She was the cutest hitchhiker he had ever had the good fortune to pick up. He glanced over at the soft figure sitting next to him, trying hard to hide the hungry gleam in his eyes. If they kept cruising down Highway 91 at this rate, they would be there in two hours. Soon enough, they would be dancing barefoot by the light of the moon with the rest of the tribe. He had an extra ticket and Lunar Vibe was already shaping up to be the party of the summer. And now he had someone with whom to share the experience. And damn, what a someone. What an amazing stroke of luck. Those soft, glistening eyes and full lips; that little girl, freckled nose and those luscious curves, all too apparent in perfectly fitted jeans. And the total cherry on top was that this piece of perfection just happened to climb into a car with this schmuck, who knew he would remain a gentlemen despite the horny, hungry wolf clambering about in his head; that is unless of course, he was given an invitation to do otherwise.
His mind drifted to the legendary aphrodisiac he had in the glove box. He had bought it from the toothless, old lady peddling herbs at a rest stop a few nights ago. He could still hear her laughing as she told him that it would turn him into a real animal, my boy. A real animal…
For now, it was just the two of them barreling down this crazy road to nowhere and hopefully into each other’s arms. They had the whole weekend in front of them and it was going to be super fucking epic. Maybe, just maybe she would climb into his tent later tonight. Maybe it would get just chilly enough for her to cuddle up close to him. And then, maybe….but he couldn’t think about that now.
One hundred miles left of driving and there would be just enough time to set up camp by lantern and then it would be time for a few cold ones and live music until sunrise. He couldn’t wait. Sweet anticipation ran up against the nag of a full bladder. He really had to pee. He turned the volume dial to the right; mellow ,psychedelic , noodly jams filled the car. Moonlight lit up the highway with its cold and indifferent light. He tried not to stare at her too much. He resisted the urge to put his hand on her thigh. Maybe later, when they would be settled comfortably in his tent…
She stared out the window, watching the shadows shift and morph on the rows of trees as they blurred by. She imagined the glowing eyes of night creatures staring back at her through the branches: creepy, hunting night creatures. A huge moon blazed up ahead. Its light played tricks with her eyes.
How long had she been running and where would it all end? Three weeks of going from town to town and she was already exhausted. She felt like prey running for her life in some kind of ridiculously drawn out chase scene from some goddamned National Geographic documentary. The kind where she covered her eyes to avoid seeing what was going to happen to the poor gazelle in the next frame. She just knew that it was going to be red and bloody and would inevitably involve a shot of the small animal, its eyes dead and glazed over as the lion ate its flesh. She knew full well that no one ever walks away from
Big Johnny when she had stolen the money from him. Nobody ever makes a fool of Big Johnny and lives to talk about it, but she had made it this far. And the camera was not going to be cutting to a shot of that fat bastard licking his chops anytime soon. Not if she could help it. She was not on the menu.
He stomped on the gas. 85mph and things were beginning to get desperate. Pressing needs and animal instincts. Major bladder discomfort. He was hungry, ravenous in fact. And dog tired of being in the car. There was no sign of civilization. They hadn’t seen a vehicle in at least an hour. Just a huge moon and a sky full of stars. Miles bled into miles of empty, open road. Finally, just up ahead there was a gas station. He pulled into the empty Exxon parking lot.
“No thanks man. I’m good.” She leaned back in her seat.
“You sure? Be back in a jiffy.”
She watched his red hoodie disappear through the front doors and into the harsh, fluorescent lighting of the mini mart. Bats dove and devoured insects under giant pole lights as the moon bore silent witness. The eerie zaps of bugs being fried by merciless, ultraviolet lanterns punctuated the midnight silence with a surreal rhythm. She took a deep breath, made sure he was totally out of sight and began to rifle through the glove box. She checked to make sure the small handgun was still tucked safely in the waistband of her jeans, hoping she wouldn’t have to use it. She didn’t want to have to do this – not to him. He seemed like a nice enough dude, but the rules of survival said otherwise. Out of money. Out of luck. Out of options. Business is business. There had to be some cash or valuables here somewhere. No dice. Just an empty wallet, a few cd’s, and an old wrinkled envelope. On the front of the envelope, the following words were printed on a yellowed label:
BRING OUT YOUR INNER BEAST
WEREWOLF ROOT / SPREADING DOGBANE
SEXIEST TRIP & MOST UNTAMED NIGHT OF YOUR LIFE
Inside the envelope was a small amount of plant matter, dried, shriveled and twisted. Well, this was intriguing. She was certainly no stranger to plant-fueled, psychonautic adventures, and there was something oddly appealing about this root. It felt strangely pleasant in her hands just like the subliminally pleasant vibrations she felt when she knew she had chosen the right crystal in one of the New Age shops she frequented. Curiously enough, she could hear a disembodied voice in her head speaking in the raspy tones of an apparently ancient crone, “Go on dear, try me. Try me and your life will never be the same again . What do you have to lose? No more running from town to town. No more living in fear and dread. It’ll make you feel like a real animal… “
She held the root in her hand for a moment. ‘Da fuck kind of Alice in Wonderland shit is this? A trippy, talking root? Yeah, right. Next thing you know I’ll be shrinking and growing and meeting Cheshire Cats and smoking weed with giant caterpillars. The gnarled old plant buzzed warmly in her palm. Startled to see his red hoodie already halfway back to the car, she slammed the glove box shut.
