The drive west was hot. Denny sat in the back of a battered pale green ‘67 Chevy truck. The wind blew through his long hair, which was good, but there wasn’t a cloud in the August sky and it was brutal under the burning Florida sun, sitting uncomfortably on top of the scalding metal of the truck. The bed of the truck still reeked of the bales of marijuana it had been hauling, which wasn’t so bad. It had been used most recently to transport the bales from a small marina outside Miami to Daytona Beach where Denny had been spending the weekend with his cousin Stink.
Denny was hitchhiking back home to Abdera on the gulf side of Florida, and Reedy said he’d give him a ride as far as Kissimmee. Reedy pretended Denny didn’t sit up front because of his size, but they both knew Reedy wouldn’t allow a black man or an Indian to share the same cab. Reedy wasn’t exactly sure what Denny was, but he sure as hell wasn’t white.
Reedy pulled over when they got just south of Kissimmee on the Old Tampa Highway. Reedy leaned out the window and told Denny not to take any wooden nickels, laughed at his joke, and drove away. Denny said nothing. After a few moments he flipped off the dwindling back of the truck. He turned around to face traffic and stuck out his thumb.
He started walking backwards. Like most of his clan Denny was a gifted walker. If he had to he’d walk the rest of the way home. He sincerely hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
He’d trudged backwards for nearly ten miles when the cherry-red Cadillac convertible with a creamy white interior pulled over. Denny smiled. It was perfect timing. A bank of black clouds were moving in from the southwest. Before long a thunderstorm would be washing over the highway tarmac.
Inside the caddy was a young woman wearing a tie-dyed scarf holding her hair in place.
“Hey, big fella. Want a ride?”
Denny considered leaping over the door, but instead opened the passenger-side door and eased his six foot six inch two hundred and eighty pound frame onto the white leather seats.
“Thanks. This is one sweet ride,” said Denny admiringly.
“What’s your name?”
“Hi, Denny. My name’s Cherry. Where ya headed?”
“Hey! Me too.” She pulled out onto the highway. Denny noticed she did not use the mirror or look behind her. He was pretty sure he heard the squeal of brakes, but refused to look back. “Except I got to stop over at my brother’s house first. Wanna come with? Then I can take you all the way to Abdera.”
“Sure. It beats walking.”
She was a chatterbox and mixed her questions to Denny with answers to questions he didn’t ask. Denny answered amiably, enjoying the breeze of the highway as the car plowed through the thick humidity and occasional cool current pushed in by the front. She wasn’t really his type, but he recognized that she was young, attractive, and allergic to clothing. In addition to the tie-dyed scarf holding down her hair, which he could now see was dyed a red similar to the red of the Caddy, she wore a halter top and short shorts and nothing else. She drove the Cadillac fast and barefoot.
“You live in Abdera.”
“You from Florida?”
“Me too. I mean, I don’t live in Abdera. I live in Orlando. But, I’m from Florida. Whole family lives here. We been around these parts for over a hundred years. Your folk from ‘round here?”
“Some of ‘em. Some of ‘em somewhere else.”
“Yah. I suppose that’s the way it is. I got people in Georgia and Louisiana. So, what are hitchin’ for?”
“Don’t have a car. Gotta get back home.”
“Where you coming from?”
“Visiting my cousin.”
“You like this car?”
“Are you kidding? This car is fucking fantastic.”
“It’s a 1965 Cadillac DeVille. It used to belong to my daddy, but I asked him for it and he gave it to me. My brother was so pissed off. He always thought he’d get this car. It’s pretty cherry, right? Daddy took good care of it. Daddy takes good care of things he loves.”
Denny read between the lines that she was saying her daddy took good care of her. A drop of rain hit him between the eyes.
“I think it might be starting to rain. Do you want to close the top?”
“No!” She accelerated down the empty highway. “I want to feel the wind in my face!”
“Are you fucking kidding me? You’re going to ruin this lush interior. Don’t turn this into a heap. Keep the style.”
Cherry bit her lip and scrunched her forehead. Finally, the tension her face released and she smiled. “You’re right! I gotta keep the style. I like that. Keep the style.” She hit the button and the top raised. Just in time.
Within moments of the roof latching the light sprinkle turned into a torrential downpour. Cherry hit the windshield wipers, but didn’t slow down.
“My brother’s just outside of Haines City,” said Cherry. “He’s got a commune.” She looked at Denny out of the corner of her eye to judge his reaction.
