Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
The I-10 freeway, which is known variously along different portions of its considerable travel across Southern California as either the San Bernardino or the Santa Monica, is the principal east-west artery for traffic traversing the vast megalopolis of Greater Los Angeles. Assuming its uniquely Southern California identity in the barren desert wastes beyond Palm Springs, the unbroken twelve-to-sixteen-lane ribbon of white concrete knifes arrow-straight for fifty miles, passing through a dozen outlying communities before topping a rise in Pomona and beginning its forty mile run down through the heart of downtown L.A. and on to Santa Monica and its terminus at the Pacific Ocean.
No point on the mighty I-10, which carries millions upon millions of vehicles per day, is ever without a steady stream of thundering tandem trailer rigs, rattletrap pickups jammed with the kids and dogs of immigrant families, Rolls Royces carrying the rich and famous to and from exclusive spas and shopping centers, suburban mini-vans en route to Cub Scout cookouts and legions of shiny, overpriced Japanese imports driven by dot-com moguls and festooned with tasteful stickers exhorting other drivers to Save The Whales or similar expressions of politically correct urban concern.
To stop on the inner shoulder of the I-10 is the 21st century equivalent of being marooned on a desert island. Day or night, to attempt to cross it on foot is to dot the I’s and cross the T’s on one’s own death certificate.
Annie Melman-Wright’s red Jeep Cherokee was speeding down the I-10 at the head of a pack of “prevailing speed” vehicles–the prevailing speed being however fast the gutsiest driver in any group of cars on the freeway could entice all the other drivers around him to go, thus confounding the ability of the souped-up but radarless black and white Highway Patrol Mustangs to single out a particular maniac for exceeding the rarely enforced sixty-five mile per hour limit.
In this instance, Spaz, the deranged sixteen-year-old CYA escapee was the gutsiest driver. And at close to eighty-five miles per hour, the nervous drivers comprising the informal clique of Hondas, Beemers and Explorers surrounding him were doing their level best to keep up the pace.
Spaz had been driving this way for nearly an hour now and the Jeep was finally nosing into the congested interchanges of the Santa Ana and Hollywood freeways, where the sheer volume of cars on the road ahead were forcing him to slow down. “Shit!” he screamed for the fifth time in as many minutes, laying on the horn and whipping around the startled driver of a Mercedes that had been dawdling in the fast lane at a mere seventy-plus. Spaz extended a rigid index finger in the direction of the frightened Mercedes driver as the Jeep swept past the other car and he cut his glittering eyes at Ronnie Vasquez who sat clutching the doors grab handle with white knuckles. “You check out the glove compartment yet?” he demanded over the shriek of heavy metal rock music blasting from the stereo.
“I already told ya, there ain’t nothing,” said the younger boy. From the moment the Jeep had screeched out of the parking lot in Redlands his focus of concern had shifted from the miserable details of his ill-advised escape from the Youth Authority camp to a gut wrenching desire to simply live through the ride. For the last fifteen minutes–ever since Spaz had begun weaving through the increasingly heavy traffic approaching the heart of the city–Vasquez had been praying to Jesus, silently promising if he got out of this that he would never do anything bad again. So far, his prayers had seemed only to drive his companion to bigger and more dangerous risks.
“Hey numbnuts!” He felt a sharp pain in his upper arm and turned to see Spaz threatening him with a balled fist. “I said climb in the back and check it out.”
Vasquez looked into the dimly lit rear compartment of the boxy vehicle. “Man, there ain’t nothing back there but some old sleeping bags and shit,” he whined, reluctant to give up the security of the seat belt cinched tightly about his pudgy middle, much less to clamber over the two seat backs to reach the cargo area.
Spaz glared at him.
“OK, OK,” he said. Unsnapping the belt, he scrambled into the back seat and peered into the carpeted cargo space. The well-worn down sleeping bag partially unrolled near the tailgate appeared to be spread over a couple of more rolled bags. The corner of a blue plastic First Aid kit showed beneath the bags.
Leaning over the gray leather seat back, Ronnie Vasquez lifted the edge of the open sleeping bag, exposing the perfectly formed legs and torso of a petite female.
“Oh Jesus!” He screamed in shock, thrusting himself away from the Jeep’s rear compartment and into the back of the driver’s seat. The vehicle swerved sharply, throwing him sideways onto the floor.
“What’s the matter with you, you crazy fucker?” yelled Spaz. He slammed on the brakes and jerked the steering wheel again, running the Jeep up onto the inside shoulder of the freeway, in order to avoid rear ending a lumbering eighteen-wheeler. An unearthly shriek filled the car, drowning out the rock music and a shower of orange sparks flew up from the side of the driver’s side door as the Chevy careened into the concrete divider separating the westbound freeway lanes from the oncoming traffic stream.
