Amy survives for a few years as a runaway in eastern America. After turning twenty she decides to find her only surviving relative besides her prostitute mother. After several rides on semis she encounters a foul mouthed driver who wants payment. Amy bolts from the truck at a rest area and flees into the scrub land behind it. Suicide seems the likely way from her pitiful existence.
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Nineteen-year-old Amy Wentdorf’s head continued to pound as she stood in the gas station lot, waiting for a ride west. The hot dry air swirled around her reminding her of how alone she’s been.
Half an hour later, a semi pulled in. The driver climbed out.
With her fingers crossed, she approached him. “If you’re headed west, I’d like a ride.”
“Where are you headed, gorgeous?” She didn’t like to hear that. Nor did she like his looks. His jeans looked like they had never been washed in the last twenty-five years and his stained shirt had his last several meals slopped on it. The unkempt beard had a mixture of garbage intermixed in the coarse yellowish blond hair. His tall body would have been even taller if a steamroller flattened out his hanging stomach.
She guessed she was desperate for a ride and didn’t see any other choices. “Billings Montana. I hate to ask, since I can’t pay, but I need to get there.” She squinted up at the tall bearded driver. Ewe, he has gross teeth.
“Okay. No problem. I’m going there anyhow and it’d be nice to have some company. Climb aboard while I gas up. What’s in the pillowcase?”
“Just some personal stuff.” She clung to it.
“Good. I hoped you didn’t have a pet snake.” He gave a hoarse laugh and some spittle flew out.
This should be the last ride she needed since he was heading for Billings, Montana. Her destination seemed plausible. She checked in her pillowcase for the address page she ripped from her mother’s address book and stuffed it to the bottom. Hopefully Aunt Ida still lived there. She had to find her—her only other living relative. She’d die before going back to her mom.
Mile after mile slipped under the truck’s tires. Billings was getting closer.
As she pretended to sleep, her breathing slowed and calm began to wash over her for the first time in months. Then the driver poked her shoulder. She opened her eyes, and the scenery had changed to open pasture. Had she fallen asleep for real? The driver frowned, glancing at her as he drove. “Are you gonna pay for this ride or not?”
Amy rubbed her eyes and glared at him as he lit his cigarette. “I told you I don’t have any money.”
He took a drag on the cigarette and blew smoke at her. “I don’t want money and you know it.”
“You lied to me. I told you I wanted a ride and nothing more. You said, ‘okay’. We had a deal.”
“Look, lady, I’ve already hauled you all the way to Wyoming. I’ll give you one more chance. There’s a rest area up ahead. Either you cooperate or you can find another ride.”
Amy glanced down the road and saw the sign for the rest area. “Why are you such a jerk? This is the third truck I’ve been in from the east coast, and no one else wanted what you want.” She saw him flip on the turn signals and felt the truck slow. He pulled into the I-80 rest area and slowed.
As he turned right into the truck lot, he grabbed for her. The truck was still rolling. She beat his hand away before it found her chest. Her heart beat in her ears. Fear shot through her body. Her eyes watched his every move ready for whatever he tried. He leaned to the right and grabbed again. The steering wheel slipped from his hand when he hit the curb. The truck bounced to the left within inches of a parked truck.
His abrupt pressure on the truck’s brakes propelled Amy to the limit of her seatbelt. She gazed out the window to see people, along the various sidewalks, collectively turn toward the shrieking tires. The truck rocked and came to a complete stop, as did the loud noise. Fumes of hot tire rubber penetrated the truck’s interior and made her cough.
The driver smacked her shoulder. “It’s now or never.”
She pushed his hand away. “It’s never.”
He grabbed her body, and she shot a hard punch to a strategic place. He buckled forward against the steering wheel, groaning. She ripped open her seatbelt.
He backhanded her, shoved her against the door, and grabbed the handle. The passenger door flew open. She fell to the rain soaked pavement with a painful thud. A tattered pillowcase flew out the door behind her. A few of its contents bounced off her. Some plummeted to the ground, and some into muddy puddles.
Amy struggled to her feet. She grabbed scattered items and yelled at the driver, “I need a ride. I need to get to Montana.” The wind whipped her long brown hair in her face. She pushed it back.
