Fiction: The Hitchhiker

Posted November 25th, 2005 by Mike Cherim

The Hitchhiker

Jenny was due at any time. Frank loved his wife deeply, and he was eager to see his child enter the world. He grew more and more nervous as Jenny’s due-date drew near. Everyone knew it. His parents, his co-workers, their friends. It was, therefore, no surprise when Frank announced he was heading straight home instead of stopping by Jack’s Bar and Grill downtown as he usually did on Friday nights after work. It was snowing lightly tonight so that was even more reason to head straight home. Before the roads got too bad. The snow was expected to pick up later on according to the weatherman. Frank was being prudent. He told the group to have a nice weekend and walked out the door towards his car. It was already dark.

Frank started his rusting green Saab and left the parking lot with a puff of blue smoke. He took a right towards Mill Road and then home some twenty-two miles away. There was already an inch of snow on the ground. It was coming down lightly, but the further Frank drove, the harder it seemed it snowed. Driving carefully, he made his way, driving well below the posted speed limit. The roads hadn’t been plowed yet. He was antsy, nervous, worried that this would be the night. He wanted to race home, but kept his head. Getting into an accident wouldn’t help matters one bit.

Driving in the snow can be mesmerizing and it had put Frank in a sort of trance. He tried to focus hard on his driving, but the snowflakes kept coming right at him. He stared unblinkingly. Before him the world was black and white, broken only by twin cones of yellow from the Saab’s headlights. Thick, snow-covered evergreen trees lined the road. The rural area were Frank and Jenny lived was beautiful, even in a snow storm, and especially after one. They had an appreciation of such things which is why they settled so far from town.

Frank had driven maybe six miles when he saw a detour sign. He couldn’t miss it, the sign and barricade were blocking the road. It was really weird because there was nothing else around, no police, no trucks, lights, the plows hadn’t been by yet, nothing but a detour sign attached to a black and yellow striped barricade with a flashing amber light at each end. He slowed down to a crawl and got off the main road and onto a narrow side road cutting through the woods, not much more than a wide path. Surely it was packed dirt under the coating of snow. It had no name. In fact, Frank had never even noticed it before. The thought gave him a chill as he had traveled this way hundreds, maybe thousands of times. Very strange. He didn’t know where it came out, but there was a detour sign so it had to lead to somewhere that would put him back on the road towards home. Right?

Frank drove a mile or so, taking it slowly. The trees were so dense, and the snow was really coming down hard now. The road was closing in on him. It seemed to be getting narrower. It was probably just the weight of the snow starting to make the pine boughs sag over the road. Frank rounded a bend and something caught his eye. The color red. A person. A thumb was thrust into view. It was a hitchhiker. Frank couldn’t believe it. Someone was out here in the middle of nowhere during an ever-strengthening snowstorm. It wasn’t something he’d normally do, and had he thought the better of it probably wouldn’t have done it, but tonight Frank pulled over to pick up this crazy person — hoping he was thinking figuratively.

When Frank stopped a young man of maybe twenty opened the door and struggled to get in. It was obvious he was very cold, slightly blue, but Frank really didn’t get a good look. Frank asked where he was going and the man, shivering, teeth chattering, said “h-h-home.” Frank wanted to ask more but figured it could wait so he put the Saab into gear and started the car forward with its trademark puff of blue smoke.

Frank drove quietly for about ten minutes with only the occasional shudder from his passenger. The snow was really coming down now, the wind was picking up, and the temperatures were dropping fast, but the heat in the old Saab was cranked up to high. Frank’s passenger was coming back to life.

“You saved my life,” the hitchhiker said.
“No problem. Hopefully someone would do the same for me on a night like this. Did you break down or something?” Frank asked.
“I, I don’t really remember. I just sort of woke up and I was standing there, freezing, and then you came along so I put out my thumb,” he replied.
“I’m Frank. What’s your name?” Frank asked.
“I’m Alex. It’s good to meet you… and thanks for picking me up. I swear you really saved my life” Alex replied.

Out of concern and curiosity Frank pulled over and turned on the dome light. Sitting in his passenger seat was a young man who wasn’t a day over twenty as he had thought before. He had blond hair and blue eyes. So did Frank. Alex reminded him a younger version of himself. The similarity was startling. Frank was a little shocked, and so was Alex it seemed. The two sat there staring at each other without speaking for at least a full minute. Alex broke the silence.

