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Pale Cancer

August 7, 2016

onehundredandfortyeight

I

Jack veered the car into the centre of the freeway. He hadn’t seen another vehicle for at least ten minutes. In the moonlight the white lines glowed like polished bone. He pressed his foot on the accelerator and the markings were sucked under the car’s hood. He clicked his tongue as each one went under. Tick. Tick. Tick. In the distance he saw the dim headlights of a car coming in the opposite direction. They floated like jack o’ lanterns in the perfect darkness of the desert horizon. Tick. Tick. Tick. He pulled his own car back into its lane. The headlights grew large and flared as the other car roared past, blasting its horn in a staccato tune. Jack snorted. He heard muffled cheering coming from the car. He looked up at the pale moon and then to the backseat. The briefcase was still there. A wave of immense, irrational relief washed over him, just as it had the last time he’d looked. He flicked the radio on.

“…from Cape Canaveral has made its four day journey to Earth’s Moon. The lunar module, designated Eagle, has detached from the command module, dubbed Columb…

He changed the radio station;

“… and Col. Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin will, after a period of recuperation, set foot on the lunar surface, initiating a new era for man, a new relationship with his universe. Their acti..”

Jack lit a cigarette; flicked the radio off and then on again, turning the volume down to a murmur. He gazed at the empty road. The voice on the radio droned on, blanketed under soft static. He looked up at the moon. He imagined the smug, sharp pilots they’d sent up in that tin can, swathed in white plastic, trimmed with gold. He pictured them racing through the lethal void, sweating and muttering the Lord’s Prayer under their breath. It made him feel dizzy.

A few nights before he’d been drinking in a bar. Some guy with long hair in an old army surp jacket was hanging off the bar by his fingernails, preaching to a half empty room. It was bullshit, the man said, all bullshit. There was no mission to the moon. The government, the lying fucking suits, had masterminded the whole thing. It was a set up. They were going to film the whole thing in a Hollywood lot to fuck with the Reds. Jack had sat in the corner, listening. Seething. He had dreamt of slipping up behind the scruffy asshole and smashing a bottle over the back of his head. Of smashing his mouth off the edge of the bar, again and again. Smashing every fucking tooth out of his head. Watching the blood slide across the bar, an unearthly purple in the neon light.

Remembering this, Jack shivered. There had been no violent retribution. No correction. No justice. There never was.

He felt his mind drifting. He turned the radio up again and rolled down the window. He pressed his foot on the gas to create some airflow. The slick sentiment that droned out from the radio was sucked out of the open window and into the desert night. Jack smiled.

 

II

A light appeared on the horizon. He had not seen another vehicle since the car full of whooping youths. As he got closer he realized it was a gas station. He turned the radio down and stubbed out his cigarette. As he drew near he slowed the car. The lights were on in the gas station shop and a man sat behind the counter. Jack pulled in and got out of the car. His body was stiff and he arched his back inwards, rolling slightly from side to side. The man in the gas station was watching him through the large window. Jack waved, halfheartedly, turned away and started to pump the gas. He looked back over his shoulder. The man behind the counter was still watching intently. Jack turned back to the pump. He looked up at the moon.

It was hard to imagine, to truly conceive, that there were men up there, floating in the aether. Men who had traversed that blackness and were going to set foot on the surface of Earth’s moon. To even conceive of the moon in three dimensions. As a real, tangible sphere. A place. As more than a still, staring eye. A painting. A prop.

The bittersweet smell of the fuel on the forecourt was making him sick. He hung up the nozzle and headed to the door of the gas station shop, avoiding the gaze of the attendant whose eyes he had felt on him throughout.

The convenience store thrummed with the insect buzz of strip lighting. The glare they gave off was as pale and bright as any moon. But there was a raw quality to it. Sickly. Cruel. Jack squinted toward the counter at the other end of the store. The man  was looking down at a magazine. Jack pretended to look at the stock on the shelves and glanced sidelong at the man behind the counter. He felt the first acid threads of a migraine begin to be sewn. He walked up to the counter. A little transistor radio on the window ledge continued the tale of the men on the moon.

“Evening” the man said; “anythin’ else I can get ya?”.

“Pardon?”.

The man’s tone was strange. Slightly knowing and smug.

“The gas, right? And anything else?”.

“Do you have any aspirin?”.

The man smiled.

“Do”.

“Can I get some?”.

The man frowned like he didn’t understand the question.

“Yeah… sure”.

