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The Moonlit Path

Some sins linger on and on.

He sat at the edge of the bar, nursing his beer.

She sauntered up to him, slinking in her black dress,

smelling of mothballs and cheap booze. A radio somewhere.

Tinny music moving on the wind.

—These old floorboards creak some.

—Yeah, sure.

She put out her hand.

He captured it like a falling bird in his own, put it on his leg.

She made a fist. She grimaced.

—You sure got pretty hair. What’s your name?

—Norma Jean.

—You telling me the truth?

—Sure.

—No, you ain’t. I know’d better.But I guess Norma Jean is as good a name as any.

The fat barkeep tiptoed up,

as if he were inspecting a particularly vicious

or mysterious duo of mating animals in their natural habitat.

He wiped off the counter with a filthy rag, said,

—Last call.

There was nobody in the whole damn place to call to.

He smiled out of the corner of his eyes, like he was enjoying a private joke.

The little baldy fidgeted on his stool, dumped the last of his beer down his throat.

A pesky gnat drifted by like a single moat of dust on the

still air.

Outside,

a train chugged by lonely in the throes of the night. It was Autumn closing down,

moving into winter.

A wind blew cold eddies of coming frost through the bones.

—Say, you want we should go maybe? she said,

her tired, seamed face taking on a look of bored resignation.

She ran her hand through the back of her dirty brown tresses,

mussing up the curls so that they stood up in back. The portly little gent looked a this beer in consideration.

A fella got so he could hear the tick of his own heart counting down the days, as the lines in his face grew longer and more pronounced. A fly died at the edge of the bar in a small puddle of leaky hops.

It crawled toward its eternity on sluggish, spindly legs. He felt the same,

knew the cold of that sticky mess. Her lips parted.

Smoke drifted out of her lungs.

The turntable in the corner began to skip around,

the record warbling until the dire honky tonk became a bald tire chug.

—Sure,

he said quietly.

—You know a place, you take me there.

—What kind of car you drive, mister?

she asked as if it were the most natural question in the world.

—57 Chevy.

She turned around a little, and he wondered why she did this.

The barkeep looked at them askance out of the corner of a bleary, jaundiced eye.

He had seen it all before.

She clack-clacked across the wooden floor into a pool of shadow, stopping only to look at him sideways at the entrance.

She suddenly slid her jacket on in a single movement that seemed to defy physics.

She swayed,

put out her hand,

and pointed one red fingernail at him unsteadily. She hooked her index finger back and forth, wiggling it in a come-on motion. The little man hefted his glass, sighed,

slid off his stool.

He wasn’t swaying at all. Outside the night was pregnant with the expectant

chirp of the cicadas,

the nearby din of the occasional truck,

and the aforementioned train lumbering like an iron beast in the darkness,

headed to a termination point as yet undetermined. The old Ford sat idle in front of the dilapidated road-house,

a lonely black insect rusting in front of a forgotten hive.

The road stretched starkly between blackened fields, lying from east to west between stretches of dirty

asphalt and dusty trail. Wooden pickets tottered like dying sentinels,

wrapped in rusted barbed wire,

enclosing brown husks rearing up like living fingers to the overhead expanse of sky.

That sky swept on forever, he thought,

seeing all things,

collecting sins and misfortunes,

utterly indifferent to the livings and dyings going on beneath it.

She slid in the passenger side, and he got in,

settling into the shadow, feeling the leather seat give beneath his plump little ass. He hit the ignition, gunned it, felt his car sputter to macabre sentience beneath him.

Was she asleep?

He nudged her with his fingers, felt her stir, heard her mumble. Dreamland.

She could sleep away the minutes of emptiness it would take to get there. No conversation meant he had time to think and prepare.

His headlights cut a sickly path in front of him, illuminating bug spatter against the windshield as he maneuvered through the dipping hills,

past stretches of wood and sagging,

broken barns with doorways that beckoned darkly, like the rotten, toothless maws of mysterious ancient

women.

The night was silent and time was a thudding hammer in his chest.

He could see it blink like a winking eye  in the darkness.

Pull in to the concrete oasis. Motel.

The sign actually read: L nch, the u having burnt out and not being worth much to replace.

At any rate, every motorist would get the idea. He pulled in,

stopped the car,

looked over at his passenger. She had passed out and was leaning over on the window. A thin trickle of saliva was hanging out of one corner of her mouth.

Her hair was a curly, windblown mess.

He decided to let her sleep for the moment, and got out,

feeling slightly short of breath.

He hadn’t smoked for nine months, but his lungs still troubled him.

He stood for a moment on the cold asphalt, looked up at the sky,

though the could hear distant rumbling of thunder, and decided it was probably semi trucks coming up over

the nearby overpass.

He felt an odd moment of dislocation,

as if he were simply having a dream and was himself watching himself as a fictional character.

Times like these, he felt himself lifted out of his body, felt the fibers of his being become less substantial,

more akin to a kind of smoky vapor, and felt vertigo rock him as he fought the urge to fly out of his physical form…

(or may be it was simply a terror wondering what constituted the separation of his physical form from his conscious self?)

