The votes are in and the readers’ choice for the August Scene-Of-The-Month is once again my unfinished, unpublished, unedited werewolf novel unimaginatively working-titled The Wolf. (That’s a lot of UNs!)
Because the completed portion of The Wolf is relatively short, I am continuing with the approach I took last time and putting up the scenes in order, so you may want to go back and read last month’s entry to see what happened before this. And now, on to The Wolf, scene three!
“Twenty-nine bottles of beer on the wall, twenty-nine bottles of beer … if one of those bottles should happen to fall, twenty-eight bottles of beer on the wall!”
Greg leaned to the right and whispered: “I can’t take much more of this, Shells.”
“You’re the one who didn’t want a back seat entertainment system,” his wife said. “That’s not how we took trips when I was a kid, you said.”
From behind them, the next chorus started, two voices in two different keys, neither one correct. “Twenty-eight bottles of beer on the wall …”
“That was before I heard the kids sing.”
Michelle fixed him with a critical look. “You don’t really want this to turn into a referendum on all the school concerts and musicals that you’ve missed, do you?”
After a moment, Greg said: “No. No, I don’t.” He straightened in his seat, listened a little longer, and then started singing along himself. It helped drown the kids out, anyway.
“Isn’t this our exit?” Shells had the map out. “Slate Road, right?”
“Right.” The exit was coming up in a mile or so. “We’re almost there, kids!”
A cheer went up from the back seat. After six hours in the car, Mike and Robbie were so stir crazy they probably would have cheered if Greg had announced that they’d arrived at the dentist’s office.
At the exit, Greg eased them off the freeway. The off-ramp descended steeply along the mountainside, dropping them into a tree-shrouded valley. The ramp ended at a narrow road that had been recently covered with fresh oil and loose stone. This surface hadn’t been compacted down into pavement yet, but it was nothing a little four-wheel drive couldn’t handle. He turned right and they started climbing along the side of the valley.
Mike said: “Wow, look how far down it is.”
Greg checked the rear view mirror. Mike had his nose pressed against the window, peering across the other lane at the drop beyond. The only thing separating the road from the cliff was one of those old-fashioned guardrails, the kind made of wooden posts and braided metal rope, sort of like miniature power lines. They might have been able to stop an old lightweight Model N, but he didn’t think they would do much more than groan and snap under the weight of a modern vehicle.
“If you jumped off, how long would it take to hit the bottom?”
“A long time,” Shells said.
“Would you die?”
“Would you splatter?”
After a moment, Robbie said in a tiny voice: “We’re not going to fall, are we?”
“No, honey,” Shells said. “We’re not going to fall.”
“If the car fell down there it would explode.”
“Michael Thomas, stop trying to scare your brother.”
“I don’t wanna ‘splode,” Robbie said, starting to cry.
Greg checked the mirror again. Mike was looking very pleased with himself. “I know someone who won’t be going in the pool when we get to the lodge,” Greg said.
That wiped the smirk off Michael’s face. “What?”
“You heard me.” Greg looked back at the road. “Jesus!”
A beat-up pickup truck had just come around a bend, towing an equally beat-up trailer, and it had veered into their lane while making the turn. Greg leaned on the horn and jerked the wheel hard to the right, but there was nowhere to go, the shoulder was only a few feet of rocks and crumbled sandstone and then they hit the cliff wall hard, sending them back into the road. The kids were both crying now, wailing, Shells screaming. Greg wrenched the wheel right again. The side of the SUV ground into the cliff, the friction slowing them even as the antilocks pumped under his foot.
The truck had done a panic steer, sending the trailer into a jackknife. It skidded sideways for a moment and then flipped, tearing loose from the pickup. The thing’s rounded contours let it roll like a barrel. It hit a sharp outcropping and the silvery skin split open, its contents puking out through the widening tear. Papers, wrappers, all kinds of metal shit that Greg didn’t recognize. A big glass bottle, miraculously intact, flew out and smashed into their windshield, cracking it. Golden fluid splashed everywhere like a sudden downpour of ginger ale.
Greg realized that they had stopped moving. He still heard metal crunching but he couldn’t see shit through the liquid that coated the windshield. It had to be the trailer, still rolling down the hill toward them. He threw the SUV into reverse, hearing the rocks scrape against the passenger side as they started moving backwards. “It’s okay,” he said, to himself as well as the kids. “It’s okay.”
Fumbling, he managed to get the wipers working. The yellow stuff smeared as they pushed it out of the way. The trailer had finally stopped rolling. It rested up against the cliff, shredded, like a tin can that had been opened by the demented application of a hatchet. He couldn’t see the truck, but he could see skid marks in the gravel, leading up to a big gap in the flimsy guardrail.
He unbuckled his seatbelt. The kids were quiet now, starting to realize they were safe. “Is anyone hurt?” Greg said. “Shells, are you okay?”
“Fine,” she said. Her voice shook.
“Mike? Robbie? Does anything feel bad?”
Mike said no; Robbie just shook his head.
“Stay in the car,” Greg said, getting out. The loose stones turned under his feet. Oil and little rocks, he thought. What a way to pave a road.
The trailer had stopped only a few yards from the front of their SUV. It would have rolled over on top of them if he hadn’t reversed when he did. The trailer stank to high heaven, like it had been full of feral cats; the road was littered with crap, some of it quite dangerous-looking. He saw one or two guns, pieces of fur and hide, and what looked like traps, the kind you usually saw only in old cartoons, where some buffoonish hunter would use them in a vain attempt to catch a bear or a rabbit.
He heard a door open. Shells had slid over to the driver’s side and it looked like she intended to get out of the car. He raised a hand to forestall her, but she only held up the cell phone and shook her head. Checking traffic—nothing coming from either direction—he crossed the road to where the guardrail was down. Noticeable smoke was beginning to rise from the spot. Greg peered over the edge. It wasn’t a proper cliff, not being completely vertical, but it was close enough to make no difference. The pickup was way down at the bottom, next to the river, upside down. It had carved a very evident swath of destruction through the the scrubby trees that grew from the steep hillside. If it were a little less high and a lot less steep, he would climb down and try to help the driver, but it would’ve required rappelling gear to get to the river in one piece.
Suddenly the truck exploded, erupting in a little ball of fire and black smoke, the muffled whoomp echoing up and down the valley. The fireball evaporated long before it reached the road, although the puff of smoke made it.
Greg wondered what Mike would say when he saw that.
Thanks to everyone for voting — results have been reset, so feel free to vote for the book you want to see excerpted next!