FREE SAMPLE: This is a short story from the compilation Dark Nights. It is available on Kindle for $3.99. Thanks in advance for your support.
It never ceased to amuse Ted just how cool the desert could be at night, even during the spring. Despite how hot it was just two hours before when he left the apartment of his lover and went back to his hotel to shower. Driving all night to get back home to his wife, the wide ranging temperature out on the lonely highway was something of a wonder to him. He had driven this road countless times when he told his wife he would be on a business trip and preferred to drive through the desert at night.
It was a long dark highway that would make the average motorist a bit claustrophobic with all the emptiness of the desert closing in on you, knowing that any kind of civilization was a long way away. The only comfort out on this stretch of road was the occasional shooting star and maybe an all night gas station every thirty miles or so with a shady looking night attendant armed to the teeth. It was just the kind of emptiness that Ted loved. Driving an empty highway for a few hours during the night somehow gave him comfort. Not only did he avoid traffic, but it gave him time to think and reflect.
Ted never reflected on the fact that he was cheating on his wife. After all, he was out of town on business. He had been forced to make the trip from Hurricane, Utah to Bakersfield, California on business three years earlier. It was on that first trip that he met Candace. After a couple of nights of being bored after working out of his company’s main office, he met Candace sitting alone at the end of an upscale bar drinking a dry martini. He had no intention of cheating on his wife that night, but both were lonely and foolish enough to drink a little too much while a soft jazz band was playing on the other side of the room. Perhaps it was the atmosphere, perhaps it was her low cut blouse and red lace bra barely showing that made him think about the possibility of a one night stand.
Regardless, they had spent the last three years having an affair and taking all precaution to make sure that his wife would not discover their secret. Candace was a passionate woman and had been divorced twice. She had no intention of marrying a third time. She also had no intention of breaking up a marriage over their affair. She was satisfied to have his company when he was in town on business.
Ted drove along the highway with the top of his red convertible down. He had enjoyed the sunshine as he worked his way down the Interstate before taking the alternate route that he so enjoyed. What was normally a seven hour drive was more like a nine hour drive by the time he made a couple of stops for fuel and to admire the wide open sky and the countless stars shining down on him from the heavens as if they were pinholes poked through the dark curtain of night.
As he reflected about his life and thought philosophically about purpose and fate, he harbored no guilt about the lie he was living. Instead, he felt it more a bit of luck and reveled in the fact that he had a beautiful wife and home and a naughty seductress waiting for him when he was on the road. It surprised him that he felt no guilt in the matter, but he accepted his callousness as easily as he accepted the truth that life was less than fair to some and more than fair to others. He counted himself among the fortunate to have life just as he wanted, as long as no one got hurt in the process. And that was why he was so careful not to get caught, and why Candace would not break their shared trust in the secret affair, even after an odd connection that they discovered one night while talking after making love this past winter.
It was the week after Christmas when he went back to the company headquarters for some end of the year meetings that he discovered their odd connection. He had finished up with the last meeting just before noon that Friday and went directly to see Candace at her house. They were very fond of each other, and she was incredibly passionate and that was what kept him coming back. They spent the rest of the afternoon in her bed until it was time for him to go back to his room and get some rest before taking the long drive back across the dark desert like he always did.
Candace had always been curious about his life back in Utah and about his past. They had talked for countless hours about their college years and about past relationships. However, she respected the boundary to never ask about his wife, but she was naturally curious. The main thing she wanted to understand was why he chose to continue the affair after their first meeting if he still loved his wife.
For the first time he opened up about Annie. Candace and Annie were two very different kinds of people, he explained as he laid there, her head resting on his shoulder and arm across his stomach. He loved Annie, but their relationship was nothing more than going through the motions the past couple of years. He could tell that they were both bored, but neither was interested in trying to spice up the marriage. It was like countless other marriages that were mostly for convenience, but still loving in a way.
Annie was always calculated, seldom emotional, always thinking two steps ahead. That eventually took the spontaneity out of their relationship. She was always that way, he suspected, but was much less so when they first met and during their first year of marriage. But it eventually became bland, although he knew he loved her and had no doubt that she loved him. Well, at least most of the time. There were times when he looked her in the eye and saw nothing but emptiness. He wondered why that emptiness was there and sometimes tried to prod her to make her talk about the dark side of Annie that he knew what there, or maybe was there in the past. She never played along.
