Chase The Sunset (excerpt)
The moment my mind flashed back to that midnight in April my heart pounded at my chest painfully. So painfully I thought I could die of a heart attack and I think I even willed it on myself. I’d stood in that doorway – no, I lie – I’d approached that doorway with only moonlight behind me and a lamp on a fallen stand from within and I stood mere feet away, unable to go toward or away from. The doorway to me was like a threshold to some place I might never come back from if I crossed it and I was too afraid for my life.
It was just another picture of an in-the-sticks shanty, door hanging open, drunkard husband trashed the place and gone to sleep in some whorehouse down the road, wife nowhere to be seen. But then there were the bloodstains on the door and that smell you can’t deny if you’ve ever been in an abattoir in a sticky hot summer.
Cut yourself on something and you’ll see blood but you won’t smell it. But step inside a slaughterhouse if you’ve never witnessed what I have. When there’s a lot of blood, it has its own stink and so does death but there’s something different there. Not only the soul is expelled from the body when it dies.
If you’ve ever shit your pants at the prospect of dying then you’ll easily imagine what a man does after that deed is done!
I should have known what to expect sooner, I’d left them here out of the way when I went back to Vargas’ warehouse to find Shannon, expected they’d be safe and unseen. This game of cat and mouse was not mine to win from the beginning though. Why would it be? It wasn’t even my game we were playing!
If I’d thought that by the look of things, there’d been a hell of a fight; a last stand or a duel to the death; I would have been sorely mistaken or desperate to believe. No, inside were in fact the remains of a slaughter, the leftovers of a wolf pack’s hunt. Only their helpless victims weren’t dead, they were beyond death and wouldn’t have the privilege of staying dead!
Here I was, a thirty-nine year old long-distance trucker from Chicago who kept a sawn-off 12 gauge double-barrelled shotgun beneath a rosary in the cab of my rig, a man who’d seen everything and been in my fair share of trouble. I thought I’d have no more surprises waiting for me. That was until I pulled over into that Last Stop hole in the wall piece of shit back in Death Valley.
The man the local cops called Cobb, some outlandish outlaw old-school biker and his crew “The Heartstoppers” had done me over in more ways than people wanted to hear me say. They’d drank my blood, for Christ’s sake, right after they tore that place apart, people included, and they left me alive, toyed with me, like an animal taunts its prey…
No, that’s not right, it was as though I had died and by some blessing or curse, still managed to come back.
But the scariest shit out of all of it back then was when they’d left me on the road at sunup. I knew what it’d been, felt it in my veins. Cobb, the sick bastard that he was, had cut on himself and forced me to drink his blood, very civilised at least for his species. He’d made me lick his wound clean like a dog, at gunpoint with my own blessed shotgun.
It left me like a crack addict in the worst case of cold turkey there ever was. The sun burned me like I was an egg on a stove, I was in limbo like a drunk who can’t sleep right but can’t even stay awake and I was dying, I knew it. God damn me I was sure it was the end for me right there!
Next thing I knew, I was being carted through a hospital corridor; handcuffed to that trolley-bed, a nurse on one side of me and Sheriff Biehn on the other, looking at me like he’d shoot me if he didn’t think he’d catch leprosy or something.
The next half a year of my life, I’d escaped prison by the skin of my teeth, scared my wife away, barely kept my job and fought to live feebly like I was nothing but a blind three-legged dog with arthritis. The nightmares were the worst and they caused most of the damage. They weren’t just the by-product of all this shit gone by, you see. They were in the blood, carrying on where Cobb left off and he must have known it.
That fucker had made me drink his blood, left me to rot but nonetheless spared me when he and his crew massacred everyone at the Last Stop. He knew what he was doing to me and sure enough I would too in time to come... when those night terrors started stripping me of my life, turning me into some kind of monster, a shadow of myself!
So I got back on the road again and came back, led by my nightmares acting like some divining rod.
And it led me back here to this forgotten place out in the dustbowls of Death Valley, some place that was about as welcome as having the Afghan Mountains in the middle of Manhattan. And it just had to be perfect to settle this vendetta with Cobb, where I could bury him, never to be seen again, no witnesses.
I wouldn’t just bury him though. I wanted to know what he did and I wanted payback, retribution for the shit he left me to live with. Nightmares about killing people and drinking their blood, being chased into the desert by the dead I watched die on that horrific night.
