It might have been a coincidence that crystal blue winter skies turned dark and blustery about the time Sherry Waters roared into town, herding her '73 Lincoln Town Car into a stop in front of Lonnie Johnson's feed store. Even so, knuckle hairs were standing at attention among even the most mildly superstitious of Apache Flats observers.
“Lord, it's your ex,” said Lonnie, hoisting a feed sack onto Hooter's pickup as he let loose a jet stream of Mail Pouch.
“That didn't take long,” smiled Hooter, resting his armload of feed on the rail.
“What, did you call her right after we saw the news yesterday?”
“Nope,” said Hooter, “I've never known how it is that she knows stuff; she just does.”
Lonnie was heading to his office with what appeared to be a longer stride than normal. He muttered over his shoulder, “The only stuff I want to know is when she's gone.”
The Difference Between Bygones and Be-gones
The news, in case you missed it, was this: Eunice Nicklecock, the deposed senior executive strategist of the People for the Ethical Treatment of All Things (PETAL), had escaped from the Gentle Balance and Peace Institute in Wyoming, where she had been convalescing ever since she came face to face with Hooter, the Legend of the White Armadillo, and some of the actual beasts a few years back. At the time, she'd been after Hooter as one of her cockeyed organization's primary enemies. With Sherry's help, though, Hooter had sent the rotund activist scurrying out of town and over the edge.
Newspaper accounts of Eunice's funny farm exodus noted that prior to her Halloween escape she had taken to referring to herself as a mythical Phoenix that could be burned up but never destroyed. What's more, she made veiled threats that she intended to head back to Apache Flats and get even. She'd gone so far as to make the sad mistake as referring to her enemies as Voodoo Trash.
So, Hooter was less surprised than a drumstick on a Thanksgiving table to see Sherry—a self-proclaimed, umpteenth generation, genuine Voodoo Queen—roar into town.
Sherry sprang from her shining car (Hooter ever marveled how the car always looked show-room new), the sparks dancing in her ebony eyes like foxfire at midnight. She didn't even say hello.
“What's this about that PETAL cow insulting my heritage?”
“Well, sugar, you know as much…”
“She'll be here soon,” interrupted Sherry with a menacing smile. “I'll be ready for her. You can help if you want, but I don't need it. I just wanted you to know I'm back around.” With that, she hopped back into the Lincoln and gassed it west out of town.
The Trials of a Phoenix
As usual, Sherry's radar was impeccable. In fact, Eunice Nicklecock had already stumbled, hitched and whined her way to Lubbock. Actually, she'd finally made it that far. Anyone witnessing her technique for a short while could see why it had taken her the better part of three months to cover the same amount of ground anyone else could have walked if they hadn't been preoccupied trying to catch a lift.
Eunice was currently hoisting her thumb on Highway 20. By anyone's yardstick she looked rough, dirty and downright scary. She wore the same faded blue hospital gown she had on when she left the institute. Thankfully, she'd acquired some orange sweat pants to wear beneath it. Over the top of these she wore a patched green jacket, at least three sizes too small, that had a hood fringed in matted fake fur. And, she sported a pair of holey, purple Chuck Taylor high-tops that were at least two sizes too large. With little imagination, it looked like a penguin's worst nightmare begging for a ride.
But, her appearance wasn't the problem; it was her approach. Never mind the fact that she held a rusty golf club in her left hand and always had the carcasses of one or two road kills draped around her neck or over her shoulders, in various stages of returning to dust. She was waving her arms and talking to herself non-stop. When a vehicle would speed by, she'd jump up and down, wave her arms and scream at the top of her lungs. Even when someone, apparently as ill-adjusted as she, would stop on the shoulder to take their chances, she'd keep up the unintelligible harangue. That's why she never made it more than a few miles with the same benefactor.
