Monday, March 19, 2007

The Doomed Delivery

The Doomed Delivery
By Christopher Allan Death

The glossy brown UPS delivery truck chugged through the falling snow, undeterred by the biting wind and frigid ice. Roland Mansfield had a reputation among his peers as being perhaps the most reliable postal service driver around, and he wasn’t about to let some little insignificant snowstorm tarnish his record.

Peering through the foggy ice-covered windshield, Roland surveyed the bleak country surroundings. Although the tumultuous blizzard restricted eyesight beyond a hundred yards, he could still make out several farmhouses spread across the secluded Colorado countryside. Huge snowdrifts leapt upon the skeletal structures, burying them beneath forty-two inches of fine sterling white powder. Everywhere he looked was covered with snow. The rural town of Bennett had been reduced into a frozen white winter wasteland.

Secretly Roland wondered how anything could survive amid such harsh conditions. He had a hard enough time making ends meet in his downtown Denver neighborhood without having to worry about killer snowstorms and subzero cold temperatures.

Just last week the landlady had evicted Roland from his comfortable Denver flat, and his precious Denver Broncos football team had been stomped by their archrival Oakland Raiders. Now he was lost among the deserted Colorado countryside with a truckload of expensive Christmas packages. How could life get any worse?

Roland sighed and unfolded a large yellow roadmap. He had gotten lost several times before during his eclectic delivery route, but never this far from Denver … and never in the midst of some implacable snowstorm.

“Damn winter weather.”

Roland pinched the map between two greasy fingers, trying to identify his exact position among the deserted Icelandic terrain. Every time he thought that the snow flurry would dissipate, a new blast of winter fury would pelt his little delivery truck and send him careening across the road.

The only thing Roland hated more than snow was driving on an empty stomach. And right now he was combating both.

Stretching his hand over his generous flannel-covered gut, Roland could feel his stomach grumble. He had been driving ever since 6:00 AM , stopping only once for coffee and his favorite McGriddles sandwich, and now he could feel the consequence of his absent-minded eating habits.

Some people said that eating too much fast food would make him fat, but Roland didn’t care. During his teenage years he played offensive lineman for Overland High School , and excessive ingestion never hindered his academic career. Now a ripe 35 years old, he was paying for his careless youthful lifestyle.

During college, his old fraternity buddies used to demoralize Roland endlessly because of his unquenchable appetite and particular carnivorous tastes. They would joke that anything walking on four legs was prey for the overweight, under-exercised scholar. But he couldn’t argue. Beef was his favorite meal.

You are what you eat, Roland.

You are what you eat.

Roland shook his head, trying to ignore his pleading stomach. Right now he had more important matters at hand, besides trying to locate his next meal. Right now he needed to find 2301 Penrith Road , before the blizzard got any worse. But thoughts of food continued plaguing his mind until a small structure emerged from the mist ahead.

Roland eased his truck onto the shoulder. He could see a dark shanty-like structure through the pelting snowstorm. The building braced itself against the howling wind – a magnificent feat considering that Roland himself could have flattened the dismal wooden structure – and provided a welcome sight among the limitless frozen desert.

Stepping out into the biting storm, he trudged through knee-deep drifts of snow. A neon sign in the window announced that he had arrived at Carl’s Pub. He could see several figures within. They had probably become trapped inside when the blizzard hit, seeking warm shelter and a hot meal. Frankly, Roland couldn’t blame them.

“Nice to know I’m not the only person out here in this god-forsaken countryside,” he scowled, dusting off his heavy winter parka. Four glum-looking patrons watched the hefty deliveryman enter through the heavy glass door. Nobody smiled or made any movement toward him.

“Is there any chance I could find directions around here?”

“Maybe … it depends who’s asking.”

Roland glanced across the mahogany bar. A thin man suddenly appeared behind the counter, as if the wind had picked him up and thrown him across the room. He observed Roland mischievously through foggy blue eyes, and finished sponging out the inside of a dingy shot glass.

“What brings you to Bennett, stranger?”

“My name is Roland Mansfield, and I work for UPS.”

“You need directions?”

“I got lost when the blizzard started.”

“It happens every year about this time. The snow lasts for days on end, and traps everyone inside their homes. Some folks go hungry because they can’t even get into town.”

“Cold as shit out there.”

Roland smiled at the ridiculousness of his words. Even shit was warmer than the atmosphere that permeated Carl’s Pub. Cold resentment dwelt among the patrons and cut beneath his skin like razorblades. He could feel their eyes slice across his pasty complexion like butchers appraising a prize calf.

