The Middleman

📅 Published on January 1, 2022

“The Middleman”

Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 8.67/10. From 3 votes.
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Elmer took a drag on his Marlboro, paused a moment to consider the playing cards pinched between his thumb and forefinger, then blew smoke from his nostrils in two thick plumes. He surveyed the two men before him, then let his gaze wander aimlessly over the parking lot of the Triple B.

The Triple B truck stop was an oasis of light along the darkest stretch of Highway 19. The highway spanned from the Florida panhandle, across the coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, before finally terminating a hair’s breadth from the Mexico border in Texas. There were a lot of empty spaces between the cities and towns along the way and the Triple B filled one of those gaps. Half gas station and half diner, it offered a refuge to the weary truckers who made their living hauling cargo from one end of the South to the other.

After getting the trucks lined up and settled for the night, Elmer had suggested a sort of friendly game of poker. His young trainee Kyle had wrestled the little card table out of the truck and there they sat, betting quarters and dimes beneath the tall, parking lot lights. He’d coordinated the stop with his buddy Lewis, hoping that before the night was over, he’d have a pocketful of the old man’s cash.

“Goddamnit, Elmer!” Lewis said, his words puffing out the hairs of his thick, graying, handlebar mustache. “Would you quit bein’ dramatic and decide what the hell you’re gonna do with those cards ‘fore I up and die over here?”

Elmer retrieved the cigarette from his lips and cocked an eyebrow towards Lewis.

“Why, Lewis? Are you dyin’ and didn’t even tell me?”

“Every day,” Lewis growled. “But I’d like to finish this damn hand before the Reaper’s blade tears me a new asshole.”

“Language, Lewis,” Elmer chided. “Little pitchers have big ears.”

“I’m twenty-three,” Kyle said, his voice flat. “Why do you two insist on treatin’ me like a child?”

Elmer chuckled. “Ain’t no offense intended, kid. I’m just old enough to be your father, you know. Hittin’ the big five-oh in a few years. Lewis here could be your grandfather–”

“Fuck off, Elmer,” Lewis grumbled. “I ain’t that much older ‘en you.”

“Point being,” Elmer continued. “We’re just tryin’ to connect with a typical example of the American youth of today through sarcasm and well-meaning insults about your mother and what she may or may not do in the bedroom.”

“And there ain’t much she won’t do in the bedroom,” Lewis concluded.

Lewis and Elmer’s laughter echoed across the nearly empty parking lot.

“Alright, alright,” Kyle said. “Say what you want about my mama but it ain’t gonna stop me from taking all your money tonight.”

Lewis smiled, his mustache curling with the corners of his mouth. “Sounds to me like the apple don’t fall too far from the whore tree.”

They all laughed that time, fit to split. Kyle pulled up the neck of his t-shirt and wiped the tears from the corners of his eyes.

“Goddamn, I walked right into that one,” Kyle said. His eyes widened as he pointed a finger at Lewis, whose smile suggested he had another quip. “Don’t do it, old man!”

“I wouldn’t gonna,” Lewis said. “Low hanging fruit. Now if you’d have said you ‘backed up into that one’…”

That drew more laughs until Elmer waved his hand. “Okay, boys, enough chit chat. Time to pay up.”

Elmer slapped his hand down on the flimsy table.

“Straight,” Elmer said.

“Shit,” Lewis said, tossing his cards face down on the table.

Kyle grinned and Elmer’s smile faltered.

“Flush,” Kyle said, and slowly fanned his cards out to show a row of clubs.

Elmer grimaced. “That money would’ve been better spent on your momma.”

Lewis and Kyle laughed again but Elmer only managed a smile. He’d never tell the kid, but he enjoyed hanging around with him. It made him feel younger, or nostalgic at the thought of being twenty-three again maybe. What was he doing at Kyle’s age? Probably high off his ass and bumming around from couch to couch in a Soundgarden t-shirt.

No one heard the woman’s footsteps over the laughter.

“Hello,” she said, and their laughs tapered off.