Denny didn’t flinch. Living in a commune made far more sense than living in a nation. Denny’s people, which, broadly speaking, included all the so-called cryptid great apes (the sasquatch, the bigfoot, the yeti, and Denny’s clan — the swamp apes) all lived in clan structures, not too different than communal life. One key difference between the cryptid primates and humans was the human desire to be sociable. Humans couldn’t get enough of each other, and built cities so they could intentionally live in tight quarters. The cryptid primates were more solitary, lived in looser structures, and as a result, didn’t breed as often or as quickly.
Denny was more sociable than most of his kin, and even enjoyed many of the creature comforts created by humans; a world many, but far from all, of his kind rejected. To pass, Denny had to be diligent about proper shaving hygiene. No one could ever figure out exactly what race he belonged, and often banished him to some ‘other’ of Black Indian heritage, spawned by particularly ugly parents.
“He’s not going to try to recruit you.” She turned to face Denny, and with a slightly worried look on her face said, “Unless you want to be recruited. You ever live on a commune?”
“Not really my scene. But, if that’s the way people want to live, I have no problem with that.” Denny considered the stop for a moment. “Are we going to be there long?”
“Not too long. Unless you maybe want to party a little. Do you party?”
“Depends on what you mean by party.”
“You know, smoke dope and drink.”
“If that’s how you define it, then yes. I party.”
“Good! Then we’ll smoke a little weed and have some beers, and then I’ll take you to Abdera.” She let go of the steering wheel and clapped three times, rapidly.
Denny didn’t mind as long as he was moving toward home. He wanted to get back to tend to his garden. He made part of his living from selling semi-tropical plants and mixing batches of herbs.
The torrential downpour vanished almost as quickly as it arrived. By the time it passed the sun was setting and the clouds behind them turned a bright pink in the baby blue sky. Cherry turned off the Old Tampa Highway and began making her meandering way along rural roads, through the lakes to a ramshackle house just east of nowhere.
The house rested in the middle of a clutch of cypress trees. At some point it had been someone’s well-built little getaway cottage, but now sat derelict, punished by neglect and the debilitating effects of Florida’s heat and damp. Planks of wood covered the holes in the porch, and a green tarp, turned gray and covered with mold, covered a hole in the roof. Off to the side a early 1960s station wagon sat rotting, a baby pine growing up through the engine.
When Cherry and Denny arrived there was already a party going on. Music blared from a local AOR-station, crackling and fuzzy from the distance. It was Nazareth complaining about how much love hurts.
The music spilled out from behind the house. Only two people were in front of the house and they both ignored Cherry’s caddy. They sat in a mud puddle staring deep into each others eyes, with long hair and big smiles. Denny guessed they were probably tripping.
Cherry lead him around the house instead of through it. Behind the house sat a trio of young women on a bench from a bus sharing a joint. Four men in their early 20s pitched horseshoes on the far side of the yard, while three people, two women and a man, stood around a fire pitching in dead branches and brush. An old dog, mostly shepherd, came slowly trotting up to Cherry and Denny wagging its tale. Denny kneeled down and pet the dog, ruffling her ears and scratching her head. The guys throwing horseshoes waved to Cherry and called out to her. The ladies on the bench, and the people around the fire ignored her.
“Want a beer?” asked Cherry.
Cherry located a giant cooler sitting next to the house and pulled out two cans of Miller.
“Come meet my brother.” She led Denny to the group by the fire.
Cherry’s brother stood next to the fire with a can of Miller in his hand and wearing a t-shirt of Mickey Mouse extending a giant middle finger. Denny noticed he’d been eyeballing Denny ever since he turned the corner. “What’s up, Sis?” He never took his eyes off Denny. His mouth was squinched up like he just bit into the gooey center of an orange shitsicle.
“Hey, Bubba. We’re headed to Abdera, but I wanted to swing by and introduce you to my friend Denny. Denny, Bubba; Bubba, Denny.” Cherry gave her brother a broad innocent smile.
“Hey, Bubba. Thanks for the beer.”
Bubba nodded, but didn’t say anything. After a few more uncomfortable beats he turned away from Denny and looked at his sister. “Did you pick up Dad’s caddy?”
“You mean my caddy. Yes. It’s out front.”
Bubba rolled his eyes and spit into the fire. “Enjoy it while you can. You know dad’s an indian giver,” his eyes shifted to Denny and he mumbled “No offense.” He turned his attention back to Cherry. “He’s gonna give me that car as soon as he stops being mad at me.”
