Unbeknownst to his wife, Edwin Hersek was involved in a full-blown affair. Her name was Gina and she sat in Edwin’s garage looking lovely as ever. He ran his hand across her wide, smiling, front grill, his eyes drinking in her soft, smooth curves. Okay, maybe her faded red paint could use a touch up here and there, maybe even a smidge of Bondo around the wheel wells to curb the rust. But her engine turned over every morning thanks to Edwin’s loving attention to her belts, hoses, caps and plugs. He didn’t have a lot of money spend on her, but when he did, he went straight to Tiny Tim’s Auto and bought the top of the line. Edwin figured if he kept playing the lotto and bingo, he’d eventually get enough to do her up right. He was creeping up on eighty years old, but he was certain that he would restore her eventually, and nothing, absolutely nothing, was going to stop him.
Trudy, Edwin’s human wife, barely noticed. She was busy with her biddy friends and bridge club most days and at night she snored like the broken muffler on her own broke down Town and Country. Edwin loved her, he supposed. She took good care of him, saw to his meals, washed his oil-smudged dungarees, and on the rare times he had the inclination, she obliged him in the sack. There was always that. But if he had to confess, it was Gina that lit him up.
This afternoon he and Gina were going over to Floyd Demopolis’ house for the usual Wednesday backgammon matches. The weather in Teaberry, Kentucky, felt fine this time of year as Edwin motored down the quiet side road. The leaves had started to change and there was just the slightest bite of cold in the afternoon breeze. He could feel the power in Gina’s engine vibrate through the steering wheel and in the seat of his pants.
After a few blocks, Floyd Demopolis’s house came up on the right. He and Floyd had served in ‘Nam together and had the kind of relationship that was just as likely to see them singing karaoke, beers in hand, with arms slung over each other’s shoulders, as mudslinging and duking it out over a ref call in a Wildcats game. As far as Edwin was concerned, piss and vinegar could run just as thick as blood.
As he pulled in front of Floyd’s house, he looked for the old geezer, who was usually puttering around his VW bug piece of shit. Edwin couldn’t believe that heap was still driveable and he couldn’t resist sharing his feelings about that with Floyd. Today Floyd wasn’t out, but the bug was parked under the carport, squatting over the numerous oil stains like an incontinent invalid.
Edwin made his way to Floyd’s front door and rapped a few times. A low, drawling howl responded from behind the door. But after a minute, when there were still no other sounds, Edwin’s patience began to run low. He rapped again, harder. More howling, but no Floyd.
“Hey you old greaseball! Where the hell are you? When you gonna haul that wreck of yours to the junkyard? Did you die today? Well shit, it’s about time!”
Edwin waited a moment to see if Floyd would be lured out for a round of fuck-you, but the house was still. “I don’t have enough days left to waste putzing around on your front porch!”
“Hey towel-head!” Floyd suddenly yelled from the side yard. “The desert was a left turn back on Hickory road!” Floyd walked to the front of his yard; rake in one hand and beer in the other. A good round of fuck-you always got off to a start with a healthy serving of racial slurs. And it irked Edwin to no end that Floyd considered him to be an Arab. “How many times do I have to tell you that Turks ain’t Arabs, you goat banger.”
Encouraged by Edwin’s annoyance, Floyd launched into part two of the afternoon routine. “That truck of yours looks like the car equivalent of Frankenstein.”
“At least she gets me out of the house, which is more than I can say about that pile of scrap bleeding out in your driveway,” said Edwin, as he lifted his cap and scratched his head.
Floyd didn’t miss a beat. “If I was married to your wife, I’d want to get out the house too!” And so began round three.
“At least Trudy can cook worth a damn. Every time Gladys gets around to the kitchen, the smoke alarm goes off in MY house!”
Floyd shook his head and gave a dismissive wave at Edwin. “Alright, you old bastard, enough with the tap dancing. Let’s get the game on before I keel over from your bad jokes.”
The two men went around to the back of Floyd’s house. A small table with plastic chairs sat on a concrete patio. A rectangular brown leather case laid on the table. Beside the table was a beat-up-looking cooler filled with ice and beer.
Edwin took a seat and grabbed a beer from the cooler, while Floyd tapped the latches on the brown case and opened the backgammon set. A scratching sound came from the sliding door behind them. A large bloodhound, slobber dripping from its jowls, pawed at the door.
