At Least the Dead

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At Least the Dead By Lee Thompson

I walk to forget, or until I’m forgiven my crimes against God and man and Earth. Hezekiah Jackson’s face had long ago turned chestnut brown beneath the relentless sun. The knife duct-taped to his left forearm rubbed his skin raw as he walked the shoulder of a side road—one he knew he could be stuck on for the rest of his life. He wanted to pull his light blue jacket off and his shirt and lay in the road, surrounded by New Mexico mountains and clear sky, the thrum of tires vibrating against his jaw bone as he placed his face to the asphalt and prayed for mercy. Cars streamed by and raised dust that clung to the sweat streaking his lined face. A black Toyota clattered as it pulled to the shoulder of the road ahead of him, taillights bright and red like the Devil’s glare as He approached a long-forsaken altar. The driver leaned across the seat and threw the passenger door open. Hezekiah kept walking. I walk to forget… He neared the pickup. It wore an out-of-state plate and a blanket of dust. He swallowed

mountain air, telling himself, Don’t stop. You stop you remember. Forget. The driver tapped the horn as Hezekiah stumbled past the open passenger door, twisting his hands against each other, bringing his right fist into his other palm and digging into the meat. He squinted his eyes against the red blossom flaring high above, and gritted his teeth as he slowed and a red blossom spread its stain across the back of his eyes. “At least the dead might rest in peace,” he mumbled, his tongue thick and dry, throat parched. “Hey. You need a lift, right?” A girl’s voice, hysterical with sin and selfishness. He stopped, a couple feet past the front bumper, a puff of dust floating from the shoulder around his worn sneakers and sun-bleached blue jeans. Hezekiah’s voice came out a whisper that died in the still air. “That bitch.” “You a mute, mister?” Cars roared by in both directions. Drivers with faces, identities, memories. He envied them in a way. At least they knew how to accept their lives enough to move forward. “I walk to forget . . .” He started down the road, eyes on the foothills nestling against mountains that cut the sky. The driver opened her door behind him and he could picture her—lithe, dirty blond hair, an AC/DC tee and a short leather skirt; her skin pale further up her arms and thighs, hidden bruises left by men who dug into her to pay her back for what she took from them. He pictured every mole, a pimple on her ass, right cheek. “Hey. You want a ride or not?” Sins against God and man and Earth . . .

Gravel crunched beneath her shoes—high heels digging into holy mahogany—and her fingers closed around his left arm. She tried to move him, turn him toward the Burning Bush and her corruption. Hezekiah wanted to moan the madness free. He shook his head, his shoes tight over his toes. You can’t save me. I can’t save you. It’s too late. We’re all alone with our pasts, walking these side roads. Her grip tightened. A couple of car horns blared as if to warn him of the pain she held tight within her bosom; but he knew this pain was his to carry alone, because to mingle their sorrow was to double it. My pain is heavy enough. The girl’s hair tickled his neck, her breath on his skin. “God, you’re solid as a rock.” She let go and stepped in front of him, the top of her head just in front of his mouth. He thought about eating through her skull, just to avoid looking her in the eyes again. “Hello?” She waved a slim hand in front of his face. “Do you ignore everyone who’s trying to lend you a hand?” A buzzard cawed and climbed higher upon the wind—the devil scribing a message to God on Hezekiah’s behalf. The bird disappeared like a grain of sand tossed upon a frozen lake, consumed by a coming blizzard. The girl rose on her toes and obscured his vision. He closed his eyes. I walk to forget . . . “What the hell are you talking about?” She leaned in, her shadow cool. “I could use you.” Hezekiah shook his head. We’re too heavy in this shared space. She laughed, suddenly, mad, and he opened his eye because that wasn’t the laughter he’d expected. Her hair was dark, a storm cloud swirling above her eyes. She smiled. “You’re not

gonna make me throw you in the trunk are you?” Hezekiah chuckled and choked on the dryness filling his mouth. He coughed, hand over heart, part of his soul wishing this strange woman would lean forward and kiss him cruelly to share a little of her inner well of dampness. She tried to shove him back to the open passenger door. He whispered, though it split his dry tongue and filled his mouth with blood, “Don’t touch me. Please.” “Fuck you, asshole! All I’m trying to do is help you! You wanna keep walking, huh? You wanna little push?” She stormed behind him, slammed the door, while Hezekiah swallowed the blood, glad for moisture, knowing he didn’t deserve it. His body became as water—loose and flowing—in the release that came with the renewal of his own space. He drank a breath of fleshy air, tasting her last exhalation as it lingered and brushed his lips. The heavens glared over the mountains in the west. The truck’s tires crunched gravel and the girl laid on the horn. The bumper nudged the back of his legs. He stumbled forward a step. I walk . . . Another nudge sent his flesh crawling over his scalp. Sweat stung his eyes. A heavy aroma of mixed scents filled his head—rubber and dirt and mountain laurel and blood—as he took another step. The Final One still out of sight, though he longed for it to come riding across the distance like a knight, its armor worn from centuries of battle. . . . or until I’m forgiven my crimes against God and man and Earth. The constant scream of the truck’s horn hammered, humming through the connection between the bumper and flesh. She jounced the truck forward and steel slapped his hamstrings. The muscles knotted. The horn died. She screamed like a wounded animal.

