• ERIC BUTLER

House of the Dark One: Donn, TX - 1969 Part 1

The next installment in the tales of the Donn, TX Motel focuses on 4 travelers in the year 1969. This story is a bit longer than the 1951 tale so it may take a few weeks to share the whole thing. Part one is around 1600 words this week. This is a mature series - you've been warned.

Somewhere in Texas, 1969...


"How is every road in this Godforsaken place under construction?" Frank asked as he followed the detour signs to yet another country road.


"Too bad we left the highway," Jane said, forcing a straight face when he glanced in her direction. She winced when a snicker came from the back seat.


Frank studied the rear view mirror a moment before letting out a big sigh. Damn it...she's not wrong. Frank reached over and patted Jane's knee. She hesitated before grabbing his hand and offering a squeeze. It was taking some time, but she seemed to be coming around to his being home. A year out in the jungle changed him more than he cared to admit.


"I can't help being hungry," he said, forcing a laugh that wasn't really there. "How could I have ever known we'd never get back on I-45?"


"Since you've been home, you're always hungry," a voice came from the back followed by more snickers and giggles.


Frank let loose another sigh but kept quiet. How did I get talked into driving these two bitches to Houston? He glanced back at the rear view mirror, a sneer on his lips. The two girls in the back grew quiet. He stared until they dropped their heads, cutting off their line of sight.


Goddamn right. He bit his bottom lip to keep the words from tumbling out. He survived Charlie for months; it would be a cold day in Hell before he surrendered to a couple of High School seniors. Jane pulled her hand free and smacked his arm hard enough to cause him to wince.


He dropped his vision back to the road, his jaw clenched in silent frustration. You're going to blow it before we even make it to Rice...cool it, Frank.


"Shit...sorry," he mumbled as he gripped the wheel with both hands, his knuckles turning white from the pressure.


They drove on in silence, the tension building. Jane reached to the dashboard to click on the radio. Three pops sounded as she turned the knob. The radio powered up but only static played. Frank's mind wandered to the pops. They were such a familiar sound, but he was struggling to place it. A vision of the jungle flashed through his head.


Frank stopped breathing. The static from the radio morphed into the buzz of the jungle, drowning his senses in a steady hiss. Jane gripped the knob and rolled the dial over the numbers until a blast of music filled the car.


"Frank?" Jane asked concern evident in her voice.


Her hand rested on his shoulder. He wanted to look, to see her touching him, but instead, he continued to stare straight ahead. The static in his head grew in volume drowning out the sounds of the car moving over the uneven country road and the voice of Johnny Cash coming through the speakers. Jane pushed on his arm, looking for any reaction. He barely moved. Take more than that to move this soldier.


An ache filled his chest, the kind of ache he got traipsing around the bush when all he wanted was to be home. To be home with Jane. His face began to darken, and he wondered if there was any reason he wasn't breathing. Screams began to filter through the roar in his head. His vision darkened as helplessness washed over him.


At least my last breath is here, in Texas...


***


Jane waked to the screech of the car horn. She flinched in pain as she struggled to push back from the dashboard. What the hell happened? She blinked back the pain as she tried to figure out if she meant to the car or Frank. She'd seen him freeze once before right when he got back, but she chalked it up to the fireworks at the end of the game. This was different though.


"Frank?" she asked before forcing her eyes to focus through the haze.


His face pressed against the steering wheel, blood ran from a gash on his forehead. Jane gripped his shoulder and pulled him back, grateful for the sudden silence. A moan from the back pulled her attention away from Frank. The girls slumped against each other, arms and legs tangled together. No blood, thankfully.


"Is everyone okay?" she asked her voice thick with pain.


Am I okay?


"I think so."


Jane's eyes squinted as she stared at the girls. Was that Mary? For some reason, she thought if it was her sister everything would be all right. She realized she was holding her breath as Frank had before the crash. It came out in a rush as she reached back to grab Mary's hand.


