The Interstate cut across empty desert plains with mountain ranges far in the distance. Hank passed exits for small towns and roads that led to only God knows where. The road seemed very empty tonight.
Most folks having a Monday night in, I guess, Hank thought as he thundered across the plains. He hadn’t seen another car or truck in over half an hour. The time was nearing 10 pm and the sun had died long ago. The moon hadn’t made an appearance and it was pretty dark. He liked driving at night. He could just cruise along and get lost in his own memories. Other traffic was minimal; often he had the whole highway to himself. Sometimes he would stop at a gas station for coffee or a sandwich but not too often. After his wife had gone Hank didn’t really like talking to anyone.
I gotta snap out of this monk-like existence. Michelle wouldn’t have liked me to be like this and if it had been me that took the early shower I would have wanted her to find a guy and start a family. As long as she visited my grave now and again and maybe kept a photo. Hank smiled, he had this argument with himself every night. He just didn’t do anything to change.
Ten years ago his wife died of cancer and he retreated inwards. Before she passed away he was the life and soul of the party but now he tried to keep away from others. Losing the love of his life had hit him hard. He’d quit his job as head of the local bank, sold the big family home and moved into a trailer park. It had broken his heart seeing all those empty rooms at the house. Nobody bothered him at the trailer park. He had his small bed and gas stove, a television, shower and that was it. Now he was a trucker working for the Easy Mart chain driving goods from the out of state warehouse to his town’s store in Abbeville.
He put a CD in the slot and whistled along to the country and western songs. The melancholic thoughts came creeping back. If only I’d kept her off that sun bed. I should have stopped her sunbathing all day on vacation. Damn the dangerous sun, I liked her skin white. Hank hit the steering wheel hard with his hand as his eyes started to well up. I’ve got to stop thinking like this!
Eventually the bright lights from the warehouse flooded onto the Interstate which could be seen from a couple of miles away. Hank checked his watch: the drive had taken about three and half hours after he turned the music off and floored the gas pedal.
“You’re a bit early tonight Hank. We’re not ready for you just yet. Why don’t you go grab a coffee in the canteen?” the warehouse operative said after he finished guiding Hank back into the loading bay.
“Roads were empty again tonight; I think I will grab that coffee, thanks.”
Hank climbed down from this truck and put his jacket on. The desert could get chilly at night. He walked through the doors past columns of pallets towards the workers’ canteen. It was a small room with some tables, a television hung on the wall and a coffee machine. He poured himself a cup then sat down to watch the TV.
Meanwhile back along the Interstate, in the small town of Little Maple, a beat up old Honda sedan spluttered to a halt. Its driver, a woman in her twenties, got out and slammed the door. She walked around to the front of the car and lifted the hood. On inspection she could see that some of the electrical wires had melted and a horrible smell was coming from the engine. Letting the hood drop back down, she grabbed a small pack from the passenger seat and slammed the door. She was on the main road through the town with small avenues leading off to the residential areas. Swinging her pack over her shoulder, she walked down one of these avenues towards some houses.
The first one she came to was a single story wooden house, its porch lit by a single dull bulb. The blinds were down in the windows but she could see chinks of light filtering through and could just hear the sound of a television. She guessed someone was in. Striding up to the porch, she rapped loudly on the door with her fist.
The house was owned by Marty, a local mechanic. He was sat inside watching a basketball game. His girlfriend had left two hours ago after a blazing row. He’d said some bad things and she’d left crying and muttering that it was over between them. Marty had regretted his harsh words and had started sinking beers in an effort to cheer up. He’d just finished a can and was just about to open a fresh one when he heard the door knock. Who’s knocking this late at night? He heard the knocking on the door again, more insistent this time. “Hold on, I’ll be right with you.” Marty lifted his bulky frame up from out of his chair, and went and opened the door.
A very attractive young lady was stood before him. She was about 5’ 6’’, dirty blonde hair past her shoulders, with a pale creamy complexion. Her eyes were dark, he couldn’t make out their colour and they gave away nothing. Marty’s eyes roamed over the unexpected visitor. She had great legs and a tight fitting T-shirt that hid none of her ample curves. Marty whistled softly to himself.
“Hi, what’s up?”
“Hi, sorry to bother you this late, my car has broken down. Can I use your phone to get some help?” the girl replied. Marty liked her low deep voice.
