A couple of months ago, I wrote the short story you’re about to read, after a few days of walking along my own dirt road with my sister. I live in the deep south on a dirt road. If you have ever lived on a dirt road, you know how people drive once it’s only red dirt beneath your tires. My sister was constantly keeping watch on me because once my headphones were in, I wasn’t paying attention to anything around me.
Obviously, that’s foolish. These days, I don’t walk or run down my dirt roads because my sister is no lives close enough to make sure I don’t get run over by anyone, let alone the woman in this story.
I’m choosing to post this story for you because it doesn’t fit under the horror genre for me and because it makes me laugh. I laughed while I wrote it and I laugh when I read over it. Maybe also because it’s one of the biggest writing accomplishments, to meet your number one fan, you know. Unless of course, you’re not able to move.
A Short Story
“You just came out of nowhere, ma’am. I didn’t have time to miss you,” she said, her voice drawing out every word as old southern women were known to do. She talked slow, probably thought slower, seeing as I was lying in a ditch because she ‘didn’t have time to miss me’.
I ran this stretch of road every day. Every morning, six o’clock, I was running from my driveway, down the dirt road I lived on, running the five miles it took to hit the two rural paved roads, turn onto the two dirt roads that offered an alternate route to my home, and then back down my own street and into my yard. It never failed, unless the rain was too bad and washed the road out, as it was known to do. Those days, I used the treadmill at home.
I preferred the feel of the road and the view of real trees and houses compared to the treadmill. I had never found a way to stay motivated on the treadmill, my work out feeling like work whenever I tried. I’d stop, give up, and lose motivation. Sticking to a schedule, feeling the wind on my face kept me motivated, cleared my head, became my time to assess my thoughts, pray, sometimes work out my problems, or inspire my creativity.
That’s until I was lying in a ditch because some old woman didn’t see me fast enough. I didn’t know what had distracted her, only that she had somehow swerved and hit me hard, knocking me off of the hood of her truck, smashing her windshield, and tossing me to the other side of the road where the pain made sure to keep me comforted.
The sun was bright behind her, but even as my vision adjusted to her face, I knew I didn’t know her. I had never seen her, nor her eighties model truck until they had decided to hit me.
“Oh, my Lord! You’re Alicia Morgan! I’m your biggest fan!” the woman squealed. I’m not sure if the moment of insanity that I felt was clear in my eyes, but I was instantly drawn to the tale every writer feared from. There was a moment where I wondered if I was staring at my own Annie Wilkes, and though I knew, somewhere in my subconscious and the pain, that the idea was actually quite silly, I also regarded her carefully.
I tried to move, but before she could place her hand on my shoulder to push me back down, the pain had made it clear that I wasn’t moving. I even cried out as it spread, unable to determine one particular place that hurt the worst.
“Oh, no, dear. I wouldn’t move. You could paralyze yourself,” she said, as sweet as pie, her eyes wandering over my body. She twisted her mouth ruefully, completely hiding any lips she had in doing so. She made a clicking sound with her tongue as she assessed the damage she had done. “Your poor leg. I’m sure a doctor can fix that, though. They have all that fancy equipment nowadays, they fix almost everything,” she said, her voice bordering cheerful.
Except I can’t feel that leg at all.
“Except my husband. Lung cancer. They couldn’t fix that, but honestly, I think they could. I heard on one of those news channels or what not that they have a cure but-”
“Do you have a phone?” I cut in. There was a sharp pain as I did, so I added another wound to the growing list. I was sure I had some broken ribs, maybe even a punctured lung.
She laughed. “One of them cellaphones? Nah, dear. My grandson tried to show me how to use one of those smart phones, but my mind is much too old to learn how to operate something like that. My mind’s not what it once was,” she replied.
Obviously. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have hit me with your truck.
“I need an ambulance,” I told her, trying to cut through whatever muck was clogging up her brains.
She took a moment, weighing her options. “I hate to leave you here on the side of the road. I’m sure someone will drive by soon enough,” she answered flippantly. Then, with a wider smile, “You know, I just can’t believe that out of everyone I could have hit, I hit Alicia Morgan. You’re my favorite writer, right under James Patterson. Boy, can’t that man write a mystery!”
Why couldn’t you have hit him with your truck then?
“Do you know him? James Patterson, I mean?”
Because all writers know each other and meet up for coffee during the week. That was what she forgot to add. I could see it just as clearly as I had seen a million times before that she believed the idea. Somewhere in the world, all the writers met up and wrote books together and hung out like one huge happy family.
“Yeah, sometimes we go to Tiffany’s. Only on Sunday’s though,” I replied. I looked over to see her eyes squint, and her mouth twist in disdain. It was like staring into the face of my grandma, brought back to being a little kid and having her swat my behind with a wooden spoon for my smart mouth. That face told me, despite the pain I was in, this woman still had a natural instinct to not accept anyone younger than her smarting off.