He turned round to get the medicine from a shelf. Jack looked down at the magazine. It was a pornographic magazine. A young, blonde girl was sat astride a low gym bench. She was nude but for white sneakers. Pale pink cotton socks with a frill around the ankle showed above them. Her long hair was in a ponytail that hung forward over one shoulder. The tips of her hair brushed her small pink nipples. Her pubic hair was trimmed into a thin strip. She gazed longingly out of the page, biting her bottom lip.

The man turned around and placed the bottle of aspirin on the counter, next to the magazine.

“Anythin’ else?”.

Jack looked at a coffee pot just behind the man.

“Is that fresh?”.

“Fresh enough”.

“Please”.

The man turned round again and grabbed a styrofoam cup from a stack.

Jack looked down at the magazine. On the next page the girl was facing away, bent over, playing with the little ruff on her sock. He legs were spread apart and her calves were taut. Her long, blonde ponytail hung to one side. A muscular man in shorts and a vest was stood in front of a set of lockers, his head turned to one side, staring at the girl. He was staring at her pert ass and plump, tanned labia. His thick, semi-erect penis was hanging out of the front of his shorts and he was stroking it as he watched her.

The man behind the counter turned around and set the steaming coffee down on the counter.

“No cream I’m afraid”.

“That’s no problem” Jack said.

He poured a packet of sugar into the coffee and mixed it in with a wooden stirrer. The man turned the page of the pornographic magazine, The radio droned in the background.

“It’s something, isn’t it?”.

Jack looked up from the magazine.

“Huh?”.

The man jerked his head towards the radio.

“They went and did it”.

“Oh yeah, it’s something”.

The man smirked.

“Aww, hell, I never thought they’d make it. Not really. It sure is something. How far we’ve come, huh?”.

He was staring at Jack with an uncomfortable intensity. Jack went to sip the coffee. It burnt his tongue.

“Mmm” he nodded.

“See, the next thing” said the man “will be can they get back? What if they can’t? Imagine it; stranded on that white desert, adrift in the darkness, waiting for the air to run out. And Earth, home, just there in front of you, beautiful and alive and unreachable”.

Jack sipped more of the burning coffee.

“They’ll make it back. They made it this far. They planned it” he said.

The man was rubbing the corner of the magazine pages between thumb and forefinger.

“Oh yeah, you’re right, I’m sure. But say they don’t? Say they get stuck on the surface. Running out of air. Imagine their kids, their wives; looking up at the night sky for the rest of their lives, picturing the suits full of bones, lying in the pale dust. Skulls staring out of the visors towards Earth. Imagine it”.

He smiled, almost guiltily, at Jack.

“But, you’re right, they’ll make it back” he said.

The man looked back down to the magazine. Jack sipped the scalding coffee along with two of the aspirin. He looked out of the large window at his car on the forecourt. He thought about the briefcase.

“So, where you headed?”.

The man’s voice startled him.

“Work”.

The man chuckled.

“Must have an odd shift”.

“No. I mean, I travel for work”.

The man nodded and went back to his magazine.

“I’ve travelled” he said.

Jack watched the man for a long time and then looked down.

The blonde was stood up close to the man in the vest. His shorts were round his ankles. One of her arms was draped around his muscular neck. Her leg, the furthest one from the camera, was raised and wrapped around his upper thigh, the sneakered foot pointing down. Their mouths were inches from each other. Her other arm reached down and gripped his erect cock, stroking downward with an inverted hand. His hands were grabbing her small, tight buttocks.

Jack squeezed his eyes shut. His head ached. He sipped his coffee.

On the adjacent page the girl was on her knees, sitting on the heels of her sneakers. Her ponytail fell all the way down her smooth, naked back. The tips of it brushed the cleft of her ass. One hand was on the man’s outer thigh. His vest was off, exposing a hairy, taut, glistening chest. His head was thrown back and his eyes were closed. Her other hand was around his stiff cock. Her small, full lips were wrapped around it.

Jack looked up. The man behind the counter was staring languidly at him. A coy smile danced at the corners of his mouth. He looked back at the magazine and turned the page. He took a sharp breath.

“What do you make of that Mr. “Travels for Work”?”.

He turned the magazine round to face Jack. He stared into his eyes. Some terrible, violent something seemed to pass in the air between them. The strip lighting thrummed. Jack felt his palms sweating profusely. He looked down.

The girl’s hand was wrapped around the engorged penis. Her mouth was open and her eyes were closed. Her small tongue was pushed out. Her pretty face was soaked with semen. It hung in long strands down her smooth forehead, over her plump lips and fell on her tongue. Her eyes were bright and piercing. Smiling eyes.

