'Looks like it should hev those two miseries in frunnuv it,' he said.
I tried to look away from the chaw-stained teeth. The juice he spat landed an inch from my steel-capped toes.
'Miseries?' My back hit the door of the pickup as I stepped away.
'We ain't far frum Cedar Rapids, friend.' He punctuated this last with another jet of juice near my boot.
I already knew that much, and began regretting stopping to ask this man for directions.
A tall man, thin and stooping, he carried a three-tined pitchfork in a claw-like hand. He looked like a country parson dressed for helping a church-member. His cheap round glasses had tarnished metal frames and the lenses looked as thin as Cellophane.
'Couldya tell me how ta get to the nearest town?' I asked.
'Mebbe,' he said.
''Wanna smoke? Change from a chaw? Only, I ain't got a light is all.'
I pulled out a pack of Luckies, shook two out, offered him the first.
He flicked a horny nail on the red phosphorous of the longest match I ever saw. He saw me looking at it.
''S a Lucifer, my friend. Only kinda matches I got.'
We smoked a while. The smoke curling around his head put me in mind of something.
'You don't live in that house, do ya?'
No one could. It was all rotted clapboard and glass-less windows – and it looked as though my new friend should be careful with his matches around it.
'Naw.' He drawled it long and rasping. 'I'm frum the next town along.'
I ground out my cigarette, it had hissed when it landed it his tobacco juice.
He held out a long and crooked finger, pointed along the road ahead.
'Thanks, Mister,' I said.
He put his hand on my arm , it felt hot through the plaid shirt.
'You go the other way, friend. Back the way you came.'
He gave me a glare as I shook the clawed hand from my arm.
'What's wrong with your town?' I leaned towards him. He didn't step back.
'You'll get there soon enough, friend. Everyone does.'
The truck started first time. By the side of the road a broken sign lay on its back, giving passing crows not quite enough information:
'Gehenna Pop.. .'
First Published on ABCTales.com