It was the kind of night when Old Man Winter’s eagerness to move in was imposing on fall. I hadn’t planned to leave the house, but we were out of milk and by the time I realized it everything was closed except for a distant 24-hour grocery. It was either go then or wait ‘til morning when I’d have two toddlers in tow. No coin-toss necessary. I left my sleeping husband a note and headed out.
I was on my way home when something caught my eye up ahead, on the shoulder of the road. I slowed down and peered through the darkness. It was an elderly man, dressed in dark clothes, walking in my direction. He was barely visible. I was just about to pull over and offer a ride when the old man did a quick about-face and started walking in the other direction. Well, that’s weird. What is he doing? The car behind me flashed its lights, so I picked up speed, and passed on by.
I couldn’t locate a broken down vehicle and there weren’t any houses close by. A lone person on a semi-rural road late at night obviously wasn’t taking a stroll. I made a U-turn and was surprised to find the guy had made no headway in his walk. He was right where I first spotted him.
Curious and cautious, I kept my distance, but pulled off the road to watch him. Hmmm . . . strange. He was merely pacing back and forth within about a 20 foot distance. Where on earth had he come from and what was he doing?
Oh, Lord, give me wisdom. I had my safety to consider and two children who needed their mother. Still, I couldn’t leave him stranded.
“Excuse me . . .” I called, maneuvering the car toward him. “Can I help you?”
Without hesitation the man marched haughtily to the car, peered in my open window and said with annoyance, “It’s about time you got here.” He opened the door and plopped himself down.
Okaaay. Perhaps he’s mistaken me for a neighbor. “How can I help you?” I asked with a smile. “Which way is home?”
“Help me? Ha! I’m the hero.” He scrunched his face, momentarily eyeing me with knitted brows. “Ha!” he repeated, “I killed them all . . . every last one. Bastards!”
I swallowed the knot of fear that suddenly rose from the pit of my stomach. My hands shook at the wheel as I searched for signs of blood. Thankfully,there were none. Killed? Them all? Dear God in heaven be with me!
The old man turned his head and muttered incoherently, jabbing a stiff, crooked finger in the direction of the open field.
It was now alarmingly apparent that my passenger’s problem included mental instability. I pulled onto the road, thinking he would give me direction. When I heard nothing but further agitated mumbling, I put the pedal to the metal and headed toward the police station. The speed limit was 45, but I sped along as if the ghost of his dead were in hot pursuit. I prayed for sirens and flashing lights . . .
An hour later, the officer to whom I had anxiously relinquished the old man knocked at my door.
“Just came by to thank you on behalf of his caretakers, Ma’am,” Officer Tripper said. “They hadn’t even realized Mr. Minkus was missing.”
Now that my nerves had calmed, I said sincerely, “I’m just glad I could help.”
“Well, God was with you, Mrs. Downs. Mr. Minkus is unpredictable. The last time he got out and someone tried to be of assistance, it cost them broken ribs, a fractured leg and a totaled vehicle.”
A cold chill scurried up my spine and I gulped the icy lump in my throat. “Wh-what?” Dear God, I could have been killed.
“Mr. Minkus lost his family to the German concentration camps. Now that dementia has set in, he believes he’s vindicated them by killing every last Nazi single-handedly. Back when he still knew his address, a gentlemen was taking him home when he suddenly grabbed the wheel and began shrieking that he was a no good bastard (pardon my language, Ma’am) who had to die. . .”
The officer left just as my little one began to cry. “Mama’s right here,” I whispered in comfort.
Praise be to God . . . Mama’s right here.
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