“No! No, this isn’t happening,” I said out loud as my car suddenly lost all power and everything went dark. I felt myself start to panic and quickly talked myself out of it as I managed to pull over onto the shoulder. My car cruised for a few moments and then stopped.
I put it in park and tried to start it again. Nothing. Not a sound, not even the click of a dead battery. I had just filled up the tank about an hour ago but I checked again. It was pointless. There was no power and no lights.
I was in the middle on nowhere on my way to Los Angeles at 11:00 at night. I was 300 miles from home on a stretch of highway that was in the middle of thousands and thousands of acres of farmland. It was a long and lonely drive through flat land and fields of produce.
If I was lucky, the closest house would be down some road that went on for miles. But because it was night, there was no way to even find a road.
I sat back and tried not to cry. I hit the steering wheel with my hand a few times and tried to squelch the panic that kept slamming my chest.
This was years before cell phones or call boxes. I mentally calculated where the gas station was that I had used. If it had been an hour ago and I was cruising at 80 MPH, that meant I was totally screwed.
I looked out the windows and saw nothing but blackness. Every so often a car would speed by. I tried to turn on my flashers, but they didn’t work. I got out of the car and raised the hood. I knew to stay in the car and wait. I would be safer in case someone hit the car or tried to hurt me.
I cursed myself for reading so many Stephen King books and also for having recently watched “Night of the Living Dead.” Every time I looked around, I saw zombies, vampires and werewolves coming for me. I quickly jumped back in my car. I checked the glove compartment for a flashlight. I ran my hand through it several times and then remembered it was in the trunk. I slammed my hand on the steering wheel again.
I didn’t want to get out of the car and I didn’t want to stay in it. I wanted to be home in my bed where I would be safe. I took a deep breath, took the keys out of the ignition, opened the driver’s door and walked to the rear of my car.
Cars continued to speed by. They gave me a few brief seconds of light to find my way around. Once they passed, I couldn’t even see my feet.
I was in complete darkness and silence. I was terrified that someone would come to help and at the same time, scared that no one would.
I opened the trunk and rummaged around, trying to feel anything that could be a flashlight. I finally found it and tried to turn it on.
It was dead. I clicked the switch over and over, hoping that I could magically get it to work.
Suddenly there were lights behind me as a car pulled up.
My heart stopped.
I could hear banjos and immediately thought of Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty.
I looked up. The lights were blinding. I put my hand up to shield my eyes and stood still. I heard a car door open and someone walking towards me.
“Looks like you need some help,” a man said. He walked up to me.
He was tall and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. He was about my age and good-looking and clean-cut.
“Yes, thanks. I’m not sure what happened, but my car just stopped suddenly and won’t start…”
He came closer. Too close. I stepped back.
“Well, let’s take a look, shall we?” he asked and smiled again.
“Oh, OK. Yeah, I appreciate it,” I said. I looked at his car as he walked by. “My flashlight isn’t working,” I said. I was starting to babble.
I always babble when I’m nervous.
He was alone. I was hoping to see a family in his car.
He went back to his car and found one. He looked under the hood. “You all alone?” he asked and looked up. He was still smiling.
My mind raced. What difference did it make if I was alone or not?
“Well, are you?” he asked. The smile had left his face and the way his headlights shined on us gave everything an even eerier feeling.
I began to sweat even though it was only 55 degrees. My mouth felt dry and my hands began to shake. Whatever was going on, my instinct was to run but I had nowhere to run to.
He slammed the hood down and came around the car. “I can’t imagine anyone letting you out of their sights,” he said and chuckled.
“Yeah, well…go figure. Anyway, I appreciate you stopping, but someone is on their way. They should be here any minute,” I said and opened the driver door.
He came around to my side quickly. “No need to be scared, little lady. I’ll drive you to the next gas station. You shouldn’t be alone on the side of the road. You never know who might come along,” he said. “It’s not safe.”
“I’ll be fine…” I said.
“Get in the car,” he said and moved closer.
“This is the day I die,” I thought. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. I still had so much to do. It wasn’t my time. It couldn’t be my time and not like this.