“There’s no reason to be rude. It was just a simple question,” she bit back.
I could see my grandma now, lost in her gray eyes, scold me for having back talked an elder. Some things never changed, and I knew some mannerisms never did either. Children who were raised to respect their elders brought that idea along for the rest of their lives.
“I’m sorry,” I said, sincerely, breathing in too sharply. I flinched, checking her expression before once again telling her that I needed help.
“Someone will drive by soon enough,” she said flippantly.
“I’m in pain,” I begged her. “I can’t even feel my leg-”
“Then you’re not in pain!” she answered. She even dared a smile bright enough to erase ten years from her face. “You know, I actually read somewhere, or maybe I watched it on TV-”
Much more likely because I doubt you have the competency to read anything more detailed than Field and Stream.
“-that pain isn’t real. It’s just in your head, kinda like how people in those plane crashes don’t feel their injuries until later. You know, I read a Sandra Brown book like that a while back. The woman had cut her leg pretty bad, but she didn’t even know it until much later when the man pointed it out. That was a good book. Do you know Sandra Brown?”
“You know, I’ve been reading your books since I saw you on Larry King. I couldn’t believe it when Sheryl, that’s my granddaughter, said you had gone to school with her. She said you were a couple of grades above her but imagine it. Someone from our little rinky-dink town on Larry King! I just had to read one of your books after I knew that,” she told me, smiling with a grin that revealed darkened, yellow teeth. “I’ll admit, your humor is a little darker than I typically like, and the way you describe small town life is a bit more gruesome than I’d believe it really is, but I truly love your work.”
“Thank you,” I told her, biting the words out with thin gasps. “It means a lot, but if you don’t get me some help-”
“I mean, can you even imagine the chances of little old me just happening to hit a celebrity with my truck? One that I like as well? I mean, when will I ever get the chance to meet you again?”
In court. We’ll meet in court, you old hag.
“Can I ask you a question?” she asked, but she didn’t wait for me to give permission before continuing on. “Where do you get your ideas from? Is it through dreams? I heard that a lot of writers have dreams and write them down. Or is it like a place in your head? I think it would be nifty to just have somewhere that you can just go to- like a library!- and just check out an idea and write it down. Is that how it works?”
“Gosh, I can’t even imagine what it’s like. I used to write poetry when I was a teenager. Nowhere near as good a writer as you, of course, but I wasn’t too shabby. You know, poetry is more honest, so you don’t really need any talent. Unlike those fiction books that you write, but you know what I mean.”
“Look, I need-”
“I just can’t believe I hit Alicia Morgan. Out of every person I could have hit, I hit Alicia Morgan!” she exclaimed, and I dare say she sounded happy about it. As if it were the most wonderful thing that she had been driving down the road and crashed into me with her truck as if she were playing Grand Theft Auto and just won extra points for hitting someone she considered significant.
“I’m just riding down the road, trying to change the station, and all of a sudden-”
“Will you just shut up!”
My scream was followed by silence from her, and whining from me. I wanted to be able to lift my head and look at what was hurting me so much. The scream only inflamed it, whatever it was, and possibly, it was a horrible idea, but she had finally stopped talking. This old woman had finally stopped talking.
I took in a few short breaths, keeping my eyes closed and focusing on saying my next instructions. “I need help. You are the only one around-”
“Someone will drive by-”
“I said shut up,” I warned her again, looking at her this time. Fear took more years from her face than smiling did. A sick urge to giggle at how young she looked came over me. How silly she looked, like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar, I wanted to laugh. I would have giggled myself to death if I had.
But she kept her mouth closed, and I waited for the urge to leave before speaking more clearly. “No one is driving by. There are only one or two houses down this street, and they both will go the opposite way because it’s a shorter distance to town. They’ll only come this way if they’re headed to Samson like I’m assuming you were, and I doubt that,” I told her, then took a few minutes to breathe again.
“I was visiting my granddaughter. She lives in a trailer down the road.”
“Then go back and call for help.”
I whimpered. “Why not?”
“Because her phone was cut off. That’s why I came, to make sure before I went and paid for her to get a new phone,” she answered, and I could tell, sense it like ESP, that she was about to begin talking again. Maybe about her granddaughter, maybe about guacamole, I didn’t know and I didn’t care to listen.
“Then drive to any place that has a phone, tell them where I am, and get me some help,” I told her.
“If you don’t, I swear to God, you are the one that is going to need medical attention,” I warned her, even if my warning was mostly whispered.
She snorted, a bitter little child as she stood straight. She pursed her lips again and nodded. “Fine.”
I watched, mostly relieved, as she returned to her truck. She looked at me with the vilest look in her eyes as she drove past me.
Looks like I just lost my biggest fan.
The thought made me laugh. I laughed, despite the pain, despite the gravity of the position I was in, I laughed. Even when the paramedics came two hours later, I was still laughing. Laughing so hard, I was crying.