Jenkins meets Boy one day as he's driving on the road to hell to receive orders from his boss, the Crooked Man.
The road to hell looks like the Jersey Turnpike.
There’s trash everywhere; cigarette butts that people flicked out of their windows without thinking about the anti litter laws, beer cans that they jettisoned while speeding off to a bar, copious amounts of chip bags and torn-up clothing, and, occasionally, the decomposing dead body. It’s a five lane monstrosity that divides the countryside like an impenetrable wall.
Unlike the Jersey Turnpike, it’s always exactly 101 F on the road to hell. It’s always daytime and the few clouds that float across the intense sun seem to evaporate slowly from the incredible heat. The road is one-way, badly painted, and worn down to the point that grooves have formed where cars normally drive. Stinking carcasses of dead birds and skunks litter the shoulders, their dried, crimson blood staining the cracked asphalt. There is no aura of doom, just a sad sense of isolation. The tree-lined road never turns. There is no horizon. It’s strangely simple for a road that leads to death.
It’s Bob from the grocery store or Ellis who runs the night counter at Burger King that end up here; sinners of all sizes and ages. People you wouldn’t expect. Stole a hairpin in seventh grade? See you at the Ten Commandment Turnpike. Cheated on your wife? Dumped your baby in the river because you couldn’t keep paying for the medical bills? Spat in someone’s food before giving it to them? You’re all equally screwed. Unlike the road to heaven, which is a two-way street, once you’re on the road to hell, you’re not going back.
Hitler came this way in his old Mercedes-Benz, World War II issue. Jim Morrison passed by in a Mustang driven by a murderer. Drunk kids, Marilyn Monroe, the dry cleaner that stole things people left in their jacket pockets, the guy who held up a Seven-Eleven and forgot there was a camera recording him, my grandfather, La Cosa Nostra members, and Elvis Presley all paraded down this endless road.
They all watched the road fade away behind them for hours. They all fiddled with the knobs on their air conditioning until their cars ran out of gas and they were forced to walk.
They all had the exact same thought: “Maybe I should turn around and go back.”
But they kept walking.
It was on this road that Mr. Jenkins was driving one Sunday afternoon, heading towards a rendez-vous he had no particular desire to attend. The sun, as usual, was high, and the wind was non-existent, though the trees seemed to be wavering ever so slightly, as though there was a breeze. The gas gauge on Jenkins’ ’59 Mustang Impala was drifting closer and closer to empty, the ice from his Starbucks Iced Tea had melted and left a liquid the color of old caramel, and he had needed to use a restroom for the past fifteen minutes.
But he knew he'd get there eventually. Unlike the rest of the motley gang that drove this road to their demise, he had a roundtrip ticket, a pass back to the land of the living. The land of temperate climates.
His boss wouldn't be so happy with him this month. He fiddled with the radio dial a little self-consciously. Out of the fifteen missions he'd been assigned, he'd only completed five.
I'm quite talented, Jenkins said to himself, defensively. I was just overworked.
"Jenkins," the radio blared. He jumped and spilled the Starbucks cup on the passanger seat.
"You'll be driving past a boy walking along the side of the road in a few minutes. Stop and pick him up. Do not say a word about where you are going. Bring him to me."
Jenkins considered the voice booming at him from his car speakers. It was deep, throaty, and indistinct. Yet he felt as though it could reach through the speakers and strangle him at any moment.
"Be snappy. I don't tolerate tardiness."
The radio coughed and sputtered out.
He kept driving, one hand clutching the wheel and the other hand playing nervously with his cravat.
In the distance, there seemed to be a small lump on the side of the road. As the car drew near, it formed into the shape of a boy dressed in baggy clothing, with scruffy, blonde hair.
Jenkins pulled to a stop on the side of the road, wondering what was so important about this child.