W.D. Gagliani

The July Special Guest Writers are W.D. Gagliani and David Benton

Please feel free to learn about W.D. HERE

Warning: This story contains graphic violence.


by David Benton and W.D. Gagliani

A note found on the side of I-80:

The Lizard King spoke and we listened. He told us of the snake, and of the highway, and of the west. He told us about the beautiful insane children. About the ancient lake and the gold mine. He told us about the blue bus. The Lizard King spoke and we listened. And we did as we were told.


There’s a feeling we get when it’s almost game time. It’s hard to describe, but it slips over you like a mantle of gelatin that’s both warm and cool at the same time, slippery yet scratchy. It makes you shiver with anticipation.

I checked my watch: 10:40 PM.

Twenty minutes to game time.

Then I slid back in my seat and tried to get comfortable. It was comfortable enough—in fact, I could have easily dozed off if not for that gelatin curtain. That, and the adrenaline surging through my veins.

Game time.

Gazing through the oily window I could see little of the blasé Nebraska landscape. Just empty plains draped in night. But my dark reflection hovered, trapped somewhere in the glass. I sneered at myself. You handsome devil.

The Greyhound had rolled out of the Omaha station at ten. There were thirteen of us on board—eleven passengers, the driver, and I.

I shivered at the portents of the number.

The bus wasn’t expected in Ogallala until almost dawn.

My nerves were frayed and on fire and my heart made my chest ache. Suffocating anticipation of what was to come.

I pulled a small notebook out of my jacket pocket and jotted down jumbled thoughts. Free association. What had come and gone, and what was yet to be. A little something to help me stay focused these last few minutes.

When I was done, I tore the note from its spiral binding, slid my window open just a crack, and let the piece of paper be pulled from my fingers by the rushing wind. I took a deep breath, letting my anxiety go into the night with the note.

Then I watched the handsome devil in the glass breathe until he became me.


The games had started when I was eight. That was the year a drunk driver left my parents strewn, broken, on a lonely highway. Even then, my future was being predicted. I was moved out to live with my aunt and uncle in the middle of Fuckville, Iowa. There I met my competitor, my cousin Frankie.


I studied the other occupants.

The driver, of course—I could see him reflected in the bulbous convex mirror in the front of the bus.

Then about a third of the way back, on the left side of the aisle, a man in his mid-forties slept with his head resting on a little grey-and-blue pillow. Bland, a businessman.

Across the aisle, three rows back, a woman and her young son. She was mid-thirties, dumpy. The boy maybe ten. Sound asleep. Nighty-night.

Two rows behind them, a young couple, their heads resting cutely together. Difficult, but eminently doable.

Across from the lovers, a middle-aged woman reading a book. Besides me and the driver, she was the only other one who seemed awake.

Two rows further back, an old woman, head bobbing like one of those drinking bird thingies.

Three rows behind her, a woman with a car seat next to her and probably some sort of kid in the car seat.

On the other side of the aisle from them, an elderly gentleman in a suit and tie right out of some black and white movie. One of those set in the South.

Three more rows back on the left side, another older man, this one looking like Charles Manson. Maybe he got paroled this time.

Oh yeah, and one row farther back, on the right side of the back of the bus, me.

I checked my watch again. Five minutes.


Frankie and I hit it off right away, probably because I’d been so newly orphaned by that scum driver who had swerved into their lane and wiped out the older part of my family, leaving me, the younger part, to struggle forever.

Anyway, I needed someone to cling to, or whatever. The shrinks all guessed at that part.

Thick as thieves, isn’t that what they say? Or used to say? You don’t hear that much anymore.

Cousins more like brothers who were also best friends. That was Frankie and me.

Frankie introduced me to lots of music, but it was The Doors where something clicked for us both. Something we could not name, but that itched under our skin and made our veins sing.

And that’s when our games had started as well. An Olympics of sorts, each of us always striving to out-do the other, shit like who could run the fastest, who could catch the most frogs at the pond, who could shoot the most squirrels, elementary stuff.

We were a competitive pair, Frankie and I. This competition intensified as time went on. We’d get older and it was who could drive the fastest, who could get the most tit with the girls, who could drink the most, eat the most, which of us was better in any and every way.

And the night we found those college kids out camping in the woods… I still get the shivers thinking about it, so delicious, so right. It was destiny, man. But we were so young and so fucking stupid, it was a miracle we never got suspected. We even helped search for the bodies—that was a high.

It was destiny, man.


Forty seconds to start. The Beretta 9mm tucked in my shoulder holster was for The End. The Finale. It meant forfeiture otherwise. I checked the mirror in the front of the bus. The driver was completely oblivious to everything but the road, man.

I rose from my seat and crept to the other side of the aisle, pulling the knife from my pocket as I moved, and I slipped behind the sleeping man, the one seated closest to me, and watched the last few second elapse on my watch.

Game time, man.

I glanced up again. No one aware on this dark road. I looked at the man, puzzling it out, humming in my head, humming the first words: This is the end, beautiful friend.

Think, man, the clock is ticking.

