The Nearest Town

January 11, 2012 § 4 Comments

The road wound down the landscape for miles. An endless blacktop that seemed to lead nowhere. The skies were clouded with an oncoming storm, drowning out the moon – suffocating the stars. All around the car, fog ate away any extended vision.

Deanne struggled against sleep as she fought to break through the thickening fog — physically and mentally. Somewhere in the distance, a light shone, drifting at the side of the road. With a little relief, she thought she’d finally made it to a town.

Her brow furrowed as the light wafted closer without a building silhouette. As the car rounded the bend and the light cleared, she saw a girl walking the road with a flashlight in hand. Deanne stopped the car. Hesitating only a moment, she rolled the window down.

“Do you need a ride? It’s dangerous out here with just a flashlight in all this fog.”

The girl stared at her. Unnerving as it was, Deanne leaned across the seat and opened the passenger door. The girl made no move to approach, but she didn’t leave either.

“Hey, it’s okay, sweetheart.” Deanne smiled at the girl who, after a moment of unsettling staring, managed a weak smile and climbed in. “What’s your name?”

“Josie, Ma’am.”

“Josie. Okay. Where do you need to go?”

“The nearest town, Ma’am.”

Deanne nodded, engaging the car and pulling out slowly. She didn’t know what to say to the girl, but she was curious. Josie looked no older than twelve and no younger than nine. Why was she out on a night like this? Why was she out on a night like this alone? Where were her parents or guardians?

Not wanting to spook her, Deanne glanced at her and flashed another friendly smile. “How old are you, sweetheart?”

“Eleven.”

“Oh, you’re a might brave in comparison.”

“In comparison to what, Ma’am?”

“You can call me, Deanne.”

“No, thank you, Ma’am. Momma told me never to address a lady by her given name. I don’t want to disrespect.”

“Oh. Well, sure. Ma’am is just fine. Would you mind if I asked why you’re out alone?”

“No, Ma’am, but what am I brave in comparison to?”

“To other girls your age, sweetheart.”

“Oh. I’m…” Josie hesitated.

Deanne glanced at her again. The girl was small, but she wasn’t meek. She seemed like the kind of girl that would grow up to wrangle life. “Not like other girls your age?”

“Well, no, Ma’am. I was going to say I’m appreciative of the compliment.”

“You’re welcome. So why are you out alone?”

“It’s just my way. I spend an eternity of nights walking to the nearest town. If I don’t… what else would I do?”

“What about your mom?”

“She passed on when I was too little to know her name or remember her face.”

“Your dad?”

“He’s a demon, Ma’am. A demon from Hell and I ain’t going back to him.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Do you have family in the next town?”

“No.”

“Friends of family?”

“No.”

“How will you live?”

“Moving to the nearest town.”

Deanne went back to driving in silence. She stole a glance at the girl from time to time. Josie stared out the window, watching darkness pass. She looked neither happy or sad. Deanne glanced at the console clock. Josie didn’t look tired, either, even at two in the morning.

“How far is the nearest town?”

“Don’t know, Ma’am. I’ve never made it that far.”

“You’ve tried before?”

“Every night, Ma’am.”

A thought occurred to Deanne. What if she had a runaway in her car? She could find herself rounding a cell door come tomorrow. “Your father — why do you hate him?”

“I don’t hate him, I’m terrified of him. He’s my poppa, so I love him, but I don’t ever want him to hurt me.”

“He hits you?”

“Not yet. Just makes me do stuff I don’t want to do. Awful stuff. Stuff The Lord might remember with ill will.”

“What sort of things did he make you do?”

“Kill men, Ma’am.”

Knee-jerk reaction almost put the car into a spin when Deanne slammed her foot on the brake. Once the car had stopped, she turned in her seat to face Josie. “He had you kill people?”

“No, not people. Just men. Men are evil. Women are sinful. Children are foolish and grow to be men or women.”

“Did you run away, Josie?”

“I can’t run away. He just puts me back at the beginning again and makes me walk.” Josie sighed, suddenly looking as tired as she should have half an hour before.

“Your father makes you walk to the next town?”

“The nearest town.”

“But you don’t know how far off that is?”

“Never made it there.”

“What do you mean?”

“I didn’t want to kill men. He said he’d send me to this road and I’d walk to the nearest town, but if I ever ran away he’d send me back home. He’d send me back home with lashes and I’d have to kill men. He said I’d have to kill women, too.”

“What’s your father’s name?”

“He ain’t got a name, Ma’am. No one at home has a name. It ain’t like Momma’s home where everyone has a name and a heart.”

“Josie?” Deanne swallowed. “Why does he make you walk the road?”

“To catch sinners, Ma’am.”

“To catch sinners. What’s that mean?”

“It means I catch sinners when they come down the road. I got tired of walking tonight, so I rode with you awhile.”

“Josie, I can take you somewhere where they can take you away from your father and keep you safe.”

“There’s no such place, Ma’am. He’s a demon from Hell and he won’t stop at sinners when he gets mad. If he had to chase me, he’d kill you all and I’d be the one to have to do it.”

“Josie, listen to me—”

“Ma’am, I don’t want to disrespect you. My momma was a good soul. She wouldn’t sin and she wouldn’t fall and she taught me the Rights as long as she could. Like I said, I don’t want to disrespect you, but I can’t go with you.”

Josie turned her attention to the darkness outside. It was as still as darkness could be and the fog was finally lifting. Josie sighed again and reached a blind hand toward Deanne’s. When she found it she smiled.

“Josie, please, let me help you.”

“You want to help me?”

“Yes! Yes, I do.”

“Will you come down this road every night?”

“I don’t even know where I am.”

“No one ever does when they get here. It’s like being lost in the Kentucky hills — only black and filled with night.”

“Are you from Kentucky?”

“No, but I always wanted to go there and see that blue grass they boast about.”

“I’ll take you there if you just come with me.”

“I can’t. Will you just come down this road every night? I’d like to ride a ways with you. You remind me of Momma. Blessed and lost as she was.”

Trying to be clever, Deanne considered the request for a moment. If she could figure out what backroad she was on, she could come down it for a few weeks. She could convince Josie to seek safety. Nodding, she squeezed Josie’s hand. “I’ll come down every night.”

“Yeah,” Josie smiled, a weak mask of disbelief. She slid her hand from Deanne’s and climbed from the car.

Before the door closed, Deanne called out. “I promise, Josie.”

Josie nodded, a blissful grin and laughed. “Thank you!”

When she disappeared into the darkness, Deanne pulled away. As soon as she found a town, she’d call the police. Then every night she would come down the desolate road until Josie was ready to accept security.

A yawn escaped as Deanne drove. The road wound down the landscape for miles. An endless blacktop that seemed to lead nowhere.

Ahead in the darkness, a light drifted.

Day 11 – 365 Stories

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