with the devil, and I want to get out of it! Really, I do! But I know if I die only hell awaits…so I have to keep feeding it, feeding the evil and the hatred or else I’ll be consumed myself. Please, forgive me, Robert!”
“Robert,” she said soothingly, “It will be painless. Just…come here, let me just embrace you before you go. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Well, wouldn’t you?”
No, Robert thought. Not that. This couldn’t be happening. He decided that the only way to do this was to open this door and walk back to his truck and drive away. This woman was crazy, she had to be! This couldn’t be true! He turned abruptly and shoved open the door. There, only a few inches from his face, stood the jet-black figure. It all made sense now. It had been chasing Julia, and Julia had been desperately trying to find a decoy; someone to slow it down. And now hear that decoy was, thought Robert, in the fucking flesh.
Robert gulped, and he heard the weeping of Julia behind him. His knees trembling and the figure raising its arms into the air like an angel – an angel of death, Robert thought – he had one last, run-away thought. No night is a good night.