The head sat upright, staring down the dotted line of Highway 11, looking south. The white line reflected in the unmoving, unblinking eyes. The head had been severed cleanly somewhere else. There was almost no blood around it on the pavement. The face had a look of resignation as if being here without a body was inevitable.
It wasn’t clear if it had been carefully placed in that spot or if it had been thrown and simply landed there. It had been there since late in the evening, well past dark.
It had sat there through the night watching the stars roll overhead. A few curious animals had come to check on it, but none had disturbed it. One more adventurous squirrel had taken a small bite out of the head’s left ear, but nothing more. No coyotes or wolves had come by to take it off for a meal. And so it sat, watching the night pass.
Several cars had flown past, barely missing it. None had noticed, or at least none had stopped. Just bright headlights blaring in its eyes, then a roar and rush of wind or a roar and a rush of wind and taillights disappearing down the road in front of it.
Once a semi festooned with orange lights screamed past. Its glaring headlights could be seen far down the road even from this low angle.
The driver was wandering a bit, maybe tired, just not really paying attention. The semi came closer, closer than any other vehicle, or maybe that’s just how it felt. It felt like the semi was going to flatten the head into messy mush but it screamed past, the huge wind rocking it slightly even though the dried blood had glued the head to the road.
It was quiet for a long while. The sky went black as the stars disappeared behind a roving bank of clouds. When they passed the sky was already lightening. On its left a thin line of pink announced morning. Slowly, pink turned orange then yellow and the sun burst over the trees. The head cast a long bluish shadow across the pavement.
With the sun came the flies, buzzing around excitedly. It wasn’t long before a crow landed next to the head. It paced back and forth talking to itself.
“Well, dis is a fine ting. Some goods eats der but it’s a strange ting too. Might be one of dem trappy things. Yeser jus might. Never know what’s gonna gitcha.” It strutted around, hopping every few steps, getting a bit closer with each hop.
“Yeser some good eats. Dem eyeballies are soo tasty special iffin day ain’t all dried up. Deez be lookin far fresh. Yesser,”with a hop and a swift peck, the crow had the head’s right eye.
The crow tossed its head back, swallowed the eyeball whole, and cawed excitedly. It hopped around, doing a sort of dance.
“Yumm da yumm da yummity” it croaked.
Tipping its head on its side, it looked at the face in front of it. It hopped forward, aiming to snatch for the other eye.
Suddenly the quiet was torn by the unmistakable sound of a motorbike gearing down. The crow looked at the head and the delicious remaining eye, cawed, and with a flap of its wings, pulled easily into the air.
The bike glided to a stop on the shoulder of the road. It rumbled loudly once, then quieted. Leather creaked as the rider kicked the stand out. With hands on his lower back, he stood and arched his spine. A small groan escaped.
Jacob was a tall man over 6 feet, broad-shouldered, well into his forties, and a face half-covered with a long greying beard. He wore denim over his heavy snoot boots, a black t-shirt and his leather jacket. Over his jacket, he had a denim vest with a patch on the back. Turning the peak of his cap forward, Jacob pulled his shades off and looked at the head on the road.
“Here’s Johnny.” He laughed lightly. “Well, you’ve looked better. So are you dead dead or are you just dead?”
Jacob sat back on his bike and crossed his boots.
After a minute, the remaining eye in the head rolled dryly and looked toward Jacob.
“So not dead.” He said. “Do you still have your vocal cords? It would make things easier to find out what killed you.”
A sound like someone trying to clear an extremely dry throat came from the head, and it said. “How can you hear me?”
Jacob chuckled, “I’m marked.”
“Oh ya, you're the idiot that sold his soul for a truck. A fucking truck!”
“That’s not the whole story.” Jacob said and scowled. He had heard that his whole life and he was tired of it.
“A truck!” The head made a sound that might have been a laugh or a cough.
Across from Jacob, the crow cawed, “Hungry! be going, tall walker. Be off.”
Jacob looked up at the crow. His scowl deepened. He liked ravens. They were smart and disdainful, maybe a bit arrogant, but they at least would respond with a reasonable answer. But crows, he hated crows. Crows were intelligent but spiteful and cruel, not to mention one had betrayed him a while back.
“Fuck off,” Jacob said.
The head’s one eye rolled awkwardly over to look at the crow pacing hungrily at the edge of the pavement. The eye rolled back toward Jacob.
“Kill it” the head gravelled.
Jacob looked at the head and back at the crow. He was tempted, but he knew crows were messengers and gossips. It would come back on him. He growled. From inside his coat, he pulled out his gun. It was a Ruger 480. It was too big and made too much noise, but when it came out people noticed which sometimes was all you needed. He looked down his nose at the crow and raised the heavy gun. The head’s one eye rolled to look. The crow stopped pacing.