A bright red Kenworth whistled by her, flashing its lights and giving her a horn blast. She jumped up and down like a jackhammer. Some happy snowbirds crawled by in their Winnebago, with the left blinker on, paying her no attention. She jumped up and down and shook her fist. A souped-up Firebird came and went so fast that all she saw was a blue blur. She jumped up and down, then blinded by her rage gave a mighty kick to the pile of road kill. So it went, all afternoon.
Then it started to rain. Then the rain turned into good old fashioned West Texas ice. It's what saved her. After a couple of hours, she couldn't flap her arms anymore. She couldn't scream or even talk to herself. Frozen up tighter than a Hemmy engine without oil, still standing, wedged against a sign post before, and now frozen to it, she looked normal and pitiful enough that a retired railroad man on his way back into Lubbock stopped for her.
Even the Good Samaritan Would Have Run
Victor V. Viceroy had his hands full, too, literally. It wasn't enough that Eunice was stiff as a board, no flex or give in any joint. But it was so slick, Victor had resorted to frog-crawling along the shoulder just to get to her. He'd finally got her pried away from the sign post, still not knowing whether she was alive or dead. When he did, though, she fell forward and slid along the highway for a ways. By luck and sheer will, Victor got her sliding toward the shoulder just before a sand truck went by. But once Eunice's carcass got to the shoulder it kept on going, all the way down to a frozen drainage ditch below. There was no way he'd be able to get his find and himself back up the hill. Then it dawned on him: he had a winch.
If you've never been on top of ice, not the kind that freezes when snow melts, but true-blue ice, then you know is slicker than frog guts soaked in hog fat. So it was that after Victor had pulled out his line and laced the hook around Eunice's stiff legs in something of a half-hitch, that when he started the winch his pickup began sliding toward Eunice and the ditch, rather than the other way around. Victor slid himself out of the way, then could only watch in horror at the wreck he knew had to come.
Inch by inch, with every wind of the line, the pickup slid steadily toward the shoulder and ditch. Just as it was about to go past the point of no return though, it suddenly stopped, wedged somehow against the recently vacated sign post. The winch whirred on. By the time Victor got over to it to turn it off, Eunice was about to meet him in the middle. He used a come-along tied to the post to bring her the rest of the way, then a precariously balanced high-lift bumper-jack to bring her even with the back seat. One desperate lunge later, he had her inside; on her face, half on and half off the seat, but inside.
There was no going anywhere, and Victor didn't expect to see anyone else on the highway. Nothing to do but crank up the heater and hope the storm let up. In the meantime, he took to seeing if he could thaw Eunice out enough to tell whether or not she was still alive. Her clothes were so iced up, he couldn't even see pockets to check for identification.
Victor started with blankets, tucking them all around her. Then he activated a couple of those chemical hand warmers and stuck them underneath the blanket. He turned the vents toward her and cranked the fan up to full blast. And he waited.
A good half hour later, there came a scream from the back seat that had Victor V. Viceroy grabbing leather and looking for a way out. “I swear I heard the banshees of Hell,” he would tell his newfound Christian brothers and sisters later. Eunice had thawed.
“Pervert!” screamed the abominable creature from the back seat. “What have you done to me?! Let me up from here this instant!” Then that blood-curdling scream again.
“Lady, lady,” Victor tried frantically, reaching over the front seat, trying to get hold of her. He'd forgotten the ice sculpture had been clutching a gold club.
In between screams, Eunice was flailing that nine-iron with all of her might. By the time she was done, and Victor had jumped out the front door, Eunice had cracked both side windows, shattered the rear window, broke out the cab light and punched several holes in the headliner. When she finally burst out the rear door, she even had some color back in her cheeks.
Soon as she hit the ice though, she was airborne and landed right beside Victor, who was crouching in fear beside the road sign.
“Aiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeee!” they both screamed simultaneously. As Eunice raised the golf club, Victor lunged for the car. The last he saw of her she was sliding back toward the ditch, club held aloft, still shouting at the top of her lungs.
“That's the last time I decide to just run up the road for some smokes,” muttered Victor to himself. Ice or no ice, he was getting out of there, and he did, at about two miles per hour.
To be continued--