Candace, on the other hand, was a ball of energy and emotion. Although they were lovers only, their relationship was sometimes like that of kids growing up trying to discover themselves just as much as they were trying to discover the big new world around them. For every heated fight they made passionate love. It was just their way, and Ted felt that it helped to keep him young. And Candace knew how to push every one of his buttons. She ran an independent company as a psychologist and marriage counselor, ironically.
Dusk soon turned into night and the traffic on the long desert highway was every bit as scarce as a natural source of water. Although the temperature had begun to drop, he left the top down and turned on his heater instead. He didn’t want to block his view of the stars above as he travelled alone in the darkness.
He looked down at his speedometer, driving along on cruise control at seventy miles per hour when he was startled by his cell phone chirping in his shirt pocket. He recognized the ringtone immediately. It was his wife calling from her cell phone.
“Hey, sweetie. How was your day?” he asked. Annie called like clockwork whenever he was on the road for work.
“Oh, just another day around the office. Not a lot to brag about. Working at the bank is about as exciting as working in a tax office, honey. You know that, though,” Annie replied.
He immediately realized that she sounded very distant tonight, very much detached emotionally on the call. Something was on her mind but he had no intention of talking about it until tomorrow. Besides, on the long stretch of road he was travelling there were significant pockets where he drove without a cell phone signal.
“How’s the drive so far?” she asked.
“Pretty nice so far,” he said. “I grabbed some sleep back at the hotel before leaving. Traffic is non-existent on this road, as usual. I’m going to stop for gas in a few miles and then I should be good to go for most of the night, or at least until I get a bit closer to home. Too bad you can’t come with me on these trips. The view of the stars is like something out of your imagination. It’s breathtaking out here in the desert at night.”
“Well, I’ll pass on those trips. It would be nice to spend the extra time together, but you’re the only person I know who finds pleasure in driving hours across the desert. I just want you to be careful, honey. You never know what could happen out there on that road and it would take forever for someone to find you if you had car trouble or an accident.”
“I’ll be careful, Annie. I promise. And if you don’t hear from me in the morning then you’ll know that I met a psycho killer out on the road,” he said jokingly.
“You know I hate when you say that. I wish you wouldn’t say that,” she said with a strain in her voice.
“I’m sorry. It’s just my way of being silly and trying to make you relax a bit instead of worrying about me. I’ll be fine. I’ll call you in the morning. I’m getting ready to hit a stretch of road where my cell signal dies so you get some rest,” he said, trying to reassure her before he hung up. For a woman who was very calculated and meticulous about everything, she certainly had a bad habit of worrying way too much.
Ted turned on his satellite radio and played soft jazz as he drove on into the night, the highway empty both in front of him and behind for as far as his eyes could see. After stopping for gas, and filling up the two emergency gas containers he often carried with him when he drove across the desert, he set his convertible to cruise control and drove off away from the annoying bright lights of the BP fuel station and convenience store with a cold bottle of soda and a couple of candy bars for snacking on during the drive.
Once out on the open road he adjusted the radio to listen to new age instrumental music. For him, it was a mood enhancer as he admired the night sky for all its splendor and beauty. It also helped him to relax and meditate and reflect on life.
He eased back in his leather bucket seat and relived the last kiss Candace gave him before he left her house. It was deep and passionate, and oddly a bit rough. That was something very different than the way they used to kiss. It used to be soft and intoxicating. That was before they had talked about his wife. It was an uncomfortable revelation that Candace and Annie went to college together. In fact, his jaw nearly hit the floor when he realized that they were actually friends and roommates during their senior year.
Ted knew better than to ask about their friendship, but his curiosity got the best of him. As he quickly discovered from their conversation, his wife wasn’t always the reserved and conservative girl next door that she convinced him that she was. According to Candace, Annie was always dragging her out to clubs where they could dance and meet guys. They would dance together seductively to get attention from the guys in the club, but at the same time they knew they were getting dirty looks from most of the girls that were out to have a good time but wasn’t nearly as daring and racy as they liked to be.
