Hot august nights
Carl sat baking under the ripe Georgia sun, picking at the hole in his arm. It had been getting bigger. Or the rest of his arm had been getting smaller. It was hard to tell compared with the general state of decay consuming his body. Above him, a family of plump, black flies droned around his head, landing occasionally on sticky patches of greenish flesh. He’d long since given up on trying to shoo them away and only really noticed their presence when one would get up the nerve to pace cautiously across his eyeball in search of some remaining pocket of moisture. In those moments Carl remembered vaguely that he hated flies, but the feeling quickly passed.
Later that afternoon, as the sun was beginning to creep behind the gabled roofs of the homes across from him, Carl stood up from the park bench, leaving a few pieces of himself as he did, and took a slow right down Jones St. Without any particular destination, he shambled leisurely past stalled cars, their windows broken and smeared, past the burnt out husk of the Midville Branch Library, and past the boarded up face of the Bus Station B-B-Q. The smiling face of thecolossal cartoon pig on the Station’s sign remained inviting, ignoring the fatal looking shotgun wounds that peppered its torso. Carl cocked his stiff neck up slowly at the handsome porcine visage beaming down at him and began to feel… something. It started as a softly burning ache in his gut and crept outward until his entire body was ablaze with need. Just as the ache had reached a fever pitch, a sound in the distance caught Carl’s attention. The low rumble of a small block engine growled against the darkening sky and caused Carl to reach a desiccated hand up and run a finger across the stitched letters of his name on his dirty blue cover-alls. The need was now confused with some other emotion. He turned from the Station pig’s idiot grin and marched hungrily toward the dusk.
By the time the car reached town, it was nearly dark. The two sparks of its headlights crested the dip in the neighboring hills and within minutes it was parked under one of the few working street-lamps adjacent to the Piggly Wiggly, a block north of where Carl had managed to catch himself on the barbwire of a hastily erected barrier. Carl’s eyes widened slightly as he gazed at the long, masculine hood of the two door coupe. Its aggressive posture was so familiar but the name wasn’t coming to him. Racing yellow with a thick, sable stripe down the center of the hood, mean as a wasp, it crouched in the middle of the street as the heat escaping its engine ticked in the calm of the night. As Carl tugged against the ripping cloth of his pants caught in the tangle of rusty spurs, two figures emerged from the car and walked slowly toward the market. They paused for a moment then disappeared through the broken front window.
Carl continued to pull against the snare. He swatted his arms clumsily at his pants but managed only to tear a sizable hunk from his palm in the process. Summoning the last pitiful bit of his strength, he lurched forward and broke himself loose, flopping hard face-long onto the pavement. There half of his cheek remained as he lifted himself back to his feet and continued toward the shimmering yellow beacon. The hunger began again to ring inside him. A long, steady moan escaped his mouth and his arms raised up involuntarily like a cartoon mummy.
When he reached the car he became suddenly still. Staring at the cursive chrome lettering splashed against the car’s siding, Carl tried to make out the name. As he leaned in to get a closer look, he lost his balance and fell forward impaling himself on the polished stem of the side-view mirror. Stumbling back, the mirror popped off of the door and then slid from Carl’s body hitting the asphalt with a sharp, metallic clang. Carl looked down to see the face of some monster peering back at him through a layer of dark grease smeared along the glass. Using the car to support his weight, he bent down and fumbled his dumb fingers across the mirror. Finally managing, with great effort, to clasp it between his two hands he brought it back up to the hole it had left in the door. His tongue crept out between his teeth with the strain of concentration, but despite his toiling, both the mirror and his tongue eventually wound up lying at his feet.
As he was about to reach down again, Carl noticed something moving from the corner of his eye. He turned toward the Piggly Wiggly and saw a man and a woman, duffle bags slung across their backs, carefully stepping over the shards of glass sticking up from the window pane. They didn't seem to notice him until a low moan gurgled forth from his open mouth. The man’s head snapped Carl’s direction and he unslung a hunting rifle from his shoulder. The woman reached a hand out as if in protest and began walking toward Carl as she took something long and slender from a holster on her belt. Her curly brown hair was wrapped up behind a red bandana and as she approached, Carl could see the muscles tightening beneath the deeply tanned skin of her forearm.
There was something about her. Something, like the name of the car, that Carl knew but couldn’t, for the life of him, recall. He knew he wanted her. He wanted to tear into her. To bury his face inside her and take everything from her. But there was something else too; the determined walk, the look on her face when she reached the edge of the light shining down on them both. A word began to rattle inside Carl’s skull. Carl moaned.
The sound made her recoil slightly. Carl could see that she was crying. He looked down at the massive combination wrench in her left hand and then back at the mirror.
“I tried,” she said eventually. “I said we had to get the fuck out of here.”
Carl looked back at her tortured face and then at the wrench that had begun to shake as she spoke.
“What was so fucking important at the garage that you couldn’t live without?!”
The noises she was making should have meant more. Carl recognized that he was missing something important. He looked back at the mirror, then at his tongue.
The woman sighed and managed a defeated laugh. “It took all this for me to finally win an argument with you. Hope you’re happy, you stubborn ass.”
With that she wound up and swung the wrench at Carl’s head and he was reminded of a time when she’d done the same thing, but with a smile and a playful open hand. The word that had been desperately trying to tread the soupy waters of Carl’s brain suddenly shot to the surface as he stared up at her weeping face and the world went dark. Camaro.