The Old Man in the Woods, Part 1: Driving

Good evenin’ to ya! It’s awful late to be wandering around out here alone, ain’t it? Thank all your gods you found my little clearing. I’m happy to have ya until morning. Come on, pull up a seat by the fire. Are ya hungry? I’ve got some tinned beans, but I’m afraid that’s about it. On a very tight budget, if you understand my meaning.

Yeah, I live out here. It’s pretty quiet. You’re the first person I’ve seen out this way in a real long time. How long? Well, I guess I couldn’t really say. I’d have to think about that one.

I don’t recommend you keep wanderin’ out in these woods when it’s dark. Who knows what’s out there at night? No, really, I mean, who does know? I can’t think of anyone, not a single one.

Since we’re going to be here for a few hours, do you mind if I tell you a story? It’s not long, I promise. I’m sure you should get to sleep, but are you actually tired? I bet you’ll find you’re not. No? Then why don’t you just listen for a bit?


Gordon LaMar was taking his first road trip by himself. From Vermont, where he grew up and lived his whole life, to California, where he was starting college in four days. He’d been accepted on a rugby scholarship, and while he loved the game, he was really in it for the education. His true passion was biology, and he could get into one of the best programs in the country if he busted his ass.

It wasn’t just Gordy’s first road trip by himself, it was his first time out of Vermont by himself. He’d traveled with family and friends to a handful of places, but he’d never gone much more than 50 miles outside of his hometown without someone along for the ride.

He’d been blown away so far, exploring the world he’d never seen firsthand. The strange emptiness in Detroit. Deep dish in Chicago. Endless corn in Iowa and Nebraska. He imagined himself like a Jack Kerouac or Hunter S. Thompson, scavenging the country to find the Real America, whatever that was.

Around 16 miles outside of Grand Junction, Colorado, he saw her at a rest stop. She had brown hair all the way down her back, large, black-rimmed eyes, pursed lips. She was looking at the vending machine like she had the last four quarters on Earth.

Gordy was walking toward the bathroom when she quickly turned to him and gave him a quick, “Hi!”

“Hey,” Gordy replied.
“Listen, can you help me?”
“Get the Snickers, it fills you up the most.” He paused, then before he could stop himself, he rattled off a fact he’d learned from Trivial Pursuit as a kid. “They’re named after the creator’s horse.”
She smiled and breathlessly laughed. “That’s not what I need help with. Do you mind if I ask where you’re going?”
“SoCal,” Gordy said.
Her eyes grew just a tiny sliver bigger. “Can I ride with you?”

Gordy didn’t need to be asked twice. He was ready to have a traveling companion again, and why not a cute girl at that?

They made small talk through the rest of Colorado. Her name was Andrea, she wanted to go to the west coast to see the ocean. She had been traveling with a friend who ditched her.

She changed songs on the radio. He told jokes about growing up in Vermont. They stopped at roadside attractions, ate food from no-name restaurants, and just over the California border, they shared a bed together, too.

He hadn’t asked what they were going to do when they reached their destination. He figured she would let him know, and on that, he wasn’t disappointed.

He parked his car in a lot near a taco stand a block away from the school. He was about to start the conversation he’d been dreading, when Andrea started to speak instead.

“Do you want to stay with me?”
“Of course I do,” Gordon said.
“Then there’s something you need to do for me.”

She reached into a pouch of her backpack he’d never noticed before and pulled something out. For a second, Gordy thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, so he closed and reopened them, hoping that would focus his sight. It did, and confirmed what he had already seen: She was holding a small, black pistol.

“What the fuck is that for?” Gordy asked.
“This gun isn’t registered, and I can help you get rid of it.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Gordy’s heart was beating in his ears.
She sighed. “Have you seen the powder blue Chevy truck following us?” She pointed behind the car.

He hadn’t. He looked into the mirror and a dim shade of a huge man was glaring at them. Gordon couldn’t make out any detail of his face, no defining features, through the windshield’s tint. His brain’s only crazed thought was, Isn’t window tint on the front windshield illegal?

“That’s my boyfriend,” Andrea said. “He’s been following us since the rest stop. I was there with him. He’s a piece of shit, he beats me up, yells at me, threatens to kill me. Do you understand?”

Gordon’s throat was too dry to speak, but he nodded.

“I left with you while he was in the bathroom. I wanted to get away. I knew he wouldn’t call the cops, but I figured he would follow us. I want you to keep driving south, toward the border, and when we get to an isolated spot, I’m going to get out of the car. He’ll put me in the truck and then he’ll come back for you. He’s going to blame you. And that’s when I want you to take this gun and kill him with it. I’ll be free, we can be together. We won’t have to worry about him again.”

Gordon still couldn’t speak. He just shook his head.

“Please, you have to help me. I love you. I can’t go back with him.”

He shook his head again. This was out of his wheelhouse, out of his whole life experience. His thought process was so numbed by what she had been saying that shaking his head seemed to be all he could do. He couldn’t kill someone. Not for someone he’d only just met a few days before.

And like a rumble of thunder after a flash of lightning, Gordy’s brain started processing the last few days all at once. He barely knew this person, and now he wasn’t sure that anything he knew was actually true.

He hadn’t noticed that he had been shaking his head the entire time. Andrea’s face had gone from commanding, to sad, to angry, to completely blank.

“I’ll find someone else then,” she said. She put the pistol back into her bag and briskly stepped out of the car. She began walking down the block.

Gordy kept his eyes on the Chevy in his rearview mirror. After a few minutes, a woman and two kids walked up to it. The man stepped out of the car and opened a rear door to help put one of the children in a car seat. Gordon took a long look at him. A man with short, black hair. Clean cut. Glasses. Smiling.

The truck backed away and went the opposite direction Andrea had gone. It had a California plate. A bumper sticker said “Teachers Make the Best Parents”.

He shuddered, then pulled out of the parking lot and drove to his new home.


 

Well, the sun didn’t hesitate coming up, now did it? I imagine you’ve got to get going now. I hope you’ll come back sometime to see me. I’m always up for company, and I’d love to tell you some more stories.

Have a nice day, my friend.

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