Excerpts for Crossroads


Billy O'Claire was doggy-dog tired.
He'd been trying to fix the toilet in the brandnew house for over six hours and the weather outside was extremely hot and muggy, especially for the Friday before Memorial Day.
Billy was sweating up a storm. Since nobody lived in the new house yet, they hadn't turned on the air-conditioning. His work shirt was a soppy sheet of wet cotton with full-moon stains oozing down below both armpits.
It was nine p.m.
He tightened one last nut, then gave the trip handle on the toilet a flick. Instead of the customary whoosh of water swirling into the bowl, Billy heard a roaring gurgle. The toilet was working backward. He raised the lid and saw a commode burping up chunks of brown gunk. Leaves. Dirt. Twigs.
Nothing else, thank heaven, because nobody had actually used the toilet yet. This woodsy debris had to be seeping in from a cracked sewer line, and Billy realized they might have to rip up the newly sodded lawn to fix a drainpipe ruptured, most likely, by tree roots.
But that was a Monday-morning kind of problem.
Fortunately, it was Friday night and Billy was finished working for the week. He cranked the shutoff valve behind the toilet and went out to the driveway, where he had parked his pickup, the one with O'Claire's Plumbing painted on the door over where it used to say O'Claire's Painting and, before that, O'Claire's Satellite Television Repair.
Billy sat in the cab and drank half a gallon of water out of a glugging plastic jug and aimed two of the truck's air-conditioning vents up at his armpits.
It felt good. Real good.
He yawned and thought about grabbing a quick nap. Instead, he slammed the transmission into reverse and backed out of the driveway, not realizing that something wicked was lurking a little ways down the road--just waiting for the next doggy-dogtired driver to come along.

***

A flashing red stoplight hung suspended over the intersection where County Route 13 crossed Connecticut State Highway 31.
A gigantic oak tree stood near one corner, and its highest branch--as thick around as the trunk of any ordinary tree--suddenly started to move. No wind was blowing. No sports car zooming past had sent up a swirling wake. But the massive limb began to bend and rotate. It sensed an easy target approaching and, longing for a little fun, tore against itself--slowly at first, then with gathering speed. When the final strands ripped free, the bough broke off and fell like a two-ton truck, tearing down the blinking beacon.
Then the tree stopped moving.

***

Billy O'Claire remembered that there used to be a flashing red stoplight hanging over the intersection of 13 and 31. Tonight, however, there wasn't one.
Good.
Billy didn't want to stop. He needed to find a bathroom. Bad. Chugging half a gallon of water straight from the jug will do that to you. And he preferred a bathroom where the toilet didn't gurgle back at him. He pressed down on the gas pedal.
"How dry I am," he crooned off-key. "How wet I'll be, if I don't find . . ."
Suddenly he saw someone standing in the middle of the road.
A cop.
A motorcycle cop--holding up his hand and commanding Billy to stop.
So Billy slammed on his brakes and the pickup skidded sideways. Tires screeched, the truck swerved, and he almost hooked on to the bumper of a car he hadn't even seen coming. He spun around and wound up on the far side of the intersection--backward and straddling a ditch.
Billy wasn't injured, just totally dazed. He could see the taillights of the car he had nearly hit as it zoomed up the highway. Glancing at his rearview mirror, he saw the cop standing next to his motorbike, which was very weird-looking--it had a moonfaced headlight and chrome fenders swooping up over its tires.
It's from the 1950s, Billy thought. An old Harley Softail. Billy liked old motorcycles. Wished he had one right now so he could hightail it out of here before the cop came over and started hassling him. Then Billy realized: The cop's uniform and hat looked old-fashioned, too.
It looks like he's from some black-and-white movie. One of those old monster movies where the police try to capture Godzilla.
The cop marched slowly toward the truck. Billy strained to see if it was anybody he knew, thinking this was some kind of practical joke. He tried to see the cop's face.
Only the cop didn't have one.
He had a crew cut and mirrored sunglasses and ears but no face!
Billy jerked up on his door handle hard. When it wouldn't budge, he kicked the door open. He screamed once and scrambled out of the truck and ran as fast as he could up the highway.

***

The police officer didn't care about Billy O'Claire. Didn't chase after him.
His job was done for the night. He had prevented a horrible, possibly fatal, collision.
Something he had tried to do once before.
June 21, 1958.
The day he had died.

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