Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Discern (08/12/10)
TITLE: The Stranger
By Sandra Petersen
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She was twenty miles from home. Even if she could walk that distance, the midnight hour made it a foolish choice. She flipped open her cell phone, her finger poised to press buttons on the key pad.
<i>Out of network?</i>
Ginny slapped the phone closed and moaned, pressing her head against the steering wheel. She could wait here until morning brought some traffic down the deserted country road or she could walk. Maybe she could flag down someone once she got to the main road.
With another frustrated sigh, Ginny pushed open the car door and reached for her satchel beside her. As she swung her feet onto the asphalt, a beam illuminated the bushes and trees on either side. The approaching headlights slowed and halted beside her.
The passenger side window on the ghostly white pickup opened with a hiss.
“Need a lift, little lady?”
Ginny felt an uneasy swirl in the pit of her stomach and she hesitated before answering. The male voice that offered help sounded friendly and concerned. But something did not seem right.
Dismissing her thoughts as over-weary imagination, Ginny stepped up into the truck and closed the door.
“So where you headin'?”
“Connorsburg. My parents own the Top of the Day Cafe.”
“How 'bout that? I'm headin' the same way myself. Jim Tyler's my brother. I'm visitin' him for a spell. Know him?”
Ginny struggled to remember the Tyler family. She knew there was a brother and sister not much older than her. She shivered. Every hair on her arms stood erect and she could not rid herself of her discomfort.
“My name's Lon.” He flashed a smile at Ginny and tipped a cigarette out of a pack on the dashboard. He offered one to Ginny but she shook her head again.
“Fair 'nuff. You mind?” He tossed the pack onto the dashboard and held the truck's lighter to the cigarette tip.
“So what brings you out here so late at night?” The smoldering tip of the cigarette bobbed as he spoke.
“I'm a recital accompanist for a musical at the Fayette High School. Tonight was the dress rehearsal.”
“Musician, huh?” His eyes squinted against the smoke. “My brother's a musician. Plays guitar in a rock band. Maybe you heard of the group. The Slammers?”
Ginny managed a weak smile. Her stomach churned for no reason. She wanted to get home without further conversation.
“So where in Connorsburg do you need to be . . . say, I didn't catch your name.”
“Wendy. Wendy Morrison, and I live at 423 North Broadway Avenue.” Ginny bit her lower lip, wondering why she had lied. Her friend Wendy lived closest to the edge of town.
She glanced at Lon and caught his appraising gaze.
Her cell phone buzzed with an incoming text message and Ginny jumped. Opening the phone and pressing the button revealed a message from her older sister.
<i>Aunt June called. She's been praying for you for a half hour. R U OK?</i>
“It's my sister.” Ginny began to press buttons.
<i>I broke down north of town. Got a ride from Lon Tyler, Jim's brother.</i>
A pause and Ginny imagined her sister hunched over the keyboard, composing her message.
The cell phone buzzed and she eagerly read the text.
<i>Jim Tyler doesn't have a brother. Where R U?</i>
Ginny swallowed. The truck was nearing the first set of traffic lights. Their green-yellow-red pattern had changed at midnight to a flashing red. Wendy lived on the next corner. If Lon or whoever he was did not stop at the stop sign and cruised on by, what then?
“I live in that white house over there.” She pointed.
Lon frowned as he pulled to the corner and parked. He seemed to be struggling with his thoughts. As Ginny reached for the door handle he gripped her arm. She gave a small shriek.
“You shouldn't really accept rides from strangers. You never know who they are.” He squeezed her arm, then released it.
Ginny nodded and gulped. She clutched her satchel and stumbled from the truck. Lon waved as he pulled away.
“Good night. Stay safe, Wendy Morrison.”
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