They all looked at her as she stumbled over to them. She looked to be about Kyle’s age. Her dark hair had an orange shine to it from the sodium lights overhead, and it flowed down over her shoulders to the straps of her navy shirt, the logo for NASA printed across the front. It didn’t fit quite right, too short and riding up enough to show the skin just above the top of her jeans. And it didn’t take more than a glance to tell she wasn’t wearing a bra even if you weren’t trying to look.

“We ain’t interested,” Lewis said, dismissively waving his hand. “Hop on over to another truck, lizard.”

“I…” she said. “Please, I need help.”

She fell forward, knocking the small table over and sending the cards flying and tumbling like dead leaves.

“Jesus!” Kyle yelled, stepping over the mess and reaching out to her. He rolled her over and rested her head on one of his thighs. “Are you okay?”

She mumbled something too low for Elmer to hear.

“Tell her to speak up!” Lewis said.

Elmer gave him an irritated, sideways glance then knelt beside the woman. “Hey, we’re gonna get you some help, okay? What’s your name?”

“Lindsay,” she said, her voice a little clearer this time. “Lindsay Jackson. I’m not sure what’s going on.”

“We’ll help you figure it out,” Kyle said. “You got family nearby?”

“We…are we still in the park?”

The three men looked at one another, confused.

“What park?” Lewis asked.

“Oak Mountain,” she said.

“Never heard of it,” Lewis snorted. “You on drugs or somethin’?”

“Give her a break, man,” Elmer said. He dug his cell phone from his pocket, opened the browser and searched for Oak Mountain.

His eyes widened in the blue-white glow of the phone’s screen.

Elmer cleared his throat. “Um, Kyle, you stay with her. Lewis, let me talk to you for a minute.”

Elmer led Lewis around the truck and stopped in front of the grill.

“Lewis, Oak Mountain State Park is in Alabama, and it’s damn near six-hundred miles from here.”

Lewis raised one gray eyebrow. “Pardon?”

Elmer turned the phone around to show him. “That ain’t all, Lew. I wish to Christ it was though because my head’s about to bust open.”

Elmer scrolled further down the page and clicked on a link.

“‘Search continues for girl missing in Oak Mountain State Park’,” Lewis read aloud, squinting at the screen.

“Look at the date,” Elmer said. “She went missing in August. It’s November now.”

“I know what damn month it is,” Lewis said.

Elmer pushed the phone closer to Lewis’s face. “The picture, Lew! Look at the damn picture!”

“Alright! Jesus! You know I ain’t got my reading glasses on! Just let me see it,” he said, taking the phone from Elmer’s shaky fingers and holding it out at arm’s length to see it clearly.

“‘Picture of Lindsay Jackson, taken on the day she went missing’,” he mumbled. “So what? Oh…oh Jesus.” He slowly gave the phone back to Elmer. “What does it mean?”

“I ain’t got a fuckin’ clue,” Elmer said, looking at the picture again. It showed Lindsay, same dark hair, wearing the same NASA shirt and jeans, and a pink backpack hanging from her shoulders. “But this girl in the picture can’t be more than twelve years old, Lew. The girl, the woman, over there looks ‘bout as old as Kyle.”

“It ain’t possible,” Lewis said, his voice barely above a whisper.

“I know it,” Elmer said. “But it’s still happening anyway. Lindsay Jackson, not even a teenager, went missing six hundred miles from here. And now she shows up three months later, still wearin’ the same clothes, now too damn small for her ‘cause she’s a goddamn decade older.”

“Jesus Christ,” Lewis said and shook his head. “I wished you hadn’t just spelled it out like that. That just made it all worse.”

“Let’s get back to Kyle,” Elmer said.

They returned to the scattered mess of the card game. Lindsay was now sitting up, her head down, dark hair hanging over her face.

“You doin’ any better, miss?” Elmer said.

She looked up with haunted eyes. “I’m…I’m starting to remember things I don’t understand.”

“Well…well that’s good ain’t it?” Lewis said. “That you’re remembering, not that you can’t understand it.” He turned to Elmer and mumbled, “I don’t even know what the hell I’m sayin’ here.”

Kyle awkwardly patted her shoulder. “Can you tell them what you told me?”

