Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

Dear Owner of This 1972 Ford Crew Cab Pickup

It’s me again. Remember me?

In the beginning I left a note stuck to your windshield. You are parked outside my bedroom window, it said. Please stop revving your truck at 3 a.m., or find somewhere else to park. I am trying to sleep. You made no response; I left another note. I am so exhausted, it said. Please. My mother is in the hospital. I have insomnia and once you wake me up I cannot fall back asleep for hours. The racket is awful. Sometimes I am so tired I can hardly think.

But the racket went on.

Have you ever been too tired to fall asleep? Weary to the core, but you can’t drift off, no matter how you try. Instead I lay awake at night, rigid and tense. I was imagining the inevitable roar of your detestable truck. The rev of the engine rattling my windows, the rumble and cough as you repeatedly flooded the engine with gas. Sometimes it took a few tries. Eventually it would catch, splutter to life, bellow away into the night, leaving me heart pounding and enraged. When I slept I dreamt of bitter arguments and runaway trains, and the ding-ding-ding at the railroad crossing as the black and white striped bar came slashing down.

When I wrote the third note, I wanted to be sure it was received. I couldn’t sleep anyway, so I stayed awake, staring out the flimsy, single-paned window, staring into the night, uninterrupted as yet by your truck’s filthy rattle and belch. My elbows were propped on the disintegrating wood of the sash as I gazed between the curtains. Your truck was parked on the side of the street, just across my narrow strip of yard. Your truck: a cloudy swirling black, as if it had been sprayed haphazardly with leftover house paint. My street has no streetlights. In the darkness of the cul-de-sac, the truck could hardly be seen.

I waited and watched ‘til you came. That was the first time I saw you: a dumpy slob with a beer gut, your hair long and untended, your beard untrimmed. You were too young for all of this, too young to have given up, but you had, anyway. You fancied yourself tough. You had even affected a trucker’s cap; I imagined the truck was some kind of affectation, too. You came from the bar on the corner, striding heavily, one part tired, one part drunk, two parts longing for home. (Tired, in a way, maybe: you have no idea what the word really means.) I saw you grab the note, scan it with barely a moment’s grace, crumple it up, and toss it onto the floor of the cab as you climbed inside.

This particular note had said something like: I am begging you. I own this house. I can’t move. My mother is still in the hospital. I just need one good night’s sleep. Have you ever felt so tired you couldn’t go on? It’s a long, long street.

I lay awake until dawn, thinking of the way you’d crushed my plea and tossed it at your feet. At seven a.m. I got up and drove to the hospital to visit my mother before work. That afternoon I fell asleep in class, during a lecture. It doesn’t sound so bad, until I tell you it was a lecture I myself was delivering. I lost myself in the space between two sentences. I woke to a baffled classroom calling my name.

A few students gathered around me after class, solicitous and concerned. “Are you okay? Lately you haven’t seemed yourself.”

“I’m fine,” I said. “It’s just . . . my mother’s been in the hospital for six weeks. And I haven’t been able to sleep. There’s this truck that keeps parking outside my window . . .” I began to cry.

That Friday I was called into the department chair’s office. They were letting me take off the rest of the semester. A colleague would take over my class load. Do you know what this means for an adjunct, someone like me? It means I’m done. They don’t have to say it. If you live on the edge—constantly treading water, one bad day away from drowning—then you already know.

I came into the bar that Friday. You should remember me now; you should remember me like this: a middle-aged woman, dark hair trimmed short like a boy’s, deep grooves around her mouth, dark circles under her eyes, no longer beautiful. Dressed in boots and jeans and an oversized flannel shirt. I saw you behind the bar; it was your shift, of course, I knew because your truck was parked where it always was, the cul-de-sac at the end of the block, the cul-de-sac that was once serene. I sat at the bar and ordered a beer.

