One Last Ride, Pt. 1 of 2
The following story contains: Violence, violent imagery, some profane/crude language
The night air was cold, bitter, and dark. Its exhale bit through Allan E. Mason’s leather coat, chilled him to the bone. He couldn’t wait another five minutes for a bus or car, but he must. He only had the faintest idea where he was. The four lane highway before him reached endlessly beyond both horizons, and the forests on both sides looked as inviting as a mousetrap without the cheese. No population of metal, illuminating sentries, clouds drowned the sky, negating any beacons natural or man-made. Then, thundering, flashes of watts damned his hopes.
“Competing for worst day in my life, and winning,” he said through clenched, chattering teeth. He resigned to making the journey even if hypothermia and frost bite trotted alongside him, but the lights he prayed for came speeding. Two highbeams blinded him as he waved an arm, feeling the initial sprinkles of the incoming torrent among the smoky, frosted air. A black station wagon, a Chevrolet, slowed beside him, stopped. It looked camouflaged before the black night, save for its flaring eyes burning visibility. Allan sighed in relief after noticing, despite the model’s age, the wagon hummed like a mute, meaning he wouldn’t have to worry about impromptu maintenance during a thunderstorm. The passenger window rolled down in coughs. A black man with a head of smooth, grey curls, and an inviting smile, leaned for him.
“Too cold for a stroll, isn’t it?” he said.
“I have gas money. I have family in Accomack. If you can’t take me that far, I’ll go as far as you can.”
“Yeah,” he said with a flick of his hand. “I can get you to Accomack. You’re letting my heat out, son. Come on, before the cold bites something off.” Allan hurried inside, had the manners to use the antique crank handle to roll-up the window. The heating blasted to a comfortable sixty degrees Fahrenheit, paradise to the negative plus wind chill howling outside. As the black wagon sped North, rain assaulted their mobile shelter like a waterfall of bones, and Allan couldn’t have been happier.
Both driver and hitchhiker remained silent thirty minutes in the drive, the passenger gathering what information he could of his Good Samaritan in gulping glances. For all he knew, the old man could be a pseudo leader in one of those super-hero movies, or he could have a hatchet in his lap. Fortunately, both cases were proven false. He dressed as one recently leaving church, and, considering the elongated duration churches ran in the country, it could be true. A copy of John Milton’s Paradise Lost in the dashboard, leather seats furnished inside a 90s station wagon that his body melted into, the absence of a child’s toy, crumb, beer can, or speck of dirt on the seats or floor, the smell of pine and carpet cleaner, with a dab of cologne, rising on the warmth.
Allan thought, Church van on Sunday, pimp-mobile on a weekday, but a vital necessity for coaxing the fairer sex was absent: a radio. Red and blue wires contorted in vacant space beneath the heating, like veins and arteries missing their heart. Then another thought peeked from the shadows. Was it Sunday?
“You from around here, or just visiting?” The old man’s voice was even, not loud, yet deep, reverberating through the car with authority. It cold-slapped him from his contemplation.
“J…Just visiting. I have plenty of family over here. A girlfriend too.”
“So it’s a long-distance relationship? That’s no joke, son. The strong ones make it; others get left outside in the rain.”
Allan laughed. “Well, count us with the strong. It won’t be much longer until I get her over to my side.”
“I take it she’s not a fan of the country?” Allan shifted uncomfortably, feeling a loose pen or razor poke him from under the seat.
“Who would? There’s nothing out here. All the shops, restaurants, the decent restaurants, entertainment are miles up the road, or a toll and a full tank across the bridge. Nothing here but silence.”
“I’m actually from a loud place myself, son, so I appreciate my trips and time visiting the countryside. I wouldn’t want to live her personally, since there isn’t much to do, but some people dislike the scream of engines, lost souls roaming until 3 am in the morning, or the wail of jets flying low.”
“And some can take all that for the convenience. I’m telling you man, we’re on the same page with this.”
“And I didn’t say you weren’t, but your story reminds me of an old friend of mine.” Allan turned his head, shifting his eyes to the black river running across his window.
“Is it a long one?”
“Not really… It’s about a friend who owned an insurance company. Or was it a loan company? Anyway, I remember his name was Alex, and even though he did well for himself in his business, he always had an obsession with swords, those collectible, medieval ones. Eventually he came across the company of his wet dreams: An antique weapons collector on the West coast, told me the business had the original Excalibur and Spear of Victory. Sounded like a blind man’s gambit to me, but he really believed it. He sacrificed everything to get that business, even the paychecks of a couple thousand employees by liquidating a subsidiary or two, and he eventually got it.”
“Well, my girlfriend isn’t a company, but I still admire the man’s determination. If I’m lucky, my story will end up like his.”
“You didn’t let me finish, son. Remember those weapons I told you about? Like Excalibur and the spear that pierced Jesus’ side? He never found a single one, but one night someone claiming to be an employee of that arms building told him he found it. Next morning, the crew working the warehouse found Alex dead in the main office, his head lopped clean off, a replica Excalibur the murder weapon. Killer’s still loose to this day.” Allan blinked twice. No hatchet in his lap, but clearly one lodged in his brain, right in the cerebral cortex. The old man was a liar, and knew how to string a tale to a tail. So that’s what replaced the radio.
“Interesting story,” Allan said, letting a spoon of sarcasm show in his inflection, “but it still has nothing to do with me.”
The codger chuckled with that salesman smile Allan wanted to punch. “No, now that you mention it, it doesn’t. Just bought the story out, I guess.”
You guess my ass. “Rain’s getting worse.”
“So it is.” For the drive’s next thirty minutes, the hitchhiker and driver sat in silence. Allan positioned himself flat against the car door, but his eyes forward, wishing he could “liquidate” himself amongst the rain, flow onward through the torrent like a mist. The windshield wipers beat back the stones of water in a losing battle, their ticks counting down the elusive seconds.
The old man, garnering his passenger’s attention, stretched his neck to squint through the storm.
“Looks like we got another one, left out in the rain.” The unfortunate pedestrian, evidently a woman, waved her arms at the incoming flood-lights. The rain and wind assaulted her umbrella and person as a spruce in a hurricane, the belligerent breeze nearly shoving her before the black wagon. They pulled beside her, Allan rolled-down the antique window, and saw the most beautiful angel misplaced from heaven, the angel his girlfriend, Jackeline! Seeing her face, the navy-blue dress she wore that could give a eunuch an erection, her long black hair, and her maroon coat reminded him how he found himself walking for miles in a freezing rainstorm, so he frowned in those voluminous, brown eyes.
“Great,” she said, rolling her eyes, “The world is just too small sometimes.”
The old man leaned over, gave her the same smile that suckered him to abandon frigged gales for hewing passivity. “I’m no weather man, Miss, but I believe this weather more suited for driving than walking.”
“You know what, you might be right. Can you take me to the hotel up the road? My brother said he’d pick-me-up from there. I don’t have gas money.”
The old driver waved away her remark. “The Econo-Lodge, right? No problem; just get out of that rain already.” And so she did. Allan opened the car door with a knob and kick, and slammed it, the action soliciting a raised eyebrow from the owner. He placed himself in the backseat, on the black seat opposite of hers.
Jackeline giggled through razors. “Always so dramatic, aren’t you?” The old man humped his shoulders, then sped against the downpour.