There’s that time on the road in the wee hours of the morning where you’re the needle caught between slumber and wakefulness, and the road sings to you. The time between pickup and delivery is so tight, and the clients pay so little that you skimp on tipping the waitress at Denny’s, and skimp on finishing your meal. You’re poor and outta time.
Cliff stood on the curb across the Denny’s parking lot, stretching his aching back muscles. The last five hundred miles had given him spasms.
He watched as the big red rig with the flaming paint job pulled up. The faux road kill raccoon in the grill had less fuzz on its face than he did.
“You topped off yer tank?” was all his older brother asked. His thick tattooed arm hung out of the window as he looked down on him. “You put that butt out b’fore you get yer ass in here. Don’t need your stink in the cab.”
Cliff ground the stub of his cigarette into the curb and hoisted his fat self into the passenger seat molded into the curvature of his buttocks. Bobby was holding a beer out for him before he got comfortable. At this point he’d drink anything to wash the taste of Moons Over My Hammy out of his mouth.
“Moons Over My Hammy,” Bobby played with the bill of his Budweiser ball cap as he whistled. “That’s ’bout thousand calories I heard. Doctors recommend a two thousand calorie diet so that means you could eat two of those, and you don’t need no more.”
“How much in this here Bud?”
Bobby rubbed his stubble. His eyes glazed over momentarily while he did exhaustive calculations in his head.
“Don’t rightly know,” he said. “Maybe ’bout two hundred?”
Cliff studied the bottle for a moment, spinning it in his hand. He jabbed the label with his finger.
“Well I’ll be! Its right there, brother. One-hundred-forty-five. I s’pose I can live on two Moons Over My Hammy, a Budweiser, and a handful of taters!”
Bobby swatted his brother, who huddled against the door, until his hat fell off.
“I’m serious! Cliff, you’re going to kill yerself eating that crap. Doctor Phil don’t lie.”
“Oh, gracious me! Not our good friend Doctor Phil!” he cried mockingly, his hand laid upon his forehead like a southern belle in distress. “This ain’t gonna kill me. Ol’ Doc Phil don’t give a damn, Bobby.”
Reaching over to the radio, Bobby began playing with the dial looking for the latest in late night talk radio. At this hour most talked about UFO’s and government mind control.
“You sew yer dirty mouth shut. Don’t you be dissing Doctor Phil.”
“Doctor Phil don’t care,” he repeated, sucking down another gulp of Bud. Foam ran down his chin, quickly mopped up by his sleeve and the collar of his shirt. “Just like Doctor Laura Lessthanburger—”
“Less-than-burgers don’t give a flying hoot. Remember when you called her? ‘Bout Jinny.”
Bobby scrunched face up, his nose twisted, and his jaw jutting out. This was what Cliff was good at. Pushing his brother’s buttons. He edged closer to Bobby, lowering his voice and sharpening his words.
“You ask her what Jinny’s problem is and what she say to you?”
Bobby kept his eyes on the highway. His knuckles turning white as his thick hands clenched the steering wheel.
“That there radio doctor told you that you ain’t treatin’ Jinny right. That you have’ta give up the truckin’ business and that’s that. What you think’a that?”
“Doctors can’t always be right,” he muttered.
“How’s Jinny? She doing good, brother? Or she doing another man?”
Bobby’s hand shot out like the crack of a whip, his knuckles finding home across the bridge of his little brother’s nose. Cliff yowled in pain.
“That’s for disrespectin’ Jinny!” Bobby shook his finger in his face. “You through disrespectin’ Jinny?”
“Huh-guh,” Cliff managed to say as he shoved tissues up his nose. “Jinny’s alright in my book, Bobby. You know that.”
“You gotta keep that smart mouth shut. That’s what momma always said. She always told me, ‘Bobby, your brother can’t keep his smart mouth shut. You look after him when I’m gone. Hear?'”
“I hear, I hear,” he said, using the door to hold himself up. “I miss momma sometimes.”
They sat in the cab for the next hour hardly saying a word. One couldn’t sleep because he was driving while the other couldn’t sleep because of the stabbing pain in his nose. The miles flew by as they avoided further conversation.
“So,” Cliff began after seeing they were nearing El Paso, “Medical delivery?”
Cliff rolled his eyes, “I don’t like medical. Places give me the heebeegeebees.”
“Heck, I just thought you were lazy not coming an’ all.”
Shrugging, he replied, “Hungry and hung over more like. What is it anyway?”
“Don’t know don’t care. They just needed arr-tick-yoo-late-ed lorry with a refrigerator unit.”
Cliff laughed, “Arr-tick-yoo-late-ed lorry? Can’t these rich folks say ‘truck’ anymore?”
His eyes rolled toward the side mirror. He cursed at the flashing red and blue. A siren bleeped and blipped at them.
“Dagnabit, we got some fuzz on us.”
Likewise, Bobby cursed as he peered into his side mirror. It was random stops like this that really ate into the runs. It wasn’t uncommon to get harassed by bored state troopers.
The officer walked up beside the truck, shining the light up into Bobby’s face.
“License and registration,” he called out. “And sir, I’d like you to exit the vehicle.”
Both of them crawled through the driver’s side door and stood beside the truck while the trooper’s partner ran their licenses. Ten minutes later he returned their documents.
“Manifest?” the officer looked the manifest up and down and asked. “What’s neco… nicko… son I can’t even pronounce this. What are you carrying?”
“Medical supplies. Sir, I got one hour to make a two hours run.”
The trooper handed the manifest back.
“Trucks’ve been smuggling people from Nogales lately. You smuggling illegals, son?”
“No sir,” Bobby said.
Cliff followed with, “We ain’t seen no illegals.”
“Let’s have a look in the trailer. Open her up.”
As Bobby fumbled with his keys he began explaining to the officer, “It’s a cooler unit, sir. We don’t want nothing to spoil.”
“It’ll just be a moment. Hurry it up and you can be on your way.”
Bobby turned the lock and took one handle while Cliff took the other. For a brief moment Cliff paused, looking his brother in the eye with the silent question, “What’s in the truck?”
The doors were thrown back revealing the cold insides of the dark trailer. Plumes of white mist fell out of the back. Immediately the officers approached with their flashlights.
The first thing they noticed were the sickly thin gray legs. The greenish flesh of the naked cargo. Slack-jawed men and women with peeled back lips and clawed fingertips slowly turned toward them.
“Whoa, Bobby. What is this?”
“You! Stay right there!” the officer yelled. They had their guns on the two truckers.
The officer’s partner spoke up first. “These don’t look like no illegals. What are they?”
Before he could answer they awakened. The macabre cargo leapt out of the truck and the officers opened fire on the two dozen creatures biting at their eyes and gnawing at their throats.
At three o’clock in the morning outside of El Paso only the coyotes heard their screams.