Short Story – The Cargo
This week’s short story is pretty dark again. I was thinking about a snowstorm at the top of a mountain and this is what came of that basic starting point.
There are times when I know exactly how a story begins but I don’t know how it ends. In this case, I had the end of the story long before I knew how it began. It is always interesting to work backwards and figure out where that ending came from.
As always, I definitely appreciate any comments, shares, or just people who take the time to read. If you don’t, that’s OK too!
“Thanks again for the work, Mister Darren!”
Burt started up his rig and drove out of the compound, waving as he pulled away.
Howard Darren was his favorite client. It wasn’t because he was talkative or particularly pleasant. In fact, Burt couldn’t remember a time Mister Darren had said anything to him at all.
He sure did pay well, though. Enough that moving a trailer from the train yard to Darren’s compound once a month was all he needed to do for a living. Sure, he still took jobs when the pay and hours were good. But that was retirement money. Darren paid him enough to enjoy life right now.
Driving down the side of a mountain in the middle of a storm was part of the job. Not his favorite part to be sure, but his instructions were very clear. As soon as the trailer was unhitched and he was paid, he had to leave. Darren was always there to supervise but it was his assistant Charles who did all the talking.
Burt had been making this delivery at least once a month for almost ten years and Charlie always treated him like a stranger. He’d pull into the compound and Charlie would shout “stay in your rig!”
He knew he had to stay in the rig. The contract said he had to stay in the rig. The signs on the fence said he had to stay in the rig. Every time he arrived, Charlie would shout to tell him to to stay in the rig. Then he would shout “eyes forward!”
If Burt was the suspicious type, he might have thought all of this was strange. As it was, he just liked getting paid.
The snow was getting thicker as he carefully navigated the narrow road. He’d never seen another car on this road and at the moment, that was a relief. It might take an extra three hours to get home tonight but dead guys never got home late.
Right about the time he was considering stopping until the worst of the storm passed, he was certain he saw someone in the road. It was just a flash in the headlights but he pushed hard on the brakes and skidded to a stop. The only thing his headlights showed was a road almost completely obscured by snow. There wasn’t anyone there. Not even footprints.
“You should drive more carefully!”
Burt jumped when he heard the voice. A young woman sat in the passenger seat wearing a white winter coat, white gloves and a pleasant smile.
“Who are you? How did you get in here?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
As she was talking, she removed her gloves and held her fingers in front of a heating vent.
“What are you talking about? This is my truck.”
“Fair. Then perhaps I should ask what your truck is doing on this mountain in this weather?”
The contract was very specific about the job. You didn’t talk about the job.
“I’m driving to my next pick up,” he lied.
Burt was a terrible liar.
“That’s interesting,” she said in a way that suggested she didn’t find what he said at all interesting, “I could have sworn there was a sign just a little ways back that said ‘no outlet.’ Doesn’t that mean this is a dead-end?”
“I took a wrong turn.”
“So what did you find up there?”
“You know my name?”
“How can you know my name?”
“Let’s get to that later. We don’t have a lot of time. I need you to turn around and head back up the mountain.”
“What are you talking about? This is a one way road! I can’t turn a rig around on this road!”
The girl seemed to be growing more impatient.
“Oh Burt, I think you might surprise yourself. Now give it a try!”
There was no reason why he would do what she asked except that he found he wanted to. At first, he thought she was compelling him somehow but that didn’t feel right. He personally needed to turn the truck around and go back up the mountain. And somehow, he was confident it could be done.
He turned the wheel hard and stepped on the gas. The truck should have gone right off the edge of the road. But it didn’t.
It swung around neatly and began the ascent back to Darren’s compound.
“When we get there, you have to make sure we get that trailer opened up.”
“Burt. You’ve been doing this for ten years. Did it never occur to you what was going on?”
“I wasn’t supposed to ask questions. I just got paid.”
She shook her head.
“You asked all kinds of questions, Burt. Just never out loud.”
She was right. What was in those trailers? Why was it so important that he never look back while they were being unhitched? Why didn’t Mister Darren ever talk? Why did they always pay him in cash? And why so much?
He pretended to be simple and stupid but he was neither. He’d just been greedy.
