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A Road to Nowhere

By Ted Galdi

Copyright 2017
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A Road to Nowhere

Justin Daggle thinks this is a bad idea.

He can’t stop. He has somewhere to be. But she’s alone. And attractive, a realization that

firms up more with each revolution the wheels of his Dodge Ram pickup make in her direction,

the contours of her figure and characteristics of her face revealing more of themselves in the

moonlight.

His truck, the only visible vehicle on this stretch of southern Montana’s Pronghorn

Highway, slows from the steady seventy-five miles per hour it’s been doing since he left home

and rolls toward the girl on the shoulder.

Once stopped, he gets an even better look at her, fixed in the frame of the front-passenger

window. He lowers it, the forty-eight-degree, mountainy atmosphere rushing into the truck,

specked with the scents of the surrounding Douglas firs and spruces. An anxious expression

cowers under her eyeglasses.

“Evening ma’am,” he says, though ma’am isn’t quite fitting, the girl about a dozen years

his junior, twenty-fiveish to his thirty-seven. “You all right?”

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Her head offers him a polite nod in assent, then she folds her arms over her chest, the

material of her fashionably sheeny, definitely pricey vest puffing around them.

“What’re you doing out here, if you don’t mind me asking?” he asks.

“I’m camping.” She pats the brand-new backpack on her shoulders. “Well…was camping

is more like it.” She takes a long, pained breath, as if fighting off a weeping fit.

Justin looks around. Nothing to her left or right but the serpentining black asphalt of the

state highway, nothing behind her but the midnight shadows blackening the forest between trees.

Nothing ahead of her but him.

“Camping by yourself?” he asks.

She glances north, up the vacant road. “I’m fine. Really.”

“Pardon my being nosy, but you don’t seem fine. It’s late. You’re all alone. And there

isn’t a town for forty-odd miles. Nothing but woods. What’s a young lady like you doing in a

situation like that?”

“I…well…I wasn’t alone. I was out here with my boyfriend.” She peeks north again.

“We got into a fight. Another fight. Before he even set up the tent. He got angry and just drove

off.”

“He abandoned you?”

She doesn’t respond, just stares at him, her blue eyes glazed with detached contemplation.

“Is he a lunatic or just dumb?” Justin asks, a shred of bitterness in his voice.

“He’ll be back.”

“He told you that?”

“He’s…dramatic. Was just making a point. I’m sure he regretted it. And is coming back.

He probably tried calling. But my phone is dead.”

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He drums his fingers against the steering wheel, the rural silence ever so slightly

fractured by their dadapt.

“You can’t just risk it,” he says. “Not out here. Not at this hour.” He leans to his right,

yanks the handle of the passenger door, then shoves it open. “Come on. Get in. I’ll give you a

ride to Bozeman. There’re motels there you can spend the night in.”

She stares at the metal slab, slightly oscillating on its pivot, burning off the last of the

force from his push.

“Thank you,” she says. “But I can’t. He’ll be back.”

“Maybe he will.” Dadapt. “But maybe he won’t.” Dadapt. “Then what?”

Her eyeline tilts upward, just above the cab of his truck, aimed at the Absaroka mountain

range wrapping them, its dark ridges of extrusive rock sloping and splintering against the night

sky, at distant points almost seeming one with it.

She sighs and says, “Again, thank you. It’s tempting to get out of the cold. But I really

can’t.”

“You’re not from around here, are you?” he asks, scanning her camping-chic outfit from

toe to head.

“It’s that obvious?” She grins.

So does he. “It’s not the cold you should be worried about. Forties at night are warm for

these parts. It’s the wolves. You don’t want to be one’s late-night snack, do you?”

The grin on her face vanishes.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he says. “I’m just being honest. You can get hurt out here.”

“I can’t believe he put me in this position.”

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“I don’t mean to pry, but you seem like the sweetest person, and I can’t even imagine

how you ended up with a bonehead like this guy. If I were you, I wouldn’t even want to talk to

him. Not tonight. Not ever again. But…like I said…not trying to pry. I just want to make sure

you get through the night safe.”

She looks down at the long grass curling around her new hiking boots for a few seconds,

then up at him, and asks, “Can I be honest with you?”

“Of course.”

“Have you watched the news at all this week?”

“Some. Why?”

“You heard what’s been going on, haven’t you?”

“What, like something in Washington? I’m not one for politics. Those lying sons of

bitches in Congress are—”

“No. In Montana. Missoula. Helena. Lewistown…”

He doesn’t say anything for five seconds. Then asks, “You mean…that guy?”

She nods.

He’s hushed for another couple seconds, then points at himself. “You don’t think?”

She shrugs, her cutely scooped nose scrunching beneath the bridge of her glasses. “I’m

sure you can understand why I wouldn’t want to just get in the car of a man I don’t know. No

offense to you personally.”

He laughs. “So you think I’m a serial killer?”

A moment.

“Of course not,” she says. “You seem like a nice guy. And I know you’re just trying to

help. But those news stories…really creeped me out. The way they found the three bodies. With

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the writing on their foreheads in red lipstick. It just…I don’t know. The whole thing terrifies me.

I don’t want to take any chances. It’s not personal.”

“Whoever he is, he’s doing what he’s doing up north. Nowhere near here.”

“True. But he can travel.”

“There’s a chance. And yes, if I were you, there’s a chance any man out there could be

this guy, me included. The police know nothing about the killer. I’m not taking it personally. But

let me ask you this. We’ll say he did come south, that he is looking for his next victim in this

very area. If that were the case, and he could be any man at all, you’re a lot more exposed to a lot

more men standing out here, where any could drive by and…attack you. Versus getting inside a

truck, where you’re exposed to just one. The odds are more in your favor that way. You see what

I’m saying?”

An expression winds onto her face that’s two parts agreement, one part agitation. She

seems in agreement with his logic, yet agitated at herself for arriving at that conclusion.

“How long?” she asks.

“Till what?”

“Till you can get me to a motel.”

A smile spreads across his beard-stubbled face. “Half hour.”

She peers at the wilderness around her a bit longer, then runs a hand through her wavy

hair and takes short, tentative steps toward the open car door.

Her hundred-ten-pound body settles into the passenger seat. She closes the door. He locks

it with the driver-side control, then presses another button to raise her window. Once it closes,

they’re sealed off from the briskness of the weather and the scent of the trees, her vast-skied

surroundings from just a moment ago shrinking to the confines of the cab.

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