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Fantasy, Myth, Legend

Tracie McBride is a New Zealander who lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children. Her work has appeared in over 50 print and electronic publications, including Pulp.Net, Coyote Wild, Abyss and Apex, Space & Time, Sniplits, Electric Velocipede, and Big Pulp. In 2007, Tracie won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent, and she currently serves as vice president of the writer’s co-operative Dark Continents Publishing. Her blog can be found at

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Rush Hour

Virgil heard something tapping on the top of his computer monitor. He looked up. His teenaged daughter Ginny looked back at him. Virgil checked his watch.

“Shit! Is it that time already?” he said.

“Language, Dad,” Ginny chided.

Virgil’s workmate Roger peered over the cubicle wall like a bespectacled meerkat.

“What’s up, Virgil?” He feigned surprise. “Oh, hello, Ginny. Didn’t see you there. You look lovely in white, as always.”

“C’mon, Dad,” said Ginny. “You know how bad the drive home can get if we miss the window.”

“You should take the bus,” Roger said smugly.

They found Virgil’s car in the parking building in a row of anonymous Japanese imports, drove down to street level and eased into the traffic. They were moving at a steady pace when the swarm hit. The air was thick with wasps the size of a man’s thumb. They splattered against the windscreen. Virgil slowed to a crawl and turned on the wipers, smearing insect gore across the glass. They could just make out the screams of the driver of a convertible one lane over who hadn’t been able to get the top up in time.

“Poor sod,” muttered Virgil. Ginny tugged at the cross pendant around her neck and said nothing.

Then, as suddenly as the swarm had appeared, it dispersed, blown away by a wind that came up out of nowhere.

“Look,” said Ginny. She pointed. “A tornado!” Virgil squinted as he tried to make out where it was centred. The smoky cone spiraled into the air, sucking up debris.

“Oh, God,” he said. “It looks like it’s over the dump!”

Ginny frowned. “Dad!” she said. “Don’t blaspheme!”

The twister passed metres away, pelting cars with jettisoned filth and flipping less fortunate vehicles in its wake. Virgil ducked reflexively as his car shuddered, airborne rubbish bags striking the roof and bonnet. Slow-flowing slime oozed down the windows. A used diaper entangled itself on the wipers. It split, and the wipers laboured across the windscreen as they smeared its contents back and forth. Ginny retched.

“Wasps, tornadoes and shit, and we haven’t even made it onto the motorway yet,” Virgil muttered. Just as he spoke, the traffic ahead sped up. He loosened his grip a little on the steering wheel as he headed for the on-ramp.

“Watch out for the dog,” Ginny said.

“Oh, no—not the dog,” Virgil groaned.

The size of a small horse, it stood in the middle of the on-ramp, barking and snapping at car tyres as they swerved to avoid it. It had an impressive strike rate, judging by the number of cars with punctures lining the verges on either side of the road. Not surprising, thought Virgil, considering the mongrel has three heads. A motorcyclist tried to do a U-turn. Virgil snuck past the dog as all three heads were occupied with chewing off the rider’s legs at the knees. He looked ahead, and swallowed a curse.

They were approaching the bridge, and things were heating up there ­ literally. The liquid flowing sluggishly under the bridge was a deep, dirty red. Large bubbles broke the surface. Every now and again a flaming geyser erupted from the river, spilling over the sides of the bridge to engulf passing vehicles. Virgil stopped the car.

“Tell me when,” he said to Ginny. “I can never figure out the pattern.”

Ginny nodded. “3…2…1…go!”

Virgil planted his foot on the accelerator. He cleared the bridge with inches to spare. Heat radiated through the glass from the blast of fire rising up behind them.

The road ran ahead for about five kilometres across a stretch of sandy desert. Ginny gave a low whistle. “They’ve taken out a bus!” she said. A forty-seater bus lay on its side, several of its tyres pierced with arrows. A herd of centaurs pranced around it, waving their bows in the air. A naked, muscle-bound giant with horns growing from his temples flexed hairy biceps as he forced open the doors and hauled out passengers.

