The Road to California City

by Michael Carter

It’s not the thump or splat of the face against the windshield that they say is the terrifying thing about hitting the man on the road to California City. It’s the eyes looking back at you.


Dayle was a tall man. A strong man. A man hardened by rodeos and a few stints in County. He wore tight jeans, complete with a faded circle on the back pocket tracing his chew can, so he could strut his stuff at the honky-tonk bars. He wore his Stetson proud, but folded up in front like the outlaws of the old days, to make sure everyone knew he didn’t take shit from the Law.

Never a man for the city, he lived on the outskirts of Bakersfield. But, after a steer gored him in his last rodeo, he decided it was time to hang up the spurs and start a new life. Plus, Heidi was getting bitchy, and that knucklehead of a son, who he always doubted was even his, was sneaking his best whiskey and raiding his wallet when he was asleep. He was sure of it.

He’d head to one of the largest cities most folks had never heard of, California City. In land area, it was bigger than Detroit and almost the size of New York. But it was still a small town, people-wise, with only enough to fill a decent arena. Just the way Dayle liked it.


Rebecca worked the late shift at the hospital in Lancaster, so she had to pull an all-nighter on the road to get to Tahoe for a wedding the next day. She saw the green sign; the one everyone said confirmed the legend about the man who appears on Aerospace Highway between Mojave and California City around two in the morning. The white reflective letters read:

“Must Stop and Report Roadkill”

The area code of the accompanying number, Rebecca recognized, was for military buildings on Edwards Air Force Base. She gazed off at those buildings—appearing as tiny dots on the horizon but large enough to hold Space Shuttles—and wondered what went on there.

She slowed her yellow Pinto to 55. The moon cast sufficient light to give her more time to react, but even that and her reduced speed weren’t enough. The glimmer of a man, wearing black combat boots and desert-camo BDUs, appeared in the middle of the road. She screeched the Pinto to a halt, leaving long black lines, but not before she heard and felt the splat, and saw the man’s bug eyes staring back at her, eye to eye.

As the Pinto idled, she caught her breath. She threw open the door, stepped from the car. The man was gone. The Pinto undamaged. Not even a mark on the windshield where she had seen those eyes sliding against the glass, staring, moments before. She called the number and explained to the automated recording what had happened.


Dayle passed Mojave in his teal Maverick and knew he was getting close. The smell of dust and the chill of the desert air permeated his car, even with the windows up.

It was near last call at the bars, but he figured there must be a few places still serving. After all, those military types would need a drink in the wee hours when they finished their secret government work for the day.

He passed the sign, “Must Stop and Report Roadkill,” and said under his breath, “Yeah, right.” He didn’t trust government. They sent our boys, good ol’ American boys, off to bleed in the sand halfway across the world and taxed his ass to high heaven. He kept his nose out of their business and wished they’d do the same.

It seemed almost as if the man in BDUs had a small head, or maybe big eyes that made his head look small, as he emerged from the highway. Dayle had heard the stories but that’s all they were to him; hocus pocus and something to keep kids awake at night.

He had only a moment to react and did what he felt any man in his position should do—he hit the skinny pedal on the right, floored it right into the figure.

The face print and eyes stuck to the windshield long enough to make Dayle’s heart skip a beat, but then he grimaced and powered the Maverick into the night.


Rebecca returned the nozzle to the dispenser at the first gas station in city limits, and tore off her receipt. As she slid into the driver’s seat, a shiny, unblemished Maverick pulled behind her.

She started her Pinto and let it hum, her four-banger sounding pleased with the higher-octane gas that would help her climb the Sierra Nevadas. She saw a man in BDUs in her side mirror, not uncommon near Edwards. But this man seemed to have the large eyes from earlier. Or was it her imagination?

A tall man in a hat with the front folded up got out of the Maverick. The man in BDUs approached. He was flanked by two men in suits with crew cuts and visor shades.

As Rebecca put the Pinto in gear, the man in BDUs raised his arm. His hand held a set of channellock pliers. She winced as she heard a “whelp.”

The men in suits approached the Pinto.

“Move along,” one said.

She white-knuckle gripped the steering wheel and rolled the Pinto forward. She prayed for the man as the channelocks came down on him. She prayed that he would die quickly. She prayed that she could get away. After all, she had done the right thing.

She noticed movement on the road behind her. She adjusted her rearview mirror. Bulging eyes stared at her from the backseat. She prayed once more, but never made it to see the lights of California City.

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