Stephens and Clyde
Commander Samuel Stephens shouted obscene profanities then gave the front bumper of his car a swift kick. The car, an aging ninety-four Ford Taurus sat unceremoniously on the side of the road, flashers blinking, hood up and white smoke billowing up from the engine compartment. Stephens knew very little about cars except for a few key things; where to put the gas nozzle and never under any circumstances to breathe in white smoke from under the hood. And even though he didn't get a lungful of the smoke, he did catch enough to taste a bit of sweetness in it. All the years of his younger brother always being under the hood of a vehicle, he knew that particular scent was that of engine coolant.
"You have got to be kidding me!" He shouted up to the sky while throwing his arms out at full stretch until his hands were at the level of his chest. On the long lonely country road his echoing voice was the only sound for miles.
Since awakening hours ago Stephens knew it was going to be one of those days. And for the most part, he was right. If he hadn't thought to program his cellphone, he would have overslept since a power outage disabled his main alarm clock. Yet that single phone alarm was enough to wipe out whatever remaining battery life was left and since the power was still out when he left, he didn't have a chance to charge it. And now, on the back roads with a disabled car and no other vehicles around, he cursed not only his decision to take the shortcut to the base, but everything that went wrong so far today.
With one final look around Stephens squinted off to the south thinking he saw something. It was a faint flicker at first, but the more he stared, the more he could make out something moving in the distance. Then it drew closer; bit by bit until he could clearly see the outline of a boxy shape. Before he knew it, he saw the pickup truck rolling up towards him; it's engine sounding rough and it's paint faded but he could still make out patches of faint blue over gray sheet metal. With a god awful squealing of the brakes, the truck rolled to a gentle stop the passenger window even with Stephens as he stood and watched.
"Need a lift?" The an old man behind the wheel called out through the open passenger window. Stephens studied the man with a fluffy greywhite beard and a belly that flopped well over his belt.
'God this guy could pass for a very convincing mall Santa.' Stephens thought while eying the man over. "Yeah I need to report to the base but my car had other ideas."
"Well hop in, that's on my way." The driver of the pickup smiled.
Nodding, Stephens ran over to his car and closed the hood making sure to lock the doors before running back to the truck. In a flash, he opened the trucks door, flopped down onto the bench seat and slammed the door shut. All the while, the old man simply watched with a smile. As soon as his military passenger was buckled in, the old man eased off the brake pedal and gently presses the gas pedal until the truck was up to the speed limit. Feeling his body rocking around with every bump the truck went over, Stephens glanced around. The interior was as worn as the paint job; a shotgun hung ominously in the rear window and a metallic cross on a key chain swayed in time with every move the truck made.
"Stephens. Samuel Stephens." Stephens was the first to break the silence between the two of them.
"Wilbur Clyde." The old man responded extending his right hand over to which Stephens promptly shook it out of formalities.
"I really do appreciate this."
"Think nothing of it." Clyde smiled brightly, and for a fleeting second, Stephens noticed the faintest twinkle in the mans eyes. Then Wilbur did something Stephens though was strange; he reached out to the key in the ignition with his right hand and traced the small chain downwards until the cross was steadied against his fingers. "Who knows. Maybe some day in the future I'll need your help."
"This is uh...a pretty unique truck you've got here." Stephens commented studying the dial gauges and the ancient in dash radio.
"Half the gauges don't work, the engine and brakes needs some serious work, and the radios pretty much kaput. But you know what? She still gets me from one place to another. Old girl here was made to last...they just don't make vehicles like this anymore."
The rest of the ride remained silent. It wasn't until Wilbur turned off the road and slowed to a squealing stop at the gate to the base that either of them said anything. "Well son, looks like your stop." Wilbur spoke with yet another smile.
"I can't think you enough, Wilbur. If there's anything I can do..."
"Just be a good person and help your fellow man when you can. That's all I could ever ask for." Clyde beamed with joy as Stephens nodded and smiled reflecting on the sentiment. Quietly, Stephens got out of the truck making sure to close the door. For a few moments, Stephens watched as Wilbur Clyde made a U-turn and drove off; the sick sounding engine making him chuckle.
Little did Stephens know that it wouldn't be the last time he ever saw the kind old man.