I’m back. I could blame the lack of posting on my preoccupation with health issues, but that would tell only partial truth. Regardless, here’s a link to part 1. Go there first. Then come back here!
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Lizzie’s Chronicles, Part 2: The Escape
Bubby gripped the steering wheel of his momma’s truck with both hands. He buried his forehead in the ram logo of the 2001 Dodge 4×4 in the steering wheel’s middle. It produced an audible signal that called for Lizzie’s immediate return to safety.
Strong-armed wind dragged debris along the silver side panels, which stripped the Orange You In Heaven Now Citrus Farms advertising wrap, with the large smiling orange wearing a glowing golden halo. Their momma had always been one to count costs, not in dollar amount, but in the time it took to generate sufficient income to pay for whatever.
Momma had told Bubby and Lizzie that measuring effort instead of sticker price gave the hard-working person a better feel for the sacrifice required for each purchase. The advertising wrap had cost his momma six months of her life. It was gone in less than two minutes.
Bubby refused to be distracted from his forehead-buried horn blowing. Nothing would lift his head, not unrecognizable things that hovered and spun, not mangled strips of aluminum siding transformed into spiraled fists of coiled metal fingers waving to Bubby before vanishing forever inside a broken window of a broken red brick building.
No, nothing distracted Bubby from blaring the horn, except, perhaps, for the diesel fuel pump that had broken free of its concrete island and proceeded toward him, fully airborne.
The truck rocked from the impact as the pump slammed against the back of the cab. The hose whipped around the top of the truck, metal nozzle cracking the driver’s side windshield into a complex spiderweb pattern. The crack was so loud that Bubby went from an horn-blowing position to a fetal position in the driver’s side floorboard, all in one swift motion.
“Please,” he whispered and rocked back and forth. “Please, please please.”
Bubby was taught that the word please held special powers. “Whenever you really want something to go your way,” his momma would say, “say please. But,” she added, “you better be sincere. It’s not a mindless incantation. You must mean it.” “Please, please, please,” Bubby said, “please, please, please, please, please.” He meant every one.
The storm sounded like a different storm from the floorboards. It was muffled and distant, and lack of visual cues amplified the insulated effect. The storm was still loud but it was a different loud. In the floor, there were noticeable spaces of silence inside the chaos.
With one ear pressed against the filthy grey floor mat, Bubby became receptive to the space between chaos. It was there where Bubby thought he heard something fighting to be heard, something that sounded like muffled screams and pounds of flesh directly below his ear.
Bubby cupped his hands around his ear. He waited and listened. There it was again. Screams and pounds, maybe kicks upward into the left front wheel well.
Bubby waited. Chaos, then a brief silence, then more chaos.
“Momma? Is that you? Please? ” He waited. “Please, please, please?”
There was more pounding, and the screams sounded almost familiar, nearly human.
Pounding and yelling.
“Momma? Lizzie? You’ll do too!”
Bubby adjusted his position so that more of his ear was against the floor. He listened. More poundings of flesh, and begging. Bubby thought he heard screams of please from some muffled disembodied voice.
Please. The universal word.
Unlock the door, Bubby. Please…
Please let me in. Please.
“It’s me, it’s —”
Something thumped against the tailgate. A street light broke free in an explosion of sparks. The flash through the windows above reminded Bubby of the old camera in the western he’d watched on the small television in his room while waiting for Lizzie to come home after momma had been laid to rest, as they had so nicely put it.
– – –
Bubby imagined a wild west photographer with a vest and a long curled mustache that always made Bubby laugh. He held something called a flash box in the air as the sheriff stood proudly with his rifle, one boot heel on the dead bank robbers who were piled randomly like bags of feed. Then the thing he held in the air flashed like a street light in a hurricane. The colorized scene dissolved into a black and white picture in the newspaper.
The bandit of bandits folded the paper and tossed it in the fire with a defiant laugh. He swore revenge. Before Bubby could find out how it all ended, Lizzie came in slamming doors and yelling hurricane’s coming, hurricane’s coming, we’ve got to go. Grab whatever’s worth carrying and run for the truck. Lizzie had fistfuls of cash like a bank robber. Bubby wished for a curvy mustache and a flashy explosive thing to hold in the air while he ran.
– – –
Bubby cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled into the floorboard. “If you are Momma, then say please the way she’d say it to me. If you’re Lizzie, then say please the way Momma always made you say it to me.”
Bubby heard a muffled single-word reply. It sounded like the word please, but enunciated and stretched out for nearly ten seconds, which was exactly the way Lizzie said it whenever Momma forced her to say please to Bubby.
“Lizzie! I’m unlocking the door!”
Bubby reached up to the automatic lock and pressed it and huddled in the floorboards again. “Okay! It’s unlocked!”