Floyd got up and slid the door open. “Come on, Boner. Out you go, old boy.”
The dog trotted out, his tail sweeping joyfully. Edwin reached over and gave him a pat on the back. “You old cur. You’re the only thing your daddy’s done right, besides providing this cooler of beer.”
The men set up their checkers on the gameboard, popped open their beers, and settled in the for match.
“I’ve been thinking,” said Floyd.
“I thought I smelled something burning,” said Edwin, as he rolled his dice.
“Why don’t we up the ante this time? Winners buying drinks is getting old. Let’s raise the stakes,” said Floyd. “If I win, I get your truck. If you win, you get ol’ Boner here.”
“Your dog? You heartless bastard. Now I know you lost your senses for sure.”
“I’m not gonna lose, so I’ve got nothing to worry about.” Floyd cocked his brow and grinned. “What about you? Worried you’re going to lose?”
“Aw hell, are you serious? I could beat your ass into next Tuesday if I wanted to. But no one, NO ONE, is gonna take my truck from me.”
Floyd leaned back in his chair, debating whether or not to drop the bomb. Screw it, he thought. Why not? “Pussy.”
The second Edwin’s ears registered the word, he scrambled to his feet, his knees knocking the game board off the table. Checkers scattered across the concrete and Boner got up to investigate one.
Edwin felt a familiar pressure in his chest and his ears began to ring. Rage pulsed through him and his could only manage spit out four words. “NO GETS MY TRUCK!” And with that, he turned and stormed out of Floyd’s backyard.
Floyd watched him leave, chuckling to himself. He looked down at Boner. “Guess I pushed it too far today.” The dog thumped his tail in response.
Later that afternoon, Edwin was fussing over Gina’s interior when Trudy yelled from inside the house. “Eddie! The timer’s goin’ off. Come take your medicine!” He threw one last loving glance at the Studebaker before going inside. The kitchen smelled of beef stew. Trudy stood at the stove, her back to Edwin. She had put on a floral dress and piled her hair into a bun. He regarded her with vague interest.
“Whose house tonight?”
She looked over her shoulder at him but continued to stir whatever was in the pot. “I’ll be at Mary’s. The toilet upstairs is leaking again. If you don’t fix it right this time, I’m going to call that new plumber.”
“Shit Trudy, I was gonna wax the truck.” (He never called Gina by her name in front of his wife. It felt too much like cheating, because in his mind he was.) Trudy turned to a cupboard beside the stove and retrieved a pillbox. She handed it to Edwin.
He took the pillbox, flipped the little “Wednesday” lid open, and dumped a small white pill under his tongue. He handed the box back to Trudy and gave her a smirk.
“Don’t give me that look. You want me to fork out a hundred and fifty bucks for the plumber?”
After dinner, while Trudy cleaned up, Edwin made his way out to the garage to finish with Gina. He lovingly checked her oil, belts, fluids and plugs. Then he grabbed a cloth and the leather polish and climbed into the cab to give it a once over. When the crushing pressure began in his chest, Edwin felt sudden panic. Not because his heart was acting up again, but because he hadn’t finished his usual routine with Gina. He dropped the dust cloth and grabbed his chest.
“Trudy! My damn heart!” He lay down across Gina’s front bench and tried to breathe through the sensation of someone standing on his chest. His cap, which stated “Fart loading…” and showed a status bar that read “please wait,” rolled off his head and landed near the gas pedal. He could hear her heels clacking toward the door that led from the house to the garage. Trudy threw open the door and rushed down the steps. She appeared beside him and shoved two tiny white pills into his hand. Then she stood back with her hands on her hips and studied him, her face a mixture of concern and annoyance.
“That’s the third time this week. Don’t you think it’s time to see Doc Marshall?” Edwin placed the pills under his tongue and waited for the bitter, stinging taste that promised relief in a minute or two. He pulled himself up to sitting and reached for his cap.
“I’m fine. I don’t need no sawbones telling me how to live my life.”
Trudy huffed and shook her head. “Don’t you make me a widow, you hear?” She went back in the house. Edwin grabbed a towel and began wiping the windshield. The bomb that went off in his chest a moment later gave him only a second for a last thought. No one is gonna take my truck.
