“Happy Joe’s Rest Stop” by John Palisano
Greg is getting his hot dog and root beer in Happy Joe’s, wondering where his dad is, when the first boom hits. He wonders if it’s an earthquake, or terrorism? The Man in White by the door seems to know what’s going on. Then the winged Isogul’s arrive, and Greg still can’t find his dad.
About the Author
John Palisano is a writer whose non-fiction has appeared in FANGORIA and DARK DISCOVERIES magazines. He won the Bram Stoker Award© in short fiction in 2016.
He’s got a pair of books with Samhain Publishing, DUST OF THE DEAD, and GHOST HEART. NERVES is available through Bad Moon. STARLIGHT DRIVE: FOUR HALLOWEEN TALES was just released in time for Halloween, and his first short fiction collection ALL THAT WITHERS is due out soon from Cycatrix press.
John Palisano’s short stories have appeared in anthologies from PS Publishing, Terror Tales, Lovecraft eZine, Horror Library, Bizarro Pulp, Written Backwards, Dark Continents, Darkscribe, DarkFuse, Dark House, and many more.
“After you.” The man in the white cowboy hat stepped aside and smiled with his
mouth closed. The smell of cooking hot dogs came thought the doorway. Greg was hungry, and one of those Big‘Uns sounded perfect.’ His Papa would be in right behind him, once he finished filling up. He hurried amongst the frenzy of activity. Some people filled their own sodas, others topped hot dogs. He lingered amongst the fashion magazines of half-naked girls, pretending he was looking at the monster truck ones. He heard the PA voice, a lady with a Southern accent, told him Mister Fisher’s stall was ready. Strange, as they were in Nevada. But Greg figured there were Happy Joe’s all over. He went to the hot dog station. He went to the drinks station, wondering where his dad was, not realising he’d been there minutes before. He’d always told him to get his drinks first, so if he finished before the food arrived, he could get a refill. He got in line behind a guy with a long grey beard and an eagle cartoon t-shirt. Then the lights went. The whole place seemed to turn off.
There was a soft voice saying “Welcome”, but because of the silence, everyone could hear it. The guy in the cowboy hat was standing by the door, his feet a good two feet off the ground. Plumes of black smoke covered the glass. Something exploded outside, everything shook. Then: silence, before everything returned to normal. The Man in White was gone. Greg looked around, wondering what happened, knowing he needed to find his dad. Another bang. Maybe a rig hitting the building, or an earthquake? Greg fell into a stack of audio books, the guy with the beard and Eagle t-shirt as lying on the ground. Maybe it was terrorists? He tried to get to the door, he wasn’t sure whether his dad had even made it inside. Another boom. None of the other adults looked his way, even though he was alone. He was only 12, though he looked older. He spotted the man in white, sporting a huge grin, by the door. Something must be wrong with the guy, smiling like that. Greg approached him, he asked where he was going. When he said he thought his dad was outside, the man in white told him he didn’t think anything was out there right now. The area outside was inky black, like it had disappeared. He told Greg he wasn’t worried, it was what he’d wanted all along. “Nothing and everything”. ‘Glowing orbs the size of baseballs hovered near the window. On each, wing-like things fanned from four of their sides, matching their phosphorescent bodies. Their tips looked sharp. One came toward the glass and dragged its razor tip downward, making a scraping sound.’ The man told Greg his dad was probably gone, ‘Left under a parade of the Isogul’. Told him it was all magic, referring to him as ‘my boy’.
One of the Isogul’s put its colourful wings against the glass, moved it in an S-shaped pattern, others following suit. The other people asked what they were and Greg told them they ought to find places to hide. Two flew inside, splitting one man’s head open by flying into it. Greg saw the inside workings of the man’s head. The second one flew for Greg, hovering above him. It lunged, before flying past. The Man in White had his arms outstretched, an Isogul hovering above each. He was controlling them, Greg knew he’d been the catalyst. He wanted his dad. The man turned to face Greg, smile fading, turning dark. Like his skin was see-through, but with dark instead of light. His heart sank with dread. The man opened his mouth, revealing an endless chasm. Pieces of the floor fell out, a woman in a baseball cap almost fell into one of the holes. A man tried to save her, two Isogul’s flew in and cut his arm clean in two. The woman fell straight into the hole, no scream, nothing, an Isogul chasing her in. The man kicked the man in after her, an Isogul following him too. A man in a Steelers shirt jumped behind the man, asking “What the hell is happening”? The Man in White turned, black tendrils rolling outwards, slithering over the parts not turned to black holes. The Steelers man hit the Man in White with a huge hammer. Dark light exploded. The hammer man had hundreds of little holes where the black light touched. Grey smoked from them, then his head caved in. The Happy Joe’s theme tune still played, as the Isogul’s flew through, finding people.
Eventually, there was just Greg, crawling on the floor. The Man in White Without a Face stood, the Isogul’s hovering around him, saying he’d saved him for last, his fear sweetening the meat. He spoke in Greg’s dad’s voice. Greg crawled to a broken mirror, picked off a piece, tried to aim it at the Man in White Without a Face. He caught the man’s reflection, shot right back at him. When Greg peeked at the dark vastness, he wanted to give in, everything felt so hopeless. ‘Then the Man in White Without a Face stepped back, clutching at the amorphous black that stood in for his head.’ His own projections had erased parts. He slammed the piece of mirror against one of the tendrils, the Man Without a Face screamed, disappeared down one of the black holes. Greg ran outside, saw the pumps, saw his dad. His dad held his arms out, hugged him, called him kiddo. Weird, that hadn’t happened in years. And his feet were hovering off the ground, his eyes were empty with that same endless chasm. He realised the Man had just gone down a hole to come out another. Greg tried to picture his dad on a swimming trip, and the thing tried to morph into his picture. Greg tried another idea to get it to let go of him, remembers his dad, leaning over him, letting go of him, sad, loosening his grasp…Greg runs, saw the big old red Peterbilt cab. Saw his dad, for real this time. Looking back, just vapour. Dad said he’d tried to get into Happy Joe’s, but couldn’t, didn’t know why, but he’d taken a call that they needed to be in Memphis.
Greg isn’t even sure now what he saw. Whether it was real. They agreed on no more pit stops.