by Philip Wallace

He knew he should have sprung for the GPS unit, but that would have cut into the beer supply later. So he had borrowed an old roadmap from Toby figuring he wouldn't get lost anyways. So he cursed as he dug into the bottom of his backpack in the trunk for the ancient road atlas. The Texas sun was sweltering as usual. "It's not the heat that'll get you, it's the humidity," he thought out loud. He finally dug it out from among his ratty underwear and rock concert t-shirts wondering how in the hell he could get so lost..

It had seemed so simple. Head in the general direction of the biggest outdoor rock and roll concert ever to be held in the wilderness between Dallas and Oklahoma and he would meet others headed that way. All he would have to do is join the flow of traffic and soon he would be in a beer drenched girl cruising paradise. He might even bump into some of his friends, but it was okay if he didn't. He had more luck with the ladies when he was alone, but unless he figured out where he was soon he would miss the all important festival settling in stage. The later he arrived the harder it would be to hook up and he'd have to just get drunk and maybe score some 'shrooms.

He unfolded the map and tried to lay it out on the trunk, but a sudden Texas sized blast of heated air blew it into his face instead. "Dammit," he cursed while he struggled to lay it out. He stared at it for a few minutes now and then glancing around his bleak surroundings. The two lane highway he'd stopped on wasn't in the desert, but it might as well have done. There was nothing but scrub land as far as he could see. No matter how hard he thought, he couldn't translate where he was now to a location on the map. It was just like when you didn't know how to spell a word and people told him to use a dictionary. How the hell was he going to find the word if he didn't know how it was spelled and how was he going to find his way when he couldn't find where he was..

He hated the idea, but he'd have to call for help. He'd try his friends first and if they weren't around or couldn't figure out where he'd gone he would. gulp, call the police. He wasn't holding anything illegal. "Shit," there was no service in this area. He'd have to keep driving until the phone got picked up or found a service station. "Shit," he cursed again as he got back behind the wheel and debated whether to keep going in the same direction or try to re-trace his route.

Might as well keep going north. At least he thought it was north. It was hard to tell since it was noon. He got into his old Outback, cranked up some Phish, and tried to think positive thoughts. Lots of cold beer; his case would run out soon. Lots of single girls needing attention that he could give. Blissed out rock and roll rolling over him in waves while the stars blinked on over the electric blanket earth of Texas summer. He'd find his way there within the hour if he was lucky.

But he wasn't. The hours dragged on. The afternoon stretched out with the rumble of thunder clouds on the horizon. His car's gas tank edged toward empty and the damn phone still wouldn't work. He had almost resigned himself for the prospect of running out of fuel and having to walk for help when signs of civilization appeared. Long abandoned and forgotten roadside attractions dotted the shoulders of the highway. The "World's Largest Rattlesnake" could once be found at Spook's Snake Shack. Tumbleweed's Old West shop promised "souvenirs, trinkets, trash & treasure" while Big Joe Bob's Saloon might have once been a biker's bar. The best sight of all was a new green highway sign beckoning 5 Miles - Destry, Texas.

He could see the town proper in the distance when his Subaru sputtered to a halt. His phone still couldn't pick up anything, but he didn't mind walking a few miles at this point. He grabbed his next to last beer and got his backpack out of the trunk. The heat was rising off the pavement in almost solid waves. He could feel the heat through the soles of his shoes so he drifted to the side of the highway and began trudging up the road. An old metal sign with the initials IP towered into the sky about half a mile up the road. Some warehouse type buildings reflected the sun back into his eyes. It must be an industrial park. Maybe there'd be a pay phone there or perhaps some people were working on this Saturday. He got to the base of the sign and decided he'd take the access road to the park. It wouldn't take long to check the place out. He might be able to save 4 miles of walking.

There weren't any cars or trucks in front of the first place he came to; maybe they parked out back. There was a guardshack, but it was empty. A gust of wind hit and old bottles and cans skittered across the parking lot which was pockmarked by grass. He walked deeper into the industrial complex and only found desolation. It wasn't just the emptiness of Saturday morning either. This place hadn't seen any business in quite a while. He sat on a curb and picked at the peeling yellow paint frustrated at everything. He should have just walked into town. He should have asked for directions a hundred miles ago. He should have went to the show with his friends. Hell, he should have just stayed in bed today. Then he heard music.

It was coming from a building about 1,000 yards down the street. It was the last warehouse there and also the one that was most obviously vacant. He jumped up excited and happy. He ran toward the music; a pulsating million beats a minute techno. It wasn't his cup a tea, but maybe somebody was throwing a rave. He could party here awhile before heading on to the festival. Raves had gone out of style a long time ago, but he imagined it would be like the ones from the late 80's: Ecstasy, soap suds, vapor rub, and girls with baby pacifiers.

"Nobody's going to come," moaned Mort, "there's a big concert just 20 miles from here. We're wasting out time."

"Somebody will come; don't worry," said Megadeath. "You put the fliers up, didn't you?"

Mort looked down at the ground sheepishly while he reached behind to stuff some day-glo papers deeper into the back pocket of his coveralls.

Megadeath smacked Mort in the head; a resonant snap, crackle, and pop rang out over the music. Four shadows skittered together at the abandoned loading dock and called out, "Hippie at 12 o'clock, one lone hippie at 12 o'clock."

