A Flash Fiction by Aditi Ramaswamy
So my car breaks down a lot…
I really should replace it––but somehow, I can’t bring myself to. Fine, I’ll say it: I’m fond of the damn piece of junk. I think people nowadays are far too focused on their destinations that they don’t take time off to enjoy the journey itself. So it’s kind of nice, being forced to stop so much: you meet the most interesting people.
Anyway, it always happens to conveniently sputter to a stop right smack dab in Nowheresville, USA––and always next to a dilapidated inn named “The Shady Hotel of Horrors” or some crap like that. You can practically hear the banjos playing.
That being said, you’d expect me to have met a whole bunch of creeps––you know the type. Toothless inbred hicks with a taste for gruesome murder, and all that. I had to admit, part of me really did hope to come across one, just to see if they really do exist. But the closest I’d ever come to Encounters of the Urban Legend Kind was the one-eyed weight-lifting gas station attendant in Pennsylvania who insisted on stepping out back and showing me an entire camera reel of pictures of his goat. (Her name is Albertine, by the way, and she likes wearing pink ribbons in her beard.)
Until the other day. I was down in––well, I’m not naming names here, but let’s just say it was one of them states known for great food with a side of whackjob evangelism. It was maybe one, two in the morning, and I was putt-putting along one of those winding country roads in the Crapmobile when it had suddenly decided to stop cold turkey on me. No amount of turning the key or cussing at the steering wheel would make it move––so I’d finally given up, gotten out of the car, and surveyed my surroundings. Nothing but broad, squat tobacco leaves for miles around–
No, wait, over there––a few yards off the side of the road. Yeah, definitely a house. I’d kicked the Crapmobile one last time, then waded through the thick sea of future lung cancer toward the light in the distance.
Upon closer inspection, I’d realised that calling it a “house” was actually pretty generous of me. It was a hovel, a shack, a moldering pile of boards held together by a handful of nails and the will of God. And when its door had creaked open and its sole inhabitant had stepped out, I’d definitely seen the family resemblance: she looked as if someone had stretched a sheet of white paper haphazardly over a jumble of bones. Her eyes had leisurely slid across me from head to toe; then she’d licked her cracked lips and bared a set of sharp, crooked teeth the colour of coffee stains.
“Well hello there,” she’d drawled in a voice like nails tap-dancing on a chalkboard. “And what’s a tender scrap like you doin’ outside my old home?”
“Sorry to bother you, Ma’am,” I’d said, smiling ingratiatingly. “But my car broke down, and my phone is near dead. Mind if I use yours?”
A spark of hunger had ignited in the depths of her pale bloodshot eyes. “I’m afraid I don’t got no phone. But you’re welcome to some supper, and to use my guest bedroom after. It’s a very comfy bedroom,” she’d added. “So comfy, some folks never wanted to come out!”
“That’s very sweet of you,” I’d said, stepping around her to get in the door- and nearly tripping over a bloodied axe lying out on the sagging porch. Frankly, I had been pretty thrilled: my first real crazy! This would be an experience to write home about for sure.
The first thing that had hit me when I’d walked inside was the smell: a heavy curtain of warm metallic tang enveloped me the moment I set foot in the shack. The woman had gestured to a narrow black hallway in the back of the dwelling. “You’s sleepin’ there. But first––supper!”
“Oh, it’s all right–” I’d started to say, but she had already shuffled into the kitchen and was busy clattering pots around.
“Nonsense!” she’d snapped. “You’ll eat, and you’ll enjoy it. I even got a whole pecan pie left, all the better to fatten you up. You’s thin as a beanstalk!”
I’d stifled a giggle when she’d said that. A lunatic who sounded like she’d just fallen out of the pages of Hansel and Gretel? ’Twas my lucky day, indeed.
She had come out bearing the aforementioned goods on a tin platter, and had set it down with a firm thump on the rickety wooden table. “Now, I want to see you eat this all up.”
I had eyed the food distastefully before looking back up at her. She certainly wasn’t a gas station attendant––but, I had supposed, something was better than nothing. “Thank you very much, Ma’am,” I’d said finally. “But I’m afraid I can’t partake of this. See,” I’d continued, smiling politely, “bit of a quirk of mine––I only eat fresh meat.”
And then I drew my knife.
Aditi Ramaswamy‘s dream job is to haunt a pond in the woods. Until she becomes the forest spirit she’s destined to be, though, she’ll stick to software engineering and writing fiction. Ramaswamy’s debut novel, Nathaniel Keene (The Lovelace Chronicles Book 1), is available here.