Part 20 – The Road

I yawned and glanced down at the odometer. Less than fifty miles in and the driving had begun to wear at me. It was late and, face it, I wasn’t in prime physical condition thanks to my encounter with Jeff. I didn’t have enough money to get to Spiral and pay for lodgings, not that I was without options.

There were a lot of camp sites just off the freeway. Mom and I used to do a lot of camping when I was younger. We’d been poor and money had been tight. The outdoors provided a cheap getaway. Those times spent in the wilderness were among some of my fondest memories. I gritted my teeth, forcing back tears as recollections came unbidden and turned off the interstate. There, I found the nearest campsite, and pulled my car in under a large copse of trees.

I shut the engine down and reclined my chair. The moment I shut my eyes, I was out like a log, but my dreams weren’t what you would call peaceful. I woke up screaming more than once and when I awoke in the morning, I didn’t feel rested. Something chased me, some dark shadow creature, and when it caught up, it threw me around like a rag doll, but the rest was a blank. I woke with a sense of general unease I couldn’t seem to shake.

My stomach growled and I let out a long sigh. I was famished and hadn’t eaten since the previous morning, but I didn’t have a lot of money. I thought about finding some roadside diner and doing the whole dine and dash thing, but I knew that something like that would eat me up inside and it would draw more attention from the law than I wanted to risk. So I settled for a cheap option that wouldn’t upset my conscience.

I drove down the winding road a few miles and found a little convenience store. I parked at a pump and filled up. Once, I had that out of the way I started for the door, but stopped mid-stride and glanced down at my chest. With my blue skin I stood out like a sore thumb and it wasn’t good to call too much attention to myself.

I returned to the car, popped the trunk open and retrieved a few articles of clothing from inside. Slipping two shirts on, one on top of the other, I morphed them into a hooded jacket and matching gloves. Sweat trickled down my brow as I walked forward, but, despite the heat, I kept the hood pulled over my head. I considered covering my face, but something told me that would be just a little too conspicuous. It was better to keep things simple.

I sighed, tugged on the hood, and pulled it as far down over my face as far as it would go, and strode into the store. The place had been in business for many decades before my birth. If the well-worn tiled floors and the soda machine, were any sign, I’d guess the place had been around since nineteen-nineties or earlier. It had seen better days, but it was lit, clean and seemed to still be in service. I thought about finding a market, their prices would have been cheaper, but I wanted to avoid as much any undue attention. An out of the way convenience store seemed the better choice in that regard.

It was empty save for the attendant.

“Thank god,” I muttered under my breath as I walked through the aisles.

I moved through all three gathering bags of chips and pre-packaged pastries with names like ‘Lunar Pie’ and ‘Xtreme Cherry Tart’ and anything else that I could find that fit my budget. I eyed some jerky, but decided that it was just a little too expensive and grabbed some ‘Scrawny Johny’ meat sticks instead. Few of the brands were ones I recognized, and I doubted they’d taste great, but at least they would fill my stomach. I grabbed a map from a rack near the front of the store and I walked up to the counter. I smiled at the attendant, trying to appear as non threatening as possible. He’d been watching me move through the store with wide eyes and it put me on edge.

The attendant was an older fellow, who stood hunched over, and moved about as slow as a snail. He smiled at me as I approached the counter and scratched the stubble on his chin. “You a runaway?”

Maybe visiting the convenience store wasn’t a good idea. I glanced at him wide-eyed and bit my lip. I swallowed hard and glanced back over my shoulder contemplating making a run for it, but then the old man reached out and touched my hand.

“Relax girly, I ain’t looking to cause no ruckus. You twisted folk have it hard enough as it is. Seems to me, if you’re on the run, you probably got a damned good reason.”

I hadn’t expected that. I didn’t even realize I’d been holding my breath until I released it.

Glancing over my shoulder, I turned back to him and nodded. “I, uh, have gas on pump three.”

I eyed the old man as he rang me out and my heart sank when I saw the total. Though there was enough in my wallet to cover the charges, it would take almost all my cash. My mind raced. I’d need at least one more fill up to reach Spiral. Though I could remove some food items from my order, it wouldn’t be enough. Even now my stomach rumbled, demanding sustenance. I had enough to feed me the next several days and not much more. I couldn’t imagine going another day without food. What the hell was I supposed to do?

I don’t know if the old man had seen something in my face, but he smiled, tapped a few buttons on the register and the price changed. “That’ll be five dollars.”

I felt tears sting the corner of my eyes and my hand shook as I handed him a bill. Under other circumstances, I would have insisted on paying the full amount, but I was desperate. I sobbed, as he bagged me up, but didn’t say another word. He smiled at me one final time and wished me a good day before I muttered a thanks and slipped out of the building.

I paused outside, noting the little store’s name and address before slipping back into my car. I jotted the information down on a spare scrap of paper before starting the engine and driving away.

Though our encounter had been brief, I’d never forget what the old man had done for me and I intended to pay back every penny after I found my father.