• 16 Sep - 22 Sep, 2023
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” makes a horrible soundtrack for a late-night commute across mid-winter mountain roads. Sliding around frozen, twisting turns, my nerves are already taut, out-of-tune, ready to snap, when the opening notes of bass, drums and piano begin their ominous introduction. The first blast from Miles’ frantic trumpet catches me off guard. I jump in my seat as the brass instrument fills my cab with its echoing lament. It’s both the tortured cry of the abused and the manic laugh of the abuser.

Tension fills the cab of my truck with a palpable viscosity.

My headlights prove little use around the sharp corners of the rising road, and my eyes strain to see what lies ahead in the peripheral light. Trees slumbering under a heavy blanket of snow create a tight corridor on the highway. Angry at my disturbance, they stretch long, shadowed claws before me, trying to snare and pull me off the road to join the night. The trumpet goes silent; in comes the bass clarinet, giving voice to the the ghostly trees and their ponderous awakening.

Snapping fingers call to me, pull me momentarily from the horror story my mind is constructing around those jagged, reaching, and silhouettes.

“Calm down, dude,” I chide myself, “Since when are you afraid of the dark?”

I focus on what’s directly ahead. Trees, shadows, and the monsters I can feel lurking behind them be damned. To get distracted on a night like this, only knowing where the road is by watching where it falls off, is a negligence beyond measure. Out here I’m alone with no phone, no internet, and no way out in an emergency. Reminding myself of the isolation turns out to be a bad move, sending my mind on a rabbit trail of ways I could die. An elk jumping into the road, sliding into a tree or off of a ridge, getting stuck in a ditch and freezing before anyone finds me hours hence. The list goes on.


I blame it on fatigue and the un-earthly music I chose to accompany my drive home. It’s too late to change now, I’m definitely not pulling over to let the terrors hiding in the brush rush out to play. My rational mind knows they don’t exist, but like a kid sitting around his first campfire listening to ghost stories from an older brother, I’ve let the phantasms gain a foothold and I can’t shake them.

I reach over and turn off the radio. The cacophonous riot of sound dies. The trumpet howls cease their assault and the piano’s discordant meanderings fade into obscurity.

For a few minutes I’m able to collect myself and banish the chill that had been building a spider-web of fear as it crept up my spine. And then a harsh wind begins in earnest. Its banshee wail fills the night with the mournful dirge of a thousand lost souls riding an endless tide to nowhere and everywhere in between.

My hand again pushes the radio’s power button before my brain catches up to instinct and tells it to. In comes the steady double-bass with its simple refrain that builds ever towards a climax but fails to deliver. Confusion, chaos, anarchy attack my senses, but better the imagined voices of demons than the too real song of the dead.

I’ve always enjoyed this record, delighted in its absurdity, but tonight I’m hearing for the first time its cold, calculating terribleness. The mocking, maleficent, almost human tone of the trumpet. Somehow it’s always escaped me, always been…


I choke the steering wheel with a ferocity that makes my hands ache, assuring myself that the clammy leather cover is real, that the voice I heard moments ago, the whispered word that floated forward, is only a hallucination. But I don’t dare look in the rear view mirror. The octopus-ink darkness lurking behind my seat oozes long tendrils of fear that curl around my shoulders. I feel those hovering scant millimeters from my neck, a sinister version of a lover’s almost-touching-you-caress.

I can’t stop my head from slowly turning, I have to banish this illusion before it gets further out of hand.

My pulse quickens. My legs stiffen with anticipation, causing an unconscious acceleration. I round an acutely sharp corner dangerously fast. I barely have time to register the massive bull elk standing in my lane. He stares at me with disdain, a king in his own domain, head held high and straight, a crown atop the rich mahogany cloak that drapes his frame. His antlers stretch the width of my truck and half again. I slam my brakes and begin to fishtail towards him. I’m in a full spin as I approach and by pure luck manage to avoid a collision. I finally slide to a halt about twenty-yards away, my rear wheels in the ditch.

“Jesus Christ,” I yell. My hands are shaking, my heart audible even after I manage to choke its fleshy mass back down my throat. Before I know it, I’m out of the truck screaming in frustration at the bored animal, who has turned to watch me with what I imagine is contempt, not for the close-call but because I’m in what he assuredly believes to be his territory, his road. He’s not shaken at all, and snorts derisively at me before sauntering off the road.

I turn to see how bad I’m stuck, and am surprised to find that getting out shouldn’t be too difficult. A sigh of relief escapes me. I’ll just put it in four-wheel drive and baby the accelerator. I get my breathing under control before sitting back in the driver’s seat. In a few minutes I’ve resumed my drive, so close to home I can feel relief wash over me like a hot shower at the end of a cold, rainy day. Adrenaline cascades through my veins bringing with it an ecstatic shudder.

I laugh at myself for letting my imagination get carried away and almost causing a serious wreck. The trumpet joins my amusement, not seeming as sinister as before. God I love jazz, always changing, taking on new form and meaning. The good stuff manages to stay one step ahead of you, manages to surprise you in spite of familiarity. Miles Davis, man he had talent. The trumpet work is incredible, possessing a surreal vocal clarity. I don’t remember hearing this section, but it’s a twenty-seven minute track and the very real possibility that I’ve previously zoned out for portions of it exists. I reach out for the FM transmitter plugged into my dash to make a mental note of the track’s current time. The transmitter’s cradle is empty, the IPod apparently thrown in the spin. Definitely not the first time it’s fallen out, probably won’t be the last.

“Wait, if there’s no IPod, why is the track still…”

What moments before was a trumpet blaring from every speaker, transforms into the tortured cackle of a nightmare horror sitting directly behind me.

The marble-cold knuckles of a fist brush my Adams apple pushing a weak whimper past my lips. The iron tip of a dead fingernail begins a left-to-right crawl across my neck.

I have no breath to scream.