Nor Rain Nor Heat Nor Gloom of Night
1049 words long
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Notes from the author:
The mail must go through, right? And not just to pretty brick houses behind white picket fences, but everywhere. Meth houses, truck stops, police stations, universities, farms, monasteries, brothels. Any place with a recognizable mailing address and quite a few without. If anyone might be expected to drive from the truck stop in Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere to the setting of a modern day “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, a long-distance driver for the U.S. Post Office could do it.
I can’t possibly be the only one who’s thought of setting a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling at a truck stop. It came to me apropos of nothing more specific than having read T. Kingfisher’s Bryony and Roses around the time that I got “little buddy,” “grovel to none,” and the extremely random “titillating postman” as writing prompts for this here fictionette. I would be very surprised if no one else has tried it. I’m looking forward to trying it myself.
“Take me with you,” said the boy. “This isn’t a nice place.”
That much was obvious. During his time behind the wheel of the postal truck, the postman had seen a lot of truck stops, and he could tell nice from nasty. The nice ones could be very, very nice, glowing beacons of civilization that divided the night-long road into manageable pieces by dint of a hearty meal, a slice of pie, and a bright little spot of camaraderie. Those were regrettably few and far between. More often they were simply adequate. Taciturn register clerks indicated the pay-to-use showers with a jerk of the chin if you asked, volunteered nothing if you didn’t. The bare minimum was food and rest and fuel in safety; in this business, what more could you expect?
Those unfriendly, businesslike truck stops were at least predictable. They sold you what you needed and left you alone to get on with it. There were some weird ones, though. The postman had personally visited one truck stop a few hundred miles due north, right on the spine of the continental divide but in no town with a name, that was downright uncanny. The gas tanks wouldn’t take your credit card and no one showed up to charge you money. The diner was well lit, sumptuously decorated, and entirely deserted. Good food steamed on the buffet, and the coffee was absolutely amazing. You wouldn’t find that truck stop unless you were completely, utterly desperate. And if you were foolish enough to steal the flowers from the mason jar vase on your table, you’d never find your way home again.
This truck stop was not uncanny. It was nasty, brutish, and depressingly familiar, the sort of hell-hole where you ordered your food to go and kept your engine running while you filled the tank. Deals done here were in drugs and dirty deeds. Pay-to-use applied not to the showers, which were nonexistent, but to anyone unfortunate enough to have no alternative. No one came here on purpose unless their purposes were dire. The postman came here regularly because it had a legitimate mailing address.
The boy had jostled him halfway between the door and the manager’s office. The postman knew his business and wasn’t in the habit of dropping his deliveries, but the boy had caught him right in the funny bone, and it’s hard to hold onto things when your hand’s gone numb. The boy made loud noises of contrition then whispered his plea under cover of helping the postman pick up the mail.
“Got somewhere safe in mind?” the postman whispered back.
“Don’t know anywhere safe,” said the boy. “You look like somewhere safe. Take me with you....”
This has been an excerpt from the Friday Fictionette for April 8, 2016. Subscribers can download the full-length fictionette (1049 words) from Patreon in PDF or MP3 format depending on their pledge tier.
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