The Drabblecast brings you a special 3 original stories from Editors past and present, all centered around the history of a lonesome Texas Graveyard.
We present to you,The Lich Gate Trifecta:
They Went Into the Graveyard, One by One
by Matthew Bey
“Well hoooowdee partner! Welcome to the the the Refugio County Halloween Fright-O-Rama and Haunted Cemetery Tour!
I’m Red Brangus, and I’ll be lookin’ out for ya on this self-guided tour. We worked really hard on these exhibits of Texas ghosts and monsters, and this self-guided audio tour is the most terrifying yet! This is the third year we’ve put together this little shindig, and I tell ya, the residents of Tivoli Cemetery are always happy to have you folks liven the place up, if you know what I mean!
Thanks for downloading the Terror Tour app, folks. Your app fees and your generous donations will go toward post-hurricane rebuilding efforts and pre-hurricane infrastructure hardenin’. Refugio County thanks you for your generosity and wishes to remind you that no matter how terrifying you may find the upcoming Haunted Cemetery Tour, Sheriff Jimbo Rivera and the trained paramedics of the Austwell Volunteer Fire Department are standin’ by in the triage tent… should somethin’, you know… happen. We salute our Refugio County first responders and everything they do to keep us safe in these uncertain times.
When you’re ready, and feel about as brave as you’ll ever be, we’ll start the tour. Whatever happens, don’t stray from the path, no matter what you may see or hear in the other parts.
Now stand in the yellow square painted there on the shoulder of State Highway 35 and press the blood-red button that says “begin the terror” on your app screen. You will now have thirteen and a half seconds to review the liability waiver and confirm before the app automatically checks the box and moves you to the first station. We appreciate the implied excitement behind your no-doubt scrambled yet fully legally binding attempt at consent as you assume sole legal responsibility for your physical and mental well being on this most spooktacul’r of haunted tours!
Alrighty then folks, now with all that silly city-slicker mumbo jumbo behind us, here we go!
You are currently standing at the entrance to the historic Tivoli Municipal Cemetery. This cemetery has been in operation for over two hundred years! They say the earliest grave at this site was dug fer some ol’ Anglo settler that died of armadillo-contracted leprosy!
Yes, times were different back then. Nowadays we say people die of “armadillo-contracted Hansen’s disease.” Kids these days!
Before you now, as I’m sure you cowpokes can see, stands a big ol ornamental wrought iron arch—the entrance to Tivoli cemetery. This thing’s called a “Lich Gate,” and it comes from the old English word “lich,” which means corpse. This is not the entrance used for day to day use, but the ceremonial entrance used for funeral processions and for welcoming the dead to their final resting place. Since tonight is such a special night, you folks will get to enter through the Lich Gate, open just this one night of the year. But don’t worry partner! Any cultural taboos about doing this are merely superstition!
Your first station in terror, are the graves of Annabelle Marsh and Roselly Marquez. Annabelle’s family has been maintaining her grave by removing all grass and vegetation, a tradition known as “scraping.” It is believed this cultural practice came to Texas along with our state’s first visitors from West Africa. Well how bout that! Next to Annabelle lies young, sweet Roselly. Even decades after her death, Roselly’s grave is festooned with flowers and toys, and relics of her young life.
Legend has it, both these young ladies died on July 14th, 1963 at Camp Lula Sams in Brownsville, when the camp counselor suddenly up an’ decided to murder and mutilate all the campers under his charge without warning! It’s said that although their remains lay at rest here in Tivoli cemetery, their souls remain with all the other campers who died that night, trapped inside row upon row of creepy porcelain dolls resting on the shelf of an old crumbling shack, somewhere deep in the abandoned woods where the forgotten grounds of Camp Lulu moulder to this day. Spooky!
Alright folks, go ahead and follow the prompts on your app now if you will to the next station in the haunted tour.
This next exhibit on your tour of horror is the aptly named “Dead Man’s Hole.” At your feet you’ll find that the ground falls away into a rocky bowl, and in the center of that depression you will see a hole in the rock, barely as wide as a grown man’s shoulders. Try throwin’ a coin into it if you like!