“Sure, it’s no problem. Hey, do you know what’s up with your car? I’m a mechanic, maybe I can fix it for you?” Marty couldn’t believe his luck. His girlfriend was trash compared to this babe. When one door closes another one opens. If I play this right, who knows what could happen.
The girl recognised the sickly smile she’d seen on men many times before.
“The wires under the hood are burnt up; I don’t think it can be fixed, if I could just use your phone?”
“Okay, if you would like to come in, the phone’s in the kitchen.” Marty stepped back out of the doorway. “Just walk down that hall, first door on your right.”
“Thanks, I won’t be long.” She hid a smile and stepped inside the house. It’s always easier when they invite you in.
“By the way I’m Marty, what do they call you?”
“Can I get you a drink, Rana?”
“No, I’m fine. Hey do you know the numbers of any break down truck operators?”
“Yeah, I know a couple but it is getting awfully late. Once you start getting these guys out of bed they charge a lot of money.” Marty went for broke. “If you like you can stay here until the morning, and then I’ll take your car to my garage and fix it up for you. I’ve got a spare bedroom; it’s no problem at all.”
Rana looked at Marty. She knew what he was after. She just wanted to get her car fixed and be on her way. But she was realising now that her car would have to be towed then put in a garage to be fixed. It didn’t suit her at all. This creep was starting to put moves on her, he wasn’t that blatant about it, but it all leads down the same path. Men don’t like rejection and here I am all on my lonesome in this big guy’s house, shame on me! Her face cracked into a smile. “Tell me Marty, why are you being so nice to me, I’m a complete stranger?”
To Marty, the door was opening. “You’re an attractive looking woman a bit down on your luck. I would be a pig not to try and help you out.”
“What do you think you would gain from it?”
“I don’t know, maybe you would come out to dinner with me one night,” Marty offered.
“Do you want to sleep with me?” she asked.
The direct approach, you only read about this! Marty was getting excited. “I would, yes,” he replied.
She edged past him and went into the kitchen. Marty followed her and walked over to the fridge. Rana picked up the heavy looking skillet on the stove, quickly spun around and cracked it down hard on Marty’s head. He crumpled to the floor.
She knelt down beside him and while she stroked his hair she licked the blood that oozed out of the ragged cut on his head. “You ought to be more careful on who you invite into your house my friend.” Marty began to scream.
Hank was on his third coffee when the warehouse guy came and told him the truck was ready. He climbed back in the cab and drove back out onto the interstate. After about an hour’s driving he pulled into the gas station just past Little Maple to take a leak. Pulling back out onto the interstate he saw a woman with a pack over her shoulder standing by the roadside with her thumb in the air. Hank had felt the chill from the night air so this girl must be freezing stood there in just a T-shirt and shorts. Hank never picked up hitchers but there was something about this girl stood there late at night. She looked vulnerable and easy prey to some psycho. In a moment of empathy his melancholy deserted him. He pulled over by her and leaned out the window.
“Hey do you need a ride somewhere? I’m going as far as Abbeville; you’re welcome to hop in.”
“That would be nice, I’m not going that far and you could drop me off on the way.”
“You bet, hop in.”
“Hi, I’m Hank.”
“Hi, I’m Rana, I sure appreciate the ride.”
“Weren’t you a bit cold out there?”
“No, I was fine.”
“So what’s a young lady doing out so late, hitching a ride?”
“I’d been visiting a friend in Little Maple when my car broke down,” Rana explained.
Hank shifted into top gear and pushed the truck up to full speed.
“So what’s it like being a trucker? Get to pick up lots of women like me?” Rana asked as she stretched out her long legs and rested her feet up on the dash.
“It’s a job, keeps me busy and away from nosy people. You’re the first hitcher I’ve stopped for. Didn’t like seeing you out there freezing your ass off,” Hank replied with a chuckle. It had been so long since Hank spoke with a woman.
“Are you married?”
“I was, but she died.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Guess I’d better shut up; don’t want to be one of these nosy people you don’t like picking up.”
“It’s okay; I just don’t like talking about it that’s all, so what about you?”
“I’m just hanging out and seeing friends when my car works.”
“Right on, where do you want dropping off?”
“If you take the next turn off, I can walk from there.”