The Jeep’s engine stalled and the car bumped to a sudden stop, hurling Spaz into the top of the windshield frame with enough force to open a three-inch gash above his left eyebrow. Enraged and bleeding, he pulled himself to a sitting position. The long screwdriver flashed in his hand and, heedless of his injury, he whirled to face his terrified companion. “You little fucker, I’m gonna kill you,” he hissed. “Why’d you make me do that?”
Ronnie Vasquez’s lips were trembling as he pointed into the cargo area. “A body…” he mumbled, “there’s a girl’s body back there.”
Spaz stared at him. His cruel lips twisted into a quizzical grin and he held the tip of the screwdriver to the other boy’s eye. “A body…? If you’re shittin’ me, you fat little freak….”
“I swear to God,” blubbered Vasquez. “It’s a girl… and she’s all naked….”
“Bull-shit!” Spaz vaulted over the seat and knelt facing the cargo area. He leaned forward, jerking the sleeping bag aside. The pale maiden lay unmoving on the carpeted floor, her face hidden in shadow beneath a tangled mass of golden hair. “I’ll be damned,” he whispered in sudden awe. “I’ll be go to hell damned.” His watery little eyes devoured the smooth, white curve of the girl’s upraised hip, the one shapely leg drawn protectively over the deep shadow of her pubis.
The wrecked Jeep rocked in the blast of wind from a passing truck and Vasquez looked around in fright. “Let’s get out of here, man,” he whispered. “There’s gonna be cops… They’ll think we done her.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Spaz nodded absently, his sharp little eyes never leaving the stark outline of the pale body in the darkened cargo area. He reached cautiously forward with the screwdriver, prodding at one slender white foot with the blade. The foot twitched and the creature’s leg drew up, exposing a rounded buttock to view. Spaz blinked, running a tattooed hand through his spiky hair. The wicked grin slowly reappeared on his face and he turned to regard Vasquez. “She ain’t dead, you stupid shit. She’s a real live Playboy centerfold.”
He winked lecherously then returned his attention to the rear compartment, leaning over the seat back and showing his badly gapped teeth in what he supposed was a display of male confidence. “Hey, little honey,” he leered into the shadows, “you don’t gotta be afraid of me ‘n Vasquez here. We ain’t gonna hurt ya… if ya do what we say.”
The tantalizing form before him moved, slowly rising to a kneeling position reminiscent of the pinup girl in a photo he had once kept taped to his locker in junior high, and Spaz was treated to an unobstructed view of firm young breasts above a flat belly.
“Oh yeah,” he breathed, tearing off his baggy plaid shirt and fumbling to undo the buckle of the heavy Mexican leather belt holding the ripped and faded jeans to his bony hips. “I’m gonna get back there with you, baby, and you and me are gonna….” His voice faltered as the dreamlike body moved eagerly forward and a pair of hot yellow eyes fixed him in their unwavering gaze.
Startled by her unanticipated reaction, Spaz giggled nervously. “Jesus, honey, I….”
The maiden seemed to smile at his discomfort. Spaz felt his bladder let go as the smile kept on widening, growing to impossible dimensions, exposing the dripping fangs and cutting teeth set in the maiden’s beautiful bloodless face. The wiry youth turned his head away, his frightened eyes flicking pleadingly to the other boy, a small confused laugh still gurgling up in his throat. “Vasquez, man, this weird chick she…”
Ronnie Vasquez screamed as the blond death’s head arched forward in a quick slashing motion. A thick jet of blood from Spaz’s severed carotid artery hosed the Jeep’s dove gray headliner as the girl with the perfect body launched herself across the seat and noisily buried her face in the older boy’s throat. Vasquez pressed himself back against the Jeep’s padded rear door, feeling blindly for the handle. He found it and the door flew open, tumbling him out of the vehicle, and directly into the fast lane of the I-10 where a speeding BMW coupe being piloted by a corporate attorney on his way to an important meeting in Santa Monica slammed into him at seventy miles an hour.
Vasquez’s soft body flew high into the air, landing on the hood of a cement truck that had been tailgating the BMW since Pomona. The startled driver swerved his overloaded vehicle sharply to the right, plowing into a gasoline tanker and an Alamo rental car filled with six Taiwanese businessmen en route to a day at Disneyland before overturning and bringing all eight westbound freeway lanes to a complete and sudden halt.
The maiden in the back of the stalled Jeep had jerked her head from the ruin of the scrawny human’s throat as the door flew open, flooding the interior with hard gray light. She saw the second human disappear into the river of vehicles flowing past a few feet away. She pressed her hands to her sensitive ears as a sudden cacophony of rending metal and screaming tires filled the air.