Nightmares about being welcomed into the gang and losing my soul to the devil, that kind of shit. It just wasn’t something I could sleep on and the worst thing was that I felt myself changing, being drawn towards that fate.
So I drove and I drove, no easy stops, no vacation and no taking it easy for the sake of my health. I drove hard and fast, knowing I was most likely racing to meet my maker, which struck me as ironic but hey I’m American, I don’t do irony often.
First thing’s first, I’m charging through a torrential downpour in the middle of the night when I pick up another orgy of violence on my CB Radio and it struck me like lightning. This was the most scared I’d been in my life, coming face to face with something I didn’t understand, just like I can’t even comprehend death itself.
I’d already tooled up with a few guns, ready to do what I didn’t last time. Didn’t bother me I’d be going after a whole gang of them, I was going to terrorise the bastards like they deserved. I had a spare can of gasoline in the back I wasn’t counting on using on my truck. I was hoping to burn those fuckers after I’d made one or two of them take a big gulp first. I wanted to torture Cobb especially!
But the new situation ended up worse than I’d ever expected it could!
I found myself picking up other survivors just like me this time, no trace of Cobb except his trademark trail of destruction; dead bodies with great big bite chunks taken out of them, usually the jugular or wherever you could easily find an artery.
It didn’t seem to matter to him where he got his blood. He and his Heartstoppers were cannibals, perverts, madmen. They’d even eaten parts of some bodies by the looks of it. By the looks of their dead faces in particular, I’d even have guessed that they didn’t wait until their meat had stopped breathing before they dined.
I was screwed, dealing with something much bigger than me but something I could never run away from because I was haunted by them even when I’d escaped the first time. The only way out was to either die or live to say I’d killed them all and made the world a better place.
Cobb was brutal like an animal, soulless but far from mindless so I’d have to be the same. When we met again, I was going to have to take this 12 gauge and just keep blasting him at point blank until not even his tattoos would be left to haunt me or anyone else.
But now with these survivors I was picking up, I took on a responsibility that damned my chances of making this dirty deed at least seem so simple. I was forced to take note of my conscience and to drag these people through what I’d already struggled with, the junkie symptoms, the night terrors and the desire to chase not like people in search of revenge but like wild dogs being drawn to a killing.
We were seven…
When we grouped together the thirst had come back and hit me like the whiskey had before the initial incident, the catalyst to all of this. I’d been a closet alcoholic a decade back, real bad on the stuff, until I met Virginia at AA. We quit together and it was worth every hunger pain for the stuff. But when she walked out, I hit it again hard, like it was my own morphine substitute.
The thirst was like when I started twitching for the stuff, my mouth watering for it whenever it was near but drying out when I tried to forget it. My veins telling me I needed it. This time I knew the thirst was for something else and every time I saw blood it got worse. Every time I felt someone else’s fear it got stronger and I didn’t know if the dense beating dead centre in the middle of my head was my own blood pumping or someone else’s. It was as though even my most basic instincts were craving blood, the stuff of life.
And what a sorry bunch of nobody’s I’d decided to help out of here, dragging them behind me, not telling them who I was chasing and who did this to them.
There was Frewer and his wife, Mo, some older couple who’d decided a vacation was as good as driving in a straight line down a desert road, visiting Motels whenever camping on top of rocks got too hardcore for their weary bones. Frewer had a lot of bones, he was a frail man and lacked a lot of heart but so spineless at times I think he was even afraid to leave us and go his own way. Maybe the only reason why he hadn’t been chowed down on already was because he lacked meat on his bones and life in his blood…
Jeff Vaughn was the closest thing to a man they had, a leather-necked Texan biker I’d already come to blows with. But his lady, Rosali, a Latina from across the border, had him wrapped around her little finger and so he wasn’t up to much when she didn’t like it.
There were a couple of kids, not even in their twenties, two stoners who didn’t even seem to understand they’d just escaped with their lives. And there was Kelly Houston, the young pregnant girl I’d only just seen raped and then unofficially C-Sectioned in Vargas’ warehouse, right before my eyes.
I might spare you the details as to just what they did with her baby but I can say that its mother was best put out of her misery if it weren’t for her now being one of “them”. But she wasn’t put out of her misery because I got the fuck out of Dodge and by the skin of my teeth!
