(My latest poll influenced the subject of this story. The majority of people said they feared driving in a bad part of town alone. This story takes it to a higher level. Enjoy!)
Dominick knew it was time to take the dreaded trip to see his father. They had almost nothing in common and with the man barely being involved in his childhood, it seemed insincere to suddenly take an interest in his only child. But, the man was reaching his 60th birthday and in critical condition following some sort of assault. One didn’t just overlook the deathbed request. Not even if there was anger and resentment intermixed with sincere regret.
His father somehow ended up back in West Virginia, only 50 miles away. It wasn’t a part of the state Dominick ever ventured into because he was so close to the border with Virginia that he spent his time in Roanoke and not up north. But, Dominick managed to find something good to come of it. He wanted to get some photographs of the changing colors and he figured during the weekend he could do that. He had a hotel room reserved for the night and if he was lucky, he’d be there by 11. He hated traveling the winding mountain roads at night, but there was no help for it. He had two meetings at the end of the work day. They had to talk to China and apparently the Chinese office couldn’t talk during their off hours. Just another frustration at the end of a Friday and the beginning of an uncomfortable weekend. He’d have to go back to work on Monday to enjoy a getaway.
Now, isn’t that just pathetic?
Stopping at the gas station, he unfolded the map in the neon light from the window. Squinting at the writing along the path he marked, Dominick read it. “Wind Mountain Pass.” He pulled off onto the nearby turnoff for the completely black mountain road. It began to make hairpin turns early on and as Dominick looked along the edge of the roadway, much of it had only some wooden posts to keep a person from going over. Of course, if he did by some strange quirk of fate go off the edge of the road, he’d be dangling in the treetops. Their bright leaves shimmered in the headlights around each turn like colorful circus clowns doing a dance. The more he imagined that, the more uncomfortable he became.
Focusing just on his own narrow path up the roadway, Dominick’s hands began to sweat. He wasn’t usually weirded out by such a trek, but doing it at night with no streetlights and no other cars on the road made him feel incredibly isolated. And one thing he knew about this stretch of the backwoods was there were no cell phone repeaters. He’d have no coverage there. If he broke down, it’d be like the old days, a long hike to a phone.
The incline became worse and with the complete darkness in the periphery, even with his high beams on and not knowing if someone was coming down from the other direction, Dominick barely crawled up the next hairpin turn to find a thankful stretch of nearly flat ground until the next curve. A blast of strong wind hit him and jolted his memory of the mountain pass’s name.
Great! Just what I need when I can’t see and I’m ascending.
Something in the bushes against the mountainside shook and all at once an enormous deer leapt out in his path. Dominick pumped on his brakes, heart racing as the deer started down the steep side off to his right in what he assumed was a near sheer Cliffside. He watched until the top of its fawn head was out of sight. Apparently, there was some kind of pathway the animals took.
He started back up and his car wouldn’t thrust forward. He pressed on the gas a bit harder, but nothing. It whined as if it wanted to go, but there was no shifting of gears. Studying the emergency brake and the gear shift, everything was as it should be. Desperately, he pressed again and the car rolled to a stop on the flat stretch.
“Dammit!” He cursed. He tried shifting it into park and then into drive again. He tried overdrive. Nothing was working. He was well and truly screwed. He knew a fair amount about cars to know it was the transmission, but the car was only 3 years old. It seemed rather soon to lose a transmission. He could hardly call the car club now, but he tried the cell anyways.
It’s like the fates knew this was the worst place for me to break down. Perhaps a sign I really shouldn’t be visiting my father.
Dominick rolled the car to the opposite side of the road, the wheels digging into the narrow shoulder as he put on the hazards, grabbed his bottled water and flashlight, put on his hazards, and locked up the little traitor.
Gusts of wind from both sides tossed him back and forth on the narrow roadway. Dominick didn’t want to get too close to the edge, but he was mildly curious about the deer’s fate. He flashed his light down a tiny little well worn path used by game. His eyes traveled further to a faint light below. He turned off his flashlight. It was definitely a fairly bright light. He tried to judge how far away it was. If he started down the animal path towards the light, he might find a shortcut to a phone. If he took the roadway, he would have a good six mile hike down and another two miles to the gas station. Surely where there was need for a light on a mountain such as this, there was life. Where there was life, there were phones.
Studying the roadway and then the path, a blast of icy wind hit him and Dominick stumbled forward on unsure footing. At least the pathway would offer protection from the fast dropping temperatures and unrelenting wind. Already, his eyes were watering profusely.