“I really appreciate the ride, Frank,” Alex said.
“Really, it’s no problem,” Frank replied as he turned off the dome light and put the car in motion once again. “Tell me about yourself.”

Alex started talking. He didn’t know how he ended up on the road, but he didn’t have amnesia or anything like that. He told Frank all about college life at the local university. He told Frank about high school, football, girls. Apparently Alex was quite the kid. High honors, captain of the team, and his looks… well, girls for this boy were a given. Alex was a kid with a future. A kid who had a rich and rewarding life up to this point. Alex told Frank about his parents and how great they were. How they had and shared with him an appreciation for a life outside of the mainstream. His mom was great, and his dad, who Alex told him looked just like an older version of Frank and shared the name “Frank” as well, was likewise great. He was going home to see them now, just like he did every weekend. They were probably getting worried, in fact.

Frank also learned the young man was also celebrating his birthday before the conversation finally trailed off. They sat there staring ahead at the snowflakes coming at them in the headlights. They drove for maybe twenty more minutes before finally coming out onto what looked like Mill Road again. Frank wasn’t exactly sure how far he had come or if he was supposed to take a left or right. He wasn’t familiar with the side road, it was dark, and the snow covered everything. Frank began to turn right when Alex spoke up.

“I’ll get out here, I’m just up this way,” he said pointing to the left.
“I’ll take you,” Frank said, but Alex stopped him.
“No, it’s okay, I’m only a couple hundred yards from my parent’s driveway,” Alex insisted.
“Well, okay then. It was good to meet you, Alex,” Frank said.
“Likewise, and thanks again,” Alex said as he opened the door and got out.

Frank put the car in gear and took off. He looked in his mirror but didn’t see Alex. He was jogging his way home, Frank thought. Saved his life, Frank chuckled and smiled to himself. He stared ahead looking for the mailbox at the end of his driveway, driving for maybe another five minutes. He finally came to a flashing red stop light. It was the intersection to the mostly empty, two-lane state highway 152. He was on Mill Road for sure but had passed his house. Frank realized he should have taken a left and gone the way Alex did. Frank turned the Saab around and returned the way he came. After what seemed like the right distance Frank started looking for the entrance to the side road but he never saw it, his tracks were just about gone and no help at all. Maybe a minute later, though, Frank got lucky — he found his driveway. He pulled into it, drove up the short incline, stopped the car in front of his house, and killed the engine.

Frank went up the walk, opened the door, and let himself into the warm house. Only the light in the kitchen was on so Frank walked in there to find out how Jenny was doing assuming that’s where she was. But she wasn’t in the kitchen. Instead he found a note.

Dear Frank,

Baby wants out now. I tried to call but something’s messed up with the lines to town. Luckily I was able to get a hold of Marcy down the road. She’s coming to take me to the hospital. I will try to call you later.

Love, Jen

Frank’s heart began to sink thinking he missed the big event. He was worried out of his mind and about to pick up the phone to see if he could reach the hospital in town when it rang under his hand, startling him. He scooped up the phone quickly and answered it. It was Marcy.

“Frank, everything is okay. Jenny had a boy.” she blurted out knowing Frank would be alarmed.
“What happened? She’s fine? I have a boy?” Frank asked all at once.
“Yes, yes, everything’s great,” Marcy replied.
“Can I talk to Jen?” Frank ask.
Marcy paused then spoke to Frank calmly. “She’s sleeping right now, they had to sedate her.”
“Did everything go smoothly?” Frank asked in a worried tone.
Marcy paused again before answering.
“There was a complication, Frank. The doctor isn’t sure what happened but it was a close call. The baby was turning blue, shivering violently. He almost died, Frank. But everything’s fine now. Jenny’s fine, the baby is fine. The doctor doesn’t know what happened, it seems to be a real mystery, but you have a healthy baby boy,” Marcy said.
“Oh thank heavens,” Frank breathed.
“Jenny had to give a name to the nurse for the paperwork,” Marcy said.
“A name? My son has a name?” Frank asked excitedly. “What’s my son’s name?”
“Alex,” Marcy said. “It’s amazing, thin blond hair and blue eyes, Frank. He looks just like you.”

The End

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