The thought of his wife and his lover mentally seducing each other had been stuck in his head ever since Candace talked of their time in college together. And now he wasn’t at all certain that they had not slept together. It was possible that his lover wasn’t telling him everything. In fact, it bothered him a great deal that his own wife had told him nothing of her past life, at least not the wilder side of it. Not that he would have held it against her or let it derail their relationship, he just resented that perhaps she didn’t trust him enough to share those memories as if it was a dirty little secret. And since she hadn’t told him, perhaps there were all kinds of dirty little secrets in her past. He found that he slowly began to lose trust in his wife. He could only laugh about the irony as he drove through the darkness since he was the one having an affair.
He pulled off to the side of the road, grabbed his cell phone and dialed Candace. She was probably wondering how far along he was in the drive and he usually called her before he got out of cell range.
After the fifth ring she picked up and seductively said “hello.”
“How are you tonight, beautiful?” he asked boyishly.
“Better now that you’ve called. How’s the drive so far?”
“It’s nice. There isn’t a cloud in the sky, it’s not too cold out so I have the top down, and there are more stars than we could ever count. If it wasn’t for the giving up all the conveniences of modern living I think I could live out here.”
“I love stargazing,” she said. “But you already know that. Too bad I can’t go back with you sometime so I can see all those stars.”
“Wouldn’t that get the neighbors talking!” he quipped. “What are you doing tonight?”
“At the moment I’m doing the same thing you are. I’m outside looking up at the stars. It’s a gorgeous night.”
“Are you going out tonight? I guess the night is still young, for some people.”
“No, I think I’m just going to stay in and read or watch a movie. I would go out but I think after our visit together I’m a bit too tired to do anything else,” she said. “And I mean that in the most complimentary way.”
Ted smiled and said his goodbye, the thought of his wife and his lover grinding on the dance floor in their early twenties still burning into his mind. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that thought. He wasn’t turned on by it. He wasn’t exactly disgusted by it, although it made him wonder if his Annie got around a lot before they met. The word “whore” floated through his thoughts, but he didn’t want to assign that word to either of them. It bothered him, but he kept that feeling from his lover. Candace, on the other hand, seemed very indifferent about the situation, almost amused by the unlikely triangle.
Ted stood by his car for a few more minutes before noticing a shooting star streak across the desert sky. He took a deep breath of the cool night air and resumed driving along the empty road.
He turned the soft sounds of the instrumental music back on and turned it up. He was hoping it would help him to relax and reflect on positive things, not the stress of his wife’s hidden past or the frivolous nature of his lover. It made him very nervous that there was a connection at all. That was the purpose of having a one night stand or an affair several hours away. There were no strings. But suddenly after three years he discovered the potential sticky situation and knew that he needed a way out of the affair. If it ever came to it, he would choose his wife simply for the fact that it would avoid a messy and expensive divorce.
Ted cruised along making decent time into the night and looked forward to getting home soon after dawn. He would sleep for a while and then he and Annie could call a couple of friends to meet for dinner somewhere. Anything to keep him occupied until his jealousy about her past wore off. He knew better than to ask her about it, anyway. For that matter, he knew better than to prod Candace too deeply about her past as well. The only thing he knew about her previous marriages was that one ended because of infidelity and the second one died in a freak car accident.
Ted suddenly noticed two headlights coming up from behind from way off in the distance as he glanced in his rear view mirror. It had been about forty five minutes since he saw another vehicle on this road. Traffic across this two lane highway was sporadic at best during the day. It was nearly abandoned at night. He slowed down hoping that the vehicle would catch up soon and decide to pass him. He didn’t like even the slightest distraction when he drove this road. Any light seemed to bother him as he moved his eyes back and forth from the road to the heavens.
It wasn’t long before the old beat up red Ford caught up with him. Ted looked back in the rear view mirror but had to make a quick adjustment to keep himself from driving off the road. The driver behind him had no consideration whatsoever about nearly blinding him with his bright lights.
Ted slowed down a little more and motioned for the driver to go around. Instead, the driver behind him laid on the horn for nearly a full minute before getting in the other lane to go around. Although Ted was plenty pissed off, he had no intention of flipping the bird despite how badly he wanted to. He’d seen too many horror movies to know not to mess with the “backwoods folk,” so to speak.
