Green Trucks Carry Everything at Night
By Stephen Thom
K first noticed the trucks when he was pulling the living room curtains together late at night. A sliver of world remained between the drapes and his tired eyes caught a distant bottle green swoosh spraying a zipped trail across the black crust of road. He fumbled with the fabric in his hands and pressed his nose closer to the cold glass. In the still of night the empty fields rolled out beyond the house, stubbly stretches glistening with frost under needles of stars. Brushed crystal patterns scratched over the space of window captured in a shock of moonlight and there was another; a far-off rumble ushering a dark green blaze to scorch a brief frazzle of colour at the base of the descent into the road.
Something twitched at the back of his mind, and K found himself rummaging through the unpacked boxes to retrieve a torch. Three weeks in the house, three weeks of his carefully-researched retreat into solitude, and there had barely been a single vehicle passing throughout the day. The nearest town was over four hours away. Impatiently thumbing several test clicks, he slumped out into the chilly air.
An oilish envelope of night spilt over his frame and he slipped like a living shadow towards the path between the fields. His gate rattled shut behind him and the torch shot an elongated pencil of yellowish light, leaking around him as he swung the stubby device in his hand. The trek down to the road was at least twenty minutes during the day. Treading more carefully in the dark, the cool air stroked K's face and the uncertain dirt rises of the path crunched under his feet. Winking stars suffused the endless deserted fields to his left and right with a glossy tinge and he tried to set his sightline directly ahead, coughing thin unravelling wraiths and stumbling on colonies of stones and crumbling swells. The edges of his eyes flickered, the immense span of black fields birthing flecks of perceived movement, layers of dark upon dark uncoiling and meshing to generate curious images immediately dispersed with a swinging shot of torch light. As his feet traipsed onto scrappy heather at the fringes of the path, a simmering tonal horn, tickling the periphery of his hearing, grew to a blustering frenzy as a fresh surge of forest green thundered past. Thrusting the torch towards it, K steadied himself on the fence and watched the yellow circle capture a rushing, battering segment of unmarked truck, smooth and mottled and dark, dark green in the glimmering lens, like the body of a reptile.
Flashing the shot up towards his stone house, K aimed the arc of horizontal light upon a thin, tiny, reassuring line of vertical light where he had left the front door slightly ajar, and padded down the remainder of the path onto the road, boots rustling as he moved quicker. The air changed and shifted around him as he stepped onto the hard gravel, and a fine rain painted a silvery skin over his forehead and neck. Backing into the shrubs and long grass on the edges, he shivered and crouched amongst wet, prickly vegetation, killing the torch. Darkness swamped everything again and he sought out the man-made comfort of the fence, leaning against its hard, interspersed lines, puffing cloudy whiteness through the black. He rubbed his hands together rhythmically and two great white eyes split the immense black blanket, throbbing into blinding balls as the metal bars of the truck shuddered towards him. A tremulous blend of noise and frequency built to a roar as the sleek metallic green body screamed forward with violent force and propelled by a urge only he knew, K stepped through the inky night onto the road and jumped at the truck. There was a garbled passage of nonsensical sounds and colours and he slipped organically through its green frame, as if through jelly.
The black calm of the night had gone and K found himself leaning against the inside doors of the back of the truck, hands gripping a cold steel handle. It was still dark, but a thin artificial light washed over the interior from pulsing tubes set in the ceiling above. Swivelling round, K peered into the rear of the boxed room that seemed to fill the body of the truck. Grey metallic walls crept inwardly towards a small, circular, wooden table some distance away from him. Around the table four figures sat engrossed in a collection of material in the centre. Nobody seemed to notice him. The rumble of the road underneath them reverberated throughout the walls and the rain, heavier now, rattled the ceiling. As K stepped forward one of the figures removed his hands from the material, shook them off, and stared round. His head was thin, bald, sleek, sharp and completely grey. The skin was smoothed taut over his skull and the only discernible features appeared to be tiny, deep-set, marble-like eyes. There was no mouth, ears or nose. K balked and stumbled towards the metal walls. His hands groped for balance and sunk into the steel. Floundering, he felt his fingers clawing at the chilly air outside, flecked by rain. With a sticky tug he pulled them back into the truck and fell backwards onto the metal floor. He watched as the distracted creature shook his hands more vigorously, cleaning them of some kind of mushy clay, and leaned forward.