After the outbreak of the war of Northern Aggression in 1861, the men of Refugio County searched all around for local union sympathizers who… well… didn’t share our Texan values, you might say—before proceedin’ to feed their bodies right into this very hole at your feet!
Like most caves in the area, Dead Man’s Hole was formed by the slow dissolution of limestone from weekly acidic rainwater leaching through the dry Texan earth. Lil geology lesson there for ya!
Take a look at your phone now folks. You’ll find that the Terror Tour App has activated the light on the back of your devices. Go ahead and shine that light on into the hole why don’tchya? Although your smartphone light is surely inadequate in so far as dispelling the deep well of stygian darkness that is “Dead Man’s Hole,” you can still maybe see the faint reflection of the dull staring eyes of long-suffering Union soldiers! Those eyes blame you partner, declarin’ you complicit in all the sins baked deep in this very land. Sorry, I don’t make the rules! Those dead eyes’ll never forgive you for benefiting as you do from all the oil buried beneath the cursed Texas earth whilst also forgetting’ the atrocities committed here. Dems da breaks partner!
Now you’ll want to hush down folks as you enter the tent here at station three. The woman with the long black hair in the long white dress facing far off into the corner is known as La Llorona.
Long ago this tragic figure married a fickle nobleman who wouldn’t pay her enough mind, and so to teach him a lesson, she drowned their children and herself in the nearby San Antonio River. For your safety, La Llorona stands off on the other side of the river so you can’t see her face. Her expression is so contorted by the horror of her crimes you see, that should you look upon her countenance, it would tear the very screaming soul from your body. For your own wellbeing folks, please refrain from speaking or drawing La Llorona’s attention to you in any way. Whoops, she’s starting’ to look this way! Sorry folks, I shoulda been whispering.
Let’s move along shall we?
You are now at the station for La Mano Pachona, or …the hairy hand! Inside the box on the table, we have contained the disembodied hand (for your convenience you see— it’s a might bit wriggly that one.) Can you hear it tapping?
Why, before winding’ up here, my very own niece Barbara said she seen that hand one lonesome October night, years ago. She was camping at Oyster Lake you see with her beaux, and as she tells it, suddenly she found herself stirred from sleep in the dark hours just before dawn to the faint sound of scratching at the outside fabric of her tent. By the light of the moon she could see the silhouetted shadow of the hand outside as it slowly unzipped the main entrance flap to their tent and she could even feel the hand’s malevolent intention as she sat horrified from the inside. An evil, uncontrollable ambition to squeeze the very life from her throat. She shook her boyfriend, who slept soundlessly beside her.
“Don’t you hear the tapping?” she exclaimed. “The horrible tapping’ and scratching?”
Well by golly he didn’t… but folks still say if you listen hard you can hear La Mano Pachona on lonesome Texas nights.
Can you hear the tapping folks? Huh. Me neither. Well hot dawg, I sure hope it’s still in the box!
Well now I know ya heard that folks. That would be La Lechuza, which is the Spanish word for “little owl.” But it’s also the name of local legendary witch that sometimes appears in the form of an owl. But lemme tell ya folks, this owl is far from a little feller. In the darkness of cemeteries just like this one, beneath the gauzy black sky of Texas nights just like tonight, you can sometimes here the faint rustle of her feathers…
I remember once back in ’84 I was driving my pontiac station wagon down State Highway 35 at night, when lo and behold I saw a flurry of sudden feathers in my rearview mirror. As the inadequate glow of my headlights split the darkness in front of me, the owl overtook my car, pulling abreast of the driver’s side window. It seemed so much larger than any bird I’d ever seen, and as I tore my gaze from the seventy-five mile-per-hour blur of the highway, it turned its hideous head towards me and I swear to you on my mama’s grave that what I saw before me was the withered face of an old woman staring back— beaked mouth opening— lettin’ forth the most nightmarish of screams.