The driver threw an empty soda can at her. “That’s your problem.”
Amy kicked at the soda can and shook her fist at the driver.
The driver flipped a cigarette butt at her. “Nobody gets a free ride, you stupid loser.”
She stepped toward the truck’s open door. “I’m not stupid, and I’m not a loser.”
“Big deal. Tell it to the next person you expect to give you a free ride.”
She glanced at some of the people gawking at her and yelled at the driver, “What am I going to do?”
The driver glared at her. “Like I said, ‘that’s your problem’. Call someone who might care. I sure don’t.”
“I don’t have any money.”
A handful of coins clanked through the open door and bounced on the pavement. Some landed in the puddles. Amy dropped to her knees, in the slop, to search for the precious money.
“Here you go.” A passerby tossed a couple more coins.
Amy’s embarrassment at a passerby’s generosity caused her to grab a loose chunk of blacktop pavement and throw it at the truck’s open door. It missed and bounced off the fender.
The driver yelled at her and made an obscene gesture. The truck’s air horn pierced the air with earsplitting sounds. Gears ground, and the truck jerked forward with the door swinging. The driver hit the brakes hard and then smashed the accelerator. Black smoke belched from the twin stacks. The action caused the door to slam shut.
The truck rumbled from the rest area and frightened Amy looked in its direction. Rain dripped down her back while she shivered and turned to look for another truck driver. There was none. She noticed the travelers turned back to their own agendas as if it wasn’t their problem.
Amy continued to search for more of her belongings covered by the dirty water. She retrieved a couple more trinkets and shoved them into the pillowcase. Great. What was she going to do with her clean underwear all wet and muddy? There was no place to steal any other ones out here in the wild. Her clothes were filthy and wet. She wouldn’t humiliate herself further by going inside the building among the gawkers. She wanted to curl up and hide where no one would ever see her again. She looked around. Good. No one was using the outside payphone. She headed there to escape the weather. Once inside, she squatted on the floor. Tears added more moisture to her grimy face. She looked at her filthy wet clothes and grubby pillowcase. Her hair must be a mess as well. She sobbed. Where was she? What was she going to do? How would she get to Montana? Maybe she should have stayed with Mom. She shivered. Anything was better than that.
A crack of thunder caused shockwaves to invade her body. Moments later, after hugging herself, and somewhat calming down, she again assessed her situation and dug the few coins out of her jacket pocket. Did she have enough money to call Aunt Ida? She laid the precious coins on the small shelf beneath the phone and rummaged through her pillowcase. Her hand touched the piece of paper with aunt Ida’s number. It’s all wet. She carefully pulled it out. It’s smudged. She studied it. Is that an eight or a three? I think it’s a three. I hope I’m right. She took care to punch in the correct number, listened for the amount, and slipped it in the slot. I only have a dime left.
The phone rang three times before she heard someone yell, “So speak. I ain’t got all day.”
Amy pulled the phone away from her ear while asking, “Who’s this?”
“The boogie man.”
A wave of horror shot through Amy. “I want to speak to Ida McNeill.”
Amy kicked at the phone booth wall. “What do you mean she left?”
“Lady, you hearing impaired or brain dead? I said, ‘she left’.”
Amy raised her voice. “When will she be back?”
“Never, I hope.”
“Why not? Where did she go?”
“Lady, you’re wasting me valuable time.”
“Please deposit eighty-five cents.”
Amy yelled at the recorded message. “I don’t have any more.” She slammed the phone against the wall letting it dangle there off the hook.
She slid to the floor and clutched her knees to her chest. Tears dropped from her cheeks onto her already wet jeans. Loud pounding shattered the booth’s quietness. Fear shot through Amy’s body. She covered her face to ward off possible blows. The loud noise continued to crash on the booth’s open door. She willed herself to melt into the back corner. This was it. She was cornered. The foul-mouthed truck driver was gonna have his way. Amy had to stand to fight. She spread her fingers to peek.
The noisemaker, a uniformed maintenance man with TIM embroidered on his shirt, pointed at her. “Miss, you need to leave right now. I called the police. They’ll be here in fewer than ten minutes.”
