Loyd Elmore Jr
Eli pushed his Ford Ranger as hard as it would go down the abandoned dirt road near Woodburn, TN. As he hung the corner, the nearly balled rear tires left go of whatever traction they had and the little rusty black pickup started to swing too far. Eli was used to losing traction on all kinds of surfaces and expertly guided the tires back onto the road, but not without sideswiping a sapling that was growing too far from the unkempt ditch.
“Slow down,” screamed Lynn. She was hanging onto the door armrest and pushing her other hand into the roof. “You’re gonna kill us!”
Eli ignored her as he came to a straightaway. He popped the clutch and put it into fifth gear. The gauge said they were about to hit eighty-five. The tarp that was tied down in the back was flapping in the wind.
Three more and we go back in time, Eli thought. A grin popped out onto his face. Lynn didn’t notice. She was watching another curve in the road, this one to the right, coming up fast. He thought about turning the radio up (he could barely hear The Scorpions singing Rock You Like a Hurricane), but he needed his hands to drive.
“FUCK!” She closed her eyes and waited for them to crash into the oncoming embankment.
Eli wasn’t the smartest in his class or the most aware but his driving was a gift given by God (maybe his only one). He downshifted, hit the brake, and slowed just enough to make the turn. This time there was no sapling scratching the already chipped paint. He dropped it into third and gunned it through the next few turns. Lynn had a hard time holding on. Her butt, clad in her favorite cutoff blue jean shorts, couldn’t grip the cheap red vinyl bench seat. It was still early morning and the heat of the day hadn’t started to swelter yet. If it had, maybe the skin of the upper part of her legs might give her some friction. Instead, she closed her eyes and hoped they got to where he was taking her and they got there in one piece.
It’ll be the only piece he’ll get today, she thought. The day before, they had planned to meet their friends down at the lake. Suzie was swiping beers from her old man and they were going to spend the day swimming and drinking. Lynn had even planned on letting Eli get to second base (maybe third). She liked him. He was cute and nice, most of the time. He was a bit on the slow side but she liked that about him. It made him just a bit easier to control. She wanted to see him yesterday, have him come out to the house while her parents were gone to Nashville. She had thought about doing that thing he hinted about but he said he was going hunting with his dad. It sort of pissed her off that he would pick his dad over her. But she told him that is was fine, though she put a nice chill on it to let him know where this decision stood.
They had made plans for him to drive by her house at seven that morning. They would head to the lake early so they could make out in the truck before their friends showed up. She had looked out at 6:45 (because he tended to be early) and saw that he was indeed, just pulling up into her driveway. When he got out, he wasn’t dressed in something to go in the lake in. He was still wearing his hunting outfit and dirty. Lynn opened the door and was about to whisper as loud as she could (her parents were still asleep upstairs) what the hell he was dressed like that when he came up and grabbed her by the arms and started to shove her toward the truck.
“Trust me,” he said smiling. “This is going to be awesome.”
A smell hit her then, the smell of copper. She wanted to ask but got in without a word. They drove off and she realized she had forgotten to leave a note.
Lynn wasn’t that far from Eli in the IQ department.
The black Ford Ranger tore down another straight away and was heading for a dead end. A ditch and a tree line blocked their way. Lynn looked at the oncoming roadblock and pressed her feet to the floor. Once a driver, always a driver. Even if you’re in the passenger seat.
Before the truck careened headlong into the ditch and the line of cedars, Eli swung the truck sideways while applying the brakes. The truck slid and the passenger side came to an abrupt halt just mere inches from the ditch. The Scorpions died in mid-sentence because Eli had turned off the truck and got out.
Lynn opened her eyes and saw that they had stopped and the fear of crashing was over. After a second, she finally screamed out at him.
“You crazy fuckhead! What…?”
That was all she could get out before he opened her door and pulled her out. It was a bit rough but he had let go as soon as she was out of the door and balanced on the ditch edge.
“I’m sorry, but you have got to see this. It’s fucking amazing.” Eli started to walk away and through an almost invisible opening between the cedar trees. He stopped just before the opening and turned around. She was still standing on the edge of the ditch and glaring daggers into him. He wanted to grab her and toss her over his shoulder and carry her but he got control of himself for a second. He walked back to her and tried to put his arms around her. She pushed him away.
“Baby, I need you to trust me. I want to show you something that will blow your mind. When you see what I have to show you, you will forget about being mad.” His impatience was growing but he held on for another second. He smiled as sweetly as he could. “Please?”
Lynn started to let her anger go, at least, slightly. And a curiosity started to grow. What the hell was this all about, she wondered.
“This better be good… or you’re grounded from touching me in any way for a long time.”
He smiled big and grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the hole in the tree line.
They walked for half a mile down a nearly overgrown trail. It had been used by the local deer and the hunters that hunted those deer. But recently, the summer had taken a toll and the deer went to where water was closer and most of the hunters followed.
All except Eli and his father. They had bagged two in the past few months. Even a couple of does but they were out of season and if the game warden knew it, his daddy would go back to jail. Eli’s father knew how to process a deer so they could keep out–of–season deer killing a secret.
