Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Eleven
She felt locked in place, her muscles twitching. Jennifer felt her brain short-circuit, conflicting over the desire to run and the shock keeping her in place. As her eyes widened even farther, she caught sight of something else in the back seat. She snapped her head to the side to find another body.
It sat upright, its entire lower half removed. Instead, the corpse was a torso, sewn onto the leather of the seat. Unlike the driver, who appeared alive enough to fool her, the skin across its face was dried and thin, pulled tight against its bones. The seat underneath was stained a sickly brown from ages of seeping fluids.
Jennifer was already terrified enough before the corpse began to move.
With at first a nearly imperceptible flicker of its dried muscles, the corpse lifted its head and looked at Jennifer, meeting her brown eyes with its dusty, white ones. It slowly lifted its right arm from dangling over the seat. Both of the body’s hands had been replaced with rusted, grimy machete blades, attached directly to the bone. The corpse started to spasmodically work its cracked and broken jaw as it reared back its right arm.
Jennifer found her self control just in time to roll out of the car as the blade plunged completely through the passenger seat. She landed in a heap on the blacktop, blinking stars out of her eyes while gravel cut into her palms. The blade was long enough to scrape and scratch the front of the dashboard as it was wrenched out. The corpse stabbed through the seat two more times before slowly pulling its arm back and falling still.
She felt the world pulsing beneath her fingers to the beat of hear heart. Small pieces of seat cushion landed softly between her feet. The distant honking of a car horn and the steady rumble of traffic played in the distance. Jennifer couldn’t tell if she was shaking or just twitching every so often. Her mind pitched and rolled like a bottle in the ocean. If she moved, too quickly, she would probably vomit.
Slowly, like a spider, she slid one hand underneath her torso and pushed herself up. She began to creep away from the open door, silent as fog. The world around her seemed to fade on the edges of her vision. Only the silhouette of the corpse-driver stayed in focus. As Jennifer slid her hand roughly across the gravel, her fingers fell upon something smooth. A moderate pile of trash was piled up floor beneath the passenger seat. Much of it had been kicked around when she fell, including the envelope she held in front of her petrified face. It took time, and an enormous amount of focus, until Jennifer was calmed enough to even read the front.
It was an unopened paycheck, addressed to Wendy Oleander.
All at once, Jennifer’s panic fell aside. Whatever doubt that stuck to the bottom of her mind like dried gum had been finally burned away. Her heart still beat like a sprinter’s and her clammy fingers trembled, but her vision was clear and the urge to vomit was gone.
Looking up from the envelope, her eyes fell almost immediately on the keys dangling from the ignition, beneath the driver’s necrotic hands. The light cut through the back window and fell across them like a holy sign. The van itself was a newer model, only a few years old, and came with electronic buttons built into the key itself.
She crawled up to her knees and checked over her shoulder. The door of Gateau stayed closed, the interior stayed calm. She sighed, not in resignation, but in finality, as she stood. Jennifer finally gave up resistance to yet another stupid, stupid idea that she was sure would get her killed. Wendy wasn’t in the front seat, and certainly wasn’t in the back, so where better place would there be to hide a body than the trunk?
Crouching, she peered into the car and tried to make out the buttons on the key. From what she could tell, the button for the trunk was on the top left side, just under the driver’s right pinky finger. While composed, Jennifer’s terror hadn’t faded. She backed up, came forward, paced, stepped in place, and took any excuse to stall she could think of. Like most bad decisions, she decided to begin at the end of a countdown.
By her first count, she thought Fuck it, and took a running leap into the car. Immediately, she flattened herself against the seat as the blade sheared just inches away from her lower back. A second one nearly punctured her skull, but glanced off the center console before it made impact. Darting out with her right arm, she made a grab for the keys, but was intercepted by another machete blade that gutted through the chest of the driver and nicked the lower steering wheel.
Jennifer tucked in her legs and dodged as best she could as a stab came dangerously close to her ribcage, tearing an enormous gash in her shirt. There was a delay in the left-hand blade as the monstrous arm behind it tried to wrench the blade from the corpse it had stabbed through. As the right-hand slid back through the seat for another attack, Jennifer reached out with her right hand and groped desperately for the keys.
Immediately after she found them, the left blade shot forward and slit between her index and middle fingers. The breath caught in her throat as cold pain deadened all but her thumb, which had been dextrous enough to find the buttons. She pawed blindly, feeling out which one to press as the blades both retracted simultaneously. Jennifer only had one chance. She briefly panicked over hitting the car alarm by mistake, but let it subside to instinct. In the split second before she hit the button, she caught sight of the animated corpse in the back seat. Its lips had dried and shrunk with the rest of its skin, leaving its bony teeth to gleam white and striking in the dark behind the tinted windows. From the right angle, she could even say it was grinning.
With a final prayer to fate, she hit the button her thumb touched and rolled out of the car, just as she heard a light thunk. Before she could fully exit, the right blade slipped between the seat belts and grazed along Jennifer’s back, perpendicular to her spine. She fell to the asphalt in a silent scream, her voice coming out instead as a choked groan. The cut across her back was not deep, but it was long and drew blood. Her fingers were in a similar state.
Grimacing against the pain in her back, Jennifer stood and wrapped her bleeding hand in the tail of her shirt. With a pause, she put her foot against the open door and slammed it shut.
Gingerly, she limped around the car, while kicking some of the errant garbage underneath and giving the back seat doors a wide berth. Coming to the trunk, she grasped the handle, bit her tongue, and crossed her bloody fingers. Miraculously, the trunk opened. Disappointingly, it was empty. On one hand, Jennifer did not look forward to the possibility of finding Wendy’s corpse. On the other, she hoped to find something of value other than a great trunk for moving furniture.
next chapter: CUPCAKES AND FINGERNAILS – PART TWELVE
previous chapter: CUPCAKES AND FINGERNAILS – PART TEN
all chapters: Cupcakes and Fingernails
more by WILL HEMLEPP
photograph by David Marcu