He looked over at the truck when it pulled up beside him. He noticed that the front fender was held on by something that resembled chicken wire and the passenger side had dents and scratches all down the side. It looked like the truck had seen more use as a stunt vehicle than something that should safely carry passengers on the road.
The truck drove beside him, swerving slightly into his lane, before jumping ahead of him and cutting him off in his lane. Ted had to hit his breaks hard to avoid hitting the back of the truck. What was this maniac thinking!
Upon closer inspection, Ted decided that the entire truck was probably held together by duct tape and wire close hangers. It looked as if someone had just driven it out of a junk yard. It would have taken a person of complete stupidity or real madness to trust that hunk of junk on this long highway. There was nowhere to stop except in the lonely desert if you broke down. And that realization made him suddenly very nervous.
The truck finally sped up and pulled away from him. He still had no desire to continue his normal speed on this highway until the idiot in front of him was long gone.
Before Ted realized what happened, the truck had slowed down and moved back into the oncoming lane, slowing enough that he found himself nearly side by side with the reckless chunk of metal once again.
“Are you insane?” Ted shouted.
The answer to his question came in a quick and deliberate movement. A skinny arm emerged from the passenger side window, covered in a black sweater and a dark glove, hurling an empty Budweiser bottle in his direction. Before he could even react he felt the cold hard glass against his skull and heard the bottle shatter before he even felt the deep cut into his forehead.
He lost sight in his left eye when the blood ran down to cover his vision. Ted swerved off the road, barely maintaining control of the convertible before bringing it to a stop in the dirt.
Ted kept his composure and watched the road in front of him as the truck came to a screeching halt. He threw open the door of the convertible, functioning mostly on adrenalin, and cursed at whoever was driving the truck. The driver suddenly threw the junk heap in reverse but stopped just short of Ted standing in the middle of the road before putting it back into drive and speeding off into the darkness. Ted stood in the road watching until the tail lights disappeared into the distance. To make matters worse, the truck didn’t have a license plate for him to report to the police or his insurance company.
He stumbled back over to his car and grabbed a tee shirt from the suitcase in the trunk. Even though he considered it dirty he used the white cloth to wipe the blood off his forehead before getting back into the car and inspecting the deep gash above his eye with a bit more precision in the rear view mirror.
At a closer look, Ted realized that there was a huge gash above his left eye that would only be fixed with a few stitches. The beer bottle had hit him at a perfect angle to shatter and cut. His light blue Oxford shirt already bore the blood stains of his open wound. He wrapped the tee shirt around his head to stop the bleeding as best he could and decided to continue on into the night. He knew that there was a gas station a few more miles ahead with a pay phone. The station was never open but the pay phone was near the back of the building. He could use it to call for help.
Ted settled back in behind the wheel after taking a closer look at his car for damage. Thankfully there were few scratches and no tire damage. He grabbed his cell phone but was not surprised that there was no signal. He had been down this road many times before and knew the drill. He was ten minutes away from the nearest pay phone. He started the car and put it in drive. He had no other choice other than to drive two hours back to the closest civilization. He took his chances with the desert.
Although his heart was racing he didn’t see the beat up truck on the highway. Fifteen minutes later he stopped at The Sand Pit, an appropriately named convenience store to be found in the middle on the desert.
Ted got out of the convertible and put the top up. He had no intention of being hit by a flying object again. He had a gushing wound to show for his pleasure of viewing the night sky, but wondered if he’d ever leave the top down again. He locked the car and left it parked in front of The Sand Pit where he noticed a video camera on the outside and walked around to the back of the building where there was a waiting pay phone.
He grabbed the phone from the hook with force only to realize that someone had cut the cord. There was no dial tone. There was no operator. There was no help coming on the long dark highway. Ted stood bleeding from his head with a phone receiver and half a phone cord in his hand.
“You have to be shitting me!” he screamed. He could almost hear his own echo bounce across the desert.
