“You don’t thank someone who’s about to kill you.” The stern-faced driver’s retort nailed my spoken gratitude. His right arm stretched across my lap, between my book-laden daypack and torso, yanking shut the door of his baby-blue VW Beetle. What’s with the black leather gloves on this warm January afternoon? The rapid acceleration pressed me into the seat as I heard the door lock click.
“You’re kidding, right? I’m just a grad student looking for a ride to the gates of the university.” The gates were about two miles from the School of Theology where my classes were held. The Second-Year students had clued us in to hitch-hiking, the usual way students crossed the distance to the buildings inside the campus.
“It’s your fault. Look at you, just standing there like that. You deserve to die.” What did this man with the single, bushy eyebrow, frown deepening the furrows on his forehead, see when he looked at me? Everyone else saw worn navy-blue leather waffle stomper boots, faded bell-bottom jeans with a self-embroidered vine of greenery and flowers dropping from the side seam of my lower right pant leg and angling left at the hemline--just above the embroidered “Jn 3:16.” My jacket covered my flannel shirt. Provocative?
“Jesus loves you, and Jesus loves me. He won’t let you kill me.” I moved my daypack just a bit so that my right hand, gripping the door handle, was hidden from his view. I tried to work up the courage to pull the handle and throw myself out of the speeding car, figuring whatever got broken in the escape could be fixed.
“You’re just like all the rest of them. You’re evil just as they were evil but they aren’t evil anymore.” The killer offered this justification, interrupting his well-rehearsed description of just what he would do before he murdered me. His speech was robotic, with a low, menacing growl. I feared he would hear the loud pounding of my racing heart. Had he looked at me for more than those quick glimpses every now and then as he raved on, he would have seen the throbbing pulse in my neck. I was ready to pull the door handle but, alas, my arm wouldn’t move; my hand was frozen in place.
“Sir, I don’t know why you’re so upset with me, but I can tell you, for sure, Jesus isn’t gonna let you do those things to me. He loves you too much for that.” Is it possible for a person to be paralyzed with fear, yet confident enough not to even tremble when speaking? Yes, because that’s exactly what was happening right there and then.
“Your Jesus isn’t gonna save you. I’ll turn right at the light. At the end of that street I’ll enter the university’s undeveloped field and take you to the place where I killed the others. It’s your fault because you were just standing there, waiting for me.” The sound of the turn signal verified his plan, indicating we were coming up on the corner. If I was going to throw myself out, I’d better get to it! Right hand still gripping the door handle, I willed my arm to move. Nothing. Okay, Lord, I’ll go with Your timing.
“Shut up! Shut up!” the maniac driver screamed, squeezing the steering wheel hard with both hands. Singing softly, trying to calm myself, I saw the plan of escape open like the appearance of a rainbow in the dark clouds. I’d never seen a traffic jam at this particularly busy intersection because of the stop light, but this afternoon the lights had gone out. The traffic was in chaos, with no one knowing what to do next. Horns honked, cars inched out cautiously, first one side and then the next. The killer had to slow his vehicle to avoid colliding with the car just ahead.
Now, I told myself and pulled up with all my strength; the door opened. The car hadn’t come to a full stop when I lunged out; I stumbled but didn’t fall. Catching my breath on the sidewalk, struggling to steady trembling limbs, I saw the sudden return of the stop light and the stream of vehicles next to me moved. The baby-blue VW, right turn signal still blinking, moved on straight ahead and away from me.
Barreling through the kitchen door, I thrust my harried account on my landlady, who confirmed the killer had murdered five students. Hitch-hiking? Never again! Just too risky.
Author’s Note: This is a true story. The man in the baby-blue VW Beetle was not arrested during the time of my study. I don’t know if he was ever caught. I do know that I was cured of the temptation to hitch-hike for the rest of my life.
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