“Could you help me find 2301 Penrith Road ?”

“What did you just say?”

“ 2301 Penrith Road . Do you know where I can find it?”

The skeletal bartender grinned thinly. His bulbous eyes blinked multiple times in quick succession, and a red serpent-like tongue swept across his porcelain-white canines. The man reminded Roland of some emaciated dog.

“You’re looking for the Larson family farm.”

“Excellent. I was starting to think that I would never make any progress. So how far is the farm from here?”

“About five miles east I reckon.”

“Finally some good news … thanks for all your help.”

“Usually the Larson’s prefer a little less fat on their steaks, but I suppose one can’t be too picky in this weather.”
Roland stopped in mid-stride and turned toward the bartender. Something about the man’s tone made his blood run cold. The bartender cast a distinct languishing glance over his portly stomach.

“Excuse me?”

“You better hurry on with your delivery or else the Larson family will go hungry.”

With one final goodbye, Roland hurried out into the snow. He was glad to leave the stuffy little bar and its outlandish inhabitants behind. Even the blistering storm felt warmer than the icy stares he accumulated inside.

Hopping back into the corpulent delivery truck, he warmed his hands over the outdated economy heating system. For some reason he could not forget the canine resembling bartender or his haunting words. Something within the leering eyes and hoarse speech made his blood run cold.

Roland shook his head. He would feel much better after this miserable delivery was over and done with. Then he could mosey home and relax before a roaring fire, watching his favorite television series on HBO. Nothing could cure business-day blues like good old-fashioned television … except maybe a nice rare corn-fed sirloin steak. The very thought made his mouth water.

Unfortunately food was not his top priority at the moment, so that meant his steak-inaugurated daydreams would have to wait until later. Right now he had to locate the Larson family farm. That meant twenty more minutes of driving blindly through the blustery winter snowstorm.

Roland threw his vehicle into gear and waded through twenty inch drifts of heavy white snow. He could feel the tires spinning beneath him, but somehow the delivery truck managed to crawl back onto the main road.

After he traveled approximately two miles down the snow-swept highway, the familiar feeling of solitude began to creep back into his mind. Everything from the utter silence to the consummate boredom made the occupation of UPS deliveryman a very difficult career. And right now, Roland Mansfield was beginning to experience the consequences of his chosen profession.

Snow swept across the battered windshield. Wind whistled through the barren trees. Outside Mother Nature unleashed her full fury, throwing the entire countryside into complete chaos, but inside the cab of Roland’s little UPS truck, everything was perfectly silent. Even the steady hum of his six cylinder engine could not completely erase the utter calm.

Just as Roland was about to stop searching for the elusive Larson home, he noticed a muddy structure in the distance. Although torrents of snow interrupted his view, and thick white fog blurred his vision, he knew immediately that he had finally found 2301 Penrith Road . The mere thought sent an excited chill down his spine … confronted with the promise of a warm meal not too distant in his future.

Roland pressed down on the gas pedal with reinvigorated enthusiasm. He could almost taste the juicy steak in his mouth already, tickling his palate and filling his nostrils with the intoxicating aroma of cooked meat. Even the most ruthless winter storm could not dissuade him now.

Turning into a long snow-covered driveway, he noted the hand-made wooden mailbox and rigorously resurrected barbed-wire fence. Obviously the Larson’s were a family well equated with the hardships of country life. They were probably a proud fourth generation farming family, like Roland had read about in the Denver Post. He wouldn’t be surprised if they churned their own butter and slaughtered their own meat.

The latter thought made Roland wriggle uncomfortably. Something about the carnivorous bartender’s words made him extremely uneasy. What had he mentioned about the Larson’s; something about preferring a little less fat on their beef? For some reason Roland couldn’t think straight anymore. Maybe the absolute isolation was beginning to play with his imagination.

He shook off any unpleasant thoughts and tucked the Larson’s package under his arm. The faster he delivered this package, the faster he could get home and eat.

Romping through the snow once more, Roland paused briefly before house 2301. Through the large sectioned windows he could see a strange dim-lit interior. The dining room was sparsely populated, furnished with only a tall wooden table and several hand-crafted chairs surrounding. In the corner hung some variety of dismembered elk, expertly skinned and all its innards exposed.

Roland shivered momentarily and stepped back.

That was strange.

For some reason several delivery trucks surrounded the house, half covered with snow. Although some shown obvious signs of age (complete with rust and broken windshields), others appeared quite new. He even noticed one particular pizza
delivery car buried beneath an exceptionally large snowdrift.

