bleed the ghost empty
by Pablo D'Stair
Apparently, I’d wound up further from the highway than I’d thought—I was under the impression I’d been running parallel to it, keeping a straight line, that at worst I might have to back track half a day’s drive, but the reality seemed so much more dreadful. I wasn’t even nowhere, I was just somewhere I couldn’t identify, and there seemed to be no one else there with me.
I thought I remembered having seen a car, somewhat indistinctly, off down a twist of secondary road not so long ago, argued with myself that I had, that I hadn’t, that I had, settled that I had, just because I didn’t feel like being wrong.
I didn’t lower the speed of the car, but whimpered, giving glances to the empty coffee and the other half empty coffee I’d started using for an ashtray, an idiot thing to’ve done, a plump of deformed skins of cigarettes there, now, a scrap of the plastic off of some pack.
I knew I should’ve slept last night, should’ve slept the previous night, but that didn’t much matter. Unless I wanted to pull over, sleep in the car surrounded by nothing—road, trees, rises of hills up, dips of hills down, rocks, road, trees, tall grass—I’d just have to keep driving.
It’d gotten dark over an hour ago. Before that I’d not seen anything for five hours.
Maybe that car.
A car passed me. I’d wondered the entire time the headlights approached if I was going to turn the wheel, crash into it—smiling, giggling, the radio going on and on, on and on.
I was glad that someone was around, wriggled in my seat, coughed and sort of sneezed at the same time, punched the top of my thigh and needed to have a piss. I imagined it was alright, that I’d come up on some town relatively soon—pictured less a town than just some empty, half burnt down hotel somewhere, husks of cars rusted, animal carcasses, nobody there when I touched at a bell that wouldn’t sound. Cinematic idiocy. I tried to think up where the images were drawn from—what film exactly—just as quickly didn’t care.
What signs there were on the roads had been making me unsettled. I’d see a sign for a town called Dismit or Brandon, there would be an indication of how many miles it would be until the town, but the next sign would just have other towns listed, other miles, no mention of Dismit or Brandon.
When I saw a sign that said Callafield in two miles, I kept my eyes peeled. But two miles—three miles, five miles, five songs from the radio later—I’d not only not seen Callafield, but no turn-offs of any kind.
At ten miles, there were two new signs for Talle and Bauer.
I hissed like it was a smart remark at the sight of a little dingy gas station with a shack-looking diner or shop off a ways from it—the one high light only illuminated enough of the dirt lot to see the pumps, the impression of something further on.
The light also showed the chill whisper of moisture in the air. I realized I was shivering, slapped at the heater, slapped at the cigarette lighter, fumbled through the pile of wrappers and clothes and various discard on the passenger seat until I came up with my half pack of cigarettes.
I might’ve been imagining the thing with these signs, I thought, but shook my head even while I did, snorting. Cigarette lit, lighter replaced, I said aloud that I didn’t mean Imagining, I’d meant I might not understand how the roads worked. I certainly could’ve been missing turn-offs. No question, I admitted that. Especially with my fatigue, agitated. The trouble was, I’d not seen a hint of any town, so the signs, at best, meant that it was two miles or five miles or ten miles to the road that would eventually lead to the town. A town could be hours away, still.
I was nowhere, either way.
I stared out through the windshield, set the wipers on, smoked mostly down out my nose.
The gas pumps were locked. I’d known they would be. I doubted this was a functional gas station, but at the same time mumbled that it had its own light, wasn’t closed off with a gate or anything— why would someone bother to lock up empty pumps?
I wondered if I could even trust this gasoline, if I did pump it, if I could figure out some way to pry the lock.
I wandered over to the diner building, looked in a window but couldn’t get the impression of whether it was a viable establishment or a husk. I did find a coin operated cigarette machine, rather well stocked, when I went looking for a toilet, so I tossed some punches around, clapped, knelt and checked at the prices. I didn’t know any of the brands at all, but this made me giddy, it’d be like smoking the abstraction of Cigarette, which seemed about right.
There was a bin for bags of ice with nothing inside, some trash bins with locks on the lids, empty from the weight of them.
The bathroom I found was locked, and this made me sort of relieved, really. I just pissed into the gravel, onto my shoes a little bit, bobbing, tapping up the courage to find someplace to have a squat, as well.
