Ring, Part Five (Final)

Carl drove in silence, north through Connor, further away from Musk. Millie only glanced at him as if she were afraid of looking at him directly as she leaned into the passenger door, the cool window against her face. Her hands trembled. She felt disoriented as if she’d been hit on the head. She couldn’t think straight. Carl? Carl…

A freight truck blew past them going in the opposite direction shuddering the silence in the cab. Carl stayed focused on the road ahead and remained silent. He looked rigid like a stone statue forever frozen in its pose. Millie sniffed providing the only break in the monotonous drone of the truck’s engine. She rubbed the spot on her arm where he had grabbed her and dragged her to his truck.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked finally. Her voice sounded wounded and foreign to her. Carl didn’t respond.

“Carl, why are you doing this?” she pleaded. When he didn’t respond, she mustered up the courage to be more forceful. “Carl, answer me!”

She could feel the truck barrel forward. Her throat hurt; her insides felt like they would spill out of her at any moment. She glanced at the speedometer and became more concerned, but before she could say another word, Carl finally responded to her.

“You don’t get it do you?” Carl sounded remarkably calm, like the father-figure she thought he had been at one time.

“Get what? What do you mean?” She felt a panic surge in her chest. He seemed detached from the terrible reality between them.

He took one hand off the wheel and rubbed the side of his face as if he too were trying to wipe away that reality. “I was nice to you. I defended you when the men at the mine were catcalling you and saying disrespectful things to you. I helped you, and you didn’t notice.”

She didn’t understand what he was saying. She heard the words, but they seemed juxtaposed with the way she remembered things. “What are you talking about? I thanked you,” she said, her voice shaking. “Is that what this is about?”

“Those men would have eaten you alive if it wasn’t for me,” he continued. “And what do I have to show for it? Nothing. You treated me like some throwaway. You probably do that a lot to men, don’t you? I bet you use and discard men all the time. That’s the thing with beautiful women. You can’t trust them. They’re used to getting their way and leaving you behind.” He frowned and shook his head without taking his eyes off the road.

Confusion ran rampant in Millie’s brain. She couldn’t make sense of what Carl was saying. He sounded like a scorned boyfriend. “Carl…you’re…you’re my boss,” she said, the words stuttering from her lips.

“That’s all I am to you.” He shook his head again. “You used me.”

She felt dizzy, disoriented. “I…trusted you…as an authority figure. I was thankful for all you did. I didn’t mean to disrespect you in anyway. I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“Are you really sorry? Are you, Millie? Because I don’t think you are. I think you’re used to taking advantage of people and using them in anyway you can. That’s what beautiful women like yourself do. I know. I’ve seen it many times.”

The world around her started to spin. She felt like she was having an out-of-body experience or that she was walking through a nightmare where nothing made sense or the rules of logic had been suspended for the sake of the terror.

“Carl, I don’t understand…”

“Of course, you don’t. Women like you never do.”

“Why do you keep saying that? What did I do to disrespect you? Whatever it was, it was just a misunderstanding. I never meant to do it.” She could feel the panic rising in her chest.

“You just don’t get it. I protected you. I did something for you, and I wanted you to do something for me. That’s how it works.”

“What do you want me to do?”

Carl finally broke his trance-like focus from the road and turned his head toward her briefly. He had a half smile on his face. “I want us to be together.”

It took her a moment to process the words like she had to turn over each one and decipher it in her brain before she could string them together in a sentence that made sense.

“Be together? Carl, you’re married.”

“No, I’m not.”

She felt further confused, if that was possible. “Who is the woman in the picture on your desk? And the kids?”

He laughed abruptly. “That’s my sister and her kids. I’ve never been married.”

Millie felt like she had imagined everything that had happened since she started working at the mine, like it was some elaborate play that was coming to an end. Like all actors, Carl was something completely different than his character in this imagined world.

“But I remember someone referring to the pictures as your wife and kids. You didn’t correct them.”

He turned to her with a slight grin on his face. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was pathetic. Do you know how hard it is to be a man my age who has never been married or even been in a serious relationship? Do you?”

She didn’t answer his question as he turned his attention back to the road.

“Of course you don’t. Women like you don’t have a clue. You just use people your entire life and you get away with it. Not anymore.”