You're not supposed to be here. You have to go.
The pebble eyes conveyed a distorted, metallic voice. The tiny marbles burrowed further into K before turning back to the table. His spindly hands flexed back out and began moulding and breaking lumps of the pile of sludgy material in the centre. The three other grey figures had barely registered K's arrival, immersed as they were in their work. K squinted. The material looked a bit like mashed potato. Rising steadily on shaky legs, he saw that the centre of the circular table was dominated by a beautiful, fluctuating map. It appeared three-dimensional, shifting and meshing and rotating to project crisp clear images of countries and continents, set underneath a glassy surface within the wooden body of the table. A soft, glossy glow radiated over it all. The grey men pushed and moulded mashed lumps over this projection, beady eyes intent and focused.
'What are you doing?' Breathed K, his voice ripe and whiny within the truck walls.
This time the lead grey man's slick head snapped around instantly, his neck thin but strong and pulsing with budding veins. The grey skin where the mouth should have been flexed and stretched and K felt the metallic voice soaking over his mind.
Everything. We are doing everything. But you really must not be here. You have crossed a line. Our job is here. Your job is there.
Spreading his long fingers to flick a spatter of mush onto the pivoting map projection, the grey man strode towards K, grasping him by the neck. K felt the tough fleshy bulbs digging into him and rose just in time to be hurtled through the wavering truck walls, flailing for a moment in black oblivion before thumping onto the gravelly road. The air was cool again, his sore hands ran over the pavement and the rain smeared his hair as another truck crashed past. He raised his arms in fear and felt the green walls locate and encompass him again. In another moment he was off the road and smacking his hands against the interior of the second truck. Grinding ripples of constant movement coursed throughout its frame. The lead workman in the new truck reacted far quicker, as if he had been made aware, slapping a ball of mush into the glowing map and shooting up to K to grasp him by the shoulders. His grey body moved in jerks, appearing in several random places within the truck before suddenly above K.
You can't be here, hissed a sonic chill. This is our work place. These trucks run at night through quiet lands, away from your eyes. They are our work places.
'I tried to leave,' begged K, 'I'm sorry. I tried to leave and I ended up on this truck.'
The grey man appeared to consider this. I don't think you can go back, he murmured without speaking. His pinpoint eyes glimmered. You can't be there and then come here, it's one or the other, he hypothesised, rubbing gluey remnants from his skinny fingers. Reaching out he dragged K towards the walls and prepared to launch him back through the cold panels. The other three workers glanced up for a moment, hands deep in mushy substance.
'Wait. Wait!' Shouted K. 'But I couldn't get back before, I told you. If I can't get back, and I can't be here, where do I go?'
You'll have to find somewhere, deadpanned the grey man as he hurled him through the quivering truck walls.
Peeling his face from the hard road, K pushed himself up and rolled onto his side, feeling every bone in his body aching. Through the curtain of rain and folds of darkness he saw two bright dots of light growing and he scrambled into the dirt and grass at the side of the road, clasping at branches and tufts. The ground rumbled under his stomach, the rain stuck to his skin and he buried his face in the soft earth as the truck clattered past. He saw in his mind's eye the weird featureless faces moulding their lumps of matter into everything that would ever be. But he was safe. He was back, the truck had not taken him. Our job is here, your job is there.
As he staggered to his feet, wiping clumps of mud and leaves from his clothes and face, a sharp shaft of light sparked into existence and fell upon him. He panicked, ducking down into scrubby undergrowth again. Between a grille of grassy tufts he saw the jet of light swing away, through the black fields and towards the house, and then he saw himself. He saw his familiar, hunched figure crunching back up the path. You can't be there and then come here. Somewhere further away the grey men with no mouths were mashing and kneading all the beauty and all the horror in the world but he had to find himself a part of it, he had to find himself a place in between to experience these things. His fingers dug into the earth and his breath quickened as the departing streak of tubular light carried his place away from him, and the endless dark deepened, gestated and closed in around.