I’m not sure what happened after that, I remember coming to on the side of the highway, feeling’ groggy. But I tell you what, the memory haunts me to this very day.
Now to close things out, bear with me a second, for this here’s a yarn worth spinnin, as it sums up much in regards to Texas tall tales. A long while back a local girl from my high school— pretty girl— not the kind set to fibbin’ and rumor-stirrin’, set out once to deliberately find La Vaca Fantasma, the Phantom Cow of South Texas. Now, I know what you’re thinking— phantom cow? That’s ridiculous! But tell me friend… how often does ridiculous stop a thing from happening?
Sure enough round midnight she saw a glimmer of somethin’ just off the road in her headlights and stopped her car. As she stepped off the asphalt, meticulously maintained by the Refugio County Highway Department, and onto the wet soil which blends into a tractless tidal marsh of alligators and crabs, she shined the inadequate light of her flashlight up ahead of her. And lo and behold she saw something standing there, some hunched shape; massive and amorphous, which she somehow knew had been waitin there for a very long time… waiting in the parched, primordial soil since long before the Anglos or Spaniards, long before the Commanche even…waiting there starin’ throughout the ages.
Then she ran back to her car and went home and never drove on that road again, like any sensible pretty gal would do.
You see folks, there’s something’ about this land and the critters that walk it, the storms that shape the rock, the holes and hills that whisper and call, the worn down graves and empty ol towns— that don’t wanna be forgotten. Not fully, but they ain’t too keen on being’ remembered either. Don’t matter if they’re cows, or owls, or dillos, or drowned and strangled children… come and see the sights folks…
Come and see the sights.
Sorry, I got a little lost there for a minute. But don’t we all now and again?
Anyways folks, thank you for participating in the Refugio County Fright-O-Rama and Haunted Cemetery Tour and donating to the hurricane relief fund at the lockbox.
The lockbox’ll be right up there past the Lich gate on your way out and you’ll be back at State Highway 35 where everything makes just an ounce or two more sense. It’s been a pleasure being your guide, your apps should turn off as you reach the salt marsh, and do remember to tell a friend about us, ya here?
…Alright folks, now, I’m not seein’ any of those apps turn off— now not to be a greedy prickler or nuthin’ but our little operation here only got so much bandwidth to spread around at once and there’s no doubt another group waiting to get awn in to the Fright-o-Rama…. go ahead an’ make your way out the premises if you don’t mind too much, just keep on walking’, lest the gators and crabs eat your flesh and pick your bones n’such forth!
Well what seems to be the problem? Cant you folks see over the tall grasses? Cant you see the lights of the distant refineries pushin smokestacks into the moon against the black sky? Where’d you folks make off to anyways? Can’t you see the Lich gate anymore? Hello? Hello??
Oh. Well hello. Thought I done told you folks to not stray off the path.
Ah well. Guess that’s just how it goes sometimes in these parts. Nice to have some company though I tell ya– it’s been a spell!
Say… how you folks feel ’bout giving’ tours?
The Armadillo Man
by Norm Sherman
Camp Lula Sams, Brownsville, 1963
“Neat arch,” said 13-year old Annabelle Marsh, her tone half-way serious for the first time this outing. The Texas woods buzzed all around the girls of Troupe 45 as they made their way up the winding path to the top of the hill.
“That is pretty neat, huh?” Counselor Hutton said, running his hand along the massive wrought-iron framed arch marking the entrance to Camp Lula. “I don’t remember it ever being here actually— guess it’s been longer than I thought since we took a group of you young ladies up here.”
“Are we lost?” whined Rosally Marquez, slapping at an insect on her neck.
“Not a chance young lady— look up ahead, those are your cabins. Now why don’t you scouts get your things together and follow Cadette Tracy to your bunks, you’ve had a long hike today and I think you’ve earned a special treat.”
“Smores?!” 12-year old Samantha Cheney piped up.
“Even better,” said Counselor Hutton. “Smores and a spooky story! Now hurry on back, I’ll get the fire ready and everything set up.”
