On the Lone Highway by Talen Turner

The truck had stopped. I could see the fresh skid marks where the dual tires had locked up. Given the length of the marks, he had been speeding. Overall, because the rig had maintained a fairly straight line, the driver had some skill.

I dismounted my bike and walked along the side of the rig. It was a flatbed with a standard forty-foot container attached. It was nothing remarkable. I could see the remaining fog in the trees of the woodland on either side of the road. It was almost certainly much foggier when the trucker had the accident.

The driver was standing up by the left front tire. He was chewing on a half-burned cigar, looking very nervous. He’d likely stood there since the call about thirty minutes ago without seeing a soul. This time of morning, no one used this road. I was curious why the driver chose it this morning.

“Morning,” I said, as I reached the door of the rig. “I’m Officer Cooper.”

“Morning, officer,” the trucker answered in a deep western drawl. “Harvey James.”

“Have a bit of an accident, Mister James?” I asked, seeing that he continued to be nervous. “Please relax. I’m not here to judge. I collect the evidence.”

Harvey frowned, drawing the back of his hand over a chin full of stubble and resetting the half-smoked cigar in the other corner of his mouth. “Officer, I swear I hit a man. He ran out and there was no stopping. I hit the brakes as quickly as I could. Just as I hit, it looked like something else.”

“What else, Mister James?”

“It looked more like a dog.” Harvey pulled out a lighter. “That man had a head like a dog. It resembled my kids' rottweiler.”

“You’re not making any sense.” I relaxed, realizing what the man was telling me. “Did you hit a man or a dog?”

“Both, neither.” Harvey lit his cigar. “Shit, I don’t know.”

“Let’s go look,” I said.

“That’s the problem.” He said, “There ain’t nothing back there.”

“How fast were you going?”

“I knew it was coming to that,” Harvey growled.

“Take it easy,” I replied. Holding up my hands to reinforce the point, I continued, “It will allow me to figure out where you hit the animal.” I purposely used the word animal to keep him relaxed. So far, I had no reason to believe that he hit a person–only his assertion.

“Maybe fifty.” Harvey shifted the cigar.

I did the math in my head, “A two second reaction time would put you up to 150 feet back from your skids. Let’s look.” I took a couple of steps, then paused. “Walk with me Mister James.”

After reaching the beginning of his skids. I started counting off paces. Once I reached fifty, I stopped and turned around. Harvey followed and turned himself after I stopped.

"This configuration should still be recognizable to you, even though your seat was in a higher position in the rig."

“Yeah,” Harvey answered.

I stood there, taking in the scene. It was impossible for Harvey to see someone on the road's edge because of the trees extending to it. The road was empty. The evidence of the truck striking something was obviously not on the road.

“Do you have a guess where you struck the animal?” I asked.

“About halfway between here and the trailer,” Harvey answered.

As I looked at the position, I saw it. It stood right at the edge of the road, looking at them from a vantage partially behind the trunk of the tree. I glanced at Harvey, who obviously saw it, too.

The height of the thing was equal to that of a man. It had two legs like a man, but it was not a man. It had the head of an animal–a dog. The way it bared its teeth as it looked at us, it was not happy. I could have been mistaken, but it was snarling at us.

“You see that?” Harvey spoke, though I did not take my eyes from the creature.

“Yeah,” I said. I thought about reaching for my pistol, but I just stood transfixed.

“That don’t make any kind of sense,” Harvey said. “Dogs ain’t got arms and legs like that.”

The creature took flight, vanishing into the trees in an instant. I saw it run on two legs, but it moved with the power and speed of being on all four. Even in open terrain, I doubted I could keep up with my bike.

“Officer,” said Harvey. “I doubt both of us are drunk, but I doubt we’re going to be believed when we talk about this.”

“Harvey, I’m going to write this up as you hit a dog. I’ll call animal control to remove the corpse, then it will be their problem when they can't find it.”

“No ticket?”

“No ticket,” I said.

“I wish that made me feel better.”


“Golf and Outgassing” Excerpt

Annie MacInturner glanced at the space-suited figure moving toward her across the lunar surface. It was her rookie crewmate Milt Johnson. She noted the ease with which he moved. He had difficulty moving during training on Earth, since his suit hindered him. She had figured he would get his moon legs, and it pleased her to see it come true.

“Looks good,” she said as he reached her position near the crawler. “We get these garbage cans set out, we’ll call it a day.” She referred to the fifty-gallon-drum-sized experiments they needed to unload from the six-wheeled crawler. The setup of the experimental packages was the goal of the first EVA. Throughout training before the mission, they had done the work in three or four hours. They had started hour five a few minutes ago.

“You’re the boss,” answered Milt in his relaxed style. She had known him for two years, since he joined the space agency. He had a reputation for resourcefulness. He always had the most information about anything, including rumors. He also had a know-it-all personality that grated against many in the astronaut office. Even though Milt seemed to have the answers, many times he was right. Annie was glad she gave him a chance to join her on his rookie flight.

“Okay, let’s get after it.” She grabbed one of the garbage cans. It contained a soil mineralogy experiment. She grinned, taking the can and knocking herself off balance. “What the–?”

“Problem boss?” Milt asked in a tone suggesting a joke.

“Damn thing is off balance.” Annie realized that even though the weights of the experiments were much less, moving their mass was difficult. It had been affecting her most of the day, but this last one turned out to be worse than the others.

“Want me to take it?”

“No,” she answered after a moment. “I’ve got it.”

She struggled a moment, finding the package top-heavy. She didn’t recall the same being true on the simulator. The simulation team had forgotten something when they made the training item. On the moon, it only weighed thirty pounds, though having some mass off-center meant it carried significant inertia. Plus, it outweighed her, making it difficult to move. The fact she had her Earth strength to wrestle with it made the movement possible.

The complete story Golf and Outgassing by Torn MacAlester is available here at Torn's website tornmacalester.com.