Flash Fiction: Hitchhiker

He was slouched and slender, with wild blond curls down to his shoulders. He was as beautiful as any woman I had ever met, and from the darkness beneath the eyes I could see that it had served him poorly. I had never been tempted to pick up hitchhikers before, but something in the way he stood by the road, eyes darting to the side, unsure, made me pull over. Something in the way he waited only half-heartedly, feet dragging, hand trailing through the corn stalks, made me wonder what he was running from. He was so lovely, that I was sure I could hazard a guess.

He climbed into the cab and said “thank you” without eye contact. I asked where he was going and he told me, “As far as you can go.”

So I did. I’d been traveling down that rural highway for over half a day, and the only way to go was forward. Away. Had my own demons chasing me, miles and miles from home.

He stared at his fingernails for a good long while, inspected the dirt beneath them with clinical interest. Fidgeted a little, though I knew it was from nerves. I wanted to tell him he was safe with me. I wasn’t going to hurt him. Wasn’t going to touch him. It occurred to me that he had probably expected someone would. Had probably weighed the pro’s and con’s, and decided that this was better than what he was leaving behind. And telling him that I wasn’t dangerous, wouldn’t that make him believe it even less?

“So,” I started. “Where are you from?”

It seemed as good a lead in as any.

When he spoke, he spoke to his hands. “Kansas.”

Kansas. That was all I was going to get. Kansas.

“You’re pretty far from home, aren’t you?”

“I guess so.”

“You go to school?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“You drop out, then?”

He nodded. But these were the wrong questions, I could tell. I would get nothing from small talk.

“What are you doing all the way out here, by yourself?”

He shrugged. He owed me nothing. He owed me nothing, and just because I was giving didn’t mean I should expect something in return.

“Sorry for all the questions. Just curious. You seem pretty sad.”

He shrugged again, helpless against my questions. I looked over when I could, just to make sure he was alright. He didn’t know me, but I didn’t know him either. He could be acting. Faking. Trying to take my guard down so he rob me. Kill me.

But he just sat quietly in his seat, watched his hands. Brushed his hair from his eyes.

It was several hours before we reached a gas station, still surrounded by farmland on all sides. I pulled up to the pump and paid the exorbitant price for a full tank. We went inside and I gave him some cash for food if he was hungry, while I used the restroom. Stared down into the urinal as if I could find my fortunate in it.

gas stationI’d forgotten how filthy gas station bathrooms could be. Fluids dried in spatters on the wall, on the floor, on the sink. No paper towels, no soap. The mirror so scratched it was no longer a mirror. No longer a way to see how tired you looked after hours on the road. Just as well. I didn’t want to see myself ever again.

I opened the bathroom door and there he stood, perfectly still. He looked at me with huge eyes, his expression dulled.

“I don’t have any money,” he said. I stared at him, pretending not to comprehend. My heart rate sped up and I wanted to tell him, it’s okay, I don’t expect anything from you. I don’t need anything, anything at all. I don’t, I don’t, I don’t.

I said nothing.

He was my height. I hadn’t noticed before – his presence had made him small, his slimness made him look like he took up no space at all. But he was tall. Wild blond curls down to his shoulders. I wondered for the first time if his hair was long because he wanted it long, or if someone had kept him from cutting it.

He leaned forward, his lips brushing against mine, the whisper of a kiss. I did nothing. I said nothing. I said nothing.

He kissed me again, a little harder, insistent, and I almost gave in, almost let him do it, and yet. His heart was not in it, had never been in it. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen, I realized suddenly. Stubble pushed through the skin in small patches. His chest still smooth under his thin shirt.

I pushed away and I wiped my mouth instinctively, hands shaking.

“It’s okay,” I said. It wasn’t, wasn’t, wasn’t okay. “I don’t need anything.”

He seemed confused, unused to rejection. The situation was a new one. I knew now, without a doubt, that he had never been the one making the advances.

“Isn’t that why…?”

“No,” I responded. “No, it isn’t.”

He backed away from me, as if burned. As if he didn’t understand why it hurt.

“I don’t need anything,” I repeated. My voice was hoarse and I didn’t know why.

“Okay,” he replied. And I almost didn’t catch it, the relief hidden in the disappointment. In the break in his voice.

I drove through the night and he slept with his head against the window, blacked out. I listened to the silence and waited for the sun to come up. Waited with bated breath for the new day to start. I needed the new day to start. Desperately, desperately needed it.

The sun woke him early and he rubbed his eyes. He seemed to forget where he was for a moment and for the first time since he got into my car, he looked hopeful. Sun shining on his face, creating a halo around his hair.

I dropped him off in Reno. He saw the sign and decided that was where he wanted to go, and I respected that. I’d gotten used to his presence, used to the way his silence warmed the air. But I took him to Reno, because he asked.

When he got out of the car he smiled at me, if you could call it that. A quirk of the lips, bright eyes. Sun on his face.

I drove away, watched with a heavy pit in my stomach as his figure shrink in my rear view mirror. And even though my gas tank is nearly empty, I have not stopped since.

 

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Comments
4 Responses to “Flash Fiction: Hitchhiker”
  1. Dave says:

    Enjoyed this story, Hannah. I liked the flow, the tone, the voice. This seemed almost as if it was a snippet, a short piece from within a larger story, with a beginning we never saw and an ending we’ll never see. Though these characters were nameless, I still felt like I got to know them, at least a little bit. Did you, or do you, have any thoughts about where they came from, or where they will go?

    Thanks for sharing another of your wonderful stories …

    • I have a few thoughts, but I liked the idea of letting the reader decide for him/herself 🙂 That’s one thing I love about flash fiction – it forces the reader to fill in a lot more blanks than with a lot of conventional stories and I find that really satisfying as a reader, personally.

      Thanks again for your comment 🙂

      • Dave says:

        Yes, it’s better to leave a reader wanting for more than have them feeling like a story is never going to end. I sort of forgot that it was flash fiction specifically, which is meant to be short and sweet, and all the details aren’t necessarily going to be giving to the reader. I think you did a great job.

        So, are you still working on a longer piece of fiction? Do we have a novella or novel to look forward to?

      • Yeah it was definitely longer than most of my flash fiction…

        And yes, I’m always working on a novel of some sort! Just finished one back in April and am about 30,000 words into a new one. But you know, there’s lots of editing involved to make them truly readable, so I don’t know how soon I’ll start querying anything!

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