Detour in Texas Hitchhiker

Submitted into Contest #110 in response to: Start your story with a vehicle pulling over for a hitchhiker.... view prompt

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American Adventure Fiction

Charlie

“Oh, for crying out loud, Charlie!” she berated herself as she steered the old Harley off the side of the road. “You couldn’t possibly have chosen a worse vague-out moment!” To backtrack or take the scenic route for a bit, she thought, tugging the map from her pocket. She didn’t know why, but something deep within Charlie’s soul urged her to keep going forward. She looked at the map again, thinking aloud, “Pretty straightforward, woman; you’re now on Highway 287, so take it to Claude, turn left on 207, and follow it back to I-40!” She squinted at the map, noting the only intersection between Claude and I-40 happened to be Charlie Road.

With the map tucked safely back in her jacket pocket, she pulled in the clutch lever and dropped the bike into first gear, checking her mirrors before she pulled back onto the road. She didn’t see a single vehicle the whole way to Claude. This detour isn’t very scenic, she thought dryly, as she came into the small town. Charlie took a left at the main intersection and was soon cruising north on 207. Thinking about how she appeared to be on a deserted road, Charlie was toying with the idea of giving the throttle a good twist when she noticed something about the crossroads ahead. Her smile faded. She realized it wasn’t her imagination, she wasn’t hallucinating. On the north side of the approaching intersection, stood a man with what looked to be a walking-stick. As she came closer, he stuck out his arm, fist closed and thumb raised. Hitchhiker. It took milliseconds for Charlie to assess the situation. She slowed the bike and pulled to a stop right in front of the man to offer him a lift.

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Jack

He stood on the side of the road listening as the pickup’s engine noise faded, the voice of the driver still echoing in his head. “This is where I turn off young, man. Let me help you to the north side of the intersection, since you’re adamant on seeing this idea of yours through, but I’m telling you not many vehicles travel these roads nowadays. I’ll be heading back to Claude sometime after noon; if you’re still here, I’ll drop you at the motel there.”

Jack smiled to himself, thinking about how the old farmer muttered under his breath as he had returned to his pickup “Damned fool blind man hitchhiking to Florida!” Still he hadn’t tried talking Jack out of this adventure as others had or laughed like he was completely mad. The old man had taken Jack as far as he was able and kept his thoughts, mostly, to himself.

Lost in his own thoughts, Jack didn’t notice the heat. Though still fairly early in the day, it was sweltering. There wasn’t even the slightest hint of a breeze and a bead of sweat ran down the middle of his back, bringing him momentarily back to awareness. Wondering at the enormity of what he was attempting had Jack lost in his thoughts again, and it took a moment for his brain to register that the dull noise intruding on his reverie, coming from his left was a vehicle approaching.

Jack turned his head to get a better idea of the noise and to work out if the vehicle was coming or going. Coming, he thought with a grin. The sound got steadily louder and Jack’s grin faded. Panic worked at the edges of his self-control as he realised he was hearing a motorcycle engine. His thoughts raced. How many? 1%ers or putters? Danger or not?

Jack took a deep breath and calmed his mind so he could listen. He breathed out slowly, relaxing a little as his mind registered that he was hearing only one engine. His tension eased but Jack was still wary. If it was an outlaw club member, one was dangerous enough. A rider of any club would only stop for two reasons. The hitchhiker was known to them or an easy target. Jack knew a blind man on the roadside in the middle of nowhere was definitely an easy target.

With his trepidation increasing, Jack listened to the motorcycle coming closer, but still put out his thumb and just when he thought he was going to be passed by, the rider dropped down through the gears and stopped the bike right in front of Jack. It idled roughly in the classic style of old Harleys, and over that spluttering noise, the rider asked where he was headed. Jack hesitated, his mind racing, trying to work out the rider’s voice and accent.

“Mate, you can’t stand out here in this heat! I’m heading up to I-40 and east, so if you want a ride, you’d probably better say. I’m not going to risk this old girl having a Harley hissy fit from the heat by waiting hours for you to decide if you want to get on!” Jack nodded and felt his way closer to the motorcycle using his cane. “God damn it, man, are you blind?” the rider blurted in obvious shock “Shit! Sorry! That was rude, mouth in gear and brain in neutral! Come closer, I’ll put your foot on the peg, but you’ll have to swing your left leg over my gear. You right to do that?”

Jack nodded, folded his cane, tucked it in his backpack, and reached out toward the bike and rider. His hand was grasped firmly by the rider. “Intros can wait. It’s too hot out here. We’ll stop on the interstate for fuel and a feed. We can chat then. You have been on a bike before, yeah?”