On impulse, she put the dried up old root in her mouth. And besides, she wouldn’t mind too terribly if things got wild, after all he was pretty cute. His hand was on the car door.
“Granola bar?” he asked as he got in.
“No thanks, man.” She chewed on the dry root, looking sheepish and trying to act as if her mouth wasn’t full of this vile and bitter and ancient root, this something with a wretched taste. She sure hoped it would live up to the pitch on the yellowed label.
He drove off, chewing on a granola bar and enjoying the absence of pressure on his bladder. Coyotes laughed and cackled in the distance. His most pressing physical needs having been attended to, it was time to set the tone for later: mood music, sexy, hard and dark, stay awake all night music. The melodic angst of Nine Inch Nails would do nicely. Industrial beats, broken fragments of lost piano melodies and icy synths filled the car. The speakers throbbed with the dirty electro-pulse of “Closer.”
He was sure he could talk her into sharing some of the root with him later, and maybe things would get more than a little bit crazy. They were both lost in the song…
Suddenly, her mind drifted to flashes of a long forgotten nightmare. She would often dream that she was running through a forest in a body that was too powerful to be her own while looking though fierce, alien eyes and giving chase to some helpless animal which she would run down. She would then taste its flesh, warm, raw, and bloody: a vegetarian’s nightmare. This macabre memory ended abruptly when she felt a searing pain deep within her skull. There was no warning. Were the effects of the root she had eaten kicking in already? If so, this was going to be a wild ride. Her senses were scrambled. Dizziness. Intense waves of nausea. She was going to be sick. Piercing blindness. The bones in her face were breaking, changing form and size, bending into impossible shapes. She couldn’t keep still. Make it stop make it stop. This couldn’t be happening; this couldn’t be real. The veins in her neck bulged into ropes. She couldn’t breathe. Make it stop make it stop. Her fingernails tore through the ends of her fingers, becoming claws. Hot, burning pain everywhere. She screamed. Her human voice was gone. She looked through eyes that were ruthless and inhuman, eyes that hunted for prey. Her teeth tore through her gums and became razor-like daggers, tools that were perfect for the shredding, tearing, and eating of flesh. Taste of her own blood. Lust for more blood. She howled and inhaled the scent of warm and living meat. Tender flesh of a human. He smelled delicious. Wiry grey and black hairs pushed through her pores and covered her once human skin. Meat of a young male. Her mouth watered. Her spine stretched; then popped. What painful and shatteringly cruel alchemy of flesh and bone was this? Powerful hunger surged through every fiber of her being. Her shoulders burst into haunches.
He screamed and jerked the wheel. The car skidded off the interstate and came to a sudden, steaming stop in a ditch. His body made it out of the car on instinct. Holy Fuck. The smell of hot, rank breath. Flash of big white teeth. Disorienting footfalls. He ran and ran and ran for his life. Into the woods, he ran, heart pounding. His sympathetic nervous system kicked into overdrive. Rustling. Panting. Howl of night creatures. Stab of a side stitch. He wove in and out of the trees, trying desperately to remain in the shadows. He was a tender gazelle trying to escape the teeth of the lion. His two legs were no match for the four legged, hungry beast.
She ran him down beside a birch tree, knocking him to the ground with a single swipe of the claw. She ripped out his throat and exposed the red and shining purple meat. His flesh was wet, hot and tender, just like it had been in her dream. He simultaneously felt the tortuous pleasure and searing pain of being eaten alive. Total overwhelm. The savagery of nature. The ultimate trip. Flood of endorphins and the world went black forever.
She awoke the next morning, shivering, naked and sore with bruises and scrapes. The early light came down in shafts through the trees. The morning silence was broken only by the chatter of birds. She remembered nothing. Her head was pounding, hungover. Had he been a total douchebag -creep who had drugged her and then took advantage of her while she was unconscious?
They never found what little was left of him. Strange white flowers sprang from the spot beside the birch tree where nature eventually absorbed his remains. The moon began to wane in its cycle and somewhere far away, an old lady herbalist laughed and laughed.