“Not gonna. Not gonna. No sirree. Not gonna.” With a long squawk, it jumped into the air and flew off. Jacob half grinned and put the Ruger back in his leathers.
“You didn’t kill it! Why didn’t you kill it? It took my eye!”
“Ya, not my problem. Who cut off yer head, that’s what I’m interested in.”
Jacob smiled as he enjoyed watching the face attempt a scowl. Its single eye followed the crow as it rose and headed south, joined by several other black shapes.
“I don’t remember,” the head said, sounding put-out.
“Now now Johnny. I’m just here to help,” Jacob said, still smiling.
“So you know who I am?” The head sort of smiled. Jacob knew the man whose head this was. He hadn’t had any dealings with the man but knew him by reputation. He was known as one of the more slimier car dealers around selling ‘POSs’ (pieces of shit), to anyone and everyone.
He was known to be marked, but what he had sold his soul for Jacob wasn’t sure. He wasn’t particularly rich or good looking, nor was he all that successful. Perhaps he asked the Judge to be more of a slime bucket than he already had been, but Jacob thought that wasn’t likely.
He was named by cruel parents, John Carson. It must’ve been hell growing up with that name, but he made it a joke on his TV commercials for his dealership. “Here’s Johnny” had become his slogan.
Jacob looked across the fields. A murder of crows was circling, making a distant racket. He looked back to the head.
“Look, you want my help or not?”
“Help! How the fuck can you help? Are you going to find my body? Put me back together?”
“Well, no can’t rightly do that but,” he paused. “I could at least get the thing that got you.”
“What are you, the poleece? Gonna make the Judge pay? I heard how that went.” Again the head struggled to chuckle.
Jacob looked down the road.
“Naw nuthin like that. Jus tryin’ to figure it. Need ta know what got ya, is all.” He said.
The head’s remaining eye turned away from Jacob to look down the road. A car was coming, the sun glinting off its roof. Jacob heard it and looked.
“Now what do you suppose, that’s maybe one of the marked coming to put an end to our little conversation?”
The car was coming fast. Its engine howled as it accelerated.
“Yup, I bet our friendly crow spoke to someone, and they spoke to someone else who doesn’t want me to find out who done you.”
The head’s remaining eye widened, then turned.
“It was a fucking wolf. How the fuck could I know who it was! Now move me!”
Jacob uncrossed his boots and stood.
“A wolf? What colour was its fur?”
“Grey, I think with black.”
The car was close now. Jacob looked at it. He knew it. It belonged to Frank, the owner of the Ol’ Scratch Tavern. A beat down 93 Capri, a real POS. The man had no taste. He probably bought it from Johnny here. The world is not without irony.
Jacob enjoyed going to Ol’ Scratch and usually went on Wednesday for live music and Thursday for wings. He conceded that Frank had good taste in music, if nothing else.
Jacob straddled the bike, heard the head curse, and a wet thump. A roar of an overstrained engine. Frank and his POS sped away.
Jacob put his sunglasses back on, kicked the bike into life and looked where the head had been. It wasn’t there anymore. Bits of bone, grey mush and gore were splattered across the pavement. A crow landed among the mess.
“So sad. Was tasty bits. Was juicy. Still good yesir yesir” it hopped about picking up bits and tossing them back.
Jacob pulled out onto the highway and rumbled down the pavement.
A single light bulb hung in the middle of the ceiling and glinted off the dishes and pots in the sink. It lit the small kitchen with an uncertain light that cast indistinct shadows on the scuffed linoleum floor.
The man that sat at the table was dirty. He was dressed unremarkably in jeans and a black T-shirt. Both were faded and old. The knees of his jeans were torn, and he wore heavy boots caked with mud. Over the back of his chair hung an equally heavy black leather jacket, well worn. It had a denim vest over it with a patch on the back.
He was slim to the point of skinny. He slouched in his chair, legs spread under the table. He had a thin, pale face with a patchy beard around a cruel mouth set in a thin, hard line.
His eyes, heavy-lidded, hard and dark, burned with a strange heat under his shaggy eyebrows. They were ringed with dark shadows, as if he hadn’t slept in days. The brow under his long lank black hair was furrowed. He stared straight ahead.
He was waiting.
Both arms rested on the table in front of him. His left hand loosely touched a glass half full of amber whiskey. An empty bottle of Jack stood testament. His right rested near a gun, a Glock 19. It was loaded.
He knew that if you put a gun on the table in a meeting such as he was waiting for, you couldn’t take it off. It was there. It was a statement. It was a declaration, and there was no going back from that.
He stared at his glass and oddly noticed the table. It was a chrome table with a mica top. It had been here for as long as he could remember.
