Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Hitchhiker - Short Story

Everyone knows that picking up a hitchhiker can be a risky thing to do. But on my long, monthly drives from El Paso to Houston and back, the human interaction and conversation was all that kept me sane.

Most of the people I picked up were dull, wordless creatures. I had to pry conversation from them and it was often awkward and uncomfortable. I would turn on the radio to fill the silence as we drove.

Others spoke so much that I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I would get their entire life stories along that ten-hour drive (sometimes less depending on where I would pick them up and let them off). Not that they didn’t have interesting lives and stories to tell, but it wasn’t conversation; it wasn’t engaging. Some of those chatty people, I just wanted to turn on the radio and drown out their voices with the first music I could find.

But every now and then I would get some that was the perfect companion. I guess sometimes just you take a chance and you get what you’ve been waiting for over a long time.

I picked her up early in my journey, at a gas station right outside El Paso, the last stop before the empty miles of nothingness ahead. She was going to San Antonio, almost three-quarters of the way to Houston. It was pretty much on my way, and neither of us looked scary or creepy to the other, so she came along.

Her name was Hazel, possibly a strange joke played on her by her parents, or maybe they just liked the name. Nothing about her was hazel, I noted as I glanced over at her. She was looking out the window, the bright, hot Texas sun glimmering on her golden hair as it caught in the wind. Her blue eyes glittered in the light, shining with intelligence.

She was an actress. Or at least, she’d tried to be one. She was told over and over that she was good, but she just wasn’t good enough. She was hitchhiking her way from California because she was completely broke after about a year of trying to find work and failing. She was going back to San Antonio to live with her parents for a bit. Maybe she would go back to school.

She was full of stories about some of the people she’d met, some of the things she’d seen. I didn’t know if they were true or if she was some kind of pathological liar, a storyteller with a vivid imagination, but she was interesting and full of life, and the stories made the drive through the lands of nothing but scrub brush and dry, sandy earth go much faster.

I would often glance over at her as she spoke. We didn’t even need the radio. Her blue eyes shone as she told me about.

I looked back at the road, deserted all around. We were the only car for miles, maybe more. The roads here were never really crowded, especially in the middle of the week, but if I would have put a little thought into it, I would have noticed that there were no cars at all, coming or going. We hadn’t passed any. We were all alone. But I was oblivious. I was too enchanted by my new companion and her fantastic stories. I was continuing the conversation with questions, asking her to go on, telling her what little I knew about the business and letting her explain things to me in more detail.

“Honestly,” I said, “This is one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in a long time.” I just had to take another look at her, though. I should have had my fill. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe I should have just gone on driving, talking to myself.

Because I couldn’t look at her – she was gone.

In my shock and surprise, I immediately slammed on the brakes, everything in the car shifting forward, my entire body jerking in the seatbelt, bruising my chest and knocking the wind out of me. I was glad to be alone on the road, otherwise I would have gotten rear-ended.

I shakily pulled the car over to the side of the road and got out, looking around. The flat terrain confirmed my suspicions. I was alone. Hazel was gone.

I hit the unlock button and went over to the passenger side of the car, searching the seat she’d been sitting in for clues, for evidence that someone had actually been there. That I hadn’t just imagined her. The seat was warm but this was Texas. The seats were always warm. The sun took care of that. Her stuff was gone as well, the small backpack she’s been carrying had been sitting up in the front seat with her, despite my offer to throw it in the trunk so she’d have more room for her legs.

There was nothing, no proof of her, not even a whiff of perfume lingering on the fabric. I sighed and sat down in the passenger seat, trying to figure out my situation. I closed my eyes and let the wind play over my face and through my closely cut hair as it blew through the open doors. I felt something tickling my face and my eyes flew open.

A single long strand of blonde hair, still stuck to the headrest of the passenger seat was being blown across my face. There was my proof. She really had been there!

But did I really want that proof? Along with the proof came a different predicament.

Where was she now?