"What happened?" Mary's best friend, Cindy, asked as her eyes fluttered open.


"I don't know but Frank is hurt," Jane said. She squeezed Mary's hand before letting go, "Are ya sure y'all are okay?"


"Yeah," Cindy replied after a moment. The girls untangled and opened their doors to slip out of the car.


Jane returned her attention to Frank, relieved to see his chest rise and fall in a shallow but steady rhythm. She popped open the glove box and pulled out the first aid kit and a bandanna. This seems like a lot of blood. She wiped away the excess to expose a nasty cut. Fumbling through the kit, she let out a grunt of frustration. Where are they?


"Yes," she exclaimed as she pulled out a package of alcohol wipes.


Frank's eyes shot open as she pressed the first wipe to his forehead, his hand grabbing her wrist and pulling her arm down.


"Damn it, Frank," she cried out, surprise quickly turning to fear as his fingers tightened. "Let go...you're hurting me!"


"Jane? You can't be out in the bush...you're my only anchor to real life," he mumbled through clenched teeth before slumping back.


"We have a problem," Cindy called out.


No shit. Jane stared at Frank a moment longer before sliding out. The car stopped a few feet from the road, the front bent around a thick tree trunk. She hurried around the back to see what the two girls were staring at. Both tires on the driver's side were flat, but it was the jagged hole in the driver's door that held their attention.


"Is that...a bullet hole?" she asked already sure of the answer.


Two flats and they were in the middle of nowhere. She glanced at the girls and forced a smile on her lips as she reached out and pulled them closer.


"Ladies, I need you guys to focus," Jane said, trying to keep her voice as light as possible. Having two frightened eighteen-year-olds will not make this easier. "Frank is hurt, but I think once he's oriented, he'll be fine. We need to find help. A little way back, I think there was a sign for a motel somewhere out here. If we're lucky, it's on this road."


"Yeah," Mary said with a shaky voice as she stared at Frank's unconscious form. "But what if he isn't?"


Jane reached out and pressed her hand against her sister's face, "If he can't move...well someone will need to stay with him while the others go for help."


"No-no-no-no," Cindy began to repeat, her eyes shiny with unshed tears.


"Stop it," Jane snapped as she gripped her sister's friend by the shoulder and began to shake. "We don't have a choice. Y'all aren't children anymore. Now get a hold of yourself."


Mary pushed through her sister's grip and pulled Cindy tight against her. Jane turned from them and opened the driver's door. She noticed a hole in the seat, just under his leg, and let out a gasp. Lucky break there. She reached over Frank, grabbing the kit, so she could try again to clean up the nasty gash on his forehead. He let out a moan as the wipe pressed against the wound, but this time he made no motion to wake up.


Jane finished taping up the bandage and stepped back. She glanced to the sky, guessing there might be a couple of hours left before it grew dark. The last thing she wanted was for them to be separated after nightfall. Sighing, she turned to break the news to them.


Mary held up her hand as she continued to whisper into Cindy's ear. After a moment of silence, she offered a slight nod and Mary pulled away from her friend.


"Okay, we'll go," she said as she stared at Jane. "If something is wrong, he has the best chance with you here. We'll find the motel and bring back help."


Jane offered a sad smile. She couldn't argue as Mary's points were exactly the ones Jane prepared to make. She was in her third year of nursing school, but more importantly, if he woke up confused, like before, she was the only one with any hope of calming him down.


"Hold on," she said as she moved back to her side to grab the flashlight she saw earlier in the glove box. "Take this in case it gets dark."


Mary grabbed it with a nod before reaching out her free hand to Cindy who hesitated a moment before taking it with a sigh. The two began to walk away from the car, their speed increasing as Mary pulled her friend along.


God, please keep them safe. It was the prayer she started using when Frank left for Vietnam. It got him home...she hoped it kept the girls out of harm's way as well.



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