"Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel"
From Roadhouse Blues, by The Doors
"On to our last item in the news today: Route 57, the now little used Dessert road built more than 120 years ago, is set to be demolished by the new State Public Work program. Governor Tawlson said in a statement today that the highway and the mostly abandoned hamlets and buildings along it are now only used by, quote 'Smugglers, Rapists, Murderers, and every other kind of criminal and outcast who would poison and destroy the backbone of our great state.' However, Demolition may not proceed as scheduled, due to opposition to the Public Work program by many members of the legislature, who claim that the program is Socialist in Nature and only provides make-work for itinerants. And that wraps up the news for today, Thursday, July 22, 2054."
End News Broadcast
Jim Vast stared down the white center line of the desert highway as he gripped the wheel of the old Ford pickup. He had always hated driving and especially hated pickups. He felt that the vehicles epitomized everything he hated about the world. He once attempted to explain in depth why he hated the goddamn vehicles, and spoke for about 10 seconds before realizing that he himself could not properly clarify his own reasoning beyond that. In any case, he now realized that his hatred of the vehicles would stay with him forever. After all, he had been driving down the same damn road in the same damn pickup for the last 52 years without a stop.
He suddenly saw one of his favorite sights standing by the side of the road up ahead. A solitary man was standing there with his thumb out. Jim had not seen a hitchhiker in over 5 years of driving, 5 years of sitting at the same wheel, listening to the same song over and over again. It was a pity; he loved seeing them. They were his only distraction, the only deviation from his routine; most of all, they had become his only purpose. Everything else was just one long, hatefully boring repetition.
Jim slammed on the brakes and the truck went from 70 to 0 in less time than it had any physical right to.
The hitchhiker stood there, his mouth agape. He knew that anyone in a vehicle that stopped that fast (and he hadn't known that it was possible for a vehicle to stop that fast), should have been fired out like a bullet. Hell, the truck he was driving must have been 50 years old if a day and the man didn't even have a seat belt on! But the driver just sat there, apparently impervious to the laws of nature and grinning like a politician, while the sound of the Doors song Roadhouse Blues blasted at a high volume out of the open window. The hitchhiker's desire to get a ride from this man had evaporated quicker than water boiling in the desert sun.
Jim desperately wanted the man to get in the truck. He felt that he was going mad from not being able to hear anything outside of his own voice, the motion of the truck, the whistling of the desert wind outside his window, and the sound of Jim Morrison singing Roadhouse Blues. Of course, Jim was duping himself into believing that he was going mad. He had gone mad many, many years ago. There was no way that this hitchhiker was going to affect his mental state one way or the other. The only thing that the man could do was to entertain and divert Him for a small while, and maybe make him feel a little more consequential.
Jim eagerly leaned out of the cab. He called out "Hey stranger, ya need a lift?"
The hitchhiker was cautious of the man. However, he was also realistic. The temperature in the desert stood at a smoldering 110 degrees in the shade; he didn't have any water and knew that this road was seldom traveled. He would have little chance of getting out of his current jam without being roasted to the point of hospitalization if he did not accept the man's offer. Besides, this was Route 57, and this man seemed to be friendly; he would be unable to say that for most of the few other travelers on this road. So, knowing these facts, he strode forward to the pickup.
"Yeah, I need a lift" he said as he jumped into the cab of the pickup. The truck took off almost before he had closed the passenger side door. The man, apparently, was in a hurry. The hitchhiker looked at the driver of his transportation. The man was dressed in clothing that seemed to be straight out of the "working man" section of any fashionable store. Rugged Black Jeans, a simple white t-shirt, grimy black boots, and a Yankees Baseball cap completed his ensemble of tastefully unstylish clothes. The hitchhiker was surprised; he had not expected the driver of a truck as old as this one to be dressed in clothes that fit in with the youth culture of the present day. He felt that this surprising presence of style in the guy merited a remark of some kind, so he said "Nice outfit. I never liked the whole 'tough old time working class' look myself, but way to be trendy and…."
The hitchhikers voice petered out as the grin on the man's face turned into a fit of outright hyena like giggling. The man calmed himself, turned and said "Yeah, that's what the last guy I picked up said. Told me how cutting edge my clothes were. How this whole suit could easily be found in the most upscale of 'hoods' nowadays. The hilarious thing is, I bought this whole suit at Wal-Mart the day before I left!" He started giggling again. "Except the boots; I'd had these suckers for years before I started this godforsaken drive!" His giggling subsided as he turned back to look at the road.