The girls gradually situated themselves in their rooms with minimal arguing in regards to bunk arrangements, as the teenage Counselor-in-Training Cadette Tracy excitedly palmed the spot on her vest where her final leadership badge would soon be pinned at the end of this trip. As the night closed in around the now-lively camp, the girls filed out of their cabins and skipped down the hill to where Counselor Hutton had gotten an adequate fire going in the center of a large, flat clearing. One by one the campers sat themselves down on various stumps lined loosely around the campfire in the shape of a semi-circle.
Once they had all arrived and gotten situated, marshmallows glowing on the ends of long sticks, Counselor Hutton raised his hand to silence their excited giggles and chattering.
“So. Who here has heard the legend of the Armadillo Man?” he asked.
“The _what_ man?” squawked Annabelle Marsh. “Armadillo?”
“That sounds silly! I thought this was supposed to be a spooky story!” quipped Linda Jessup, her face already smeared with melted chocolate.
“Oh it’s plenty spooky young lady,” replied Counselor Hutton. “The Lonely, Lost Leper, some people call him.”
“Lonely, lost leopard??” Rosally piped up, laughing.
“No, not leopard silly— leper! Although both of those would have certainly been strange enough things to encounter in these parts back when this story took place.”
“You see,” Counselor Hutton continued. “A long time ago— over a hundred years ago in fact— all of this land was owned by Mexico. But then Mexico lost a war with President Zachary Taylor’s army and they had to retreat, and before long, groups of brave new settlers began to move into the area and call it home. One brave man named Henry Frances Fisher made his way to the Brownsville area before anybody else and set up a ranch right here in these hills, and there he and his family began to work the land.”
“Can you imagine all the excitement they must have felt, getting to know all the local Indian tribes and learning all the different ways to live in this strange, new land? They were true pioneers, and before you knew it, other families were moving into the area and Mr. Fisher and his family didn’t feel so alone anymore. They felt safe, part of a community, and that’s important when you’re surrounded by so much emptiness all day, and so much darkness all night.”
“Well, one night, Mr. Henry Francis Fisher was taking a walk, and he came across the most peculiar of creatures.”
“An armadillo!” Samantha Cheney called out, followed by a swirl of giggles from the other girls. Cadette Tracy hushed them.
“That’s right Samantha. And can you imagine the curiosity that that strange new creature must have sparked in Mr. Fisher? Why, he’d never seen an armadillo before— much less one that was glowing a faint luminescent blue!”
“A blue armadillo??” multiple girls laughed.
“That’s what the legend says. Now whether it was some trick of the Texas moon underneath the black gauzy sky, or something else that we can’t explain entirely we don’t know, but to Mr. Fisher, this armadillo glowed in a way that it shouldn’t have, and so it got into Mr. Fisher’s head to do something that maybe he shouldn’t have.”
The Counselor looked Annabelle Marsh straight in the eyes and smiled.
“And that was to stop right there on the trail and try to go catch it!”
The girls giggled and rolled their eyes.
“What? Haven’t you girls ever seen something that you couldn’t quite believe was real? Well then, there’s only one way to know for sure if that thing’s real or if maybe your going a little loco, isn’t that right? You gotta reach out and touch it— clasp it tightly in your grasp until that thing proves to you it’s real! It’s the curiosity you see— you almost can’t help yourself, like your hand has a mind of it’s own! And so that’s exactly what Mr. Henry Frances Fischer did— he reached out and caught that glowing armadillo up into his palm.”
Pausing for effect, Counselor Hutton reached out and plucked a charred marshmallow from the end of his stick, smearing it between two graham crackers resting on a napkin atop his knee.
“Then what happened Counselor Hutton?” asked Annabelle Marsh eagerly, fully enrapt.
“Well, nothing at first. He let the little critter go of course, and then he went home. He only told his wife Clara and a few others in town about the whole weird experience. It took a few days you see… for the rotting disease to begin.”
The girls fell silent.
