A Thousand Miles From Home - Part 02

I'm almost up to 7,800 words now. What follows is not everything I've written since the last post, just a chunk of it. Consider Part 0 to be the Prologue, Part 1 is Chapter 1, and this is Chapter 2.

I actually ended up and coming back to this later as I got the idea to add the 'drunk' in the parking lot.

I hope it feels ominous.


It took longer than they thought it would to find the car rental desk. They tried following the signs, but found them to be too confusing. They walked from one end of the terminal to the other and finally found the place just a few feet down the way from their gate.

Once they provided the guy behind the counter with their credentials and the corporate credit card, they quickly ran into their first snag. When Ollie had gone online to reserve the car, he asked for a sedan, possibly a Nissan Altima. What they got instead was an entirely different set of wheels.

“A Ford F-150?” Ollie asked?

“Yes sir, I’m afraid that’s all we have left on the lot,” the rental clerk said. His tag named him Dave. “It’s brand new, less than a hundred miles.”

“But it’s a truck, right?” Ollie asked with a hint of panic. “And a big one at that.”

“Yes, sir. It is a truck.”

“Come on, Ollie,” Don cut in. “So it’s a truck, you aren’t the one who has to drive it.” Don was actually rather excited about the prospect of driving something as big and powerful as a full-sized Ford F-150. He may have hated flying, but Don loved to drive. If he’d had his way, they would have been driving all across the country this past month.

“Okay,” Ollie said, a hint of regret in his voice. “We’ll take the truck.”

Don reached over Ollie and snatched the keys. “Thank you, Dave. You have yourself a wonderful night.”

“Thank you, sir,” Dave said, pointing to a set of doors to the right. “Just straight out those doors. It’s the only truck in the lot.”

Don collected his bags and without looking back to see if Ollie was following, headed outside and to the truck. He found it right away, a blue giant on four wheels. It looked like it could survive anything you threw at it.

“It’s a freaking monster,” Ollie said from behind. “You ever driven anything this big before?”


“Can you drive something this big.”

“Ollie, I can drive anything.” Don unlocked the doors.

The F-150 was an extended cab with four doors, so Don and Ollie put their bags in the back. Then they climbed into the cab itself. Don inspected the steering column looking for the turn signals, the controls to the windshield wipers, the side mirrors, the heater and air conditioner, and the seat controls. He checked the mirrors and made a few minor adjustments. Moved the seat back slightly, put the key in the ignition, and started up the engine. It roared into life with a power that made Don smile.

Ollie, in the meantime, was looking over the stereo and found, to his satisfaction, that it came equipped with an auxiliary input that allowed him to plug in his iPod. The two rules that Don and Ollie had agreed upon when planning this trip was that Don would always drive, but Ollie got to provide the tunes.

Plugging in the iPod, Ollie set it for shuffle and soon the thumping bass of an Adam WarRock song filled the cab. Evidently Ollie wasn’t happy with the sound, because he spent the next few minutes fiddling with the stereo controls until he found what he liked.

Don had never heard of Adam WarRock before this trip, but that’s all that Ollie seemed to listen to. Adam WarRock and a band called Kirby Krackle. Adam WarRock was an indie rapper who wrote songs about comic books and other such items from what Ollie referred to as the ‘Geek Culture’, but once in a while the subject of his songs were of just being a rapper. He even had a song about breakfast, which was actually Don’s favorite.

Kirby Krackle was a rock band, and they too sang about comics and video games and everything geek. Don found that he liked them both, so it turned out to be an okay thing that Ollie got to choose the songs. Or at least Don didn’t hate it.

Adam WarRock was praising the wonder that was all day breakfast when Don slipped the truck into reverse, backed slowly out of the parking space, slid the lever into drive, and roared out of the lot.

“You got the directions?” Don called out to Ollie over the bass that vibrated all around him.

Ollie dug through his messenger bag for a moment and came out with the Google Map directions he had printed out over a month ago. For the next twenty minutes Ollie shouted out directions as Don navigated through the dark highways and unfamiliar streets of North Carolina. A feeling of déjà vu settled into Don as he drove. Don had never been in North Carolina, but he began to have this feeling that all places that were new to him were starting to feel the same, familiar in a unknown sense. Like there was something comforting about being in an area that was unfamiliar to him. Don couldn’t explain it. It was just what it was, and Don was cool to ride with it.

Kirby Krackle wanted to see that booty do math as they pulled into Winston-Salem. It was just after 10:00 at night, and being a Sunday, the streets were somewhat empty, reminding Don of his childhood when everyone in town was at home for the night by 8:30.

“The hotel should be that way,” Ollie shouted, pointing off to the left.

“Let’s find GSC first, then we can see what this town has to offer.”

“Come on, dude. I’m tired.”

“I’m tired too, but I’m also thirsty. I just need a soda, and I’d like to get an idea of where everything is.” Don cracked his window and pulled a cigarette from a pack in the pocket of his jacket.

“You can’t smoke,” Ollie said, his voice rising an octave. “They gave us a non-smoking vehicle!”

Don just laughed and lit up.

They found GCS right away, a large one-story rectangular lump sitting in the middle of a sprawling business park. It’s only distinguishing characteristic that made it stand out apart from the other large one-story rectangular lumps was the small and tasteful sign denoting the building as being GCS.

The following thirty minutes were spent driving around the business district of Winston-Salem. Adam WarRock lamented the ongoing battle of Marvel vs. DC, spent some time in the Silver Age, and even had a thing or two to say about a sad little robot. Kirby Krackle sang about the Transformers, comic book conventions, and Mario Kart. All the while Don and Ollie passed a KFC, a McDonalds, a Pizza Hut, a Super Target, a Dick’s Sporting Goods, and a Wal-Mart Super store. Don pulled into the latter’s parking lot.