After some time, a sign lit up in the truck’s beams and he took the exit off the interstate. They seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, no signs of a town. There were only dirt tracks leading off into the darkness with one or two faint lights twinkling in the distance.
“Are you sure this is where you want to get off?” Hank couldn’t see any houses; in fact, he couldn’t see anything. Why did she want to get off here? “Are you going to be alright?”
“This is great,” Rana replied. She leant over and kissed his cheek. “Thanks for the ride and nice meeting ya!” She hopped out of the truck and quickly vanished into the darkness.
Wow, ships that pass in the night. She sure made the drive go fast. He could still feel the cool touch of her lips as he parked up at the Easy Mart store in Abbeville and walked back home.
The next few nights were routine for Hank but he couldn’t stop thinking about Rana. She was beautiful, yet there was something mysterious about her. He stopped every time at the Little Maple Gas station but she wasn’t there. Strange girl, maybe someone grabbed her after I dropped her off, Hank mused as he drove away from the warehouse and started another trip back homeward, a week after their encounter. He’d been watching the news for missing people or murders but there was nothing of the sort. Apart from some guy in Little Maple had died suddenly and the investigation was in progress.
Hank finished the night shift, went home and got into his car. It was time for action. He hadn’t seen Rana again and he wanted to see the place where he dropped her in daylight. He was worried something may have happened to her. He reached the turn off from the interstate and stopped at the drop off. There was a dirt track leading off the road heading across the desert. He could just make out a roof top about two miles away in a dip in the ground. There was nothing else in sight to head for. He turned the car onto the track and started heading down it.
What am I going to say when I get there? I don’t want her thinking I’m some sort of creep following her. This is crazy. I know, I’ll say I just wanted to make sure she got home safely as it was so dark. It wasn’t his style to be impulsive and his heart stepped up a beat or three. If someone else lives there I’ll ask if they know this girl and that I dropped her off late at night and I just wanted to make sure she got home okay.
A two storey house came into view. It looked pretty beat up and old. The wooden window frames looked rotten and the tin roof was rusting in places. A faded wooden picket fence surrounded the garden which was over grown with weeds. To the right was an old shed with a door hanging off it. He could see a load of junk piled up inside. Hank stopped the car by the fence and got out. The garden gate was open so he walked through and up to the front door. It looked dark inside through the glass panes. There was no bell that he could see so he knocked.
He waited a while and there was no answer. He tried the handle and cringed as the door swung open with a horrible horror film style creaking noise. What if she’s asleep, in the bath or doesn’t want visitors. For all I know she doesn’t even live here. I’ll have a quick look round and then get out of here. If I hear someone driving down the track, I’ll just say I was looking for someone. Hank convinced himself to go on and stepped into the house.
“Hey, is anyone home?” Hank called out. No one answered.
He noticed a musty smell, the gloomy interior and that the furniture looked really old. A hallway led to rooms on both sides and stopped at the entrance to the kitchen. He went in and saw a stove, some cupboards and a sink, all covered with a fine layer of dust. There was a door leading out of the kitchen opposite the one he came in so he walked over and opened it. Some steps led down into darkness, Hank paused at the top. This is isn’t right snooping round someone’s house but it looks like no one lives here, everything is covered in dust. And here I am right at the basement. It’s almost begging me to go down and have a look.
Nothing really scared Hank after his wife had died. Dying to him was just the reunion with his wife that he longed for. When the time came he knew he would truly be happy again. He slowly walked down the steps into the darkness. He almost tripped when he got to the bottom and could hardly see his hand in front of his face. It was noticeably colder and the place started to give him the creeps. Fumbling around with his right hand he located a light switch and flicked it on. The basement was empty apart from a long wooden chest in the far corner. On the floor by the chest he could see Rana’s pack she had with her the night he picked her up. He walked over to the chest and with trepidation lifted the heavy lid. She lay inside on her back with her eyes closed. Hank thought she looked paler than ever and didn’t appear to be breathing. He gently felt her neck for a pulse but couldn’t find one. Her skin was cold. He could see no rise or fall in her chest. She appeared to be dead.
Hank ran out of the house and got back in his car. He couldn’t breathe and his eyes were streaming tears. She’s dead; someone has killed her and put her in a box in their basement. What am I going to do, call the cops? Forget about her? What if someone saw me drop her off? No, too dark. What in hell has happened? What do I do?