Discarding Spaz’s limp body to finish bleeding to death on its own, she sprang to the open door and peered out into a tangle of wreckage and spreading flames. There was a soft whumph as a nearby vehicle burst into flame. Then a momentary silence descended over the scene. Somewhere in the distance a lone woman began to scream.
The pale maiden blinked in the hard light, watching in fascination as a thick column of black smoke rose up to merge with the low covering of cold gray clouds overhanging the blocked road. Someone shouted and she turned her head to see men running toward the Jeep from a tangle of undamaged vehicles that had come to a halt further down the road. She quickly retreated into the vehicle, allowing the smooth facial skin to slip over her teeth and scanning the interior for a hiding place. Her survivor’s instinct told her the humans would search the vehicle for their injured and she would be discovered. Then her eyes fell upon the brightly colored shirt the scrawny man creature had discarded moments before. She quickly seized it, pushing her slender arms into the sleeves and closing it about her.
The shouts of the running men were louder now and she huddled motionless on the rear seat, waiting for them to arrive. Although she had never had to impersonate a human before, it was a skill that had been practiced by her race from antiquity and she knew that she was to keep her eyes downcast and the strange body coverings pulled close to her body.
To her great surprise and relief, the running humans continued past the vehicle without slowing. She looked out after they had passed and saw them clustered about a burning wreck in which several of their kind had been trapped. A sudden shudder of remembrance ran through her frail body as she thought of her long dead sire, and she felt a momentary surge of pity for the pitiful humans caught in the flames. To die quickly and painlessly beneath the killing teeth of a proud hunter was one thing… but for even a human to suffer the untold agonies of seeing and feeling and smelling one’s own flesh charring and blistering…. She could not bear the thought.
More men were running past her now and she knew she must make her escape quickly. Stepping out onto the hard stony surface of the roadway with the huge plaid shirt flapping about her knees, she scanned the stalled river of man made vehicles. The tops of tall green trees swayed beyond a wall at the opposite side of the road and, lowering her eyes to the smooth concrete beneath her feet, she started instinctively toward them, threading her way carefully among the skewed metal noses of cars and trucks, walking in the peculiar shuffling, flat-footed way that she had observed in the prey.
She had nearly reached the gray block wall when she felt a restraining hand on her arm and a shrill voice rang in her ears.
“Are you all right dear?”
She turned to see a thick-bodied human female regarding her. The woman was wearing a tight-fitting garment of some thin white material that clung tightly about her form, accentuating the unhealthy layers of body fat about her thighs and middle. The woman’s large hands were studded with sparkling bands of metal, the nails painted bright red. Rings of colored plastic clacked annoyingly at her wrists.
“I’m a nurse,” said the human, her pale green eyes beaming down through large rectangular panes of rose tinted glass that were affixed to her head by means of golden hooks around her ears.
The woman’s hand retained its grip on her slender arm and the pale maiden looked around to see if she dare attack here in the open. Several other humans were approaching, although their attention also seemed firmly fixed on the fiery vehicle further along the road.
“I am… fine,” said the creature, avoiding the woman’s gaze and forcing her tongue to utter the strange human words that had been drilled into her by her old mam so long ago. She turned her downcast eyes in the direction of the fire. “Help… those… men!”
The human’s smile faded and she followed the creature’s gaze. “Yes, of course you’re right,” she muttered, releasing her grip on the plaid shirt sleeve and waddling away toward the inferno.
Casting a final cautious glance across the littered roadway, the maiden bounded lightly to the top of the concrete block wall and stood looking down at the steep wooded embankment on the other side. Beyond the tops of the eucalyptus trees lining the slope stretched an endless vista of rooftops, the brown and green and orange tiled patchwork they formed reminding her of the colored fabric quilts that had hung over the shadowed opening of the Gypsy caravan she had visited with her mam when she had been taken to visit the Oracle.
A sudden flood of memories filled her mind; dimly recalled scenes of her old mam, her noble sire and her cunning little brother, scenes from the long ago time before the purges; the time before her immature body had been laid dormant then packed in fresh, cold earth and hidden aboard the creaking wooden sailing ship for the long and horrible journey to the New Land.
Driving those extraneous thoughts from her hunter’s brain, she sniffed the smoke befouled air for signs of further danger. Satisfied that the trees contained no humans, she leaped lightly to the soft, loamy ground, landing on the balls of her feet. She dug her toes into the reassuring familiarity of earth and briefly considered discarding the filthy human garment which clung unpleasantly to her skin. Deciding it might well be useful in proximity to so many humans, she settled for undoing all but the topmost of the clumsy fasteners. Then, with the dead boy’s plaid shirt billowing about her slender body, she stalked into the fragrant stand of eucalyptus trees in search of a protected spot where she might safely lay up until nightfall.