Blacktop Magic Chapter 4

Blacktop Magic

Chapter 4: Running Time 5:03

by Lothar Tuppan

KRIZ (1190 on your AM dial) was one of the best rock-oriented radio stations broadcasting out of Phoenix. Anyone who wanted to listen to good, hard rock while traveling the highways of Arizona tuned in when they could and Leonard Orne was no exception.

Len felt the rhythm of the road begin to mix with the music as “Ready for Love” by Bad Company came on. The white lines of the highway synchronized perfectly and Len was starting to feel the Zone when he noticed a car coming up behind him at increasing speeds.

“Astro-Medallion, this is Dancing Machine. Come back. Over.” Len spoke into his CB mic.

“Copy Dancing Machine. Over.”

“There’s someone coming up fast on my… Shit!” Len yelled, throwing his coffee out the window. “Code intercept! This four-wheeler’s shooting my back door.”

Len downshifted and accelerated. “Bradley, get down!”

Bradley grabbed the seat lever and reclined his seat into its most horizontal position. “They want my doughnut don’t they.”

“I don’t think so.” Len looked in his rear-view mirror trying to get a sense of the driver’s patterns. Len thought, It’s hard enough to shoot from a moving vehicle if you’re a good shot, and I don’t think these are that good.

“What the hell’s happening Dancing Machine?” Boyd’s voice was frustrated and concerned.

“Fuckers keep shooting but haven’t hit yet. Not sure who it is,” Len replied as he swerved into the far-left lane of the two-lane highway. “But getting into a gun fight is too fucking risky right now. We’re going to see if Brad can curse them into crashing into a rock or cactus or something.”

“Oh, goody!” Brad said, licking his lips. “Finally, something to do.”

“That’s some prudent shit right there Dancing Machine, let me know what you need from me.” Boyd’s voice replied through the CB.

“Copy that, Astro-Medallion”

The thing wearing Bradley Taylor’s shape, closed his eyes and said, “This shouldn’t be a problem.”

Len felt the Zone return, adrenalin like a burst of nitro, as he felt the music synch him to the road again. The shots from the car behind continued to miss as Len began to pull away from their pursuers.

“Shit-Monkeys!” Brad spat. “This is a problem. They have hypergeometric constructs shielding their minds. Same as the ones you had to purge from Father Kiddy-Diddler before I could come through.”

“Bad news,” Len told Boyd. “They’re protected. Which means they’re part of Armitage’s fucking brainwashed sheep.”

“Alright then,” Boyd said. “I’m pulling over to raise you to the plateau and then I’ll lay down a package of hurt on them. They may have protection, but they still have to dream don’t they?”

“Copy that.”

“Watch for the vanishing point Dancing Machine.”

Boyd placed the CB mic back in its cradle and scanned the road ahead for the right place to stop and prepare the ambush. He turned down his AM radio as he sung along, under his breath, with Paul Rodgers. A few moments later he saw what he was looking for and thought, That’ll do just fine.

He pulled his Lincoln behind a large boulder on the left side of the highway, turned off the engine, got out of the car, and opened the trunk. He put on a pair of thick leather gloves that had rested next to a large roll of leather and metal wrapped around a wooden rod.

Boyd lifted the mass of leather and metal and began unrolling it across the width of both lanes of the highway, leaving a car-sized gap along the left edge of the road. When he was done, a 2-foot wide strip of leather with steel spikes crossed the asphalt with tire-destroying lethality.

He tossed the gloves back in the trunk, closed it, stretched his neck and back out and then sat down on the trunk. Boyd breathed in deep and as the R’leyhan syllables began to sound from his vocal chords, time began to fold and unfold along strange angles. His chanting began to harmonically resonate with a deeper, omnipresent call (at least for those with the ears to hear) and he could see, as if in a dream, all the players within this little drama.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

Boyd could see Len and Bradley in the Mach 1 weaving and drifting smoothly as the Dodge Dart inexpertly followed behind—the passenger shooting wildly with a semi-automatic pistol of some kind. He focused on Len, felt the soul of his oldest and best friend, a brother in the truest if not literal sense of the word, and raised the pitch of his chanting. He saw it in his mind’s eye, Len and the hyperdimensional monstrosity wearing Brad Taylor’s form rising up the Plateau of Leng. Knowing that Len was safe for the moment, Boyd focused on the Dodge Dart. He saw three figures in the car: a male driver, a male passenger riding shotgun, and a female passenger in the back. All three shimmered in strange colors, the female with frantic, kaleidoscopic patterns.