Roland shrugged to himself with a slight chuckle. Perhaps he wasn’t the only deliveryman trapped amid this killer snowstorm. Still, the thought was not altogether comforting. The sight of rusted metal jutting through the snowy ocean at odd angles created an ill-omen for the delivery man.

Maybe if Roland hadn’t been so desperate to escape the pelting ice and torrential wind, he wouldn’t have knocked on the old wooden door. Maybe if he wouldn’t have spotted Carl’s Pub beside the road, he would have turned back toward town. But he did knock on the door … and within the swirling snowstorm he could hear his heart skip a beat.

Before Roland could bat an eyebrow the door swung wide open, revealing a huge bear-like man clad in threadbare overalls. His huge barrel chest rippled beneath the flimsy denim straps, and almost immediately Roland knew that he shouldn’t have come.

The man smiled, brushing long strands of straw-blond hair from his eyes. Every facet of his figure spoke about his difficult lifestyle – everything from his pronounced jaw down to his hairy lumberjack forearms. But within his cold blue eyes, Roland saw a dormant red flame.

“Why hello Mr. Delivery man. For a while we thought you wasn’t comin’. The family will be mighty pleased.”

Roland shrank back from the huge man. His voice was rough and cruel, bubbling up from his abdomen and exploding from his lips. It reverberated throughout the house with frightening weight.

“This is one wicked storm,” Roland croaked feebly.

“Oh yeah … the storms hit this time every year. Lucky you managed to get here though, else me an’ the family might starve.”

“Well then I guess this is your lucky day.”

“Why don’t ya come on in an’ meet the family.”

“I really can’t. I need to get back to Denver .”

“Well isn’t that a shame. Dinner’s almost ready.”

The big man grinned even wider, and his hands curled into tight fists. Something about his tone of voice told Roland that he better accept the man’s invitation.

“I suppose I can come in for a second.”

“Why that’s real kind of you.”

Roland edged past the big man and peered into the humble cottage. Suddenly the scent of decaying meat and human feces entered his nostrils. The aroma nearly made him choke.

“Hey family, our guest is here for dinner!” the big man shouted, flexing his grossly overdeveloped biceps. Despite his inch-tall work boots, he still stood a foot taller than Roland. And he probably weighed 250 pounds of pure muscle.

Suddenly a haggard-looking lady appeared around the corner. She eyed Roland through glazed brown eyes, and adjusted the ragged mop of gray hair that hung freely about her emaciated shoulders. Roland noticed the same feral flame that he had seen several times before.

“Well then, bring him inside Rodney! The children are hungry, and I don’t want to keep our guest waiting.”

Roland tried to duck outside the door, but the big man named Rodney was too fast. He seized Roland’s arm and marched him toward the kitchen.

Despite all his strength, Roland could not break free. The man’s grip was like iron, and every time he struggled it became even tighter. Now his adrenalin pumped at two hundred miles an hour. Every bone in his body was tensed and ready for action. Roland’s primitive survival instincts had just kicked into fifth gear.

Inside the kitchen, Mrs. Larson toiled over a large boiling pot. The water bubbled furiously, muddy and hinted with the scent of several spices. At the table three strapping teenage farm boys eyed the delivery man hungrily. Each one looked exactly like his father: dirty blond hair and heavily pronounced features. Not to mention muscles the size of Roland’s head.

“What’s for dinner?” Roland asked hopefully.

“Stew,” Mrs. Larson answered simply.

“It smells awfully good.”

“Why thank you. The main ingredient hasn’t even been added yet.”

“And what would that be?”

“Why, human meat of course.”

Roland’s expectant smile turned into a dismal frown.
“Ex … excuse me?”

“I would invite you to have a meal, but our last specimen ran out about a week ago,” she said, waving her dirty spatula toward the corner.

That was when Roland noticed that the carcass of beef was not beef at all. It was a human being, and now Roland could see the facial features clearly. Two sunken blue eyes stared emptily from the sallow face, complimented nicely by his gaping mouth – frozen in a scream of terror.

“The pizza boy didn’t have much meat on him anyway.”

The three teenage boys laughed heartily.

Roland felt his knees begin to quiver. He was vaguely aware of some vile liquid in his mouth, but he didn’t notice until several minutes later that he had actually vomited on himself.

While the beastly woman edged forward, meat cleaver in hand, Roland was only aware of one thought running through his head. It ran over and over and over and over without end.

You are what you eat, Roland.

You are what you eat.

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