Late Night Road Trip

Late Night Road Triproads-landscape-photography-andy-lee-11.jpg

I blinked a few times and arched my back, keeping my eyes on the long dark road. The numbers on the clock were lit just enough to see that it was a little past two. I had been driving all night. Seven hours to be exact. A long seven hours. I shook my head and cut my eyes down at the dashboard and cursed. The tank was getting close to empty and there wasn’t a gas station in sight.

“That’s what you get.” The small, sharp voice cut through the silence of the car, too loud to be my own thought. When I looked in the rear view mirror, the backseat was still empty.

The long drive was finally wearing on me. I was hallucinating. But anyone would have if they were driving on an empty road alone. I reached down to change the radio station, pausing long enough to hear what played. An old country song came on and I turned the knob again. A preacher was angrily yelling. Or maybe he was excited. It was hard to tell the difference sometimes. I turned the knob again and this time I paused longer to listen to the monotone voice.

       “If you see this man, immediately contact authorities. He’s said to be armed and dangerous.”

I turned to the next station. Classic rock was always a good choice. At least in my opinion. I turned up the volume and sang along as I continued to look for a gas station. With each passing moment, I felt the tension build in my stomach. If I didn’t find a place soon, I was going to be stuck on the side of the road.

A white light appeared in the distance. As I got closer, I could see the small building and the gas pumps. Now I needed them to be open. But who would actually be open at this time of night? I pulled into the gravel entrance, carefully stopping next to the outside pump. I looked inside the store and saw a young man propped against the counter, phone in hand. I rolled my eyes and snickered. Kids. Always on their phone.

I opened the door and he greeted me. Pulling out my wallet, I asked for a pack of cigarettes and gas. He turned to the cigarettes, but stopped abruptly and looked at me again with narrow eyes. I shifted my weight and looked around the store to avoid his gaze. It only took him a moment to slap the pack of cigarettes on the counter and ring me up. He still had a strange look on his face. I didn’t know what was wrong with the kid, but I was ready to get out of there.

I walked back to my car and lifted the nozzle. I pushed the button for regular fuel and walked around the other side of the car to light a cigarette. Before the flame touched the cigarette, I stopped. A young woman caught my eye. I examined her for a moment, while she wandered aimlessly. She wore a dirty t-shirt, ripped jeans, and a pair Converse shoes. My stomach twisted and I tucked the lighter into my pocket. After I hung the nozzle back on the pump, I took long, swift strides to reach her.

“What are you doing?” I grabbed her wrist. “You shouldn’t be out here. Get in the car.”

I pushed her into the passenger side and shut the door. She didn’t argue or try to pull away from me. Not that I would have allowed her to. The first few miles were filled with silence until the tension became unbearable.

“What were you doing out there?” I tried to keep my tone soft, so I did not scare her, but I couldn’t hide my irritation. She didn’t respond and I felt the heat rise in my body. “Are you going to answer me?”

I sighed and shook my head. I couldn’t believe the gall of this woman. If I learn anything from my mom, it was manners. My mother made sure of it. She wasn’t an easy woman to live with. Nothing I did was good enough for her. The constant bruises left from my father’s belt proved that. When she died, I didn’t even cry. I’m not sure I ever really loved her.

My thoughts ended there as I pushed the brake to the floor, nearly throwing myself through the windshield. The tires screeched and the car came to a halt before I reached the woman, who was standing in the road. She was a young woman, wearing a dirty t-shirt and ripped jeans.

“What the hell?” I yelled, looking to my right side. The seat was vacant. I looked out the window again. My headlights lit the empty road in front of me. I was tired of her games. This was ridiculous and impossible.

I opened my car door and walked around to the back, popping open the trunk. As the top lifted, I peered down at the body that was curled into a fetal position. I studied her dirty t-shirt and ripped jeans. Her eyes were open, but dark and lifeless. I shut the trunk again and got into my car. The headlights turned off and the engine grew quiet. I reached down to turn the key, but it wasn’t there. A movement from the corner of my eye caught my attention. I looked to the passenger seat where she sat, holding my keys. An evil grin spread across her face.

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