“’What kind of a man will kill himself rather than risk a dirty look by the woman he loves?’ That’s what he said. More or less.” Drew looked out the windshield of the eighteen wheeler at the sagebrush, prickly pear, and dusty ground rushing past. “So I decided I better get back to her.”
“Really?” The burly trucker kept his eyes on the interstate with occasional glances at the rear views mirrors. He had black dreadlocks with grey streaks that hung down to the middle of his back. He wore a T-shirt with dancing bears in rainbow colors stretched across a wide expanse. He probably weighed close to three hundred pounds. “That’s… kind of romantic.”
”Doesn’t feel romantic,” Drew muttered. “Feels desperate.” He nearly swallowed the second part, so with any luck the roar of the engine drowned it out.
“I hear you, though I’ve never been in love so I don’t really know.” The big man nodded as if he’d said something important. He’d introduced himself as Raven. “But why 25 North? Shouldn’t you have been hitching on I-40 Eastbound instead? Hook up with 44 in Oklahoma City. It’s as close to a diagonal as you can get on the interstates.”
Drew shook his head. “44 goes through Missouri. Besides, I’m thinking I might stop off around Yellowstone.”
“Wisconsin by way of Yellowstone? Not in any big hurry, are you.”
Drew stared out the window again. The sun was going down. Or maybe it was coming up. He tried to remember how significant that was. It had something to do with how long he’d been hitch hiking. One hour? A day? Time tended to do funny things in his head, as if it weren’t really relevant. It would freak him out if it didn’t feel so natural.
They crested a rise, and started downhill. Raven shifted down, but they still gained speed. Drew always knew trucks were heavy, even without a big load like this one carried. That hadn’t prepared him for the way it would feel to ride at the head of all that mass. Those huge pipes strapped to the bed, he could feel them in his bones.
Worse, at the bottom of the hill was a low-slung bridge over a wide, deep ravine. A windsock hung near the beginning of the bridge, warning enough that high winds could shove them off the bridge if Raven wasn’t careful.
Every time they came to one of these bridges, a sliver of Drew’s consciousness tried to reach out to the expanse below, as if he could will himself to become one with the air and play with the tumbled rocks.
“So why do you think this girl or yours wouldn’t welcome you with open arms?”
Raven didn’t look at Drew, but then he hadn’t this whole time. Drew couldn’t tell if he was asking because he really wanted to know, or because he wanted someone to fill the space and keep him entertained. Not that it really mattered which. Though he couldn’t tell him everything – for instance he had no intention of admitting that until a few minutes before he’d left Albuquerque he’d been an FBI agent – he could certainly warn him about the drug.
“There’s this stuff. It’s called China Black. You can smoke it, or drink it, or chew it. Just about anything. It can be laced with all kinds of things. Or maybe it’s doing the lacing. Point is, don’t do it. The stuff will make you crazy. Really crazy.”
“I don’t do any of that anymore,” Raven assured him. “Was I time I’d do anything. I was crazy. I liked acid the best, but opium, hash, shrooms, even cocaine… whatever I could get my hand on I did. I don’t care what anyone says, that stuff will mess you up.” Raven shook his head regretfully.
“Yeh. Well, this stuff, it’ll make you stop being who you are. Or who you thought you were. Or something.” There was so much now that Drew couldn’t express, whole ways of thinking, or maybe not thinking, that he’d been unaware of until now.
“So… this China Black stuff… you got any on you?”
“No!” Drew recoiled, horrified that someone he’d just warned about it was asking for it.
“You aren’t going to go through the DTs now, are you? ‘Cause I once picked up a hitch hiker who damn near died on me on the stretch between Elko Nevada and Salt Lake City. I mean, foaming at the mouth and everything. When he grabbed my steering wheel we went off the road. I was carrying beer. Most of it was all right, but what a mess. Lost a big chunk of my commission on that one.”
“It sounds dangerous. Why do you still pick up hitch hikers?” Drew assumed the answer had something to do with feeling the need to give back to society and that being the way to do it.
“I go crazy in this cab if I don’t. I’m not meant to be by myself for too long.” Raven glanced over apologetically. “Not that I want someone around all the time. But someone who can tell me stories, makes it feel like it’s OK for me to keep doing this.”
Drew nodded. “Yeah. I never used to need a reason to be alive until China Black. Now I think about stuff like that all the time.”
“So, what’s your answer? What makes it worth living?”
“Love, of course.”
“Yeah.” Raven nodded, as if they were brothers in spirit. “Hey. A Flying J! Best truck stops in the world.” Raven double clutched, shifting down for the off ramp. “You can get a shower, or a meal, or catch a ride with someone else there. Just the thing for a man like you.”
“I’m happy with this ride,” Drew said, really not wanting to have to give it up just yet.
“That’s only because you haven’t noticed yet.” Raven gave him a big grin. “I’d have said something earlier, but I enjoyed the company. See, the thing is, we’re going South.”
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