Jim glanced over at the man; he suddenly realized that he was disturbing the kid. "But enough about me, I wanna hear about you. How are things going?" he asked. He had struggled to bring a normal tone to his voice when he said that, and hoped that it had worked. He really wanted (hell, needed) this kid to open up to him.
The wheels were turning in the kids head. The way the man had said "the last guy I picked up" had freaked him out. It was becoming very apparent to him that this man was seriously disturbed, if not completely insane. He supposed that the only thing he could do was cooperate with him; to keep talking as long as possible, or at least until the man stopped for gas or a piss break or something or other and let him out. So, with all that in mind, the kid started talking.
"I, uh, guess things are going alright. I mean, I finally got my degree in Theatre Arts, which is good-"
"Oh, Really!" said the man, excitedly interrupting him. "I used to be an actor myself! I've never picked another one up before. What's going on in the Theatrical Community these days?" The man looked very eager for a response.
"Um, well, most of my experience is at the college level," said the kid. He was feeling increasingly uneasy. The man had said "these days" in the same manner that an old geezer would, but to look at him, he wasn't a year over 30. "I'm not really an actor myself; I mostly specialize in the technical side of things, y'know-lighting, sound, etc. I, uh, also do a bit of playwriting, stage managing, that sort of-"
The man cut him off again. "Excellent! I used to do some of that myself, y'know. Wasn't the same as acting, hell of a lot less glamorous, but I found it to be less stressful overall. Well, that's just great! So, what kind of plays do you put on down at your, uh, school?"
The kid was unsure of how to respond to the man. He had the look of a guy who had way too much nervous energy and anticipation built up in him. He seemed to have fevered, conflicting needs to both talk to the kid and listen to him. Everything he did was hurried; his driving, his talking, everything. The kid was about to open his mouth and respond to his query when the man started to speak again.
"Come on, kid, spit it out! What's Jimmie say in this goddamn Roadhouse Blues song anyway?" The man started to sing along with the song. "Give up your vowels, Give up your vowels…SAVE OUR CITY!" The man broke into a fit of mad giggling again. "God, I hate this song!"
The kid spoke up. "It's actually vows, not vowels…just to let you know."
The man quieted instantly upon hearing that and turned to look straight at him. The remark had pissed him off in a major way. "What the fuck did you just say? Huh, You arrogant little twerp?" he whispered in a way that screamed his words. "Are you telling me that I have been mishearing this shit song for the last 52 years!? You had better retract every fucking word you just said, you goddamn fuckhead!
"Jesus, I'm sorry, I didn't mean any-"
The man was on the verge of tears. "Oh Yeah? Well you better learn to watch your own goddamn mouth, ya damn kid." He tried to calm himself down through a visible effort of will. "Goddamn it, kid, there's just no way that you can understand, is there?" He seemed to have said that to himself. His attitude was quickly turning sullen and rotten.
The kid was scared by this point. He knew he had to say something to bring the man out of the mood he was in. "So, uh, do you still wanna hear about Theatre?" He glanced at him. Apparently not, he thought. "I, uh, just want to say that I'm really sorry about what I said." The kid took a deep breath. "I didn't know that you had a particular fondness for this song. Is there any particular reason-"
"My stupid, goddamn, Rock loving Brother gave me this CD the day before I left." The man was whispering his words; the whispering felt more terrifying and threatening to the kid than yelling in anyone else. "I told him the day before that I was gonna take off for the big city, start a new life. He always wanted me to 'Expand my horizons'. That Fucker; he knew that I hated Classic Rock-all of the old shit. So he gives me a mix CD full of The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin and a whole load of other inanimate objects."
"Why don't you like Rock M-"
"I just don't, okay!" The man was suddenly yelling. "That's not the goddamn point!" He took a deep breath. "The point is that my brother was one stupid, arrogant shit. And I've been on the road for the last 52 years on this same highway, listening to the first song on this CD over and over again, because as soon as I got on here, I discovered that the CD would only play the first song. At first I assumed that meant that my brother had fucked up when he burned it. But then I tried to turn off the CD, and guess what - it wouldn't turn off. When I tried to lower the volume, it just went up. When I tried to stop the truck, the speed just went up. When I tried to turn off the road, I found that my fucking arms wouldn't do it. After a while, I found that the only thing I could do was to keep on driving. This highway never ends for me, my life never ends, and I never age. Everything just…keeps on keeping on."