And they had spotted a huge buck last night, a big twelve pointer. Instead of letting Eli take the shot, his father decided he couldn’t rely on his eighteen-year-old boy to get the job done. Eli’s father told Eli to duck behind an oak tree. Eli’s father bent down and started to run forward through a clearing to get to a small grove of trees to get a better shot.
Eli watched as he started to cross the small clearing. In a matter of a couple of seconds, Eli’s brain started to work harder then it had ever before. He heard a hum in the air, like the sound of a million bumblebees but muted down to almost nothing. He noticed the grass and how it seemed to move in the air as if underwater. And he noticed a slight glimmer to the air around his father as he started to move forward.
Then he couldn’t comprehend anything. And he wouldn’t be able to truly comprehend anything with any real focus for some time.
Lynn continued to follow Eli a step behind. She felt stupid for following him blindly. She always felt like she was in charge of the relationship – she hardly ever let him make the plans. They shared the same friends, mostly. And they tended to follow her lead as well. A queen bee is what her mother called her. A queen bee that would sting. She was a born leader and knew it.
Now, out of the blue, Eli was leading her into the woods to see some sort of mystery. And she hated herself for it. She wanted to stop and go back to the truck until he came to his senses and they could go to the lake. She might even forget this even happened (thought she doubted it). And if she
wanted, she did have another boy, Shaw, who wanted to date her. She would be able to pull him around like a pull toy just like Eli. All she had to do was stop and turn around.
But she couldn’t stop following him. She followed him step by step.
Eli would occasionally turn to see if she was still there and after seeing her, he would give her his big goofy smile and plow on through the trees. He didn’t know what she had been thinking (he never did) but if she had turned around to leave, he would have grabbed her and carried her. Even if he had to knock her out. When he thought this, his smile went from goofy to something else, something more hollow.
Lynn looked up from watching where her feet were falling and saw that small clearing was coming up.
That was when Eli stopped and he nearly ran into him.
“We’re here,” he said. His smile had turned back into one she was more familiar with.
Lynn looked around. “We’re where?” She turned her head and saw nothing but trees, weeds, and the stupid clearing. “What am I supposed to be seeing?” She almost ended that sentence by calling him a dummy but stopped short. A sudden fear suddenly crept in and stopped her. She didn’t want to take any chances.
Eli put her hands on her arms and looked into her eyes. He chuckled and his eyes were wild.
“OK, I can’t tell you. You have to trust me. I want you to walk forward for a few feet and you’ll understand.”
“I…”, began Lynn.
“Just… do it.”
A part of Lynn, a very scared part, just wanted to turn tell and run back to the truck. Or past the truck and down the dirt road and back to the main road and flag someone down. That part of her wanted to get the hell away from Eli and whatever he wanted to show her.
But she took a hesitant step forward anyway. Whatever part of her that was in control wanted to see whatever it was. This part of her wanted to know.
Eli watched her take another step and his eyes opened wide waiting for the moment.
Lynn took three more steps. She looked from side to side trying to get the first glimpse of whatever this was all about. She even looked up into the trees, wondering if something was going to come down and grab her.
At that moment, she noticed how the weeds in front of her seemed to sway in a breeze that wasn’t there. She looked forward and saw a haze, almost as if she was seeing the heat rise from the pavement in the summer. It was warm but it wasn’t hot enough to do that and not here. And a hum started to rise.
Her left foot took another step. Instead of finding the path, it had found…
Nothing. She was three steps in when she noticed. She wasn’t standing on the ground anymore. She slowly looked down and saw she was two feet in the air. It was like she had walked up a set of invisible stairs.
That’s not right, she thought, still not completely comprehending what was going on. She stopped moving and to her disbelief, she was still rising. It all came to her in a split second.
“I… I’m floating!”
She turned her head to look at Eli but her movement made her spin around nearly three hundred and sixty degrees. She laughed.
Eli hadn’t moved forward. He just stood and watched Lynn float in the air, moving slowly upward. The wide-eyed look he had just a few minutes before Lynn discovered his secret was gone. Now his eyes were sharp and dark. His light blues eyes, the ones that made Lynn look his way in the school’s cafeteria that past autumn, had turned much darker. And his goofy grin had transformed into one a bit more sinister.
Lynn had got control of her movements. It was like swimming. Not so much in water but in something thicker. The best parts were being able to breathe normally, though, fast, in her excitement.
She moved toward him and grinned with delight.
“This is amazing. Where did this come from?”
Eli looked at her, not taking her eyes off of hers.
“I’m not sure. I’d say, not too long. My dad and I were out here just two weeks ago and it wasn’t here. You remember two weeks ago, don’t you?” He paused for effect. But Lynn didn’t catch it. She continued to swim in the thick air. She didn’t answer him. He continued.