His mother had bought it before he was born. He had had his first solid food at it. He had eaten cereal, what homework he had done, he had done it here and here he screamed at his father. ‘It was the in the heart of the house,’ his mother had been fond of saying. It had been a bright, cheerful yellow, he supposed. Now it was a dull, muddy, indistinct colour that might have been yellow or maybe brown. This is where he ate and drank, sometimes with his friends playing cards but more often alone. He even rebuilt a carburetor for his Harley on it.
Now both his bastard father and his mother were long dead. He sat at the table waiting to kill or maybe be killed. He wasn't sure which outcome he wanted.
Outside distantly he heard the unmistakable sound of a loud knucklehead on the road gearing down as it slowed for his drive. That would be Jacob. He’d recognize that bike’s sound anywhere. He’d helped put it together many years ago. He still loved it.
The bike rolled closer, then it was right outside the house. After a pause, he heard it shut down, and a minute after that there was a knock at his door.
“Ya” he called and Jacob pushed open the door.
Jacob stepped in, looked at him, saw the gun, ignored it, looked at the empty bottle of Jack and smiled
“Hey Pete, drinking legit?” Jacob asked.
“Ya.” Pete looked at the bottle. “It’s been sitting in the cupboard since my pa passed. It was the only thing he left. A half-full bottle of his favourite friend.”
Jacob stepped forward and pulled out a chair. Sat down, his leather jacket creaking.
“Sometimes it’s the only friend you kin find.” Pete mused. He grunted, staring at the glass in his hand. He knocked it back.
“I’d offer ya sum but I’m all out.”
Jacob smiled. “S’pose you know why I’m here?”
“Ya I s’pose I do.” He held the empty glass up, looked at it for a second, he set it down carefully and looked up at Jacob. “You ever wish you hadn’t made yer deal?”
Jacob scowled. “Every fucking day! All day long!”
Pete looked back down at his empty glass.
“I never had until yesterday. Ya it wasn’t what I thought, but it’s better than no deal. Any deal is better than no deal, right?”
Jacob’s scowl deepened.
“I mean if I dint have the deal I won’t be anybody. Just another fucking loser ahwta work.”
“You were hot shit in high school. A football star. Got all the cheerleaders.” Jacob said.
With a wry smile, Pete said, “Ya, that was the deal.”
“The deal? What did you git marked for?” Jacob asked.
“It’s fucking embarrassing. I was a big reader in grade 10. I thought it was cool to be as fast and as strong as a wolf. I’d read it in some book.” Pete looked at the empty glass in front of him.
“Well, you can’t say The Judge doesn’t have a sense of humour.” Jacob said.
“Really fucking funny. ‘Bout a month after school started, I was riding high. The girls were all over me. Made the football team. Looked like I’d be the quarterback. I got into a fight. Nearly killed the kid. It got all hushed up. I was ‘important’ to the team and Coach said he needed me, so it was put down to kids being kids. I know the kid’s dad was fucking pissed. Wanted to go to the cops, but nothing happened.” Pete fingered his empty glass.
He stood and walked to the cupboard over the sink. He pulled down a glass bleach bottle. With his back to Jacob, he undid the cap, tipped the bottle back and took a swallow. He set the bottle down and leaned on the sink, his head lowered.
“A couple nights later was the full fucking moon. And you know what happened. I woke the next morning, miles from the farm, nearly naked. I ran the whole way back. Made without anyone seeing me.” He said. He picked up the beach bottle and walked back to the table. He offered the bottle to Jacob. Jacob took it.
“This one of mine?” Jacob asked.
“Ya, last September, I think. Had it a while. It was a good batch. Some of your shine can get a bit strong.”
Jacob looked at Pete, then at the bottle.
“Getting damn hard to find glass bottles like this anymore.” He took a swallow. Grunted, “That’s pretty smooth even if I say so myself.” He half smiled.
Pete sat down, took the bottle back and took a deep pull on it. He wiped his mouth and set the bottle down.
“The thing is, I felt great, but I didn’t have a clue what I had done. Course it wasn’t me, it was the demon inside of me coming out to play. ‘He’ did some terrible things. I tried very hard to not notice. I’ve learned to control it and when it feels like it’s gonna be bad, I got a room in the cellar that has a lock on a timer.”
Jacob reached and took the bottle, took a swallow, set it down and gave it a flick. It slid a few inches across the table toward Pete.
“Ya see, that fucker I beat up never forgot. He never let it go. After high school, it got worse. Took every chance he could to cause me grief. Called the cops on me every fucking week felt like. Then he made his deal. And things got real interestin’.”
Pete slid his chair back and stood. Starting to pace. After a couple turns around the kitchen he sat again.
“The cops were always down my throat. Couldn’t figure it. Seemed like I’d step out the door and they’d be waiting. Turns out they were. He had sold for control of the cops here’s about. Didn’t even think that were possible but I guess The Judge’s got his ways.”
Pete looked at Jacob. There was pain in his eyes.
