The Long Road Back

"Light, water. That's all I need - light and water." He spoke matter-of-factly, to no one, as he paced the side of the interstate at midnight. Ice fell sporadically in the twenty degree air, and a Jeep sat tiredly on this stretch of emergency shoulder in western Alabama. "A flashlight and some water." He spoke to the passing cars. He stared at them searchingly, forlornly, but he would never wave one down. He made his way to the front of the Jeep and crawled under it. Taking his gloves off, he reattached the radiator hose by touch, hoping it would hold long enough to drive a mile or two. The next exit was less than a mile away.

Taking an empty Mountain Dew bottle, he wandered into the trees, looking for water. He wore lots of layers in an effort to combat the stark reality that the Jeep had quit providing heat many miles ago. A t-shirt, a long-sleeved flannel mock, a heavy wool sweater, a wool pea coat, flannel-lined jeans, wool socks, a stocking cap. His nose was cold. His feet were cold. Nothing he did seemed to change those facts. "Four hundred miles to go, and my needs are simple. Light, water." He continued to speak calmly as he searched. "Ice would even be good. I got time to let it melt."

Forty ounces of water later, he started the Jeep and eased back into the flow of Interstate 20. The trip lasted long enough for him to look at the road and look back at the temperature gauge. "Everything around here is frozen to the core, but this baby is burning up." He smiled and pulled onto the shoulder. Climbing back under the engine, he gazed beneath the length of the Jeep into the oncoming traffic. Semis thundered past, shuddering the Jeep, the very ground he lay on. Giving one more glance back down the highway, he saw the lights of a rig torpedoing across the line, the trailer swerving. He closed his eyes.
* * * * * * *
Gray light doused the night, drowned it good. Heavier traffic was the pilot light of a different day, and he lifted his head from the center console, dazed, shocked at the reality of being alive. Damn, how he loved road trips. He got out, stretched, pushed the Jeep about a hundred yards, just far enough for it to reach the slope of the exit. He jumped in and coasted to the station off the interstate. "Light and water." He laughed. One down, one to go.

~ to be continued ~

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