“Damn, she looks like she’s enjoying that, huh?” the man said.

Jack looked up at the man behind the counter and said nothing. He had not eaten and the aspirin were digging holes in his stomach. He felt light headed and insubstantial. But, at the same time, as the pills unthreaded the pain, a comfortable, warm relief.

“Yeah…”.

He whispered it. He had not meant to. Shakily, he began to pull his cigarettes from his jacket pocket.

“Sorry, boss, not in here”.

The man gestured towards the pumps on the forecourt.

“Whoof!”.

He mimed an explosion.

“Of course, Jesus. Sorry. I’m very…”

The man cut him off with a raised finger. He looked out the large window and into the dead night. The man closed his eyes, opened them again and turned to Jack.

“You can go smoke upstairs, if you like?”.

Jack stared back at him. The man gestured towards a dimly lit stairway behind him.

“No” Jack said ” I should be getting…”.

He trailed off. His mind was swimming. Nothing felt real. The man was smiling that smug, knowing smile.

“You look so worn out, you shouldn’t be out there anyhow. Dangerous. Even on an empty road”.

Jack’s heart seemed to be beating too sluggishly to push blood. He thought of the briefcase in the back seat of the car. A bead of sweat ran down the back of his neck. Small flecks of white foam had gathered at the corners of the man’s mouth.

“No one out there. No one to watch. A man could get hurt”.

Jack picked up the hot coffee, took a sip and held it in front of him at chest level.

“You look like you could use another of those, too” the man smiled. “Let my wife make you one”.

The man was smiling to himself. He had tiny, tobacco stained teeth peppered with gold fillings. He winked.

“She’ll get you a nice lil’ pick me up to go with your cigarette”.

Jack’s tongue was a dead weight in his mouth.

The man walked over to the stairway. He cupped his hand and shouted up.

“You don’t mind if this man comes up to smoke a cigarette, do you Beth?”.

He winked again at Jack. A woman’s voice floated down the stairs. It was husky and had a Southern twang.

“Not at all. Send him right up”.

Jack’s heart was beating heavily.

“I…”.

The man stepped back to the counter and leaned in towards him.

“Calm down, you ain’t the first. It’s our way”.

His breath was noxious. He whispered directly into Jack’s ear.

“You want it this way”.

Jack swallowed hard.

“I have to go” he said.

“Say it out loud. It’ll kill those nerves”.

“I… I have…”.

“How often somethin’ like this gonna happen to a man like you?”.

The low, smoky voice billowed down the stair again.

“”What you two still talking for?” it said.

Jack felt the room spin in a tumult of fluorescent light, the taste of singed dust and the smell of gasoline. It came to a stop with a jolt and he spoke.

“I could”.

As Jack stepped beneath the bare, piss-yellow bulb at the bottom of the stair, the man leaned in.

“When she was young, my god. She’s still got most of that body left. No kids. Never could. And she loves it more than she ever did. I mean, she loves it. Anything you wanna do. Don’t mind me, I’ll stay down here. It’s different for me”.

Jack was staring at the man’s feet as he spoke. He noticed that the man had an artificial leg. He had not noticed this before. He looked, briefly, into his face. The man was smiling excitedly. Jack began to climb the stair.

 

III

It was a cramped, dimly lit stairway. Boxes of stock; chocolate bars and bottles of soda, lined one wall. The steps were bare wood and groaned under his weight. He reached the top of the stair, turned around the newel and headed down the gloomy landing. He looked in at the first open door.

It was a small lounge. It, too, was packed with boxes of stock for the gas station shop. The sofa and the armchair were covered with plastic covers. A chipped, wooden television set showed an indistinct image on a tiny, hazy screen. Jack stepped into the lounge and squinted at the screen. The moon landing craft was on the surface, squat and isolated, it’s multiple legs sprawling, like some awful insect constructed from bone. The announcer’s voice was telling the watching world that a man was about to emerge. His voice was cracking and hushed. The door of the capsule began to creep open.

“I’m through here sugar, you coming in?”.

The voice sent a silken shiver down Jack’s neck. He stepped out of the lounge and back into the hall. He looked in at the next doorway.

She sat in a chair next to the bed. A standing lamp next to her threw warm light around the room and she was resplendent in its halo.

“Hello you” she whispered.