2 months later
Floyd Demopolis was out of beer and it was only two o’clock in the afternoon. Since Edwin had died, he’d started filling his Wednesdays with solitaire. He would set out beer for himself and one for Boner, which he would always have to drink as well, since Boner never touched his.
A trip to the liquor store was all but mandatory. Gladys had fallen asleep in her La-Z-Boy while watching her soaps, which was perfect, because otherwise she’d raise hell about his “drinking problem.” He grabbed his keys, put on his flat cap, and walked out to the carport. But the engine in the VW wouldn’t turn over, even after five tries. Floyd decided that the VW had to go, enough was enough. Anyway, the Teaberry Auction for the Blind was coming this weekend. He could get himself new wheels there
On Saturday, at the auction, Floyd scouted the cars and trucks up for bidding. He passed by rows of Buicks, Plymouths, and Fords most of which were as old as Floyd himself. At the end of one row, a pick-up truck caught his eye. Something about it was familiar—the faded red paint, patchwork body repairs, the wide, smiling grill. “I’ll be damned,” said Floyd. “Well, the old bastard is dead so he won’t mind if I bid on it.” For a moment he missed Edwin, the old codger. But he also felt some satisfaction about being able to own his buddy’s prized truck. When the bidding went higher than Floyd expected, he shrugged off the extra expense. He and Gladys would just have to miss a month or two of bingo. Floyd giggled at the thought of Edwin rolling in his grave if he knew where his beloved vehicle had ended up. What did he name it? Debbie? Who the hell cares, it would be his truck now.
The moon shone full-faced and bright across the Teaberry Memorial Gardens. A startled bird swooped through the trees and mausoleums while a pair of glowing eyes waited in the dark shadow of a maple tree. Also under the maple, a fresh grave lay undisturbed. That is until two frantic hands clawed themselves up through the dirt and clay. The glowing-eyed creature, a fox, surprised at this sudden movement, darted into the forest beyond the cemetery. At the grave, the hands grasped and dug at the surface, until the top of a man’s head burst through the dirt. Edwin Hersek writhed and flailed to deliver himself from the ground. He freed his legs, stood up, and kicked the soil off the tops of his shoes. He knew no other thoughts or emotions other than to free himself from this grave; that and the all-consuming desire that would not let him rest—to get back what was his. A reflexive, primal groan escaped his throat. Like a homing pigeon using electromagnetic senses, he navigated his way out of the cemetery and out to the main road.
Edwin, with his new lease on life, walked with coordinated purpose, his arms swinging in time with his legs. His face bore an expression of angry intensity. An oncoming driver wouldn’t see a zombie lurching or stumbling along the road, but rather an elderly man in a dirty, wrinkled, cheap suit walking at a brisk pace. Now, if said driver were to approach Mr. Hersek, the only odd thing he might notice would be the pungent tang of formaldehyde floating off of Edwin like a bad cologne and a blank stare that could pass for advanced dementia. As it was, no cars passed by and it took just a couple of hours for Edwin to cover the nine miles down route 119 and back to his neighborhood.
Floyd woke up before dawn. Someone was banging on his front door and Boner was howling up a storm. The huge mound beside him that was his wife, didn’t stir. She wore earplugs every night to block out the sonorous racket Floyd produced when he snored. Meanwhile the banging, like a jackhammer, continued without let up. Floyd leaped out of bed and grabbed the Remington he kept behind the bedroom door just for times like these.
Holding the shotgun in front of him, he approached the front door and looked through the tiny peephole. “That’s impossible,” he muttered. The hairs on the back of Floyd’s neck rose in response to his fear and disbelief.
“What in tarnation? Go away Edwin! You’re dead!” He yelled.
“Gimme —eys my truck!” came a gravely, splintered voice. Then more jack hammering on his front door.
“It’s mine now! Get out of here!”
“—damn keys to my truck!”
“If you don’t leave, I’m going to have to hurt you!”
The banging now became more of a solid booming sound, like a battering ram crashing into the door.
“Gimme the keys to MY TRUCK!”
“Edwin! I have a gun and I’ll shoot your ass!”
Floyd backed away from the door afraid it would burst inward. Then a white hot rage took over his brain. No WAY was he going to let that dead bastard take his truck. He charged the door, threw it open. He aimed his shotgun and had his trigger finger ready. Edwin stood in the doorway, dust and cemetery dirt still peppered his shoulders and hair. “Gimme the keys to my damn truck.”