“Whatever I did to you, I am so sorry. I never meant to hurt you or disrespect you. You have to believe that.”

He didn’t respond or even acknowledge what she said. He just stared out onto the highway as if he were trying to make sense of the straight road ahead of them.

“Carl?”

“Carl!”

“It’s too late for apologies, Millie. It’s too late.”

Tears began to stream down her cheeks again as she looked at him. He refused to acknowledge her. She leaned back onto the window and took a deep breath. She kept her head still but scanned the floor beneath her and the little compartment in the door. It had been cleaned out. She had been in Carl’s truck before, and he usually had stuff scattered about, nothing that could be used to defend herself, but his truck had never been this clean. He had made an effort to clean it up before he came for her.

Thoughts clicked through her brain as if she were flipping through pages in a book. She tried to remember everything she had in her bag. It sat in the back of his pickup, well beyond her reach, but it had nothing but clothes, some toiletries, and her dead phone minus the charger. She strained to think of something, but she was truly defenseless. Until a memory floated into her mind.

One morning during the previous winter, she had rode with Carl up to the edge of the mine to investigate a sample site. Although they had only been at the office for a couple of hours, a layer of ice had formed on his windshield when they got into his truck. She remembered him rambling about how he always kept an ice scraper in his glove compartment. This isn’t one of those cheap plastic ones. It’s heavy duty because the ice here in the winter can be thick. You should get yourself one.

Millie eyed the door to the glove compartment. Is it still in there?

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“Wyoming.”

“Why Wyoming?”

“There’s a place I want to take you there. It’s beautiful. You’ll love it.”

She considered this for a moment. “I have to use the bathroom,” she said.

Carl looked at her briefly before turning back to the highway. “You’ll have to wait. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“I have to go really bad.”

“Can’t you wait until there’s a gas station or something?”

“No.”

“You just want to go on the side of the road?”

She looked at the blur of bushes along the side of the highway. “I can go behind these bushes.”

He eyed her suspiciously. “Don’t get any ideas. There’s nowhere to go. We’re miles from anywhere. People die out here all the time from dehydration and exposure every summer.”

“I’m not going to run. I just need to pee. Please.”

At first she thought he would ignore her, but then, she felt the truck start to decelerate. He slowed more forcefully and pulled over to the side of the road. She looked ahead and then back. She hadn’t seen another car for a long time, and none looked to be headed in their direction. The blacktop gleamed for miles in either direction.

“Hurry up.”

“Okay.”

Millie opened the door and climbed down from the truck. Carl got out as well and walked around to her side. She stood by the door for a moment until Carl nodded toward the bushes. “Come on,” he chided. “We don’t have all day.”

She felt his eyes on her as she climbed down the dusty embankment near the road and stepped through the shortest of the bushes. The scraggly leaves snagged her jeans as she made her way toward a more private spot. She looked back at him before she squatted down behind the bigger bushes and pretended to relieve herself. She didn’t stand up until she had thought everything through one more time.

“Let’s go!” Carl yelled from the side of the truck. His voice carried well in the stagnant air.

“Okay!”

She kept the charade going from behind the bush, taking time to button her pants and rubbing her palms on the thighs of her jeans. He seemed convinced, but he stayed put by the side of the truck as she climbed up the embankment. He even smiled at her as she came up to the truck.

“Feel better?”

She nodded.

“Good, because that’s the last stop until Wyoming.”

She stared at him for a moment, which seemed to freeze him in his tracks for just a few seconds, precious time for her. As he took his first step around the truck, she pulled open the door and swung into the passenger seat. She popped open the glove compartment and almost felt elated when she saw the ice scraper. She grabbed it’s rubbery handle and quickly put the weapon at her side as she slapped the door of the glove compartment shut.

Carl opened the driver’s door. He seemed out of breath from the walk around the truck. In an instant, Millie looked at the keys dangling from the ignition, and as he lumbered up into the driver’s seat, she slid toward him and struck him on the face with the ice scraper.

At first, she thought her blow did nothing to stop him. She recoiled and struck him again in quick succession. He howled and stumbled back from the door but remained halfway in the truck. She swung her legs up onto the seat and kicked with all of her might. He grunted and tried to fight back, grabbing her ankle and twisting hard. He howled again and cursed her, but she kept fighting. He pulled her closer and she swung the ice scraper at him again, stabbing the air with its metallic blade. It made contact, but it felt insignificant until she saw the blood, lots of it, gushing from his forehead.

