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by Candace Bailly

Short Story
Hitch Hiker

Tuesday, 6:28 PM

On the way home from work each day, I stop at a café to buy a coffee, bottled juice, and a sandwich before getting on the freeway. Also on the way, I pass the same Good Will shop, pet shelter, and church before getting on Interstate-5 Northbound.

Every day there is a different young man standing on the entrance ramp, just beyond the curve, to the freeway lanes. These men are always dressed for the seasons. And by that I mean, in the summer, they are usually in shorts and tee-shirts. Then in the winter months, they wear jeans, long-sleeved shirts, and various types of jackets. The luckier ones have heavier jackets, and sometimes they have backpacks. But all of them have the same stance no matter the season: slouched shoulders, arm straight out with the thumb pointed to the sky.

They never look at you either, something just isn’t right with that.

Anyway, today is like every other, I see a hitchhiker standing on the entrance ramp. This one is wearing a yellow jacket.

I usually wait until we make eye contact but that doesn’t always work out, so sometimes I drive slower in an attempt to see a face, and when one of them actually looks at me, I pull over just long enough to give him the sandwich and juice. Occasionally, I toss the bag of food out the window to the person if he appears scary to me. It’s happened.

Regardless of the weather, this is my routine every day.

But sometimes, sometimes I wonder if I should be doing this at all.

6:35 PM

Traffic is slow…rush hour, you know?!  Today, this young hitchhiker, wearing his lightweight yellow jacket, actually looks at me right away.  And now I see he is visibly shivering, oh, my heart feels so bad for him. I want to help him but it’s not safe to pick up hitchhikers. In fact, it is outright dangerous to pick up a random person off the street. Right?!

I want to drive on but instead, I pull over, roll down the window, thereby letting the heat out, and then yell, “Hey, where are you headed?”

“Seattle,” he yells back to me.

“Great, get in, I can take you a far as Portland.”

He gets in, slams the door, and immediately sticks his hands in front of the heat-vent for the warm air.

“You look rather pale and frail, are you ok?”

“That’s because I’m cold but I’m not frail,” he snapped, his voice full of disdain. Then he looks over and glares at me as I turn my attention back to traffic and pull back into a lane. My gut begins to knot.

“Of course,” is all that comes out of my mouth.

“You’re not calling me weak, are you?” he squawked.

“No, no, ahem, I’m not saying that at all,” I motion with my right hand, palm down as a calming gesture, and then look back to the traffic.

6:40 PM

He is stiff and looking ominous now, like Mads Mikkelson in Hannibal the TV show, not one of the Hannibal Lecter movies.

I squirm in my seat, feeling his glare, so I keep my eyes on traffic. Then nonchalantly pointing to the back seat and using a soft tone, “Hey, there’s a sandwich and juice on the seat. Please help yourself if you’re hungry or want it for later.”

“Huh? I told you that I’m not weak so I don’t need your handouts!” he slams his hand on the dashboard, which makes me jump in my skin.

“I didn’t mean anything by it.” I grin at him, showing I’m not a threat. But then wonder if I should look more menacing…Maybe?

“You think you’re a good person, don’t you?  But you’re really not, lady, so just shut the fuck up,” he snarls and I shrink in my seat.

6:50 PM

I watch the local and national news every night and hear the horrific stories of the violent random crimes that occur in the bigger cities. It’s quite unnerving and makes me want to hide from society sometimes.

But I want to be a good person and to help those people in need.  Most of the time, nobody seems to care about the hitchhikers. In fact, people just go about their daily lives and don’t notice them at all, so I notice them.  Anyway, as a way to help, I buy a meal for one homeless-hitchhiker every day. Ok, it’s not much, but it is something I can do. Picking up a stranger is too dangerous, right?  But here I am…What have I done?  I need to be menacing, maybe.

My hands are shaking, “Maybe it’s best if I pull over and let you out because this isn’t working out so well.” I hear my voice quivering too.

“Shut up and keep driving,” he sounds annoyed.

I don’t want to look at him but manage a sideways glance. “You realize I’m bigger than you, right?” Ugh, I scold myself for this feeble attempt at being more menacing toward him. Then…

He pulls out a switchblade and flashes it in front of my face and I feel all the color drain from my face. I’m pale as a ghost.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble,” I try to sound calm, but I’m anything but calm right now.

“That’s what they all say,” he screams in my ear, and I feel the warm liquid running down my side and hip, filling the seat with a red puddle.

I scream, he screams, and the car ends up in the ditch on the side of the road. We are both screaming as I turn toward him and begin kicking, alternating feet, and kicking with all the power I can muster.

Someone is yelling, “Get out! Get out!” over and over.

It’s me. I’m yelling.

He finds the lever— the door flies open followed by him thumping to the ground!

We are both still screaming as I speed off into traffic.

Tuesday, 6:28 PM

While making the curve on this entrance ramp, the hitchhiker in the yellow jacket looks up at me, so I slow down and toss him the bag of food through the open window.

My face turns warm and flush as I close the window and speed toward home.

THE END

© 2016 Candace Misner-Bailly  All Rights Reserved