~chapter 5~
Salvation Must be Taken
A Mysterious Woman Enters the Tale

From border to border, shore to shore, I have hitchhiked thousands of miles. . When I share my tales of borrowed rides, people smirk with the nostalgia of things that never were. They comment on how romantic and brave I am to choose to hitchhike. Then, as if they were about to leap off their barstool and thumb themselves to the nearest national park, they ask what it takes to be a good hitchhiker.

Because I want them to continue to think of me as brave and romantic, I always say, “You need a strong resolution and a lust for the unexpected.” The truth is that I never, ever hitchhiked out of desire, only out of destitution. And you only need one thing to be a good hitchhiker. That thing is patience, the same patience it takes to watch saplings grow to trees, rivers to carve canyons, or life to evolve on distant planets. I, who can barely hold my urine long enough to find a bathroom, have never been a good hitchhiker. Yet, once again, I found myself waving my thumb at passing cars. And for the love of my father, I had no option but patience.

How long I remained on the side of the road, I cannot guess. I do know that a muffler-less pickup full of teenagers sped by and I was showered with empty beer cans. A few hours later the same truck roared past in the opposite direction and I was pounded with snowballs. I did not sway. I felt purpose, not perturbed. I sought calmness, not humiliation.

I counted the lines on the road, then the trees on the mountains, then the clouds in the sky, the holes in my shoes, the scratches on my hands. With my tongue I counted my teeth. I counted how many things I had counted. But mostly I stood shivering with my thumb out as cars sped past me. Sometimes I mouthed, “Please,” as they passed. Other times acted casual. Then I started screaming. “Stop!” “Help!” “God damn you!” Every car that didn't give me a ride was another car that permitted the mysterious woman to draw my father farther from my dwindling grasp.

I became mad. I hid behind a tree and gathered a mound of small stones which I arranged into patterns which gave me pleasure. There was no point in standing on the road when I had a pile of stones. I hated the cars and all their horrid drivers. I hated the birds that pecked at my hair. I threw my stones at the birds and then gathered the stones I threw and brought them back to my mound behind the tree.

Then I heard it. The thurummparumparumparumpa of the truck. I peeked around the trunk of my tree. Rusty orange, bed full of girls and boys, dressed like Eskimos, arms waving in the air, a few dozen yards distant and closing fast, the truck taunted me.

I fill my hands with stones, waited until the truck was almost upon me. I stepped from behind my tree and loosed a hail of rock toward the buffoons.

Most of the stones missed; all but one, in fact. They bounced silently on the highway. And then, one stone, by the grace of a higher power, collided with the windshield directly in front of the driver's face. A spider web spread outwardly until the glass became a frozen explosion. The truck swerved left and right, children holding onto the rollbar with death in their eyes. It skidded sideways, popped up on two enormous wheels and came to a shrieking halt at my feet.

I gazed into the windshield but saw only the surface of Jupiter's Europa. The dead engine clicked. The air stunk of burnt rubber. Suddenly, both doors were flung open. A screaming band of fools dove out of the truck and came after me with gleeful insanity. More leapt out of the back of the truck. They wanted to dismember me and feed my limbs to wolves.

I tucked father's manuscript under my arm and ran back up the hill. As I punched my feet through the hard-top snow, I reflected: These children are drunk. I am sober. The children are soft. I am experienced in the ways of the woods.

I reached the top of the hill before they did and stood panting as they trudged toward me. As they neared my position at the top of the hill, I placed father's manuscript on the ground and sat upon it. As their hands reached toward me, I pushed off and slid down the hill. The make-shift toboggan worked beautifully. As I rode down the hill I left a trail of paper, but not more than a single chapter. The drunks screamed as I sped past them. They turned to pursue me but they became embroiled in snow balls just as I had. I skidded to a halt at the door of the truck, dusted off the manuscript and leapt in. As I had hoped, the driver had left his keys in the ignition. An avalanche of human snowballs rolled toward me. I turned the key. The truck struggled but did not start. Realizing the truck was parked on a slope. I released the parking brake and let it roll. I popped the clutch, the truck started. With my head hanging out the driver's side window, I drove away, the kids throwing my stones at their own truck. The rear window shattered. I didn't care. I was on the way to find father.

An hour later, I found him. On the side of the road with the woman. She held out her thumb. I pulled over.

“Give me back my father!” I shouted.

“Give me a ride!” She shouted.

“Get your own damn ride!”

“I can't!”

“Why not?”

“Nobody likes me!”

“I can't imagine why!”

“Guys stop for me lickety-split but half a mile down the road they get sick of me and kick me out.” She pouted her lips.

I revved the truck, tapped the steering wheel. She stole my father. She STOLE my father.

I am a man of infinite compassion.

I nodded.

Without a word, she climbed in, stuck father between us and off we drove. West. Quite the family we were in this stolen truck. Me, my comatose father, and a kidnapper.

Answers will be forthcoming. I don't want to talk. I just want to drive.

--Elk Undercarriage, July 2005

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