Amy shot Tim an incredulous stare. “Why?”
Tim puffed his chest before speaking. His open mouth revealed gross tobacco stained teeth. “’Caus’n you’re trouble with a capital T.”
Amy stood, set her pillowcase down, and turned back to the phone. She poked her fingers in the phone’s coin return slot—nothing.
Tim reached for her pillowcase.
“Don’t touch that.” Amy grabbed it from him.
Tim backed away with his arms extended above his head. “Whoa there, I was trying to help.”
“If you’re trying to help, why did you call the police? Besides, I don’t need any help.” Amy clutched her pillowcase tight to her side. “No one can help me.”
Tim’s demeanor softened a bit. “Why don’t you come into the building and warm up? I’ll call my wife. She can help you. By the way, you’re lucky this phone booth is still here. The big city company’s coming next week to remove it. Ain’t no one using payphones no more.”
Amy looked back up the Interstate. A squad car turned onto the deceleration lane. “I’m outta here.” She took off on a run behind the building.
Tim hurried after her. “Miss, there ain’t nothing out there. Nothing for miles.” Lightning shot through the air followed by thunder.
Tim’s voice faded as she ran and disappeared into the eight-foot high brush. It scratched her face, her hands, and tried to snatch the pillowcase. Half a mile into nowhere, a root grabbed her foot. She flew face first into the wild shrubbery and gooey muck. Drizzle continued to fall, veiling her tears.
Amy righted herself and put her feet back in motion to lengthen the distance from the rest area. A hundred yards later, as her right foot hit the ground; the earth beneath gave a slight tremble, and then intensified into deep rumbling. She grabbed a scrawny tree to steady herself. The ground quit the violent shaking. It slowed to a slight tremor. She cupped her hand to the sky. “If that was an earthquake, it was a poor effort. Bring it on, and swallow me up. I want to die.”
She opened her taut fingers and released the tree before she ventured forward. With cautious steps, she made her way through the brush, which inflicted more scratches on her and snags on the pillowcase.
She battled the tangled scrub undergrowth another hundred and fifty yards before she stopped and shielded her eyes to peer forward through the mishmash of stunted trees, bramble bushes, a plethora of vines, and thistles. A white wall of mist formed a veil at the end of it. What? She continued and paused occasionally to listen to rocks as they tumbled somewhere up ahead. With heart wrenching trepidation, she moved forward. A plateau above a boundless valley came into view, she froze at the edge. Rocks tumbled, off to her left, on their way to the distant bottom. A wall of drizzle and fog hid the far horizon.
She stared into the vast abyss before she reached into her pillowcase and searched for the only photograph she ever had of her mom. “Come on, come on. I know you’re in there, or did the lousy lying truck driver make me lose it?” Her fingers hesitated when they felt the photograph. “There you are.” It was wet and almost ruined. Amy inched closer to the cliff’s edge. She held the photo out in front of her. Her hands trembled as she spoke to the shot of her mom cutting into a birthday cake, “Mom, this is it. This is what you’ve driven me to. I’m jumping. No more running from everything and every situation.”
She bent to stuff the photo back into the pillowcase. Instead, straightened up, tore it to pieces, and cast it into the air. Goodbye. She squinted at the cloud-covered sky and crouched on her knees into a position to spring up for a leap into space. Her heart quickened at the thought of dying and leaving her pitiful life. She started to shoot upward when the not too distant mournful baying of a hurting animal caught her attention. Was that a dog or maybe a wolf? Whatever it sounded more pitiful than she felt. Shaken from her self-absorption, she went to investigate.
She moved down the treacherous steep incline.
Time froze while she worked her way over loose rocks and paused occasionally to hear the animal’s wail for help. Rocks continued to tumble, some crashed way too close. “I’m coming. I’m coming.”
Her descent came to a complete standstill when she saw the massive landslide. Her mouth hung open in disbelief. “Oh, my goodness. Oh, no.” The animal’s cries for help are in direct line with the fallen rocks and the sounds may be from under some of them.