Let’s start with the shooter, thought a smiling Boyd. Time for a good, old-fashioned Castro family welcome.

Mickey sang along with Bad Company as he shot his Colt M1911 at the Ford, missing wildly.

“Mickey,” Dustin said. “You might actually hit them if you focused on shooting instead of singing.”

“I do better with music Dustin.”

“Whatever!” Dustin downshifted and floored the Dodge. “We can’t match that Mach 1 but let me see if I can close the gap a bit.”

Mickey pulled his arm in to rest it for a second or four and breathed deeply to steady his nerves. Something in him felt both heavier and lighter at the same time, causing him to shake his head to clear it. When he reached his arm out to shoot again he didn’t notice that a large part of his soul had gone somewhere high, cold, and desolate.

Mickey’s soul looked up and saw unfamiliar and oppressive stars, portending something horrible and he was very happy that he had no idea how to read that terrible, stellar scroll. Behind him he heard sounds that he couldn’t identify as the sound of bones or teeth grinding, or as labored breathing, or as laughter; and the apophatic terror threatened to loosen his bowels as he began to run.

His sneakers made desperate squeaking sounds as he ran upon the hard, desolate ground beneath him. His nostrils were filled with a musty, and slightly rotten, earthy smell that nauseated him. Above him he thought he heard the sound of flutes piping, mixed with the sound of wood creaking, as if from large sailing vessels. To his left he thought he saw a tall, dark man with a large afro and sunglasses but when he focused again he only saw a squid-like abomination. Mickey turned sharply to the right and ran directly into his older brother’s bedroom.

His brother Tom was 14, two years older than Mickey, and had turned mean after their mom died. Mickey knew not to piss off his brother and wasn’t sure why he had run into Tom’s room.

Tom was laying on his bed, naked, stroking himself while holding an old copy of Hustler magazine. As Mickey burst in, he first looked shocked, then embarrassed, and finally enraged.

Mickey stood terrified in front of his big brother as Tom threw the magazine down, got off the bed and strode towards him.

“You motherfucking, sheep-felcher!” Tom grabbed Mickey’s shirt.

“You want to watch me naked?” Tom tried to push Mickey down on his knees. “Maybe you should just suck until I decide not to fucking kill you.”

“No! Not again! NEVER AGAIN!” Mickey screamed and shot his Colt into the windshield of the Dodge until the safety glass was decimated and his magazine empty. His gun empty, Mickey dropped it on the floor of the car and began to weep uncontrollably.

Dustin was pushing the Dart harder than he should and knew he was in danger of throwing a rod but he was determined to get close enough for Mickey to hit the Ford. He was feeling that wonderful sense of everything coming into alignment: his driving, his target, the road, even the music, when Mickey suddenly screamed in terror and started shooting their own windshield.

“What the fuck man?!” Dustin screamed trying to keep from running off the road as the gunshots caused his to involuntarily swerve hard to the left. The Ford started to pull away again as Dustin took his foot off the gas and tried stop the fishtail that threatened to get out of control. Luckily the wind caught the remains of the windshield and ripped it off the car, flying into the scrub brush to the left of the highway. Dustin could see again but was now dealing with 50 mph wind blasting him directly in the face. He felt the road firmly under the tires and took a chance to glance at Mickey who was still sobbing and doing his best to fold himself into a fetal position.

“Babs!” Dustin screamed to be heard above the wind. “Can you do anything to their minds? Can you try to make them stop?”

“I can try Dustin.” She replied, surprisingly cheerily, from the back seat.

“Great!” Dustin was pretty sure they had already failed, and that they probably never really had a chance, but he wasn’t going to give up.

He heard Babs begin singing one of her songs, one of the ones that caused his mind to tingle in not-unpleasant ways as it moved past him to its target and he felt the sense of wonder and enchantment that Armitage had shown him.

For a brief instant he had hope again.

Then he felt a cold chill go up his spine.

Boyd felt his victim’s soul crumble under his attention and smiled. Len would be free of any stray pieces of lead now. Boyd took a deep breath and expanded his mind again, he saw the auras of both the driver and the passenger in the rear seat become increasingly active with the woman in the back seat looking… intriguing.

I’ll focus on her once I lock the driver down tight.

Boyd invited the driver into his dream.

