From the Archives: “Crying Over Spilt Milk” – June 2009

What I like about it: There are vivid, sensory descriptions.

What I would change about it, these nine years later:

  • The ending sentences don’t make sense to me anymore. I’m not sure what I was going for with the bad grades comment–there’s nothing before that to support it.
  • I’d nix the whole “wake from a dream” ending, in fact. It’s cliché, but I didn’t know that back in 2009, I guess.
  • There are too many adverbs.
  • Jake is obviously a sadist. He keeps zombies locked up to feed on unsuspecting students he kidnaps. Of course, he doesn’t actually exist, so maybe Ryan is the sadist since he imagined Jake–but there’s not a lot here to tell the reader about who Ryan really is.
  • Ryan needs a more emotional response; he doesn’t even cry, which makes the title nonsense. I’m guessing he was trying to hitchhike to run away from a poor performance in school–maybe that’s where the bad grades comment came from–but if that’s the case, I would flesh out his motivation(s) more.

Warning: The text below contains some gory details.

Jake Hanley glanced toward the passenger seat of his 1984 Toyota Camry, where a gallon of reduced-fat milk was sweating against the worn leather.  Jake was sweating too.  Though his window was open, his face was red and his shoulder-length hair stuck to his neck.  A seatbelt stretched through the jug’s plastic handle, to the fastening clip, holding the milk in place.

“Shouldn’t be too much longer,” he told the milk drawlingly, nodding with widened eyes and an even wider smile.  Jake’s hands tightened on the steering wheel, his right foot pressing down on the accelerator until the car’s odometer read eighty-seven miles per hour.  The steering wheel shook in Jake’s white-knuckled hands, and even the windshield wipers seemed to bounce in protest.

Jake, the milk and his Camry were only twenty feet from the stop line beneath the red light when Jake pushed both of his feet against the brake pedal.  The brakes squealed and the car seized, leaving rubbery trails along the asphalt.

“There, now is time, my lil’ one.”  He unbuckled the seatbelt around the gallon of milk, hoisting it toward him.  Jake’s tongue traced the outline of his parched lips as he peeled the plastic cap off and raised the jug, taking long gulps.  Some of the milk never made its way past Jake’s lips; instead it trailed along his neck, soaking into his uneven beard, to be stopped only by the plaid collar of his flannel shirt.

Without bothering to replace its cap, Jake tossed the half-emptied gallon behind his seat.  The small glub-bubble sound of the leaking milk was audible only until Ryan Thomas woke as the cold milk flooded around his ankles, his muffled screams filling the modest cabin.

“Hitchhikin’s illegal in these parts, didn’t you know, boy?”  Jake peered in the rear view mirror.  “Ah well, you’ll do I s’pose, a bit on the skinny side but you’ll do.  Shouldn’t be too much longer.” 

Ryan screamed again, tears mixing with the blood that stained the right side of his clean-shaven face.  His body rested against the back of the seats as Jake continued driving.  Ryan glanced toward the milk, his nose crinkling at the smell and sight of the turning curds.  He’d been seat-belted in, just like the milk had been, except it took both seatbelts to hold him across the breadth of the backseat.

A frantic glance revealed to Ryan that the door handles in the backseat had been removed, leaving nothing behind.  He lifted his milk-soaked legs to kick at the opposite door, but it wouldn’t budge.

“No use fightin’, boy.  Not gonna save you from ‘em, and mind you, they’re hungry!”  Jake’s laugh was coarse and cacophonous, overpowering Ryan’s muffled screams.  Jake turned the car left, not bothering to break or signal his turn onto the unpaved, single-lane road.

“Shouldn’t be too much longer,” he repeated, continuing straight along the road until he pulled over in front of a lopsided garage beside a rusty trailer.  Jake unbuckled his own seat belt and turned around to face Ryan.  “Hitchhikin’s illegal in these parts,” he reiterated before offering Ryan a smirk as he turned and slipped out of the front seat.  The car bonged like a steady heartbeat; the keys were still in the ignition.

Jake hummed as he opened the other doors of the car, leaving Ryan in the backseat, seatbelts still fastened.  Jake gathered Ryan’s belongings out of the trunk and started toward the trailer.  Ryan thrashed inside the backseat, throwing himself as close to the door as possible.  He tried to scream again, but his cries barely reached Jake’s ears as soon as Jake had entered his trailer and locked the door. 

A loud buzzing overtook the car’s bonging and Ryan’s screams as the garage door opened, lifting up to reveal seven people.  With broken limbs and hanging skin they slowly moved out of the garage.  One of them turned milky white eyes toward Ryan and released a pitiful moan that caught the attention of the others.

The ghouls approached the car with uncommon speed, and Ryan clenched his eyelids shut.  The last thing he felt before he opened them again was a sharp pain in his left ankle.

“Shouldn’t be too much longer,” a gentle voice chimed nearby.  Ryan looked toward his ankle where two people crouched over him, a man and a woman, both with shining dark hair.  The woman’s deep brown eyes locked onto Ryan, who was coated in a fine sheen.  “You alright, kid?  Did you pass out?”

Ryan shrugged and pulled back from them both.  “Who are you?”

“You were trying to hitch a ride, and you fell just as we were driving by.  You twisted your ankle but we had an ace bandage on board, so you’ll be fine.”

Ryan looked toward the road where their Ford Explorer was pulled over, all four blinkers flashing.  Cars passed by at breakneck speeds along the double-lane highway.

“Do you need a ride somewhere?” the man asked, frowning as Ryan backed away even further.

Ryan shook his head fervently.  “No,” he answered quickly, “Hitchhiking is illegal here.” 

Ryan pushed himself to his feet and ran toward the woods, back onto the trail that led toward home.  Bad grades weren’t worth becoming zombie food…but then again, maybe his mother was right…maybe he did watch too many horror movies.

Fun fact: I remember driving up next to someone at an intersection and glancing at their car only to see them guzzle from a gallon of milk on a hot summer day. Now, all I can think about is this: