by Rebecca Linam
Issue 1: Grotesque | 1000 words
Rat Boy by Allie Cheroutes
“Monster crossing,” the neon orange sign on the side of the highway warned.
Melody drove past it without giving it much thought. Ever since the worldwide disaster a century ago, monsters had been the norm. They weren’t the hide-under-your-bed type of monsters, either. These lived in the woods and only came out at night, occasionally running out in front of cars.
The car’s headlights showed no sign of houses on the side of the highway. This stretch of road wasn’t recommended by the drivers’ commission because it ran through the graveyard of one of the former sites of the cataclysm, but Melody had never had any problems. Besides, it was the most direct route to her parents’ house and used half as much energy.
A green sign pointed the way to the next city and marked a distance of twelve kilometers. The car’s energy reserve needle was a fraction of a millimeter from empty.
“Always make sure you have a full charge before you leave the safety of the city,” her father was notorious for saying. The city’s energy shield made it a haven from the new life-forms that had resulted from the cataclysm leak.
Fortunately, there was a refill station in the next city. Melody had stopped there plenty of times before, and she probably would have reached it this time if a monster hadn’t darted out of the shadowy forest and run right in front of her car.
Its humanoid frame stood there for a second staring back at her like a deer in the headlights, its violet eyes reflecting back at her. Crimson fur accented its mouth, arms, and chest. It raised its long-clawed arms as if ready to attack, while its long, yellowing teeth snarled at her oncoming car.
Melody screamed, slammed on the brakes with a deafening squeal, and came to a stop with a loud thud.
“Don’t panic!” she yelled, remembering her dad’s advice. If you ever hit a monster, don’t get out of the car.
She had heard all the stories before about people who had collided with monsters and gotten out of their vehicles to check for damages. The monsters, usually half crazed with shock, were even more deadly than before and had wounded or even killed many drivers. The best thing to do would be to drive to the refill station, charge up her car, and check for damages in safety.
Unfortunately, Melody had one major problem.
The car wouldn’t start.
“Energy chamber cracked,” the car’s female mechanical voice said while the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree with warning lights. “Left headlight nonfunctional. Left front tire punctured. Energy stock depleted.”
“Great,” Melody whispered. Looking at her cell phone, she saw that it had no signal. Instead, she pressed the car’s emergency locator, which would connect her to the manufacturer’s location system.
It blipped twice. The car’s mechanical voice faded away with, “Energy stock de… ple… ted.” Then all the warning lights on the dash died, plunging Melody into darkness.
She punched the dashboard. “Why don’t they have streetlights out here?!”
Because monsters always run toward the light, she remembered her instructor from drivers’ education explaining. That’s why you should avoid unmarked highways and use the safety routes sanctioned by the driving commission.
“This is my payback for taking an unauthorized shortcut,” Melody said with a sigh, then made sure the doors were locked and huddled down in her seat. Maybe if she were lucky, a police patrol would pass by and notice her stranded car out here all alone.
Well, alone except for the monster she had hit, but that was anything but comforting.
Tap tap tap!
Melody sat bolt upright. Someone was tapping at her window.
“Who’s there?” she called out. It couldn’t be the police because she didn’t see their usual blue and red flashing lights. Could it be another stranded driver in need of help? She had heard news reports of drivers who had been injured by monsters and barely made it to safety. Her hand flew to the door handle.
“Heh,” a raspy voice replied.
Melody snatched her hand away and froze.
“Hell,” the voice said, stronger now. A hand pounded against the car door faster than Melody’s racing heartbeat.
“Nonononononono!” she wailed, realizing that at the other end of the door was a monster half crazed with shock. Did this monster have long claws? She couldn’t remember. Would it be able to tear its way into her car? The auto industry had been making cars out of thinner, more lightweight materials in the last few years in an attempt to reduce resource consumption. Would it be strong enough to keep out a monster?
Now the monster pounded at the window, its claws scratching like nails on a chalkboard all the way down the glass and against the metal of the car door.
“Help… ” the voice wheezed, and then all was silent.
Tap tap tap!
Melody jerked awake to find a policeman peering through the driver’s side window at her. She sat up groggily, wondering where she was, and then remembered the monster crossing.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” the policeman called out.
Melody cleared her throat and nodded. With a wave of relief washing over her, she opened the car door to find a world of bright sunlight.
“Mind the carcass, ma’am,” the policeman said.
The policeman nodded. “That’s the usual reaction, ma’am.”
The monster’s legs were pinned underneath the front left tire. Here in broad daylight, the crimson fur covering much of its upper body looked auburn like her father’s hair. Its claws resembled uncut fingernails, and its dirt-caked face showed dried rivulets of water that had made a trail down from its frozen eyes. It reminded Melody of a circus clown—exaggerated features, but most definitely human.
“Most people can’t get over how human they look,” the policeman continued.
But it is human! Melody thought, choking back a sob.
The policeman kicked the lifeless body. “Then again too much exposure to radiation turns everyone into a beast.”
Rebecca Linam’s stories have been published in Bards and Sages Quarterly and GreenPrints, among others. For more, visit her website at rebeccalinam.com or find her on Twitter @rebecca_linam.