They were parked on Main Street. Williams seemed nervous, unusual for such a seasoned officer.
“What’s up?” asked Thompson.
The older man glanced at him.
“I hate this night.”
“Yup. I do my best to avoid this shift. Every cop in town does.”
“I guess you want to be home with the kids.”
“No, it’s not that. Tell me, have you noticed how quiet the town is?”
“Yes, it’s weird. I expected it to be buzzing.”
“It’s been like this every year for twenty years.”
“I’ll tell you. You have a right to know.”
Williams took a sip of coffee.
“It happened on Christmas Eve, 1996. I’d been here for about six months. The bars in town were full and the streets were busy. I was on patrol with John Williams. We got the call. Crash on the main road heading into town. It was a mess. A car had t-boned a pick-up, forcing the truck into the ditch. The driver of the car was a young man; he was sitting on the verge when we arrived. The driver of the pick-up was trapped in his vehicle. We saw straight away that it was Peter Ellis. Every cop in town knew Ellis; he wasn’t a bad man, just a bit rough. Eccentric. Angry. He lived by himself in a shack up in the hills, came down into town once in a while for supplies. Drove a ratty old pick-up, rusty as hell. The muffler was shot and you could hear him coming a mile away. I could smell smoke. Before we could do anything, the pick-up erupted in flames. The heat was too intense, we couldn’t get close. Our extinguishers made no impact and the fire department was still five minutes out. By the time they arrived, the fire was raging. Ellis was dead. I can still see him, sitting in the driver’s seat as the flames consumed him.”
“We charged the kid with DUI. His name was James Peterson. Local guy, son of a teacher. He went to jail for six months. Lost his license.”
“Is that why you hate this shift? Because of that crash?”
Williams ignored the question.
“I was assigned the same shift the year after. I was sitting in this very spot. There was a knock on my window. It was Peterson, the kid that’d caused the crash. He was sober and wanted to apologize. We shook hands and he walked down main street. It was then I heard it. The noise was so unique. It was Ellis’s truck.”
“I know, but I heard it. Everyone else on Main Street did too. I stepped out the car and stood in the snow, waiting. Ellis’s truck turned the corner of Fifth and Main and headed slowly down the street. As it passed me I made eye contact with the driver. Is was Peter Ellis himself. He looked the same as the night he died; burnt up, with his skin mostly gone. For a second I thought I’d lost my mind.”
“No joke. Peterson glanced back and saw it. I think he knew what was about to happen, he started to run. Ellis must have spotted him because he gunned the engine and sped up. The truck mounted the sidewalk. James didn’t have a chance, he was hit and went under. Ellis’s truck turned the corner on Seventh Street and disappeared. No trace was ever found.”
“But Ellis was dead.”
“Yup. I told you, he was an angry man. Maybe he couldn’t rest, knowing the kid who’d killed him was free to live the rest of his life, so he came back to set things straight. But Peterson’s death wasn’t enough for him.”
“What do you mean?”
“Every year on this night, Ellis comes back, seeking vengeance. His truck drives up and down Main Street, looking for his next victim. The first year after Peterson was killed, Ellis killed four. Since then the town has been deserted every Christmas Eve. No-one dare leave their houses, no-one except us.”
“Great tale, you should be a writer. I need a cigarette.”
“I wouldn’t leave the car. Can’t you hear it?”
Thompson heard a faint noise in the distance.
“Just a car back-firing.”
Thompson shook his head.
Thompson opened the door, feeling the rush of cold air. He stepped out, reaching for his cigarettes. He was the newest addition to the town’s police force and expected a certain amount of leg-pulling, but he didn’t see why he should listen to such bullshit. The vehicle noise got louder, the engine farting and blowing. A vehicle turned the corner onto Main Street, heading towards him. Thompson couldn’t see what it was, the headlights were on full beam. It wasn’t until it drew next to him that he saw it was an ancient pick-up. He glanced at the driver and saw a vision of hell. The driver was hideously burnt, the skin and hair almost totally gone. It grinned insanely at him. Dropping his cigarettes, all reason gone, Thompson started to run, ignoring the shout of alarm from within the patrol car. The last sound he heard was an engine roaring behind him.
∼ R.J. Meldrum
© Copyright R.J. Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.