It’s very easy to go down the wrong road in the wrong place. It’s a risk you take whenever you go someplace unfamiliar and confusing. Signs don’t tell you what the people can tell you. Yet, I did ask someone for directions, they did feed me mornings and in return, I simply spat a few at them. A reaction my brother had a problem with.
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“Can you act like the older brother just once?” James asked me. “The guy was old and confused, what was the point in blowing up like that?”
“Oh, shut up, you don’t know anything about people,” I snapped back. “Keep your blind morality to yourself.”
I knew James was scowling at me, I could see him out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t care, not enough anyway. The road had all my focus as the tar turned into old stone, then the old stone ended and the dirt road began. It seemed the people making the road had given up twice and we were stuck with a bumpy ride to the resort.
The path's tone shifted, either because of the awkward silence in the car or because of the crazy man’s warnings. Either way, the coldness of the mist and the dark looming trees only added to this feeling. Yet, after an hour, that feeling passed. That tenseness became cosiness, as the car gave us security and comfort. Music helped create a sense of calm.
Of course, it didn’t last.
The bad road did one of the tires in, pop and the tell-tale sound of the rubber tearing and flopping. It was lucky we weren’t going fast, otherwise, I might have struggled to keep from driving straight into one of the trees. With a sigh and silent exchange of worried looks, we left the car.
“Where’s the jack?” James asked. “I don’t-oh, there it is.”
“Glad I could help,” I muttered, examining the damage.
It wasn’t a thorn, or nail or even a sharp rock that did the job. It seemed like the old tire finally gave in. While I changed the tire with the spare, James leaned against the car. I could sense an obnoxious thought building in his mind until he could no longer contain himself.
“Well,” he began.
“It looks like those warnings had some merit after all.”
I blinked and mentally held myself back. If I didn’t rise to his obvious provocation, he would run out of satisfaction eventually.
“And whose idea was it to bring the spare?” James continued. “I remembered someone saying it, but his name escapes me...I remember his handsome face though.”
The new tire was on and I was tightening the knuts. My lack of response seemed to have worked, as I worked in silence. With a final turn, we were ready to go.
“That should do it, let’s bug out,” I told him.
James wasn’t looking at me, but instead at where we came from. The mist kept us from seeing far, but I could make out a low humming sound.
“Car?” I asked.
“I don’t see any lights,” James yawned. “I was thinking a deer or something///”
“What deer hums?” I smiled.
The smile slowly disappeared. A shape was forming in the mist. It was a man, laden with a heavy pack, but it was too dark to make out any other details. The way he shambled up the road towards us, the tune he was humming, it did little to calm me down. I could tell it had the same effect on James.
“Come, let’s go,” he muttered, quickly climbing inside.
I followed suit and started the engine. I was worming my hand into my pocket, looking for the keys, while James eyed the rear-view mirror. At the same time, I was eyeing the side-view mirror. He was close. I put the key in and twisted, the engine wheezing, but not turning over. It was a sound that always made my heart sink, but in this situation, even more so.
I twisted it again, then again. James was looking at me now, with great concern. Yet, despite my reaction, his face didn’t change. As it turned out, he wasn’t looking at me, but out my window at the man.
Much closer now, I could see he had long hair and a large beard. His eyes were pale and he was so very old. I lowered my window a little.
“Hi,” I began, then started searching for words. “Uh...is there a problem?”
The old man shook his head and eyed the front of the car.
“Is your battery loose?” the old man asked. “It sounds like a battery problem.”
I didn’t want to get out of the car, but that’s exactly what I ended up doing, slamming the door behind me in my haste to get out from in front of the man and open the hood. I saw through the window James giving me a look before his eyes once more fixed themselves on the old man.
I examined the car, my eyes eventually drifting towards the battery. Upon closer examination, I saw a bolt was loose on one of the cables, probably coming loose thanks to the road. I started twisting it with my fingers but wasn’t doing much good. The old man appeared at my side, leaning over the engine and examining it.
It was so sudden I couldn’t help but jump back a little.
“Sorry, if I scared you,” the old man told me, before dropping his bag and looking through it.
He was humming to himself as he finally found an old screwdriver. Without me saying anything, he tightened the bolt. The connection was more solid now and he told me to give it a try. All too happy to move away from him, I climbed into the car and twisted the key. The engine finally turned, able to generate a spark to get things going.
My brother and I smiled and looked towards the hood. We saw the old man’s fingers grip the edge and slam it down, but as it dropped, it revealed nothing behind it. We stared at space, our mouths open. No humming, no man, nothing.
At least, until he lifted his head and looked at us with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Despite our fear, we couldn’t help but smile at him. I offered him a lift, despite still holding a trace of anxiety, but he refused, saying he would rather walk.
We drove on.