The summer sun shone down from the relentlessly blue Indiana sky; while the scrubby fields of soybeans on either side of the road seemed metaphorically pleased with this, the conditions were far less than ideal for the lone human pacing along the shoulder.
He paused for a moment, leaning against one of the many signs reminding drivers that they were still on I-70, and slid the black canvas-and-leather pack from his shoulders. He pulled a water bottle from it and drank greedily before walking on.
He'd gone a quarter of a mile before a vehicle even turned up. Fortunately, its driver decided to take pity on him.
He jogged towards the blue pickup as it pulled onto the shoulder, waited for permission to get in.
The driver gave the hitchhiker's moss-green-dyed hair - at the roots of which its natural medium brown was starting to show - a disdainful glance. But then, kids did some strange things in college - the man looked young enough to be attending one, anyway - and besides, he was dressed normally enough.
"Where you headed?" he asked.
"Springfield," the hitchhiker replied.
"I can take you as far as the state line."
"Much obliged, sir." The young man flashed him a grin before hopping in.
As they pulled out onto the highway, he seemed to notice for the first time that the radio was playing.
"What song is this?" he asked. "It's kind of catchy."
The driver raised an eyebrow at him, as though the question was totally off the wall. "Riders on the Storm. The Doors."
The hitchhiker shrugged. "Before my time."
The song ended, its last few notes trampled by the news bulletin that followed.
"An update has just been released on the mass murder/suicide at the Tranquil Grove asylum in Nebraska... Police have determined that one of the staff members is still unaccounted for. As the only apparent survivor, he may be somehow connected with this grisly incident..."
The driver wasn't paying close enough attention to notice his passenger freeze, or to see the brief look of horror that flitted across his face.
"The survivor, one Rene Whi-"
"D'you mind if I change the station?" the hitchhiker asked. His expression had cleared of all emotion save boredom.
"Sure..."The driver narrowed his eyes, slow suspicion beginning to set in. "What's your name, kid?"
"Dominick Cochran," the hitchhiker replied, smiling as he extended his hand.
The suspicion faded only slightly from the driver's expression as he shook Dominick's hand.
They drove the rest of the way to the state line in near-silence.
The driver pulled up into the welcome center's parking lot, hands tightening slightly around the steering wheel as he waited for his passenger to get out.
Dominick slid out of the truck, shutting the door behind him. "Thank you very much, sir-" The pickup pulled away almost before he could get the last word out. He turned away, sighing as he surveyed the welcome center.
Dammit. Rednecks aren't supposed to be smart enough to be that paranoid. Dominick stepped into the main building, breathing a faint sigh of relief at the wave of cooled air that wrapped around him. It was too bad he wouldn't be able to stay here and rest for awhile, he mused. He paused only long enough to allow his eyes to adjust to the dimmer fluorescent lighting before stalking over to the vending machines in the back corner of the building, his booted feet making almost no sound on the tile.
He bought a candy bar and another two bottles of water, stuffing them into his bag as he paced reluctantly back toward the doors. Briefly, as he noted the knee-high heat ripples rising from the pavement, he wondered if maybe he shouldn't stay here until closer to the evening.
Dominick pushed open the door, squinting at the light and wincing faintly at the blast of hot air before stepping out into the parking lot. Every minute he delayed was another minute in which he wouldn't be able to prevent anything that might go horribly, horribly wrong at his destination. He smirked faintly, the tension in the expression betraying knowledge that those thoughts weren't entirely overdramatic.
There were a few trees along the ramp, dappling the tarmac with a tauntingly small amount of shade. Dominick paused beneath one, glaring balefully at the sunshine for a moment before popping open another button on his shirt and moving on. He extended his thumb as an afterthought, not expecting the gray Volvo rounding the curve of the on-ramp to stop for him.
His russet eyes widened slightly in amazement when it actually did pull onto the shoulder a few feet ahead of him. He jogged over and tried to open the passenger's side door - the driver leaned over and unlatched it for him when he realized too late that it was locked.