"Maybe we'll have some fun after all. Crank up the music! Turn on the lights!"

He reached the door of the warehouse noticing several old bicycles stacked by the front door. Music and stroboscopic lights poured out into the heat. He briefly thought wouldn't it be funny if this was all just a mirage. Like water on a highway which vanishes when you get near it. But no; this wasn't a mirage. There was a doorman in a hoodie walking up to greet him.

"Hola, mi amigo. No cover charge tonight. It's a party of massive proportions just getting ready to get bent," said a voice like chains clanking together. "Muy mucho musica rave and rock and roll and skull shots, dude."

The patois was trying to be hip, but something didn't seem right. Plus, the hoodie rat doorman kept his face pointed at the ground the entire time. He could see shadows of people dancing in the main warehouse. Flashes of lights and screams that sounded like delight fought through the music which had been cranked so high the vibrations now trembled the concrete floor beneath his feet. What the hell. He could at least peek inside and see what the hell was happening.

He followed behind the doorman who was practically skipping ahead. They reached the main room and the shadows coalesced into 12 dancing people. He took them in from the floor up. Dr. Martens on their feet, bare legs, cargo shorts, and tattoo covered torsos, and mask (it had to be masks) of misshapen skulls where their heads should be. They were skanking around him with their death's head grins when he heard a steel door shut with a clang. A pin prick of terror passed through his body as he realized the skulls were not masks. The IP Skullheads skanked closer as a puddle formed on the floor.


... ...


He woke to the strains of psychedelic guitar rock; dancing hippie chicks swirled around in lazy parabolas illuminated by glow sticks. His head throbbed. What the hell had happened? He had obviously passed out, but he couldn't remember much besides driving around for hours and getting lost in the oppressive heat. He went to stand up and then it all came back in Mansonesque rivulets of Technicolor pain and blood. His head had stopped throbbing because as soon as he'd tried to stand his feet were on fire.

They had cut off 6 of his toes with razor blades. They had giggled with glee as he suffered. He remembered the hot pail of bubbling oil where they had deep fried his toes before eating them like they were tasty truffles. There was the gathering of sharp knives and rabid fear that ran through him in panicked sparks. Then the one named Mort got in an argument with the one called Megadeath about the hippie music festival.

There was a short, bumpy, and dusty ride in an old U-haul over the scrub land. The IP Skullheads knew where the event was being held. Somebody produced a pipe and fired up some amber colored boiling syrup and told him to take some tokes. When he wouldn't they forced it down him and told him they doing him a great honor by sharing their skrunk. Things got really wiggly at this point. He paid for the Skullheads and himself to get in to the festival. Somebody handed him a beer and then he collapsed.

The Skullheads were just milling around with what looked to be leers at the dancing girls. A few hours passed by and then suddenly without warning the Skullheads started attacking those near them. Men, women, teenagers, and even a few children found themselves facing these mutated monsters grown strange and violent. Screams harshed the mellow guitar noodlings and people that weren't in the vicinity who heard the cries thought "those people need to chill out, man."

He stepped gingerly toward an exit as Skullheads ran with their arms full of struggling victims. Mort gave him big thumbs up and said, "We're going to have a one hell of a barbecue."

"Texas sized," yelled Megadeath!

They were treating him like he was now one of them. He might be missing some toes. He had ingested whatever skrunk was, but he hadn't suddenly developed a taste for bloodlust and human flesh. He stumbled over to a souvenir and t-shirt vendor's booth. The vendor was huddled behind a table hiding from the Skullheads. He jumped behind the table and the vendor's eyes turned into flying saucers.

"Hey man, leave me alone!"

The vendor scrambled to his feet and ran away scattering shirts, rock star emblazoned mirrors, and the cashbox's contents over the ground. Was there a Skullhead behind him that scared the vendor off? Nope. He was alone in the booth. Jim Morrison's blank face stared out from a mirror. He used to have one of those when he was in high school. He'd hung it on the wall of his bedroom. He'd been so naive he hadn't known that people bought them to use for laying out cocaine. Something dripped on the mirror. He wiped it clean and realized it was skin. An uncontrollable urge for the skrunk pipe came over him.


... ...


Mr. Spook drove his wrecker onto the lot of his market. There hadn't been anything of great value in the Subaru he towed, but he had appreciated the one beer that had been left in the back seat. There didn't appear to be anything wrong with the car that couldn't be fixed by a tank of gas. He'd give the owner 'til tomorrow and when he or she didn't come, and they never came, he'd either strip it down or sell it to some illegal alien. This was one he'd probably sell outright.

He entered his store and picked up the local newspaper. It was the usual stuff. Murders, politics, and environmental news dominated front page. There was a little blurb at the bottom corner about that damn hippie festival they had a few days ago. It had been a big success, but police had been notified about some missing people. Rumors were floating around that they had been kidnapped by a gang wearing skull masks. The police chief figured the kids would show up soon; they were probably just strung out on drugs.

The bell rang and a hooded figure entered. "I'm here for the skrunk senor," he whispered.

Mr. Spook headed to the back room and said casually over his shoulder, "I heard ya'll had a big one the other night."


The End



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