“One dreadful morning, Mr. Fischer looked down at his hand and saw that it had begun to glow blue as well, and that the flesh on it had began to prickle up into blistering boils that oozed pus and peeled away, and even though he tried to hide it, it wasn’t long before the other townsfolk found out about his illness and started to become scared. They had seen this condition before you see, back in the Old Country. It was a disease called leprosy— highly contagious—and those that carried it were said to be doomed to a ghastly fate where they would slowly waste away, caught forever in between life and death. There was no cure, and the only thing for them to do was to cast Mr. Fisher outside the town borders to wander the wilderness all alone. And so that’s what they did, as much as it pained them to do so.”
The girls looked at each other, not sure what to make of this sudden, darker turn in the story. All around them, the only sounds that could be heard were the buzzing insects of the night and the wind blowing through the trees.
“Well, the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, and Henry Frances Fischer walked alone in the desert under the hot sun and between the hills under the pale moon; through strange, barren places and long forgotten towns. Even the Comanche people left him alone. And true enough, he eventually began to feel very much like something caught between the living and the dead. And all the while as he wandered his hand glowed blue, just like that armadillo, and it ached and glistened with endless open sores under the bright stars at night. But worst of all was the loneliness he felt, and the longing to be together once again with his community; to see his family again— and in particular, his youngest daughter Emily, who was right around your ages.”
“And then finally one night that longing became too much, and despite trying his hardest to fight the urges inside of him, he eventually found himself standing outside the walls of his very cabin, peering down through the window into young Emily’s room. Watching her sleep.”
“How he wanted to touch her once again— why, she hardly even looked real in the light of the window! More like one of the many porcelain dolls she collected and kept lined up along her shelves. But he knew that he mustn’t touch her, for doing so would surely cause her to become a leper as well, and he would never wish such a fate on another person.”
“But the urge children, the urge. The compulsion to touch that porcelain skin of hers one last time, to feel it’s warmth and know it was real— it was an overwhelming thing he felt inside him, greater than any temptation he had ever known.”
“Quietly, he slipped inside her room through the window and then, ever so slowly, began to reach out with his sickly glowing hand towards her smooth face. But just before his oozing, trembling fingers could stroke her precious, soft cheek, he drew it back quickly and cursed, removing a hand axe suddenly from under his belt. Without giving it another thought he threw his infected, glowing hand against the wall of the cabin and in one quick and bloody swoop chopped it off at the wrist, crumpling instantly from the pain atop poor, sleeping Emily in her bed.”
The girl sat frozen, possessed by the story.
“What happened next?” one of them asked.
“Emily shrieked and thrashed, as did her howling senseless father, and in the brief moments that followed none can truly say what happened. Yet none doubted later what Mr. Fisher’s wife Clara testified at having seen when she finally burst into that room, her husband’s rifle at the ready. Henry Francis Fisher, the Lonely, Lost Leper, strangling his very own…”
Counselor Hutton grew suddenly still.
“He was strangling his own daughter Counselor Hutton?” asked Linda Jessup.
“Why?” whimpered little Rosally Marquez, stifling back tears.
“How?” interjected Samantha Cheney, with morbid fascination. “You said he cut off his hand!”
Cadette Tracy silenced the girls, but seemed equally engrossed and curious to know the answers.
“It wasn’t… real,” Counselor Hutton muttered to himself, while something shifted in his eyes. “That’s what Clara must have thought… staring at her husband there in the darkness, before pulling the trigger. It wasn’t real… little Emily had to have thought, as the final traces of life left her eyes. It wasn’t real, the maddened man Fischer must have told himself… as he stared at the ghastly, putrified hand still attached to his wrist, clenched ever so tightly around the throat of his lifeless daughter… while something else with five digits scratched and thrashed at the floor by his feet before eventually laying still…
“It wasn’t… real… the voices must have said. The voices from inside. Inside the wrought-iron arch that shouldn’t have ever been there… none of it was real…”
“Counselor Hutton?” whispered Cadette Tracy, reluctantly breaking the silence.