She nodded and began. “I was with my family at the state park. We were having fun, fishing and swimming and everything. We had a campfire one night and I had to…you know, go, but I didn’t want to walk all the way to the public restrooms. So, my dad said, ‘Just walk a little way into the trees.’” She grimaced. “But when I was done, I couldn’t find my way back. Everything was dark and the trees were closed in and I screamed for my dad, but no one answered. I walked in the direction that I’d come from, I don’t know how long, and…and then I saw the lights.”

“I knew it!” Lewis cried. “Goddamned aliens!”

Elmer gave him a disapproving look but said nothing. After all, he didn’t have a better explanation.

“What?” she said. “No, nothing like that. They were headlights.”

“In the woods?” Elmer said. “Did you come up on a road or something?”

She shook her head. “Not that I remember. I just saw them shining through the trees and walked to them. It was…” Her face grew animated and her eyes wide. “It was like this! A truck like this!” She stabbed a finger at Elmer’s Peterbilt.

“Wait, you found one of these in the woods?” Elmer said.

“Could be a logging truck,” Kyle said. “I ain’t never been up that way but maybe.”

“Lindsay,” Lewis said. “Did it have a flat bed? With big logs on the back?”

“No,” she said. “It was a big box like this one.”

“Well, shit,” Lewis said.

“Let’s get her inside,” Elmer said. “Then we can call the authorities and try to figure this out. Ray has probably got the grill closed and cleaned by I’m sure we can find you something to eat if you’re hungry.”

Lindsay nodded and let Kyle help her up, but she kept one arm firmly covering her chest.

Elmer pulled off his flannel shirt and held it out by the shoulders. “Here, take this.”

She stuck one arm in and then the other and shrugged the shirt on as they walked past the gas pumps and over to the main building.

The bell over the door rang out as Lewis opened the door, holding it wide for everyone to pass through. The lights overhead illuminated the rows of candies and chips. One of the old drink coolers in the back stood open, half empty, with boxes of cans waiting to be stocked inside.

Cold air washed over Elmer’s bare arms. “Damn, you’d think Ray’s cheap ass would have the AC turned down in November.”

“Yeah,” Lewis said. “And he’s still got all the diner’s lights on too. Must’ve had a late night.”

Something tickled at the back of Elmer’s neck, something dark, something wrong.

“Kyle,” he said as calmly as he could. “Go behind the counter there and look beneath the register. Ray and Doreen always kept an old Mossberg pump-action there. Grab it.”

“What?” Kyle said, a look of worry creeping over his features.

“Just do as I said, kid.”

“What are we doin’ here, Elmer?” Lewis said in a low voice. “You think there’s trouble?”

“I don’t know,” Elmer said. “But how many years we been coming to the Triple B? You ever know Ray to leave every light in the diner on past nine, or leave the air running after sundown?”

Kyle spoke up from behind them. “I got it,” he said, and held the shotgun out to Elmer.

Elmer shook his head. “You hold on to it.”

“I don’t even know how to use it!”

“Come on, son!” Lewis spat. “Your daddy ain’t teach you nothin’?”

Kyle’s face hardened. “My daddy died in Iraq when I was a baby. I don’t know how to use this, and I don’t want to neither.”

“Alright,” Elmer said with a solemn nod. “I’ll take it. Let’s check the diner first.”

The diner was separate from the rest of the store, with its own set of double doors that led into a small dining area with a counter behind which Ray spent most of his day scrambling eggs, flipping burgers, and deep-frying corn dogs.

“I don’t want to go in there,” Lindsay said.

“Shit, neither do we, but we got to,” Elmer said. He pressed the slide release on the shotgun and drew the forestock back, nodding at the shell visible in the chamber. He pushed the forestock forward once more, the clack too loud in the quiet of the room. “Okay, let’s move.”

Elmer held the shotgun ready, barrel pointed at an angle to the floor, the stock resting in the hollow of his shoulder. He pressed the thin, metal door open and stepped into the diner.

Blood dotted the yellowed linoleum floor in haphazard sprays, all leading to a puddle forming beneath the counter.

“Sweet Jesus,” Lewis said in a breathless whisper. From behind him came the sounds of Kyle retching and spitting.

