A man alone in the world is a scary thing. He can be brave and fight the evils of the world for his loved ones, but what if there is no one to fight for and no one to defend, no family honor to protect because he has no family? Then he has nothing.
He has survival.
Charlie Hubbell is a man of many, many years. He has powder white skin and his face and body are covered with deep wrinkles and thick rolls of excess skin. The few hairs he has left are gray and combed back flat against his head. He is an old sickly man.
Often, Charlie tries to think back and remember his life, but rarely will he. He will see flashing pictures of what must be from another man’s life: a woman’s face, a small house, a shining gun, a beautiful sky, laughter. Sometimes these things make him cry. He remembers distinctly being in a war, but not which one. He thinks he might have been married once, but can’t recall who she was, what she was like, or even the color of her hair. He remembers other things, as well, gruesome things. He doesn’t try to remember those. He doesn’t want to. They make him think bad things. They make him do bad things.
The white walls are what cloud his mind…and the laughter.
Charlie has been searching for a reason to live for quite some time now. He was born to a world that didn’t care and found solace in the walls of his mind. Now he no longer sees walls, but bars with no escape. His eyes are closed windows where he can look out to a world he has never understood, and a world that has forgotten his existence. His only fears are that there is no salvation and that death not only destroys his body, but his soul. This man is about to face death and he only remembers his life from ten minutes ago. He knows his essence. He knows every part of himself, but that is all.
Charlie looks at his surroundings. He’s driving down a long stretch of road. He doesn’t know how he got here, or even whose car he’s driving, perhaps it is his. The road seems to go on forever. It is a long winding road. Large hills of solid rock are on each side, giving it the morbid feeling of a tunnel. The sun is shining brightly and reflecting off the hood of the car. Charlie doesn’t know where he’s going, but he’s sure it must be someplace important, so he keeps on driving. He looks down at the speedometer, and it reads sixty-six mph. Is that fast? He’s not sure. After all, when was the last time he has driven? He tries to think back He tries to think of cars…nothing. No wait! He sees a car. It’s a red Plymouth, no Oldsmobile, and it’s sitting in front of that little house, the one he always remembers.
The car swerves off the road. Charlie lets out a yell, and quickly jerks the steering wheel back toward the road. He was concentrating, trying too hard to remember, and forgot what he was doing.
Bad things happen if you remember.
Charlie focuses again on the road, wondering where it’s going to lead him. The road is so alone, except for the sun. A long, wandering stretch of cement, just going. Why would anyone want to travel out here? What could such a desolate path lead to? Charlie, all of a sudden, begins to feel paranoid. He begins to think that maybe he should turn around and go back. This road could lead to nothingness, or perhaps that’s where he is coming from.
Charlie reaches up with his wrinkled hand and wipes the sweat from his upper lip. He wants to die. The sun is shining even brighter.
Charlie begins to focus even harder on the road, to become entranced by it. Surely someone is playing a joke on him. Who the hell is he?! Did he ever know? Did it matter that he didn’t remember before, like it does now? Charlie’s eyes focus on the broken white lines in front of him. The heat is getting unbearable as the sun seems to rise higher in the sky and shine even brighter, like a beacon. What a blinding heat. He dares not look at it. The broken lines on the road begin to break away from the middle of the road. They dance and vibrate as if trying to escape, as if they were Mona Lisa trying to escape the canvas, but it is useless. They can’t escape. Charlie sees them being pulled back to their bondage by some unseen force, kicking and screaming. He feels sorry for each piece of broken line as he drives over it. It must be hell to be trapped on the cement in the hot sun.
Charlie looks up at the sun. He’s beginning to shake from lack of hydration. He needs water. The sun is scorching his eyes as he looks at it. Tears run down his face, and he turns his face away from the blinding light. He thinks it must be the eye of God looking down at him, mocking him, threatening him to curse it. But he’s done nothing to anger God, has he?
Perhaps it’s the eye of the Devil.
Charlie can’t take much more of this heat, or this loneliness, this isolation without purpose. He feels wetness all over, and notices the blue clothes he’s wearing are plastered against his skin by perspiration. He will surely die soon from the heat. No man his age can bear such a suffocating heat without water.
Charlie leans his small, withering torso against the steering wheel and navigates with his entire body. He can hear a faint laughter coming from somewhere, but he always hears the laughter.
He hears the laughter when the bad things happen.
He strains his blurred watery eyes to see in front of him. What is that? There is something beside the road in the distance. It’s moving. A small live dot in the streaming air up ahead. Charlie pushes his foot down hard against the gas pedal, straining harder to see what is in front of him. The closer he gets to the object, the larger it gets, and more it takes shape. Charlie slams on his brakes. The object is just a few feet in front of him, except this object is not an object at all. It’s a man.