She stood, putting back her shoulders, and her sheer robe fell and settled in the seat of the chair. She wore a basque that made a wasp of her waist, and her bust a pillow for the raven curls that tumbled onto it. She tossed her hair over her shoulder with a flick of her neck and looked at him with her head on one side. Her eyes were large, heavy lidded and catlike. Her lips gathered in a natural pout. She shifted her weight from one smooth, stockinged leg to the other and smiled coyly. She turned to pick up a pack of cigarettes from the table behind her. As she bent over, the straps of her suspenders pulled tight to the back of her thick thighs. She reached behind her and straightened one strap, from stocking to waist. She turned back around, a cigarette balancing on rouge lips. She raised an eyebrow at him. Jack stepped closer and held out his lighter. She took another step towards him and leaned in. She looked up at him from under heavy lashes. Her thick, black hair was dense with perfume. It made Jack catch his breath. He looked back over his shoulder at the doorway.

“Don’t worry about him, sugar”.

“Is he… OK?”.

She laughed easily and smiled.

“It takes all sorts, honey. And this suits me just fine”.

She turned and stepped towards the table. She glanced over her shoulder and looked Jack up and down.

“Suits me plenty”.

Her hips swung and her plump, high ass bobbed as she went to stub the half smoked cigarette and then sat down on the bed. She put a hand on the sheet.

“You look like a bag of nerves, shug. Sit down here and have your cigarette.

He sat down. She ran a hand over his thigh.

“There” she whispered.

“What you doing out here, Jack? Business?”.

His mouth was very dry. He thought about the briefcase. He couldn’t remember what was in it at all. His mind was blank. He shuffled uncomfortably.

“Strange night for a man to be out on the road. What with what’s happenin’”.

She smiled and touched his leg again.

“I thought I was going to be all alone”.

“They’re going to die up there” he said “I feel it. I hate all the flag waving and bullshit. But no man should die like that. As alone as that”.

She gazed into his eyes as he spoke. He could hardly concentrate. Inside his trousers, his cock was straining against his clothing.

“No” she said, her voice was a breathy whisper “no man should die alone. But so many do. I love you all so much. Do you know how many men I’ve had, Jack?”.

He couldn’t speak. A warm opiate like flood had come over him.

“I can’t even count, them. And they’ve all taken me. I’m a slut, honey. A whore. Because I’ve loved it every time. Isn’t that what people would say? But I don’t care. I don’t care at all. It’s not true. None of it is true. Nothing’s true”.

A terrible dizziness washed over Jack. She took his shaking hand and slipped it down the front of her black lace panties. She sighed into his ear and whispered;

“You can do anything. Everything. Why don’t you put me on my hands and knees on the bed and slide my underwear over my firm, round ass. You can run your tongue up and down that wet cunt you’re touching and then tease my tight little asshole with it. I’ll moan and writhe and beg you to drive your hard prick right into it while I squirm? That’s what you want, isn’t it? Something like that”

She stood up up and looked down at him with her legs spread. She put her hair up and fastened it with a clip, exposing her smooth bare shoulders. Her stiletto heels clicked on the floor. Tick tick tick. She squated down in front of him.

“Jesus…”.

Jack was breathless. She began to undo his belt. She looked up at him, her heavy eyelashes batting languidly. She slipped his trousers and underwear down around his ankles. His skin  was burning and his body was slick with perspiration. She left his throbbing prick bobbing in the air as she reached behind her to loosen her corset. She pulled it down releasing huge, firm breasts. She massaged them briefly and then took his cock in one hand whilst the other slid downwards over the slight curve of her stomach. She lifted his cock up as, eyes closing heavily, she moaned and began to lick the sweat from his balls with a slow, wet tongue.

 

IV

Afterwards, he lay on the bed staring at the gloomy ceiling and the sickly circle of light that the lamp threw upon it; at the black mold that filled the ridges and chips in the paint. He turned his head on the pillow and watched her stand up. Thick semen began to run down her inner thigh as she stood and pulled on her panties. She looked at Jack and he smiled. She stared back in silence. She was staring blankly at him. Through him. Her face was like a doll, expressionless. Emotionless. She was so still that he could not even perceive her breathing. She turned and stepped into the bathroom.

Jack sat up and looked around the room. At the damp, dishevelled sheets on the bed. At the wardrobe in the corner of the room. The door to it was hanging ajar. The clothes rail inside was adorned with a paltry row of hangers. The hangers were all empty. He looked at the vanity table at the foot of the bed. It was stacked with piles of make up, the contents of which were caked and cracked all over the bottles and tubs. He caught his reflection in the mirror.

