A cold chill was in the air that time of night. The little, yellow cottage at the cul-de-sac, snuggled against clusters of shrubs was dimly lit. Yet, the beam of the front light unabashedly exposed the surface of the porch with all its cracks and crevices.
A light in one of the back bedrooms went out and the six-foot gentle giant of a man slowly turned the knob and eased the door shut. “She’s fast asleep,” he whispered to his better half in the hallway who was dressed for bed and had an adoring smile on her face.
Stan Bergund was wearing his dark blue overalls. The scent of aftershave he used just minutes earlier pervaded the air.
“I’m sorry you have to leave so late,” Jane said, sliding her arm around his waist.
Stan placed his huge arms around his wife’s curvy frame and looked into the piercing blue eyes of the woman at least a foot shorter than he was. “We need the money, sweetheart. I’m so glad they have me on call.”
“Is it a bad one?”
“A large water main broke downtown, so I reckon it’ll be good overtime. At least the extra money can pay a bill around here.” He sighed, then pecked her on the lips.
“It will get better, honey. We’ve had a snag, that’s all, with me losing my job.”
“I know.” He nodded and tried to force a smile. “A snag.”
She followed him to the front door. Stan grabbed his two-toned grey jacket from the coat rack and his black tam, then opened the door. “I’ll see you in a while,” he said.
He stopped at the threshold and looked back at her.
“Please be careful. You know what’s been going on lately with all those…”
“I know,” he interjected. “I will. Lock the door behind me.”
Jane immediately heeded Stan’s instruction, then shifted the thin curtain to the side and watched as he jogged toward the small, white pick-up truck. Fog gathered in front of the vehicle after Stan switched on the engine. Jane could see him speaking into the mobile phone as he reversed, then he drove off around the cul-de-sac towards the main road.
Stan set the phone back onto the dashboard mount and switched on the radio. The air-conditioning in the truck was percolating although there was no need for it as the temperature outside was in the high sixties. But Stan was a big guy and he sweated easily. When most people were freezing cold, he was often dropping tiny pebbles of perspiration in his way. However, the jacket was staying on. He could never forget Grandma Joyce’s admonition to him and his brother Frank: “When it’s cold out, you must always keep the chest protected,” she’d say. “You don’t want to end up with a bad case of influenza.” Grandma Joyce was the only one Stan ever heard refer to the flu as ‘influenza’ when speaking casually.
Giles was on Crisp 93.8fm as was his weeknight schedule. His deep, low voice was just right for the horror flicks, Stan always thought whenever he listened in. Giles spoke slowly—almost in a dragging voice—and made you want to look through the rear-view mirror to make sure no pasty, straggly-haired old lady was peering at you from the back seat. Not good for the faint-at-heart to tune in to the Late Show with Giles while on the move. Definitely, not a good thing.
“It’s midnight in the land of the lonely and the free. Do you know where your kids are?” A smile cracked Giles’ milk-chocolate face as he methodically licked his dry, chapped lips. “If you can’t say, ‘They’re in bed,’ then you’d better get up off your rusty rumps and go on the hunt for those wandering brats. You don’t want the slasher to get them now, do you?”
A sinister, drawn-out grin ensued that made the very hair on Stan’s arms rise at attention. Giles seemed to take immense delight in taunting his unseen listeners.
“Jackass!” Stan muttered before changing the channel. “That guy’s gotta be into some dark, creepy stuff on the sly.”
An old Diana Ross song was playing. Stan bobbed his head and started tapping the steering wheel lightly as he drove further along the thoroughfare. The streets appeared especially dark after he had been driving for a few minutes, almost pitch black, in fact. Lampposts’ beams seemed to be struggling to serve their only purpose, which made Stan reach forward to switch on the bright lights, feeling they couldn’t be a bother to anyone anyway since the streets were, for the most part, empty.
The night draft caused huge circular balls to form in front of the headlights, then dissipated more like scattered mist that traveled along with the truck. Stan arrived at an intersection and slowed to a halt at the stop light. His truck was the only vehicle on the road right then. He glanced at the car clock. It was 12:13am. His work site was just another block away.
Suddenly, he heard the loud screeching of car tires, then a dark-colored truck similar in size to an F150 pulled up beside him in the other lane. The windows were all rolled up; the interior concealed by dark tints.
Stan’s bobbing and tapping from the music had long stopped and he now focused his attention on the eerie stillness of the area and the tenebrous sensation he was feeling from the vehicle sitting next to his. He glanced up at the street-light.
“Why the hell is it taking so long?” he murmured. He looked back at the truck. The ominous gut-feeling wasn’t shaken, but stubbornly remained.