Again, Jack wondered about the voice, accent, and the rider, but answered happily, “Yes I have, and I agree. Let’s get out of this heat!” His hand was placed on a leather clad shoulder, he lifted his right foot and a steady hand put it on the foot peg. His left hand quickly explored the seat and the pack secured to a rack on the tail of the motorcycle. The pack was big, but Jack knew he could easily swing his leg over it once he was standing on the peg.

He felt the rider brace herself and the bike, and Jack pushed himself up to stand on the peg, swinging his left leg over the pack, amazingly finding the left foot peg. He settled on the seat with a surprised smile and relief that he hadn’t sent them both sprawling on the road. “I’m good,” he told the rider who dropped the bike into gear and pulled away, heading for the interstate.

The air hitting his face was warm, but not hot. The person sitting in front of Jack didn’t seem to be in any hurry, and he guessed, by the wind in his face, that they were cruising along at maybe 55 mph. The rider was confident and relaxed. Jack allowed himself to relax, too. As they headed north, he thought about their conversation, brief as it was, trying to add to the image he was slowly forming of this rider who stopped for a blind hitchhiker. Jack sighed; not being able to see still hurt, and adding to his frustration was a strongly accented voice that was hard to describe.

To calm his mind, Jack thought about all the information his hands had given him about the rider. Put together with the things he had noticed on the ride so far, gave the rider a small but strong physique. A firm confident grip from small hands, shoulders narrower than the handlebars and not much wind deflection at the torso, were all things Jack had noticed. “Smallish dude on a big Harley” he grinned to himself and relaxed fully, leaning back on his backpack and against the gear strapped behind him.

They began slowing sooner than Jack expected. Then veering to the right, they accelerated. The rider got up to speed on the ramp and slipped effortlessly into traffic on I-40, heading east.


After a little while, Jack realised he was getting tired. He wasn’t sure if he had dozed off for a second or not, and not being able to see still made it hard for Jack to be certain he was awake. He was wondering if it would be long till they stopped, when the rider yelled back, “Truck stop ahead! On the outskirts of Groom! Time to re-gas and stretch out some kinks.” The sudden shout surprised Jack and he wondered briefly if the rider was psychic.

Less than a minute later they pulled up next to the pump. Jack felt the rider brace the bike. He carefully climbed off and stood holding a pack strap like a child. A little uncertain of himself, Jack decided to speak up. “If you don’t mind, I’ll wait while you gas her up. I’m not sure on the layout of this place, and I don’t want to put myself, or anyone else, in danger.”

The gas pump sounded like an old tar machine wheezing and chugging, but Jack heard his companion through the din. “Too easy,” came the laughing reply. “You can help push her to the parking area, instead of me spending 15 minutes starting the temperamental bitch to ride ten yards!” He was again puzzled by the voice, even more by the laugh. The pump rattled to a halt, and the now clear but accented voice startled Jack even more. “I’ll just go pay for the fuel, won’t be long.” He listened to the retreating footsteps, boots on concrete, each step sounded purposeful and confident.

His mind reeled with shock, confusion and uncertainty. What his analytical brain was telling him was being vehemently denied by his emotional brain, and his logical brain was hurting from trying to work on limited input. Again he sighed at his lack of sight and how severely it affected his ability to judge anything. He was so lost in his thoughts that he nearly missed the sound of those same footsteps approaching again. To cover his uncertainty and fear, Jack grinned in the direction of the sound and said, “I’ll push; you steer.” He was answered with friendly slap on his shoulder and a hearty chuckle, followed by, “C’mon then, let’s park her and hit the diner!”


With the bike parked and the ‘important stuff’ bag removed from the gear pack, Charlie glanced at the hitchhiker. He looked nervous, worried almost scared. She stepped up beside him and touched his elbow. The relief in his face at the contact was obvious, but he was still looking unsure. Charlie slowed her own racing thoughts and made herself breathe before she said, “Hey, are you okay? You’re looking a little peaky. How about you get your cane out, and I’ll guide you over to the diner.” He nodded, and as he locked his cane open, he said, “Thank you for stopping. For picking me up. For not riding off again. I’m Jack. I’m trying to get home to Florida.”

Taking his left hand, Charlie placed it on her right elbow, watching him smile at the new but familiar motion, and she replied, “I’m Charlie, I’m from Australia and ironically I’m heading east then south to Florida.. Now let’s go get coffee and a feed and you can tell me how you came to be at the only intersection crossing a road that I was on, purely because of a screw up leaving Amarillo that resulted in me taking a scenic detour.” Jack laughed at Charlie’s description and nodded, allowing her to lead him to the diner entrance.


She felt his whole body tense as soon as they stepped through the door. Charlie scanned the room, and mentally noted all exits, plus the number of patrons and staff, while simultaneously turning Jack to his right and moving toward her chosen booth. Half way there, he froze. He couldn’t move, couldn’t see, and was starting to hyperventilate.

