Routine Reports, by Chad A. Clark
“I’m telling you, it was dead bodies.”
Larry looked up from the coffee, now halfway between the desktop and his mouth and decided to set it down.
“You’re going to have to run that one past me again, Gervais.”
“You mean like road kill? I guess you need permits to transport stuff like that, but I can tell you that stretch of road has been due for a cleanup since—”
“Not animals, you idiot. Human bodies. Flatbed trailer piled high with human bones.”
Larry dropped the pen onto the desk and took his glasses off. He looked around the mostly empty station, wondering why he had passed on the opportunity to go home early when it had been offered. No, he had to stick around for the shit-bird shift, because a few extra hours of crap pay would surely make it all worthwhile. He had taken some crazy complaints over the years, including one person who insisted that aliens had sucked his eyeballs out through his nose, to replace them with new ones that they had made out of melted jello. This was already shaping up to be one of the top five.
“Gervais, just…just go over it again for me, all right?”
Gervais rolled his eyes and shook his head, clearly never having been so put out as this. “I was driving south, down the I-ten. I’m workin’ that graveyard again, so I’m used to pretty much having the road to myself.”
“Okay, with you so far.”
“I had just passed that big, old oak tree, the one out Cider Lane? Anyway, I’m driving along when all of a sudden, this big ass truck is right next to me, weaving in and out of my lane. I almost pulled off onto the shoulder just to get away from the idiot.”
“Big son of a bitch. The truck I mean. I couldn’t believe it could even go that fast.”
“Yeah, I bet.” Larry paused in the middle of the tiny sketch on his notepad long enough to write, “Big son of a bitch,” saying it out loud to satisfy Gervais.
“It was just a flatbed, no covered trailer and when it passed, I figured he was just hauling firewood or something. But I looked again, and I shit you not, that thing was covered in human bones.”
“Just shut up one damn minute. I’ve been hunting these woods my whole life. I know the God damned difference between animal and human bones.”
“Gervais, what are you expecting me to do here, really? I know for a fact that you were at Rusty’s Tap tonight.”
He put out a shaky finger as he spoke, “Hold those horses there, that got nothing to do with—”
“Now you’re telling me you were driving home, probably shit-faced, and that you saw a flatbed truck covered in human bones.”
“It’s what happened.”
Larry let out a sigh. “Gervais, I’m sure you actually believe that. But what do you think is going to happen if I were to put all of that in an official report? I end up eating government cheese and you end up sucking your meals through a straw.”
“I saw what I saw.”
“Can you at least tell me anything about the truck? Make and model? Any markings? Did you get a clear look at the driver? Any logos on the mud-flaps? Flag in the window? Did you catch the plate number?”
Larry put his hand out again to stop him. “No, to which question?”
“Any of ‘em, I guess. I didn’t see anything else, otherwise I’d tell you about it.”
Larry closed the notepad and clicked the pen shut. He straightened his tie as he pushed back from the desk.
“Gervais, I’m going to do you a favor. I’m not taking this report. No one would believe whatever it is you have to say and to be honest, I don’t want my name attached to it. Go home, sleep it off. Trust me, you’ll thank me in the morning, if you even remember any of this.”
“If I’m even here in the morning,” he muttered.
Gervais shook his head, gaze still dropped to the floor. “Don’t matter none.”
“Come on, it’s one thing to come in here, spouting off about seeing dead bodies on a truck, but now you’re saying someone is actually after you?”
“You don’t see something like that—”
“Gervais, you didn’t—”
“You don’t SEE something like that without getting yourself into some bad trouble in the long run, see? They won’t let me stick around, not after what I saw.”
“Who are you talking about?”
Gervais leaned in so close that Larry reflexively winced at the chariot of scotch fumes driven out of his mouth, with the stench of tobacco at the reins.
“Don’t matter who ‘they’ is, you dummy. It’s all the same in the end. As it stands, I’ll do what I can, head for home and grab whatever I need. Then I’m smackin’ pavement.”
“Gervais, don’t do anything stupid.”
“Stupid would be staying here. So, unless you’re planning on arresting me…” Larry shook his head and nodded towards the door. He frowned at the sight of Gervais struggling to stand up.
“Are you hurt?”
“Naw. God damned, son of a bitching prosthetic in my knee. Titanium, my ass. Might as well be made out of paper clips.”
Larry watched him stumble out of the station, fairly sure that it was the booze making him wobble, more than the prosthetic.
The rest of the night was boring, by comparison. More drunks, a few domestics, a dog attack. No trucks. No bodies. Not that he was expecting any.
It was late before he got onto the road, choosing to take the I-ten south to avoid the stoplights. For a change, there was no traffic for him to contend with as he made his way up to cruising speed. His autopilot had kicked in so strongly that he almost didn’t see the truck. He heard it before he saw it, the heavy sound of springs protesting, the flatbed jerking forward and clanking against the cab. He glanced to his left as the truck passed, rust glaring in the moonlight. Somehow, the truck was managing to accelerate past him and in a moment, he felt his jaw start to go slack and he immediately wished that he had taken the report more seriously.
The flatbed was covered in human remains.
Bones and skulls with bits of flesh and blood, clinging to what was left of the their former bodies. He had written off the whole thing as a joke, a drunken delusion and now he found himself having to focus well enough to keep his car on the road. Then, as the back end of the truck passed he saw, perched on the very top of a pile, wobbling as if it was about to fall off, what looked like a leg bone. It lay there, mocking him, polished to a near sheen. The lights from his high beams reflected back at him, off of the titanium prosthetic where the knee had once been.
To see more short fiction like this, take a look at Chad’s collections, A Shade For Every Season and Two Bells At Dawn.