NaNoWriMo Day 20

Blowin’ On Down The Road

Let’s go back a ways. Way back, before it all really got started, way up north around St. Paul or somewhere in Minnesota, there was an old farmhouse. Kind of way out in the middle of the prairie, miles from any other habitation. The horizon there was broken by the house, the abandoned grain silo, a barn that had fallen in on itself, and two sheds packed with over a century’s worth of farm junk and mathoms. Around that time, the chief resident of this house, he built himself a freestanding garage for housing his Cadillac, which seemed to be the only thing he really loved in this world. This was evident to the other folk that shared his roof; a quiet woman given to nervousness and timidity after years of his company, three kids who learned fast how uncaring the world is, and an aging man he called Pop. Pop had been a hard and uncaring kind of a father himself in his day, and his son followed along the path he’d shown. Pop’s wife was long since in her grave, to which she’d gone early after withering like a flower in stony ground.

The youngest of the three kids was the only boy, and was named for Pop, Richard. The head of the household was in the habit of being addressed as Mr. Stane.

It was a cold place, all told, in all the ways the word could be taken. The boy Richard learned a lot of lessons that he’d apply for the rest of his life.

There wasn’t much said about Mr. Stane in town, and that little was seldom good. His temper and unfriendly disposition were known, and commented on, but he had no visitors up out there.

So, there were secrets in that old house, never even whispered about, nor ever known to those outside the house. Down in the basement was an old root cellar he’d converted into a room for discipline. His idea of discipline was ugly. Uglier still was the turn things took when he began noticing his daughters growing up. Things of that sort always have been known to happen from time to time, in the lonely outside portions of the world. Lots of the slurs about folk from the Appalachians and the Ozarks, from Alabama or Arkansas or the swamps of Louisiana, they come from this plain truth: when there’s enough space between you and your neighbors, there’s no one to stop you from doing whatever the hell you want.

So that’s how things were going right around the time the boy Richard was coming on ten or eleven. As far as the particulars go, that’s a little less well known. Reason for that is the way the whole farm was put to the torch around the time the boy was twelve. The mother was dead from a noose around the neck, and who had put it there was never clear to investigators. Pop, he died from smoke inhalation upstairs, while the girls came out all right. That’s all right as far as the fire went. The younger one was barely thirteen, and rest of her life she never talked much, about what was done to her or about anything else. The oldest ended up stripping, then hooking, and heroin proved to be the death of her before thirty.

The boy, though, young Richard Stane, he was never seen or heard from again anywhere in the state of Minnesota, neither him nor the Cadillac the old man had loved.

One thing, one of the only things really, that was said by the younger daughter while the sheriff’s department was putting the pieces of the thing together, was this: her brother had begun to talk about hearing voices, and the ideas they gave him seem to skew in the direction of ugliness. She didn’t elaborate about how or what kind of ugliness.

The car was swapped as a gift to an old shaman in North Dakota, a man shunned by his neighbors for his drunkenness and vicious nature, and the way he was said to deal with malevolent spirits with ill intent. All this was true, but he was the one the voices had directed young Stane to. In exchange for the car, which ended up being sold in shady fashion and ultimately chopped, the shaman took the boy in and began instructing him. He taught him the rudiments he knew, the foundation of knowledge. The layers of being, the worlds beyond the world, and presence of the things outside. That bargains could be struck with them, and that they could grant much to someone willing to deal.

He also taught the boy a lot of worthless bullshit, meaningless ritual and wrong-headed cosmology miced in with the useful knowledge. Stane was a keen pupil however, and gifted. He had a knack for sorting out the pearls of value from the dross. He even managed to avoid picking up his first teacher’s bad habits. Cheap booze and meth fueled the old man, but even as a boy Stane could see that was a sucker’s road. He was sixteen when he decided he’d learned about everything he could from the shaman, and left in the old man’s pickup one night and never came back. Turns out trying to bind a bear manitou while tweaking hard on your third sleepless night in a row is a bad idea, and so the old man died alone and unmourned, in pieces.

After that he was on his own for a while. He skipped any drugs that wouldn’t help him open doors, managed to avoid jail time, and after a time found another instructor, a Freemason who had committed two unsolved sexually oriented murders and had been working on his third when they crossed paths. That’s where Stane really got to find out about the power that came from death. By the time the Freemason had five unsolved murders and a newspaper nickname (the Pentagram Killer), Stane felt like he’d reached another plateau, and decided to try a more direct avenue of learning. He ate the mason’s eyes, sipped fluids from his brainpan, and took a massive amount of peyote. The results were compelling.

After that he’d taken to the road in earnest. With what he knew and knew how to do, gambling wasn’t really gambling, and that financed him pretty well. He began to get a sort of a reputation in the underground scene, the really underground one where the diggers in darkness can be found. Any place more than three or four people with enough of a spark to light a candle with their bare hands gathered, he and his big black car were known. His name was not, for everyone he’d ever learned from had told him that rule right off the bat. Names are power, names are hooks, and if someone gets you by that hook they’ve got you pretty thoroughly. Most people’s real name, their true essential definition of self, it isn’t what’s printed on their birth certificate. But why take chances? That was the Driver’s view on it.

Rumor drew him to Missouri’s backwoods. He drifted through there, found himself pulled like filings near a lodestone, and he followed his impulses and the voices that still occasionally whispered to him. Followed them all the way to his final master.