Cherry laughed. “With the way you been acting lately that should be about never.”
Bubba pulled a joint from his shirt pocket and lit it up. He pulled on it deeply and handed it to Denny.
Denny grinned broadly, showing the gap between his two top front teeth, and inhaled. He passed the joint to Cherry.
Eventually the beers and pot had their desired effect. The sun sat and torches were lit. More people showed up. Bottles of whisky and vodka and tequila appeared and at one point someone passed around a big bag of mushrooms.
Sometime long after midnight, but well before dawn, Denny found himself laying on the ground on his back watching a falling star while Cherry snored softly beside him laying on a lawn chair. The party had moved past the enthusiastic joy brought about by beer and pot and into that best forgotten darkness littered with shameful half-remembered deeds and inexplicable id-fueled rages. Most people had gone home, many were passed out. A few remained stretched out contemplating their own internal horrors as they waited for the hallucinogens to digest.
Denny needed to piss and decide if he wanted to wait for Cherry to take him the rest of the way home (if he could trust her) or if he wanted to start walking, or take nap before deciding anything. When he sat up he saw Bubba staring at him, sitting cross-legged near the fire, holding a bottle of Jack loosely by the neck.
Denny stood, stretched, and walked into the darkness to piss. When he returned he sat cross-legged from Bubba.
“You gonna drink that whisky?”
Bubba put the bottle to his mouth, took a swallow and handed it to Denny.
“You are one big-ass motherfucker.”
Denny took a long pull from the bottle and handed it back.
“All my people are big.”
“I bet that makes you feel real special. Feel like you’re really somethin’, big-assed half-breed like you. Bet nobody fucks with you.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“Yeah, well I got an equalizer. I got something so I don’t have to worry about big motherfuckers like you. I got something that makes me strong.”
Denny idly wondered if Bubba was about to break out a pistol. He held his hand out for the bottle.
“I got something bigger than you. I got something that will scare the shit out of you.” Bubba jumped up and stumbled to the house, mumbling to himself.
Denny pondered slipping away into the swamps. There seemed to be an excellent chance this night was about to take an unpleasant turn. On the other hand, he really wanted to get a ride home with Cherry instead of walking through the swamp all night. Not that she was going anywhere tonight, but it’d still be better to wait and get a ride, than sneak away and walk the rest of the way. He decided to play it by ear and see what instrument of threat Bubba returned with.
Surprisingly, Bubba came back with a book instead of a gun.
Bubba was laughing to himself and mumbling. “You wait and see, motherfucker. Heh heh. I got something. I’ll show you… big, scary sonofabitch.”
Denny continued drinking from the bottle as he watched Bubba prepare.
After a few minutes Denny realized that Bubba was working on some sort of conjuring spell. He read from a book, more like a pamphlet really, as if he was following directions for a recipe. He began drawing circles on the ground and scratching symbols. Denny couldn’t make out what exactly what Bubba was drawing, but was content to sip on the bottle of whisky and watch the show. Bubba’s determined actions and intense concentration caught the attention of those still awake, and soon the remaining party-goers were in a loose circle watching Bubba perform his ritual.
Denny was a little surprised when Cherry dropped down beside him and took the bottle away and took a drink.
“What’s all this about?”
“I thought you were passed out.”
Cherry shrugged and took another sip. “I woke up. Is he doing some sort of ritual?”
“I don’t think your brother likes me. He seems to be pissed off that I’m a big guy.”
“He doesn’t like you because you’re not white. My brother is a bit of a bigot.”
“So, why bring me here?”
She smiled broadly. “To piss him off! My brother’s an asshole.”
“When are we heading out to Abdera?”
“I dunno. I was thinking about skipping Abdera and heading down to Miami. Want to go to Miami?”
Denny shook his head. “I’ve got to get back home.” It looked like he’d be back to hitching and walking when morning arrived.
Bubba finally finished drawing in the dirt and began muttering, reading from his tattered grimoire. He opened his pocket knife and drew the blade across the pad of his thumb and squeezed a few drops of blood onto the circle.
Nice touch, thought Denny. He looked around at the rest of the passive revelers wondering if someone at the party might be going to Abdera. If not, he should probably be leaving soon. He had a long walk ahead of him. Denny felt a little cranky at being used by Cherry to annoy her brother. On the other hand, he did drink a lot of free beer and whisky, and smoke a lot of free pot, and the handful of mushrooms had made for a pleasant evening. There’s no reason to think he wouldn’t still be walking, or sleeping in the swamp, if Cherry hadn’t stopped.
