This story was published by From the Asylum many, many moons ago – in fact, the webzine no longer exists. I got paid $25, which I immediately spent on whiskey and regret.
Watch the World Die
HE sat on the hood of his car with an unlit cigarette in his mouth, a waxy, unkempt youth in Jeans and flannel, grinning. It was cold and crisp but not windy, a photograph to walk around in. Closer to the wreckage, it was warmer.
The highway had become still as well, a stretch of frozen motion. Behind him cars lined up in quiet rows, in front they were smoldering in quiet, jangled piles. Amongst them, people picked their way carefully, small and tender, some with dazed and jellied expressions, some with cool, detached demeanors. He watched them calmly, the familiar fines of the old Malibu slowly rusting beneath him.
Someone approached from behind and paused to stand next to him, but he didn’t turn to look at the newcomer, a bland young man in loose, easy clothes. His eyes, however, turned slightly, and then flicked back again.
“Did you see it happen?” the young man asked.
“Yep,” he replied.
There was a quick, elastic silence.
“Got a light?”
He smiled around his unlit cigarette and shook his head. After a moment, the bland young man shuffled away.
Abruptly, the end of his cigarette flared and caught fire, a jolly red coal glittering in the night. He took a deep drag and let a great gust of white smoke out into the air. He watched a tall State Trooper approach, his face nothing but vacant disinterest.
The trooper was tall and lean, dark and grim. Be held an open pad in one hand and a pen in the other.
“I’ll need to take a statement.”
The man sitting on the car nodded. “The red car, the Mazda, exploded,” he said with blank enunciation. “Just burst into flames. I’ve seen it before.”
“You have?” the cop asked.
“Many times.” A smile filled his face.
The cop nodded and pretended to write this down on his pad. “Could I have your name, sir?”
“The Mazda,” the man continued, “was driving like an asshole, weaving around, high-beaming everyone. It was really irritating. The asshole refused to see that there was nowhere to go, no one had anywhere to go.”
The cop pursed his lips. “Your name, sir?”
The man turned his bloodshot eyes up to the cop. “Sorry. Daniel. Daniel Eggert.”
Writing this down dutifully, the trooper didn’t glance up. “Did you see what caused the accident, Mr. Eggert?”
Eggert smiled around his cigarette. “I just told you: it burst into flames. The Mazda. The red one.”
This time the cop did look up. “Just like that?”
Eggert nodded cheerfully. “Just like that.” He shrugged. “That’s the way it always happens; once the gas tank catches, it’s too late.”
“I’ll bet.” The trooper had a bad feeling about this guy, but couldn’t put a finger on it. His eyes slid down. “This your car?”
Eggert glanced over the cop’s shoulder. “1973 and it runs like new,” he agreed.
The trooper glanced at his pad as he wrote the tag down. “Thanks for your help, Mr. Eggert.”
Eggert nodded, once. “Not a bit of it,” he said.
Driving home, Daniel Eggert studied himself in the rear-view with an unflinching gaze. The road was empty and dark and he drove by instinct, thumbs nudging the wheel carefully. His pale face shone in the glass, bright and smooth and framed by dark hair that blended into the dark, leaving him a moon in a constantly shifting night.
After a moment, he reached over and shut off the headlights. Dark snapped in, but his face still shone.