The Edge of Xibalba

The foothills of the Appalachian Mountains have been the hunting grounds of numerous Native American tribes. But they refused to live there. Now the people of Stony Point know why – because of the devils that walk the forest floors. Today, in a world where mythological creatures no longer exist and society is expanding into every hill and valley, the demons of the forest will dine.

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A candy-apple red Dodge Avenger darted along the back roads outside of Stony Point, a small town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in southern Kentucky. Daniel Freeman hit the break as he tried to make the turn. He hated following the road known as Dead Man’s Gap, but it was the quickest way to Shelly’s house and they were already going to be late, which meant a grounding for Shelly and no Fall Dance next weekend.

“You’re going to kill us,” Shelly screamed, bracing herself on the dashboard.

Daniel laughed. “This old girl can handle it.” At least he hoped so. He felt his body press against the door as they made the sharp turn. It was a good thing no one was coming. A head-on collision at this rate of speed would be deadly, just like Mitch Dunaway last year. He lost control of his car on this road and his body lay on the riverbank for two days before his parents decided to look for him. Daniel didn’t have to worry about that tonight. If they didn’t get to Shelly’s house in the next ten minutes, the entire state police force would be out looking for them. Daniel looked at Shelly. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen and he hoped to one day marry her, if she stuck with him. They fact that her father was a cop made it a pain to date her because apparently the man had seen too many bad things in life and was determined to keep them from his daughter. But it was worth it – she was worth it.

Except for when she made them late. He barreled over a knoll and felt the tires of the car momentarily lift off the pavement. He let out a whoop like he was on the Dukes of Hazard. Shelley even managed a laugh. It was like riding a roller coaster at a theme park. Death surrounded them, the fear caught in their chests, and they loved the adrenaline rush, making them feel alive, like nothing could ever stop them.

The car evened out on an unlikely straight stretch of the road, which was flanked by trees on both sides. During the day one could see the river to the right, but at night there was just darkness. Even the stars were blocked by the trees, as if they refused to shine on this part of the road. Shelly got quiet and the only sound was the radio. People talked about ghosts walking the roadside, looking for a ride home. There had been too many deaths along this stretch of road. Even though it’s the straightest part for miles, cars tended to go off the shoulder, hit trees, or even find their way into the river. There was no logical explanation. Some explained it that people went too fast because they had been traveling so slowly on the winding road. “Let’s slow it down,” Shelly said quietly, and Daniel agreed.

“I’ve always hated traveling through here,” she added, looking out the window.

“Looking for ghosts?”

“No. But it’s so dark. Could you imagine having car trouble out here?”

Daniel reached over and grabbed her hand. She squeezed it tightly. He eased up on the gas and the car began to coast, getting slower and slower.

“What’s going on?” she asked frantically.

“I don’t know.” Daniel acted like he was trying to give the car more gas. “The engine is dying.”

“What?” She let out a scream and moved over in her seat, getting as far away from the door as possible.

Daniel had to laugh, exposing his mischievous side. Shelly sighed and hit him on the arm – a little too hard, he thought. “You’re such a jerk,” she said, scooting back over.

“I’m just having a little fun,” Daniel said, still laughing.

“Yeah, at my expense.” Shelly turned up the radio, obviously stopping any conversation that might follow. That was fine with Daniel; he was talked out anyway. In fact, they had spent an entire evening parked up the river and talking. What she wanted to do next year, what she thought about the fall dance, who she thought would be queen, and on and on. Daniel zoned out sometime after the fourth transition. He didn’t come out there to talk. In fact, they even risked their lives being out so far after dark, especially during the fall when Whisky Jack was said to be on the hunt.

Something hit the back end of the car, causing a loud crunching of the metal. “What was that?” Daniel looked in the rearview mirror, but saw only blackness. He slowed the car down.

“No, don’t stop,” Shelly exclaimed. “Not out here.”

Above them was the tapping of claws as something made its way from the front to the back. It was just above them. Daniel swerved the car, hoping to throw it off, but it was still there, moving ever so slowly toward the front. Suddenly, Daniel hit the brakes and something tumbled onto the hood, then the road. “What is it?” Shelly cried.

In the headlight, just in front of them, a black, winged creature rose to its feet. The wings expanded and enveloped the light. The creature had the body of a muscular midget with wings that were probably six feet across. Its face looked like that of a bat, even down to some fangs sticking up and over its top lip. A shiver started at Daniel’s legs and rose over his body. He couldn’t believe it was actually true. Whiskey Jack – a devil living in the mountains around Stony Point – was real and it was right in front of them. Death was right in front of them. He had to get them out and quickly.

Pushing the gas pedal down as far as he could, he held the brake until he knew he had some speed. The smell of burning rubber filled the car. Whiskey Jack moved toward them, wings still outstretch and his small clawed hands out in front of him. Shelly cried and leaned over against Daniel. She said nothing, but he knew she was terrified. He was terrified, but he would get them out of this. “I love you,” he whispered. Lifting his foot off the brake, the car sped forward. In just a second the devil would be crushed under them and they would get to town. But just as they were about to hit it, it shot into the air and landed on the windshield, cracking it. A high, piercing screech filled the air as the creature turned its head back and forth. Daniel couldn’t see where he was going and he knew there was a curve up ahead.

He tried slamming the brakes again, but the creature stayed in place, its claws cutting deep into the glass. Shelly pulled out her cellphone and tried to call her father, but the call never went through as the front right tire left the side of the road. Daniel tried to correct, causing the back end to slide on the loose gravel. The car spun out of control and dove down the embankment, heading toward the river.

 

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