Boner got a whiff of the visitor, turned tail and darted away into the kitchen. Floyd wasn’t sure if he was dreaming or if the world had suddenly gone ass over teakettle. “You stubborn bastard, you’re supposed to be lying down underground! Get outta here, it’s my truck now!”
Edwin, sporting a distant stare, tromped through the front door with definite purpose. His arms were raised and his hands outstretched. “Gimme my damn keys!”
Floyd’s finger made the decision before his brain could and the gun went off with a cataclysmic boom. The kick knocked him backward, but not before he saw a red explosion bloom on the side of Edwin’s head. When Floyd recovered his balance, he was surprised to find Edwin still standing in front of him, minus approximately one half of his head. Though his jaw was now only hinged from one side, Edwin managed to growl “Gimme my keys!” And then he took a step toward Floyd.
Horrified, Floyd came to the quick and painless decision that no vehicle was worth dealing with this monstrous hassle. He dug his free hand into the pocket of his dungarees and fished for the truck keys. He pulled them out and held them toward Edwin. “Here! Take the damn things and leave me alone!”
Edwin grunted in satisfaction. He swiped the keys from Floyd and turned around to head for the front door. Floyd watched speechless as Edwin lurched outside toward the carport. Blood and gore dripped along the ground as he went.
“You gonna clean that mess up?” Floyd followed Edwin outside, but not too closely. “First you steal my truck, then you muck up my driveway? What the hell is this world coming to?”
Edwin ignored Floyd and using his remaining eye, guided the key into the door and climbed into his truck. Floyd watched in stunned amazement as truck rolled out of the driveway. Just before it turned onto the street, a hand appeared through the driver’s window and flipped him the bird.
Floyd let go a psychotic sounding laugh. “Edwin, you halfwit! You can’t take it with you!”
Rudy Hollis and his girlfriend drove along route 119 in the mountains of Kentucky, listening to Alice in Chains on the radio and laughing about the mini-heist they had just pulled off at the 7-11 a few miles back.
“I can’t believe you only finessed a roll of Life Savers after all that talk about getting us a free lunch!” said Madison. She scooted down in her seat and propped one foot on the dash and the other on the edge of the open window. “I’m gonna enjoy these Ding Dongsthough.”
Rudy frowned and pointed at her leg. “Come on! Don’t put your feet on the interior, you know I don’t like that.”
Madison rolled her eyes but lowered her legs anyway. “Tell you what, I’ll trade you a Ding Dong for one of the blunts you didn’t tell me you brought.”
Rudy gave her a sheepish grin. “How did you know about that? Were you snooping through my stuff?”
“Well, it wasn’t me who left the scale out on the kitchen table.”
“Fine. I’m about ready for a break from driving anyway. Let’s a find a quiet place to chill.”
They drove another half hour passed thick forests, rocky bluffs, and rolling hills before an exit appeared. “Open up maps and see what’s here,” said Rudy.
“Just take the exit and we’ll play it by ear.”
Rudy exited KY 119 and the road immediately narrowed and became uneven and full of potholes. He pointed to the little rusted sign off the left shoulder. “Looks like we’re in Teaberry.”
Madison pointed to a field in the distance. “That might be a good place to hang. I really need to pee anyway.”
They approached the clearing on the right side and came up to a dirt road.
“This looks good. Pull over here,” said Madison.
Rudy turned his truck on to the packed dirt and drove a few hundred feet toward the tree line before stopping. “Ugh, my truck’s gonna get all funked up. And I just washed it too.” He turned off the ignition. Madison grabbed her backpack, opened the door, and jumped out. She strode toward the trees. “I’ll be right back,” she called over her shoulder. “And don’t look!”
Rudy watched her disappear into the thick oaks and evergreens. Then he turned and looked out over the field of overgrown, brown wild grass. He opened the gate of his truck and pulled out an old moving blanket. Beside it was a Christmas cookie tin, which Rudy grabbed as well. He started into the field but stopped when he heard Madison yell. “Hey! Babe! Come see!”
Rudy chuckled before yelling back. “No thanks, I’m good!”