“I was fired today,” I told you, but you didn’t care, just mumbled “Sorry to hear that,” and turned away to watch the game on the little flat screen mounted high in the corner, tucking your filthy shirt into your sagging waistband. It was a biker’s bar on Tuesdays, a sports bar on Sundays, a cheap filthy college bar on Thursdays through Saturdays. I’d lived in my house for three years, and this was the first time I’d been inside.

So I watched you, even though you had no interest in me; I saw you sneak that shot of whiskey, I saw you pour yourself that beer. I nursed my own, thinking about my mother and what I would do now about bills, what I would do for work. “You should really find somewhere else to park,” I told you. “Or to work.” But you didn’t look away from the television and I don’t think you heard. Why didn’t I beg you to recognize me then, to look me in the eye and see my need, to agree to that one simple thing? I guess I still wanted to give you the chance to do the right thing. I took my leave. I didn’t tip.

I bought earplugs and I bought a fan and I covered my head with pillows until I nearly smothered myself in my fitful sleep. It didn’t work. I could still feel the reverberation through the walls. I moved my bed into the living room, but I could still hear you there.

My house was a dumpy bungalow with flimsy walls and a cracked foundation, a few harsh winters from falling down, in the student rental slum of a depressed Midwestern college town. I’d come here for my mother. I’d come here to teach. This was my life. I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t sleep.

Do you remember me yet? Do you remember me now?

No. You never actually noticed me, not once. It would have been so easy, to find a spot a bit further from the bar, to park on another street. It would have been so simple, but you couldn’t be bothered. You were careless. Selfish. Rude. You’re just like everybody else.

I began following you, of course. What else was I supposed to do?

I waited in my car, sitting in the dark with the engine turned off, silently shivering, until I saw you stagger from the bar. It was closer to three that night. You really shouldn’t have been driving; you’d had a few yourself. I followed you, anyway, out of the city limits, through the winding rocky hills, over the dark still lake. I watched as you pulled into a driveway choked with weeds, crunched across the gravel, stood among the shambles of the porch, fumbled with your keys.

I stopped leaving notes. You forgot I existed. But that doesn’t mean I went away.

Remember the Christmas packages stolen off your doorstep? Your aunt’s homemade sausages, your grandma’s fruitcake? You blamed your neighbors. But it was me.

The broken windows? Me. The garbage cans emptied across the front yard? Not a raccoon, but me. The missing rent check, taken from the mailbox before the postman arrived? Me. The customer who ordered six rounds of your finest scotch, then skipped out on the bill? Also me, hoping for something to send me into sweet oblivion, finally a deep and dreamless sleep. That night, at least, I didn’t wake.

I learned incontrovertibly of your brutishness when I found your dog tied in your backyard beside a mildew-covered pillow and an empty silver bowl; she’d paced the length of the chain so long she’d worn a bare spot into the ground. I untied her and took her home. I let her sleep with me.

Whenever she heard the crude roar of your engine, she lifted her head and growled a warning.

• • • •

There was one incident I wanted to tell you about specifically. That’s why I’m writing now, after all this time. But don’t worry; this note will be the last.

It happened three days before my mother died. I’d spent seven hours in the hospital that day. I’d spent a countless number of sleepless nights, thanks to my despair, thanks to you. It was evening. I was heading home.

How long was I asleep there, behind the wheel? It was a microsecond, no more. I was asleep with eyes open, stranded in the wasteland between waking and dreams. I was conscious and unconscious, simultaneously.

I saw, but didn’t see, the red light.

I coasted on through.

You can’t imagine the pain; you’ve never felt such a thing. That first spurt of blood. The splintering of bone. I woke to the crash and thud of two cars crumpling like tin cans. The other driver was okay, just scratched and bruised, scared to death, new car destroyed. He was okay, just angry—can you blame him, I suppose? I would have said something like, “I’m so sorry, my mother is in the hospital and I haven’t slept in weeks, I didn’t mean to do it,” but I knew he wouldn’t care. I know by now that no one gives a single goddamn about anything that’s happening to anyone else. Besides, I couldn’t talk for the pain; my left leg was almost completely crushed. I couldn’t talk. I could only scream. It’s a blur, anyway, just the thud and the crash and the crying and pain. I was in surgery for two days. On the third day they wheeled me to the floor where my mother was dying and through the haze of painkillers—hers, mine, ours—we said a sort of goodbye. It wasn’t enough. Nothing ever is.