Counselor Hutton stared blankly into the fire. The index finger of his right hand began tapping gently and methodically against his knee. Tap. Tap.
“Great storms in the desert…” he muttered. “Leeching away… leeech… lichh”
Several of the girls began to grow visibly anxious. This was not simply their camp counselor lost deep in his story or taking things a bit too far. This was something new, something they had never before encountered, and as such, it became something they felt compelled not to believe.
“Do you feel it children? The strange gravity of this place? Of stories… like ours? Do you hear them whisper— strange voices, creatures, spirits… machines… humming faintly in the night? They guide us off the path, just for a moment… before leading us back home in the end…”
Noticing the unmistakable look of bewilderment in Cadette Tracy’s eyes, several of the campers rose up from their seats and backed away towards the cabins up the hill. The remaining girls beside her began shrieking with horror as Counselor Hutton started pacing with eerie resolve towards the terrified teenage Counselor-in-training, before all at once scattering off in various directions of imagined safety in the night.
“Take care children!” a voice called out from the darkness that filled Counselor Hutton’s mouth. He stood over the petrified, shaking form of Cadette Tracy. She would be the first to be led home that night, but there would be more.
“This is no place to wander, lonely and lost.”
by Samantha Henderson
The East Texas asphalt is surprisingly intact, and the Corolla’s retreads make a crisp sound as they bite along the hard tar surface, and at first I have a faint hope that the job’ll be an in-out, easy-peasy one. But as we approach the Refugio Zone, particulate looming like brown fog, it devolves into loose rocks with shrubs poking out the tarmac, or asphalt, or what’s it called. Like those old roads made out of crushed rock on dirt, that ancient shit. Mac-something. Back when they were just learning to make roads.
Guards, with with full-body hazmat suits, and nightmare, goggle-eyed masks, disruptors slung over their backs, step out of the gloom and motion us to stop, then seeing the Lytchgate seal on the side of our car, shake their monster heads and wave us on down that desolate road.
Company store and company state, and some bad luck and poor decisions means Pauly ‘n’ me are thralled to Lytchgate Enterprises. More bad luck, and me being sassy, and Pauly being incautious about where he sticks his junk means we’re stuck on this shitheel assignment mapping active settlements in the Refugio Zone, where the warm Gulf wind pushed the fallout from the Comanche Peak and Arkansas Prime meltdowns low these many years ago. The seals on our old 2051 Corolla are thick with duct tape and false hope, and we slip our breathers into each nostril, snorting the stale air in like snuff.
“Assholes,” says Pauly, staring over his shoulder at the cluster of guards. I decide not to ask what his beef is, trying to maintain a decent speed over humps of lifted, corroded road. He’s tapping his mobile screen, comparing old maps to new reality.
“There’s supposed to be a town two miles ahead on the right,” he says. “Eighteen living five years ago, and they were rebuilding some of the infrastructure.” I keep an eye peeled and coast to a near-stop on the tender edge of the road. Some crumbled walls, a half-built water tower is all that’s left. There’s nothing living here. Pauly sighs and taps the screen, entering data.
At first we take the little slab-sided general store for a ruin, rising little higher than the humps that lie around it like sleeping cattle. Then we see it’s tidy and trim, and a neon sign glows ice-white along the roofline: open 24 hours. Camping supplies. Snacks. Soda. Cold water. We glance at each other. I’m driving so I call it, pulling into a parking spot with a phantom of a border flaking off the asphalt. I wish I could remember what they were called: those ancient roads.
The inside of the store is a cool miracle, but dim with only a few white bulbs overhead and a hiss of blue neon over an old cooler. Pauly yips joyfully and gathers armfuls of snacks in odd-colored packages; contraband on Lytchgate’s turf.