He heard Madison’s hurried steps before he saw her return through the trees. She was still buttoning her jeans as she yelled again. “Very funny Rudy. Seriously! You’re gonna love this. Come here and see!”
“What is it?”
She had turned back into the wood again. “Just follow me!”
They walked a hundred feet or so into the woods but Rudy saw that there was another clearing. Regular lines of white-ish grey humps stuck up out of the grass. “Geez Mads, it’s just an old cemetery.”
She stopped next to him. “No shit Sherlock, but look over there.” She pointed to the far right side of the field. A tall red hump was visible in the overgrown weeds, but because it was so close to the tree line, the shaped of the thing was partially obscured in shadows.
Rudy’s eyes flashed. “Is…is that what I think it is?”
Madison grinned. “It could be. Wanna go check it out?”
They marched across the cemetery, angling around and through the leaning, faded headstones. “Damn this place is old,” said Madison. She stopped to study one of the headstones. “You can’t even see who was buried anymore.” But Rudy didn’t answer her. He had picked up a quickening jog away from her toward the red mound. Then she heard him yell in sheer delight, “No way! I can’t believe it!”
When she caught up to Rudy, he was standing with his legs apart and hands on his head, as if waiting for a pat down. The blanket and cookie tin sat on the ground where he’d dropped them. “Do you know what this is?” he asked Madison with pure jubilation.
She laughed and shook her head. “It’s a truck. A really old truck.”
Rudy walked up to it and looked inside the broken passenger window. “This, my sweet Mads, is a 1957 Studebaker pickup!”
Madison nodded. “Cool. Can we sit in it?”
Rudy answered her by gingerly pulling on the chrome handle. The door didn’t budge. He pulled harder but without success. Madison went around to the driver’s side. “This one’s partly open,” she said. He went around and helped her pull the heavy door open. The ancient hinges groaned and squeaked in protest but finally gave way.
“I don’t see any animal nests or shit,” said Madison. Actually, the cab was oddly clean and free of trash or debris. With the exception of some broad brownish stains on the vinyl seats, it was in decent condition.
“This is awesome,” said Rudy. “How did it stay so clean and undamaged sitting out here so long?”
Madison laughed. “Well, it looks to me like someone shit their pants while driving it.”
Rudy dragged his fingers over the stains. “Well, whatever it was, it’s dry now.”
“Put the blanket on it anyway. It looks gross.”
Rudy grabbed the thick blanket and spread it out over the front seats. “Hop in!” Rudy stood aside and motioned for Madison to crawl into the truck. After she had taken the passenger seat, Rudy stepped in and sat in front of the steering wheel. He handed Madison the cookie tin. “Merry Christmas,” he said with a smirk.
Madison pulled off the lid. Inside were four thick joints, a small pipe, lighter and a roll of Life Savers. “It’s just what I always wanted! How did you know?” She giggled and took out one of the joints. “Let’s toke to the truck.”
But Rudy was absorbed in exploring the dash, shift knob and steering wheel. He pulled out the choke and pushed it back in. “This is so awesome.” He took his phone out and started taking a video of the interior. Then he faced his phone toward Madison.
“Hey sexy lady! You’re sitting in a historic truck!”
She thrust her shoulder forward and pouted at the camera like a high fashion model on a shoot. Rudy smiled. “Smokin’ hot.”
“Hey check the glove compartment. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find a spare key,” said Rudy.
Madison pulled it open. “No keys.”
“Bummer,” said Rudy. “Oh well, let’s light up that spliff.”
Madison flicked the lighter and held it up to the joint in her mouth. She took a couple of deep pulls, making the end of the joint flare bright red and orange. Holding her breath, she handed it over to Rudy.
“I’m going to tell my pop about this truck. I think he should come get it. It’s abandoned, right? So it won’t matter to anyone.” Then he took a few hits from the joint and passed it back to Madison. The cab was soon hazy with smoke. Rudy coughed a few times. “How far are we from Paint Lick anyway? Can’t be that much further. He could have it towed back to his shop and we could restore the shit out of it. Make into a real hot rod, you know?”
Madison gave him a half-lidded smile. “I’d go for a ride in it.”
“You know, I want to see what’s under the hood. Come with me for a sec, I just want to see the engine.”
They walked around to the front of the truck and Rudy tried to lift the hood. At first it didn’t budge.