The driver straightened up, pushing his loose chin-length dark curls out of his face, untangling a few strands from his neatly-trimmed jawline beard and tucking them behind his ears before flashing Dominick an almost too-confident smile. "Headed my way, I take it?" His faint accent wasn't local, but it didn't match the Maryland tags on his car, either - Dominick would have guessed that he hailed from either South Carolina or Georgia.
"For now, anyway. If you're planning to stay on 70 after it junctions with 68 southbound, if you could drop me off in Springfield and I'll just take a bus the rest of the way."
"You're in luck, then - I'm taking 68. Where along there are you going?"
"Little nothing town you've probably never heard of."
"Can't be any more nothing than where I'm headed." The driver allowed himself a faint chuckle.
Dominick slid into the car, shutting the door and fastening his seatbelt. "Yeah? Where're you going?"
His dark blue eyes twinkled faintly with amusement and just a hint of condescension, both overshadowed by a strange enthusiasm. "Springwood."
Dominick blinked in surprise. "That's where I'm headed, too."
"Yeah?" The driver looked over at him, driving a generous distance over the white line marking the shoulder as he did. "You a local, then?"
Dominick nodded. "I was born and raised in Springwood. I guess I could show you around, if you'd like... If you don't mind my asking, why're you headed there? Your parents move there or something?" Dominick glanced back towards the highway, and the rapidly approaching eighteen-wheeler that it was looking ever more likely they'd broadside. Eyes on the road, eyes on the road, Dominick prayed, unconsciously holding his breath.
"It's actually research. I'm working on an article about malevolent poltergeists..." The driver glanced up briefly, then, still without looking, merged effortlessly what Dominick could've sworn was no more than six inches from the back of the truck. He fell back rapidly, though, and Dominick allowed himself to exhale.
"Really... that sounds like it could be interesting." There was a brief pause while each contemplated just how interesting before Dominick continued. "By the way, if you don't mind me asking... how old are you? You really don't look any older than twenty-one or twenty-two..."
"You're being generous," the driver remarked, the edge of irritation to his voice making it evident that Dominick had hit a sore point. "Most people would say I look about seventeen or eighteen." He gave Dominick a brief yet intense stare over the top of his square, thick-rimmed glasses. "I'm twenty-nine. It's a damned annoyance, really - looking like a kid sure doesn't help my professional credibility."
"I'd imagine..." Dominick leaned back in his seat. "Y'know, since we're probably going to be seeing each other around town for however long you're staying, we should at least know each other's names." He extended his hand. "I'm Dominick Cochran."
The driver smirked. "As long as we're not telling each other our real names," he shook Dominick's hand, "I go by Kyurare Lapidani." He almost laughed at the expression of surprise on Dominick's face. "I'm a journalist - I get lied to more than there's any reason for, even more so because I look so young. I don't think my internal bullshit filter goes any wider than five microns these days."
They returned their gazes to the road.
"...Kyurare Lapidani? That's a hell of a name," Dominick remarked after a few seconds.
"My parents hated me," Kyurare replied dryly.
It took Dominick a moment to realize that he wasn't feeling the summer heat anymore, despite the Volvo's pathetically crappy air conditioning. Within a matter of seconds, exhaustion threatened to swallow him whole.
"Think I'm gonna catch a quick nap, if y'don't mind," he managed, tilting his head back against the seat.
Kyurare glanced over at him. "You'd best drink some water first. Looks like you might have - well, more than a touch of heatstroke... y'know, I can find you a nice emergency room to pass out in, if you want."
Dominick shook his head. "It's probably just sleep-dep catching up with me." It took almost more effort than it was worth to dig one of the water bottles out of his bag.
"You sure about that?"
Dominick nodded, trying not to pass out while he was still chugging the water. Kyurare noted the four parallel scars on the back of his passenger's left hand as he did.