“Two weeks ago, my dad and I were hunting just like yesterday. Yesterday afternoon, I watched my father walk into this spot. He didn’t act like you. He was scared. It was the first time I ever saw him scared. He started to cry and begged me to pull him out. Well, I was scared, too. I didn’t want to get pulled in. Then he started to yell at me, and cuss me. He called me a fucking coward and to get my ass over here and help him.”
Lynn had stopped swimming around and watched him. She finally noticed his face and how he looked at her. The warm exhilaration she felt was turning into cold fear. She could feel her already fast-beating heart find another gear. Her head started to ache.
Eli saw he finally got through to her.
“He kept on cussing me but I didn’t get any closer. Then he stopped moving and looked up above him. I couldn’t see what he saw. He screamed and tried his damndest to get out but he couldn’t. He just looked up again and screamed. It was the loudest scream I have ever heard. I think his throat burst or something. Then…” Eli stopped. He put his hands up and gave her a shrug.
Lynn wanted to look up just then but lost her nerve. She looked back at him.
“Will you pull me out? I’m scared.”
Eli took a breath and let it out as if to say, Wow! That truly sucks for you.
He finally moved from his spot but not toward her but around where the weeds went from standing normally to swaying in the unseen force.
“So, two weeks ago when I was out here with my dad, maybe about the time we’re taking down a ten-point buck, you were with Shaw. That’s his name, right? Shaw.”
Lynn had known somehow this is where this conversation was going. She tried to turn quickly to follow him around as he walked the perimeter of whatever force this was. She wanted to deny this to his face (not because it was a lie but it was because it was her go-to stance on everything… deny, deny, deny). She only caught a glimpse of him as he continued to walk around her.
Eli shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. You see, I’ve already talked to Shaw earlier this morning. You don’t know it but you are swimming around in the same air as him.” He was coming back around to where he started. Lynn was moving her arms around trying to keep up with him.
“Please, Eli. I don’t know what this is. Help me out and I’ll make it up to you. Shaw was nothing. I got caught up in something that didn’t matter,” Lynn said. She could feel herself stopping in her turn. And she could feel herself not moving upward anymore. She just hung in open space. Her hair, that had been in a ponytail, was slowly flying behind her.
“Shaw said the same thing about you, just about where you are now. He was pretty willing to come with me when I saw him outside his house smoking at just after midnight. He seemed to want to explain to me that you were nothing to him. Maybe it was because I was holding my rifle at him. Maybe because I shot him in the stomach before putting him in the back of my truck and driving him here. He was still alive as I dragged him all the way from the truck and pushed him into the clearing.” Eli laughed then. His eyes closed and tears came down his cheeks. “I don’t think he even noticed he was floating when the end came for him.” He looked up then. He saw the time was short. “But you’ll get to see what he didn’t.”
Lynn looked up above her, her body becoming more horizontal from the quick motion as if she was lying down for a good night’s sleep.
And she saw it. She saw what Eli’s father saw and what Shaw had failed to notice as he bled out and faded from living.
“Don’t worry. It’s quick,” Eli said as he stood back a few feet. “At least, I think it’s quick. It looks quick. I stood here after it took my father and it told me things. Lots of things for hours. It told me about you and Shaw. It told me about how all our friends knew and never told me. They’re next. I’ll go and bring them here like I did you. I’ll tell them you want them to meet here instead of swimming in the lake. You’re the queen bee, remember? They’ll come.”
Lynn started to scream as she saw what was coming down for her. She screamed so hard, her throat ruptured and blood flew from her mouth. She never noticed. Her eyes focused only on what was coming.
“Then I’ll bring more people. The circle will get wider with every meal. And I will be saved from your fate. It told me so. And I believe…”
Eli watched it (whatever it was) come down and absorb Lynn in two seconds. She never looked his way like his father had. The fear and rage from his father’s face had given way to just a brief moment of disappointment before it took him. Eli had smiled knowing that was the last time he would see that look. And he was thankful. Because fuck him, he thought.
After Eli watched it finish with Lynn, he felt joy like he had never known. It had sent it in to him, to his soul. He let out a breath of exaltation and near orgasmic joy and relief. He had never felt so good. And just before it went back up to wait, it sent one word into his mind.
Eli, still feeling the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment seeping from his being, nodded. He nodded and a smile crept back onto his face.
This must be God, he thought. Only God could come from above and make you feel this way. He had to obey.
It rushed back up. Here one minute and gone the next.
And the overpowering feeling left Eli’s body once again. He closed his eyes trying to hold onto it just a few seconds longer but it escaped him.
He sighed. It was gone. But he could feel it again. And soon. His friends would be waiting for Lynn and him. He just needed to fetch them.
Eli turned and slowly started to walk away from the clearing. He walked the trail back to his truck. Before he got in, he pulled the tarp a little tighter near the cab. The smell of copper was strong but fading. Blood was visible in the truck bed and he needed to cover that before going to the lake. Fixing that, he got in the Ranger and headed back down the dirt trail.
Eli wasn’t the smartest person in the world, but he was loyal.
Three weeks later…
The clearing had grown much larger along with the whatever lived above it. And the town of Woodburn seemed to disappear.
And it continued to grow…