For your enjoyment today, I present the first half of a short story I wrote in the space of about an hour. I’ll put part 2 up next week.
Odd One Out
No one wanted to pick him up, the hitchhiker. He looked genial enough, standing by the side of the road in a casual pose with a pleasant smile on his rather thin, tight lips. But still, there was something odd about him, something that made everyone else drive by without giving him a second glance. Maybe it was because of the way he was dressed, with that skinny black tie snaking its’ way down the scarlet collared shirt tucked into his slightly too-tight black jeans. That could have been it. Or perhaps it was because of how the dry air seemed to swirl around him when he moved, like it was trying to get out of his way. It might have been both of those things together, or the incongruity of seeing a well dressed man standing by the road out in the middle of the arid desert, trying to thumb a ride. The most likely explanation, though, might be that no one really cared. Hurrying around their busy lives, trying to get back to civilization as quickly as possible, thinking only about themselves. Whatever the reason, no one stopped. The stranger really didn’t seem to mind. He just stood there for hours, ignoring the scorching rays of the sun beating down on his closely cropped head. Someone would stop, someone always did. It was just a matter of when.
And someone did stop, finally. A small, shabby blue’99 Dodge Stratus emerged from the mid-afternoon haze. The driver sped past the stranger as if he hadn’t seen him, but then slammed on the breaks mere seconds later. The driver’s side door flew open, and a young man, all arms and legs, bounded out.
“Hello there!” he called, waving his arms at the stranger. “Need some help?”
The stranger smiled in thanks as he approached the vehicle. “I’d appreciate a ride, if you could give it to me, sir and ma’am,” he boomed in a deep baritone, noticing the feminine second occupant of the car. “Seein’ as I’m rather stranded here.”
“Call me Sam,” the car’s driver offered genially, opening the back door. “That’s my wife, Debbie,” he added, gesturing towards the petite blonde woman. “What’re you doing out here in the middle of the desert? Don’t you have a vehicle somewhere?”
“My name’s Eli,” the stranger responded, sliding into the backseat. He raised his hands in apology as several bags went flying off the seat and onto the floor. “Sorry. No, I don’t have a car. I’ve been catchin’ rides the whole way. It’s been three or four days now, I reckon. The last gentleman kind enough to take me part of the way dropped me off at the last exit, right before this dry patch of desert. He wasn’t goin’ this far my way.”
“You walked this far in that heat?!” Debbie quickly retrieved an unopened bottle of water from the Wal-Mart 12 pack at her feet. “Take this. I’m surprised you’re not dehydrated!”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Eli said, taking the proffered water. He unobtrusively set it down on the floor without drinking from it while Sam restarted the engine and took off down the road again. “And I much appreciate the ride, I really do.”
Debbie laughed as her husband took one hand off the steering wheel and rested it gently on top of hers. “Oh, please don’t call me ma’am. I’m only 23. Where are you headed, Eli?”
“Oh, home,” he said noncommittally. “Y’all can’t take me the whole way, so I’ll let ya know where to drop me off. Always plenty of folks goin’ my way.”
“Are you sure about that, Eli?” Sam asked, absentmindedly fiddling with the new ring on Debbie’s left hand. He was going to rub a dent into it at that rate, his wife had teased him earlier. “We’ll be going straight through to San Antonio.”
Eli shook his head and chuckled. “Not far enough, Sam. I’m going south. Deep, deep south.” His eyes glinted with amusement as if at some private joke.