17 Mar Hospitality
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Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
I’ve always been a creature of the city. The cold, hard streets. The tall, luminous sky-scrapers. And the people. All self-absorbed in their own little stories to be concerned with person next to them on the subway, or the person they just rammed into trying to get where they needed to go. It’s where I was born. It what I’m used to. But sometimes. You have to take a break from uniformity and treat yourself. And that’s exactly what I did. I have a cousin, down in Alabama. Deep South. He invited me over, and it was something I’ve put off for way to long. Eh, what the hell. I guess It’s time to mix things up.
My plane landed after a four and a half hour plane flight. My legs were cramped, my back was sore, and my brain was numb from the crying babies. But regardless, we landed. But I still had a long drive ahead of me before I could cash in at my cousin’s place. After I got off the plane, I went to baggage retrieval, and then went to the car rental. Shocker of all shocks, the rental supplied me with a shitty old Ford hatchback. It seemed like the best car they had, but I did my best to ignore the mystery stain in the back seat. It was best that way. I pulled out of the rental, and began the long drive out of the city and into the rural countryside.
I am a complete fucking idiot. I did myself in, big time. I forgot to check the fuel gauge. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I was driving through a twisting dirt road, the sides lined with tall, dark trees and the road beyond my headlight pitch black. And suddenly, I ran out of fuel. I pulled over, but I doubt that actually mattered. Who would use this obscure-ass dirt road in the middle of an Alabama backwoods? Answer: Me. A complete and total idiot. As I tried hard not to completely second guess my decision to come here, (Was having a real hard time with that) I got out of the car and stood on the side of the road. I looked at my cell phone, and sure enough, no service. The only way this could get worse is if Jason fucking Voorhees came crashing through the forest with his machete and ran me through. Regardless, I was stuck. Completely and totally. So I did the only thing I could. I crawled into the back seat of my car, and tried to sleep. Why? Because I had nothing else. No other option. I couldn’t make any calls, couldn’t drive anywhere. So I would sleep, and in the morning I would walk. Through an Alabama backwoods. Yeah… I am totally fucked.
This was my line of thinking as I lay on the seat, eyes staring at the ceiling. How was I supposed to fall asleep? I wasn’t exactly in a safe neighbourhood. Hell, I wasn’t even in a neighbourhood. And another thing: It was cold. Not the freezing it got in a New York winter, but cold enough that my light jacket couldn’t stop me from shivering. I felt pathetic. I crawled up front to see if I could turn on the heater, but sure enough for this shitty car, it was busted. So I climbed back into the backseat and quietly whispered a swearing fit the likes of which would make even angels cry. After that, I felt slightly better. But I still felt stupid for coming here. I felt even stupider for not checking the fuel gauge. God, that was so stupid. Like, mind-bogglingly so. But while I was hounding myself for my own unacceptably vast stupidity, I heard something that nearly made me cry in relief: a car engine and tires crunching on dirt.
I practically leaped out of my car, swinging the door open with so much enthusiasm it should’ve broken the hinge. The car that would surely be my saving grace was currently only about a hundred feet from me, and as it approached it slowed. I stuck my thumb in the air, signifying I was hitchhiking. The car slowly pulled up beside me, and the window rolled down. Inside the cabin, a middle age man sat. His hair was gray and balding, his face round and chubby. He had a neat plaid dress shirt tucked into his khaki pants, and below his warm eyes clad in rimless glasses, he gave me an amiable smile, and all my fears of the night were nearly dissolved. “Well howdy, my friend. Looks like you found yourself in a quite a predicament”, he said benevolently. “Yes sir”, I said. He gave a hearty chuckle. “Yep, happens to the best of us, son. ‘Specially those who ain’t from these parts. I’d be happy to lend you a ride and let you stay in my home for the night, ‘till I can help you with your vehicle”. This struck me as odd, as no one in New York would ever offer you a ride in the middle of night. That was good way to get yourself mugged, or raped, or worse. But I, admittedly, decided to take full advantage of his blind trust. “Oh, thank you very much sir, but I’m afraid my car’s just out of gas”. He nodded. “Ah, that’s alright. We have plenty of gasoline back at my humble abode. Tell you what, I can drive you there and call roadside services to pick up your vehicle”. I chuckled at this. “Again, no worries sir. It’s a rental, I can just call the company. I just can’t get signal”. He nodded again. “Well alrighty then, son. I can just drive you to my home, and you can call the company. ‘Till they arrive, you can sleep at my house”. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude to this kindly stranger, but also a bit… nervous. This kind of hospitality always set me on edge. No one was nice in New York unless they wanted to sell you something. But regardless, I decided accept his offer. It was just my city-instincts, after all. No need to be so judgemental. “That would be very kind of you sir. Thank you”. He smiled and nodded, leaned over the passenger seat, and opened the door. I climbed into the seat, and shut the door.
