“Roads That Aint”
By Buzz Dixon
My cousin Benson—distant cousin really, more of a friend than anything else—would drive on roads that weren’t there.
I remember the first time it happened with me in the car; rather, the first time I noticed it happening.
We were driving along the Augustus highway and things were getting backed up due to roadwork and Benson took the Fairview exit—which is there—then drove down an access road—which isn’t—to the Salsbury ramp and got back on, bypassing the slowed up traffic.
I said, “Hey, I never knew there was an access road there,” and Benson said, “Un-huh.”
Benson wasn’t much of a talker.
Later I asked folks I knew if they knew there was an access road running parallel to the highway from Fairview to Salsbury and they reacted with blank stares or “What? You crazy?”
So the next time I was driving by myself I got off at the Fairview exit and looked for that access road and I couldn’t find it!
I got back on the highway and drove down to Salsbury, looking for the other end of the road there.
Couldn’t find it.
I asked Benson about it and he just shrugged and said, “Stuff like that happens,” as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
After that, I took every chance I could to ride with Benson. We always hung out a lot, but I’d come up with excuses why I couldn’t drive and shift it over to him.
I’d pay for the gas so he just accepted the situation and did all the driving.
Most of the time nothing happened, but every now and then we’d have to go somewhere and we’d be running late—like for a movie or something—and the next thing you know we’re on some shortcut I never knew existed and could never find again.
And I’m not talking about any pair of dirt ruts running through a field. These were paved, well maintained roads—well, as well maintained as anything in this part of the country. You’d see evidence of people: litter on the side of the roads and mile markers and stuff like that.
One time Benson was driving me and his mom—that would be Aunt Kathy-with-a-K—I mean, she’s not technically my aunt but around here all older ladies you’re related to are Aunt So-and-so or Aunt Such-and-such, and who here isn’t related to somebody? (Other than the folks from out of state working at The Lab, that is, but we don’t see much of them.)
Anyway, Benson had his mom up in the front with him and me in the back and Aunt Kathy-with-a-K said she was worried she wouldn’t make her doctor’s appointment on time and Benson said, “I’ll get you there, ma,” and turned off the main road onto this little one lane tar road that I’d never seen before.
I asked, “Benson, what road is this?” and he said, “I dunno.” And I asked Aunt Kathy-with-a-K if she knew and she said she’d lived here most of her life but she couldn’t remember ever coming down this road before but wasn’t it a nice drive, a pleasant drive?
And it was. Tall trees widely spaced apart, growing over the road, limbs bending down not close enough to feel oppressive but shielding us from the sun.
Off to the left I could see McSweeny’s farm and Sam’s gas station so I had a general idea of where we were but over to the right sat a big, sprawling barn with a black and white sign painted on the roof: SEE ROCK CITY.
I’d never seen that barn before and why would somebody paint a sign so far from a main road?
Anyway, we got Aunt Kathy-with-a-K to her appointment on time and Benson and I went down to the cafeteria for malts while they were testing her and I asked him, “That road isn’t there, is it?”
I said, “How do you do that? Do you make the roads—”
“No, no, no! Nothing like that,” Benson said. He sounded flustered and looked around guiltily as if I accused him of taking credit for something he didn’t do.
“I don’t rightly make them,” he said. “I find ’em.”
“Well, how come I can’t find them when I go back looking for ’em?”
He just shrugged again and went back to sipping his malt.
We took his mom back by the regular road, not following his shortcut at all.
I got the feeling he only found those roads when he needed them.
After that, I started carrying my cell phone with me every time I rode with him. I’d take pictures, and I’d try to use the GPS to locate us, but while the pictures came through the GPS always said SIGNAL UNAVAILABLE.
Most of the pictures did me no good. I mean, they came through all clear and whatnot, no question of what I was taking a picture of, but y’know, all country roads look alike, even country roads that really aren’t there.
I once asked him when he first noticed he could find roads that aren’t there and he shrugged and said, “Always wanted to, even as a kid. Just take a shortcut when I wanted to, or find a detour when I didn’t want to go the old way.
“But as to when it really started… well… I dunno. May have been happening for a long time before I noticed it.”
Most of the pictures I took could’ve been taken anywhere, but a few were puzzlers.
Off in the distance would be farms and buildings I don’t ever remember seeing, and nobody I showed ’em to could identify them, either.
(Though I did make a big goof when I didn’t recognize the Winters’ place but that was because I took that photo from a road that doesn’t exist behind their house and I’d never seen it from that angle before.)
I asked Benson one time if we could stop on one of these roads. He gave me a puzzled look but pulled over.
We got out and looked around. The air smelled nice, there were no sounds except the singing of birds and the tinging of Benson’s engine as it cooled.
I took several pictures, zooming in on a distant farm as best I could.
“Try the radio,” I told Benson.
He shrugged but turned it on, scrolling across the dial. We heard plenty of stations; I used my phone to record some samples and caught a couple of call signs.
Benson grew nervous, as if afraid we might not be able to find our way back. “Let’s go,” he said, climbing back into the car.
I started to get in, but as I did I saw an old candy wrapper crumpled on the side of the road and picked it up.
That night I played the recording I made of the radio stations over and over.