Jack found himself short of breath and stood up abruptly. He began searching for his clothes. He pulled his trousers from under the bed. A thick clump of coarse, black hair came with them. He picked it up with the tips of his fingers and tossed it back under the bed. He pulled his hand away. It had fallen too heavily. Something pale and flabby looking was entangled in, or attached to, the mass of hair. He shuddered, straightened up and pulled on his trousers. He was picking up his shirt when he heard the bathroom door click shut. She stood there, bare breasted. She was smiling at him.

“You going somewhere, sugar?”.

Jack began buttoning his shirt. She took a step forward.

“You aren’t going, are you?”.

“I have to get back on the road”.

She looked at him like he was a little child.

“But, sweetheart, there’s nothing out there. Not anymore. All that journey, then nothing. Stay here. With me”.

Jack grabbed his shoes without taking his eyes off of her. Biting her bottom lip, she hooked her thumbs into the sides of her panties and, bending at the waist, slid them over her full hips and to the floor. She reached down and ran a finger along her sticky, slick labia. She put her finger in her mouth and lightly bit the fingertip.

“Stay” she said “there’s nothing out there that won’t hurt you”.

Jack thought about his car in the empty forecourt. He thought about the briefcase on the back seat. He thought about  the white, indifferent moon in its black heaven. He looked at her perfect body and beautiful, dead eyes. He opened his mouth to speak. And he walked out of the room.

She called out to him as he went. He pretended he didn’t hear what she had said. Convinced himself that he hadn’t heard what she had said. His blood ran like meltwater. He walked slowly and precisely down the hallway. He looked in at the sitting room as he passed it. On the screen was grainy footage of a huge bank of monitors and computer terminals and desks and telephones and coffee cups and the backs of men in short sleeved shirts.

Jack was breathing heavily as he turned the newel post. A strange noise came from the bedroom, like a sack of twigs and dried leaves had been emptied on the floor. The sound made him itch.

The light in the stairwell that led down into the store was off. There was no light at the bottom of the stair. He stepped onto the top step without allowing his eyes time to adjust to the dark, He took unsteady steps down and reached out a hand to steady himself on one of the boxes of stock he remembered from coming up the stair. His hand fell on something soft and unpleasant and he whipped it away.  He coughed violently as an unseen cloud of dust tainted the air. He stopped halfway down the stair, choking and spluttering. There was a noise on the landing. A banging and thumping, as if something was bouncing between the walls of the narrow hallway. And below that noise, something worse. The buzzing, crunching sound of thousands of tiny legs skittering across the floor. Tick tick tick. Jack rushed down the rest of the stairs.

As he reached the bottom, crashing into the wall, he turned to look back up the stairs towards the dim landing. His eyes were watering from the dust he had upset, but, through a haze, he saw.

A mass of black, crawling forms appeared as silhouette at the top of the stair. FIrst as a low wall but, as more gathered and pushed and bunched together they became a huge wave, spilling over down the stairs towards him. The tiny, clicking staticy sound of their barbed little legs joined in a hideous choir. Jack was frozen in the darkness. He had stopped breathing. Signals screaming from his mind were just beginning to galvanize the frayed nerve endings when it appeared.

It was the size of a man. Of two. Its many legs were razor-like bone, clothed in pale, tattered skin. Its body was raw, bloody flesh; crisscrossed with a spiderweb of blue thread veins, flecks of thick, white fat running through it. It had a face, of a sort, set in the twitching mass. Jack met the eyes for a second, less, and was almost washed off his feet by a wave of dizziness and bile as he did. They were beautiful. As black as blood in the moonlight. Exquisitely empty pools of nothing and nowhere. And they were numberless.

He ran. Rushing into the gas station store he smacked into the counter in the dark and looked up. There were no flickering striplights. The man was gone. The huge glass window was boarded up. He looked around the store in the sparse moonlight that seeped through the boarded window. The shelves were empty. The place was abandoned, carpeted in drifts of grey dust. It was a tomb and the highway outside was a corpse road. Every eye in the world was fixed on the moon. This world was deserted. There was nothing.

Jack looked around the desolate little store in despair. The tick tick tick, shivering sound of a flood of sharp little legs on the stair built in intensity. He heard the splintering of boards and the groaning of the panelled walls as some vast and predatory horror forced itself down the narrow stairwell. He dodged around the counter and sprinted through the pale dust that blanketed the floor. He grabbed the door handle with a trembling hand and pulled.

 

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