She kept kicking and swinging. She heard a loud feral scream that she didn’t realize was her own voice until Carl stumbled and fell out of the truck. He almost pulled her out with him until she gave him another kick. Her ankle ached as she pulled it back from the edge of the door. She quickly grabbed the door and yanked it shut, but something blocked it. She tried to slam it again until she noticed Carl’s hand still wedged into the door jamb. She kicked it away and slammed the door shut.

Her whole body shook. Her heart felt like it would pump through her chest. She could barely turn the ignition because her fingers wouldn’t cooperate, but once the engine roared to life, she gunned it. The truck ran over something, and she felt sick as she looked in the rear view mirror and saw Carl lying on the side of the road like road kill.

She didn’t stop, and he didn’t appear to move as she sped away. She pumped the gas harder until she could no longer see him lying there. Only then did she start crying. Only then did she wail into space of the cabin like a wounded animal. One day, she’d make sense of all of this, but today, she was just glad to be alive.

She drove well above the speed limit. The truck’s tires chewed up the blacktop until she came upon a small town that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Her hands still trembled when she pulled into a gas station. She sat there for a moment looking around at the few people at the pumps. Every man she saw looked like Carl. She took a deep breath and stepped out of the truck. Her wobbly legs carried her into the gas station where she asked the attendant to call the police. After she shrugged off the attendant’s concern, she returned to the truck and sat there with the doors locked until she saw the flashing lights pull into the station.

Dancing (or Writing) with Myself

Billy Idol, that hyper-cool rocker from the 1980s, said it best when he sang “There’s nothing to lose and nothing to prove” in his hit “Dancing with Myself”. While his love-lorn song about dancing solo may have been a hit with fans for its rhythmic beat (and let’s be real, Idol was just so cool back then), the lyrics tell the story of a traveler (a rock star, perhaps) that’s missing that one girl but makes the best of being alone.

While I can’t imagine that the life of a rock star is one of loneliness, I can say that of the writer is in many respects. It’s a solo act for sure. Hours spent pounding away on a keyboard, thinking through plot lines, or simply reading and re-reading drafts are not activities that lend themselves to group engagement. Sure, writing groups exist that remedy the isolation, but I find such groups feel like swimming in very choppy water where I get tossed from side to side by the waves of varying opinions that often conflict with one another. It’s like purposefully tossing myself into a giant blender and trying to avoid getting dizzy. I’d rather not.

Instead, I spend all of my writing time holed away in my office. By now, I’ve amassed thousands of pages of writing on this blog, in my Scrivener program, or in various documents. Much of it unseen or untouched by anyone but myself. I have seven novels that made it to the first draft. I have several incomplete novels that linger in a purgatory of sorts. I feel like a hoarder watching over my room full of books and stories that are piled up to the ceiling, some fanned open and others stacked in haphazard columns that threaten to topple over. On second thought, let’s chuck the hoarder imagery; that gives me the creeps.

I’m sure the next time I sit down in my chair to start writing I’ll hear Idol belting out the chorus to this song, or maybe, just maybe, I’ll pull up the song on my phone and have a listen. You just never know what will inspire you to write.

My 300th Post

On February 11, 2014, I welcomed everyone to this blog with my very first post. By that time, I had been writing on a regular schedule for almost two years and I felt it was time to put some of my work out into the world. I envisioned this blog as a place to experiment with ideas and share concepts, sometimes incomplete, with others. Although I had three novel drafts under my belt by that time, I was just beginning to find my groove.

A lot has changed in the ensuing six years. I’ve continued to post to this blog. It has evolved as has my approach to writing. I closed down a separate personal blog and combined all of my efforts here. I’ve written several more novel drafts, but my output has slowed dramatically over the past two years. I’ve started and not finished a couple of novels, but I’ve continued to write, even if the stuff I’m writing is just random, personal anecdotes. I’ve played with different ideas and genres. I’ve read more and learned more.

