Two youngsters are stranded in the wilderness, desperate to make their way back to the city.
Mark and I stumble out of the darkness, leaning on each other as if we’re drunks. It must be quite a sight: his clothes torn, mine all smeared, covered in scrapes and both of us like savages with branches, leaves and god knows what in our hair. We must look positively lupine. Wonder what they’ll think we’ve been doing.
Our hearts skip a beat in joy when we see what the lights are: we’ve reached a highway! “All we need to do now, is hitch a ride and we’ll be home in no time!” I cry out cheerfully. Cars pass by at an uneven pace and we signal them, more and more desperately, waving, jumping, screaming.
They slow down, but as soon as they see the condition we’re in, they put the pedal to the floor and just drive off. If we hadn’t actually needed help, they would’ve stopped. Figures though, we, looking like bums. I wouldn’t pick me up either.
Mark sits down on the grass and sighs. “It’s no use.” He says. “We’ll never get out of here this way.”
“We better wait till daybreak and then find our way back to the city by ourselves, on foot. If we’re lucky, a police car drives by. They’ll take us downtown, no questions asked. Just look at us.”
“And then call someone to bail us out? No thanks.”
He lays back with his hands under his head and looks up at the starlit sky. He’s getting ready to spend the night here, alongside the road. I glance at the dark forest. Who knows what lurks there at night.
“Just give up already.”
“Nonsense! I’ll get us back to civilization, if it’s the last thing I’ll do!”
He mutters “good luck” and closes his eyes.
I’ll show him!
I give my all to attract a driver’s attention, not even shying away from female charm, finally one of them takes the bait. He pulls over. I look at Mark in triumph.
“Alright, all ready.” He gets up, fishing the remainder of his backpack off the ground. A friendly looking elderly gentleman opens the trunk to his Ford. We drop our haggard bags, brush the filth off our clothes and slide onto the backseat in relief. Mark hurt his knee in the woods, he smashed it against a rock. He has trouble bending his leg to get in. I should probably take him to a doctor. The driver helps him, supporting him by the arm and closes the door. Mark utters something with a gasping yawn and rests his head against the door.
“Comfortable back there?” The man says.
“Yes, thank you, sir.” Thank God, thank God, we’re safe.
We drive on in silence for a while. I take my chance to study our saviour’s head. He’s nearly bald, some short grey stacks along the sides are left, with a strangely narrow scull. Every now and then he glances at us in the rear-view mirror. He wears a pair of thick, round black glasses. The rest is all the usual: greyish-brown suit, ugly plain tie, white shirt. He must be some kind of clerk.
I smile at him. His responding smile is awkward, more of a grimace, a sign of pain. He’s probably not very used to smiling for no apparent reason.
He puts his hand on the briefcase on the passenger seat next to him. Does he take us for muggers? Ridiculous.
He looks at me more intensely. I turn away startled and gaze out the window. It was not polite to stare like that, especially at someone who’s been so kind in your deepest hour of need.
I watch the dark contours of trees glide by.
“So, where are you headed?” He asks.
“Just getting to the next town will do fine. Then we can tell our parents we’re okay and check into a hotel for the night, get cleaned up a little”, I gesture towards my dirty clothes and face and smile, “and try to have some sleep.”
“Your parents, they don’t know where you are?”
“Well, sort of. We told them we were going kayaking on the river, but it’s a large area.”
“Yes, it sure is. Vast.” He mused.
“How about friends? Didn’t they know where you were going? I’m sure that if they did, they’ll notify your parents and the police when they don’t hear from you.”
“No, we haven’t told anyone else about our little trip. Didn’t think it would get out of hand like this. We got a little lost.”
“A little? You’re miles away from the river.”
“We’ve been walking all night. We were going downstream and then the water got very rough.”
“Ah, yes. There’s been a lot of rain lately.”
“Apparently. We capsized, lost the boat, half our stuff and nearly our lives in the current. Our map too, was completely illegible. It’s a miracle we managed to get to a highway.”
“Good thing you made it. Sounds like you’ve been very lucky.”
“Indeed, especially since you came along. We were out there, in the middle of the night, calling for help and no one stopped.”
“Hmm, how odd. Makes you wonder at people’s moral sense these days, doesn’t it.”
“Quite. Though I can’t blame them. It is weird for two young people to be near a forest so late and look like us.”
The gentleman strokes his newly-watched clean and absolutely spotless suit-jacket as if battling an invisible crease in his professionally ironed attire. He is completely enthralled in it for a moment, as if he just can’t find peace until everything’s back in order. Wonder if he’s like that at work as well. Must drive his colleagues crazy.
“Well, these woods aren’t exactly safe, especially at night. There’s wolves and bears and all sorts of man-eaters about.”
“I thought so. I was desperate to get out of them. Mark here” – I poke him. He’s fallen vast asleep, leaning against the glass. Poor boy. Must be exhausted. – “was convinced we’d have to spend the night by the road. Imagine that! I was so scared.”
The man laughs with me.
“Yes, that would be far too dangerous. Everyone should stay far away from this place, if they know what’s good for them.”
I feel the urge to ask him what he’s doing here at this hour if it’s so dangerous, but I suppose it’s best to hold my tongue. I don’t want to offend him.
“Maybe you’re right.”
We are silent for a moment.
“Why don’t you try calling them?”
“Your parents! Don’t you have a cellphone on you?”
“Yes, but...” I get it out of my pocket. “It got soaked, along with everything else. It’s dead.”
“Ah, because of the water, of course.”
A sign flashes by. The next exit is only a few miles away.
“Mark, Mark! Wake up! We’re almost there!”
I shake him by the shoulder, his head rolls far onto his chest, his lips slightly parted like a sleeping child’s. What a sleepy head!
“Come on, Mark!”
I pull his arm hard, he slides sideways towards me. His head lands on my lap. It’s heavy. I stare into his wide-open eyes, his beautiful baby blues, and scream.
“Mark!” I cry out, with tears dripping down onto his pupils without generating any kind of response. A syringe sticks out of his arm, his hand still wrapped around it in a frozen attempt to pull it out.
Then I hear a click. I try the door, it’s locked. I slam my fists against the window, scratch, claw, kick and yell. My face against the glass I see the exit rush by. All is darkness. As far as the eye can see there is only night and an empty road running through it.
I see the man curl up one edge of his mouth into a ferocious grin.