Barren Ground: Part 2, The Rider

If you haven’t read part 1, then you probably won’t find yourself lost on this one, however it would make a tad more sense. Here’s a primitive link to part 1

“Are you sure?” Katrina asked. The rain had let up by now, but it had left a harsh cold and Katrina held her elbows and fought her teeth’s urge to chatter.

“Yes’m.” The AAA driver said, “All we do is change tires, fill gas and offer a tow.” Katrina leaned against the wet car and stared at her feet, her sigh brought forth a white cloud and the man rolled his eyes. “All right, get in and I’ll take a look.” Katrina smiled and quickly spun around, climbing into the car as the man approached the hood. The car sputtered as the engine tried desperately to turn. When all was quiet again she heard the man’s laughter.

“What?”

“Mind if I sit in there?” He asked, still chuckling. She got out and granted him the driver’s seat. He looked inside and once again broke into laughter.

“What!” She asked again, with more urgency.

“You got no gas, darlin’.” The man said, stepping out the car and walking to his truck. Katrina went from bewildered to amused to angered all in one fell swoop, and she shook her head as the man returned with a gas can. “Wanna unlock ‘er for me?” Katrina bit her lip as she bent down to pull on the fuel tank switch and the man continued his laughing spurt as he poured the gas in. “Give it a try, now.”

Katrina turned the key and the thirsty engine got its refreshment as it roared to life. “Thanks.” She said, shutting the door and not bothering to listen to his response. “Goddamn it, Bill.” She waited for the AAA driver to take off down the road before pulling back onto it and calling Billy. To no one’s surprise, the call went to voicemail. “Bill, call me when you get this. The car’s fine.” Katrina hung up the phone abruptly and dropped it in the center console. As she sped up the rain began again, and on the side of the road a familiar blue umbrella popped into existence. She passed the figure quickly, looking back to see if she could tell who it was. As the figure shrunk in her mirror, she pulled to the side and spun the car around, slowing down on her second pass of the man.

“Bill!” She shouted. The figure looked to her, and the man underneath the umbrella had a thick, black beard and a red bomber jacket Billy wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. “No’ ma’am.” The man said.

“Oh, sorry.”

“Wait!” The man said, “Where ya headed? Could I trouble you for a ride? I’ve been walking for what feels like days.” Katrina stayed silent for a moment. “Please, ma’am. I’m awfully tired and this rain isn’t helping.”

“…All right. I can take you as far as Birmingham.”

“Oh, thank you so much. My name’s Scott.”

“Kat.” She said.

“You mind if I sit in the back? I’d really like to stretch my legs.”

“Yeah, that’s fine.” She said, and he eagerly climbed into the back seat, shaking his umbrella off before entering.

“Whew!” he cried as Katrina spun back onto the highway. The radio played Roy Orbison’s ‘Only the Lonely’ and the rider stretched his legs and yawned. “What a day.”

“You’re telling me.”

“Yeah? Betcha didn’t wreck your car into the biggest gaht-damn deer you ever seen.”

“Nope, just an idiot husband who didn’t realize the gas was empty and wasted two hours of our time.”

“I think I win.” The rider said from the back. Katrina could hear his smile in his voice, and couldn’t help but bring one on herself.

“I suppose so.” The rider slowly rested his hand on the back of her seat, careful to lean forward slowly. “Do you live in Birmingham?”

“I’m afraid not. I just work there. Night shift at a water bottle factory.”

“Sounds exciting.”

“Not nearly as exciting as tonight.” If Katrina hadn’t been so preoccupied with thoughts of Billy’s idiotic lack of awareness, ironically, she might have noticed that the rider’s voice sounded much closer. His other hand slid down the side of the seat, and he quickly grabbed two ends of the seat belt, pulling it tightly against her throat. “Pull the car over.” He said, and she quickly slowed to the side of the road, gently pressing the brakes and gagging on the belt.

“What do you want?” She sounded as if she had been smoking a pack a day since birth.

“Your life, and before ya start, no there’s nothing ya can do to convince me to let ya go.” She began to kick and let out a pitiful excuse for a scream, reaching up and scratching the rider’s hands, but that only made his grip harder. Her vision began to blur, and the only thing she thought to do was putting the car into drive and stepping on the gas. As the car lunged forward, her consciousness wavered and she was out, with her car driving at 25 miles per hour and the steering wheel running itself. The car did a good job of staying mostly to the right side of the road, but it always did pull a little to the left, and when it began to cross the median the rider opened the door and leapt out, rolling across the wet road as the car sped on.

When the rider’s rolls slowed he attempted to stand, wobbling back and forth from the dizziness. A loud crash helped settle his equilibrium and he saw, faded in the distance, the car, smoking against one of the many trees. He rested his hands on his knees while he caught his breath, licking the fresh cut his teeth had given to his lower lip. Aside from that, and some future bruises, he seemed to be all right. “Whoooo!” he shouted into the cold, dark night, checking his clothes for holes. The rain, which had subsided during the ride, once again flooded the highway outside Birmingham, Alabama.

Off in the distance, a bright pair of headlights beamed through the rain, and as it came closer to the rider, it passed the wreck in which Katrina lay dying. The car slowed, but didn’t stop, that is until the driver noticed the rider just a bit further, with his thumb stuck in the road, smiling a bloody smile.

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