ROAD RASH plays to my two storytelling loves—crime and the supernatural. I don’t do it often, but I love to blend the genres. It’s the story of bank robber, James Straley. He might think his life is cursed, but it doesn’t compare to what lies ahead of him on life’s highway. He’s on the run with the proceeds of a botched bank robbery. It’s all he has. His crew is dead and his getaway car just died on him. He’s on foot with the cash when he comes across a two-car pileup. There’s no saving the drivers, but he saves himself by stealing one of the wrecked cars. Unfortunately, he boosts the wrong set of wheels. Within an hour of driving off, he develops a rash that eats away at his flesh. No doctor can help him—only the car’s original owner. If Straley wants his skin back, he must journey on the road to redemption.
The book started out as a short story and was one of a number of stories I’d been writing with the theme of road travel. I’d been examining the whole aspect of road travel by writing stories that ranged from cars to bicycles, from traffic offenses to road regulations and everything in between. I used these stories to put a dark twist on an aspect of our lives we take for granted. Road Rash was one of a number of tales I’d written based on turning a common term on its head. I liked the idea of road rash being something that could be contracted from the roads if someone wasn’t careful. I submitted the story to an anthology and the editor loved the story, but said it needed to be a book and an exotic twist would knock it out of the park.
When it came to the exotic twist, I knew just what to use. I’m quite an empirical person. I like to write about things I understand, things I’ve actually taken part in or things I have some experience with. So, I hoard experiences to the point of going out of my way to take part in things whether I need them for a story at the particular moment or not. So naturally, when someone offered my wife and I the chance to attend a Santeria ritual while we were traveling in Guatemala, I jumped at the chance.
I don’t think I could have made this up if I tried, it was that wonderful and spooky. The community that practiced Santeria lived in the shadow of three volcanoes and a lake isolated them from the mainland. The only way of getting to them was by boat. We took a trip out to the island, which amounted to a shantytown. People selling handicrafts covered the jetty where we landed. A kid no more than eight said he knew why we’d come to the village and for a buck he’d take us to the witch. He led us through the dirt-covered streets and down an alley into an unfinished cinder block room. An effigy sat in a chair with a cigarette drooping from its lips and a trail of smoke leaking skyward. All sorts of knickknacks and trinkets surrounded it. A woman as old as time shuffled around in an adjoining room. A young woman asked us to sit on the floor and take part in some unknown ceremony. It goes without saying that it was more than a tad creepy and our nerves didn’t hold out, so we got the hell out of Dodge before something happened. I’m as superstitious as the next person. The imagery was very potent and the incident stuck with me and dovetailed nicely into the exotic element the editor wanted for Road Rash. I don’t pretend to understand half what I witnessed, but the incident inspired me to develop a great backdrop for James Straley when he’s forced to travel to Guatemala. It gave the story a whole new different dimension.
James Straley wasn’t as fortunate as my wife and I, as he had stay for the ritual. The experience changes his life forever and hopefully it’ll change yours too when you read it.