The Red Baseball Cap Defense
Gilda A. Herrera
Rip peered out his truck's windshield at the fiery sight to the northeast of him.
"Mister, move on," the police officer said impatiently as he signaled with a flashlight the detour markers.
Rip veered off his usual route taking the detour firefighters and police had set up off the interstate. This latest three-state wildfire was causing havoc on all major arteries.
Rip sighed. He rubbed the sweat off his face. He reached for a cigarette then remembered the promise he'd made to his wife. His allotment of six cigarettes a day had been reached hours ago.
Soon his truck seemed to be the only vehicle on this farm-to-market road. Unease filled him as he looked at the deep forest surrounding him on all sides. A fear from his youth came to mind.
"Don't go into the woods alone at night," his grandfather had warned him years ago. "Never know what creatures are roaming about. Not the same as during the daytime."
He shook off the memory. Naturally the detour signs only led him to this deserted roadway. No postings on how to return to a safe section of the interstate.
Hard enough to deal with the loneliness of truck driving during an ordinary haul. Now the winds and fires added yet another dimension of uneasiness.
Though it wasn't really merely unease. Out on the road an off-feeling of the world seemed to descend upon him. Did fast speeds bring with them the sensation of being in another universe, another world? And only other traffic offered reassurance that he was still on earth, in the world he had be born in.
Drat! He whacked the am car radio in frustration at its failed reception. He shut it off deciding he was definitely not in the mood for harsh irritating, high-pierced static. As the owner of this rig, it was his fault for not replacing the radio. He felt some reassurance in his reliable ham radio to call out in case of emergency.
All that fire and heat in the near distance and ironically he felt a chill. Tugging at the rim of his red baseball cap he smiled. Sara had given him the cap ten years ago. He longed to see his wife now. Suddenly he remembered she had given it to him to replace the one he'd lost. That old red cap his superstitious grandfather had told him to always wear at night.
He came upon no other traffic on this narrow farm road. Rolling down the window, while taking in the night air and breathing in the thick smell of pine, he began to sing a drunkard's melody from his youth. Refreshed by the night air and the song he felt more comfortable.
Lots of tall, dark, pine trees along the side of the road. He wondered how deep this forest went and if the winds would change direction causing fiery nature to gorge on this stretch of green majesty. He chuckled again. Now his thoughts were sounding like the words of a poet.
Continued uncertainty of where he should turn off to return to an open, safe section of the interstate he decided to pull over and parked the rig. Rip flicked on the overhead light and unfolded his map. The redness of the baseball cap glowed as a shiny beacon, not of fire but like a lit wick atop a human candle.
Again yearning for a cigarette, he stifled the temptation.
Too chilly to leave the window down he told himself as his eyelids began to droop. A sudden gust of wind stirred him from sleep. It was a moon-lit night, yet a darkened gray cloud formed above him. It seemed to be heavy with moisture. He'd never noticed a cloud behaving the way this one did. Rumbling, rolling, it almost seemed to be stretching to accommodate its contents.
Rats! His baseball cap flew off and fell out the open window.
Rip grabbed his flashlight, set aside the map and stepped out of the rig. The cap rested several paces ahead of him. He walked to it and bent over to retrieve it. Suddenly his left leg began to ache. That's when he first noticed the eerie movement.
Something seemed to be rolling across the road. Rolling so fast, it made it impossible for him to make out any detail. Rip aimed the flashlight's beam in the direction of the movement. Tumbleweed? Trash? A small animal?
Uncertainty and isolation jolted him; he dropped the flashlight. Chuckling nervously at his fright, he retrieved the torch and cap. Hurriedly he set the cap on his head and sprinted toward the truck.
Three feet from the vehicle danger arrived. Fast-rolling objects soon surrounded him. Petrified Rip stood still as a fearful realization hit him. Not objects. Live creatures!
Streaking haphazardly, rolling up and down, around him and his truck, they squeaked and bounced off of each other. Spinning bodies fell from the tumultuous cloud. Then more emerged from the thick forest.
One landed on his shoulders. Fear gripped his heart when he failed to shake it off. Heavy and prickly a throbbing mass of a frenzied animal clung to his windbreaker. He held his hands to his face. Soon his entire body was being pounded. He couldn't move forward, refused to move backward or fall to the ground. A piercing whistle filled the air. The creatures jumped off him.
Suddenly free of his attackers, he ran to the truck.
Frantically swinging open the door, he jumped into the rig and slammed the door shut. He rolled up the window then turned on the headlights and saw almost indescribable horror. He cranked the ignition without success. The headlights seemed to be drawing the creatures' interest. And creatures they were. So many creatures. All stilled by the whistle sound. But for how long?
He should have shut off the headlights but Rip sat mesmerized by all those fearsome black, bulging, beady eyes trained on him.
What were they? Part-human? Animal? Monsters? Each was a black hairy mass, standing about three-feet tall and rotund. Grotesque cactus-looking spores shot from their arms, legs and torsos. Their buck-teeth gave them an almost humorous appearance.
Rip was not amused. Especially when they stirred. He watched in horror as they went into a frenzy. The creatures began throwing, rolling themselves at the truck. Some landed on the rig's roof and began to jump up and down, screeching in excitement, making the truck bounce, creak, shake.
Panicky, Rip again tried the ignition. Again the engine refused to turn over. Rip's heart nearly exploded when the windshield cracked. The creatures were drooling, screeching, frolicking like crazed children. They stared at him looking through the window, laughing hysterically.
A look emanated from one of them that made Rip cringe in despair. But the creature's gaze was not on Rip. It fixed on the top of Rip's head. On his red baseball cap.
Rip forced himself into control. He looked the creature in the eye; willing, demanding their eyes to meet. And they did. Rip nodded his head, then tipped it and rolled his own eyes in the direction of the window beside him. The creature seemed to understand. It jumped from the truck and spun to the side of the truck.
Rip rolled down the window a crack, removed the cap and tossed it down to the creature.
The creature caught the cap with his buck teeth. He put it on his head, screamed in what appeared to be triumph, then spun off into the forest.
The rest of the creatures screamed, jumped off the truck and chased after the one with the cap. The loud whistling sound rang out again.
With trembling fingers Rip cranked the ignition and finally the engine turned over. Rip pulled back onto the road and holding his breath, shot off.
The ground began to shake and rumble. He looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a giant hulking, shadowy figure run into the forest after them. It looked like a giant-sized version of the small creatures. A monster nanny? One that walked upright like a man. The giant ignored the departing truck.
* * *
"Grampa," eight-year-old Marty said as he helped his grandfather Rip clean the interior of the rig."Your glove compartment is filled with red baseball caps!"
Rip withdrew one and set it on his grandson's head. "Can't have too many of these handy," he said. "Smart to wear this at night as well as during the day. Promise me you'll do that."
Marty smiled. "I love it!" he said. "And I promise."
Published by permission of the author.