Over the Hedge
road to perdition, part four
13 September 2005
The dirt road went on much longer than we expected, with nothing much to look at on the way but the train tracks on one side and a dark expanse of crabgrass on the other. It was a straight shot, though, so Matteson pushed Alpha much faster than I felt comfortable with. Rick and Charles were carrying on in the back seat the whole time, debating the existence of aliens with arguments that were, I hope, intentionally absurd. Shortly after I finally started to get comfortable in the knowledge Matteson wasn't going to hit anything and let go of the handle above my door, the radio cut out. The car went silent.
"Are we, by chance, driving out of the range of that station?" I asked.
"That station transmits from Youngstown," Matteson answered, cracking his window and then lighting a cigarette.
"Not from around here, remember?"
"We're driving toward it." I took a deep breath and started fiddling around in my bag.
"That is exactly the opposite of what I wanted you to say." I pulled out my phone and checked it. Finding I had no signal, I began looking for something else to test. The car started to slow and I looked to Matteson.
"Are you stopping? What's going on?"
"Town," he said, pointing ahead. I looked out the windshield and saw that we were, in fact, emerging into an actual town. The road was paved by the time we came across a line of brick buildings, the edge of town. There were no buildings beyond them in this direction, and even the paved road we were now on had no markings of any kind. The buildings had no windows facing our direction, which gave them a monolithic appearance, like a medieval walled city with a single gate opened for us. Immediately after those buildings was a stop sign and an intersection, and after looking around for a moment Matteson turned right.
"Why are we going this way?"
"Because I turned left last time."
"Oh great," Charles whined, "not this again."
"What? What's that mean?" I asked, turning around.
"He doesn't like when Matteson wings it," Rick answered. "We had one time where it turned out to be a bad idea, and he's never lived it down."
"One time?! It's gone terribly awry every time!" Charles cried out.
"Is this true?" I asked.
"Of course not," Matteson answered. "He doesn't realize I'm always winging it." Charles grumbled.
"Hey guys?" Rick asked. I turned back to him. "Does this place seem odd to you?" I looked around at the town, really for the first time, and started to notice that it seemed empty. It was night, so I wouldn't have expected it to be wildly busy, but it was just...silent. No lights were on in any building, house or apartment or business. The streetlights were off. There was no movement, no people, no animals, nothing. No cars on the roads, in driveways, or in parking lots. We were completely alone. Well, for a little while, anyway.
We spent a few minutes driving around aimlessly, unsure of what road would take us out of town or where we even were. The discussion during that time mostly focused on how weird it was to find a town like this, which looked fully lived-in, but with absolutely no evidence anyone currently lived in it. The radio started to pick up a signal, faint at first but growing stronger. It wasn't the station we had been listening to before, and it wasn't even really anything intelligible, but it certainly sounded like it was made with intention. Like structured static, or whispers from a robot's dreams. I looked back to say something to Charles and noticed something large and black behind us, mostly seen by way of the highlights where it caught the light of the moon.
"I think we have company," I said. Matteson checked his mirror.
"It's a garbage truck," he said. "I've never seen a black garbage truck before."
"How can you tell?"
"He's good with the dark," Rick said. "I don't know if it's a spirit thing or what." I sat back down in my seat and made sure my seatbelt was tight.
"If that thing is black, it has to be spotless to look like that. And why couldn't I see the windows?"
"It is awfully strange to have a spotless garbage truck," Matteson said, taking the next turn. "And maybe the windows are tinted."
"Are tinted windshields legal here?"
"Legal or not, it seems bad."
"Something bad that's following us," Charles said, looking out the back window. I glanced back and saw that the truck had indeed taken the same turn. It was getting closer, and the signal on the radio was getting stronger.
"Maybe this was just the turn it was supposed to take?" Rick offered.
"You see any garbage out for them to pick up?" Matteson said, lighting a new cigarette and then taking the next turn. The truck took the same turn. "Fuck, hold on everyone." Rick and Charles sat facing dead forward and buckled their seat belts. I turned back as well, glancing over to Matteson as he clenched his teeth down on the cigarette and punched the gas. The truck kept pace, but he kept cutting down random roads and speeding up as much as he could. The truck could keep with us on straights, but with all the turns, it started to fall behind ever so slightly.
"You got this?" I asked, feeling Alpha tip as he took one turn much faster than I think could possibly be safe.
"Almost," he said, glancing at his mirror. I grabbed the handle and started muttering invocations for safety. "Can you hide us, just briefly?"
"I don't know, that's a tricky one and I might not have the supplies..."
"What do you need?" The tires screeched and I felt fairly certain two of them came off the road briefly.
"Distance from you, for one thing! But even with that, I dunno, something...something invisible? That would help? Or-" Matteson reached up and snapped the rear view mirror off the windshield and tossed it into my lap.
"Something that can show what we want it to show?"
"I...yeah, I think this can work."
"On my mark!" I quickly tried to think of the wording of a spell that would do what was being asked of me, as he cut around one corner and, before the truck could make the same turn, dove into an alley and slammed on the brakes. "Now!" He turned off the engine, closed his eyes, and focused; I gripped the mirror and spit out the best thing I could think of. The truck went past us, slowing down as if looking around, but did not turn down our alley. As it passed and the moonlight hit it better we could all see that it was, indeed, a perfectly clean, black, garbage truck, with a red spiral painted on the side near the back. We waited until we were certain it was gone, once the signal on the radio faded entirely, then he started Alpha back up and punched the gas. We didn't see the truck again before he found a sign for Route 224, and by the time we got onto that road everything looked normal.
"I told you!" Charles screamed, "I told you it always goes bad!"
"Nah," Matteson answered, picking up the mirror from my lap and tossing it onto the dashboard. "Bad would've been getting caught."
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