Roadside Cleaner

Donut

Sweat dripped off my chin as I swallowed the last donut. I looked around my seat for a drink, but all the bottles were empty. Well, except the kerosene I needed for work. Really shouldn’t have gulped down all my water the day before. Now this greasy frosting was stuck to the sides of my throat. I used to think I knew what being pissed off was like. You know, bills piling up. Jobs getting harder to find. The fridge breaking down and having to hire a guy on credit to get it working. Things like that. Those things would make you mad, right?

Try shaking dust out of your hair and shoes three days after burning out your engine and running out of gas on some deserted freeway, with 5% left on your phone and a dead car battery.

Shit.

No one really drives through these parts. I seen all of two drivers in the past 72 hours. Maybe three. Word is out that killers roam these areas and near the next town, so no one even looked at me, much less stopped.

Can’t blame ‘em. Nothing says creepy like a dusty dude sitting by the roadside in a beat-up pickup.

I was headed to work, actually. Had an important cleaning job that would help me settle quite a few of my liabilities, but no telling if I’d missed the opportunity by now. The suit-and-tie kind of folk paid the best and were my favorite kind of client, so being stuck out here really sucked rocks.

I had enough juice to make one phone call, but I didn’t know any numbers except 911. And, well, my daddy’s a cop. He’d know about it if I called. Have you seen a farmer’s pig at Christmastime? They can smell when you’re ‘bout to kill ‘em. They hear the thud of the butcher’s knife on the shop counter long before you ever make the slow, somber march to their pen.

Now, I’m no Christmas pig, but I too can smell when I’m ‘bout to be roasted. Hence why I was on that road to nowhere, breathing dust and eating donuts with nothing to wash them down. Pops hated me; he had the whole precinct out to cram me in some shoebox and toss the key in the sewers. I guess I was supposed to follow the family tradition, but where’s the fun in that? I picked another line of work.

Is that so bad?

Stupid question. I’m out here, aren’t I?

Maybe I could call for roadside assistance. I glanced down at my phone. Two bars. Even if my battery could have lasted long enough to summon Siri… or whoever… I wouldn’t get on the web ‘til next Tuesday.

Time for a new plan. The sun was getting low and I didn’t have the patience to sit out another 24 hours, waiting for everyone and no one to stop. I got up and shook a day’s worth of dust from my clothes. There was a sizeable ditch behind me. If no one would stop for a breakdown, maybe they’d want to play hero in an accident.

Pushing a ‘93 Toyota pickup off the road was twice as hard as I thought it’d be. And I was hungry again. I needed to get off this road and find other work. Electricity bill was coming due and fixing the fridge had already cost me two arms and a leg. Thankfully my tires were already turned to the right. It was just a matter of getting the whole damn thing to roll.

I pushed, but it wouldn’t budge.

With the sky turning a million shades of pink and purple, I needed to get this whole situation over with. Now I was really pissed off. I could use that. I threw my entire body weight behind the truck and growled. I felt it shift and roll forward. Nice. Gathering all the rage I could, I threw myself behind the truck again, this time using up all the energy I had left. I fell to the ground, panting, but luckily, that was all the push the ole’ girl needed. I watched as she crept forward and rolled right into the ditch, tilting a little on her side.

Perfect.

Picking myself up, I stumbled down into the ditch and climbed into the driver’s seat, fastening my seatbelt. Someone would come along to investigate soon enough, I was sure. They’d think I had whiplash or internal bleeding. Something.

I just needed another human being to stop.

My foot brushed against something crinkly. Scared me a little. I reached down and realized it was a candy bar. I guess my sloppiness had its upside. I wondered how many other snacks were scattered and hidden throughout the cab. Well, better for me. I ripped into the packaging and chomped down into the gooey chocolate.

So good.

I felt my energy come back, just a little. Maybe I could actually fall asleep. That would be even better.

By then, the sky was a royal shade of blue. Reminded me a little too much of the uniform I’d worn at boarding school. I hated looking like everyone else in my bleak little world back then. It was like everyone was out to make me over into their frightening image of who I was supposed to be. It was stifling. Suffocating, at times. I searched for a way to stand out. To be seen. Heard. It worked, too. I became a legend at that school.

