A Road Less Traveled

A story by Director Don Collins

Warren looked at his watch. He was making great time. But then again, he always did. Punctuality was one of those traits that his bosses at the trucking company looked upon favorably. He was sure that was why he had gotten the route delivering wines and spirits up and down the Sacramento river. He looked at the new travel companion he had picked up a ways down the road. Warren didn’t usually give rides to hitchhikers but Ryan seemed nice enough and it was comforting to have a companion on a drizzly night. It had been a rainy few days and the moonless night, combined with the low lying fog, gave him the creeps. Warren did most of the talking while Ryan occasionally nodded and smiled at all the right spots. Warren was satisfied with that. He had stories to tell. Maybe he would tell a few ghost stories. It seemed to be a requirement on a night like this.

They had just passed over a bridge when he saw her; a woman in a white dress walking along the side of the road. She wasn’t wearing a jacket or a sweater which struck Warren as a bit odd what with the chill in the air. He thought about passing by. After all, he was making great time, but his kind nature made him pull over.

Warren let down the passenger side window and leaned over. “Pardon me miss? It looks like you could use a ride. The next town is a long ways off and a body isn’t safe traveling a dark country road alone.”

The woman looked at him warily and, after a moment, nodded.

Warren unlocked the door and motioned her into the back.

“Name’s Warren. This here is Ryan.”

He wondered what she was doing out in the middle of nowhere. What had happened to her car?

She looked at him and pointed to her throat.

“Ah, I see. ” Was it just his imagination or did he see a strange look cross the woman’s face. The gauze wrapped around her neck sent a chill down his spine. He didn’t know why.

The miles passed with Warren telling tales of his time on the road. Ryan sat, looking ahead, nodding at times and cracking an occasional smile. Every so often Warren would glance in the rear view mirror and notice his female passenger staring at him. God, she was creepy.

Things had seemed a bit off from the minute she entered the truck. He glanced over at Ryan who just looked over at him and shrugged his shoulders.

Warren thought to himself, fifteen years driving a truck and I’ve never picked up a hitchhiker. Tonight I pick up two and one is a brick shy of a load. When I get to Goble’s Lounge I’m gonna break my rule and have a drink. Or two.

As the truck moved down the road the fog thickened and the rain fell a bit harder. Warren never did like driving in the rain and the fog didn’t help matters. He hated having to slow down. He had to get to Goble’s on time. The owner had requested a special shipment for a party and he couldn’t be late. Besides, the lady in back made him nervous. There was a weird vibe in the truck that he just couldn’t shake.

Finally, up ahead, the Goble’s Lounge sign came into view. A joke popped into his head about three guys who walk into a bar. He looked over at Ryan and thought, a guy walks into a bar with two hitch hikers… He snickered. Then he glanced in the rear view mirror and saw his backseat passenger staring at him.

He pulled his truck into the lot, none too soon as far as he was concerned. Warren jumped out and went around to the back of the truck to unload the order for Goble’s. Where were his manners? He stopped and went back up front to say goodbye to his passengers but saw that they had already left. Whatever. He had work to do.

He loaded the crates of liquor onto his dolly as well as a box of wine specially ordered for the party inside. After he dropped off his payload at the backdoor, Warren walked into the bar and sat down. Charlie the bartender saw him and came over.

“Hey, Big W. How you been?”

“Strange night. Not strange unusual. Strange creepy.”

“Yea, fog’ll do that on a night like this.”

“So anyway, Charlie, what’s the big party going on in the back room?”

“Oh, that’s not a party. It’s more of a memorial celebration of life. Someone got killed in a wreck last year on this day.”

As Charlie and Warren continued, two others were talking in the back room.

“Jody! Jody, I’m so glad you could make it!” Pam gushed.

“Um, Jody? What’s going on? You look shaky. And what’s that thing on your neck?”

“It’s an herbal wrap. I’m trying to soothe my laryngitis. And, don’t lecture me, but
I hitched a ride here. I was running late and both my car and phone crapped out on me. The driver was certifiable. Kept talking to the empty passenger seat next to him. I really need to start on that wine.”

Back at the bar, Warren had just finished a drink and was about to tell Charlie about his freaky hitchhikers when he looked toward the door to the back room. His blood froze. A sign was stuck to the wall with a photo of a young man, smiling. In bold letters “Memorial celebration. Ryan Adkins”. A big arrow pointed to the back.

Charlie noticed Warren. “Yep, that’s the guy that died last year. Ryan. Met him once or twice. Didn’t say much. Nice guy. Always smiling.”

“Gimme another drink” stammered Warren.

His hand shook as he took the glass.

Copyright Don Collins

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