Paz, Going

Note: This is a wholly original piece. At first, it was a contender for submission to Flash! Friday, but I scrapped everything about it except for the character name. 

Grit it out.

Been standing on Maine’s State Route 9 near Three-Cornered Pond since dawn break. A fog had rolled in earlier off the pond that encased Route 9 from either end. Not the best weather for hitchhiking considering cars would have to be right on top of me.

Didn’t smoke, but slid a Golden Coast from its pack, lit it and stuck it between my fingers, twitching. Maybe it would penetrate the fog enough to catch a driver’s eye.

Even the Golden Coast couldn’t stop the shivers flowing up and down my body. Maine nearing fall weather didn’t engender warmth.

Had counted thirteen cars so far that kept on going. Last car had gone by an hour ago, according to my thrift store watch. Usually doesn’t take this long. Hadn’t waited like this since a particular scorcher in Miami.

One of those electric cars that look as if an aggressive gust of wind could tip it over, pulls within a few inches of my calves. It’s white and blue and I can see a woman sitting in the driver seat of the two-seater.

She leans over and pushes the door open.

“Want in?” she says, a slight accent to her voice, but I never was good at deciphering them.

“Okay,” I say, climbing in.

“No bag?” she says.

“No bag,” I say.

After a mile or two, the driver turns to me and decides now is the time to get the pleasantries over with.

“Name’s Saskia,” she says.

“Paz,” I say.

And that’s it. No radio. No talking. For miles and miles of mostly empty, foggy road.

Some people feel weighed down by silence. They feel the need to say something, anything. Another living, breathing human next to them necessitates tongue movement. But in my experience, silence was peaceful; almost a feeling-out process.

I did keep a 7-inch Bowie knife snug in the long pocket of my cargos, but that was common sense. Tool of the trade. Only ever used it once to nick the throat of a Norwegian man with a little too much whiskey on the breath and lead in his foot.

Other than that, a disposable tooth brush, lighter, the pack of Gold Coast, and five Jackson’s were all I needed.

Back where home used to be, I had a framed diploma from USD for finance. Even made it to Wall Street, working for a brokerage firm. Saw more zeroes than I ever had in my life.

“Ever hear about State 9?” Saskia says, breaking the silence. “The urban legend, I mean.”

“Just came across the border a few days ago. First time up this way,” I say.

“Actually it’s more from Three-Cornered Pond, but they say the Glashtyn, a goblin water-horse looking thing, comes over with the fog when it rolls off the lake as it is now. Embodies the drivers of State 9. Returns to their homes and becomes that person. And their families never know about it,” she says, her eyes never leaving the road.

When hitchhiking, you run into all types: The Talker, The Twitcher, The Groper, The Psycho, and The Eccentric, among others. Saskia was The Eccentric. And it isn’t just her talk of a goblin water-horse. It is the eight-foot long electric car, it is the China Rain incense bubbling on the dashboard, and the homemade earth-tone dress.

“Would this Glashtyn shape-shifter kill the family? Or just have fun being somebody else?” I say.

“Oh, he’d kill them. Bloody massacres,” she says.

And back to nothing.

Mom’s in six-feet of dirt, but was good to me. Dad’s still working 80-hour weeks and we talk by that bygone relic, the payphone, from time to time. No fling or boyfriend or husband. No interest.

Got into a good school. A good job. A good life. Did the things you’re supposed to do to become who you’re expected to be.

Last week, I was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, saw a man leap to the Pacific. Then there was the snow-covered Rockies. Or the Arch in St. Louis that shined under the hot sun. The hills of Pennsylvania that made my stomach dip like it did as a child. Or the houses leveled in Vermont over a freak tornado. And all the fishermen so far in Maine with their rods and bait and wiry beards, racing the coming cold.

Talked to a four-time divorcee that used to be a well-respected judge in a small town. Sipped wine out of a plastic cup with a sex worker that quoted Voltaire. Played Goldfish with a gargantuan trucker in Minnesota that showed me all the photos he had of his two boys. Got my face licked by a fresh-out-of-driving-school teenager’s hound dog. Tried to learn Mandarin from a Chinese immigrant. A decorated Marine battling PTSD let me touch his prosthetic hand and didn’t think I was weird.

“Ever heard the tale of Mona Lisa in Louisiana?” I say, noticing a flicker of enthusiasm behind the brown bangs covering Saskia’s eyes.

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