He wore OLL- stained Jeans and a torn leather vest, but no shirt. Straight black hair hung nearly to his waist. A snake tattoo circled his forearm. Mild-athletes, I guessed. I didn’t realize I was staring so hard until he scowled and muttered, “Do I know you, bud? ” I quickly averted my eyes, not wishing for an exchange of words and maybe more. The man picked up the newspaper and the pack of cigarettes he’d purchased, and walked toward the doors. I stepped to the counter to pay for my gasoline.

I dismissed the incident from my mind and began thinking of how great it would be to get home. Only fifty more miles to Cedar Pointed, my hometown. I’d been away to college for an eternity, It seemed. With summer vacation here, I was anticipating seeing my girlfriend and family again. Excellent the glass doors, I stepped out Into the thickening dusk, and was halted by a gruff voice. “Hey, man. ” Turning, I spotted the longhair guy again. “What is it? ” I hoped this didn’t mean trouble. “Hey, man,” he said again, uncertainly, “which way you headed? “To Cedar Pointed. Why? ” I started to walk to my car. The guy followed, to my annoyance. “Cool, that’s where I live. Can you give me a ride, man? ” His voice was eager, pleading. “well ” I hesitated. He drew closer. I detected the odors of dried sweat and stale tobacco smoke radiating from his body. “I’m in a hurry,” I mumbled and slid into the driver’s seat of my Dodge Intrepid. I attempted to close the door, but the guy grabbed the handle, and with surprising strength, prevented me. He began to speak hurriedly. “Have a heart, man.

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I’ve been stranded here for SIX bucking hours, and nobody’s give me a ride. I hitchhiked with a trucker from Merrill to here, but can’t get anybody As these words gushed from his mouth, I again was struck by the uncanny sense that I knew him. “Do I know you? I’m from Cedar Pointed, myself,” I ventured. “l don’t know. I don’t recognize you. ” My question seemed to irritate him. “Get in,” I gave in reluctantly, leaning over and unlocking the passenger door. This is a huge mistake, I thought. As we pulled onto the highway, my unwelcome passenger lit a cigarette.

Though I don’t smoke, and the smell gives me a headache, I said nothing. I thought that perhaps it would be easier for both of us if the guy was occupied with something. He med to sense my irritation at his presence and did not attempt conversation. The irrational thought that I knew him from a previous encounter kept returning. I studied on it in the silence. Where had I met him before? A sense of foreboding grew in me as I tried to remember. It seemed that the man was connected somehow to some terrible danger I’d been in … That I’m in now.

The thought came unbidden. Was it true? Was he dangerous? His appearance certainly did nothing to inspire confidence. Then it hit me. That crazy dream! The guy was in a dream I had a couple of nights before. I remembered waking up around two o’clock in the morning with the conviction that it was some kind of warning. The next morning I’d dismissed it from my mind, thinking it was ridiculous. Now I wished like hell I could remember the dream and how it ended. I turned for a quick glance at my passenger, hoping I’d recall the dream if I saw his face again.

What I did see caused my heart to lurch sickeningly. The hitchhikers hand was emerging from inside his vest. He clutched an 8-inch hunting knife. The blade gleamed hideously and I caught my breath. The man turned, noticed my expression, then laughed. “Didn’t mean to scare you. Thought I’d clean my fingernails. ” He proceeded to do just that, but my fear was not alleviated. “You know, man, it’s hard to hitch a ride. ” He spoke, as he continued digging under his nails with the knife. “Must be my looks. ” He stared at me, as if to catch my reaction to his words. People don’t seem to trust me. ” It’d be a off lot easier to trust you if you’d put that damn knife away. Aloud, I said: “Yeah. Guess so. I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt. ” Unlike you, We said nothing for awhile and my disturbing passenger seemed to fall into a deep contemplation, now using his knife as a toothpick. The miles fell behind, and I saw that we were entering what might be called a town, consisting of a couple of broken down houses and a gas station in the middle of nowhere. I’d have to find some way to ditch this guy.

My bladder was about to pop, and it offered an excellent excuse for stopping. “l have to use the restroom. ” I explained, as I whipped into the gas station, which, thankfully, was still lit up. “l need to take a sit. ” the knife-wielding hitcher responded. Great. The perfect opportunity to ditch him! I hoped the station would have a restroom that was not “Out of Order. I was in luck. I hurried into the restroom first, and went about my business, touching the filthy fixtures as little as possible. I made my exit. My strange passenger went in after me, saying, “Wait for me. “I will,” I promised, thinking: Whatever, freak. I ran to my car, leaped in, and slammed it into reverse. Peering into the review mirror before backing out of the parking spot, I was startled to see a man running toward my car. He held up his hand to stop me, and called, “Wait! I need help. Can you help me? ” I waited as he approached, wondering who the hell I was about to meet now. When the man reached the window, I was astonished to see he was decked out in a black suit and tie and carried a briefcase. A businessman. “Could I trouble you for a ride,” he asked, pleasantly. This is insane! I’ve goat get out of here,” I muttered to myself, wondering what kind of freakish bad luck brings two hitchhikers in one night. I was releasing the break and Just about to back out, when the businessman stopped me again. “l can pay you well. ” He smiled, produced a stack of bills, and waved them in my face. “My car broke down about a mile from here. I need to get to the nearest actual town. There’s no phone here. My cell has no reception. Can you take me? ” Again he flourished the green papers. “well . Sure,” I agreed, mesmerism’s by the sight of the money. Just hurry and out, but at that moment my passenger door opened. The knife climbed in beside me, glaring. “You were about to leave me,” he accused. Leaning over me, he peered out at the businessman. He pulled the knife, brandished it for emphasis, and said, “Beat it, bud. This is my ride. No room for you. ” He gestured toward the back seat piled with clothing, bags, and boxes. “Drive,” he ordered me. I obeyed, afraid not to. Looking in the review mirror as we pulled away from the taxation, I saw the businessman staring after us. I prayed he’d somehow get to a phone and inform the police of what he’d seen.

It was my only hope. We rode in silence, my passenger toying with the knife and chain-smoking, while my nerves continued to fray. I was amazed when we rolled into Cedar Pointed and I was still alive. The hitchhiker directed me to his house. Predictably, the house was an unlivable ruin. A rusty pickup rested on concrete blocks in the yard. A gigantic Shepherd dog stood guard, baring its teeth at my unfamiliar vehicle. I steered to the curb and the hitchhiker wearily stepped out, grunting his thanks allowed by a deep smoker’s cough. Inwardly, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.