He heard the outside latch lift several times, but the door didn’t open. Then the pounding and yelling resumed from below the floor boards.
“Press the lock the other way!”
Bubby climbed into the driver seat and pressed the lock the other direction. After a few seconds, the door opened, but only an inch or so. The wind howled through the gap. Gas receipts and gum wrappers floated inside the cab like blowing snow.
Bubby pressed against the door, but he felt so much resistance from the wind that it was like prying open a part of the truck that wasn’t meant to be pried open. He pushed and looked along the thin opening at the bottom. At first, he saw only a few thin pale familiar fingers with purple, flaking, glittery fingernail paint, then two wild eyes stared up between strands of filthy hair glued to face and forehead.
“Help me!” the eyes said.
“Are you dead,” Bubby asked.
“No, I’m Lizzie,” the eyes screamed.
“Then why didn’t you just say, ‘Bubby it’s Lizzie, let me in’!”
Lizzie’s wild eyes disappeared behind the left front wheel long enough to dodge debris, then they were back. Bubby got on his back and tried to kick the door open. “No,” Lizzie’s eyes screamed from the crack, the rest of her body hid under the truck’s left front wheel.
“Bubby, listen. Whatever you do, don’t open the door all the way. The wind will rip it off its hinges.”
“But how will you get in?”
“I’ll get in. Just pull on the door toward you as hard as you can. Pull, don’t push. Try to pull it closed. I’ll slither through.”
“Just do as I say!” A finger pointed up at him and shook, just like Momma sometimes did, then the fingers formed a small fist and gave Bubby a thumbs-up sign, just like Lizzie sometimes did.
“Play tug-of-war with the door, Bubby,” the eyes said through the crack.
He grabbed the door handle with both hands and leaned back. He pulled hard against the speaking hand and wild eyes. Bubby felt the door resist him but he tried to hold his ground against it. He felt slimy hands fumble across his feet and knees, and fondle and grab for his belt. He held tight against the door. When he heard screams and felt resistance, he pulled even harder.
Two thin arms groped him, grabbed jeans and shirt and flesh and throat and shoulders and face and hair. They pulled as hard upward as he pulled inward against the door handle. The two played a warped game of tug-of-war which more closely resembled a breached birth of a feral animal. Finally, Lizzie was fully birthed, and she, Bubby and the wind shut the door all at once.
A soaked, muddy and blood-oozing Lizzie hugged Bubby for their longest, wettest and coldest hug yet. Bubby kept mental records of such things. Then Lizzie pushed him away with such force that he nearly rolled upside down against the passenger door.
“We’ve got to get out of here while we still can, if we still can.”
Lizzie took a deep breath and put both hands on the steering wheel. Her hands were coated in a greasy blend of mud and blood and things on her forearms that that looked like shredded slugs.
“You know the drill.” Lizzie raised her butt off the seat and Bubby slid a large dictionary underneath her. “Buttal support in place,” Bubby said.
She dropped onto the book and slid back and forth. “Nice.” She leaned forward. “Next!” Bubby wadded up an old dog blanket and stuffed it behind his sister’s lower back. “Supplemental support in place.” Lizzie leaned back and wiggled.
“Perfect. Now I can touch the pedals and I can see out at the same time.” She leaned down in search for a portion of unbroken windshield. “Well, I can almost see. Almost seeing is better than not seeing at all, I guess.”
They fastened their seat belts. Bubby crossed both middle fingers with his index fingers, and his ring fingers with his little fingers. He closed his eyes and began to chant. “Please start, please start, please start.” He looked up. “That was three pleases,” Bubby told the roof, “if you’re keeping track.”
The truck started on the first attempt. “See,” Lizzie said, “that thing about cars and trucks not starting, and monsters climbing in from the roof and eating passengers, it only happens in the movies.”
“It’s because they never say three-times please!” Bubby said. Lizzie pulled out. She noticed the gas gauge and hoped that Bubby hadn’t.
They drove in the general direction of the lightest portion of the sky, which meant north. They traveled through an obstacle course of uprooted trees, leaning utility poles, downed cables and snapped street signs. They continued through what looked like an apocalyptic wasteland movie lot to the highway.
Before long, they came upon a multi-lane parking lot of last-minute, self-inflicted refugees who refused to abide by hurricane warnings until it was too late. Lizzie put the truck in 4WD and continued across medians and wrong-way roads. They drove that way until dark, which is when the Low Fuel light illuminated and the needle was farther below E than Lizzie had ever seen.
Bubby found a baseball game on the radio, which was always soothing in times of stress. Lizzie and Bubby pretended to listen to the game and care about who was playing, until the truck gulped and lurched. Lizzie immediately took the next exit.
She steered off the interstate, although they saw no signs for lodging or gas or food along the exit. Lizzie didn’t want to lose momentum, so she approached the intersection without applying brakes.