He was leaning up against the greasy window, an arm curled beneath his head, and in-between, a tiny Greyhound pillow, his swollen head barely resting on its corner.

In a swift stroke, still humming in my head, I grabbed the pillow with my left hand and jammed it over his mouth and nose, simultaneously burying the knife blade in the right side of his neck and quickly sawing through flesh and bone and gristle to the left side, almost taking his head halfway off in one motion. Difficulty factor high.

His dead body spasmed and his right hand gripped my sleeve as he bled out.

Beautiful friend, I hummed.

I looked up. The minor commotion hadn’t been noticed. No one looked back.

I had to beat the clock.

I left him slumped against the window. Then I slipped out of the row, knife in my right hand, pillow in the other, creeping forward until I reached the row behind the woman and the kid.

I wanted to take a different approach this time. Less struggling.

…never look into your eyes again.

Covering her mouth with the blood-soaked pillow, I thrust the knife through her right eye, twisting it until only half the ribbed grip protruded from her head. I jiggled it a little back and forth to make sure. Perfect. And quiet.

In need…of some stranger’s hand.

I slunk back down into the aisle and removed the head with a quick stroke of the sharp blade and placed it in its mother’s lap.

Ah, the artistry. Too bad it didn’t count. Only time did.

Silent, oh so silent, I slid behind the elderly gentleman—

all the children are insane

—and dispatched him as I had the woman.

Sitting for a moment’s respite, I wiped the grue from my hands and knife. It was bloody and slippery and I couldn’t afford to drop it in mid-play. I glanced up. Oh, they were oblivious. Checked the watch: four minutes and fifty-six seconds elapsed.

As I rested and cleaned up, the highway took a slight decline. The blood from contestant number one slowly coursed down the aisle. Galvanizing! I had to reach the next woman before the blood reached her row, or—worse—made it all the way down to the reading woman.

Call it crunch-time.

I crossed the aisle in a crouch, entered the row behind the old woman—

Ride the King’s highway, baby.

 —and finished her quickly.

I took the icepick from my other pocket. Time for a change. Looking up to make sure no one watched, I moved up two rows, behind the reader woman.

Maybe my shadow crossed over her book, or maybe she just felt my presence—either way she glanced up and smiled at me politely as I entered the row of seats.

Ride the snake, ride the snake.
I was humming. Thrusting the icepick through her open eye with such vigor that it knocked her from the seat and sent her sprawling to the bloody floor with a dull thud.

Glance at the mirror. The driver had spotted me standing. I obscured my blood-splattered hand from his view and pretended I was arranging myself more comfortably in the sticky seat, clearing my throat so he could hear but not too loudly. Then I hunkered down in the seat, watching him through slitted eyes, stroking the Beretta under my jacket. But along that path lay forfeiture.

He had night driving on his mind, his hands on the wheel, his soul so weary I could feel it all those seats away.

Relief, and half-time here already.

The clock still ticked.


In college I began to yearn for the thrill of competition with Frankie. But I was not an athlete, and I was certainly no scholar. So I began clearing the campus of feral and stray animals, furry rabbits, ’coons, cats. A hunting crossbow in the dead of night, stealth was the key to my training. And when I tired of that, I would take a bus into the city, always a different line, cleansing it of the homeless with a sawed-off length of pipe and a trusty knife.


The driver shifted gears as we started grinding up a small hill, and I smiled knowing the blood river’s course would stop and be reversed.

Destiny, man.

Another glance at the driver and a quick look at the remaining contestants, and I slunk from my row to the row just ahead of me, where the woman’s body lay half-slumped in a heap, almost as if she were sitting on the floor. I took the aisle seat, my feet resting on her legs. Though her eye was now just an oozing socket, I could see no trace of the icepick handle. I scanned the floor. Nothing. I dug my finger into the wet socket. There, now I could feel the wooden handle. In the intensity of the moment I had pushed the pick too hard and the handle had always been a bit small. Maneuvering thumb and index finger into the gore, I retrieved my weapon and cleaned it on her clothing.

I peered over the seats. The driver sleepily watched the road. Now it was double-points. The young lovers were seated beside me, still immersed in blissfully sated erotic slumber, their hands under the blanket maybe fondling genitalia. Two of them resting, slotted together.

Difficulty factor high, times two.

Tick tock tick tock.

Deep breath. Almost there.

Both hands full, I half-rose from my seat and stepped across the aisle and back, watchful ever watchful. I slid behind the dreaming couple, leaned over the seat right above their smiling heads and, while still half-standing, in one quick move drove the knife through his right eye and the icepick into her left.

The west is the best.

Driver, where you takin’ us.

Jerking, they both died with the force of impact, sending their last moments along the blades and into my hands.

Double play.

It worked so well that I retrieved both tools and did a repeat performance on the woman and boy two rows up, humming.

He took a smiling face from the ancient gallery.

Humming “The End”…

Meet me at the back of the blue bus.

Checking my watch. On time but ticking away.

I wiped both tools clean and set them on the seat next to me. I had time for a choice now, but it would have to be quick.