Ted took a deep breath to help him calm down and then walked back around to the front of The Sand Pit. He stopped dead in his tracks in the middle of the parking lot when he noticed the old red truck sitting in the road. He couldn’t make out who the driver was. In the darkness all he could see was the outline of the driver. The truck suddenly began to rev the engine, taunting him as he stood there frightened. Instead of waiting there to see what the driver had in mind, Ted broke into a sprint toward his car, keying in the security code on his key chain to unlock the doors before he got there.
He jumped inside and locked the doors and quickly fastened his seat belt. Before he could even start his car the rattletrap of a truck began to speed away in the darkness without its headlights on. Ted waited until he could no longer see the truck before pulling onto the road and going back in the opposite direction. He didn’t know exactly what the driver of the truck had in mind by scaring him and trying to kill him with a beer bottle, but he wasn’t about to stick around on this empty highway any longer than he had to. He was going back to the main interstate and taking that route. He made the easy decision that he would call his wife when he got into cell range and have her call the police to let them know what was going on.
Ted flipped open his cell phone and hit the power button. However, it did not come on. He pressed it again and held the button longer but nothing happened. He quickly went from driving ninety miles per hour in a seventy mile per hour zone and pulled over to the side of the road. He took the back off of the phone and couldn’t believe his eyes. While he was trying to use the broken pay phone behind The Sand Pit the driver of the truck must have somehow gotten into his car and removed the battery from his cell phone.
“Why the hell is that sadistic bastard playing with me?” he asked aloud, suddenly wishing that he had a gun with him for protection. Before Ted could pull the car back onto the road he saw the driver bearing down upon him once again. Because the driver had turned the headlights off, he barely caught a glimpse of it in his rear view mirror before the truck slammed into him.
Ted tried to keep the brake pedal smashed to the floor but it was useless. The truck continued to push him off the road and into the desert. Instead of fighting against the bigger vehicle, Ted threw the car into drive and pulled away from the madman behind him. He knew that if he didn’t get back to the road and get some distance then he was as good as dead. Before Ted could turn his car around the truck had managed to push him over a small hill and his convertible went nose first down into a large sandy ditch that was hidden from the road above.
He stumbled from the car but managed to keep his balance despite the dizzying ride and loss of blood from his head wound. He looked up the small hill when he heard the truck come to a stop and someone get out and slam the door shut behind them. He couldn’t make out the face of the driver, but he recognized the way the woman swayed when she walked.
“What the hell are you doing?” he asked her. Before she could answer he felt the hard cold sting of a metal pipe to the back of his head. He slumped to the cool ground and then his world went black.
Ted wasn’t sure how long he was unconscious. When he woke he found himself laying literally in the middle of the dry cold desert. His wound had started to bleed again and blood was slowly oozing down his face and partially obstructing his view. When he tried to wipe the blood away he realized that his hands were duct taped together behind his back. The trunk of his car was open and the woman standing over him gave him the look of a sociopathic predator. Her expression was plain and her eyes held no emotion for what she was about to do.
“Annie, please baby. Don’t do this,” he begged.
Despite the cool night air, Ted was sweating from every pore as he looked up at his vengeful wife holding a .38 in her gloved hand.
“You were home when I called you,” he said nervously. “Why are you here? I mean, how…” he trailed off when the other woman in his life came into view, strolling seductively toward him from the beat up red truck.
“Candace picked up a couple of hot phones in L.A., untraceable. I had all calls to my cell phone forwarded to this one. You’re right. You did call my cell phone that is still sitting at home. Those things are handy but they are also very nasty little tracking devices.”
“Let’s hurry up and finish this,” Candace said to Annie. “I need to get that truck back to the junkyard I stole it from before they open up.”
“I thought you loved me,” he said crying.
“Which one of us are you talking to?” Annie asked.
Candace slid in behind Annie wrapping one around her waist and brushing her hair aside to kiss her neck.
“You whores!” Ted screamed.
“We made a promise to each other a long time ago,” Candace said. “And unlike you, we keep our word. We swore we would never let a man come between us.”
Ted let out a yelping scream of panic at the top of his lungs.
Annie raised the .38 and fired one shot. Silence fell across the desert as they embraced.
“He always loved the view of the sky on this stretch of road,” Annie said.
“Who could blame him? It’s gorgeous out here at night,” Candace added. “I wouldn’t want to drive it alone at night, though. That’s just creepy.”