The car smoothly accelerated as the man pressed his foot on the gas pedal. The inside of the car was well made, but it had an air of humbleness, as if the driver just wanted a car he could comfortably drive. I respected that. We drove in silence for ten to fifteen minutes, until he spoke. “So, what brings you to these parts, son?”, he asked politely. I told him about how my cousin had invited me to his house for the week, and how I took the opportunity to get away from the city. He smiled. “You know what, son? I’ve always wanted to visit the city myself, but I could never bare to spend to long away from home”. I nodded. As much as I appreciated this strangers help, I was not in the mood for extended conversation. And something still felt off. Was I really this unused to politeness? Or was it something else? I was cut off from this train of guilt-ridden thoughts when the stranger spoke again. “Hey son, would you kindly grab my eyeglass wipes from the glove box? I have this darn spot on my glasses”. I nodded and opened the glove box. I didn’t see them immediately, so I felt around in the glove box, and while I was moving around my hand brushed against cool metal. I felt around it, and my senses confirmed it was a pistol. That was strange for me, because I didn’t know anyone who carried in New York. I felt around some more, and my hand wrapped around a small box. I pulled it out, and handed to him. “Thank you kindly, son”, he said. Now maybe this wasn’t my business, but it was strange for me. “I felt something in there. Do you carry?” I asked, probably rudely. The stranger didn’t seem to mind. “Yes I do, indeed. I always carry a firearm in my vehicle. Makes me feel safer”. I nodded. “Yeah, there’s logic to that. It’s just that where I’m from,. It’s so hard to get a gun that no one carries except criminals and gun fanatics”. The stranger shook his head at that. “Darn shame, that. Can’t have too much protection nowadays, ‘specially around thes-”. A sharp bump from behind the car cut him off. He turned around, his eyes fixating out the back window, eyebrows cocked. “Son, if you would kindly wait in here, I’ll be going out to investigate that”. I nodded, and he exited the car. But that anxiety in my stomach was slowly churning more aggressively, and something felt very, very wrong.
I decided to do something potentially very risky. I opened the glove box again, and dug through it some more. After brushing past the pistol again, my hand found a book. But when I dug it out, it wasn’t anything suspicious. It was a Bible. But something about this inconspicuous leather book set me on edge, so I opened it to the middle. And there, sitting in the center of a carved out section of paper, lay a camping knife. I ran my fingers along the edge of the blade, and I saw something that horrified me. The blade was tinted slightly red along the edge. My stomach felt like it knotted several times as I asked myself a question I should have asked long before I entered this man’s vehicle: Why was a man with a car this high quality driving through the Alabama backwoods? I quickly closed the book and stuffed it back into the glove box. I heard the trunk close, and his shoes crunching on the dirt as he slowly approached the car again. I saw his figure outside the door just before it swung open, and the man crawled back inside. He was shaking his head shamefully. “What was that sound?” I asked, trying to swallow down the building dread crawling up my throat. The stranger sighed. “It appears we hit a rabbit, son. It was dead when I got there, so I moved it out of the way”. Suddenly, I was more acutely aware of the strange things he was saying, like why would someone pick up a rabbit’s corpse? And why had the noise come from the trunk if we had hit a rabbit. Had it come from the trunk? Nevertheless, my suspicions went unvoiced as I, too, shook my head at the falsified tragedy. “Shame”, I said. The stranger cleaned his glasses before repositioning himself at the wheel. “Welp”, he said, “No use crying over spilt milk. Let’s keep on the move; we still got a good hour’s drive ahead of us.” As I made myself the very closest I could be to anything resembling comfort, I tried not to imagine what had actually made that noise, or what this guy was hiding. All I could think about was where I would be in the next hour, and what that meant for my personal health.
