In fact, aside from how hugely boring Texas was, it seemed the same as every other state he had driven through on I-10 so far. There had been one bright spot in his journey through Texas so far; the Austin Zoo.
He had stopped on a whim because he wanted to see a lion up close and personal. Which would be easy since it was dead. He had read once that every zoo in Texas not only had the name of the animal on the cage, but a recipe on how to cook it. Lion-burger was on Ernie’s menu! He was disappointed that there were no recipes on the cages, and when he realized that skinning and preparing ANY animal, let alone the golden-maned king of the concrete jungle, was quite beyond him he was further disappointed. Dejected, he wandered the zoo looking at dead animals and kicking dead people as he passed them. This cheered him up a little.
Then he stumbled (literally) upon a dead child (this made him sad for some reason he couldn’t explain even to himself) and he saw it. A pinwheel. He hadn’t had a pinwheel since he was a kid. Gingerly prying it from the child’s hands, he spent the remainder of the afternoon running (OK – walking fast) to make the pinwheel spin. No one was around to make fun of his gait. He knew from experience that his run made people laugh. He ran exactly like a one-legged duck wouldn’t.
Grinning and panting to himself, he got back into his car and headed south back to I-10.
The only thing getting bigger in this exceedingly boring and normal state was his feeling that he was being followed. He was almost certain of it now. Every once in a while, in his rear view mirror, he would catch a glimpse of movement. He would turn quickly, swerving the car dangerously as he did so, only to see nothing behind him. Now that the sun was setting, the feeling of being followed and watched was positively spooky and he started imagining what could be on his tail.
Ghosts were what came to mind first. After all, everything was dead except him and the grass. That’s a lot of dead things. He could be seeing the ghosts of those who had passed. The thought simultaneously scared and angered him. Ghosts were scary – but it pissed him off that after a lifetime of being ignored he was now getting attention. Unwanted attention at that. Dimly, he understood what Betty Granger must have felt when he followed her home every day in ninth grade. Until her father had called the cops. Her ninth grade. Not his. He had been twenty-one.
Well, he thought with satisfaction, her father was dead now along with the cop who had tasered him. But so was Betty Granger. He wondered how long it took a body to decompose, but a sudden movement distracted him. THERE! He saw it – a flash of red and gray right behind him.
He slammed on his brakes, breathing heavily, and was shocked to hear, and feel, a thump against his seat.
“Christ on a Popsicle stick,” a gravelly voice sounded behind him, “Why the hell did you do that?”
There was once a man in Chicago who broke all speed records for getting out of his car when he realized a bee was in the car with him. This man was not only deathly afraid of bees, he was also deathly allergic, so he can be forgiven for exiting his vehicle with such haste and running 100 yards in less than time than it takes the average man to zip his fly before he realized he left his baby in the car. After all, his baby wasn’t allergic as far as he knew. What can’t be forgiven by the normal person, all of whom are dead by the way in case you haven’t been keeping up, was the he left his car in gear and his car crashed into a topless bar. What can’t be forgiven is that for some reason his child grew up to be an alcoholic pole dancer before she, too, died.
Ernie broke that man’s record, easy. He unbuckled his seat belt, opened the door, and ran so fast his jeans started smouldering from thigh friction. When he was what he judged a safe distance away, about thirty feet (that’s all he could run without stopping for breath), he turned and looked at the car.
The door slowly opened and that’s when Ernie first saw him. It. whatever.
Something besides himself had survived. And it wasn’t human. It was a four-foot lizard wearing khaki shorts, a baseball cap, and a gold chain with a clock on it.