CHAPTER 1 PART 2: ERIC
In a little less than two hours, he would be walking into his tiny, yet air conditioned, apartment. During the heat wave that most of the country was feeling this summer, Eric had made sure to keep his AC cranked to the max, especially when he was out. He wanted the place to be nice and chill when he got home.
He liked to fantasize that each morning when he arrived home, the apartment would be so cold that the sweat coating his body would freeze immediately upon entering, encasing him in an icy shell. He would then crack open his frozen sarcophagus and collapse in heatless joy upon his recliner. There he would switch on his GameBox and fall asleep playing Call of Honor IV.
Eric loved his air conditioner. It was only a window unit, but his apartment was so small that it did the job just fine. He loved the way the air in his apartment smelled when he opened the front door and crossed the threshold after being out in the heat all night. To him it stirred memories of summer vacations taken as a kid with his family, and walking into a clean motel room for the first time after spending all day in the back of his parent’s station wagon listening to the American Graffiti soundtrack over and over. Those motel rooms had always smelled the same way, and it wasn’t until he was an adult and got his first place that had a window unit (instead of the central air he grew up with) that he realized that the smell he remembered had come from the air conditioner, which the motels kept running all summer long, even when the room was unoccupied.
Eric turned the bus onto Metcalf Avenue, smiling at the thought of being home, ignorant of the fact that he would never see the inside of his apartment again.
He brought the bus in slowly to his last stop, easing it up alongside the curb before levering open the doors at each end. No one was waiting to board, and so he used the giant mirror above him to glance back at his only passenger. The guy was still asleep.
“Last stop,” Eric called out.
The guy didn’t stir.
“Come on, buddy. Wake up. Time to get off the bus.”
Eric sighed, feeling more than a bit annoyed, and pulled himself from his seat.
“Let’s go,” he called out again as he made his way down the center aisle. Why did he have to deal with this kinda crap? Only in Kansas City.
Well, that wasn’t quite true. He was sure he’d have to deal with much of the same regardless of city, but he didn’t care, he just didn’t want to deal with it now.
He still had four rows of seats between him and the passenger when the smell hit him like a punch to the head. The stench was overpowering and he took two quick steps back, waving a hand in front of his face.
“Good lord, man,” he said. “You okay?”
The man didn’t move.
The smell continued to dance among his olfactory senses and Eric had to struggle just to keep his dinner down. The stench reminded him of rotting meat, yet there was something unfamiliar about it, something dank that he couldn’t quite place.
His father used to work for the Kansas Department of Transportation. When he was a kid, Eric would often brag to his friends that his dad got to collect dead animals from local roads and highways. At a certain age, most kids–boys especially–had an odd fascination for dead things, and for a year or two Eric thought his dad had one of the coolest jobs on the planet.
But that had all ended soon after Eric had turned seven. He and his father had been coming home from an evening at the movies when they had come across a coyote lying dead in the road out on I-35. His father had pulled the truck over so that he could collect the body and dispose of it properly. Eric was especially excited, he was going be able see his father at work, and so he clambered out of the truck with his dad.
One look at the carcass and Eric had begun to cry. The body had bloated to nearly three times the size of a normal coyote. A mass of pale pink and red noodles, and what looked like shiny water balloons, were spilled out all over the road. And yet, they were still connected to something within the body. Flies covered almost every inch of the thing, and the smell that came off of it had caused Eric to spill the contents of his stomach all over the gravel of the shoulder.
To be continued . . .