Round About Midnight

The worst hitching was those long dark passages on moonless nights. No cars or trucks, you walked for miles. If the weather put it’s two cents in, you’d be tired, wet, and cold. After a few hours of this, you’d be up for ventures you’d typically steer clear of and call crazy.
I had to stop and look at the burnt-out house several times before I took a closer look. Even desperate, it seemed too unsafe—the smell of fresh char mixed with strange odors from burnt plastics, and foam hung in the air; this was recent.
Around back was an abandoned car that might offer a windbreak till dawn. Opening the passenger side door, I eased onto the seat.
I settled in as well as I could and peeled back the wrapping on a candy bar.
I had a nervous feeling that I was not alone.
From the back came a low growl. I was heading out the door in a flash, dragging my pack behind me. A hand grabbed my shoulder. A voice croaked, “Ya gonna share some?” I heard the sound of claws scrabbling behind me and an odor that was hard to place, not pleasant.
I didn’t stop running until the lights of the police car came upon me. Two officers asked me why I was running along a deserted road at midnight like the devil was out to get me. “Cause he is.” I managed to pant out. After I caught my breath, I stood there, hands on my knees, panting while I described what had happened. I told them about the strange house, the car, the hand grabbing me, the voice, the sound of the hell hound, and the bad smell. They listened to my every word with serious intent before cracking up in loud laughter.
Now I was more than a bit upset, but I heard a shuffling sound, and down the road, I saw a thin erect form lurching towards us. At his feet was a red-eyed devil hound. I could do no more than point and scream: ” There!” The officers commenced howling in laughter. Turning to look behind themselves, they saw the figure and the hound and started to scream with mock terror. One of the Police turned and put a hand on my shoulder. Barely able to speak from the laughter that was shaking his form, he managed to squeak out, “That’s just Chester and Barney!” Worried that the locals were on familiar terms with Hell Spawn, I turned to start running again but found myself restrained. “Easy now, we’ll all just run down to the Nugget Diner and get ourselves an early breakfast. After that, we’ll get you back on the road and Chester and Barney to the station house for a shower. Boy, is he ripe tonight?
Chester turned out to be a local hermit, Barney, likes candy bars. The local Police couldn’t leave well enough alone and retold the tale to everyone sitting in the dinner. They probably retell it every Halloween.
So if you are passing through Ocala, off route 29, give the Police a wide berth. They have a twisted sense of what’s funny. But Chester and Barney are OK.

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