I gave your dog away to one of my former students. I knew she would give her the home she deserved.

If there’s one thing I know about you, it’s this: that you can’t imagine what it feels like to feel like this.

• • • •

It’s been two months now since the accident, and I walk with a limp. Each step is painful, which is a step up from when each step was agony. Each step reminds me of the worst moments of my life.

Our medical bills are hopeless, by the way.

When I was in the hospital I made friends with a nurse. She felt sorry for me, everything I’d been through. She knew the accident wasn’t really my fault.

I asked her one day what kind of drug might make a person feel like they were dreaming even when they were awake. “Like night terrors,” I told her. “Aware, but unable to do anything but watch.”

“Sux,” she said, that twang in her voice. “Suxamethonium chloride’s its real name. We use it in the emergency room, with anesthesia. Makes the patient relax for a minute, so we can get in there, do what we need to do. Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Used to get like that sometimes, when I was a kid. Nightmares. You know.”

Anyway, that was a while ago. I moved into my mother’s house in the country and began the process of sorting through her things. I put my dumpy bungalow up for sale; I wouldn’t need a place by the college anymore. I went to physical therapy. And I got online and searched and searched until I found someone who would send me a single syringe of suxamethonium chloride, no questions asked.

I haven’t seen you for a while, but I know you’ll still be working at the bar—you have no ambitions, I believe—and I have a feeling you’ll still be parking on the street outside my dark and empty house.

I know you never lock the doors. You know if anyone tries to steal your shitty old 1972 Ford Crew Cab Pickup, you’ll hear the screeching, spluttering, choking whine of the motor from all the way up the block.

I know I can curl up on the floor of the cab behind your seat, dressed from head to toe in dark clothes, with a black stocking cap pulled low over my face (holes cut for eyes), and you’ll never see me, you’ll never notice me in the dark and your work-weary haze.

It hurts my leg now, to huddle in the fetal position like this, but I try not to whimper too much.

I know the way you take back home; I’ve driven it myself. I know the steep and winding curve the highway makes, just before the lake.

I will rise up in the darkness, the syringe dripping in my hand, and stab you swiftly in the neck, letting all the fluid rush into your veins. In thirty seconds you’ll be numb, paralyzed. Thirty seconds, no more.

You will watch wide-eyed as I lean over your shoulder, grab the steering wheel, and send us flying off the highway, through the guardrail, into the frigid waters of the lake. Into oblivion, sleep. At long last, sleep.

You will know what it feels like to watch your whole life spin out of control right in front of you, to see it all slipping away and be unable to move. You will know what it feels like to be too tired to find your footing, too weak to get a grip.

You will finally know what it feels like to feel like this.

I’ve taped this letter to your windshield, like I did with all the rest. I know you’ll crumple it up, toss it by your feet, never give it a second glimpse.

I know you haven’t read this.

I suppose you never will.

Desirina Boskovich

Desirina Boskovich

Desirina Boskovic

Desirina Boskovich’s short fiction has been published in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Kaleidotrope, Triptych Tales, PodCastle, Drabblecast, and anthologies such as The Way of the Wizard, Aliens: Recent Encounters, and The Apocalypse Triptych. Her nonfiction pieces on music, literature, and culture have appeared in Lightspeed, Weird Fiction Review, the Huffington PostWonderbook, and The Steampunk Bible. She is also the editor of It Came From the North: An Anthology of Finnish Speculative Fiction (Cheeky Frawg, 2013), and together with Jeff VanderMeer, co-author of The Steampunk User’s Manual (Abrams Image, 2014). Find her online at www.desirinaboskovich.com.