Short Story: Road Trip

INTRODUCTION: Brendan Swogger, Tony Healey and I are at it again. We had so much fun with our little creative writing exercise a couple of weeks ago that we thought it was time to give it another go. This time, the prompt was short and sweet:

A bored kid sits in the backseat on a road trip. Something abnormal in the sky catches his eye. Go.

Knowing Tony like I do, I expected him to indulge in his passion for UFOs, so I knew that I had to try something completely different with my submission. You can read Tony’s short story “Ray” here.

Brendan, on the other hand, is a wild card. That kid is so creative that I never know just what angle he’s going to come from. I only know that he’s going to blow my mind with whatever he writes. At the time of this posting, Brendan had not yet submitted his story, but when he does, it can be found here.

As for mine, read on below. I went a little abstract this time out. I hope you’ll like it!

Road Trip

By: David K. Hulegaard

Oswald’s lips glistened with drool as he mashed the buttons on his GameBoy. His eyes followed the action on the tiny green-tinted screen with intensity until the LOW BATTERY light flashed, then the picture went blank. He slapped the side of his GameBoy in frustration, trying to eke out one last drop of juice from the batteries, but it was no use. He dropped the device hard onto the seat beside him.

“What’s the matter, Oz?” His father asked, looking into the rearview mirror.

“The stupid batteries died, and I was just about to beat the Green Goblin.” Oswald folded his arms across his chest and pouted. “It’s so stupid!”

Oswald’s mother turned around in her seat to face him. “Didn’t you bring extra batteries, sweetie? We told you this was going to be a long trip. Remember?”

“Yes, mom,” Oswald sighed. “I did bring extra batteries, but I used all those up too. This sucks!”

“Okay, okay, Ozzie.” His mother rubbed his knee. “Let’s not get all worked up about it. When we do our next stop for gas, we’ll buy some more. All right?”

“Well, when’s that gonna be? We’ve been driving forever.”

“It shouldn’t be too much longer, Ozzie.” His mother turned up the volume on the radio. “We’ll listen to some music. Just try and relax, and we’ll be there before you know it.”

Oswald hated listening to the radio with his parents. For a nine year old boy, it was torture. The dial never left the Oldies station on the AM band. Even worse, they somehow knew the lyrics to every track that came on, often enticing them to burst into song at high volume.

The booming voice of the disc jockey seemed to fill car, announcing Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” as the next tune.

“Honey!” Oswald’s mother gasped and squeezed her husband’s arm. “Remember this?”

“Are you kidding me?” He smiled. “How could I ever forget our first date? Even if you did originally show up just to meet my brother.”

“You stop that!” She smacked his arm, making him laugh so hard that he snorted. “It was your friend Arlene that set it up, as you may recall. Besides, one look at you and I knew it was never going to be between your brother and I.”

“And don’t think he’s not still sore about it.”

“Well, it all worked out for the best.” She leaned in and kissed her husband on the cheek, tracing light circles on his neck with her finger.

Oswald groaned and pretended to vomit.

His mother looked back at him and smirked. “Sorry, sweetie. You’ll understand one day.”

“I’m so bored!” Oswald whined. “Are we ever going to get there?”

“Here,” his father said, pressing a button on the dashboard. A panel dropped down above Oswald, exposing a sunroof. “Why don’t you recline your chair and lay back. You can look outside and watch the planes go by.”

“Fine,” Oswald grumbled. He turned the plastic black dial at the side of his seat until he was positioned flat on his back.

“That’s my boy,” his father said.

Oswald stared up at the murky sky through the glass. The blanket of gray clouds was so thick that it appeared still and endless. There was nothing to look at. No planes flying by to make believe were space shuttles returning from a mission to mars. There weren’t even any seagulls overhead to take aim at with his trusty invisible light zapper.

As Oswald continued to observe, he noticed a discoloration in the sky; a patch of clouds much darker—almost black—than the rest. The longer he kept his eyes on it, the more it appeared to contort and take shape.

“Mom? Dad?” Oswald said, almost in a whisper. “Do you see that?”

His parents did not hear him over the sound of their harmonized singing to the radio. Oswald was panicked, but could not tear his eyes away from the spot. He was afraid to even blink.

The darkened clouds began to take form. Oswald could see it clearly, the outline of a massive skeleton peering down from the heavens right at him. He squeezed the vinyl armrests beneath his sweaty palms.

“Mom? Dad?” He called out, his voice more shaky this time.

The skeleton’s giant mandible flapped up and down as though speaking, but Oswald could not hear what it was saying. His eyes stung and leaked fluid out the corners. The skeleton moved a leg, making its bony shell visible as it poked through the clouds. Oswald shut his eyes and squeezed them tight. He did not want to see any more.

“Mom! Dad!” He shouted.

Oswald’s cry startled his father. The car swerved toward the shoulder before he could correct it and regain control. His father took a deep breath and centered the car back in the lane.

“What on earth is the matter?” His mother asked, placing a hand over her heart.

“Look!” Oswald said, pointing up at the sky.

His mother leaned forward to look up through the windshield. “What am I looking at, sweetie?”

“What? You don’t see it?”

“All I see are clouds, Ozzie.”

Oswald cautiously opened his eyes, one at a time. He peeked out the sunroof through slits, no longer seeing the skeleton figure from before. He opened his eyes wider, but still saw nothing.

“I don’t understand. It was there!” Oswald returned his seat to an upright position. “I saw it!”

“Saw what?” His father asked.

“The thing in the sky! The skeleton!”

His parents exchanged glances and grinned.

“Perhaps you just fell asleep, Ozzie?” His mother said. “You were probably dreaming.”

“I wasn’t, though.” Oswald rubbed his eyes with his fists. “I know I was awake. I saw it!”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you, sweetheart.” His mother reached back to pat him on the leg. “There’s nothing there now.”

“You know what I’ll bet it was, Oz?” His father said. “You know how if you stare at the patterns on the ceiling long enough they start to turn into faces? That’s probably what happened with the clouds. With your imagination, you just made the boring old clouds turn into something more interesting to look at.”

“You think?” Oswald scratched his head.

“I’d bet money on it.” He winked at his son in the rearview mirror.

That explanation made sense to Oswald. He remembered a time when he had stayed home sick from school with his mother, and had stared at her chair for so long that it appeared to be rocking on its own. He had given himself a good scare over it, but learned a lesson about tricks the human brain can sometimes play.

The car passed a blue road sign that said GAS NEXT RIGHT. Oswald’s father flipped the turn signal and took an exit off the freeway.

“Here we are, buddy,” his father said. “When we get to the station I’ll give you some money to run in and buy some batteries while I fill up the tank. Sound good?”

“Thanks, dad.”

“And then, on to Longview!” His mom said, shaking her fist in celebration.

As the car approached a traffic signal at a quiet intersection, Oswald turned around in his seat to look out the back window. He saw the giant skeleton in the sky. Its fingers poked through the clouds and pushed them far enough apart to stick its head through the opening. Jade embers burned in its eye sockets as it cocked its head to the side and locked on to Oswald.

The car came to a stop. Oswald held his breath. A warm, damp sensation enveloped the front of his pants. The skeleton reached an arm out and waved goodbye as the light turned green and their car sped away.

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