As best I could make out from my recording, there were radio stations that correspond with radio stations here in real life, but there were a few stations missing.
There were also radio stations on the dial where we have none.
I got three radio call signs. One matched a real station, another matched a real station but the DJ wasn’t anybody currently employed there, and the third doesn’t exist—not so I could tell with Google, that is.
I blew up the pictures as big as I could on my computer. For the first time I began seeing other people in the photos, small and distant but nothing odd or funny looking about them. Just ordinary folks.
Like you or me… or Benson.
The candy wrapper turned out to be the biggest puzzle. Clearly mass produced, but by a company I never heard of and couldn’t find any information about on the Internet. The wrapper was torn, most of the candy bar’s name missing, but the last part was “-EROO” which didn’t match any candy I could find.
I pestered Benson about his talent some more but I had to be real careful doing so. Benson was a great guy and I liked him a lot but if I pushed him too hard he’d clam up and wouldn’t offer me a ride for weeks.
Other times… well, other times Benson could wax right eloquent… for Benson, that is…
“I’ve been thinking about what you asked me,” he said once out of the blue. “About when all this started.
“It got me to thinking about other stuff and wondering if it might somehow be related to this.
“I was driving past The Lab about three years ago,” he said. By this I knew he meant he was driving down the road where all the big trees were planted to shield The Lab from public view. “I got this weird feeling, like you might get if you drove under power lines on a hot day or if a thunderstorm was near.
“A little tingly, kinda making the hair stand up on your arm.
“It was over in an instant and I don’t recall thinking anything about it other than it was kinda odd.
“But after that, well, that’s when I first started noticing I could find roads that ain’t there.”
“I think they’re there, Benson,” I said. “I just don’t think they’re here.”
I told him what I’d found out about the radio stations and the candy wrapper, then I fired up my computer and we looked for The Lab online. We found the plain, sanitary official page, of course, which I gotta say really is a masterpiece of gobbledygook that makes you think it means something when it really doesn’t.
We also found a few other references to quantum level experiments and even more oddball stuff on some even more oddball sites.
So we didn’t know what to think or what caused or awakened or whatevered Benson’s talent for finding roads.
But the possibility he was taking shortcuts through alternate realities did occur to us.
Let me skip ahead six months. Aunt Kathy-with-a-K got worse and the doctor said it was cancer-with-a-c.
And the bastards at the hospital said, sure, they could cure her but it would cost money and since Aunt Kathy-with-a-K had no insurance she’d have to pay half up front.
And that would be something like twice what her trailer was worth.
The last time I saw Benson he was loading up his car trunk with suitcases and extra cans of gasoline.
I was a little worried because folks said he was selling off his personal belongings and turning the money into silver dollars.
You know how hard it is to find silver dollars nowadays, and in this part of the country?
But Benson’s no fool and he figured if he was someplace where silver dollars weren’t any good as dollars, they’d still be good as silver.
Anyway, he was busy loading up but he said hi and then he asked me to help him get his mom into the car.
Aunt Kathy-with-a-K was feeling poorly and in pain but she’d gotten dressed up in her nice traveling clothes so we helped her down the steps and into the front seat of the car, the back seat filled with clothes and personal items and her medicine.
And y’know, that kinda kicked my heart.
“Well,” said Benson, “this is it. I’m going to try to find some place where they’ll treat my mom.”
He tossed me the keys to their place. “I don’t know when we’ll be coming back. I don’t know if we’ll be coming back. I hope we do, but we gotta be realistic about this situation.
“We don’t know what we’ll find… but then, do we ever?”
I mean, I can understand Benson’s thinking. Lord knows how long they’d have to be on the road—the roads—and two could certainly go a lot further than three but… he could’ve asked.
So we hugged and I got all misty eyed because damn it, Benson and me’s been friends since we were little kids. It’s not liked we ever talked about it or anything but I always kinda thought me and Benson would… well… never mind…
I took a picture of him and Aunt Kathy-with-a-K in his car and then he drove off waving at me.
And I suddenly thought I’d never seen what it looked like from the outside when he found a road so I jumped in my car and drove after them and they weren’t far ahead but they went around a curve and by the time I got there… he’d found another road.
So now you’ve got me here in this nice big office and I know I’m not under arrest or anything but I also know I’m not going anywhere until you figure out what happened to Benson and Aunt Kathy-with-a-K.
You’ve got my phone with all the photos and the recording I made of the radio stations. You’ve got the candy wrapper. I don’t know what you’ve learned from them, but I’m guessing Benson found a road to someplace else and somehow you found that out.
Are they okay? Did they find somebody to treat Aunt Kathy-with-a-K? How’s Benson? I’m asking because he’s more than family.
He’s a friend.
“Roads that Ain’t”
Constellary Tales Issue No. 3, May 2019
Buzz Dixon is a longtime writer in TV animation, films, graphic novels, comic books, video games, short stories, and soon in novels for the young adult market. His most notable credits are as a writer on the original G.I. Joe and Transformers series; creator and packager of Serenity, the bestselling Christian manga (not to be confused with the TV show); and writer of the Terminator 3 video game. Dixon’s short fiction has been published in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, The Pan Book of Horror Stories, National Lampoon, and Analog.