In the narrow shade of a lone, long-dead tree, a hitchhiker sat on his oversized suitcase by the side of a country road. A truck approached and he stuck out his thumb, only to retract it moments later as the truck sped by. “What a way to spend your thirtieth birthday,” the hitchhiker grumbled to himself. His birthday wasn’t for three months, and he would be turning fifty-five, but he had a point. It would be a lousy way to spend your thirtieth birthday. Six vehicles now had passed by, leaving him stranded, and they didn’t pass by often on that road. In his younger days he never had any trouble hitchhiking, but now it seemed people weren’t interested in stopping to help; for this he blamed the government. The large skull he recently had tattooed on his forehead may also have been a contributing factor.
He didn’t know where he was headed and he didn’t care. For years now he had lived that way, travelling from place to place. He became a drifter after he was dishonourably discharged from the army at age nineteen. To Hell with them, he thought at the time, what’s honourable about going overseas to kill people you’ve never met? Not that he knew anything about that; his eight month stint in the armed forces had been spent entirely at the local barracks, where he devoted himself to organising and taking bets on illegal dog fights.
An engine hummed in the distance. Beads of sweat ran down the hitchhiker’s face with increasing tempo, diving from his chin and splashing into the small puddle forming between his boots. On the horizon, through ripples of haze a sedan came into view. He wiped his brow and looked up at the sky. Judging by the sun he made it about two o’clock. Had he looked at his watch he would have seen it was half past four. The car neared and he reached out his thumb again. He badly needed a drink; he hadn’t felt this hot since he wore aviator sunglasses and a perm to a workmate’s going away party in 1986. The car cruised awkwardly by; just the way people had avoided him at Wayne’s party.
Not another car passed before nightfall. The hitchhiker decided to take his chances and walk along the road. Just over the hill he stopped and laughed. In the distance, less than five miles away, he saw the lights of a small town. All day he had waited in the harsh sun, when he could have made a short hike to civilisation. Whether he was delirious from heat stroke or exhausted from years on the road—or just lonely—in that moment something changed in him. Looking at those comforting, welcoming lights in the distance, he sensed he was home. His roaming days were over and he vowed right then to give up his nomadic lifestyle. The next few minutes, walking in the cool, silent evening air, the hitchhiker felt as happy as he had ever been. He felt for the first time he might even find love and settle down. The town was actually home to a weird cult, and the hitchhiker wouldn’t have enjoyed it much. So in a way it was sweet that he was mauled to death by wolves before he made it half a mile down the road.
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