This article is part of the That Insidious Beast series.



To Ashland

The disease in the sky is spreading. The cloudless gray is perforated with hundreds of glittering pinholes. The long slashes off to the west are boiling with scarlet light and shifting shapes. Deep in that writhing impossibility are big, dark things that move with ponderous purpose.

Shadows sweep back and forth. The pinholes throb with life. The tone in my head pulses in perfect rhythm.

The highway is desolate. Lanes that only recently were choked with commuters are nearly empty. Not even much roadkill. The animals have gone to ground.

There are some military trucks. Supply convoys and replacements. The drivers look away when they see the ragged cross on the hood. Even my brothers in green don't want a piece of the tenders.

Every few minutes we pass a lone car packed with camping gear and belongings. These are the stragglers and the poor bastards lost trying to find a way out of here. Wide-eyed kids and housewives peer out at us with fear. They swerve to the furthest lane to keep their distance.

Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there is only one exit from this show.

"Where are you taking me?" it's a simple enough question.

"Back," Fatso offers.

Tall Boy adds, "To the Hee-hee-hee. To the Hee-hee-row-fant."

"Where? How far?" I press.

What are they going to do, kill me for asking?

Tall Boy shoots me a glare from his warty eyes. Fatso spits schoolyard curses at him for looking away from the road.

"Marrowbone town," Fatso finally answers. "Where the trucks with the cows go. Where they make the meat for us. Where the Hee-row-fant lives."

Marrowbone. I've never heard of it, but it sounds suitably terrible. A little more prodding and Fatso describes a church in a nearby town as one I recognize from Ashland City. Past Nashville. Quite a distance. I hope there-

The highway is gone. Not blown up. It doesn't end. It's gone like it never existed.

"Ahhhhh!" Tall Boy screams and slams on the brakes.

"Trees!" Fatso screams.

Trees, yeah. He's right.

What was a flat, barren river of concrete is now roll hills and a towering forest of trees. I have never seen their sort before. The truck, traveling at upwards of 60 miles an hour, bursts through dense thickets. Black thorns as long as a buck knife and as sharp as a razor squeal across the truck and leave silver furrows. Tires explode.

Brackish water splashes across the windshield and deposits hundreds of thin red worms onto the glass. Their eyeless bodies whip frantically as the truck finally slews to a halt. The titanic root system of one of the trees is close enough to touch. There is a beetle the size of my hand on the roots. It is so big I can see its eyes.

"Not a good thing," Fatso declares.

Tall Boy turns on the windshield wipers, smashing the worms and smearing their red innards across the glass.

"Tire busted," Tall Boy says.

Drool spills out of the corners of his mouth. He doesn't bother to suck it back in.

Tall Boy wrenches the door open and gets out. It's the last mistake he'll ever make.

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