Fantasticoe -- 2012
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The Highwaymen

Logan Cisewski

 It was one of the darkest nights out on old Route 85 in quite some time. Barely illuminating at all, the waning moon sat in the sky like a disposed fingernail from the gods. Patrol officer Percy Ellis looked down at the digital clock on his cruiser’s dashboard. It blinked 11:12.

He heard the crackling of the police radio and the mumbling between dispatch and the other units. As he looked out into the night through his cruiser window, he could see across outstretched desert for miles.

The lights from distant towns in the atmosphere emitted brownish hues that lit up the rock walls and cliffs of plateaus bordering the arid landscape. Between him and those rocks, only sand and aimlessly wandering tumbleweeds remained.

I can’t believe they stuck me with this damn desolate route again, Percy thought. Third week in a row since I got transferred.  Racist-ass townie sheriff thinks he can treat me like shit because I’m black, -----What the hell?

Percy was somewhat startled by something that caught his eye on the side of the road as his cruiser rode by. He thought to himself…Was that an unmarked in the ditch?

He hadn’t seen anything on this road in days, or maybe even a couple of weeks, but then again it was hard to remember as most of the nights out here seemed to run together. A majority of the locals had forgotten by now that old 85 existed, nonetheless knew it once served as an original pathway for the railroads during westward expansion.

 Pushing his resentful emotions about the force and the sheriff aside, Percy decided to whip around and investigate the scene.

 As he inched the nose of his cruiser closer to the car, he started to make out that it was indeed an unmarked police unit.

 “Oh, son of a bitch!” He yelled out loud as he haphazardly grabbed for his radio and signaled the station.

“Dispatch, there’s another unit out on my route. A maroon unmarked interceptor, does anyone care to explain?”

 There were a few moments of silence as the dispatcher on the other end cleared her throat.

 “Umm.., sorry Officer Ellis,” the voice crackled. “We don’t have anyone else on Old 85 tonight. That unmarked isn’t on our schedule. Did you get a license plate or unit number?”

 “Yeah, it says unit 13, license plate VST-661,” he replied. “I’m gonna hop out real quick and see what’s going on.”

  He put the vehicle into drive and slowly pulled into the ditch, sending flecks of golden sand into the air in a floating wave. The radio crackled again as he unbuckled his seatbelt.

 “Officer Ellis,” she said. “That unmarked belongs to Bernadine PD.”

 “What? That town is fifteen miles from here and in Evans County. What the hell are they doing out here?” Percy asked.

 “I don’t know” Dispatch continued, “but that car was assigned to Sgt. Matthew Moranis.”

 “The same cop that Captain said went missing last week?” Percy questioned.

 “Seems to be,” the dispatcher replied.

 “Holy shit. Will keep radio contact” Percy muttered quickly then thought to himself, This could be it, a chance to show those assholes back at the precinct how a real man does it.

 As he stepped out of the vehicle, he swiftly clicked on his flashlight and directed its beam towards back window. They were tinted so darkly that he could barely see inside.

Just then, the car began to violently sway from side to side, the suspension emitting terrible shrieks as if some enraged beast was caged up inside. Percy jumped back instinctively, but gathered himself and sprang into action.

 “We have serious movement here!” he yelled out to his radio, unable to tell if his message had been received.

He continued, “We might have a rabid animal on our hands here, I’ll check back in.”

 Percy stepped away from his still running cruiser and crept slowly over to the front of the other cruiser, gun in one hand and flashlight in the other.

He slowed his movement to a tiptoe as he came around the corner of the front end. What he saw there seemed like a nightmare, almost like a horror movie he’d seen as a child.

Percy blinked his eyes quickly and then adjusted them to the sight. A bloated body lay in a crumpled pile, police uniform intact except for the shirt which was unbuttoned and flapping in the warm desert breeze.

 He approached the corpse whose sallow skin had sunk deeply into the bones like he’d been drained. Ellis reached over him to check his id tag, but it was missing.

He didn’t need the tag for a positive identification though; he knew through the misshapen body and bony face who it was.

His picture was all over the news and hung in every police station for 200 hundred miles. Shit, they’d even had a special meeting about Matthew Moranis, and there he was, deader than anything Percy had ever seen.

Pretty damn smelly too, he thought.

Just as Percy was beginning to relax, movement again began to erupt from the car, this time from the other side of the abandoned vehicle.

Percy snapped back into a standing position, gun raised and ready.

 “Come out with your hands raised motherfucker!”

 Percy waited for someone or something to present itself or respond, but after a minute passed he realized he’d have to make his way towards the trunk.

He could feel his heart beat in his chest and throat as he inched closer to his fate, unable to imagine what may be waiting for him.

“CRREEEEEAAAAAAAAAk!”

The suspension of the car kicked up and two dark figures took off, running down the embankment  into the desert to Percy’s left.

 Barely able to react, he aimed the muzzle of his gun into the darkness and shot several times. None of his rounds made contact.

 “Shit, Shit, Shit!”

 Percy ran back toward his cruiser and ripped the radio from the dash.

 “Dispatch, I got two suspects on foot heading north towards Red Mountain Indian Reserve, one dead body at the unmarked, I think it’s Moranis.”

He took a deep breath before continuing. “I’m on the 46th mile marker of Route 85, and I need back up now!”

