Hitching to Cincinnati with a Guy Named Verne
After the gloom of Dripping Fang Forest, the blue white light from the full moon was almost blinding. Cheyenne and Wally emerged from the trees and found themselves out on the highway. The sky in the east was only just beginning to lighten up at the edges. There was no traffic, but they could see a lone car approaching in the distance.
"You think it's safe to hitchhike?" Wally asked.
"Sure," said Cheyenne. "What could possibly happen to us hitchhiking?"
"I don't know," said Wally, "but in the past twenty-four hours, we were adopted by two ladies who turned out to be giant ants, we were attacked by a glowing ten-foot-long slug, we nearly had our throats torn out by man-eating wolves, and a really nice professor who invited us to tea turned out to have a wife who's an enormous eight-legged spider. And you're asking what could happen to us hitchhiking?"
Although Wally and Cheyenne Shluffmuffin were twins, their outlooks on life were quite different. Cheyenne saw only the good side of life, Wally only the bad. Cheyenne saw a beach and thought hot sand and thundering surf. Wally saw a beach and thought sunstroke, riptides, and choking on salt water.
As the car approached, the twins stuck out their thumbs. They heard the high hum of the car's tires go down the scale as it slowed up, then heard the car yerp to a stop.
"Hi there!" called the driver, a man with a gray crew cut. "You kids like a lift?"
"Yes, if you're going toward Cincinnati," asked Wally.
"Sure am," said the driver. "Hop in."
Wally climbed inside. Cheyenne got in after him and slammed the door. The car took off again.
"Name's Verne," said the driver. "What they call you?"
"I'm Cheyenne, he's Wally," said Cheyenne.
"You kids look pretty young to be out so late, all alone on a deserted highway," said Verne. "Your mommy and daddy know you're out so late?"
"Our mommy and daddy are dead," said Wally.
"Oh, sorry to hear that," said Verne. "Who's been takin' care of you?"
"Hortense Jolly and two giant ants," said Wally.
"That's okay, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to," said Verne. "I was just makin' conversation. Me, I used to work at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I was a janitor in Hangar 18, where they did autopsies on the aliens they found in them UFO crashes."
"Really?" said Cheyenne. She stifled a sneeze.
"Yep. I swiped me a alien brain once as a souvenir. Put 'er in a jar of alcohol, figured she might be worth somethin' someday. Keep 'er in my trunk, if you wanna have a peek." He winked at them. "Whattaya say, wanna take a peek at 'er?"
"No thanks," said Wally. "We wouldn't want to slow you down."
"It wouldn't slow me down none," said Verne. "It wouldn't take no time at all. I could just pull over to the shoulder and pop the trunk."
"Maybe some other time," said Wally. "We're in kind of a hurry to get back to Cincinnati."
"Fair enough," said Verne, "fair enough. We'll do it some other time, then. You just tell me when."
Wally leaned close to Cheyenne and whispered in her ear: "This guy's a weirdo. First time he stops, we're making a run for it."
Cheyenne nodded. Approaching them, way in the distance, were the headlights of a very large truck. She dreamily watched them getting larger and larger.
"What type of music you kids like to listen to while we drive?" Verne asked.
"Oh, happy songs," said Cheyenne, blotting her runny nose.
"Happy songs, eh? Okay, let's see what we got here," said Verne.
He leaned across the twins, opened the glove compartment, and started to rummage through it.
"Maybe you should keep your eyes on the road, Verne," said Wally.
"Good advice, buddy," said Verne, still rummaging. "Darned good advice."
The truck, an eighteen-wheeler, hurtled toward them in the opposite lane. As Verne's car drifted over the double yellow line into its path, the truck driver flashed his brights and sounded his air horn. Verne kept on rummaging.
Just before the vehicles collided in an ugly mangle of metal, Wally grabbed the steering wheel and yanked it hard to the right. The truck swerved. The car rocked violently in the whoosh of air from the passing truck. Wally yanked the wheel back to the left before they hit the shoulder.
"Whoo-hoo!" yelled Verne. "Close one! The way these truckers drive, it's a wonder they give 'em licenses at all, eh, Wally?"
"Yeah," Wally gasped.
"Well, little lady," said Verne to Cheyenne, "all I could find is this here CD of Greatest Funeral Favorites, if that's okay with you."
"That's fine." Cheyenne gulped.
So they listened in silence to an hour of suffocatingly grim organ music from Greatest Funeral Favorites as they drove to Cincinnati while the sky turned pink in the east.
The first stoplight they hit was a five-way intersection that bordered the swamps at the city limits. Cheyenne and Wally leaped out of the car and ran for their lives.
Copyright © 2006 by Dan Greenburg
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