Hitchin’ A Ride

I’ve been doing this 52 week writing challenge all year long, and I fell behind for a bit, so here’s my short piece of fiction for the category “a story with only one character.” Enjoy!

I don’t know how long I’ve been out here. The sun’s brutal and beating down on my bare back. Had to take my ragged and torn shirt off. It just wasn’t working anymore. My mouth is as dry as my aunt’s meat loaf on Thanksgiving. A little rain right now wouldn’t go unappreciated.

No cars have passed through here yet. It’s hard to believe I’m the only soul out here. I’m not sure where here is exactly because I woke up in the woods and stumbled my way to the highway somehow. I’m not sure how I knew which way I was going, but I did. Now whether I’m going somewhere or away from something is a totally unknown variable.

The air is still, but more than that, the world is still. There’s not even a single bird in sight or chirping cricket. It’s dead of day, but that doesn’t mean it should be dead. I’m bent over now, heaving and throwing up nothing. Around me not even a light breeze stirs to calm my sweat and chills.

My arms shake as I grip my knees, trying to keep steady. I don’t know how long I’d been passed out without food or water, and the heat only added to the misery. The back of my throat burns for a minute, but I manage to get over this bout of dehydration. My head spins a bit and my vision starts to double, but I’m still standing.

As I zombie walk along the side of the road, even though I haven’t seen a single car, I put my hand out with a thumbs up. A delirious laugh bubbles up out of my mouth and I descend into a mad cackle. No one’s around to hear me go insane, and it almost feels freeing. Almost.

The laughing turns to coughing and I’m bent over dry heaving again. The back of my neck stings with its raw sunburn. My knees quake and I feel like I’m about to pass out when I finally hear something. It’s distant at first, but it’s rough and it’s there. Like a chugging machine pushing down the hot asphalt.

I look back but only see a shimmering horizon. I turn, squint and see the same thing ahead of me. I must be imaging the noise. I’m so desperate to hitch a ride out of here I think there’s a car coming for me, somewhere on this eternal stretch of road.

Somehow, I keep walking in whatever direction I was going. My feet feel like lead and my head feels like it’s full of helium, but I keep walking. My chest rises, slow, then goes back down, as I try to keep oxygen pumping through my lungs.

It’s been at least two hours since I started walking, and it doesn’t look like the sun’s moved from its original position in the sky. If time has been passing, it should be at a different angle by now. I stop, look around, and try to call out, but my throat is too dry. I start coughing again.

Faint and distant, I hear the thrum of a machine again. I hold my breath, trying to keep the coughs down so I can listen for the car. If it’s not on the road, it must be coming from the woods. But it should have caught up to me by now. Maybe it’s not a car. Maybe it’s a machine on a farm somewhere.

For some reason though, I turn and turn and turn but can’t find my way back to the woods. I keep seeing the trees from my peripherals, but every time I try to look at them head on, they disappear and all I see is road.

I tilt my head and stand with my hands on my hips. I blink rapidly and take a deep breath, thinking it must be the heat stroke and dehydration not allowing me to orient myself. I swallow hard, trying to find any kind of moisture to relieve my dry, stuck throat. Fighting off the wave of nausea that threatens to knock me out, I turn back to the road.

It’s all like a mirage, just shimmering air and a black path that doesn’t appear to come to an end. And a sun that doesn’t move. And trees that keep evading me. A wrack of coughs overcomes me and I can’t stop it. Blood eventually streams from my mouth and the panic rises. The taste of copper is strong on my tongue and it brings back a memory of white hot searing pain in my stomach. That’s when I remember…

I’d been in the woods running from a man who was trying to kill me and ran straight into his partner, into his knife. Then I woke up again in the woods that I can’t find my way back to, because I didn’t wake up at all. This is death. This is purgatory. This the highway to hell.

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