A few years later, after college, I finally heard from Frankie again. When I answered the phone, familiar music was playing. I knew who it was. I knew what he would say. I knew what we would do, even if not the how. But I knew, and I’d known all along.

Ever since that scumbag had smashed the hell out of my parents’ car, I’d had a bad attitude about the roads, the highways, the veins of the nation. I couldn’t bear to think of all the people in the veins that needed cleansing. It was an impossible job, but Frankie had the right idea. He’d been thinking about it, too, for years. We resurrected our competition, but now it would mean something. Now it would be for a higher purpose.

Destiny, man.


I stood on that throbbing bus floor, humming to myself, and walked out into the aisle and down towards the front. The gears ground and we took a turn and I spread my feet to balance. I stopped to look at the last contestant. He was still sound asleep, even snoring quietly as if his nostrils were pinched shut. He had no idea about the game going on around him, or that he was another loser. All contestants were losers in our game. I glanced at the mirror and saw the driver’s face in shadows, half-asleep, still taking the curve—or was this a different curve?—and it didn’t matter because he was occupied. My watch said I was on time, but it was getting close.

I’d chosen the icepick. I leaned down and drove it into his exposed ear, feeling the tip pierce the cartilage and thin bones and reach deep into his brain. His eyes snapped open and stared into the infinite highway.

This is the end, beautiful friend.

He twitched and a thin dribble of blood poured out onto my hand.

I left the icepick in place and turned my attention forward. Now we were coasting down a long slope and I knew the time was near.

There was no longer any real need for silence, so I pulled my pistol from beneath my jacket.

When I was right beside him, the driver’s eyes finally locked onto mine in the mirror, but I was already too close and the Beretta’s barrel was kissing his skull.


This is the end.

He might have had enough time to mutter a puzzled “What the…”, but I was already squeezing the trigger, pumping three slugs into and out of his hat-covered head.

Driver, where you takin’ us.

I bulled him aside and grabbed the wheel to keep the bus from careening off the endless night road. I stuffed one foot between his dead-lumber legs and found the brake, slowing the bus in tight little jerks. But I couldn’t clutch from where I stood and when the bus slowed sufficiently to require a gear shift, the engine died and I wrestled the coasting beast until I tamed it to a thudding halt while keeping the wheel cranked to the right.

Outside the bug-smeared window, I saw that I had nosed perfectly to the rear of the van parked on the shoulder.

My timer went off.

In the shadows, Frankie stood next to the van.

“Jesus,” he said, looking me up and down as I stepped from the silent bus.

My watch gleamed in the moonlight. The timer still beeped. “I beat your time by twenty-eight seconds.”

Frankie looked through the window at the slumped driver. “Yeah, but I think I had more people on my bus.”

“We agreed this was gonna be based on time, not numbers,” I reminded him.

“Yeah.” He smiled. “You win. This round, anyway.”

I took a little bow.

He said, “I bet I can flag down a car faster than you can.”

It was all destiny, man.

The Lizard King spoke and we listened. And we did as we were told. Kill, kill, kill.

About W.G. Gagliani


W.D. Gagliani is the author of the horror-thriller Nick Lupo Series: Wolf’s Trap (a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award in 2004), Wolf’s Gambit, Wolf’s Bluff, Wolf’s EdgeWolf’s CutWolf’s Blind, andWolf’s Deal (novella), the supernatural thriller The Judas Hit, the hard-noir thriller Savage Nights, plus the novellaThe Great Belzoni and the Gait of Anubis.

He has published fiction and nonfiction in numerous anthologies and publications such as Robert Bloch’s PsychosFearful FathomsUndead TalesMore Monsters From MemphisThe Midnighters Club, and others, and e-zines such as Wicked KarnivalHorrorfind1000DelightsDark Muse, and The Grimoire.

His fiction has garnered six Honorable Mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (one of which, the story “Starbird,” is also part of Amazon’s Story Front print and audio program).

His book reviews and nonfiction articles have been included in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Chizine, HorrorWorld, Cemetery DanceCD OnlineThe Writermagazine, The Scream FactoryBare Bones, Science Fiction ChronicleFlesh & BloodBookPageHellnotes, and many others, plus the books Thrillers: The 100 Must Reads, They Bite, and On Writing Horror.

About David Benton


The creative team of W.D. Gagliani & David Benton has published the novel Killer Lake (Deadite Press, 2019), the middle-grade novel I Was a Seventh Grade Monster Hunter (as by A.G. Kent), plus short fiction in various anthologies such as The X-Files: Trust No One, Splatterpunk: Fighting Back, SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror, SNAFU: Wolves at the Door, Dark Passions: Hot Blood 13, Zippered Flesh 2Malpractice, Masters of Unreality, etc., venues such as DeadLinesThe Horror Zine, and SplatterpunkZine, plus the Amazon Kindle Worlds Vampire Diaries tie-in “Voracious in Vegas.” 

Some of their collaborations are available in the collection Mysteries & Mayhem. As a solo author, David Benton has published the eco-terror novel Fauna.


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