Hank sat there for ten minutes considering his next move. Then he started the car and drove back down the track away from the house. I’m going home and I’m going to think this one through, there’s a dead gal there and I don’t want to be involved in that.
Once home he slept until the early evening then went to work as usual. He drove on automatic pilot, lost in the thoughts of what he had seen and how he remembered Rana when he picked her up. She was youthful, exuberant and very attractive. Now she was cold and still, in a wooden chest in that dark and smelly cellar. Having loaded up the truck, he set back out onto the road towards Abbeville. It was a dark moonless night again and the wind had picked up. He drove right past the Little Maple gas station and thundered on into the night. Ahead the road curved through a canyon. A car in front of him on a left hand bend seemed to be driving erratically. Hank moved into the left lane to pass. Suddenly the car swerved into his lane and Hank slammed on his brakes. His truck lurched to the right and then shot off the road and down an embankment. It carried on for about fifty yards bouncing over rocks and through a cattle fence before smashing into the canyon wall. The cab crumpled and folded and then everything was still.
Hank awoke and felt a heavy crushing feeling on his chest. He tried to move but could feel nothing in his arms or legs. Pain coursed through his back and he coughed up a warm and salty substance. Spitting it out in front of him he could see that it was blood. His head started spinning and he felt very cold. “Shit, I’ve gone and done it this time,” Hank muttered before passing out.
“Hank, Hank, wake up!” He stirred, was someone talking to him?
“Hank, wake up, it’s me, the girl who you picked up, remember Rana?” He opened his eyes and felt someone stroking his hair.
“Uurr, what, who is it, where am I, what happened?”
“It’s me, Rana, the girl hitchhiker you picked up. You’ve crashed your truck and you’re trapped.”
Hank turned his head and saw Rana there, dressed the same as before and with a beautiful smile on her face.
“Am I dead already?”
“Why do you say that?”
“It’s just you look so nice and alive since the last time I saw you?”
Rana frowned. “What do you mean, Hank?”
“I’m sorry but I was worried about you after I dropped you off in the middle of the night so I went looking to see if you were okay. I found a house and I went in and down in the basement there was a wooden box and you were in it and you were dead!” He looked into her eyes and for a moment he saw a glint of light in the dark saucer sized pupils.
“Been spying on me huh? You saw me sleeping.”
“That can’t be true, vampires don’t exist. Everyone knows that!” Hank spluttered and more blood filled his mouth. He swallowed it back down.
“Oh but it is true. There’s a few of us left out there. We try and keep a low profile. That night you picked me up I’d been out getting some dinner. My car broke down and I needed a ride home before the sun came up. Tonight I was getting a ride home with some guys who picked me up when I saw your truck in their car mirror.
I asked them to pull alongside your truck so I could get you to stop. They were creeps and one of them started pawing at me so I flipped out and started screaming. The driver panicked and started swerving across the road and you nearly hit us with your truck and then you went off the road. The guys started laughing and kept driving away. I told them to stop but they got really mean and the guy in the front started hitting me. I opened the door and jumped out and those bastards didn’t even stop. I walked back down the highway and here I am.”
Hank coughed up more blood but had no energy to spit it out and it oozed down his chin. Rana leaned down with her face right next to Hank’s. She kissed him gently on the lips then licked the blood off his chin.
“I really like you Hank, all the guys I’ve met are sleazebags who just want to do nasty things to me but you were different. You are dying Hank, your hands have turned blue and you’ve lost a lot of blood. You can’t see it but the steering column has gone right through your chest.”
“I can’t feel much and I’m cold. I guess this is it,” Hank groaned, his voice now barely a whisper.
“Let me bite you Hank, you’ll become like me and we can be together.” She stroked his hair.
“That would mean I would live forever?”
“Yes, we could be together forever, just you and me, a team.”
Hank smiled. “I’m sorry, Rana, you are a beautiful, wonderful thing but there is someone else waiting for me.” Hank coughed again and then he was still.
“Have fun up there Hank!” Rana closed his eyes, kissed him and then climbed out the truck. She made her way back onto the interstate. She walked for a couple of miles then a car slowed down next to her on the road. A fat looking lady was inside with a little white dog.
“Do you need a lift anywhere honey?”
Rana opened the door and climbed in.
“Thanks very much.” She looked at the lady’s flabby red neck and smiled. The dog growled as the car sped off into the night.