I glance around the neat stacks of canned goods, coiled ropes, batteries, breath mints, and wonder why no-one else has taken refuge here. There’s a set of shelves ten feet high beneath the kerosene lamps lined with dolls – forty or fifty at least – cheek by porcelain cheek, staring at me with gleaming glass eyes. They all have the same lace dress, the same black shoes on their dangling feet, but they are not identical. The painted features of each face vary. The hair – it can’t be human hair, can it? – it’s all glossy-dark, but one catches red highlights, one blue. I wonder who thought so many dolls in this desolation was a good investment, as I turn away and draw breath and catch the gaze of the girl behind the counter, staring at me dispassionately.
When Pauly dumps his sugary trove on the counter, she barely glances down before turning back to me. She is dressed in white, with a dress that clings to her as if it were wet, and her long black locks have the sheen of creek-water on them. Pauly thrusts a handful of Lytchgate scrip at her, and chortles when she takes it without demur. I walk backwards to the door; I don’t want to turn my back to her for some reason. In the blue-tinged light I see the curled ends of her hair lift and float around her head, and I glance quickly at the ceiling, expecting to see the underside of the river’s surface. She’s gone from behind the counter, and I turn tail and run, slipping past Pauly and earning a curse when I knock aside one of his garish snacks.
I slip into the passenger seat and slick the duct tape back in place. It’s his turn to drive. Besides the girl we’ve seen nothing living, not even an armadillo, and they’re thick on the ground in Louisiana and the panhandle.
“Must be a tower with a little juice left,” I tell him, thumbing the cracked screen of my iPhone. “I’m catching a geolocation and some signals from those old ghost apps.”
A voice, sounding tinny with one of those old-movie cowboy accents pops up:
Maintaining her grave by removing all grass and vegeta-
The signal sputters out.
The only thing even half-alive here is the road, still remembering something. It’s like a safety valve, or a gas flare. All that friction, all that rubber pounding into it every day, back when folk lived and drove and joyed and despaired. All that emotion. All those imaginary conversations, all that talk radio. All that loud and tuneless singing. It had to go somewhere.
The Corolla lurches as it hits a depression in the earth. I glance at Pauly, his hands are gripped white around the steering wheel, his face is set in a horrid grin, as if possessed. The motor whines under us as he speeds up, the desolation around us is suddenly whipping by too fast, and I want to tell him to slow down but it’s too late now, isn’t it? Somehow it feels too late. Like we’re part of the landscape now, part of this story.
Luminescent shapes off grazing in the distance, but even closer– bright blue balls are trundling along in the ditches, and I’d guess they were ball lightning if I didn’t spot pairs of pointy ears. Armadillos. I wonder if Pauly sees them too, but I’m too afraid to ask.
My mobile crackles to life again, another tinny voice:
The official small mammal of Texas. Dasypus novemcinctus. The armadillo possesses many remarkable traits, some of which parallel attributes that distinguish a true Texan, such as a deep respect for the land, and his ability to change and adapt, with a fierce undying…
A sign flashes past – Tivoli-something. A yellow square, jaundiced and faded, painted on the surface of the road.
It’s becoming a problem— an epidemic even— one in of five armadillos is infected with…
“Hot damn, somethings…” says Pauly as the road rises over an old overpass. The highway is far below us now and here and there I see occasional blue flashes in the distance. We lurch into a guardrail but it won’t stop us at the speed we’re going. Still, we crash into it with bone-jerking lurch and careen off the steel in a fan of sparks. Suddenly the edge of the asphalt is crumbling away beneath us. Goddam I wish I could remember what that old, crushed rock-on-dirt road was called.
Well I don’t Bill, but these strange and enigmatic creatures, well, they might just be the end of us!
There’s only one way out of this. I reach over and between Pauly’s arms, vibrating and tendon-locked from fighting the road, take a firm grip on the lower left quadrant of the steering wheel, and jerk up and sideways, hard.
We go over the side of the overpass, and the car starts that long slow flip that’s going to turn us upside down, ready to slam our skulls against the asphalt fifty feet below. And then suddenly it comes to me: the word is macadam. Rocks pulverized rocks into a crust of road.
And I laugh, and Pauly laughs too, as we go over and over, and out and out. All the way down.