The dumb bastards with me had left her behind, thinking she was riding in the truck with me and vice versa. I went back and found her undead, the newly acquired love of her life fucking her little vampire ass with a paperknife. That’s what they do for fun when the fresh ones still bleed like they’re alive.
So if you ever go so far as to call me psychotic for believing I had to cleanse this place with good old fashioned Christian fire and brimstone-loving murder, I obviously never detailed their pornographic bloodlust good enough for you to understand…
So there I stood, an hour before sunup, outside that little shanty. We were seven and now they were six. I was alone, the odd one out and the only one not dead yet. I was so scared to even look further than the light of the room there that I was somewhere between laughing and crying, halfway to madness and halfway to grief.
It wasn’t even the situation that was helpless anymore, it was me; Frank Hagar the fearless vampire killer long-distance truck driver who’d never took shit from anyone in his violent boozed-up life!
I found a note stuck to the inside part of the opened front door with thick congealed red. It read “SHOW US HOW YOU’RE GOING TO DEAL WITH ME WHEN I LET YOU CATCH ME” and I felt anger like never before, anger fuelled by helplessness and being so shit-scared at the same time.
I’d been had, God knows how. They’d followed my every move and used these people as pawns to put me in place. I should have known it, I swore I knew anyway and that I’d just gone along with the game until it’d get me to Cobb. But I was lying to myself anyhow.
There was no use looking to see if Cobb was anywhere near. The bitter defeat of this whole plan of mine was hard and relentless in its doing and there was only one thing I should have been doing at this point and I dared myself with all my failing heart to do it.
No witnesses, hopefully!
I’d taken that jerry can of gasoline from the back of my truck I’d been saving for the main event and began to douse the place, biting at bitter words in doing so and making sure I especially drenched the bodies thoroughly.
When I got to Frewer himself, that’s when all shit started to break loose. I was running out of lives!
I’d been pouring the gasoline directly over his face and in the dim light of the fallen lamp, I saw his eyes open beneath the torrent. It didn’t affect him, he just lay there, eyes open, looking at me with a dead and cursing stare like a lizard suddenly come to life before a kill. Then he swiped at the can in my hands with one clawed hand of his own, causing me to swerve only out of fright and cover my leg in the stuff before dropping the can.
A hateful hiss, like that from a threatened cat, was what I heard before he left the floor in one impossible leaping motion and hit the ceiling, staying there with arms outstretched and mouth open to reveal those jagged snarling teeth.
I bolted for the door just as the rest of them started to come around and join Frewer over my head starting up some kind of riot amongst each other like an invisible tornado had swept them off the ground and was pulling them in all directions. But their eyes zeroed in on me only, regarding me with desperate hate like junkies with dirty contaminated needles for teeth.
I took my Zippo, struck it and just threw it at the floor before I was even out of the place running blind...
The next thing, loud screams, heat and light and I was rolling around in the dust with my leg on fire like I was some hillbilly after a fucked up Evel Knievel stunt. The shanty went up and so had I and so it must have been some sight, me lying there on fire, suddenly oblivious, too busy hearing first and then seeing those hogs rev up, light up and then kick up dust all around me before disappearing in an orange haze of dust and fire.
Cobb had followed my every move. But so had Sheriff Biehn and all of a sudden, his Beretta was drilling its way in behind my right ear as he told me to get down on my face and think up any old excuse. He was certain he was about to execute me!
Seeing what I’d done, I didn’t know whether he might just have hesitated or rather feed me to the same fire I’d burned the same people I’d promised to save.
‘You don’t know what you’re into, Hagar,’ he yelled, ‘why in Hell couldn’t you have stayed in Chicago? Jesus Christ what have you done?’
‘You know, you bastard!’ I screamed back, sucking up dust and coughing it out in dry heaves. ‘He’s playing games with me and you know it. Why won’t you stop this?’
‘There’s only one way to stop him playing this game, boy,’ Biehn replied and applied the muzzle of the gun harder against the side of my skull and I heard a click. ‘And that’s when you’re dead!’
‘SO FUCKING DO IT!’ I’d screamed back harder and louder and I’d been deadly serious. I’d lost out to desperation again and I was feeling it boiling in my blood harder than ever. ‘YOU DON’T KNOW EITHER, DO YOU?’
‘Fuck no, Frank,’ Biehn said cold and heartless. ‘You want out of this and I want a convict to explain this mess, you murdering son of a bitch... You’ll get what you deserve!’