“No, I don’t want to…” I said.
He stopped. “If your car won’t start, then you’re going to be stuck out here all night. At least let me drive you somewhere. There’s no need to be afraid,” he said. But I was.
Bright lights shone on us again as a semitrailer was pulling over to the side of the road in front of us. We both watched as it slowed down and stopped. Once again I heard a car door slam and someone walking towards me.
Would this night ever end? Now I was about to get butchered by two men.
“Everything OK?” I heard a man ask.
“No,” I said and walked towards the voice. Standing there was a man around my father’s age, wearing a baseball cap. He had a few days growth of beard on his face and his hair was windblown and gray.
He looked at me for a moment and then at the man. The man was looking down at the ground.
“You need help, ma’am?” the truck driver asked me.
I nodded my head. He smiled and walked over towards the man.
“What seems to be the problem?” he asked him.
“Her car died. I was just going to give her a ride to the nearest gas station, so you don’t need to worry,” he said.
“Uh huh,” the truck driver said and walked back over to me. He didn’t even bother to look at the car.
“You want to go with him?” he asked me.
“No!” I said.
“Didn’t think so,” he said. “Grab your things and I’ll drive you.”
I grabbed my suitcase and purse out of my car. I thanked the man for stopping. He grunted, got into his car and speed away. He was pissed.
“I’m Bill” he said and shook my hand.
“I’m Susan,” I said. He took my suitcase and put it in his truck. He helped me up into the cab and fastened my seat belt for me. I figured the odds of two serial killers coming after me was one-in-a-million. I was still shaking and scared.
He got in and pulled onto the highway.
“I’m so glad you came when you did and I really appreciate you doing this and I pray to God you don’t kill me,” I said.
“No plans to,” he said.
The way he said it made me laugh.
“I drove past before and saw you were alone and came back. I’m glad I did.”
He had seen me as he drove past, went up to the next exit, turned around and came back.
“You can just drop me off at the nearest gas station. I’ll call my husband and he can come get me,” I said.
“How long will it take him to get here?” he asked.
It would take him a couple of hours, IF I could find him. That’s a whole other story for another time.
“A few hours,” I said. I don’t know why I told him the truth. I was still scared, but he was having a calming effect on me.
“It’s late and I don’t think you sitting at a gas station, in the middle of the night AND in the middle of nowhere is a good idea. If you were my daughter, I would not want that,” he said.
“I don’t want you to worry…”
“Well, I do. If you don’t mind going a little further, I can find a safe place for you to wait.”
I sighed and rubbed my forehead. We were driving down the road at a steady pace. It was pitch black out and I couldn’t see any lights. At least I was off the road and no longer felt like sitting prey.
“Well, that would be good,” I said.
“OK, then we’re agreed,” he said. He turned on the radio and we listened to jazz as his truck took me to somewhere. I had no idea of my ending point, but there I was, going down the highway with a stranger who had rescued me from another stranger.
About an hour later, I could see the lights of a city. As we got closer, I could see gas stations and fast food restaurants. My stomach growled. I felt relieved that I could sit in McDonald’s and eat cheeseburgers and drink Coke while waiting for my husband to arrive at some point.
He pulled in front of a motel and got out. “You wait right here and I’ll be right back,” he said as he locked his door and walked away.
There were lights everywhere. I saw people and cars. I wasn’t going to die. I was alive and I wanted to cry.
He came back and opened my door. He helped me out and took my suitcase. He held my hand as we crossed the street. His hand was warm and rough and comforting.
He walked me up to a room in the motel and put my suitcase down. He handed me a key. “I got this room for you. You get some sleep and the next time you decide to hit the road, make sure your car is in working order,” he said and started to walk away.
“Wait Bill!” I said. He stopped and turned around.
“You don’t have to do this. Let me pay you for it,” I said.
He held up his hand. “No, no need to. I’m happy to do it. I just wish someone had been there for my daughter when she needed it,” he said and walked away.
A sadness filled me as I watched him get into his truck and drive away.
He never looked back at me.