He failed to decipher her words. The knife chafed the inside of his forearm and he knew that he had to free it before it dug a hole through his skin. Hezekiah lifted the sleeve and tore the duct tape free. The girl’s voice filled his left ear. “Come on, you dickless wonder! You sunburned, pathetic piece of tumbling shit! You wanna die? Keep walking. Keep walking, motherfucker!” To stop is to remember. To look back will tear me apart. She floored the Toyota. The engine roared like God’s judgment. He didn’t brace himself. He didn’t move. The truck hit him. The crazy woman behind the wheel hit the brakes. A cloud of dust bloomed around Hezekiah as he flew forward, praying his neck would snap when he hit the ground. But God worships Cruelty. Pain flared through him, every fiber in his body burning, the backs of his legs cramped and bruising. He got a knee under him. Another. He lurched to his feet and fire swam across his spine and spread and lingered in his ribs. Hezekiah walked through the dust cloud cloaking the truck. She tightened her fingers around the steering wheel and refused to look away as she snarled. I’ve finally found someone whose chaos drowns my own. He ripped the knife from the sheath taped to his arm and raised it so the point covered her arm, seeing his wife, his sweet, sweet wife, her sins like a stain spreading fungus across the upholstery. The girl tapped the horn. Hezekiah didn’t know what she wanted. Maybe to die with him. At least the dead . . . The girl stuck her head out the open driver’s window, her voice soft again, bleating. “Are

you getting in? I don’t wanna run you over but you’re in my way. You have to the count of three to make up your mind.” Hezekiah looked over his shoulder and waited. Her lips parted. One. He nodded. Almost smiled, thinking, Maybe we can help each other. Because standing there brought memories back. And memories hurt. They’d twist you into someone else. She cocked her head. Two. Hezekiah walked to the passenger door. The door handle cool, the metal soft enough that he felt he could shape into anything if he only possessed some artistic prowess. But God had robbed him. Or the devil. He didn’t know. There was only the walking, the sun, the moon, the endless scream of life carrying on all around him when he knew his should be over. She’ll do it. I’ll give her my knife. She’ll hear what I’ve done. Then . . . The girl smiled, but her voice boomed. “Well, get in!” He sank into the passenger seat. Air conditioning chilled his shins and knees. Hezekiah mustered the strength and closed the door. She grinned as something popped in his shoulder. Her voice lost some of its venom. She dripped honey over it. He smelled fire. “What’s your name? I bet it’s Michael. You’re my archangel, aren’t you? You hide your sword up your sleeve like a magician. Slick.” Hezekiah stared at his hands, crumpled in his lap like useless extensions, beyond his control; at the knife jutting from his grip like a deadly phallus, ready to draw pleasure from pain. “Hell, here we come,” she said and pulled onto the road, sunlight glaring off the dirt-

flecked windshield. “I’m the Messiah,” she whispered. “You believe that shit? What kinda lucky guy are you, huh?” I’m not lucky. And the Messiah’s got blood in his eyes. “You’re not headed anywhere, are you? No. You were just walking, waiting for me to find you. All the pieces are falling into place, right?” She gunned the engine. The white line blurred outside the passenger window. “You know how to use that sword of yours? Of course you do. Because for where we’re going, you’re going to have to cut the devil’s heart out.” The Messiah cranked the radio and filled the car with static, the occasional voice of a daytime talk show coming through in fuzzy, garbled clips. She tapped her fingers against the steering wheel. He wondered if she was calling other angels through some hidden code, preparing for Armageddon. She puked up a stream of words in a strange tongue, girded by her convictions, like so many other people he’d forgotten, people with purpose, ready to drag the world to their bosom or stomp skulls to dust when the piled bodies grew too high and obstructed their vision. She cussed and groaned and screamed her insanity, raved about God’s huge penis and her bloody birth from the womb of the Twelve Apostles. Hezekiah listened to her madness, but all he saw was the white line, a white china plate decorated by a flowering ink-blue design rattling on the dash. He heard footsteps echoing in a hall. The Toyota rushed toward Hell with the clatter of a dragged bag of bones, the hum of tires about to blow . . .

The rest of this story is available on Dark Recesses: http://www.darkrecesses.com/fiction/fiction-at-least-the-dead-by-lee-thompson/

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