EF 5 • by J.C. Towler

Cars inched forward like cattle pressing into a slaughterhouse chute. Zack thumped the steering wheel with his fist. Who knew there’d be road work at Dulles International at 5:00 on Friday? He should have left sooner. His white-boy dreadlocks and scraggly facial hair always ensured a “random” selection for the Homeland Security Shakedown. His time cushion was dying in the traffic congestion and if he missed his plane —

The driver behind Zack laid on his horn. The guy in the pickup ahead of him hoisted a middle-finger salute in response.

“What? It wasn’t me!” Zack pointed backwards, half turning. The accusatory finger remained aloft. He flipped the hood of his Baja up, withdrawing his head like a turtle. Good memories were steeped in the rough-spun grey wool with many more to come if he could get through this goddamn traffic jam.

A vanguard of raindrops slapped against the windshield of his Volkswagen bug. Zack craned his neck out of the hood and looked toward the sky. Clouds slid over the sun like a hangman’s shroud, turning the afternoon a premature gray. Wind buffeted the VW, whistling through the holes in the old car’s body.

Zack turned on the radio and flipped through the channels.

“…unexpected system over the Washington metropolitan area. Motorists should get off the road and seek shelter. Flights temporarily suspended at…”

A static blizzard obliterated the rest of the transmission. Zack rolled the tuner back and forth, then gave up. He slapped his palms against his thighs and slumped in his seat. He’d logged a shitload of overtime to pay for this trip and now he wasn’t even going to get off the ground?

The thrum of a cutout muffler reached him an instant before the motorcycle shot past his window. Zack flinched away; cheeks flushing with anger. A hand-painted cross stretched across the back of the biker’s jacket. The black leather background made the white seem to glow.

“Lot of good that’ll do if someone opens a door on you, dumbass,” Zack said.

The biker stopped under a nearby overpass. He dismounted, peered at Zack over mirrored sunglasses, and winked. He gave a finger wave, and then clambered up a slope that formed a sideways “v” with the overpass. Zack peered after the man, trying to see if he recognized him.

Rain lashed down, blurring the windows, washing away all visibility. Zack switched on the wipers just as powerful gusts jolted the car, slamming him sideways. Bits of gravel hammered the windshield. Hairs on his arms stiffened. Missing his flight was rapidly becoming a distant concern.

An unearthly howl built over the din of the debris pelting the VW. Something heavy smashed against the windshield, birthing a spider web the size of a baseball. The car shuddered and Zack felt himself being lifted. His stomach dropped with the car as it crashed against the ground, shattering every window on impact. Zack flung his hands across his face as rain poured in, soaking him in an instant.

He yanked open the door and rolled to the ground, the wind clawing breath from his lungs. Raindrops stung like BB’s. A few feet away, something heavy landed with a metallic crunch. Zack curled into a ball and moaned.

Screams propelled him to his feet.

He half-crawled toward the overpass, pain jolting his hands and knees as broken glass cut his flesh. Finally, the ground began to slope upward and he scrambled blindly higher. As he neared the underside of the overpass the wind and rain diminished. He wiped his eyes and glanced back at the road. In both directions it looked like a giant had scooped handfuls of cars, tossed them in the air, and then stomped them flat. The sight was almost as startling as the voice that called out to him a moment later.

“Hey, brother, over here.”

Zack slipped down the slope a few feet before regaining traction. Above him, the motorcycle rider held out a hand. Zack couldn’t imagine how he’d missed seeing him, big as the man was.

“You’re him, aren’t you?” the biker asked. His grit-encrusted goatee framed his crooked grin. Zack didn’t know who he’d been mistaken for, but felt it best to go along and get along for the moment. Brushing soaked dreadlocks away from his face, he took another step up the slope.

“Yeah, sorry I didn’t recognize you back there when you waved,” he said.

The biker gave him one of those ‘our-little-secret’ winks. “That’s okay. I recognized you.”

Zack crawled up the rest of the way and tucked in beside the man. He wondered why he was sitting by the edge of the overpass. Personally, he’d have felt much safer in the middle.

“Why don’t we move back some?” he said.

“Naw,” the man said. “This here’s a front row seat.”

Zack shook his head and turned his attention to his hands. Glass had sliced him up good, and he was leaking from a dozen different wounds. He plucked at the shards with shaking fingers. He noticed the biker staring at the bleeding palms and nodding to himself. What the hell was with this guy? A smile split the man’s face wide enough to expose a missing molar.

“What do you think happened?” Zack asked.

“Like you don’t know.” The man laughed and tapped his temple. “Finger of God. Good idea, brother. They expected fire or ice.”

The biker rose to his feet.

“Well, I guess I’m ready,” he said.

“Ready for what?” Zack asked.

The man pointed skyward. Dark clouds swirled in a clockwise direction. A dark funnel dropped toward the ground in slow motion. The biker latched onto the sleeve of his Baja with a terminal grip.

“The Rapture!” His crazed eyes bore into Zack’s as he hauled him out into the open. “I knew you’d come for me yourself, Jesus. Take me home!”

“Wait,” he screamed. “I’m not — ”

The tornado corkscrewed down from the heavens, swallowing his dying shriek.

J.C. Towler spins tales of mystery, suspense, science fiction and is particularly fond the deep, penetrating horror tale. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is his home which is odd considering he’s afraid of the ocean and doesn’t eat fish. His latest suspense story “Lottery Winner” appears in Your Darkest Dreamspell available at Amazon and other fine retailers. You can check out “The Fall” at Spinetingler.com and “Scales” in the Monstrous: 20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror anthology.

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