 Throwing the radio down to the floor, he slammed the cruiser into drive and let his tires squeal as he launched down the ditch and went after the two mysterious figures. Despite his hasty efforts to get in his car and chase them, he wasn’t managing to keep up with the suspects.

 He grabbed the radio again.

 “I can’t catch ‘em,” he said in a frustrated manner.

“What the fuck, I can’t catch ‘em with the cruiser… I’m going 98.”

 Percy realized this moment that something very strange and very worrisome was happening. These suspects couldn’t have been moving that fast could they? Shaking off his concern, he pegged the gas pedal, and watched the speedometer rise to 110.

 “Back up is on their way,” the dispatcher finally responded after minutes of delay. “Just stick with them.”

 The two, fleeing figures, reached the base of Red Mountain and took a sharp and impossible to replicate turn into the Martian like boulders which lined the mountain side.

 Ellis pulled his cruiser up to the spot where they had entered. The engine ticked and sizzled as it tried to cool itself from the parched surroundings. All he could see were massive boulders, fitting together like giant puzzle pieces.

He couldn’t see where they’d disappeared to, but then, as he leaned into the formation and looked to his right, there was a very small opening.

Ahh shit, do I wait for backup? 

Both the urge to satisfy department protocol and his own curiosity began to clash in Percy’s mind. He thought to himself, This could be my chance though, a chance to get off third shift, and away from this Podunk station and road.

It didn’t take long for Percy to decide to take off his duty belt and radio so he could wriggle into the tiny crevice.

Shimmying into the tight opening, Percy found himself in encompassing darkness.

Being careful to not drop his gun, he shifted the firearm into his right hand, and illuminated the cave with his flashlight in the other.

 He followed the tunnel in the only direction the suspects could’ve gone--- forward.

After five minutes of traveling down the smooth, sandy tunnel, there was another opening. This inlet was the entrance to a grand cave about a hundred feet tall which looked more like a cathedral than a rock formation.

The walls here were just as smooth as the tunnel from before, but it was decorated like an opera hall; three large chandeliers hung from the ceiling and ornate furniture was arranged about the room. Candles were placed everywhere, emitting flickering flashes of brilliance and shadows across the cave’s surface.

 Percy had a hard time taking in what he was seeing. He went to an impossibly tall bookshelf where pictures in gilded frames sat. He looked at two men, seemingly from the pioneer age, arms around each other’s shoulders, smiling and standing in front a covered wagon.

Picking the picture up, he looked at the date written in the corner: “1861.”

  Refocusing on the task at hand, he put the antique photo away and thought to himself, where the hell had suspects gone?

Just then he heard voices from the tunnel, voices he recognized as his back up.

“Officer Ellis? Officer Ellis, where’d those suspects run off to?” one of the voices echoed in a southern drawl.

“I don’t know, there’s no other way out of here. Percy responded as he sat down dumbfounded on the cool rock floor.

 Three individuals made their way down into the large cavern that Percy was in. One of the men walked over to where he was sitting and began to chat with him.

 

“Shit man, why don’t you head back out, Percy. Sounds like you’ve been on one hell of a goose chase. We’ll take care of it all from here.”

Percy, still trying to catch his breath from the chase, looked at them slightly puzzled.

“Damn you guys made it here fast as shit. How’d you find the entrance of the cavern so fast? It’s dark as hell outside.”

One of the officers grabbed a wax light off one of the tables and made his way slowly over to where Percy was sitting.

Percy looked up from his hands to address the man with the candle face to face, but the flickering light exposed an image that made him gasp.

There, not a foot from his own was the sickly slender and emaciated face of Officer Moranis, eyes completely blackened.

 Percy tried to slowly reach down for the holster holding his gun, but his hands were shaking too furiously to control them.

“Whaa, whaaa…. what the fuck?” he somehow managed to mutter.

“I just saw your body by the road, you’re dead, you’re supposed to be dead.”

The creature that was Officer Moranis let a cruel smirk come across his face, showing enormous teeth flanked by decaying flesh, and began to speak,

“See Officer Ellis, alive, dead, these are trivial descriptions for someone in…our position.”

The two men who remained in the shadows before, now moved slowly into the candle light.

Their garb consisted of old cavalry uniforms, colored in dark union blue with gold trim. Their skin was also sickly yellow, and their teeth far larger than those of Moranis.

Percy then felt what must’ve been urine slowly dampen his slacks.

Moranis laughed, “You see, Officer Ellis, you’ve been selected to carry on the time honored tradition of the highwaymen.”

Looking back towards the more ravenous creatures, Moranis continued.

“You see, they’ve been waiting for someone just like you Percy. I was just a pawn to get you here, but you are their real prize.”

“You see, one hundred and fifty years ago, these men stumbled upon the sacred Indian burial ground, you and I know as Red Mountain. As members of the 65th scout cavalry, they too wanted to impress their commander, and as such, slaughtered the small tribe of natives whom lived there. Little did they know that they had brought upon themselves a terrible curse, which can only be passed, but never cured.”

The two ungodly creatures, now breathing and panting heavily, began to circle around behind where Percy was sitting.

Percy tried to get up and run, but his entire body remained paralyzed by fear.

Moranis bent in close and whispered, “Goodbye, Percy, and welcome, Mr. Ellis.”

The hot breaths of the two other men sent shivers down Percy’s spine, and a pair of enormous fangs, sank deeply into parallel portions of his neck.

As his eyes rolled slowly upward into his head, a strange smile came across his face.