I used the rough paper towels I’d gotten with some doughnuts two days prior to wipe myself. After I got my pants reclosed, I squinted at the rear of the diner building and what I could see of the illuminated lot—I’d thought I’d only walked a dozen paces into the uneven field, frightened to go further because of the dark, but the building, the car seemed far away.
Sighing, I lit a cigarette, got the last flame of a lighter I then tossed away, craning my head around, brow kept quite low because the mist in the air was sharpening. I stared in the direction of a faint chugging sound, tottering where I stood, my eyes finally adjusting enough to get the idea it was a parked car, engine going. It was. Once I had the visual, the sound was distinct, unquestionable even in its lullaby hush. Tufts of exhaust flaked up from the thing’s rear. It was parked a good way off. I heard the thwit of its windshield wipers, going at slow intervals.
It was too dark to make out if a road had gotten the car there or if the driver had just turned in to the field. So, I returned to the lot, glancing around for anything. There was a heavy, latching gate, closed, chain wrapped around to keep it in place, but padlock open. This was toward the lot’s far corner, underneath of the long dead bulb of a high poled light, like the one still sputtering brown orange spittle all over my car.
After I let myself shiver, smoking machine cigarettes, leaning against my car or walking in half awake circles, I started my engine, turned the heater up, watched the gas gauge creak to about half of a quarter tank. It was ridiculous, I said, then slammed my elbow into the door, the bone striking the handle funny, fingers tingling numb, slowly cooling, warming back to normal.
Even if I stayed the entire night, there was no guarantee the gas station would open, I’d have to wait for somebody to come by, flag them down, get them to let me follow them as their directions would be meaningless—I didn’t trust the roads, the signs, anything.
Though, I said, squirming my thumb knuckle into the bulb of my closed eye, it might be different in the light, it might look normal, like it was something outside.
I realized I could call the police, patted myself for my cell phone, a heave of anger rolling its shoulders in my chest until I saw the thing where I’d left it on the dash. I wondered if it was the same emergency number everywhere. It’d have to be. It was that or I’d nothing to dial.
I didn’t really have an emergency, I whispered to be a pest to myself, then got a new cigarette going.
What did I care? It wasn’t an emergency or it was, what did I care about it?
Other than the number six-eleven-six-thirteen, there was no address on the front of the diner or on the pumps. I tugged at the padlocks a few times, looked around for a mailbox or something out on the roadside where I’d turned in. Nothing.
The police could trace my call, I’d imagine. If they couldn’t they couldn’t, I had no idea how it worked outside of the city I lived in—or in places at least civilized enough to have sensible road signs.
I started chuckling at the idiot situation I’d made for myself. I lingered at the entrance I’d driven up by, as I reminded myself I had passed somebody a while back, people did use the road, somebody might happen by.
It was getting to be after ten o’clock, so my odds were decreasing, of course.
I dialed in the numbers for the police, stared at the Send button, wondered what difference it would make.
I could wait out the night, it made no difference. I didn’t care.
Pacing and muttering my arms around, I wound up back by the latched gate in the corner. Leaning on it, I saw that the car was still down there, motor on, tongue click of windshield wipers, probably radio on.
Knowing there wasn’t one, I wobbled around, looked for a soda machine, even walked up to the diner window, peered in, scanning for a cooler.
I could smash the window, it occurred to me. I felt brilliant. There’d be something to drink in there, and better still some alarm might go off. Or there might be a fire alarm, anyway, I thought, clapping palms to thighs, congratulating myself.
But what would I say I’d been doing here?
I deflated a moment, then shook my head, held up a finger as though explaining to some idiot version of myself that I wouldn’t stay around, I’d drive away a bit, just happen back by when the police were there, be overjoyed, ask them which way was which around here.
I stared at a thin pane, could see myself thrusting elbow through it, smashing it with a rock, getting the lock undone.
I’d consider it.
Shivering, I sat down.
The road the other car was parked on might lead to a house, the owners of this place might live in that house, so that would spoil my police plan. Police don’t respond to alarms out here, I imagined, thinking more clearly. Police have nothing to do with very much out here, most likely. The owners would just come down, shut off the alarm, leer around suspiciously, sniff their little dirty snouts in the air awhile.
The car down the road was still lulling, probably kids gingerly smoking up, making out, jabbering. It didn’t mean there was a house nearby, but they would know where a gas station was—no one who didn’t live around here would park there all night, whiling away the time.
