James O'Brien

Hitched with a driver hauling a load of diapers to Memphis. He smelled like bubblegum and coffee. I met him at a truck stop outside Baltimore. He asked me if I was headed somewhere in particular. I said, Anywhere you can name.

He set me up in the passenger seat and we headed out. The city flickered and died. I picked my fingernails with my knife. He listened to the Spanish radio station until it hissed out.

After an hour he asked, How long you been doing this for.

I said, I was about to ask you the same.

Too long, he said.

Not for much longer, I said.

Here’s hoping, he said. He opened the center console and pulled out a pre-wrapped baloney sandwich and tipped it at me.

I killed him just past Charlestown.

I ate his baloney sandwich and watched him bleed out over the console. He was still trying to talk but no words were coming. He spoke in little wisps. I pinched his nose and held it shut until he stopped talking.

When I was done eating I unlatched the keyring from his belt and unlocked the trailer. I slashed open a crate of diapers and took a couple packs to the front and mopped up the blood. Tossed them as I was driving. I dropped him in a pine grove off the highway where only the deer watched me. You could see headlights passing in the distance and hear the needles shake.

Ditched the truck at a loading dock in Knoxville. The city smelled like coal smoke and river water. Crossed town and got in with a produce-hauler hopped up on crank when I spotted him for a pack of jerky. He told me he was destined for three different cities. I told him any of them were fine.

I stabbed him in the lung. I watched him die. It took a long time. Put his body in a dumpster beside a construction site. He stained the broken drywall black. From the top of the dumpster he looked like a tarp.

I killed another in Cheyenne and another in Pittsburgh and another in Fort Collins and another in El Paso and another and another and another.

The last one I killed asked me, Who are you.

I thought about that as he twitched and cried. He said something about his mother. I finished a cherry soda he had been drinking.

I said, I guess I could be just about anyone.

James O'Brien has stories in or coming from New York Tyrant, PANK, The Collagist, Fourteen Hills and others.

Detail of art on main page by M. Einer & V. Jershov.

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