Dominick finished the bottle, letting it fall in the general vicinity of his backpack. "Trust me, sleep deprivation and I are old acquaintances." He wasn't sure if he got the whole sentence out before he passed out. All he knew was that the front seat had suddenly become approximately a thousand miles wide, and the sky had gone very, very black.
His gaze was drawn almost automatically to the lone figure standing on the side of the road. The grey, high-collared trench coat and low-pulled brown fedora obscured its features, but the four claw-knives that caught light as it raised its right hand, thumb upraised and fingers pulled back cautiously to allow the blades to rest along its wrist, told Dominick all he needed to know.
To his horror, Kyurare pulled over.
He could've sworn he saw a malicious grin twisted amid the shadows masking their new passenger's face as he opened the back door of the Volvo and slid into the passenger's seat behind Dominick.
Dominick tensed as his mind failed in its attempt to force his body to recognize that he was not in danger. He wondered how he could still feel that familiar dread creep into his soul, after all these years, when he'd become numb to it before he left.
As they drove, the fields along the side of the road switched over to corn, their boundaries moving steadily closer to the edge of the highway until Dominick could've reached out and touched them. He almost did, until he saw the first corpse propped upright between the rows. Its eyes and throat were torn out, the drying blood seeming more vivid against the bluish pallor of its skin. As he drew his hand back in, another rushed past. Still more followed, until they weren't passing through a field of corn, but one of grotesquely butchered child and teenage corpses.
Dominick stared in morbid fascination at the fields, not noticing as his the tan of his seatbelt faded to red and green stripes.
It caught his attention far too late when the seatbelt burst from its track, wrapping around both him and the seat, one coil uncomfortably tight about his throat. He barely had time to yelp in shock as the seat dropped back; for a fraction of an instant, he took in the roiling black clouds somehow visible through the roof of the car before a familiar burned face blocked his view.
"Well, look who's back. And here I was starting to think you'd forgotten all about me." The demonically pleased voice seemed to echo right through Dominick's brain without stopping at his ears.
"As if I'd be so lucky," Dominick replied, trying to work a hand loose from under the seatbelt. "By the way, what the hell happened back there at Tranquil Grove?"
Freddy chuckled. "Looks like I'm not really trapped in Springwood at all."
"Then why d'you still bother keeping me around?" Dominick struggled a bit harder against his bonds.
"Now that you mention it, I don't really need you, do I?" Dominick flinched as he caught the movement of the dreamstalker's knife-claws out of the corner of his eye.
"At ease, kid. What happened at Tranquil Grove was mass hysteria - best case I've ever caused." The pride in Freddy's voice was unmistakable.
"Then you got through to all of them all right."
"Only after you popped that Somnambulene. Before that, I could barely touch them."
Dominick cursed under his breath. "So I failed."
"Not quite. You got enough of the drug to the rest of them - otherwise you wouldn't have been able to patch me through."
Dominick allowed himself a tense smile. "Now we just have to hope my contacts back home have stored up enough of the stuff to replicate the proportions on a much larger scale..."
"Don't count on it. They haven't got a damned clue what they're doing. I could've killed them all a hundred times over by now," Freddy growled, seemingly irritated that he had passed up the chances.
"I'll make sparing them well worth your while - I promise."
"I'm not too sure about that... Personally, I think you're about to die." Freddy chuckled nastily. "See you soon, kiddo."
Dominick snapped back into wakefulness. In a fraction of a second he took in the truck stalled in the lane in front of them. Took in Kyurare fumbling in the floor for a cassette he'd dropped. Took in the reading on the speedometer.
To his credit, Kyurare began braking before he'd snapped his head up.
"Oh s**t!" Kyurare slammed on the brakes as he realized the truck in front of them wasn't moving, and there was no room to dart into another lane. He grimaced as he felt the brakes lock. Dominick gripped the sides of his seat, silently praying that Freddy wasn't right.