“He turned hard, turned mean, and it’s my fault. What happened is on me. I beat that kid so bad he never was right. It poisoned him.”
“Wait. Who we talkin’ bout?” Jacob asked.
“Johnny fucking Carson. Every time I saw one of his fucking commercials, I would nearly smash the TV.”
Jacob grunted, reaching for the bottle.
“Turned out he wasn’t jus fucking with me. He had a sort of a list in his head,” Pete continued. “A list of folk who he felt done him wrong. He used the cops like his own attack dogs. Good folk that were just stupid kids doin stupid kid's shit, but now he was ruining people. Ruining their lives.”
Pete leaned forward, “but he turned back to me. He seemed to get tired of just sending cops after me. He wanted to hurt me and his deal made it sose he wouldn’t get caught.”
“He went looking for some way to hurt me. He found my daughter. She was just a girl. I don’t get to see her so often. He made sure ah that, but…” he paused and looked at his hands in front of him. His grey eyes got moist. “She’s just little. Jus had her 16th birthday. I couldn’t go to her party. Not supposed to see her without consent, and my ex likes to hold back on that.”
“That fucker got me good. Even my ex believed I was dealing meth. I couldn’t explain where I went every month for a few days. She’s not marked, so it’s not a conversation we had.”
“That was horrible, but he did sumpin worst. He took her! Jacob, what was I s’pose to do? The fucker had my little girl!”
“I got arrested again. Bogus charge, but I was put in jail for a couple of days. When I got out she was gone. She’s missing. He killed her. I know he did.”
“The moon was coming, so I just waited. Figured I’d let the demon deal with him. Just let it loose. Never thought how wrong it would go. Didn’t care. Just wanted him dead.”
He paused, looked down at his hands. They shook slightly. He reached for the bottle, looked at it, didn’t drink, then set it down.
“Jacob, why are you here?”
“Well Pete, Clyde suggested I get over here. Ya see he’s got information that you an I don’t. Bein’ a demon himself an all.”
“Clyde? Oh ya, yer truck. I used to laugh at you. Sold yer soul for a truck. Now it doesn’t sound so dumb.”
Jacob smiled. Wasn’t the first time he’d heard that.
“Clyde says it wasn’t John that took yer kid.”
Pete stood up knocking his chair back, fists on the table.
“It was him! That fucker did it! He’s been after me forever!”
“Semmer down, Pete. It wasn’t him. Ya, he’s been a real bastard to you, but it wasn’t him this time.”
“Bullshit! I smelt her scent over at his house when I went over. My wolf side gives me a bunch of things an’ one of them is real good smell. I stood outside his house before the moon came up and I could smell her.”
“Ya I’m sure he could but he didn’t take her. Pete, this ain’t easy ta tell you. She’s been seein’ John’s son, David. You don’t see her much an I don’t s’pose she’d told you anyhow. Special since she knew yer history an all.”
“I don’t believe you,” Pete said, but his voice had a hint of doubt. He picked up his chair and sat, hands flat on the table.
“See they were having a party. It was David’s birthday. The whole family was there, including his young girlfriend. She had run away from your ex to be with David.”
“No.” Pete said quietly.
Jacob sat back. Not sure how to continue.
“How much do you remember when the demon takes over?”
“Of that night, not a lot. It was a strong one. I don’t watch the news after the moon run. It’s better.”
“The demon killed everyone at the party. Everyone. Tore them to shreds.” Jacob paused, not wanting to say it. Not wanting to be the one to tell him.
Pete stared at him, his eyes growing wide as realization slipped in, unwanted.
“No.” Pete stared at Jacob. “No”
“It was the demon. It wasn’t you. It was the demon. It’s not your fault.” Jacob said.
Pete fell back in his seat. His eyes wide.
“She wasn’t there. No, she couldn’t have been. No. Please no.”
Jacob didn’t answer. What could he say?
“Jacob, she wasn’t there! She can’t. No!” Pete’s voice rose.“NO!”
“I’m sorry, Pete,” Jacob said quietly.
They sat looking at each other for a long time, passing the bottle back and forth. They didn’t speak.
After a time, Jacob stood. Pete didn’t look up. Jacob dug in his pocket and pulled out a bullet. It was a 9 mm.
It would fit in Pete’s Glock. He had loaded it himself. He had cast the slug in pure silver.
Jacob looked at the bullet, turned, and walked out of the little house, and down the steps to his bike. He pulled his denim vest out of the saddlebag where he stored it before entering the house and put it back on.
He straddled his bike. For a minute he sat listening, hearing the night. It was quiet. The darkness was broken by the yellow light spilling from the kitchen window. Far off, a dog barked.
He rose and kicked the bike to life. It rumbled beneath him. He pulled away from the house. He was just turning on to the road when he heard a loud crack. Might have been a backfire.