Inch by inch she drew closer to the grief-stricken animal. Her heart beat in her ears, from both exhaustion and fear. Rocks tumbled in front of and behind her. The drizzle changed to steady rain.
A loud howl caused a shudder in her chest. She accelerated her pace to the point of recklessness. She sidestepped to avoid a falling rock and lost her balance. Her body rolled repeatedly and smashed against several rocks. In spite of the pain, she hung tight to the pillowcase as it flipped and flopped against the jagged rocks. Visions of past fears and nightmares shot through her brain. Then nothing—silence, except for rain and cascading rocks. She lay in a distorted heap. Her mind raced. This was it. Life was over. What about the animal? She had to get up.
She fought back. She didn’t want to die now. The animal needed her. She looked into the fog. “Help me. Help me.” Like help’s going to come out here in the boonies. Suck it up and free yourself. She wrestled her aching arms from beneath the rocks, and pried them away from her throbbing legs. Fear filled her mind as she ran her hands over each badly bruised leg, one at a time—they can’t be broken—please. She finished checking out her legs and sighed relief—no broken bones, but her arms and legs sure felt broken.
The animal’s moaning was now closer. Amy struggled to stand and with one cautious step after another closed the distance to the animal. The heavy rain stopped. She negotiated around a large boulder and saw a good-sized black and white dog, drenched in rain. She stayed back from its mouth while she checked out why it didn’t get up. “Okay, pooch. I see the problem. Those big rocks have one of your rear legs trapped.”
“It’s okay, sweetie, Amy’s here to help you. You’re not going to bite me if I help, are you? You look completely worn out. You can hardly raise your head. You poor thing. Even your eyes reflect pain, fear, and exhaustion.” I hope I don’t get bit.
“You’re beautiful even if you’re drenched and muddy. Is it okay if I touch you?” Amy held out her hand to let the dog sniff it. The dog licked it once before laying her head on a rock.
Amy tried to pull the rocks apart. They wouldn’t budge. “Hey, pooch, maybe if I sat on one and pushed the other with my feet, I could do better.” Amy positioned herself on one rock. She ignored the pains in her legs and ankles as she placed her feet on the second one. She took a deep breath and pushed with all her might. The rock slid. “It worked, pooch. It worked.” Amy climbed down. They had separated enough for her to slide the dog free.
The dog rolled on its side, nuzzled its sore leg, and whimpered. “Let me see. Don’t bite me.” Amy gently touched the leg. “It’s broken. No wonder you were crying. What am I going to do?” She held it in both hands with one above the break and one below. “Now what?”
The dog jerked its leg. Amy felt the break slide together. “Good girl. Way to go.” The dog moaned. “Lie still. I gotta get something.” Amy ripped off a long piece of cloth from her pillowcase and found a six-inch pink comb inside. “Okay, Bowser, let me wrap your leg with this.” Amy let the dog sniff the piece of pillowcase and the comb. “I’ll make you a splint. Is that okay? I don’t expect you to bite me. Be a good girl.” The dog lay still, and Amy’s hands worked in concert to complete the splint. “Good girl.
“Do you have a name? Of course you do. What a dumb question. Is it on your collar?” Amy spun the collar around. “Sure enough, your name’s Lucy.” Lucy gave a small woof and licked Amy’s hand again. Amy started to stand when she heard a high-pitched sound like a stuttered whinny. She cupped her hands over her ears and listened to an ever-so-slight whinny coming from down the landslide. “Lucy, you lie still. I have to go find the horse. It may be trapped like you were.” Lucy released a low howl.
Amy moved down the slope to see a magnificent brown and white horse’s head and half of its body sticking out beyond the rocks. It raised its head and gave a slight shake before it flopped down. Amy hustled to its side and stared at the rib cage. It’s not breathing. Oh, dear. Did it just die? Mercy. Amy moved closer. Her fear was true. She was too late to help the horse. Now what? Oh, dear. The horse has a saddle. Where’s the rider? “Hello? Hello?” Amy listened and heard nothing except more rocks, which traveled down the slope to the valley floor.
Amy gazed out over the valley—nothing. The man had told her nothing for miles. What was she going to do with a dog with a broken leg, a dead horse, and a missing rider? She glanced back at Lucy. “Hey, Lucy, you got any ideas? I’m fresh out.”