The car fishtailed. Dominick cringed, not realizing he'd closed his eyes until he felt the vehicle come to a halt. Briefly, he wondered if he had died - then dismissed the notion. Even with the swiftest of deaths came an instant of pain, and besides, Freddy wasn't there to greet him. He opened his eyes, noticing immediately that they were facing towards the flow of traffic. For some reason, he found himself focusing instead on the raindrops beginning to spatter on the windshield.
He glanced over at Kyurare, who was staring into the rearview mirror with a kind of sickly fascinated expression. Dominick twisted halfway around to see just what he was looking at, starting slightly at the lack of distance between the trailer and the rear of the car. It looked as though they were actually touching. He returned his gaze to Kyurare, at almost exactly the same time Kyurare turned to look at him. After a few seconds, they broke into nervous laughter.
It was pouring by the time they reached Springwood. Somewhere along the way, Kyurare had discovered an unlabeled tape between the seats, and decided the best way to identify it was to play it. It turned out to consist mostly of The Doors - Dominick felt a slight tinge of satisfaction at being able to identify one of the songs as it began playing.
"So, you said you were born here?" Kyurare asked, glancing idly past him at the sign announcing that they were entering Springwood - "A Nice Place to Live."
Dominick nodded, focusing more on the lyrics of the song. Into this house we're born, into this world we're thrown...
"How much did you hear about the 'Springwood Slasher' while he was alive, if you don't mind my asking?"
Like a dog without a bone, an actor out alone...
"Not much - but then, I don't really remember anything from back then. I was only about two and a half when he died."
Kyurare smiled faintly. "You're younger than you look. Between the two of us, it almost balances out."
"College does that to you." Dominick sighed faintly, glancing out the window at the rain.
There's a killer on the road - his brain is squirmin' like a toad...
"Not so much for us liberal arts majors, but I take it you weren't one."
"Psych and pre-med. Not sure how I got out in three and a half years... ?Course, the bad part is that I now know all the ways in which college ******** me up - and there's a lot of them. Terminal caffeine addiction's a good place to start..."
Take a long holiday, let your children play...
"At least you're taking time off, right?"
"Yep. I start med school in about fourteen months - I figure I might as well enjoy the vacation while I can still take one."
If you give this man a ride, sweet memory will die; killer on the road...
"You've really got it together. I'm impressed."
Dominick shrugged. "Familial pressure works miracles."
Kyurare chuckled. "It didn't for me. It took me six years to get my degree - but then, I switched majors five times along the way. That's got to be some kind of record..."
"Now that's impressive."
"By the end, I just decided to ******** all and go for something I wasn't likely to succeed in, but that I enjoyed anyway. My parents still won't talk to me." He slowed down as they entered the town. "Anyway, where are you headed?"
"I'm staying on Fir - two blocks south of Elm Street, which is probably where you're headed."
Kyurare shook his head. "Not today. After I drop you off, I don't think I'm going to have much energy left for anything more than finding my hotel and dragging my stuff in from the car. Would you mind meeting up tomorrow, though?"
"For an interview?"
"If you don't mind. Of course, I could always bribe you with food...."
"Lunch it is, then. If you really want to get a taste of the local fare, there's a little greasy spoon called Crave Inn over on 12th."
"Might as well. What time works for you?"
"I don't plan to be awake before noon, so..."
"Neither do I. Around two o'clock, then?"
"Yeah, that should work. Anyway, you can just let me off here..."
"You're sure about that?" Kyurare glanced out at the pouring rain.
"I've walked further in worse." Dominick smiled briefly at him. "I'll see you tomorrow, then." He slid out of the vehicle almost before it had stopped, wishing for a moment that he'd had Kyurare drop him off closer to his destination. Dominick hunched his shoulders and turned the collar of his shirt up against the rain, though it did little good. Already soaked clear through, he began walking, letting muscle memory carry him along the shortest path to Elm Street.
· Mon Aug 15, 2005 @ 10:06pm · 0 Comments