Ray was laid out on top of the counter, one arm dangling off the edge, blood dripping slowly from his fingertips. Steak knives stuck out from his torso like a porcupine’s quills.

“Well, hey there, gentlemen,” a bright voice said.

The man was sitting in the back booth, wearing a cowboy hat, a blood-streaked white shirt, and a wide grin. He had an arm around Doreen, her eyes red and swollen, her nearly white hair disheveled. There was a dish towel tied around her head, gagging her, and her tied hands sat limply atop the table. She let out a muffled cry at the sight of Elmer and the rest.

“Come on in, come on in,” the smiling man said. “There’s plenty of room, but if you’re hungry, well…I wouldn’t trust the food here, you know? Looks mighty unsanitary from where I’m sitting.”

Elmer raised the shotgun. “I don’t know who the fuck you think you are mister, but you better let that woman go right now.”

The man tilted his head to the side and put on a comical look of feigned puzzlement. “Now surely you ain’t going to blast a bunch of buckshot this way, are you friend? You run an awful lot of risk hittin’ good ol’ Doreen here. And I think she’s been through quite enough already. Ain’t that right, Doreen?”

She said nothing, just silently wept.

“Why?” Lewis said. “Why’d you kill Ray?”

“Oh, come now,” the man said. “Even with eyes as old as yours you can see this was nothin’ but a terrible accident. Poor ol’ Ray slipped and fell on a knife, then he did it again, and then twenty or so more times. Why, if it wasn’t so awful then it would’ve been hilarious. He’s no Laurel, or Hardy for that matter, but he definitely could’ve been the fourth Stooge.”

“What the hell is he on about?” Kyle whispered.

Elmer slowly took a few steps toward the man, careful not to slip in the blood. “Hand over Doreen, and this can all be between you and the cops. We just want to make sure she’s safe, that’s all.”

“That is mighty kind of you,” the man said. He leaned back against his seat and sighed, and Elmer saw a scar on the man’s neck right below his ear, shaped like the number three.

The man continued. “But I can’t just give her over. I will, however, propose a trade. I give you sweet Doreen here, and you give me back my little lost sheep.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Lindsay, of course,” the man said. “Let her come back to me and all is forgiven, and we can move on our separate ways.”

The men all turned and looked to Lindsay.

“I just want to go home just want to go home just want to go home,” she whispered, her eyes shut tight, and her balled-up fists held to either side of her head.

“You’re the one who took her,” Elmer said, stunned. “You kidnapped her.”

“I found her,” the man said, pointing the knife he held toward Elmer. “But I guess if you want to be specific, the witch in the woods found her and I came to pick her up and take her away.”

“To where?”

“I just told you,” the man said. “Away.”

“She ain’t going anywhere else with you.”

 “Look,” the man said. “I’m what you’d call a middleman. I take lost little girls from one place, and transport them to another. Wherever the client wishes. And if I’m not back on the road soon with lil’ miss Lindsay here then my boss…well, let’s just say he won’t be none too pleased.”

“That sounds like your problem,” Elmer said.

“No, no, no,” the man said. “If my boss gets involved it’s everyone’s problem.”

Lewis stood next to Elmer. “He’s connected, Elmer,” Lewis said. “Illuminati or the Deep State or somethin’ else.”

“Knock it off with that shit,” Elmer hissed. “There ain’t no Deep State, no Q, and no reptile people. Get your head outta Fox New’s ass. He’s just a murderin’ asshole with a hostage.”

“But what about the damn time jump, Elmer? Huh? What about that?”

“Yes,” the middleman said with glee. “What about that, Elmer?”

“Shut the fuck up ‘fore I piant that wall with whatever brains you got left,” Elmer said.

“Maybe I’m an alien!” the middleman said. “Or maybe I’m a hidden operative all jumped up on adrenochrome! What do you think there, Lew?”

Lewis lowered his head, looking ashamed. “Could be either,” he said.

“Jesus wept,” Elmer said. “Enough of this shit! Let the woman go!”

The man sighed. “I really thought we could just make this easy, but I guess not.”