Charlie coughs and wipes at his eyes, the stagnant sweat not wanting to leave the contour of fleshy bags under his eyes.
The man is about six’ two”. He is, roughly, in his mid-twenties and handsome. His dark brown hair is clean cut and slicked back. His skin…red, more red than a festering sunburn, but smooth and so beautiful. The man’s dress is rather strange to be in the predicament he’s in, to be stranded in the middle of Nowhere. He’s wearing a suit for God’s sake! It is a gray suit with a red vest, black string tie, and a derby hat. He is also carrying a briefcase. What a strange, odd-looking, beautiful man. Charlie notices something else about him. He’s not sweating.
He’s not human.
The man begins to walk to the car. He gets to the passenger door, leans down and opens it. Charlie is startled by this. He was beginning to wonder if this man was a mirage, but mirages can’t open doors. Mirages can’t smile at you with such kindness, with such a haunting familiarity. Charlie has seen this face before, but he doesn’t know where, such a sweet feeling of remembering, such a comfort recognizing someone. The man peers into the open car door.
“Hot day, isn’t it,” he says, giving Charlie a most pleasant smile.
Charlie looks down at him wide-eyed, searching for words. He manages to spit out, “Why yes. Yes, it is.”
The man’s smile becomes wider, more angled, “I’m hitchhiking my way to the end of this road. This is as far as my last ride would take me. I’d say it’s a sin to leave a man stranded out in this heat, a damnable sin, if you’ll pardon me. Could I bother you for a ride?”
Charlie rubs at the back of his neck. He nods his head and welcomes the man inside with the wave of his hand. The man is in, and the car is back on the road in seconds. The man sits very upright in the passenger’s seat, his briefcase in his lap. His feet are crossed left over right. Charlie looks at him curiously. The question of what he, himself, is doing out on this barren road seems less important to him now, as he wonders what this strange man could be doing, and where he is going.
Further down the road, they drive. The strange man begins to peer at Charlie through the corner of his eye. Charlie feels the man’s stare on the back of his neck. He feels the man’s eyes studying him, trying to look deeper than the skin…into his brain.
He wants the soul.
The man leans over to Charlie and places his hand on Charlie’s shoulder, “So, care for a drink, friend?”
Charlie turns to him, “Ya got water?!”
“Of course,” the man chuckles out very matter-of-factly. He opens his briefcase and pulls out a bottle of water and glass. The man pours a portion of the bottle into the glass and hands it to Charlie. “Bottoms up.”
Charlie grabs for the glass and swallows it down in big gulps.
“Slow, my friend. You’ll get sick drinking that fast.” The man offers a pleasant smile to Charlie again, and asks for his name.
“Don’t know,” Charlie murmurs.
The man teases, “Surely, you know your own name.”
“No, I don’t! No, I don’t know my name!!”
“Alright. Alright. I didn’t mean to upset you,” the man grins.
Oh, yes you did, didn’t you?
“Where might I ask, are you travelling to, near or far?”
Charlie answers, “I’m going to keep on driving down this road ‘til I get to the end of it.”
The odd man begins to chuckle, and then laugh loudly to where it’s all Charlie can hear. The laughter echoes in Charlie’s ears, louder and louder. Charlie’s heard this laughter before. It angers him. It makes him want to kill. “Shut up, you devil,” Charlie screams.
“Ah, perhaps my friend remembers more than he thinks.” The man comforts him, “It’s okay, Charlie. I know you don’t remember, but it’s time for you to go. Today is your last day on this world. You must come with me, for this road will lead you straight to Hell.”
Charlie looks at the man, maddened by such talk, “Who are you?! What do you want from me?!”
“My name is of no consequence, although I must say I do enjoy it when they ask me that. Let me of many names assure you, at any rate, that if you do not come with me, by the end of this day, your frail body will be roasting in the fires of Hell!”
Charlie is angry, but frightened. “Ya mean you’re goin’ to kill me?!”
The man straightens his vest and looks down as he dusts off the sleeves of his jacket. “Oh yes, my dear Charlie. I am most definitely going to kill you. It’s nothing personal. Today is just your day to go,” he says in a bored manner, “that can’t change, but keep driving down this road and you’ll land right in God’s hands for judgment. Once He has you, well, there’s nothing I can do.”
Charlie pulls the car over to the side of the road. He tries to get the door open, but can’t. It’s stuck. Charlie pushes his body up against the door, trying to get as far away from the man as he can. “You don’t touch me, you devil! You damned ghost!”