He didn’t know.

He fought to remember who he was,

to bring together the separate entities that seemed to pickle together

inside his skull.

Inside his own identity again,

he walked on sturdier legs toward the front, pulling back the glass doors,

but finding himself confronted with a flashbulb image of himself reflected in the smudged surface of the door.

He took in, instantly, the short, pudgy form,

the balding pate, the jowls,

the thick glasses,

the unremarkable visage of a man who would never be noticed in a crowd

But the eyes!

The place was small and dark and he wondered if, perhaps, it hadn’t been deserted by a disgruntled employee or forlorn owner.

He could faintly hear the static fuzz of a radio, smell the smell of old tobacco and musty sheets, and he thought, somewhere,

someone was neglecting to do their duty. The thought didn’t bother him.

He put his pudgy palm on the bell. Tinkled it.

Waited. Waited.

He thought he could smell rancid ketchup. A shadow fell across the lobby.

From some unknown  space in the back, a tall, gaunt figure emerged,

said nothing in the way of greetings or salutations, and merely brought a thick registration book up from below the counter, opening it up, seemingly at random, and placing a pen upon it.

The little man smiled,

tried for friendliness, sounded stiff and awkward, said —It’s just me.

—Okay.

—How much?

—What?

—Er, for the room.

He handed over some rumpled bills, registered as

—Joe Stiff,

and took the key from the clerk, noting how cold his hands were.

He turned,

walked back outside, opened his door,

got behind the wheel, started up,

and drove out of the front lot to the little dead end road in back,

which intersected several lots,

each with an individual prefab cabin. Unremarkable, even seedy.

Pink flamingoes on the lawns, plastic roses,

everything badly in need of a coat of paint.

He parked in the gravel drive in front of cabin 216. He huffed, puffed, put his hands on the wheel,

and reached over to nudge her again.

—We’re here.

It took her a few minutes to stir.

She looked like the sleep had sobered her some, but she was still drunk enough he reckoned.

He helped her out and onto her feet. She swayed a little,

but eventually she started clack-clacking unsteadily up the walk and to the door.

He put the key in,

his hands shaking a little.

She murmured a few unintelligible words.

He pushed the small of her back and she staggered in.

The place smelled of mildew and dirty sheets, stale smoke,

and the trapped funk of bad air.

Thrift store pictures of flower pots and old ships hung crookedly on the smudged,

dirty walls.

A few moths flapped lazily around the ceiling fan light. There were a TV in front of the bed.

It had a coin slot.

Unremarkable in every way. She walked around the bed,

nearly colliding with the end table as she put out a hand to steady herself against the wall.

He sat his plump little bulk down, huffed a bit,

and considered her.

—How much?

She slurred some words at him. He thought he caught some of it,

but he wasn’t sure.

He twirled his keys around a busily nervous finger. He could feel his pulse begin to race.

She looked at him with bored, flat fish eyes,

giving him the appraisal one might give a particularly unappetizing side of meat,

(one that, perhaps, had been left to sit out until it was no longer edible).

—Twenty-five. And Idon’t do no kinky stuff.  Nothing rough.

—Sure.

There was an uncomfortable moment of silence.

He sat there in confusion. Outside,

he could hear the roar of locomotives, eating up the tracks like great iron monsters, blowing noise and exhaust in their wake.

The world was connected by electric power, by mangled iron and rotten sin,

but in here it was all dark.

He could feel his pulse quicken,

his breath begin to rise and fall raggedly. She staggered against the wall,

put out a hand to steady herself, then rolled over onto the bed.

Her legs fell apart,

and he could see up her skirt.

She wasn’t wearing underwear, and he wasn’t surprised. Her legs were streaked with dirt.

No hose.

She was a cheap, dirty whore.

—C’mon baby, c’mere.

Her lips parted sensually; her lipstick was smeared.

—Okay, okay.

She put out her hands and beckoned.

He looked at the sharp little tips of her nails.

He grabbed her throat suddenly, and she smiled up at him,

assuming it to be a game. He continued to smile.

Keep smiling, keep smiling…

She is smiling an idiot grin,

but he can tell it is hurting her.

Even through the liquor she can feel the pain. He squeezes tighter.

It is like putting his hands around the throat of a little puppet.

He is a man a thousand feet tall.

From up here,

he could pop the little twig of her neck as if it were simply the spindly branch of a dead tree.

Her hands fly to his enclosed grasp, but he hangs on tight.

She begins to struggle,

tries to let loose a strangled scream.

Flails as he reaches with one hand beneath her, struggling,

for the pillow. On the face now,

hand still clutching the throat. He falls on top of her,

holding her down with his weight as she struggles. Her eyes become twin moons of exquisite,

pitiful fear and terror.

Read next: We Are Artists
Tom Baker
Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis , Indiana Ghost Folklore, Scary Urban Legends, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest : tombakerbooks.weebly.com. 

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The Moonlit Path
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