The man was certifiable, the kid thought. He had to be; this bullshit was impossible. To hell with it all, the guy HAD stopped; he'd stopped to pick the kid up. He'd seen it with his own eyes.
"And after a while, I realized that the only time I could stop was when I saw some damn hitchhiker or someone or other who 'needed help'. Fuck em, that's what I would normally say, but you see, I have no other diversion. Otherwise I just sit her and drive. I LOATHE driving, did I tell you that? But that's irrelevant; the whole deal is that I've picked up a load of these goddamn people over the years. I've picked up teenage runaways, single mothers, hobos, drug dealers, broken down truckers, you name it. Funny things I've heard. All sorts of stories - last guy I picked up, he tried to rob me." The man started to laugh. "That was the last mistake he ever made! Bastard didn't know about my GLOCK 30; never bring a knife to a gunfight kid, never!" He was laughing so hard that tears rolled down his cheeks. "You have to understand, kid, I'd been driving for 47 years by that point; I didn't want to get the truck dirty or anything. So I stopped the car, told the kid to get out (while I was holding a gun to his head, you understand) and brought him out into the dessert. I shot that jackass three times; once in each leg, and once in the gut. I left him for the vultures." The man quieted and became momentarily lost in a morose thought. "Funny thing; that's when I found out that I Could get out of the car, but only dealing with other people. I had to get back in and start driving again….something forced me to. "
The man sighed, reached into a small compartment between the seats, and brought out his gun. The kid was rooted to his seat from terror; he could only stare at the gun and the man.
"Over the course of the years, I've decided that my mission on this goddamn highway is to be a sort of judge. A judge of the quality of the bastards that I find and pickup out here. I mean, it's been pretty apparent that the only people who use this highway anymore don't have any business among the living. On the other hand, there are a few good people who just happen to be lost-the runaways, etc. But the rest-" The man snorted. "Fuck em….I can't die, I can't quit driving, I don't know why, so why not invent a reason? It seems as good as any, right?" The man looked the kid in the eyes. "And that brings me to another question: just what in the hell are you doing out here, all by your lonesome?"
The kid was on the verge of shitting his pants. A thousand thoughts were going through his mind. Should he lie? Should he tell the truth? Would this man be able to tell the difference?
"Oh yeah buddy, one more thing" said the man. "Don't Lie. I've gotten good at telling em over the years. I swear to god, I find out you're lying…I'll kill you slow."
The kid took a deep breath to calm his nerves. "I took out a lot of loans to get through school, okay. I mean, Tuition is higher than you could imagine. The interest rates…I mean, it's just impossible to get through college, unless you're rich. So after a while, it got to the point where I couldn't pay anyone back anymore. I had to borrow money from a friend of a friend of a friend; when I couldn't pay that back, it turned out that the guy had some connections with, uh, the mob."
The man laughed. "So, what, you're sayin that they left you out here in the middle of nowhere cause you didn't pay off some college loan? And all they do is dump you out here?"
"No, they took everything I had. My Cash, Watch, Credit Card-they forced the pin number out of me. There were five of them. They took me to my apartment, and made me hand over everything valuable there. After that, they took me out here and dumped me. Didn't beat me or anything. They just said what they'd got out of me was barely enough to make up the interest on the loan; said I wasn't welcome anywhere in the state until I had the money." The kid was very quiet now. He appeared to have forgotten all about his own terror. "The guy in charge told me I was lucky; told me I'd probably get out of here alive, unlike some other motherfuckers he was gonna 'help out' who were in the same position."
The man's face had turned to one of stone. He hated this. He had been hoping to get some entertainment out of the guy, either through some shit that the kid would tell him, or through fucking him up so horribly he could look back on the event with glee for years to come. But for some reason, what little humanity he had left had been affected by the kid's story. No lies were present in it. For some reason, a part of him was screaming to figure out a way to help the kid, who reminded him of someone…someone he couldn't place.
"Dammit, kid! Jesus, what do you want, sympathy? I'm not here to help you…." The man had a sudden thought, or rather an idea; an idea to bring together all of the elements that had been germinating in his head for the last 52 years. The man stared with a newfound happiness at the road as he figured it all out: the perfect way to end his life. "Okay kid, how long ago did those fuckers leave you there?"
