It’s just after four in the morning and for reasons unknown, sleep has abandoned me. Tis an odd thing, night is, for I can hear the sound of a car, or a truck, out there in the dark, tires whining on the road, and it’s not a noise that is always heard. The acoustics here differ from season to season, temperature to temperature, raining to dry, so it’s not just the very real and very human ability to ignore or to tune out. The pitch of the sound gets higher as the car, or truck, gets closer, then it fades away, someone heading towards Quitman, or perhaps they’ll be home before then. Good to be home at this time of day, or at least somewhere you want to be.
She’s still bothers me, that young woman. She’s still stuck in my mind, still hanging around, and as of yet I haven’t had a chance to put her to fiction. She’s still too real, too immediate, and still unknown. It was 2009, and I was working nights on the Interstate. The shifts were ten hours, at a minimum, and sometimes a lot longer. A four month project had morphed into an eight month project, and the summer nights were getting longer. I was tired, more tired than I realized I could be, but I was driving home, at last, and now, sitting here, I wonder if that night someone heard my truck, and wondered where I was going. I lived twenty-five miles from the office where my truck had to be parked, and that morning, close to the time it is right now, just three and a half miles from home, there was a car in the middle of the road.
Deer wander out into the road, and they get hit by cars, and it’s usually catastrophic for both animal and vehicle. The deer are usually killed, if they’re lucky, and this one was very dead. Its body lay open in the night, steaming in the cooler air, eyes wide open in horror, and the front end of the car looked as bad. But the driver was a young woman. In a different light, she might have been pretty, or cute, or attractive in some way. There was no reason for her not to be, except her eyes. There was something about the way she looked at me, looked at the deer, or maybe she carried something inside that gave her that looked; wide eyed, intense, yet at the same time, there was something else there, rage, wrath, an anger, something I still cannot define, meth maybe, or maybe something else that I’ve never run into.
“You have to get me to Tallahassee,” she said. Those were the first words she spoke, and in my younger days, I might have done it, just to see what would happen. But after a ten hour shift on the interstate, I wasn’t looking for crazy. I told her I would call 911 for her.
“You fucking asshole,” she screams at me, the sound incredibly loud in the night. And pulls her hair back with both hands, stalks back to the car, and then back to me again.
See the flashlight in the photo? It’s like a relic from a different age now, long, large, steel casing, and heavy. Four D cell batteries, like no one uses anymore, add even more mass, and there’s a reason cops once carried these, other than illumination; they make great clubs. Whatever she was on, what she might have been, or whatever she intended, I was pretty sure hitting her in the face with that flashlight would keep her off of me. Think about it. Here’s man who only wants to go home and get some rest, if not sleep. He stops to help a young woman. She’s all strung out or possessed. Suddenly, a man who has never hit a woman in his entire life, is thinking this might be the one chick that does something so weird he’s entering the realm of physical violence with her.
“That close enough,” I tell her, and she stops, and looks at me, as if she just noticed I was there.
“You can tow my car to Tallahassee,” the woman says. Her accent isn’t right. She isn’t Southern, but I can’t nail it down.
“Not about to, ma’am, but I’ll give you a ride into Quitman, or I’ll call 911,” I tell her, but there is no way in hell she’s getting into my truck.
“I’ll pay you when we get there,” and this is a demand, not a request. She’s restless, pacing, tossing her hair out of her eyes, her fingers moving like the fuses of lit firecrackers, and I plant my right foot. This is going to end poorly.
“You need to get me to Tallahassee, motherfucker,” and her voice rises again.
“Look,” I tell her, “two options, I leave you here, or I call 911, and leave you here,” I tell her, “but you see that security light about half a mile on the right? That’s the Andersons. They have three black labs. They’ll kill you if you go up there. Okay?” And I take a couple of steps back.
“Fuck you,” she snarls, but she gets back into her car.
Know when it’s time to go, and then go a minute before that time. I walk back to the truck and pull around her.
I call 911 when I get home, and they tell me they’ve just got a call from her.
Chances are, the sound from the tires is someone going home, or maybe going to work. I spent most of my adult life doing that, going to work early, coming back home late, and I hope like hell I’m done with that now. But somewhere out there, are very strange people, and maybe one of them is that young woman, eleven years older now. If she survived herself, and whatever else she was doing, she might be pushing thirty now. Maybe even older. I find myself wondering what she was doing, what drug, what substance, to change her like that, or maybe that was her authentic true self, but I strongly doubt it.
What if she’s looking for me?
The sound of tires are gone now, and in their place is the sound of that night, the engine cooling and creaking, the drip of fluids out of the car’s dead engine, the sound of insects buzzing, and the sound of her footsteps as she paced back and forth. I have to get up and write now. For whatever unknown Demons might have stalked that woman, I know which ones have their claws in me. I have to write. This is where I have to be towed.