Excerpt Dark Nights and Headlights
Copyright 2104 Bailey Bradford
Joe wondered just how bright it was. Curious, he turned off his headlights. Then he braked, and blinked as white spots danced before his eyes. Once he had his vision cleared, or mostly, he looked out the windshield.
“Well, shit. It’s dark out.” And he was a genius. Joe snickered and narrowed his eyes as he leaned against the steering wheel. A little concentration and he could make out the road. Not very far, but yeah, a few feet or so in front of the truck.
He drove along like that, hunched over the wheel. His beater truck was too old to have airbags, so that was a worry he didn’t have. Joe concentrated as well as he could, trying to see the road. As familiar as he was with the land, he’d have said he could drive home blindfolded. Thirty-eight years he’d spent on the place—his whole life. Trent had gone away to college since their dad said one of them needed a degree, but he’d come home as soon as he’d graduated.
Both of the Jacek boys had ranching in their blood. Both of them were gay, too, something that would have killed their daddy had he not already been dead when Joe stopped hiding his sexuality.
Joe’s chest ached and he took a hand off the wheel, slowed down some more, and rubbed at the spot. “Hope I’m not having a heart attack like Dad.” He blinked, because surely he had something weird going on with his eyes. There was no way something was moving out there in front of the truck. “What the—“
His first thought was that one of the cows had gotten loose, except it wasn’t big enough to be a cow. Plus, it’s eyes were glowing yellowish in the dark.
A chill shot down Joe’s spine. He hit the brakes too hard even though he had been poking along, and the impact of his chest against the steering wheel knocked the breath out of him.
Or maybe that was fear, because those glowing eyes were getting damned closer to the truck.
Joe didn’t know why he was so scared. He was in his truck—he hit the door lock. Unfortunately, the passenger door had to be locked manually, and he dove to the right, reaching for the little knob by the passenger window.
And he missed, falling over halfway while his foot slipped off the brake.
“Shiiiit!” Joe flung himself upright and stomped on the brake. The truck shot forward. “Fuck! Gas! Brake!” His head spun as his pulse accelerated at a speed much faster than the truck did.
Joe slammed on the brakes and hit the steering wheel again. He shoved the truck in park and reached for the knob to turn on the lights again. His hand was shaking so bad it took two tries, but he managed finally to get the headlights back on. He watched as those glowing eyes faded some, but they still seemed unnaturally colored when Joe saw the critter they were attached to.
“A—“ He frowned and leaned so far forward his head almost touched the windshield. “Coyote?” If so, it was a big one. The thing was almost as tall as the truck. Joe was certain it’s pointy ears reached the top of the grill, at least. “You ain’t no coyote.”
He felt instant relief when it dawned on him that he must be looking at someone’s German shepherd dog. A big German shepherd, sure, but it wasn’t a coyote and the markings were similar to a German shepherd he’d seen ages ago.
“Someone must have dumped you, huh buddy?” Joe chuckled and leaned back in the seat. “Damn, boy. Or girl. You about scared a decade off me.”
For one fleeting second, he wondered if it was a wolf, but Joe discounted the idea. Once there’d been red wolves in the area, but they’d been extinct for a long time. At least they had been from Texas. He vaguely remembered hearing something on a TV show about them having been raised in captivity and freed elsewhere.
As far as he knew, there weren’t any other wolves native to the area, so that had to be a dog, he reasoned.
It walked out to stand in front of the truck. Joe shivered as he looked into the dog’s yellow eyes.
“Ah hell, I must be more messed up than I thought.” Joe rubbed at his eyes before giving the dog another look. His stomach did a weird flip. “German shepherds have some red on them, don’t they?” He racked his brain trying to recall, but all he came up with was a black and tan dog.
“That’s it. I’m totally wasted and seeing things.” What else could it be when that dog was grinning at him? It was, too, he was sure of it.
Normally, a few tokes and a few beers didn’t do much more than make him relax. “Guess I got some good stuff, or bad stuff, or something. Bad beer. Shoulda checked the expiration…date…” he trailed off, because that dog put first one big ol’ front paw then the second on the hood so that the critter was staring straight at him. “Oh shit.”
Joe slapped at the horn, remembering too late that it had quit working weeks ago. “Those are some fuckin’ freaky eyes, dog.” They were really yellow. “Aw, now what’re you doing?” he asked, whining just a little when the dog leapt and there it was, the big burly maybe-not-a-dog-after all, pushing it’s nose against the outside of the windshield.
“No, no, no, don’t do that, you’re getting the glass all slimy.” He gawped as he got a look at the long, sharp canines. “Uh, okay. You just lick until you’re all licked out, bud.”
Something kept him from putting the truck in gear and driving off. One, it went against Joe’s nature to hurt anything, except for flies and mosquitoes. Those were such nuisances that he could get over his embarrassingly squeamish and okay, soft-heartedness, and off those little bastards.
But anything else? Trent had to handle it when any of the cattle needed to be put down, or when there was butchering done for their own freezers. Joe just didn’t want to mess with that part of it all.
And there was a reason he didn’t have a dog. Once Roscoe died, his heeler he’d had throughout most of his childhood and into early adulthood, Joe hadn’t been willing to have his heart broken like that again.
So he didn’t want to hurt whatever the hell was on his truck, dog or hallucination or some coyote or extinct wolf. “Besides, it ain’t real. Probably.”
But Joe did flick on the windshield wipers, knocking them into the spray position.
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