Charlie leaned in close to his trembling shoulder and very quietly said, “Hey. Jack. I need you to listen to my voice. Just focus on my voice.” His trembling started to subside but Charlie sensed that he was struggling to maintain a grip on his sanity against unknown fears. “Jack, you’re doing an amazing job of focusing, but you also need to slow your breathing or you’re going to pass out.” His response was a small nod and he slowed his breathing and started regaining control. “Okay, that’s it, you’re doing great! When you’re ready, Jack -- no pressure or time limit. Our table is three down on the right, the last one.” She knew what Jack was struggling with, she’d been there herself and Charlie was prepared to stand there for as long as it took, but Jack took a huge breath, and as he released it, moved his cane side to side and stepped forward.

Charlie slid into the seat opposite Jack and looked hard at the stranger sitting across the table. Just as she was about to speak, the bubbly young waitress with a mass of curly auburn hair, bright blue eyes and an open, honest smile appeared at their table.

“Welcome folks and good morning.” She smiled. “What can I get you? Coffee?”

Charlie and Jack replied simultaneously “Yes please!” then laughed. Jack smiled in her general direction and said “You first Charlie, how do you take your coffee” Charlie winked at the waitress and replied “In a bucket Jack!” both he and the waitress laughed. “Seriously though, strong and black and in a bucket sized cup when I can!” The waitress laughed again as she wrote briefly on her order pad.

 “I’m sorry Ma’am we don’t have bucket sized cups, but I can offer you a regular cup and endless refills.”

With an over exaggerated melodramatic sigh and trying not to laugh Charlie replied “Oh okay, I guess that will just have to do then!”

The waitress grinned at the woman sitting in the booth and turned to Jack “And you sir?”

Silent through the entire ‘bucket saga’ Jack looked like he was about to explode “Same way, but I’m happy with a regular cup!” he managed to say before he roared with laughter and tears streamed down his cheeks as the waitress, openly laughing at the strange pair, nodded and went to get coffee and menus.

The waitress returned and set the cups and menu down. As she poured the coffee, Jack smiled and spoke. “Thank you Miss, and you too Charlie. I didn’t realise just how much I needed that laugh.” His smile faded a little as he continued “I would have loved to see the actions and facial expressions though” he lowered his face momentarily, but then straightened his shoulders and smiled finishing with “Probably would have fallen out of my seat if I had though!”

“Happy to help!” the waitress replied. She smiled a little sadly at Charlie. “Just wave or holler when you’re ready to order.” She said as she walked away.


They sat in silence sipping hot coffee, one watching curiously as the other struggled with an internal conflict, not realising that conflict was playing itself out in his expressions. Feeling a little like she was eavesdropping, Charlie glanced over the menu, noticing the raised braille dots, and was about to offer it to Jack when he spoke.

“Charlie I need to say something, two things actually.” He paused briefly and took a sip of coffee before continuing. “Firstly, I feel I owe you an apology.” Charlie started to say he didn’t but Jack held up his hand. “No please let me explain” he blurted. “When you picked me up, I had nothing to go on, except for what I felt with my hands and other senses and I wrongly surmised that you were ‘A little dude on a big Harley’. It wasn’t until I heard your voice clearly, that I realised you are definitely not a dude!” his smile was uncertain yet he continued. “I jumped to conclusions and for that I am truly sorry. You see I’m fairly new to this being blind thing, and that is why the second thing I need to say is ‘thank you’. One of my pet hates is, and always has been, people staring and when we stepped through that door my mind told me the diner was full and everyone was staring at me. Charlie, I’m sure you know that you saved me from doing myself some real damage.” He drained his cup and sighed.

His hands were restless, fidgeting with the handle of his now empty cup and Charlie reached across the table and briefly squeezed his fingers. She knew then what she needed to do “Thank you Jack for your apology and I’m glad you were able to trust me when you needed help. How about we leave any explanations for now and order something to eat. I think we’ll have plenty of time for telling our life stories later. I have no schedule to keep, I’m in no hurry to get going. Miami isn’t going anywhere.” Jack nodded his agreement and Charlie continued “I think I’ll go for burgers and fries. Do you want me to run through what’s on the menu?’

“Burgers. As in multiple?” Jack asked, and laughed when Charlie nonchalantly replied “Yeah probably three! How many burgers can you eat Jack?!” Still laughing Jack said “I’ll have the same, but maybe only one burger!”

Charlie waved with her empty cup at the waitress and ordered four burgers and two large serves of fries, and coffee refills. While they ate Charlie decided to make Jack an offer. A little while later she paid their bill and as they crossed the parking lot she told Jack about her idea. They arrived at the diner as strangers, and left as travelling companions.

September 10, 2021 20:00

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