Countless boys became a part of my army, never daring to question my motives or talk back when I spoke.

“Strong. Fearless. Unstoppable,” I smiled, my eyes shut to the outside world.

I sputtered. Jeez. Let my guard down for two seconds and had to be spitting out flies. There was a bandanna hanging out of the glove compartment. Thought about tying it around my mouth and nose, but then, that wouldn’t help my case. I was not trying to look threatening to anyone who might come to help me. I wiped my mouth and closed my eyes again. A deep sense of calm washed over me. Like a warm, dark blanket. Somehow, I felt different now. A lot better. Like everything was going to be just fine.

No sooner had I drifted to sleep than I was woken by a light shining in my eyes.

“Arrgh!”

“Sir! Are you alright?”

It took me a minute to gather my bearings, so I moved rather slowly. That worked in my favor–the aim was to look injured anyway. After a minute, I found my voice.

“Not really,” I lied. “Had engine trouble and rolled off the road into this here ditch. Hit my head on the steering wheel and blacked out.”

“Yeah, you look like you been here a while,” the other guy said. “Well, look. I’m trained in First Aid and with your permission I’d like to have a look to see if you’re alright. I already called the ambulance, but,” he glanced around. “…it may take a while for them to get here. No one come out this way much.”

My heart fell into my gut. I wasn’t concerned about the ambulance. It was the police I needed to avoid.  I wasn’t about to deal with my daddy. No sir. I needed another plan.

I looked up at the guy’s face, then down to his shirt. I glanced over my shoulder at his ride. He seemed respectable enough. Well off, even. I guess I could trust him. Maybe even convince him that I was fine and to drop me off in the town and call off the ambulances.

Or maybe …

A faint smile crept across my face.

“Thank you, sir, I’d appreciate that.” I sat still as he opened the door and unlatched my seat belt. He felt around my neck and jaw line. Looking for what? I hardly knew. Really didn’t care. Usually I went out looking for work, but this time, the job had come to me.

Oh, the convenience.

“You seem alright to me, but maybe I should just take you to the town to be sure. Like I said, emergency services are probably not gonna arrive for a while. It’s up to you though. I get you may not want to trust a stranger, what with the recent killins’ and all.”

“That’d be great,” I agreed. “Pretty sure if fate was ready to kill me now, it wouldn’t take its sweet time like this. I’m not that interesting.”

“I hear that,” he laughed.

I threw up a little in my mouth. Anyone who could find my corny jokes funny didn’t deserve to live. Honestly. Resting my weight on my wrists, I shifted to the edge of the seat. He put his arms around me and helped me out of the car.

“Do you feel any pain?”

“No,” I said. “What does that feel like?”

He paused for a moment. “What? You’ve never felt pain?”

I’ll never forget the look on his face. It was like mine had been the day I found out that Santa Claus and his flying gazelle were a nothing but a sack of bovine feces. If I wasn’t so intent on getting this job done before the cops arrived, I would probably have laughed, but there was no time for that.

“Never,” I repeated, reaching into the pickup bed. “I don’t feel much of anything period,” I admitted. “That’s exactly what’s wrong with people like you. You feel too much and get hurt all the time. I can help you with that, if you like.”

He never got a chance to respond, though sometimes I wonder what he would have said if he could have. Chopping wood instead of buying it pre-cut in town seemed to have more than just a cost benefit to me, judging from the size of the gash in his head. Luckily, he wasn’t that big of a fellow, so after grabbing his keys and wallet, I was able to drag him into the ditch and carve my logo into his forehead with my pocket knife. There was no time to wrap him up and take him back to the fridge, so I snapped a photo with my Nikon camera and hopped into his SUV. I grabbed all the documents and ran back out to my pickup to fetch mine as well, taking care of both with a match and a drop of kerosene. Gloves and a couple wipes took care of the prints on both steering wheels and door handles.

Not the cleanest job, but like I said–no time.

The moon was out now. It cast a fair bit of light and I could see a cloud of dust forming in the distance. Probably a good 5 miles away. Time to go. I started up the engine and pulled off, laughing at my good fortune.

I never had to worry about ‘the killins’.”

They were all me.

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