“This is crazy,” Stan said, glancing back at the light still holding red. “Let me get outta here.” Just as he switched pedals, the truck next to him suddenly sped off across the intersection. The light was still on red. Stan, looked both ways before driving away.
“Something’s gotta be wrong with that light. Guess I’m the idiot for sitting there so long when no cars were even on the bloody road!”
A couple of minutes later, Stan pulled up onto the already busy scene that Todd Vermont had aptly supervised shortly after making the call to him. The area was well lit by streetlamps and overhead spotlights, and Stan parked on the side adjacent to a newly constructed side-walk. Orange cones had been placed along the street covering approximately a mile and road signs started from several hundred yards up to approximately fifty feet at the scene of the water spill. Three additional white, pick-up trucks were parked nearby seemingly haphazardly and a large tractor assisted in blocking access to that part of the road. Angel Boot, “Rasta”, as they called him was busy on the backhoe digging out the trench near the main pipe. The machine’s lights were bright and glaring.
Todd met Stan as he was getting out of the truck. “Hey, boss. I turned off the main valve already so we can get started.”
“Good. Everyone’s here?” Stan asked him.
The men walked over to where Angel was trenching. The top of the large pipe was already visible and four workers were standing around the area in question.
“Gentlemen…” Stan nodded.
They all hailed back.
Jake Roberts, a rather burly guy jumped into the part of the hole that had been cleared.
“Pass me the shovel!” he said to Burt, his long-time partner who had started out with him ten years prior, just after finishing high school.
Henry Lucas, a thin man in his early fifties, veteran at the corporation, but holding the same laborer post as the other three joined Jake in the hole. Burt handed him a shovel as well and he and Jake cleared out whatever remnants of dirt necessary to get to the pipe after the backhoe’s bucket had completed its reach.
A young man in his early twenties by the name of Aaron Rocha used his shovel to pull back the dirt from the edge of the trench that the other two guys had tossed up there.
Angel was now on the eastern side of the pipe. The backhoe’s stabilizer legs unmovable as the front of the machine tilted slightly off the ground while being competently maneuvered.
“Dig closer!” Todd hollered.
Jake threw his shovel back up. “I see the problem.” He smoothed off a rather small area of the pipe with his gloved hand. It was a ten inch split at the side of the pipe.
“Are you able to clamp it or do we need to cut?” Stan asked.
Jake took a good look before bothering to answer. “It doesn’t look like it has to cut,” he finally replied. He turned to Burt. “Pass me the clamp!”
Todd went to assist the guys as Stan oversaw the scene.
After a while, he heard an annoyed Todd say from the other side of the trench. “Man, y’all workin’ or y’all talkin’?” He was referring to Henry and Jake who suddenly found something hilarious about Aaron while in the middle of attempting to properly seal the split.
The laughter eventually tapered off and everyone was quiet until Henry suddenly hurled a sixty-pound curse word after accidentally hitting his knuckles against the inner trench wall.
“That’s what you get, old man!” Aaron laughed out loud. A cocky lad, he had absolutely no respect for the guy who spent thirty years as a laborer at the corporation because he couldn’t control his insatiable appetite for booze. “Maybe if you didn’t always have a hangover, it wouldn’t have happened.”
“You mother——! One day, I’ll plant these same knuckles up the side of your snotty little head!” Henry fired back.
“That’s enough!” Stan warned. “Aaron, keep your mouth shut.”
“Yes, sir,” the young man replied.
Suddenly, the sound of screeching tires caused Stan to turn around. He noticed a black truck with dark, tinted windows similar to the one he saw on the way there had just pulled up. He was shocked it got through in spite of the tractor blocking access and several other workers who were stationed alongside the road. For a few seconds, the truck just sat there with the engine running in the cool of the night. Stan was now convinced it was the same vehicle since the eerie feeling which blanketed him when it pulled up next to his truck at the traffic light had returned like a huge tidal wave.
Todd noticed the strange vehicle too and watched near the trench as Stan walked toward it. His co-workers paid no attention to what was happening outside of the trench.
Stan proceeded around to the driver’s side door as the truck sat there suspiciously still. He tapped on the window, which moments later rolled down to only a few inches. Stan noticed that in spite of the glaring beams of light in the area, he could see nothing but darkness through the window gap inside the truck. The driver’s head was barely visible, but those eyes — almost a silver luminescent hue caught Stan by surprise.
“Um…” Stan felt the need to clear his throat. “Can I help you? This road is closed. How did you get through here?”
“Closed?” the man asked almost lazily.
“Yeah. Closed. Can I help you with something?” The man’s focus slowly shifted from Stan and instead straight ahead. Stan strangely felt the need to look in the same direction. That’s when he saw Burt being hurled through the air like a baseball, landing hard against the pavement at least fifty feet down. He was completely still. Stan’s eyes widened with shock.
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