by Shawn Campbell
It was a lonely stretch of the Yellowhead Highway, fifty kilometers either way to any kind of civilization. The sun sat fat on the western horizon, mostly obscured by evergreen sentinels. The walls of the river canyon fell to the north side of the highway, blanketed by pines and firs broken by the occasional face of jagged rock. The black mass of the Skeena River slid past the south side of the highway. A moving barrier dividing it from the rise of the canyon on the opposite bank.
The car sat facing west. Its hood up and its blinkers on. The man leaned against the side of the car, one hand holding a cigarette and the other keeping to the pocket of his faded coat. The man reclined, smoked, and waited, listening to the sounds of the wind through the trees and the constant gurgle of the river, watching the lengthening stretch of his shadow. He shivered with every burst of wind. It was getting cold. A pile of cigarette butts lay scattered about his feet. The paint of the car was faded and the edges of the fenders were flecked with rust. It was an old car. The man would probably not be having his trouble if it had been a new car, but it was the car he had. No point musing about how things could be different.
A set of headlights crested the hill to the east. A new model pickup truck. Blue. Diesel engine. The gentle roar moved closer, slicing through the twilight air. The man’s eyes watched the pickup approach from beneath heavy brows. The hand in his pocket tightened. The hand with the cigarette rose into the air. Stop. C’mon stop you mother fucker. The pickup seemed to slow. There you go. Help a poor bastard out.
The pickup didn’t stop. It moved halfway across the yellow line and swept past. The man turned his head and covered his eyes to protect them from the buffeting wall of wind. He shivered. The red tail lights moved on down the highway. Brake. Hit the brakes you asshole. Come back. The brake lights stayed dark. The man didn’t think they would. The hand in his pocket loosened. He spit on the ground and muttered a few choice curses under his breath. Eight cars in five hours. Not one had stopped. There just weren’t any decent people anymore.
Down the highway a deer poked her head out of the undergrowth. An old dry doe. She took a couple of steps to the edge of the pavement, looked both ways, took another few steps, looked again, and then walked to the other side. The man watched her as she moved. The deer looked rough. Her coat was ragged. Too many ticks and fleas. Her ribs poked through. Poor old bitch. Probably missing half her teeth. Lose those and she was good as dead. Animals don’t die from old age. They starve, get eaten, or shit themselves to death. Hell of a way to go. The deer moved out of sight down towards the river. If she was lucky a truck would hit her on the way back.
The man took the last hit from his cigarette and tossed it to the gravel at his feet. He crushed the ember with his worn out shoe. His finger probed at a hole in his jeans and then moved up. His hand rubbed his jaw, rough with stubble. He needed a shave, and his moustache needed a trim. Not important now. No reason to give much thought to problems you can’t solve. The wind picked up a bit. Wisps of hair broke loose from their fellows and floated on the breeze.
Twenty years ago there had still been plenty of decent people around. If you saw a broken down car on the side of the road you stopped and offered to help. You’re lucky I came along, not much traffic on this highway. Let me look at that engine for you. Any idea what it is? Do you need a lift into town? Hop on in. No problem at all. Hope somebody would do the same for me. It wasn’t that way anymore. Nowadays decent people were far and few between. Maybe he’d head south. He had heard there were still decent people down south. People who didn’t judge you by the way you looked or the car you drove.
The man spit again. It was getting late. The sun was below the horizon. The stars were starting to twinkle. It was going to be a beautiful night. Clear as hell out in the middle of nowhere. Probably be able to see the Milky Way. Damn cold though. Too damn cold to be sitting out hoping to get lucky.
The man lifted himself from the car and walked around to the back. He pulled keys out of his pants pocket and opened the trunk. Jug of water, pile of rags, jumper cables, jack, length of rope, duffel bag full of clothes, shovel. He took the short piece of heavy pipe from his coat pocket, placed it on the rags, and shut the trunk. The man walked to the front of the car and closed the hood. He opened the car door and climbed into the driver’s seat. He reached behind him and pulled a pistol from the waistband of his pants, nestled against his back. The pistol went into the jockey box.
The man fumbled with his keys and started the car. It coughed and roared to life. The belts squealed. They’d need to be changed soon. The blinkers went off. The headlights went on. The car turned and headed east down the highway. Fifty kilometers to Terrace. He could stay at the Rainbow Inn there. It was cheap. Not nice, but cheap. Tomorrow was another day. The man took a pack of cigarettes off the dash and lit another smoke. It was just so hard to find decent people anymore.