“What are we doing? I want to go to bed,” Ollie whined again as Don parked.

“Our rooms are gonna have fridges in them,” Don said, sliding the shifter into park. “I want to stock up on some soda. Besides, you know you aren’t getting to sleep tonight without your milk.” Don smiled because it was true.

It doesn’t matter where you are in America, in Don’s experience, the Wal-Mart Supercenters across the country were all set up in practically the same fashion. Food and groceries on one side, Hardware and automotive on the other. Pharmacy, over the counter drugs, shampoo and other toiletries at the front. Toys, Electronics, and Sporting goods in the back. And then you have clothes and house wares in the middle.

Don grabbed a cart and headed for the soda aisle and picked up a case of Diet Mountain Dew. Ollie walked along with him, his head buried in his smart phone.

“What are you doing?” Don asked.

“What?” Ollie said peevishly without looking up.

Don stopped and Ollie ran right into him.

“Seriously, dude. You gotta watch where you’re going.” Don said, smiling.

“Hey, let’s go see if this Wal-Mart sells guns.”

“Guns? Why?”

“I don’t know. I like guns.”

“You’re one odd duck, Ollie. I hope you know that.”

But they didn’t go look for guns. Instead they took their purchases to the front registers, stood in line thumbing through magazines, paid for their sodas, left Wal-Mart, and found their hotel.

The place was called the Just Drop Inn, which Ollie found hilarious while Don found it just painful. They each had their own room, which was stocked with a full refrigerator as well as an oven, stove, and microwave. Each room had two levels. The lower level, the entry level, had a small living room with a couch, coffee table, small writing desk, and TV. Also on the bottom level was the kitchenette, and a bedroom and a bathroom with a bathtub and shower. The top level was like a balcony over the lower level’s bedroom. It looked out over the living room. On the upper level was a bed, TV, and a second bathroom with a bathtub and shower.

Don chose to sleep upstairs. But first he had to unpack. There was a closet in the bedroom downstairs, and a dresser in the bedroom upstairs, but Don preferred to just open his suitcase and pick out what he needed for the day. Yesterday, their last day in Phoenix before boarding the plane that brought them here to North Carolina, Don and Ollie spent their day at a Laundromat, so all his clothes, other than what he was wearing, were clean.

Don put his soda in the fridge, went upstairs, got undressed, showered, pulled on some boxers and a bathrobe, brushed his teeth, and lay in bed, having a smoke while he flipped channels on the television.

An hour later, he decided that sleep wasn’t going to come easily and figured he could use some air. He found that the large window in the upstairs bedroom was actually a glass door leading to a balcony that looked out over the beauty of the parking lot and the back of the Burger King across the way.

On the balcony was a plastic deck chair, so Don wrapped himself up in his bathrobe, grabbed a new pack of cigarettes, his black Zippo, and a soda and sat outside in the cool night air of late October and took in the quiet, calming sounds of cars passing by on the highway. Thirty relaxing minutes later Don found himself beginning to nod off in his chair when he noticed someone walking through the parking lot down below him.

Don watched silently as the man carefully picked his way along the pavement below. Don figured him to be a homeless man at first, but changed his tune when he noticed the new, but mussed, suit the man was wearing. Then Don decided that the man must be a drunk, what with the careful, steady, slow, shuffling steps the man took through the lot.

And for a moment, fear crept into Don, a feeling in the pit of his stomach, a sick and sour sensation, and a chill that crawled up his spine. He couldn’t say where it came from exactly, but there was a part of him that felt that its source started with the drunk below. There was just something … wrong about the man. Don couldn’t put his finger on it. But something wasn’t right. The fear induced Don into paralysis. Nothing moved on him but his head and eyes as they slowly followed the drunk’s progress, moving from Don’s left to his right. Soon the man was out of sight, disappearing through a row of hedges that bordered the lot, but still Don didn’t move. He just continued to stare off into the direction the drunk went.

Don wasn’t sure how long he sat that way, but suddenly, and with a will of their own, his hands, trembling like they’d been plunged into a frozen lake, shook a cigarette out of the pack on his lap, placed it in his mouth, and lit the end as he inhaled. So he smoked. Quietly and with an impending sense of dread. But he never stopped watching the spot in the hedgerow where he last saw the man.

He smoked through that first cigarette, and continued on to the next, an automaton, smoking through all sixteen cigarettes that were left in the pack. Not once taking his eyes of the hedgerow.

He finally snapped out of his half-fugue when his hand no longer found anymore cigarettes. He looked down at his watch, he’d only been outside for forty minutes. His body was suddenly taken over by a monstrous yawn that took use of every muscle he had within him. He was exhausted. He stood, shaking off the feeling of doom that had overwhelmed him just minutes earlier, laughed it off, and grabbed his unopened soda, his empty pack of cigarettes, his Zippo, and he went inside.

And then, just as he was sliding the glass door shut, for a fleeting moment, Don thought he heard a faint scream on the wind. It was distant, and sounded female, and could have been anything from a bird to an ornery cat, but it came from the same direction in which the seemingly drunk man disappeared to.

Don dismissed it and got into bed. But it didn’t leave his mind completely.

Three hours later he was asleep, just two hours away from meeting the good folks at the Winston-Salem, North Carolina branch of Global Service Centers.

Plenty of time to dream. Plenty of time for nightmares.

To be continued . . .

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