This is in response to a flash fiction challenge based on a photo. Under a thousand words, in a week or less. Here’s the only part of the picture I really noticed:
Me: “Oh, God…” *shudders*
Those letters in the sky. They chill my soul. They do not spell “HOTEL”. They spell “Weird things will happen here. Enter at your own risk. And just try to sleep. Buwahahaha!”
And that’s just the sight of the sign that’s freaking me out. My bad hotel karma has scarred me for life.
This preamble is an attempt to justify the fact that my story is more about the journey than the destination. I’m too traumatized to write about the hotel itself.
But I did use the word “hotel”. Three times. That’s gotta count for something.
Here’s “Freedom”. All constructive criticism welcomed and appreciated.
He spotted her about twenty miles west of Winnipeg. She turned and stuck out her thumb as the rig got closer. And smiled.
It was the smile that stopped him. Well, that and the hot body and long, silky hair. He leaned over and popped the passenger door open. “Where’re you headed?”
“As far west as I can get.”
“Your lucky day. I’m going all the way to Vancouver.”
“Great, thanks for stopping.” She hopped up into the cab. She moved like a teenager, but there were a lot more years on her than he’d first thought. The shiny brown hair was shot with grey. Deep crows-feet around the biggest, bluest eyes he’d ever seen.
“Dave Smith.” He stuck out his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Dave. I’m Beth.” She shook his hand firmly. She sounded educated and confident. Clean clothes. Small backpack. Not your typical hitchhiker.
He pulled back onto the highway and ran up through the gears. “Car trouble?” he guessed out loud.
“No. Just looking for some freedom. And I’d like to see the Oregon coast.”
She rode in silence. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her smiling. Around Moosomin, he yawned and rubbed gritty eyes.
“Are you tired?”
“Yeah. Short turnaround yesterday.”
“Do you want me to talk to you?”
She turned those blue eyes on him, and the next thing he knew, he was telling her about the trucking business and his hometown. Then about the failed marriage and the bitter ex-wife and the kids that didn’t seem to care if he lived or died as long as they got the monthly cheques for their college educations.
He blew through Regina on autopilot, still talking. After so many years on the road, he could do this trip in his sleep. Almost had, a few times.
At Moose Jaw, he pulled in. “Need to eat?”
“No, I’ll just stretch my legs.”
He left her walking around the parking lot. Watched her through the glass as he stood in the takeout lineup. Long legs. Nice ass in those snug pants.
He wasn’t usually a chatterbox, but she encouraged him. Six hours flew by. In Brooks, he asked her where she wanted to eat.
“I don’t need anything.”
“You haven’t eaten all day.”
He frowned. “Do you need money?”
He shrugged and went in to eat. None of his business. Outside Calgary, he glanced over. “I have to stop here for the night. Regulations.”
She looked at him with those big, blue eyes. “Will you get a hotel?”
“Yeah.” His usual stop was a dive, but it was cheap and clean enough. “You can sleep with me if you want. I mean, uh, in the hotel. You know. Not…”
She smiled at him then. “I’d like to sleep with you.”
“Uh?” He instinctively glanced over his shoulder. Nope, nobody else in the cab. Took stock of his own weary eyes and greying stubble in the rearview mirror, looked down at the generous gut stretching out his T-shirt. Hole in the T-shirt. When did that happen? He shook himself. Tired. Must’ve heard wrong.
She leaned over and kissed him.
Hadn’t heard wrong. Holy shit.
Stuff like this didn’t happen to guys like him.
He didn’t get the regulation hours of sleep that night. Hauled himself up out of that long soft hair and fine white skin after some head-banging morning sex. “We need to get breakfast and get on the road.”
“You go ahead. I’ll wait by the truck.”
“Don’t you eat?”
“You don’t have any money with you, do you?”
He dragged her into the restaurant and bought her a big breakfast. She ate like it was her last meal.
Heading up into the mountains, he watched her smiling as she gazed out the window. She got him talking again. At lunchtime, he bought takeout for two. She ate everything he gave her, and then took him into the sleeper and rocked the whole damn rig.
He made up reasons to stop often. Rolled into Vancouver late; sore and exhausted and grinning like an idiot. Best trip ever. Holy shit.
In the parking lot, she said, “Thanks, Dave.” Kissed him and turned away.
“Wait. Where are you going?”
“Come with me instead.”
“Winnipeg. I leave tomorrow.”
She smiled. “I’m finished there. I just want to see Oregon.”
“I’ll take you.” The words burst out before he could stop them.
“You know you can’t.”
He kicked at the front tire. He knew he couldn’t.
“Call me.” He handed her his card. She smiled, and he knew she wouldn’t.
“Wait a second.” He pulled out his phone and called a couple of his buddies. Found her a ride south. Spent another long, hot night with her in another cheap hotel.
Next morning, she thanked him again and kissed him goodbye. Got in Frank’s truck. Waved and smiled as they pulled out.
Three weeks later, he got the call. Lawyer in Winnipeg. Yeah, he was Dave Smith. Yeah, he’d been on the Winnipeg-Vancouver haul a few weeks ago. Beth who?
Sitting in the lawyer’s office, twisting his cap between his hands. She’d been found dead in the woods in Oregon. Starvation and exposure. Not far from the road. No sign of foul play.
He hadn’t even known her last name. Didn’t know why the hell the lawyer would call him. Suit droning on, something about validity of handwritten wills.
“…to Dave Smith, with sincere thanks for enriching my last days, and for helping me reach my final goal, I leave all my worldly goods. Thanks, Dave. I found my freedom. Blessings.”
Over a million bucks.
She hadn’t needed him. She could’ve flown there in a private jet, drinking champagne all the way. Lawyer said he couldn’t understand it. She hadn’t been sick, didn’t seem depressed.
He knew the truth. She was just… finished there. Looking for freedom.
For those who asked about Beth’s story, it’s here: “Freedom, Too“.