Ricky edged inside. “We’ll pay for it, honest. We just need enough to get back to the highway. We-” His voice went up an octave, ending in a squeak like a rusty hinge.
Eli ground his teeth. “I’ve had just about enough of you, Ricky. If you’re trying to be funny, you’re not even close.”
The stream of gas had slowed to a trickle. Eli yanked the tubing loose. He held the jug up to the light and could see it was half full. Eli capped it and stomped over to the porch to wring Ricky’s neck. He threw open the screen door with such force it almost came off its hinges and crossed the threshold. “What’s the matter with you?”
Ricky raised his hand and pointed, eyes riveted on something on the other side of the porch. Eli blinked. His eyes slowly adjusted, and he knew they weren’t alone. A few feet away, a figure sat motionless in the dark. A small, glowing dot of orange hovered next to it. He must have been sitting here all along, watching us.
The smell of decay was even more intense than it had been by the barn. Without speaking, the figure raised the cigarette to invisible lips, inhaled and exhaled acrid smoke, making Eli’s eyes water. His heart hammered in his chest, but everything else was silent. Even the wind had died down. Why doesn’t he say something?
He wanted to move, but he couldn’t make his legs work. In the back of his mind, he saw himself running in place, like some cartoon character.
Ricky made a strangled noise and grabbed his arm in a vise-like grip. “Eli, I-is someone sitting over there in a rocking chair? Tell me I’m just seeing things. Please.”
The figure began to move wildly back and forth in the chair, slamming the rockers against the wide wooden planks with loud, explosive thuds. It rocked with such violence, Eli was sure it would overturn. Then, it stopped.
Ricky’s grip tightened and pain shot up Eli’s arm. A shower of sparks flew off the porch. The figure turned to them with glowing eyes. It rose from the rocking chair, standing until it towered over both the boys.
That gave them the catalyst they needed. Bursting through the door at the same time, they leapt off the steps, fleeing down the road, over the cattle guard and past the mailbox. They ran until they were out of breath and stumbling, not stopping until they reached the truck.
Once there, they leaned against the tailgate, gasping for breath. Eli looked down at the container he carried. With shaking hands, he took it over to the gas tank, and emptied nearly all its contents.
“Get in the truck,” Eli ordered. He raised the hood and poured the rest in the carburetor, like Grandpa had taught him. He slid behind the wheel, pumped the gas pedal to prime it, and turned the ignition. Nothing happened.
“Please, God.” He tried again. The old truck coughed and spluttered, but the engine turned over. He shifted gears, made a u-turn and headed the other way as fast as he could.
Eli drove past the dirt road that led to the farmhouse, half-expecting to see a mad man in the road with a gun, but no one waited. In fact, he almost missed it in the dark. No longer did the security light burn through the trees to beckon them.
“Eli,” Ricky finally managed to croak. “What was that?” Not bothering to answer, he ground the gears, shifted, and sped up. They made it back to the highway before the truck ran out of gas again, but someone happened by with enough extra gas to get them home.