The footing was questionable, but with the bushes and trees beside him, Dominick felt fairly safe traversing it. Still, the flashlight bounced wildly over the bright red sumac, creating a vivid blood splattered effect on the scene as it unfolded. Forgetting the deer that had just traversed this path, he focused narrowly on the path and nothing more. The path hugged the granite walls of the mountain. He leaned into the rock as if it could somehow keep him from pitching into the brush that might not stop his fall down a he-didn’t-know-how-deep decline.
Coming around a sharp hairpin turn and back towards the light, Dominick was better able to discern it. It was a telephone pole with a light mounted to it. It appeared to be surrounded by hard pounded dirt.
Please, don’t let it be some road maintenance shack that’s unmanned.
His gut clenched in reaction. He had the distinct feeling this led to an uninhabited place with nothing more than a token security light. He nearly stumbled the last 100 yards down the path into the small flat clearing. The first thing Dominick noticed was the trailer. His heart sank. That made it seem even more likely to be a maintenance building. There was no car anywhere in sight. No car, no person. No person, no phone.
He tried to stop his rising hysteria. The thought of hiking back up the path and then all the miles down the mountain, knowing not another car was braving this stupid mountain pass all night long was overwhelming his already exhausted body. Dominick had awakened at 6 am, did his workout, a much too long day at work, and a long drive. He took a calming breath and checked his watch. It was 11 already. He could hike back to his car and sleep in there until a car came along and saw his hazards. It was really the only option at this point. He’d never survive the walk down the mountain in his overtaxed state.
Knowing it would be foolish to not try the trailer, Dominick wandered across the dirt lot to a large shed building. He tried the door, but it didn’t budge. He went around the row of windows on the backside, but all of them were boarded up. When he came out the other side, he went over to the trailer and stepped up the metal stairs, knocking on the door quite firmly. There were no lights on in side. There was no insignia on the door. Just in case they left it unlocked and there might be a phone inside, he tried the knob. It opened!
Just then the light on the post turned off. He studied the darkened area, his eyes trying to adjust. Then he realized it was probably a motion activated light. It would make no sense to keep a light on in that remote area. The deer more than likely had triggered it. He hadn’t approached the post, so he hadn’t extended its run time. Dominick turned and went over to the post and the light blasted back on. Squinting, he went back to the trailer. At least for a while he’d have some light.
Feeling around the wall inside, he caught the switch, turning on a small lamp on a tiny dinette set nearby. He turned and surveyed the neat little trailer, not at all what he expected. It appeared someone used it and kept it clean. He squinted into the corner where a cubby built-in desk sat, banked by three monitors.
Intrigued, Dominick came by and flicked on the power strip switch. Suddenly, the room was awash in the light from the screens. He studied the scenes of roadway and trees. It appeared to be nightvision with the strange glow to it that showed like a negative of a photograph. He looked around for insignias for the department of highways or some other organization, but there was nothing. Even the drawers were empty. Why monitor the roads with cameras? It certainly hadn’t helped him.
Panning to the third camera’s view, Dominick saw a car. The back side of it was familiar, as were the blinking lights.
“My car?” He baffled. “What good does the damned camera do if no one’s here to monitor it?” He looked around the trailer for a phone. He paced the length of it from the tiny kitchen to the narrow cot at the other end.
Frustrated, he leaned over the keyboard and tried to see if he could send out a message on the computer, but it took a password.
“Son of a bitch!” He snapped.
He swung back around to study the cameras. It was then that he saw something moving near his car. A tall shape in a jacket with a baseball cap. He strolled across the roadway from the deer trail and approached the car cautiously with a crowbar. Dominick shook his head in horror as he saw the man swinging at the car window. He couldn’t tell what he did next, but in a few minutes’ time he’d rolled the car out into the roadway and climbed in. The last thing he saw, the car rolled down the mountain.
“You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding me!” He paced the floor like a caged animal. The bastard saw his car break down, strolled up the pathway, probably when Dominick was inspecting the shed, and was now rolling his car in neutral down the winding mountain paths. But, to where? If he was taking back to the trailer, there must have been a turnoff Dominick hadn’t seen in the dark. Any minute now the bastard could be rolling into the dirt lot, setting off the motion detector.
Desperately, he looked around for any kind of weapon. Even the kitchen had no knives, just microwavable containers of food.
Angrily, he yanked out the plugs on the computer and the screens. Then, he picked up the nearby chair and bashed it into the screens. When he was done with that little bit of rebellion, he decided it was safer to leave. After all, the thief had a tire iron and all Dominick had was his indignation.
