Western Dark

William Ables

The dead loved Dwight Eisenhower, they went crazy for him back in ‘56. Had the deceased been registered voters (or had Ike been a Kennedy), they would have cast hordes of ballots to keep the President in office for eternity.

Charles and Anubis were driving across the country. Charles was a middle-aged-looking man, slightly pudgy around the middle with a constant five o’clock shadow that refused to be shaved. Anubis was a rat terrier; Charles had rescued him after the dog had wandered out into the middle of I-40. Anubis was half starved and all mean when Charles managed to calm him with a bit of leftover Quarter Pounder. Anubis had hopped up into the passenger seat of Charles’ big-rig and never left. They lived on the open road and they always drove west.

The pickup was waiting for them in the middle of nowhere. It was a young girl. She was a short and skinny thing, dressed in a white christening dress that floated along the roadside. The tall spidery lights in the median winked in and out as she passed by them. Charles pulled to a stop just beside her; the right lane was empty, and there wasn’t anyone else on the road yet. He swung open the passenger door and frowned when it creaked ominously. He loathed theatricality.

Vote Ike was practically a motto for the deceased and it was all because of the Eisenhower’s National System of Interstate Highways. Before the new sparkling system of roads, the specters of America had been forced to wander, looking for familiar landmarks and wailing for someone to give them reliable directions.

“My name’s Charles,” he said.

“Where are we going?” she asked as she settled into the big passenger seat. She was already fluctuating in and out of touch, her eyes looked like faded Polaroids.

“West,” he said. “Always west.”

“What does that mean?” she asked.

He pointed out over the steering wheel, pressing a smudge into the glass of the windshield, “Towards the sun. Don’t you think it’s wonderful to catch it from over the edge out there?”

The girl was frowning, her face scrunched up in the look of a child who thinks she is being treated like one. “It’s night. The sun is gone.”

“Not everywhere,” he said. Anubis came bounding up off the floorboards and onto the girl’s lap. He spun in circles until she started scratching behind his ears; he was sleeping again before he curled up.

“What’s his name?” she asked.

Charles smiled like a father. “Anubis.”

She nodded and kept petting him; Anubis was murmuring happily. “Like the Egyptian guy?”

He nodded. “You’re smart for your age, aren’t ya? The old, old Egyptians used to believe it was Anubis who weighed a person’s soul after they died.”


Charles ran a hand along his jaw, an affectation when he was thinking, “Well, to see if they were worthy, I suppose. I’ve always said any dog can do that. Measure a person, I mean. Don’t need no magic god-dog to do that.”

Ghosts need to commute, unfinished business travel is the top vocation for a deceased person. The dead need to, have to, get where they are going.

“What are those?” she asked, looking down the road ahead.

Outside Charles’ windshield the highway was coming to bustling life. Lights, most of them alone, drifted along the side of the road. Occasionally there were pairs, sometimes there were groups. There might be dozens when something sad had happened, hundreds when something unspeakable. On rare nights there was nothing but the road. Those were the worst, he thought.

“Not everyone can see them,” he said.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

He sighed. “They chose to walk. Mostly it’s adults; old folks.”

“Old people get to do everything,” she said.

“Everyone gets to do everything.” He meant it to be comforting.

The first freeway cement was poured in Kansas and Missouri; from the heartland freshly liberated ghosts began to cruise all over the nation. Spectral Cadillacs and Studebakers cased the open roads where they left flesh and bone drivers in their dust, haunted by the experience. The familiar haunts belong to another era.

“How about we see what’s on the radio? I bet that will help.”

Charles spun the radio dial, cruising through rustling static. He twisted it all the way to the right and the two speakers came to life. Waves of rhythm came in low from just over the horizon; the beat sounded like it was skipping along the surface of a lake. Charles wondered what she heard. A lot of them said it was like a heartbeat in the middle of the night.

WILLIAM ABLES is a writer from Tennessee where he currently lives with his wife and their two dogs. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as 99 Pine Street, Pidgeonholes, and Slink Chunk Press.

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