Preview: Charles McNair's New Novel Pickett's Charge
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Threadgill distantly heard LaRue’s cries over the chilly gale of banshees.
He Imagined LaRue as a giant covered with very fast, very fierce, fantastically fragile biting gnomes with serrated teeth and forty-two unholy grudges.
Threadgill envisioned the breakout. In one corner of his suspecting mind, he saw a clever little monkey hand reach through the chicken wire with a rusted six-penny nail, pulled from some loose joint in the cage. The creature poked nail into keyhole – voila! A fateful click, a lock opened, snatched free.
LaRue must have been too busy yelling out window to notice.
He’ll listen next time, Threadgill thought. If he still has ears.
He dared a peek.
Monkeys covered LaRue like a fur disease.
Rebel yells had turned to painful screams now. Threadgill wondered how LaRue even made those.
Monkeys savaged his lips. They put their heads into his mouth and bit his tongue. They chewed his cheeks. They ripped out his nose hair and loosened their bowels down the next of his black silk shirt. Assailants attacked from every side. They even went after his hook – Threadgill got a snapshot view of dozens of small, toothlike indentions over a saliva-slick brass surface.
The escaped prisoners vented their rage on the Cadillac too. Monkeys tore foam rubber padding from the seats. They emptied their bladders over the dashboard and spurted feces down the AC vents. They flew through the air in acrobatic leaps, ripped open a carton of Camels and hurled broken cigarettes in all directions. They brutally shredded roadmaps, pulled monkey wrenches – monkey wrenches! – and empty Suncrest orange bottles from under the seat and beat LaRue with them. The driver’s expensive sunglasses covered the seat in blue chips. Something electrical went wrong too, once and for all.
The car’s air conditioning coughed, newly gummed up with monkey excrement. The dash panel issued a sound like a dental drill, then a white spark leaped from the control console. A mushroom puff of black smoke followed, billowing out of the dashboard rising to destruction against the roof.
Frantically, LaRue flipped open vents to clear the air. The act brought new and even blacker clouds of smoke roiling from the AC, followed by a sudden jet of frothy burned-pimento-cheese liquid that dribbled over his shoes.
The car became unbelievably hot at once. Threadgill’s blankets were now his sweat lodge. Huge black pansies bloomed in his field of vision.
There came a pattering, and Threadgill knew the monkeys attacked his own blankets. A tiny wicked face actually appeared into his peephole. Bubbles of raging snot shot from the creatures nose. Threadgill quickly pinched that view.
He felt the whirlpool of monkey close, linger, leave abruptly for LaRue again like a migrating flock of birds.
He peeked again.
LaRue wore a toupee of biting monkeys. Toothmarks crated his scalp, and his ear hung like it was stapled on. His cranium looked like a fresh-skinned possum.
The driver’s good hands fumbled in the floorboard, desperately groping for car keys, these wickedly snatched away by his tormentors.
Finally, LaRue grabbed the door handle. Threadgill was surprised his surrender took so long.
The door stayed shut.
It was welded, the power locks electronically overruled.
Smoke poured from the dashboard.
Black acrid midnight gathered inside the Cadillac.
Then – a plain stroke of Providence – LaRue’s flailing hands somehow found car keys.
His scream of triumph momentarily froze the monkeys. Just for a second.
Just long enough.
LaRue jammed the keys into the ignition. The engine roared. The car lurched ahead, woozy but mobile.
The instant the Cadillac moved, the monkeys immediately melted away into docility, motion sickness taking the fight from them. Wherever they were in the car, they swooned feebly back to their seats, doors and windows. As hot as it was, Threadgill refused to come out of his teepee.
The speeding Cadillac traveled north.
Crickets and cicadas yelled with all their might outside. Let ’em yell, Threadgill thought. They could yell for all eternity and never fill up a thimble.
Threadgill drove the black Cadillac now. He’d never been at the wheel of an automobile before. He’d only ridden in a few – once a police car, once an ambulance, once a trip to a doctor for geriatrics who wanted to study him, simply amazed at his robust health.
Now Threadgill drove.
It was effortless for him at 120 mph.
The white stripes on the highway hypothetically danced under his humming wheels. Threadgill thought of swimming sea snakes in a gray ocean. Telephone poles flickered past. Every time Threadgill crosses a rickety bridge over some nameless slough, the racket of the roadside insects in the woods briefly ceased. A guest of silence.
The road was very lonely. Not much traffic in these parts. The grumbling 18-wheel Macks and Peterbilts traveled faster routes, leaving the godforsaken lonely back roads to black Cadillacs with old men at the wheel.
Ahead in the road, the glowing eye of some creature blinked red semaphore. Threadgill watched a cloudy shape on four legs gallump into the weeds.
Live to fight another day possum. Threadgill cast the thought, like a prayer into the dark where the animal disappeared, where overgrowth lay down on either side of the road to worship as the Cadillacs passed. The dashboard clock said 3 a.m. Who knew if that was right? who cared?
The Cadillac passed a mobile home. A husky red-haired boy chunked rocks at bull bats dive-bombing a streetlight. The boy threw a rock at the Cadillac too.
Threadlight lost the road. A wheel dropped off the pavement and dragged a thousand feet of goldenrod and dog fennel down a muddy shoulder. Threadgill wrestled the steering wheel, and slammed on the the brakes in a panic.
A large shape filled the windshield.
The Cadillac’s tires screamed and smoked.
Then everything stopped.