“Isn’t that Roger?” asked Ginny. A thin man in a knitted vest sailed through the air and landed awkwardly. He sizzled on contact with the sand. Before he could stand, several vulture-like creatures swooped down on him. Their human faces twisted in fury as they pinned him under their talons and ripped his flesh with jagged teeth. One lifted her head from her meal and hissed at Virgil. Blood dripped down her chin and splattered on her sagging blue-veined breasts.

“You should take the bus,” Virgil mimicked savagely. Ginny shot him an offended look and slapped his hand.

Once past the fallen bus, the traffic flow improved. “Looks like rain,” Ginny said. Dense black clouds gathered overhead. The air grew oppressively hot. Sweat beaded on Virgil’s forehead as he struggled for breath.

“This can’t be a good sign,” he said.

Fire began to fall from the sky, daintily at first, like the harmless spluttering of a child’s sparkler. It intensified until it fell in thick blobs of flame. Ginny closed her eyes and gripped the armrest. Her lips moved in a silent prayer. Virgil fixed his gaze on the road ahead. They emerged out the other side of the downpour with the car’s paintwork smoking and scarred, but both occupants unharmed. They slowed to a halt behind a long queue of cars.

“What’s the hold-up this time?” Virgil said.

Ginny wound down her window and leant out as far as she could reach. She gasped, pulled back into the car and quickly wound the window back up.

“Road works,” she said grimly.

Virgil swallowed hard. His hands trembled slightly. “God help us,” he croaked.

“Amen,” nodded Ginny.

They crept forward with agonizing slowness. To break the monotony, Virgil turned on the radio. The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” was playing. Ginny snapped the radio off. They continued for the next twenty minutes in silence.

A few cars ahead, Virgil spotted the start of a line of orange cones. Seconds later, they were in chaos. The lane marked out with cones split off in three directions, the new lanes snaking haphazardly across the motorway and intersecting with each other in places. Hulking man-like creatures in fluorescent yellow vests stood at irregular intervals. Green drool dripped from their grinning maws as they randomly spun Stop/Go signs, sending confused motorists into slow-motion collisions. A couple of drivers got out of their cars to swap insurance details. Virgil leant on his horn.

“Look out behind you!” he shouted. He pointed at a crew of bony little purple-skinned men wheeling a steaming cauldron into place behind the unsuspecting drivers. One turned around in time to see the men tip the cauldron over. Hot tar spilt over the road, pooling around the drivers’ ankles. They screamed and frantically tried to extract themselves, but more mutant road workers were on hand to prod them with pitchforks until they overbalanced, sprawling face-first into the tar. The little purple men applauded, waving their forked tails with glee. A bulldozer rumbled forward to push the abandoned cars out of the way, collecting several occupied vehicles in the process.

“We’ll never make it,” Virgil said.

“Have a little faith,” said Ginny. “They must be due for a smoke break any minute.”

As if on cue, all the workers dropped their tools. Some took out thermos flasks and poured themselves steaming cups of excrement. Others produced cigarette packets. One creature leant over and lit his cigarette on the burning flesh of his last victim. Virgil avoided their eyes as he picked a tortuous path through the site.

They emerged into an eerie scene of calm. The last of the daylight abruptly fled, and with it went the sweltering heat from the road works. The car’s headlights struggled to penetrate the darkness. Virgil shivered in the sudden cold. The car slipped and slid on ice coating the road. They didn’t see the figure in the middle of the road until they were almost on top of him.

He stood nearly nine feet tall. At first Virgil thought he was wearing a full-length black coat, but then the man flexed his shoulders and opened up two magnificent ebony wings. All Virgil could see of his face was his glowing red eyes. Virgil stared, mesmerized. His hands slid nervelessly from the wheel.

Ginny sighed. She leant over her father, pressed his right leg gently onto the accelerator, and awkwardly took control of the steering with her left hand. As they rolled past, the winged man lost eye contact with Virgil. He shook himself awake and took over from Ginny. She looked out the back window and gave the retreating figure the finger.

In an instant they were in suburbia. Virgil turned into their street, then into their driveway. The streetlights cast a benign yellow glow around Ginny’s head as she got out of the car. Virgil’s wife greeted them at the door. He kissed her cheek.

“Sorry we’re late, love,” he said. “The traffic was hell.”




Rush Hour by Tracie McBride
originally published July 14, 2008

Also by Tracie McBride: Life in Miniature

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