In The Writer’s Block, spark words are one or two words accompanied by a photo meant to inspire a story. You can go off the word, the picture, or both, and it doesn’t have to be a literal interpretation. It’s just meant to get the creative juices flowing.
Spark word: Hitchhiker
Rain lay so thick across the windshield the flick of the wipers did nothing but create flashes of clarity along the dark, winding Arkansas back road. Choosing this route now felt like a mistake. If James had checked the forecast, he’d have stuck to the highway no matter how miserable he felt.
There was one good thing about the deluge. He didn’t have time to think about how frail his mother looked in her hospital bed or the look in his uncle’s eyes when he left, both of them lying to each other in optimistic tones that a little rest was probably just the thing. He almost regretted coming at all. The last time he had seen his mother a few months prior she was her usual strong self, insisting on hanging the wash out to dry rather than using the dryer he and his brother had bought for her for Christmas. If he had to have a final memory, that one was preferable.
He almost ran off the road to avoid a pale figure that loomed suddenly in the reflected glare of his headlights. “Jesus!” he exclaimed. Trying to look in his rear view was an exercise in futility. He tried to tell himself he was just seeing things or that he had strayed closer to the roadside than he intended and just saw a sign. Under normal circumstances, he’d have succeeded and written it off as not his problem.
His mother was dying. There was nothing normal about this night. As soon as he found a piece of shoulder big enough to use to turn his beat up station wagon around, he did it little by little, paranoid some jackass in a big truck would just barrel around a blind curve regardless of the weather and t-bone him or worse. He crept along back the way he had come. After what seemed like longer than it should have been, he saw the figure again, a stick of a girl in a white t-shirt and dark shorts, hugging herself and trudging with her head down. She had to be freezing.
He swerved closer into the wrong lane and turned his dome light on, then rolled his window down enough to shout, “Get in! You’re going to drown out here!”
He caught a glimpse of skeptical eyes under a curtain of dark, sodden hair, hesitation that cost him a soaked arm and wetness seeping into his seat cushion. She nodded and hurried around to the passenger side to let herself in. The slam of the door shook the whole car. He quickly rolled his window up. “Where are you headed?” he asked. She flinched away from him when he leaned over to open the glove box. He leaned back again and held a hand up in a gesture of harmlessness. “Napkins. Help yourself. They’re not much. Better than nothing, huh?”
“Thanks.” She grabbed a few handfuls and began wiping at her face. He turned off the dome light and slowly pulled back into the correct lane. He had always been told never to pick up hitchhikers, that they were either maniacs or ghosts, bad news no matter what. “El Dorado,” she said, a thread of cautious hope in her quiet voice. “I was driving up to see my parents. My car died maybe a couple of miles back.”
“I just came from there. My folks live there, too. Well, my Mom. Dad passed a few years ago. I’ll take you back.” He picked up a little speed but not too much. He wanted to get her there in one piece.
“I should probably be scared half to death right now. I was before I got in the car.” She wiped until the napkins started to pill and disintegrate, then tossed them carefully onto the dash. “I’m glad you stopped.”
“I am, too.” It was more than just picking her up. He realized that once he dropped her off, he wasn’t stopping there. He was heading back to his Mom. How many people got a chance to rethink a decision they’d regret for the rest of their lives?