He raced outside and looked around just as he heard the crunching roll of a dead car on a gravel road. The lights from the car illuminated between the colorful trees in the distance.
He looked around him hysterically and ducked behind the shed. Desperate, he kicked at the chain-locked door. A board came loose. He kicked another board and it became unhinged. Now able to slide them to the side, he crawled through and into the shed. The light from the post outside sent slivers of light into the long shed. The car rolled to a stop outside and he peered through the crack to see the man climb out of the car with Dominick’s suitcase in his hand.
Fists clenched he looked around him, eyes adjusting to the semi-darkness. He saw the very clear outline of several cars.
So, this is where he keeps his prizes? Oh shit! He’s going to go in there and know someone busted his equipment and know I was here.
Dominick grasped for some idea of how to get out of the mountain without the man finding him.
Okay, this guy has to get in and out of here. There’s no car outside. There are cars in here…
He studied the slivers of gleaming metal from the slats in the wooden walls. If the man used a car from in here, it would have to be the one near the door and could easily come in and out of the shed. He crept around to the driver’s door and prayed it would open. He gently swung the door open as he heard the anguished screams of the man inside the trailer who had just found the mess. Sweat beading on his forehead and dripping into his eyes, Dominick felt around the steering column to feel the key.
“Cocky son-of-a-bitch, huh?” He chuckled with excitement as he turned the key and the car started up.
Flipping it into reverse and slamming on the gas pedal, the car bolted back fast against the flimsy doors, breaking them into splinters easily. Dominick turned the wheel to head out towards the gravel road when the huge man came rushing from the trailer and rushing the side of the car. Dominick grunted as he reached over to lock the passenger door. His eyes settled on the face of the thief in the motion detector light. His skin was gray and very pale with visible veins, his eyes nearly cataract-like with their pale color, and one long deep red scar carved into his left cheek to the corner of his mouth. He could hear the man screaming as he flicked on the high beams and started up the gravel road. At least he knew that the man didn’t have a way to chase him. His own Prius was out of commission.
A sense of relief washed over him as Dominick got to the main roadway of the mountain. Go up? Go down? He knew how far away the gas station was if he went back down, but he also knew on the map that the other side of the mountain had a small foothills town. He turned and made his way back up the mountain. Just as he pulled into the roadway, the high beams from a car coming off the gravel roadway filled his rear view mirror.
Dammit! The bastard must have had another working car in the shed.
He tensed his fingers around the wheel, completely unable to consider an option to get out of this crazy chase. He really didn’t want to play this game on a mountainside. The mostly unprotected edge that overlooked the mountain’s edge taunted him. No one took this road. He learned that earlier in the evening. Although he’d spent his entire life doing all the right things to make up for his father’s wrong decisions and it maddened him to break a rule, Dominick moved his car onto the wrong side of the road that hugged the granite hillside. He went against his instincts once again by slowing down to allow the crook to pull up beside him.
Just as he did this maneuver, the man moved his car up beside Dominick’s and his grayed angry face snarled at him. Dominick gripped the wheel with sweaty fingers and took a deep breath, holding it for just one second while he tightened his gut to gather his courage and then cut his car into the man’s car. The look of shock and surprise on the ugly face distorted its features as the man struggled to keep his car on the roadway as Dominick’s bigger car guided him right off the edge of the road and into the darkness and foliage below.
Dominick willed his foot to hit the brake. He was shaking and trembling with the knowledge he’d just done such a heinous act. He wouldn’t rest to the next town until he knew the bastard was well and truly gone. He put the car into park and climbed out, rushing to the obvious damage along the foliage and peered down into the hillside where the faint glow of the car lights still shown a good 500 or more feet down. A flicker of fire licked the edges of the car and within seconds it burst into a roar of flames.
Turning back to his car, determined to stay mentally sober until he got help, Dominick climbed into the car and noticed the opened glove box. He pulled out a paper, wondering about the sap that also got his car broken down and stolen from the goon.
His fingers trembled violently as he read it in disbelief.
Dominick shook his head as he read his father’s name and address on the paper. He scrambled through his mind to remember what his mother said about his father’s condition. She explained that he’d been attacked and beaten badly and had walked many miles to help before collapsing on the roadway and was picked up by a citizen who took him to the hospital.
A moment of strange comprehension flooded Dominick. Where his father hadn’t survived the goon, Dominick had. The very lack of guidance as a kid that his father had influenced made Dominick a survivor. When it came down to the final match, his father had, in fact, taught him to make it where he himself could not.