The headache had returned, that dull throbbing just behind his eyes that had made him question everything and ultimately brought him to his present course. Braden Jenkins stared out the windshield of his pickup into the blackness of October. The truck creaked and groaned occasionally -- protesting the heavy load it carried.
"Sometime" he thought. "Sometime between now and dawn I'll make my statement."
The highway was deserted at three a.m. and Braden was grateful, for the glare of oncoming headlights hurt his eyes. Alone in the darkness, he had time to go over his plan and judge its merits.
The throbbing intensified briefly and he reached for the container in his pocket. It held his last percocet and he debated if taking it now would leave him to foggy-minded to complete his task.
He put his hand back on the wheel and gritted his teeth.
Time passed, and a faint glow appeared on the horizon. His destination, the city of his choosing, the place where he'd make his statement.
A flickering in his rear-view mirror caught his attention. It looked like sparks flying. They continued for several moments then subsided. The sparks were replaced by the faint glow of headlights. It was the first vehicle he'd encountered for nearly hour. "Twin dots," he thought to himself. "Headlights of some other lonely soul to keep me company." The thought eased his tension and he relaxed his grip on the wheel.
The headlights grew larger and Braden wondered who it might be. A bleary-eyed trucker headed for home, or perhaps a car full of teens returning from a late Halloween party. Suddenly, the thought of looking at the face of another person filled him with dread. He needed to be alone with his thoughts and plans and pain. He eased off the accelerator to let them pass.
Braden frowned as one minute grew to five and the headlights didn't move any closer. It was as if they were matching his speed and intentionally following him. A red-hot flame of anger blazed behind his eyes. "Fine!," he thought. "If that's how you want it, stay back there!" He jammed the accelerator to the floor.
The truck protested, but grudgingly began to pick up speed. Braden gritted his teeth again and watched the headlights begin to recede. However, his satisfaction was short lived. The glowing dots were again moving closer.
"What is this?" growled Braden. "You playing some kind of game now?"
The headlights continued to move closer and Braden could now hear the deep grumble of a large engine. "Semi," he thought. "Some bored trucker playing cat and mouse. Humph, if he only knew his mouse was a wildcat!"
The semi, nearly upon him now, loomed like some behemoth. The sound of its engine lay heavy in the cab of the pickup. Oddly, it had no running or marker lights, only those twin piercing beams. Braden was about to accelerate again when it abruptly veered left and began to pass.
As it did so, Braden got a good look at his pursuer. It was the color of soot. No chrome, no polish, no reflections. It was as if a nightmarish shadow had sprouted eighteen wheels and duel smokestacks. Braden's stomach tightened when he saw the vehicle's fleet number on the front fender. It glowed a fiery red and was 666!
"Go on!," shouted Braden as the semi passed. He took his foot off the accelerator and widened the gap between vehicles. He watched the inky silhouette rumble into the blackness and sighed in relief. At that instant, the unmistakable deep-throated growl and pop of an engine break erupted before him. Braden's jaw dropped in utter shock as he saw a fiery pair of devil horns sprout from the stacks of the semi. An evil glowing R. A. became visible on the rear mud flaps to add to the confusion and an unearthly glow began to form around the rear door of the tractor trailer. Slowly it began to open and descend towards the asphalt. The glow intensified and revealed a raging inferno.
Braden jerked his right foot towards the brake and stomped it down with all his weight. The truck's tires squalled and sent up clouds of blue-black smoke accompanied by the acrid smell of burning rubber. Braden frantically struggled to keep control of the vehicle which had begun to fishtail.
The semi also slowed and Braden knew he had mere seconds to make his escape. However, before he could react, the rear of the semi trailer lit up like a Christmas tree. All around the outer edges of the rear door were flashing red, green and yellow strobes. The pattern was totally random and their intensity hurt Braden's eyes.
Suddenly, Braden felt drugged, like the world had somehow gone into slow motion. A sensation of paralysis accompanied this feeling. Only his eyes could move and the sight they beheld was incomprehensible. The tailgate impacted the pavement with a thunderous "boom" and sent up a shower of brilliant white sparks. Then a series of glistening yellow-green tendrils began to snake their way out of the trailer and towards the pickup.
Still immobile, Braden silently screamed in terror and frantically tried to reach the brake, but soon realized that he'd truly become the prey in this insane game. The pickup lurched as the tendrils wrapped and ensnared themselves onto the front bumper. Then they tightened and began reeling the truck into the roiling pit of flames.
The pickup's engine died the instant the tendrils locked onto the bumper. The dead-weight of the heavily laden truck made the tendrils strain. In response, larger, thicker tendrils emerged from the trailer and continued dragging the pickup into the inferno. Braden's mind reeled at the sight.
"What insanity is this?" he thought. "Is this a hallucination? Some cruel hoax the tumor in my brain has cooked up? The sensation of intense heat and the choking fumes of brimstone told Braden that this was no illusion or dream.
The veil between worlds had weakened and this thing had somehow slipped between the cracks. It was the only answer Braden could conceive.
Slowly, like some hapless victim of a snake, Braden and his pickup were drawn into the gullet of the trailor. Inside, he could see the half-melted remains of a small car -- the previous unfortunate occupant. The result of the flying sparks he'd seen earlier.
The front of the truck shuddered as both front tires exploded, but continued being drawn inside. To Braden's surprise, the feeling of paralysis subsided. He immediately reached for the door handle, but pulled away at the burning touch of hot metal. A similar result came from an attempt to open the sliding rear window. Everything was simply too hot to handle.
He pulled his legs up onto the seat and tried to keep to the center of the cab. All he could do was wait. His end was near and he realized with a stab of anguish that his statement to the world would be unfulfilled. At that moment, an eerie cloud began to form on the wall before him. The white cloud gradually solidified and a series of pitch-black letters began to etch themselves into a final message. They read: "Abandon all hope, all who enter here!" Then below this message appeared the words: REAPER ACQUSITIONS
"R. A.," thought Braden. "Death incarnate." The truck jolted again as the rear tires blew out and the trailer door began to close. Braden watched as the last glimpse of the human world disappeared with a metallic clang, then he glanced down at the cargo he carried in the bed of the truck. One-thousand pounds of fertilizer and chemicals -- his statement, his protest to all the death and killing in the world. His intended target now seemed meaningless. "Death," thought Braden with a sudden flash of determination."Death is my target and death now surrounds me. I might not kill him, but I sure can give him a kick to the head!"
Braden knew he had only moments to live and whispered a silent prayer that the bomb exploded before the flames consumed him. He bowed his head and waited.
Braden's wish was answered with an earth-shattering fireball. The semi was obliterated and the damage to the highway would take several weeks to repair. The Grim Reaper was not destroyed of course, but with Braden Jenkin's final statement, he did give him a blazing black eye!