The cold night wind tossed Abigail’s hair, ruffling her sleeve as she hung her thumb out in the approaching headlights. An observer might have heard her repeating a two word mantra under her breath. It was a different mantra than she’d used on the last car, but her focus had been different then. Then she had muttered ‘no cops, no cops,’ until the approaching headlights had become dwindling taillights, leaving her eyes blinking against their swirling dust.
Two hours trudging in the breakdown lane with nothing for company but darkness and the biting cold had given her a completely different attitude.
“...please stop, please stop, please stop...”
Even if they’re cops, she thought, at least they’ll give me a ride somewhere.
The lights came closer, the engine’s hum reaching her over the constant rustle of leaves and branches.
“...please stop, please-stop, pleasestop-pleasestoppleasestoppleasestop...”
The headlights drew abreast of her, illuminating the surrounding night... and drove past.
She dropped her arm to her side, burying the now freezing thumb deep in her pocket, searching for warmth.
The road in front of her suddenly flared with red light, as did the trees across the road, her own shadow a dark stain on the now crimson macadam. She spun about.
The big car sat not twenty feet away, engine rumbling, brake lights brilliant in the moonlight. As she watched, the passenger’s side door swung open in invitation. With a celebratory whoop, Abby dashed to the car before the driver could change his mind. She slid onto the seat and and had barely reached to close the door when, with a roar, the car shot off down the road.
As alarming as that was Abby still took a moment to revel in the hot air blasting out of the heating vents. Her hands were already thrust toward the dash, fingers extended to take full advantage of the airflow, before she smelled it.
Rancid. Foul. Hanging in the air so thick she could actually taste it. Musty old body odor. Cigarette smoke, both fresh and stale. Someone had apparently been unable to wait for the water to boil and had simply set the coffee beans on fire. And riding beneath it the dank, moist funk of mold and rot, as if the inside of the car had spoiled like a Halloween pumpkin at Thanksgiving.
She fought not to gag as the cruelly used air invaded her mouth and nose, the powerful heat thawing numbed taste buds and nasal passages to allow the full force of the miasma to wash through her like a sickening tide.
“Oh my God,” she whispered, immediately regretting it — speaking created the need to take another breath, and she wasn’t certain she was ready.
The voice was deep, male, and lightly, indefinably accented. Abby instinctively turned toward it, only to catch a faceful of the world’s worst halitosis. Eyes watering, she saw a tall, cadaverous man gripping the steering wheel with hands that looked to be made of sticks with knuckles. His black suit and white shirt struck her as strangely spotless considering the amount of smell in the car. She took a shallow breath, sipping the grotesque atmosphere rather than gulping, and managed another whisper.
“May I open a window?”
“Beg pardon?” He leaned his gaunt face closer, turning one long ear toward her to hear. “Are you alright?”
Though the voice was concerned his face remained an expressionless mask, and though he’d just expelled a cloud of tooth-rotting breath in her direction, Abby noticed another smell getting stronger as he leaned in: the funk of rot.
Maybe that suit is nice and clean, she thought, but there’s something seriously wrong with the body inside it...
“The window,” she said, risking another lungful of filth for the chance of some cleaner air. “May I put it down?”
“I’m afraid that window does not work,” he said, though in truth he didn’t seem particularly sorry about it.
“I just —” she began.
“How old are you, child?” he said. “Fourteen?”
“I’m older than I look,” she said. “Please, do you think you could put your—”
“So you’re fifteen? Sixteen at most. You really shouldn’t be hitchhiking, you know. You never know who might be picking you up.”
“Sir,” Abby said, uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was taking,” thank you for the ride and all, really, but I’m pretty hungry, so do you think we could —”
“Oh, I understand hunger, child,” the gaunt man interrupted once more, reaching out a long, knobbly hand to pat her denim-clad thigh in a fashion she found all too friendly. The hand carried yet another smell, something that had been there all along, just another ingredient in the horrible odor permeating the car’s interior, but now she could make it out as it wafted up from his pallid, spongy flesh. A metallic, coppery smell, with a tang all its own.
The tires crunched on gravel as he pulled the big car onto the shoulder. Looking about, Abby saw nothing but the trees and the dark, empty road.
“Why are we —”
“I think this is the perfect place to discuss the nature of hunger, child,” he said, twisting toward her in his seat, and for the first time his face held expression: glee.
“I hunger for you!”
He lunged across the car, preternaturally fast, his hands coming for her — only to be caught in her own. His hands twisted. A thumb pressed against the back of his left one, flexing the wrist painfully; a knife dropped to the floor. Abigail looked into his suddenly terrified eyes. She sniffed.
“I should really wash you first, but like you said, this is the perfect place.”
She cocked her head.
“You know, if I looked eighty-six I could get my own driver’s license. Then this would be easier. Those things are practically a license to kill, right?”
Tears flowed down his cheeks as her fangs sank into his throat.