Archived: Stranger on the Road by Ann McAdams

“Are you alright, ma’am?” The young sheriff’s deputy asked in a kind, southern drawl.

“I guess so,” she said shaking. “I mean…I am not sure.”

She sat on the passenger side of the truck. The door was open, the top right side of her body leaned against the front of the bench while her legs hung out the passenger door. Pieces of her favorite green outfit were torn from the attack. Her tall, lanky body was covered in bumps, bruises, scrapes, and mud. Her long blonde hair hung over her bloodied face. She cried uncontrollably.

Shelby Davis was driving home one humid summer evening after she ate dinner at her best friend’s house. It started to rain just as she drove her car out onto the two-lane pavement of the desolate rural road in east Alabama and headed off into the foggy night.  There were acres and acres of land along this road. The houses along the road were few and far between.

The right front wheel of her car hit a large water-filled pothole, “BAMM!!!” about a mile and quarter up the road. The rain came down hard as she pulled over to the right shoulder of the dark road, got out and ran to the front of her car to see what happened. The tire was flat. “Oh shit!” she shouted as she slammed her right fist onto the hood of her car.

Shelby ran back to the driver’s side of her light blue car and fumbled through her purse to try and find her cellphone, so she could call a friend for help. She left her cellphone at her apartment by mistake.

She scurried to the trunk of her car. She pulled out the tools and the spare tire and ran to the front of the car to fix the tire.

Just as she knelt on the mud next to the flat tire, an old rustic-looking red pickup truck pulled up and stopped. The truck’s blinding lights were on. A man in his sixties jumped out of the cab, spat a wad of nasty tobacco onto the dark roadway and asked, “Ya’ need help?”

“Why, yes.”

The man, who had a long scraggly beard and a mustache, wore a crimson colored cap with a white flourished letter A on the front, a faded Alabama Crimson Tide t-shirt that had a lot of grease and oil stains on it, and a pair of faded, worn out jeans that had holes in the knees. He got down on the ground as she stood up. The odor of cigarette smoke permeated his clothing, and she could not stand it.  “Oh, I can help ya’ with dat,” he said in his native Alabama southern drawl. “This will take me a few minutes. Here you hold the flashlight while I do this.”

He put the jack underneath the vehicle to lift it off the ground. He took the lug wrench and loosened the lug nuts before he twisted them off. After he finished putting the spare tire on, he lowered the car and they noticed that the spare was flat, too. “Oh, damn,” she swore under her breath.

“It looks like you are going to need a ride. Is dere someone you can call?”

“Do you have a cellphone I could borrow?”

“I don’t have one on me. I can give ya’ a ride. Where ya’ headed?”

“Auburn.” Shelby had been shivering for the past few minutes.

They walked back to the Chevy pickup. He opened the passenger door. “Git in.”

“Thank you.”

She climbed in. He climbed in through the driver’s side door and started the engine. The truck was a rickety bucket of nails. It vibrated for a moment after he started the engine. “My name is Jim Bob Popper. What your name, darlin’?”

“Shelby…Shelby Davis,” she said still shivering from her damp clothes. “Go forward until you get to the intersection and turn left.”

He sped off into the night. In less than a minute the noisy big truck was bumbling up to the intersection. He stopped the truck for a moment and he reached into his glove box and pulled out a brown flask and took a swig of his bourbon. When he put the flask back in the glove box, she could see something black and silvery, but he quickly shut the glove box before she could figure out what it was. He had just left a bar on highway fifty-one, where he watched baseball and drank two bottles of beer when he pulled up behind Shelby’s car.

He turned left at the intersection. They came upon another intersection within half a mile. By then his driving had become erratic since he took that swig. Shelby became nervous as the man pulled up to the intersection. She was beginning to think she made a mistake. “Go straight ahead.”

Instead he turned left. “Where are you going?” she hollered.

“This is the way to Auburn, isn’t it?”

“This is not the way I want you to go. Please turn around and head back to that road.”

He continued down the road at seventy-five miles per hour. “Stop!” she shouted. “I want to get out! Let me out!”

They came upon a sharp curve. She jerked the steering wheel and the truck skidded off the shoulder of the road and slammed into a guardrail.

He reached over and punched her in the face. “Crazy ass bitch!!! Why the hell did ya’…”

Shelby jumped out the passenger side door and ran for her life. He jumped out and chased after her. Her foot got caught in the muddy grass as she ran down the hill, and she fell sideways in the mud. When she rolled over onto her knees, he jumped down on top of her, rolled her back over, and held her arms to the ground. Her instincts kicked in. She spit in his face and then kneed him in the gonads. “Aww FUCK!”

She pushed him off, got up and ran while he reeled in pain. She ran back to the truck. When she returned she saw that he was up and moving toward her at a slower gait. She reached into the passenger side, opened the glove box, pulled out a .44 Remington Magnum, and turned to him as he was still coming at her. “Pow!!!” He stopped suddenly, and his body jerked as his heart exploded in his chest. He fell backward hitting his head on the ground.

Minutes later a sheriff’s car with its blue and red flashing lights pulled up behind the truck. An officer got out, and he radioed for an ambulance when he stopped and observed the dead man’s body. He cautiously walked over to the passenger side of the truck. He asked in a kind, southern drawl, “Are you alright ma’am?”

“I guess so,” she said shaking. “I mean…I am not sure.”