Madison felt her high coming on and let her gaze wander slowly around the field and woods. There were a few headstones scattered that were barely visible above the weeds. While Rudy was fighting to lift the heavy hood inch by inch, she decided to go check out one of the stones. “I hope I don’t get any ticks or snake bites,” she said mostly to herself. As she started around the side of the truck she noticed a headstone, or rather half a headstone, sticking out of the ground, about ten feet away from the passenger-side door. She walked over to it and knelt down, but the ground around it felt loose; almost boggy. Afraid she might sink, she got up and headed for another stone about twenty feet away. A loud booming sound filled the immediate area as Rudy finally forced the hood all the way open. “Well goddamn!”
Madison glanced up for a moment, but engines just didn’t turn her on the way they did Rudy. Besides, she had zero desire to move fast for anything at the moment.
“I’m calling my pop! He’s gonna be happier’n a tornado in a trailer park!”
Madison started walking away from the truck toward another stone about twenty feet away. She heard Rudy excitedly describing the Studebaker.“Pop you have to see this, seriously. I’m sending you some pics—”
Then Madison heard another sound. At first she thought it was coming from in front of her. It sounded like a muffled grunt or moan, almost like whiny newborn puppies. She continued forward but stopped when she heard a ripping sound, like someone tearing giant weeds out of the ground. The grunting got louder and Madison realized it was coming from behind her.
Rudy had just ended the call with his pop and was feeling very proud of himself. He’d fired off a bunch of pictures of the truck and Pop was clearly stoked. Said he he’d get his tow guy out despite the fact that it would be over a two-hour drive. He was about to check whether there was any oil in the engine when he got a quick whiff of a rancid, rotting odor. At that same moment, he heard what sounded like steps taken in the grass behind him. Still searching for the dipstick, he called out. “Aw hell,Mads, did you fart?” He straightened up to look for her when he felt a hand clamp down on his shoulder.
Startled, he whipped around and found himself face to face with a nightmare. His eyes screamed zombie but his brain wasn’t having any of it.
“Aaah God!” He stumbled backward and froze. The man, or whatever it was, was missing half its head. Its jaw hung loose on one side and Rudy could see its tongue flapping wildly. Rudy’s ears came online then and heard a gravelly, broken voice that was apparently chewing him out.
“What in the blue hell are you doin’ to my truck? Goddamn kids. It’s my truck!” And he lurched forward again leaving a trail of dirt that tumbled off his shoulders.
Madison had turned to see a man standing in front of Rudy. He seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. And something was really wrong with his head.
The man turned around at the sound of her voice. Madison thought she’d scream but her ego wouldn’t let her. No way buddy. Gonna find me a big stick and whack that fucker. Didn’t play softball for nothing.
Rudy took another step backward. He must have wandered onto the set of The Walking Dead for sure. In another flash assessment, Rudy noticed another difference between this zombie and the ones on the TWD. Its remaining eye wasn’t cloudy or aimless. It was glaring at him with vengeance. And it wasn’t groaning or blubbering insensibly either. It was cussing him out.
“Get the hell away from my truck you thieving donkey turd!”
He felt an insane urge to laugh but then noticed the hole in the ground behind the thing. Did he crawl out of there? Rudy started jogging backwards, because this thing wasn’t doing the aimless zombie lurch the way it was portrayed on TV. That was also apparently a bunch of bullshit. This thing was charging at him. And that’s when he saw Madison rushing out of the grass with a fat stick in her hands. He backed up a few more feet and watched his girlfriend swing the stick across the thing’s neck, cutting off its next sentence. “Goddam kids—” Its head blasted of its neck in one clean stroke, flew a dozen feet, and plunked down in the overgrown grass.
Madison threw down the stick and ran toward Rudy. “Go! Let’s get the hell out of here!”
They ran down the road back to Rudy’s truck and sped back on to the highway.
Meanwhile Edwin stumbled toward the truck and slammed the down the hood. Then he moved toward the weeds and grabbed his head, which he was able to find easily because it was still muttering a litany of threats and swears. “I’ll be a goddamned, brainless idgit if they think I’m gonna let them take my goddamned truck.” He kicked piles of dirt aside, then climbed back down into his grave. Just before he pulled the last armful of dirt back on himself, he got off one last complaint. “Can’t a man get any goddamned eternal rest around here?”