The kid was surprised by the question. "I don't know-about 3 hours ago, I guess." The kid looked over at the man. "They're long gone now."
The man laughed. "Not in my world, kid, not in my world!" He laughed long and hard as he stamped down on the gas pedal. The truck began accelerating- 80, 90, 100, 110, 120, 125 mph. After a minute, the needle on the speedometer wouldn't go any farther. The kid was pressed back into his seat by the sheer G-forces. He desperately reached over to grab his seat belt and only barely succeeded.
After a short while, the mafia vehicle came into sight. It was a clichéd, long black Cadillac; nothing compared to the monstrous F-250 that the man drove. The man's laughter quieted somewhat as a mean, ornery look came into his eyes. The Cadillac was parked by the side of the road, its five occupants standing around in a circle, attentive to something in the center of them. The man grinned and wrenched the wheel hard over.
The truck hit the car like a monstrous sledgehammer. The men had been too preoccupied with their current business to notice the approach of the truck. They whirled around like dervishes at the sound of the hit. The truck smashed the Cadillac out of the way and went straight for the men. Two of them were not quite quick enough in getting out of the way and were instantly killed. The other three all had guns out and were firing at the pickup as it slowed to a stop.
The man jumped out while the truck was still moving. He was firing as he did so, but his first few rounds went astray. A round from one of the men hit Jim in the leg; another hit him in the lower back and exited out his abdomen. Jim doubled over but kept on firing. His fifth and sixth rounds hit two of the men in the chest and both went down hard. The fifth man squeezed off a shot that hit Jim dead center in his chest at the same time that Jim unloaded his last four rounds at the man. The second to last one blew off the top of the gang member's head and the fight was over.
Jim fell to the ground and lay there, moaning. The blood from his wounds was pooling out over the Desert Floor while more seeped out of his mouth every time he breathed. The bullet that had hit him in the back was a 500 magnum slug; it had ripped him open and parts of his intestines were coming out of his open belly. The kid jumped out of the truck, ran to the man's side and kneeled next to him. The man looked up at the kid.
"Hey kid, think I took care of those motherfuckers for you?" he wheezed out with a smile on his face. The man tried to laugh, but was cut off by choking on his own blood. He coughed it out. "Kid, I want you to take all of your stuff back from these cocksuckers. Help yourself…." He began coughing again, more weakly this time. It was a desperate struggle for him to gain his breath to talk, but he managed it. "Kid, you remind me of my brother. He looked a hell of a lot like you, had the same annoying personality, but hell, I loved him. The kid was foolish and got into a lot of money trouble too. Remember……" The man's face suddenly seized up. "Oh, Holy…." The man breathed his last breath.
The kid felt for a pulse, but there was none. He got up and looked around. Six dead men lay about him, an experience he was not used to. A low moan sounded from somewhere off to his right. The kid ran over there.
When the truck had scattered the group of men, the kid had glimpsed something in the center of the circle that the men had made. He had not had time to see what that something was, but as he ran over there, he realized that it had been someone, not something. A man lay there. The mobsters had been working him over-torturing him to death. A discarded blowtorch and a pair of pliers lay discarded by his side. His body was a mass of wounds. Despite his unrecognizable appearance, one thing was apparent--that he was very old.
It was very clear that he was on the edge of death. He looked up through his one dying eye at the kid and said "Take my wallet. Find my family, and tell em—I'm sorry and I love em." With that, the man died. The kid stared at him for a minute, then steadied himself and began looking through the man's pockets, not an easy task to do, as every part of the man's body and clothing were soaked in his own blood and gore.
He finally found the man's wallet. He opened it and looked at the driver's license nestled in the protective plastic inside. The name on it read Frank Vast. As he did so, a photo fell out of a crevice in the wallet. The kid picked it up and was about to put it away when something about it made him take a look at the picture. He recoiled in shock.
The image showed the driver of his "transportation". He was leaning back against the door of the F-250 and smiling; he looked to be as young as he was now, yet the photo was dated 52 years ago. Beside him stood another man, a slightly more youthful and energetic yet similar looking man. Upon close examination, he realized that the other man in the photo was a younger version of the old man lying dead on the ground.
The hitchhiker stood still, staring at the picture. After a moment he pulled his mind away from it, put the picture back in the wallet, and began to move towards what was left of the Cadillac.
Tell me what you think, good or bad. Any comments are welcome, I'll review one of your pieces if you review one of mine. This is an edited repost of an old story of mine.