We drove in silence for the next twenty minutes, the only sound the purr of the engine and the dirt underneath the car’s tires. That, and my own heart pounding in my chest so hard I was surprised the stranger couldn’t hear it. Or, my brain thought horribly, maybe he does hear it and is just used to his victims’ hearts doing the same. As we drove, my mind began racing, trying to formulate a plan on how to get out of this car. The best plan I had was saying I need to take a piss, and then bolting while I was free. But the stranger would probably just chase me, and I seriously didn’t want to be chased through an Alabama backwoods by a knife-wielding Jesus-freak. So I kept coming up with ideas. My best bet was using the gun to shoot the stranger, and then driving back to civilization. But that would require proof of the stranger’s psychotic nature, so I was stuck for the moment. Finally, I decided what I needed to do. I would get the stranger out of the car by saying I saw something on the side of the road. If he got out to investigate, I would get out of the car, grab the gun, and go around the back of the car to look in the trunk. This was an older car, so the trunk should have a hatch. And he didn’t have a key when he went to check the trunk, so it couldn’t be locked. So I pretended to stare at something on the side of the road. “Is that a dead deer?”, I said. The stranger looked out my window and, as I had hoped, slowed the car down. “I wonder..”, he said “Stay here”. Not fucking likely. He got out of the car and began making his way into the trees. He seemed to be making his way to a dark lump in the forest, a few hundred feet away. Probably a log, but it could be mistaken for an animal with suggestion and darkness. I waited a few seconds, letting him get far enough away. Then I opened up the glove box and drew the pistol. Then I slowly and carefully opened the car door, making as little noise as I humanly could. The door unlatched, making a thump noise. I trained my gaze on his round figure, but he didn’t seem to notice. I then carefully tiptoed around the side of the car, treading lightly in the hopes of not crunching dirt under my feet. I felt in my pocket, and sure enough, my phone was still there. My plan was to snap a picture, then steal the car. If I had to, I would shoot the stranger. I looked at the gun, and turned the safety off. I didn’t know how to check if it was loaded, so I just hoped. Then, standing in front of the trunk, I reached for the handle. Dirt crunched behind me, and I whirled around, extending my arm in the direction of the noise, gun ready. The stranger stood with his arms clasped behind his back, his face shrouded in darkness. He gave a chuckle as dark as his features. “So, boy, you seem to be the curious type. Ain’t your mother ever told you to refrain from nosiness?”. I gulped, and placed my finger on the trigger. “Stay back”. I said, “I don’t know what your doing, or what’s in that trunk, but you better stay the fuck away from me”. The stranger tisked. “Such profane language, son. What do you plan on doing with that weapon of yours? Shoot me? You ain’t got the nerve. Not to mention you don’t know anything about what’s in that trunk. You’ll be charged as a murderer.” He took a step closer, illuminating his face just a tad bit more. His eyes glistened like fish eggs, boring holes into me with their fierce, murderous look. His smile was less that of friendliness, and more like a wolf baring its teeth at its prey. Just before the kill. He reached into his pocket, pulling out a switchblade. “Now, boy. Why don’t you hop back into the car, and we forget this nonsense about me being a killer? That sound good?”. And then my stomach knotted several times over as it realized something. Something very important. “I never accused you of being a killer” I said. “Why would you say that?”. His smile became a scowl, and he took another step closer. “Get back. In the car, boy. You have no idea what you’re dealing with”. I stepped back, pressing my hand onto the cool metal of the trunk, finding solace in it’s cold embrace. I then pointed the gun at the stranger, and said what I always wanted to be my final words. “Fuck. Off.” He cracked his neck, like a fistfighter would, and then lurched forward. I pulled the trigger. The muzzle of the pistol erupted ina bright flare, and the stranger grabbed his stomach, dropping his knife. He collapsed forward, head hitting the ground at my feet. He gasped, and blood began to pool around his body. I looked at him for a good ten minutes. Then, very slowly, I turned around, my hand still resting on the trunk. I dropped the gun, placing my other hand inside the groove of the trunk handle. My fingers wrapped around the plastic of the handle. Slowly, they pulled towards me, bringing the handle with it. The latch released with a thunk. I grabbed my phone from my pocket, pressing the photo app. Then, aimed at the trunk, I slowly swung it open. The hinges squeaked slightly as they finished their rotation. The lights on either side of the trunk coated my body in a crimson red.And inside the trunk was something. Something that would condemn me for all my life in the cell of a prison. Something that would leave me burning in the deepest pits of hell for all eternity. It was something that proved me wrong, and proved to the cops that I was a killer with no redemption. And maybe I was. Because in that trunk, there was nothing more than a deer carcass and a shotgun. He was a hunter. I had killed an innocent man.
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