“That’s right, Burt. You knew something was wrong. Well tonight you are going to help me fix it.”
He’d been accelerating more and more without thinking about it. He knew he was going too fast for conditions but his rig stayed on the road, winding its way to the gates.
He could feel her anger. She should be angry at him, he thought, but she wasn’t. She calmly watched the road and eventually the lights of the compound could be seen in the distance.
A short intake of breath was her only outward sign of emotion.
“Listen to me Burt. You have to keep driving no matter what happens. Don’t stop.”
He could see the flashes of what must be gunfire but he felt no fear of death. He only wanted to help. He wanted to make it right.
The gunfire continued but not a single bullet struck the truck. He drove straight through the gate and the men that guarded it. He didn’t ease off the accelerator until he slammed into the side of the compound.
The impact should have killed him but he felt fine. Stronger, even.
Charlie was at his door screaming at him to get out. So Burt got out. He felt a gun being placed against his head, closed his eyes and smiled. He heard the shot and felt the bullet pass through his head. Then another. And another.
He turned to face Charlie, whose face looked filled with fear and doubt.
“You missed,” Burt shrugged.
“No I didn’t.”
“No. You didn’t.”
“What happened to you?”
He wasn’t sure yet.
“I don’t know. Maybe you should ask her.”
She was standing next to Charlie. He wasn’t sure when or how she had gotten out of the truck but there she was.
“Hello, Charlie. Do you remember me?”
Charlie tried to say something more than “impossible” but the rest of the words wouldn’t form. Her hand slowly moved towards him and her cold fingers wrapped around his throat.
He struggled for a short time but her grip grew tighter the more he fought.
“We asked to be let go, Charlie. You laughed. Is it still funny?”
His body fell limp and she dropped him into the snow.
“He’s unconscious,” she told Burt. “Don’t let him die. I owe him a painful death.”
“Tammi! What are you doing?”
“Oh. Hello Howard! How polite. I was going to come looking for you in a moment.”
Burt had never heard Mister Darren speak before. He sounded much kinder than his appearance would have suggested. Perhaps that was why he had Charlie do all the talking.
“Tammi – I know you are angry.”
She held up her hand to silence him and shook her head.
“I’m not Tammi although I look like her to you. I knew her, though. I knew her after you cast her body over the side of the mountain. She told me how you promised her you would treat her differently than the other girls. She told me how she didn’t believe you but she was so scared. She thought maybe you would keep her safe. You wouldn’t sell her. And you didn’t sell her, did you?”
“I know what you are,” he said, the tremor in his voice betraying just a little bit of fear, “and I’m protected. You can’t hurt me.”
“It’s true,” she nodded, “Charlie sacrificed a great deal to ensure that you couldn’t be harmed by the likes of me. That’s why I brought Burt.”
Burt remembered. He remembered losing control in the storm and his truck sliding off the road. He remembered rolling down the side of the mountain until the wreckage finally came to a stop. He remembered the shattered arm, the broken leg, the painful breaths.
And she was there. That’s how she knew his name. He told her.
And he remembered her telling him that he was going to die. She asked him what he knew and what he suspected. And he wept as he told her what he thought he’d done. He was wrong to have pretended he didn’t know. He begged her to forgive him.
She had told him that she offered no forgiveness. She offered only vengeance. She told him she had been waiting for someone like him for a long time. She offered him a chance to at least do right by the girls he had brought to the mountain that evening.
He remembered all of that as he reached out to grab Mister Darren’s face. His grip tightened as Darren struggled and fought against him. His thumb hooked in the mouth, unmoved by desperate forceful bites. His fingers dug forcefully into the eyes. He was slightly surprised by how light the body felt. Carrying it at arm’s length was laughably simple.
“Put him with Tammi.”
Howard struggled even as Burt threw him from the top of the mountain. His scream faded as he fell out of sight. Burt turned back to the girl.
She held out her hand to him.
“You did very well, Burt. But we aren’t done.”
“We have to save the girls in that trailer,” he agreed.
“Yes we do,” she smiled, “and then we have to go after the people who bought them. And the people who captured them. You work for me now, Burt. And our job is nowhere near over.”