The Driver

Ben Silverman, 2015 Horror Story Contest winner

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The Driver

 

Hello darkness, my old friend,

I’ve come to talk with you again,

Because a vision softly creeping,

Left its seeds while I was sleeping,

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence…

 

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more.

People talking without speaking,

People hearing without listening…

 

“Fools,” said I, “You do not know.

Silence like a cancer grows.

Hear my words that I might teach you.

  • Paul Simon

 

Purple Haze all in my brain,

lately things don’t seem the same,

actin’ funny but I don’t know why

‘scuse me while I kiss the sky.

  • Jimi Hendrix

 

As the truck driver crawled down I-40 in the blistering heat of that Tuesday afternoon, he noticed a surprising lack of cars near him. He hadn’t seen a car in over an hour. The last truck he had seen was pulled over on the side of the road. It was for a beer company, and the driver thought that the beer would get too hot and go bad if the truck’s operator didn’t get back soon. “I guess it’s just a slow day today,” the driver thought.

He had been driving through the desert for almost eight hours, and he was tired. He still had another six hours ahead of him, but for now, he would eat. He stopped at a diner off I-40 in a city called Gallup and ordered a cheeseburger, onion rings, a slice of peach pie, and a Mellow Yellow. He paid, thanked the waitress, tipped her generously for her smile, and left for the road.

The burnt look of the horizon as he drove west reminded the driver of his numerous vacations to Orange Beach with his parents and his sister. He turned off the radio and rolled the windows down. The day was finally giving way to night and to a much more temperate, if not a little chilly, evening. He remember the cool feel of the ocean on his face and felt like he was once again playing with his sister in the sand of Orange Beach.

His reverie was suddenly interrupted by a strange sound. He swore that he could hear an unnatural, static noise. “But,” he thought, “the radio’s off. What’s making that noise? Maybe it’s just the wind. Ah, well… it must be my imagination.”

His thoughts returned to days of old as he pondered the course his life had taken. Growing up in Florida had been fun. The hour-long drives with his friends blasting REO Speedwagon and Journey on his way to the beach had been some of his favorite memories of high school. He didn’t go to college because his family couldn’t afford it, but he wouldn’t have gone anyway. He was certainly smart enough, he just thought the college life wasn’t for him. Instead, he got a job at ‘the company,’ as he called it, driving trucks cross country to deliver the organization’s products to parts of California, Nevada, and Arizona. He’d been doing that ever since. He never had a wife (or even a girlfriend) and had some friends at work but none elsewhere. The driver liked to think of himself as a pretty nice guy, and if asked about him, his friends, or rather his coworkers, would say that he was “a good guy – hard-working.” “Pretty boring life,” he thought, “but better than most.” The stability he enjoyed, as ironic as it seemed, driving a truck across the country, was his consolation. He liked himself, and that was enough.

It was dark now; he had been driving about two hours since his stop at the diner. He still hadn’t seen any trucks, not one. “That’s odd,” the driver thought, “maybe I should -” His thought was interrupted by something strange in the road. The strange thing was a man. The strange man was strolling in the middle of the road, slowly rocking back and forth, left lane to right lane. The driver thought he looked a lot like one of those zombies from “The Walking Dead.” The strange man wore tattered clothes, covered top to bottom in dust. He wore a hat which read “Bud Light” and had a bottle opener attached to its brim. The driver thought the cap looked interesting, and he wanted one for himself. “After all, aren’t truckers supposed to wear a cool hat?” the driver thought.

He didn’t want to pick up the dirty looking hitchhiker (except to ask him where he got the hat), but the man was in the middle of the road. The driver didn’t really have a choice; as soon as he stopped, the strange hitchhiker let himself in the truck. He acted with the seasoned familiarity of a man accustomed to riding in trucks. As soon as he was in, he was settled. All movement ceased in the brief seconds before the truck driver asked the hitchhiker to close the door. The strange man quickly slammed the door shut and receded into his seemingly natural state of total motionlessness.

The driver rode on. For nearly half an hour, the driver and the strange man sat in silence, listening to the static of the radio. The driver could no longer take the awkwardness of his situation, so he turned the radio to the first station he could find – ORS classic country radio.

The silent man stirred. He began to shiver, almost to sway back and forth, leaning up from his chair and settling back in, over and over. He remained in this perpetual metronomic state for nearly ten minutes, until the driver thought maybe he liked better when the strange man was sitting still. The driver turned the radio back to static because he thought it might lull the strange man from his hypnotic state. He was right; the strange man subsided. All was silent once again – except for the static.

Another hour or so passed, and the driver had once again had enough of the man’s strangeness. He turned the radio to a soft rock station this time. Apparently this was the wrong choice. The man began to sway again, more noticeably this time. Coupled with the mad swaying were whispers coming from the strange man. He was nearly whimpering, like a tired dog or injured game.

The driver turned up the radio (it was playing one of his favorite songs, “Lights” by Journey). He didn’t want to listen to the odd whimpering of the strange man; he shouldn’t have to deal with this. He should kick the hitchhiker out right now! But… the next town is over a fifty miles away. The driver couldn’t bring himself to abandon the hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere. He would at least try to make it to the next town.

As the driver turned up the radio, the strange man’s whimpering became louder. The driver realized there was no way to drown out the swaying and whimpering of the strange man, so he once again turned the radio back to the static. The strange man once again subsided.

Another five or ten minutes passed before the driver decided to try out music again. For the third and final time, the driver turned the radio to a new station, this time to a hippie-style classic rock station. In his haste to respite the intractable hitchhiker, the driver neglected to return the volume to its original state. “Purple Haze” roared in the background as the strange man wildly flailed around the cockpit of the truck, screaming like a man possessed. The strange man, in this violent state, hit the driver and caused him to veer off the right side of the road. The driver resumed control of the vehicle and guided it back to the road amidst the shouting and flailing of the strange man.

The driver hit the breaks; the strange man slammed forward, smashed into the dashboard, and was momentarily stunned. The driver, taking advantage of the momentary lapse in craziness, yelled “GET OUT!!” The strange man left the vehicle, and walked off as he had when the driver found him.

“What the hell was that?!” the driver thought. He continued driving and tried to forget the whole situation. Some unnameable thing agitated him still, however. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something, other than the hitchhiker himself, was off. The driver tried to figure out what it was. After a while, he realized what it was. “I guess I didn’t notice it before, because of the weird guy in my truck, but the static’s not coming from the radio.” For the first time in hours, the driver realised his windows were all cracked; the static was coming from outside.

The driver turned off the radio and listened. He listened to the static. To the rhythmic beat of it. To the unnatural feeling it produce inside of him. He felt like something was wrong, but for the first time, he knew something was wrong with himself. He could feel it, but he didn’t know what to do about it. He was scared, and he let the fear overtake him.

The driver stopped and the thing inside of him started. The driver pulled over the truck, got out, and strolled down the middle of the road, slowly rocking back and forth, left lane to right lane.

 

~ Fine

 

Epilogue:

The truck driver (who called himself “the operator”) was cruising at an easy 70 down I-40. He was delivering some beer to California, and right about now, he could use a beer himself. He saw a man about two miles up ahead in the middle of the road. “That guy looks really weird,” the operator thought, “but I’m in the mood for something weird. I’m bored.”

He picked up the hitchhiker. The hitchhiker sat still and silent. The operator felt really awkward, and he desperately wanted to break the silence. “You like my hat?” the operator said,  “It’s got a bottle opener right on the brim.”

 

  • Ben Silverman
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