Bubba began speaking louder and the words he used caught Denny’s attention.
“Does your brother do this often?” he asked Cherry.
“Naw, this is just something he got into recently.”
“Do you know where he got that book?”
“It sounds like he’s speaking Hellvish.”
“How would you know?”
“My family’s into this sort of thing. I’ve been around it my whole life. I’ve never met any people that could do it, though.”
“You mean other than your own people.”
Denny ignored her and paid closer attention to Bubba’s chanting.
Then Denny saw it. A bright spark in the middle of the charmed circle. It grew rapidly and caught everyone’s attention. Bubba was doing it. He was actually committing magic.
The spark grew rapidly into a form. Bubba had conjured a demon.
The red spark unfolded too quickly for the eye to follow. Fear blew out of the circle like a gust of freezing rain. Almost everyone watching suddenly wanted it to end. Now. No matter how much they wanted the demonic conjuring to stop, the spark grew inexorably until it revealed itself as a deep red, muscular man. He was nude and had a giant penis, also deep red, hanging nearly to its knees. Giant, veined, bat-like wings unfurled from his back. He kept growing. 4 feet. 6 feet. 8 feet tall, wings extending, but contained by the invisible wall of the containment circle.
The beast roared like a tornado dropping on top of the party, shouting at the sky, and then dropped his gaze slowly, looking at the scared-as-shit group surrounding him. In a deep echoing voice, that sent shivers of bowel-quaking fear through the observers, the demon demanded “What foolish mortal brings me to this nightmare? Who is responsible!?”
The demon saw Denny and paused. His shoulders slouched and he shrunk to a more reasonable six feet tall. The wings folded along his back and the frigid air blowing from the circle stopped. “Oh, hey Denny,” he said in a conversational tone.
“Hey, Zeke. Long time, no see.” Denny waved.
“Are you doing this?” Zeke gestured to the circle and the charms.
“Nope. Frankly, I’m completely fucking shocked that it worked. I did not think this goober was able to pull something like this off.”
The demon nodded. “Can you give me a hand?”
“Sure.” Denny stood up.
“You know him?” asked Cherry. Denny ignored her.
“What’s going on here?” shouted Bubba. “What are you doing? How do you know each other? What are you?” he asked Denny.
Denny ignored Bubba and walked to the enchanted circle.
“Stay away from that! If you break the circle you’ll unleash the demon upon us all!”
Denny stuck his foot on top of the drawn circle and began rubbing away the charms and the lines until a wide portion of the circle was erased. Denny and Zeke shook hands.
“Thanks, Denny.” Zeke the demon turned to Bubba. “You’re the asshole who keeps calling me up.”
Bubba stood paralyzed, caught perfectly between wanting to run away and wanting to know how Denny was buds with a demon.
When Bubba continued not to move, Denny stepped over and plucked the spell pamphlet from his shaking hand.
Zeke pointed his finger at Bubba and intoned, with a bass note so deep it sounded like a bell tolling out end times, “Don’t ever bother me again.” Then in a normal voice, turning to Denny, “What have you been up to man? It’s good to see you.”
“You too. Hey, do you mind giving me a ride home? I’m sort of stuck here. You know I’d never call you up for a ride, but since you’re here…”
“We can try. My wing’s been giving me grief lately.” Zeke reached over his right shoulder with his left hand and massaged the bony knob where his wing joined his shoulder.
“I can drive.” Cherry stepped to Denny’s side. “I was driving you to Abdera anyway.” She smiled and blinked her eyelids rapidly at Denny.
Denny frowned. “Really? I thought you were headed to Miami.”
She shook her head and smiled sweetly.
“What are you driving?” asked Zeke. Cherry told him. “Let’s go kids. Let’s ditch these losers and hit the highway.”
Bubba found his ability to move. “Cherry, no. No, you don’t know what you’re doing. This is a hell-spawn demon, child of Lucifer.”
Denny and Zeke both laughed. “I wish,” said Zeke.
“I gotta go, Bubba. Thanks for the party.” Cherry turned on her heel. On her way out she grabbed a nearly full bottle from the top of the folding table that had been set up to hold the bottles of liquor. “Let’s go boys.” Denny and Zeke followed, each picking up a bottle on their way out.
The party-goers sat quietly, not wanting to draw attention to themselves, until the sound of the caddy faded and could no longer be heard in the quiet Florida dawn.