The smell of rain filled the air with the threat of a storm. Darkness had settled rapidly. As for the particular storm already raging inside me, it wouldn’t reach its peak until I finally made it to Tennessee. Hopefully, I’d be out of God forsaken Kentucky, sitting somewhere soft, not on a hard jagged rock, my poor boney ass screaming for help.
White lights appeared, whizzing by, trailing off, turning red. Two sets, three, four, five sets. “Where is that damn tow truck?” I yelled into the darkness. A few feet away, some thing pitch-black and low to the ground crossed the highway. Behind me I heard the sound of croaking toads and rustling in the weeds from what I imagined to be other shadowy things.
Finally, one big set of eyes flashed bright and illuminated my face. A large red truck came to a screeching halt within inches of the rock. The driver lumbered out with a creak.
“What’s goin’ on?” he growled.
“What’s going on?” I said with a jump. “I’m stranded in the middle of nowhere. That’s what’s going on!”
“Not my fault, dude,” said the driver, throwing the frustration back at me. “I’m here to help. Besides, this is what you get anyways for drivin’ a lousy AMC Eagle. It's just a bucket of bolts if ya ask me. Shoulda rode on a real eagle. Been a lot faster.”
“Wise ass,” I said under my breath.
We both laughed.
The driver walked slowly around my stranded car and looked underneath at the chassis. After a silence, he muttered, “Where you headed?”
“Tennessee,” I said.
“Only one state over. Didn’t ya think to try hitchin’ and leavin’ this poor excuse of a station wagon for some other wayward fool? Stick out yer thumb, dude.”
The driver chuckled. I didn’t.
“What’re ya haulin’ anyhow?”
“My life, dude, right there in the back seat. What’s left of it anyway.”
“What’re ya runnin’ from?”
“Running? What makes you think I’m running?”
“You’re actin’ a little agitated. Looks like you packed in a hurry. Everything so piled up in the back there.”
“I am agitated. I’m stranded in the middle of nowhere with a broken down car, damn it, and well…more than a little scared.”
“Scared? Scared of what?”
I wasn’t really sure what to say. How much should I divulge?
“Scared of what?” the driver questioned again.
“If you really want to know… of the sheets.”
“Yeah, those pure white ones worn as uniforms. You don’t have one in your closet, do you? Or stashed behind the front seat of your truck maybe?”
The driver stopped dead in his tracks, letting the large chain he held bang loudly against the side of the truck bed, echoing, slicing through the darkness. Cocking his head sideways he looked at me like a dog looks at you when it’s trying to figure what you just said, as if all it hears is “blah blah blah, Clyde.”
“I have no fear for you,” said the driver, kinda funny like. “And certainly not of you.”
If this was meant to ease my worry, it didn’t.
Looking up, I spotted shimmer from the truck lights reflecting on the surface of a Mylar balloon snatched out of the sky by a tree limb. Its wish of happiness or health stalled in mid-flight. Tangled up, deflated, I knew the feeling.
“Let’s git you outta here before I ask a question I probly don’t want the answer to.”
“Where you going to take me?” I asked, nervously.
“Well sir, I’m takin’ this lemon of yours to Corbin. It’s the closest town where there’s a mechanic who might take a look…You can follow along if you like.” He chuckled again. “It’s late though. You’ll have to spend the night. Nothing there, ‘cept Days Inn. It’s cheap. It’s clean. Better steer clear of the truck stop."
Did this stranger know my past? Am I that transparent?
“Corbin, huh? We used to stop in Corbin when I was a teenager. High School band trips.”
The driver was silent again. He had to have seen the yearning in my face. “Musta been a long while back.”
“1964,” I said. “Seems like a lifetime ago.”
Images from the past floated through my mind like a dissolving slide show. I watched in a mental haze as the driver cranked the rear of my car into the air, securing it to his truck.
“Better go. You’re my last customer of the night. Hop in. Beer awaits.” Stung by the sound of the driver’s voice, I actually wanted to hop, but felt I’d better not.
“No beer for me,” I said.
“Who says I offered?”