The road underneath Dustin’s damaged Dodge Dart turned to cold, hard-packed earth as he sped over the high plateau he found himself on. Had he always been driving here? It seemed like his whole life was spent traversing this plain, always trying to stop something horrible from happening before it was too late. Dustin heard his mother telling him that it was his fault his father left them, his friends telling him that he had failed them again, and he looked over at Mickey.

He saw his friend lying nearly catatonic and knew in his heart that this was his fault too. Everything was fucked because he had fucked it up—and he knew that the only way to fix it was to race to the finish.

“All my dues, surely must be paid…” Dustin sang as he accelerated and drove on, straight down the highway.

Boyd heard the singing before he had hooked the driver like a large mouth bass from Innsmouth harbour. He turned his attention to it and, while the content was abhorrent, he found the voice to be the most beautiful thing he had ever heard.

The soul-part of his that was walking the Plateau turned towards the shimmering column of white and bright colors that danced toward him.

“Hi!” said the woman.

“Hello.” Said Boyd, feeling uncomfortable and shy for some reason.

“You really fucked with the wanna-be fuckers didn’t you?”

“Couldn’t be helped.”

“I know.” She looked down briefly before looking up again with an open smile. “I’m Babs.”

“Boyd. Nice to meet you.” He looked deeper at her and his brow furrowed. “Why are you here?”

“Because you dreamt us here.”

“No,” he said chuckling. “Why are you with these Bible thumpers?”

“Oh,” Babs said. “I’m trying to work my way out of it all. But… You know…”

“The ‘fuckers’?”

“Yeah. All of ‘em. All the fuckers. They weigh you down.” Babs sounded like she was about to cry.

“All the way down in the deep, right?” Boyd saw her, and what he saw enraged him. “They bring you down, keep you cold and asleep, and it feels like aeons until you can wake up again.”

“Yeah,” Babs whispered. “It’s horrible.”

“Something tells me we’ll meet again. We’re family.” Boyd held his right hand out, palm up, and within it was a black ammonite with red striations. “I’d like you to have this little sister.”

“I…” Babs looked stunned. “It’s been a long time since someone has given me a gift.”

“Then the honor is doubly mine.” He smiled at her kindly, kissed her hand, and allowed his soul-part to return to the rest of him in the Arizona desert.

Babs stopped singing and opened her eyes. Mickey was still sobbing quietly in the passenger seat, Dustin was staring ahead, just driving straight and fast, and she knew that when she looked at the stars tonight, they might just seem more familiar to her. She felt the smooth surface of the ammonite in her hand, leaned back, and fastened her safety belt tight.

He is the most beautiful thing I think I’ve ever seen. Babs thought.

Len was still wary, although once the piece of shit Dodge stopped weaving all over the place that Boyd had neutralized the danger. He knew what the plan was and purposely hadn’t broken too far ahead of the Dodge so that it would still pursue him until they could make sure that the threat had been truly eliminated.

Bradley still lay back in his seat, singing along to the last repeats of the chorus, his singing had gotten better since last night, he was coming along well. He had attempted to help without any threats or prompting and Len felt that the mission actually had a pretty decent chance of succeeding.

He felt Boyd’s dream reach out to him and looked with scrying eyes. He saw it, the vanishing point that Boyd mentioned, a small car-width of a spot just to the left of the highway, leading him back from the Plateau of Leng to the blacktop.

At almost the last second, Len drifted the car to the left, missing the steel spikes that crossed the rest of the road. He swung back to the right, downshifted and accelerated toward the west.

The Dodge Dart didn’t even try to swerve, it hit the spikes at close to 60 mph lost control and rolled four times before stopping in the middle of the highway, upside down.

Boyd walked over to the demolished vehicle, a .357 in his hand, hoping he wouldn’t have to use it. It would be better if this looked like just a bad accident.

As he got closer, he heard moaning and crying coming from the car, along with, “You should get out of here Beautiful.”

Boyd smiled, he’d been called a lot of things before but never beautiful. Babs was crawling out of the wreck, unhurt, and still clutching the ammonite in her hand. Boyd wanted to go to her but they both knew alarms would be set off if that happened.

He smiled, put his pistol back in his shoulder holster, rolled up the leather and spikes, placed them back in his trunk, and then closed it.

He waved to Babs, who curtsied awkwardly, got back behind the wheel and started the car.

As he pulled away, time became less angular and he realized “Ready for Love” was just ending. “All Along the Watchtower” (the Hendrix version not the Dylan one) came on and Boyd thought, KRIZ is really nailing it with the tunes today.