Haverly had been hardly anything then, a breath of dusty air. But he was just together enough to teach Stane how to make him more so. Then he was strong enough to teach Stane how to accumulate power faster, easier. Turns out all you had to do was take it away from someone who already had it. The Driver turned out to be good at that.

In return, the old ghost wanted a few things. Blood, for starters. Stane didn’t need much of it himself, other than what he made inside his own skin, so that worked out fine for him. The other thing was help with some business in Texas.

The Driver was reluctant, but the old ghost promised him a great deal. On top of that, the Driver began to consider the possibility that if he went along with things, he’d get a chance to feed on everything his master was. That, if he could swing it, would make him truly terrible.

For the Driver’s part, whatever other motives or yearnings he’d had in life had been drowned out by that one single need. Power, and plenty of it.

There are nooks and crannies and backroads to hide in in the hill country, if your sole aim is the evade pursuit. At very least, it was a good place to pass through while on the lookout for a new set of license plates. Given the lateness of the hour, Phil eventually located some attached to a car parked in solitude midway out in a supermarket parking lot just outside the brightest arc of the nearest halogen lamp, and with Branson’s help he was able to slip up and quickly unscrew them without attracting direct attention. For the security cameras, he wore a bandanna under his eyes.

The next step was stocking up, and Phil did all he could to make his window of opportunity count. Five days worth of road groceries, the likes of jerky and trail mix and dried fruit, with plenty of gatorade and energy drinks. A couple of boxes of .357 magnum ammunition. A serious four-cell flashlight and some D batteries. A serious shovel, and a pick for good measure. Road maps showing the whole state of Texas, and every city Phil could find a map for between here and El Paso. And a couple of 5-gallon gas cans. After pulling out the maximum cashback amount he could checking out of the Wal-Mart, Phil went straight to the gas station at the end of the lot and pumped the tank and the cans full of all the gasoline they’d hold.

Once he did that, he drove twenty miles, pulled into another gas station, and discreetly threw the credit card away.

And you’re sayin’ they’ve got ways of trackin’ those things?

“Yeah. I’m not exactly an expert, but they can track them. It’ll have to be cash from here on out. We’ve got enough fuel to last us a while, but I’m not sure just how far we’ve got.”

Better make the most of it, then. Let’s ride.

They rode. Weaving through the curving roads of the rippling land south and east of Austin, they moved along a course Phil figured would avoid any pursuit. He maybe wasn’t thinking with perfect clarity, but he was starting to at least enter into the spirit of the thing. It seemed he was an outlaw now, without ever having wanted that to be the case.

“Hey, Harry,” he said, “how’d you end up an outlaw?”

The ghost in his head gave somehow the impression of shrugging unseen. After the war, most of us was either dead, or sick of the whole business. Most everybody surrendered, swore the oath, and gave up their guns.

“But not you. Didn’t I see that in The Outlaw Josey Wales?”

Don’t know anything about that. Anyway, not everybody surrendered, or stayed surrendered. Some rode off and joined up with General Shelby down Mexico way. Others, like me and Woodrell and Ewell and Mackeson, or likes the James boys and the Youngers, we ended up on the outlaw trail. Still doing a lot of the same things we’d been doing previous, but now there wasn’t anybody else fighting the war. By the end of it, my end I mean, most of us had given up caring about what the war was supposed to be about and hell, mostly we’d stopped caring by the time it was over, but we didn’t see any other way to make our way in the world. Ridin’ and shootin’ was our skills, and we made ’em to pay as best we could, as long as we could.

“So how’d you end up getting into the Guerrilla thing to start with? When did that start making sense?”

Older brother got killed by Brown’s boys. Well, I took that personal. Blood for blood’s the way we always took things, same way it’d always been done going back before our great-great-great-granddaddys crossed the ocean.

“Revenge. And now this guy’s trying to get revenge on me, because of what you did to him while you were trying to get revenge on the Kansas guys, and hey, been a while since history class, but weren’t they getting some revenge for stuff guys from Missouri did?” Phil rubbed the bridge of his nose, and when he next came to a stop sign he cracked open a can of Monster and threw back half of it in one swig.

How things start ain’t always what’s important. It’s finishing things that matters.

“Well, these guys are sure as hell trying to finish things for me. Hey, speaking of which, if I gotta dig you up, can I get some more specific directions than ‘West’?”

Near Fort Stockton.

Ok. Gonna pull over at some point, and figure out where that is.”

It was coming up on four AM when Phil had his course charted, and by then there were subtle signs in the sky that night might not last forever. He began keeping his eyes peeled for the cheapest motel he could find, and when he spotted a winner, he pulled in, paid cash, and went straight down into sleep almost as soon as he’d locked and chained the door. His dreams were absolutely terrible, but he didn’t wake up from them for ten straight hours, and the nightmares were interspersed with deep pools of blackness where all trace of consciousness was expunged.

The Driver rolled through midnight streets, getting back into the feel of himself. He’d lost control. The results had been disastrous. He’d wasted more magic than most practitioners would have been able to amass in a century, and gotten nothing for it but bullet holes. The mojo he’d wolfed down, the mana he had eaten, it didn’t come near enough to covering the operating costs on that one.

The problem was not thinking smart. The rush had been too much, and he’d let it go to his head. Went all blunt-instrument. Made a mess. He hadn’t made a mistake like that since he was a boy.

So, thinking smart, being the man with the plan, that was the name of the game now.

Remember, man, you got to outwit Old Man Haverly at the end of the day, too. Can’t be having any more slip-ups. No, that won’t do at all.

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