I paced around, quite irritated that there wasn’t a working light above me, if there were, maybe these people would’ve seen me, gotten spooked, driven off. They’d need to come out eventually, it only served to reason, and this gate was the way in and the way out.
Back to the car, I turned up the radio, but killed the engine, made myself warm enough with some shirts I’d tugged out of the box I’d torn open the previous day when I’d been sure it was where I’d left some CDs.
The mist started to turn more into a kissing downpour—nothing so bad, droplets flat and wide, each turning to three streaks as they made their way into the crease of the windshield behind the wiper blades.
I opened my eyes vaguely to see the rear lights of a truck moving past the turn in, blinked drowsy, then shot up, hurting my knee, my calf starting to spasm, tore at the clothing I’d tangled myself in and hobbled out the car door into the mud, able to hear the skish of the truck tires for several minutes even through the mess at my feet being pelted hard by the now full grown rain.
I stammered around, incoherent, lighting a cigarette, head bent way forward to keep the thing being made soggy even as I jabbed it with the car lighter. I’d been asleep for something like ten minutes—less than that, eight or nine minutes—and a truck goes by. It was worthless. I threw my cigarette away, tilted my head so that rain could hit it straight on, winced at a fat drop in my eye, my whole face burning.
I slunk my way back in the car, lit a new cigarette, pouting.
On top of it, like a sneer at myself, I realized I didn’t know what I was talking about when it came to the gate. If it was kids smoking up, that was probably how they got in, but only maybe. They could have pulled off the side of the road down some distance to avoid the gate, maybe they didn’t know it wasn’t really locked, or—and this I said right at the windshield, burping twice from off breaths while I forced it out—there was a house down there, their house, and they’d just go back inside.
I roughed my wet hair with a shirt, felt around on the backseat floor for my wool cap, tucked arms to my side, hands to pockets, one last fresh cigarette going, and sponged over to the gate.
The car was there, its exhaust lapping left and right in the wind at the rain, the wipers probably still going at the same lazy thuk.
Narrowing the distance to the car, I saw the passenger door was ajar, watched the tumble of exhaust, could vaguely make out the loud of the radio, music I didn’t know.
I got a little antsy, not wanting to scare anybody, cause some freakish confrontation, so darted my head around, scanning the patches of trees and growth for any sign that someone might’ve been having a piss, decided to wait out the rain in the shelter of an overhang or something instead of making the run for the vehicle.
I slowed, made some obligatory callings out, feeling an imbecile, wanting my presence to be known.
I wound around wide, so that I could approach the car from the front, show in the headlights, held my hand up twerpish and kind, giving it wiggles, saying Hello, headlights making the vehicle and whoever was in it nothing, music whining out the cracked open door.
I stopped short.
I made a gesture of confusion, some sign that I wanted them to let me know if it was alright to approach—they should make the lights blink, honk the horn, open and close a door.
I looked to both of my sides, wondered how much of an idiot I was making of myself. No one was in the car, probably. They’d all gone off someplace, or there was only one person to begin with.
I didn’t see anyone watching me, was damp through to my tightening skin.
The driver of the car had a screwdriver deep in his eye, his cheek gashed open all the way up, a clot like half-dried dead grass leaking down into a crust of his shirt over his shoulder, his chest. His pants were undone, a fully erect penis leaned slightly to one side, one of his hands seized into claw just next to it, his other arm stretched back behind him grotesquely, like he’d been batting at something behind his head.
I listened to the thupping of water on the car roof, felt it numb my hands and just stood, leaned over, no idea how long. Eventually I crouched down, sitting in the puddled mud, scratching at my wet lips with the senseless pulps of my fingers.
The music from the radio continued to blare, sounded less like anything than it had at just a snip through the sour weather.
I touched my pockets, realizing I was looking for my cell phone, but I’d left it back at my car, had set it back to the dashboard before I’d nodded off.
I kept telling myself Okay okay okay, not just muttering, telling myself the word in sets of threes and sets of three-sets-of-three Okay okay okay Okay okay okay Okay okay okay making a relaxation of it, a sing song.
I needed to call the police. Certainly. But I couldn’t move, didn’t want to move.
I got standing again, not turning back to look at the man, gauged the distance back up the hill to my car. I could hardly even see the sneeze of orange lot, just the general sense of light there, beaconed like a smear of mucus.