“Right or left, Bubby?!”
“Momma always said, ‘When faced with a choice, always choose the right way’,” Bubby said.
“Right it is.”
Lizzie turned right, not even looking for oncoming traffic. She was about to tell Bubby to prepare to sleep in the truck, when they saw a single flickering red glow ahead.
“No vacancy,” Bubby said. “That’s good.”
“How is a no vacancy sign good?”
“Because the no is flickering. That means that they’re not sure. They may or may not have rooms. A few pleases could sway the decision.” Bubby crossed his fingers and looked up.
“Bubby, you can’t always take things so literally.”
“I can when the no is literally flickering.”
Lizzie aimed the coasting truck into the motel parking lot. The engine stopped running, so she leaned into the steering wheel and forced the truck into the motel entrance between the two white wooden posts with round red reflectors nailed on the top.
Bobby finished his no vacancy Bubby-logic. “Given the flickering no, and the number of pleases I’ve thrown upwards, I choose to believe that they have exactly one room for us.”
– – –
The motel consisted of an aging strip of eight single-floor rooms, all with exterior entrances. Between rooms 1-4 and 5-8 was a small alcove with an ice machine. The ice machine lid had been wired open with a rusty coat hanger with a sign written in black marker that said do not close.
Next to the ice machine was the skeleton of a pay phone, which was little more than a vertical black rectangle with a dangling silver cord with nothing attached to the receiver end. The office was closed. No number of knocks on the door and window would change that.
“Now what?” Lizzie shrugged.
“We just go down the line knocking on doors until we find the one room that’s ours,” Bubby said. “We knock until we find the flickering no.”
They knocked on Doors 1 through 6, waited an appropriate time out of respect for potential occupants, then checked the door knob of each room. All of those rooms were locked with the lights out. Most of the rooms had the curtains pulled, but even the room with open curtains looked unoccupied, as if cleaned but never re-rented.
The mud and blood had dried on Lizzie. Her dim reflection in the dark glass of the rooms reminded her of the drenched-in-blood part of the movie Carrie. “No luck so far,” Lizzie said. “We’ve got two more rooms to try.”
“Which room do you think is ours,” Bubby asked, “seven or eight?”
“Bubby, I’m betting the truck is our room tonight. But go ahead and knock. See what happens.”
Bubby made a fist and raised his knuckles to the door with the number 7 on it, but he paused. He fake-knocked on door 7, ran to door 8 and knocked, then ran back to number 7. “Sometimes you’ve got to shake things up,” he said.
Bubby waited but door 8 remained closed. He went back to door 8 and tried the door knob. It was locked, like rooms 1-6.
“Crap,” Lizzie said, “I’ve got to pee so bad. Then I need a shower so bad. Then I need sleep so bad, and maybe some bandages.”
“Then let’s go into our room and pee and shower and sleep and bandage,” Bubby said, “because if number 7 is the only room we haven’t tried, then number 7 is our room.”
“You did said please,” Lizzie said. She rolled her eyes and fumbled for the truck keys. “Well, are you going to knock or am I going to pee on myself where I stand?”
“No need to knock,” Bubby said. “We’re not in our room to answer.” He reached for the knob, turned and pushed. The door opened.
“Buddy,” Lizzie said, “you amaze me.”
“It’s just the power of please,” he said.
They went inside, closed the door, locked the dead bolt and the chain lock. The room was as dark as Lizzie’s room when her mom fell dead at Lizzie’s bedside. The motel room had a familiar smell, almost like coming home after being away.
Lizzie slid her hands along the wall in search for a light switch. She found one and flicked it on. A small avocado-colored glass lamp illuminated at the far end of the room next to a vanity. The oval vanity mirror faced Lizzie and Bubby, and the two stared at the bare back of a figure sitting at the vanity.
The figure was nude. She was brushing her long hair to one side, as if in slow motion. The woman at the vanity was naked but not ashamed. She seemed to admire herself in the mirror, oblivious to the light or the new guests.
Bubby started to run to the figure but Lizzie grabbed his shoulders and held him in place. She put a finger over Bubby’s lips. “No talking,” she whispered. “It’s not what you think.”
To Lizzie, the woman was her momma, but much older than when she died. She ran her fingers through her grey hair, which her mom never had, then the figure vanished like a piece of blowing storm debris.
After some silence, Lizzie released her grip on Bubby’s shoulders. “Bubby, what did you just see?”
“Not a what, but a who,” he said. “It was Momma, but she was different.”
Lizzie re-imagined seeing the older woman in the mirror, greying hair, older, elegantly so, but still Momma.
“Different? How so?”
“She was Momma,” Bubby said, “only much younger. She was Momma as a little girl.”
– . – . – . –
Lizzie Chronicles – Part 3 probably tomorrow …