“Don’t be a fool. You must come with me.” The man reaches over and brushes his cold hand against Charlie’s old face. “It’s the only choice you’ve got,” he whispers.
Charlie screams. “Don’t touch me!” He pushes the man’s hand away.
The man looks down at his hand, and then at Charlie, shocked by such as a response. “You human filth! You scum! How dare you? After all I’ve given to you, this is how you treat me! Why I ought to let them have you! They’re out looking for you right now, you know! It’ll just be a matter of time.”
“Who?! Who’s lookin’ for me?!”
“Why all your little human friends, of course. They’re scurrying around like little ants searching for you, and when they find you it will be too late. They will prompt the death I already have in store for you.”
“I don’t believe you! You’re just tryin’ to spook me!”
“Go ahead. Turn on the radio. See for yourself.”
Charlie looks down to the car radio, wide-eyed, then back at the man. He’s grinning from ear to ear. Charlie notices how perfect and shiny the man’s teeth are. He reaches for the radio, his eyes never leaving the horrid stare of the man. Charlie turns on the radio and as a song ends, a news report begins.
“This is an important bulletin to all of Bell Vue County and surrounding areas…Charlie Hubbell, the notorious serial killer who was found twenty-six years ago, guilty of fourteen murders as escaped from Bell Vue County Mental Institute for the Criminally Insane. He has killed one orderly and injured several others. The police believe he is driving a gray ’73 Oldsmobile that was found to be missing from the hospital parking lot. Police Commissioner Harris suggests that, if you’re within the Bell Vue County area, you should go home and lock all your door and windows until Hubbell is apprehended. Be careful. He is sixty-eight years old now and may appear very nonthreatening, but be warned; he is extremely dangerous. I repeat, extremely dangerous.”
Charlie turns to the man in shock. The man begins to grin that sinister grin again and then laughs out loud.
“Shut up! Shut your lying mouth! That man they’re talkin’ about on the radio is not me! It can’t be me,” Charlie pleads. Charlie starts to cry, the tears mixing with the sweat on his face.
The man’s laugh echoes, “But my poor, poor Charlie it is you. You are a killer.”
Charlie pounces on the man, knocking the hat off his head, and the briefcase out of his lap. He wraps his pruny fingers around the man’s throat and proceeds to strangle him.
The man continues to laugh as Charlie fills with fear. “You can’t kill me, you stupid fool! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
“Stop laughing! Stop that laughing! I hate it! I hate it,” Charlie screams as he slams the man’s head against the window. “I’m going to kill you!”
With a brush of his hand, the man sends Charlie flailing against the car door. The man’s angry eyes brighten, “You can’t kill me.” He pulls Charlie up close to him. “You’re mine.”
“Why do you refuse me? Why do you choose not to remember? Wasn’t I always there when you killed? Didn’t I always help you forget? Didn’t I always lean down and taste the blood of the kill, as you did. We were friends, you and I.” The man’s eyes move to Charlie’s forehead. He looks into his mind and utters the word, “Remember.”
Thousands of pictures flash through Charlie’s mind. They make him gasp. Horrible things. Killing. Death. Blood. Oh, so much blood. And that beautiful woman’s face. She’s there, but she’s dead. His hands covered with blood. He has killed her. There are children there, too. They’re crying, and he can hear laughter. Why are they crying?
Look closer. You’re killing them.
“Oh, God!” So much horror. So much pain. All there in overflowing evil memories. The corpses of all the men, women, and little ones he has killed lying there in front of his eyes. But something else is there. A cold icy hand on his shoulder and he’s…
The laughter, Charlie. Don’t forget the laughter.
“Snap out of it, Charlie. Wake up.” The man shakes Charlie by his shoulders. “Did you see it all, Charlie? Did you see what we shared? What I gave to you? How glorious and beautiful it was?”
“Your choice is clear. Either come and dance with the devil, swiping souls, and laughing in His face,” the man points up, “or take the beautiful spirit by the hand as it leads you to everlasting damnation, burning in Hell. Give me your soul before you die, Charlie. I need your decision now. Make your choice!”
Well, the Bell Vue County Police finally found the Oldsmobile that was missing on that extraordinary hot day. It was found on the side of the road on I-66, without Charlie Hubbell inside. After confirming that it was his fingerprints found on the steering wheel and his hair found on the driver’s seat, they proceeded to search the area, but to no avail. The search ended after three weeks. To this day, folks can only speculate what happened to Charlie Hubbell, and how that strange colorful derby hat came to be lying in the floorboard of the Oldsmobile.