Staying on the Pavement

This is a flash fiction piece I wrote many years ago. I never did find a home for it, so it can live here.

“Staying on the Pavement”
by
Jarod K. Anderson

Jeff Marlin’s 98 Accord tumbled down the mountain like
a kicked can, leaving behind I-90 just east of Seattle. He
hadn’t seen the ice. The car cartwheeled over the guardrail
and crumpled against a two hundred foot Douglas Fir not
three miles from the Snoqualmie pass. It was 3AM. Not
another car in sight.

Jeff spat blood like he meant it and picked a chunk of
safety glass from his cheek. He could feel snow against his
left shoulder. The car was wedged driver’s side down
against the trunk of the tree. The passenger’s window was a
twelve-inch slit, a battered and swollen eye looking up
into the lower branches. Powdered snow, shaken loose from
the tree above, drifted down through the window in a slow,
steady swirl.

“$8,000,” said Jeff, looking down to where his legs
disappeared beneath the crumpled remains of the dashboard.
“Why’d I let him talk me into buying this car?” He leaned
right, ducking low under the crumpled roof, reached up and
took a grip on the passenger’s side door. The door creaked
in protest as he began hauling his legs out from under the
crushed remains of the dash. He felt his shoes come loose
and the cuffs of his jeans shred as he pulled free. Jagged
metal bit into his feet and ankles.

He had been on his way back home to Seattle after a
quick trip to Walla Walla. It was a family reunion of
sorts. A visit to the only other one of his kind in
Washington. Those meetings used to be fun. There used to be
more people at them. All the others were gone now, and two
guys in a bar speaking in euphemisms about old friends and
old times didn’t feel worth the drive anymore. The phrase
“back to nature,” kept sneaking into their conversation,
but Jeff thought “suicide” might have been a more
appropriate metaphor.

Bracing his feet on the bowed driver’s side doorframe,
he struck the passenger’s side door hard with two open
palms. The metal screamed and bent. Broken plastic and
safety glass rained down on him. The second strike sent the
door spinning out into the dark pines.

Jeff followed the door out. He stood atop the wreck,
watching two ribbons of black smoke from under the hood
wind their way up into the tree. He sighed and looked down
at his tattered jeans and bare feet.

There were a few respectable gouges on his ankles, but
his real concern came from the darkening hair on the tops
of his feet and his thickening toenails. He shook his head
and laughed. He couldn’t help it. Looking down at himself,
barefoot in ragged jeans, but still wearing a tucked in
collared shirt. Standing out in the middle of the woods.
Trying to fight off the change.

It made him think of Lon Chaney Jr. lurking in a black
and white thicket. That was his
Wolfman. The one that
people thought of when he was turned. A little less CGI and
a little more spirit gum and fake fur.

“Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers
by night…” whispered Jeff. He tried to remember the name of
the actress who played the old gypsy woman, the one who
told poor Larry Talbot what had become of him.

“Maria… something,” he said to himself, still trying
to shift his thoughts away from fight or flight. He knew a
drag queen that looked just like her. He tried to think of
his friend Kyle, dressed like Maria Something, explaining
the curse to Larry Talbot in a thick accent.

He took a deep breath and tried to calm the thing
inside him.

“I’m alright here. I’m alright.”

The car had traveled nearly a hundred feet after
cartwheeling over the guardrail. Jeff could see the slope
up to the highway. Still controlling his breath, he reached
for his cellphone, and found it in pieces.

“I’m alright.”

He felt something behind him and turned. There was
nothing. Nothing but forest, vast and still, stretching out
over the dark mountains. Forest without cars or roads or
cell phones or mortgages or well-meaning boyfriends with
cousins in the used car business.

Jeff had known plenty of others who had gone feral.
Too many. Now, they were wolves who were sometimes men,
rather than men who were sometimes wolves. Really, Jeff
doubted that they were ever men anymore. They did it for
simplicity. For security. They had become pure. They had
become whole.

“They gave up.” The words left a lump in his throat.

The wind changed direction and Jeff sniffed the air
without thinking. It smelled good. Too good. Better than
his favorite sandwich at George’s Deli. Better than his
boyfriend’s hair after he’d sunbathed on the cedar deck.

He looked down at his very used car. He thought about
paperwork and police reports. He thought this kind of thing
probably came with compulsory hospital visits. And he
wondered who would pick up a bloody, shoeless hitchhiker in
the mountains at night.

Jeff lightly jumped down into the snow and started
walking toward the road. He figured someone would find the
car and someone would come with questions. He figured
something he was doing was probably illegal, and it might
come back to haunt him. He figured that wasn’t terribly
different from any other day.

A week earlier at the used car lot, he had fallen in
love with a banana yellow 83 Camaro, but had allowed
himself to be talked into the dependability of the Honda
Accord. Dependability and resale value.

“Resale value…”

He let out half a growl and started off at a jog in
the general direction of Seattle.

“This time,” said Jeff, “I’ll be stronger.”

He focused on the tar and salt smell of the highway
and made for it. He could let that smell fill him up, push
out the pine and the wind off the mountain. He could live
in that smell as he jogged back west, staying close next to
the highway. If need be, if no one would give him a ride,

that smell could keep him company all the way back to the
city.

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