I got back behind the steering wheel and started the car, quickly making a U-turn, kicking up dust all around me. I floored the gas pedal and, tires skidding on the asphalt, I drove back in the direction of where I’d picked her up. We’d driven over 200 miles, but I didn’t care. Somewhere over the 200 miles in-between where Hazel went missing and where I picked her up, there had to be more evidence, or maybe Hazel herself.

I glanced down at the gauges on my dashboard. I was going over 150 miles per hour. I eased off the gas pedal and took a deep, calming breath. I’d never find anything if I was speeding past it all.

I drove and drove, but I saw nothing. No Hazel, no cars, not even any animals. Was I all alone?

About fifty miles away from the gas station, my car began to lose momentum. I pushed down on the pedal with my foot, but it did nothing. The car began to stutter and stall. I let it roll to a stop on the side of the road. I looked down at the gauges and cursed.

I was out of gas.

I let my rage out on the steering wheel, pounding my fists into it until they were sore and aching. I had just gotten gas. How could I have run out? Did I drive further than I thought?

I got out and slammed the car door, kicking the tires and door panels in frustration. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket, but I had no signal, of course. I thought about smashing it, but I was finally coming to my senses, my anger at myself and the world slowly ebbing.

I looked around to view my surroundings. The desert was mostly scrub brush and low bushes growing in the dry ground, but I and noticed for the first time a hint of color against the bland landscape. It was a small blue object, a few yards away from me, lying off the road next to a bush.

I walked over to it to get a better look. It was a backpack, dark blue cloth, with two zippered compartments. It looked exactly like the one Hazel had been carrying, but it seemed fuller. Was it hers?

I picked it up, the weight surprising me. I turned to take it to my car.

My car was gone.

I stood there for a moment, stunned. The bag fell from my hands as I slowly walked to where my car had been parked on the side of the road. Had someone stolen it? I surely would have heard something, I didn’t walk that far away.

I looked in the dirt to find the tire tracks, something to convey what had happened. There were marks where I drove the car off the road and they stopped where I’d parked it. There were no tracks leading away.

First, my passenger had vanished, now my car. All I had was a worthless cell phone and a dirty backpack. The closest gas station and hint of civilization was fifty miles down the highway, where I’d originally picked Hazel up.

I trudged back to the backpack and opened it. Inside were a few bottles of water, some granola bars, and a blanket. I sighed and began walking along the highway, in the direction of the gas station. I hoped I would see a car, maybe they would help me, but no one drove by.

I drank when I was thirsty, I ate when I was hungry. When nightfall came, the temperature dropped. I curled the blanket around me and went to sleep on the asphalt on the side of the road. It was hard on my back, but it was warm.

The next morning, I started walking again. I didn’t run out of food or water, and still no cars came. I checked my phone so often for a signal that my battery died. I just left it there on the side of the road.

I didn’t know how far away the gas station was anymore. I could have been hours or days or minutes away. I was so awash with hopelessness that when I finally saw the sign with the familiar logo on it, I cried.

Then I saw a familiar figure sitting on the curb in front of the store and I stopped dead in my tracks.

“Hazel,” I said as I stood there dumbly, staring at the blonde girl, her hair blowing in the breeze as she looked up at me with those blue eyes. There were no cars getting gas, but as I looked around, there were people sitting on the ground, the curbs, leaning up against walls, all holding little cardboard signs for Albuquerque, Dallas, Austin, Brownsville, Oklahoma City, and more. The more I looked, the more people I saw.

Hazel scooted over on the curb and smiled at me, patting the concrete next to her. She laughed at me as I just stared at her and then she said, “Did I tell you the story about the time I picked up a hitchhiker?”

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I wrote this story based on this prompt. Click the link for more information! Hope you liked the story, write your own if you think you can do better, which you probably can. :P

4 comments:

Rio said...

This was..

interesting.
I liked it. :)

Jijo said...

Good Story
Interesting as Rio said :)
Post some more stories ;)

Arielle said...

I meant for it to be somewhat odd. :P

Jijo, do you have any ideas for me? One of my short story problems is that I don't have many ideas floating around in my head. That's why I did the whole prompt thing. :)

As soon as I get some ideas and do some writing though, I will post another short story.

Slammer said...

I liked it.....felt like a twilight zone episode!