The middleman swung the knife up in a vicious arc and planted the blade in the soft skin right beneath Doreen’s chin. She sat there, eyes wide and jaw bobbing up and down, looking like a fish left out of water. He pulled the knife away and Doreen’s blood sprayed over the old tabletop.

“Whoooo, buddy!” the middleman said with a laugh. “I ain’t had this much fun in years!”

Elmer let his eyes leave the growing puddle of Doreen’s blood. He aimed the shotgun at the man’s chest and pulled the trigger.

No deafening boom came, only an underwhelming click.

“I’m afraid it ain’t that easy,” the middleman said. He lifted himself up and stood on top of the table.

 Elmer racked the shotgun, sending a shell turning through the air as another clicked into place.

He pulled the trigger again and was again disappointed.

The middleman shrugged his shoulders. “You can try the other shells if you like but I’m gonna have to go ahead and tell you now they ain’t gonna work any better. When you been around as long as I have you get a feelin’ about these things.”

Elmer lowered the shotgun, and his mouth felt dry and sticky as he spoke.

“What are you?” he asked.

“Mostly a man,” the middleman said and hopped down from the table, his boot heels clicking loudly on the floor. “And a little of something else.”

“I can’t let you take her,” Elmer said. “I don’t know what you are, but you can’t take her again.”

 “You can’t stop me, Elmer,” he said. “And you can’t stop her either. Lindsay, my sweet girl. Do you remember our rhyme?”

“Please don’t make me,” she said. “Don’t make me go–”

“Far in the wood, you’ll find a well…” he said.


“With water deep and blue…”


“Whoever drinks by moonlight clear…”

Lindsay’s expression grew placid, her eyes staring as if at something far away.

“Will live a thousand years,” she said.

“Good girl!” the middleman said. “Now go wait by my truck. These gentlemen won’t stop you, because if they try, they’ll find out how very unpleasant I can be when I’m angry.”

She walked between the men and out the door.

“Well, I will be taking my leave now,” the middleman said. “I’ve got to get Miss Lindsay there down for her nap, so she can finish her last little bit of growing up ‘fore I drop her off.”

“Why?!” Kyle said. “Why make her…why make her grow up?”

The middleman looked at him, considering. “Oh okay, I guess I’ll tell you a little bit. A tiny little bit. See, I get them right before puberty sets in. It makes it easier ‘fore them to forget their soon to be old life while they’re napping the miles away. And the years. Then when they’re nice and ripe, I drop ‘em off to the clients. Easy-peasey.”

“For what?” Lewis asked.

 “Not my concern, really,” the man said. “After all, I’m just the middleman. Just a regular ol’ trucker like yourselves, taking stuff from point ‘A’ to…well, to some other point.” He tipped his hat to them. “It’s been fun, gentlemen, but for all of your respective sake’s, I do hope we never cross paths again.”

He left, and all three men followed him out wordlessly, then watched as the middleman sauntered to his truck.

It was a great beast of a truck, black and chrome, all midnight and moonlight.

“Why didn’t we see it earlier?” Kyle said.

 Elmer didn’t look at the kid when he spoke. “‘Cause he didn’t want us to.”

They all watched, transfixed as the truck soundlessly drove past them, then out of the parking lot and out into the night.

“Now what, Elmer?” Lewis said.

“We call the police, and don’t say a word about anything other than findin’ Ray and Doreen dead.”

Kyle shook his head. “We gotta say something, right? We can’t just let that asshole get away!”

“We can,” Elmer said. “And we did. I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit during my time on the road, kid. Most of it I can chalk up to somethin’ scientific, even if I don’t understand the science behind it. Unlike Lewis here, who just knows it’s all some crazy alien bullshit.”

“Fuck you, Elmer,” Lewis grumbled.

“But this,” Elmer continued. “I can’t explain this, and I ain’t gonna try to explain to the cops either. Sometimes you just gotta drive on, kid. Drink some coffee, crank some tunes, and just drive on.”

“That sounds like grade-A bullshit to me,” Kyle said sulkily.

Elmer nodded. “Yeah, it does, but sometimes that’s all you get, kid. Sometimes that’s the only explanation you get.”

Rating: 8.67/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Ryan Harville

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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