From his booth, Bill collects the travelers coins but tonight he pays the toll.
Bill Soughton was a stout man of sixty years, whose expanding width seemed to be compensating for his diminishing stature. On this night, just as every weeknight for the passed thirty years, Bill worked the lonely tollbooth that stood at the single entrance of Amaranth Island. As usual, Bill sat in his booth listening to an old radio, which played more static than music, and staring down Falls Bridge: the only thing connecting Amaranth to the mainland.
It was a gorgeous night. The clouds, which had spent all day obscuring the would-be shinning splendor of autumn, had descended into a luxuriously thick ground fog, revealing an elegant full moon. The other end of the bridge was nothing but an obfuscated skeleton in the density of the fog; the mainland itself could not be seen at all. Bill had only a moment to reflect on the notion that this lovely little island was all that there was in the world, before a pair of headlights burst through the mist, shined down the length of Falls Bridge, and illuminated the little tollbooth. If Amaranth was the world, an outsider had arrived.
At first, Bill didn’t think the vehicle was moving, but as the car’s shape gradually began to gain definition, he realized that it was. But why was it proceeding so slowly? Before He realized that he was frightened, the hairs on the back of Bill Soughton’s neck stood up. He felt a moment of panic and imagined a maniac, behind the wheel of what Bill could now see was a Cadillac, loading a great big gun full of great big bullets with his name on them. Suddenly he felt very silly. It was the fog! No one in there right mind would be speeding down a narrow bridge like Falls on a foggy night like this. Bill let out a little chuckle, more from relief than humor, and leaned out of his window as the Cadillac rolled up to his booth.
“Those high beams make it harder to-“
The words caught in Bill’s throat. The car was totally empty. The Cadillac’s radio was playing classical music. The jazz coming from Bill’s radio blended with the music from the Caddy, creating a wickedly perverse piece of dissonance: The symphony of a lunatic, Satan’s final movement.
All the fear he had felt upon watching the car approach, slammed back into his bones so hard that he began to shiver. The moon, which had looked so elegant a moment earlier, now appeared demented and no longer perfectly round. It seemed to loom over him in the sky, engorged and entertained by the horror playing out in Bill’s little booth. Now the tollbooth felt more like a coffin. The picturesque fog on the water instantly became a sea of restless spirits, no longer jostled, but antagonized by the waves below. They would awaken from their tortured dreams and rise up; they would look upon Bill with the empty holes which now served as their eyes and…
And something was in his tollbooth with him.
There was a soft, wet, smacking sound coming from behind him. The sound almost reminded Bill of someone trying to get a bad taste out of their mouth, except this was slightly different. The sound was slower and more subtle; it was almost coital in its nature.
The thing behind him began to laugh.
It was a guttural, rasping, coughing sound, which surely must have been coming from an ancient throat. The laugh seemed to say ‘Checkmate, You’re mine.’
When Bill Soughton turned around, slowly on his heels, it was not a gesture of curiosity; it was one of acceptance. Bill knew that whatever was standing behind him was going to kill him, so he would die facing his murderer. What he saw before him turned his chocolate brown complexion to the cold grey of a tomb stone.
It was tall. Bill had to look up to see its horrible face, and its head was cocked at a harsh angle so that it could fit into the booth. The eyes were mad and seemed to be bulging out of sunken black pits in its skull. Its nose was animalistic, almost a snout. His face (Bill believed it to be male) was deathly pale and pitted with pock marks, but the mouth! It was far too big for its head; sickly disproportionate and full of razor sharp teeth. This creature seemed as if it had a mouth full of rusty barbed wired and the look on it face was wild and indisputably insane. For an absurd instant Bill thought that it was going to scream ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY’, but instead it ripped out his throat and began to feast on his blood.
And in one of the often strange mercies we are sometimes afforded in life, Bill Soughton had the luxury of dying before losing his mind.