Lucy barked and limped toward a nearby pile of rocks. “What is it, Lucy?” Lucy barked louder and tried to claw away the rocks but fell exhausted.
Amy scrambled back to Lucy. One by one, she pulled rocks away, and Lucy whined. “Hello in there. Can you hear me?” Nothing. Removal of rock after rock revealed nothing. Amy’s fingers oozed blood from the rough rubble. The pain became unbearable. This is stupid just because a dog barked at the rocks. I’m done. “Lucy, let’s leave and find a place far from this rockslide to spend the night. Come on.”
Amy moved down the slope. Lucy did not budge. “Lucy, come on.”
She did not move. Amy moved further down the slope. She looked back at Lucy and saw her scratching at the rocks whimpering. She managed to roll one small rock before she collapsed on her side. Her legs still twitched as if digging.
Amy kicked a stone. “Oh, alright. I’ll come back, but there had better be a good reason you’re so stubborn.”
She climbed back up the slope. Lucy’s tail flopped once against the rocks. Amy knelt and lifted away a small boulder. She almost passed out from the intense pain. “Lucy, I need help. Even if I want to dig, I can’t. My fingers are so sore I can’t lift one more of these.” Tears rolled down her face. She wiped them away.
Lucy turned her head toward the dead horse and whimpered. “What are you trying to tell me?” Lucy faced the horse again and whimpered. “I should go to the horse?” Lucy gave a throaty bark.
Amy sighed. “Okay. I’ll go, but why?”
She had only taken a couple of careful steps when the saddlebags registered in her mind. She hurried to the horse and tried to open a saddlebag. It caused extreme pain in her raw fingers. It opened before Amy had to succumb to the fierce agony. She exhaled. “Lucy, I found gloves. Although, a little big, but they’re better than nothing.”
She climbed back up the treacherous slope to remove more rocks. Rock by rock the hole got deeper. Even though exhaustion filled her body, she kept working. Several rocks later, she gasped at the sight of a small patch of a blue plaid shirt. Her adrenaline kicked in, and rocks flew in record speed. She paused when her eyes beheld flesh, then the face of a man. “Hello?” No response. Amy removed a glove to feel the man’s neck for a pulse. “Lucy, he’s alive. He’s alive.”
Lucy perked up and howled. The man moaned.
“Can you hear me?”
The man’s head wiggled ever so slightly. Lucy whined.
“Stay still. I’ll dig you out. Like you can move.”
Lucy, broken leg and all, climbed down to lick the man’s face. Amy struggled to remove more rocks, being ever so careful to place them on the downhill side of the hole, which had grown to four feet deep, less, they should fall back in and do more damage. She was mindful of the huge one pinning his legs. How am I going to move that?
The last rock she could move finally came out. The big one remained. She climbed on it. After gripping onto adjoining rocks, she planted her feet on the big one. She sucked in a deep breath and pushed with all her power. The rock did not budge. Spasms grabbed her back. The pain radiated down her legs. She tried to push the rock, until she had no more energy. She shielded her eyes, gazed across the valley, and hoped for help. Nothing. The sky had grown dark. Night sure came up fast. Now what?
Amy climbed from the hole and made her way to the horse, where she retrieved a bedroll, a rain slicker, and some jerky.
Back at the dig, she looked at her blood soaked gloves, the man, and Lucy. She guessed her mom’s evil ways may have done some good. In a way, she chased her here and let her save a dog’s life and a man’s. She hoped they’d all survive the night. What if more rocks came down on them? What if he died in the night? Then again, in the morning, how in the world was she going to get him any help?”
She sat on a rock trying to gain some strength to secure the rain slicker, with some fallen rocks, at the top edge of the hole, above the man’s head. With that accomplished, she eased herself into the hole, careful not to step on the man or any loose rocks. “Mister, I hope you don’t mind, but I am going to lay on top of you for two reasons, you need to stay warm, and I need a place to sleep.” She eased herself onto him and spread the bedroll over them before she reached up to stretch out the rain slicker.
Lucy crawled down, once again, and snuggled in.