Sometimes, it feels like I haven’t progressed much from six years ago. I’m still unpublished, but to be fair, I haven’t pushed anything in front of an agent in over two years. My focus has been on getting better, and the only way you can get better is through practice. My one writing goal this year is to take a couple of writing courses at a local college, but that has been delayed by the pandemic that has all but ended in-person courses for a while. I’ll consider taking the courses virtually if this continues much longer.

To be honest, the push to get published sucked the fun out of writing. For a while, I was sending stuff out regularly, and if I heard anything back, it was all negative. Even the most positive person can only take so much negativity before it takes it’s toll. I decided that I’d rather write for an audience of one and enjoy the hell out of it than continue down the path I had originally plotted, so I stopped. I even considered stopping this blog and just storing away my work on my hard drive for my own creative outlet, but for now at least, I’ll keep posting here. The fact that I’ve made it to my 300th post constitutes some level of perseverance considering I’m mostly talking to myself.

Life Lessons

At the end of this year, I’ll turn the big five-oh. It’s a milestone I’d rather forget before it even happens. I’d like to think that I figured out most things in almost five decades on this planet, but I’d be lying if I said that. However, I have learned some things that may be useful. As my daughter used to say when she was a toddler, let’s go look.

Older…but wiser?

If you’re over the age of 13, you know that cliches are tired sayings repeated by older people meant to teach a lesson. Cliches rely on stereotypes and represent lazy shortcuts for people who’ve given up on actual critical thinking. As with all cliches, there’s some element of truth to them. The “older is wiser” cliche makes a giant leap in causality and assumes that someone who manages to survive is somehow wiser based on the experience that they’ve endured as a result of the passage of time. In theory, this should be true if (and this is a big if) said person actually learned lessons from the experience and evolved as a result. Unfortunately, most adults stop evolving shortly after they reach adulthood, and there are simply too many examples where “wiser” would be a very generous assessment. This cliche should be buried in the cemetery for bad ideas.

What is truth exactly?

As a kid, truth seemed like a certainty, solid as gravity, but as an adult, I quickly realized that truth is incredibly fungible. Two people can view the same event at the exact same moment and come away with their own truths. The reality is that our “truth” is colored by our own biases and ignorance. When I was in school, I used to think that at least history was certain because it involved events that had happened in the past, but even that is constantly being reevaluated and rewritten. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly in my lifetime. As an adult and a fan of history, I realize how misleading and very incomplete our history lessons were. At least we have gravity.

Adults are winging it

When I was a kid, I thought adulthood meant that I’d have most things figured out and that I could say goodbye to all of the petty insecurities of high school. Imagine my disappointment when I arrived at the adulthood party only to find that it wasn’t all that exciting. Not only do adults continue to suffer from petty insecurities (some never really evolve beyond high school), but they don’t have shit figured out and likely never will. We’re all winging it. .

Toxic people must go

Some people are hard-wired for negativity. They attract all of the unnecessary drama of the universe onto themselves through their negative energy and they redirect it to others. This toxic brew taxes even the most positive among us. Some of these people may be our friends or members of our family, and so we feel an obligation to keep them in our lives as some twisted act of loyalty. These people bring everyone around them down by lashing out and/or generally making our lives miserable. Life’s too short for this shit. Kick them to the curb. You’ll be much happier without them.

Things are never as good or as bad as you think

When things are bad (as they are now), it can seem like the world is ending, that nothing will ever be good again. Human nature tends to let negative thoughts play out in the worst possible way. Yes, bad things happen, and yes, they’re painful, but in the end, it’s rarely as bad as originally thought. On the flip side, things are rarely as good as you believe, either. I’ve seen this riff repeated over and over again with people reminiscing about the past. The past seems better because it’s certain and cannot be changed when compared to the present and the future, which is a vast, sometimes scary, unknown.

We’re more alike than we’re different

Human nature tends toward tribalism. There’s always an “us” and a “them”. These faux divisions create unnecessary strife and unpleasantness in the world. I like to say you don’t really know someone until you sit down with them and have a meal together. That communal act can bridge a lot of differences and make you realize how similar we all are. I’ve learned this repeatedly as I’ve traveled over the years and met different people all over the world. One thing that has always struck me when I explored a new place was how different it was on the ground than how it was portrayed in popular media. Unfortunately, too many people practice lazy, TV diplomacy where they view other parts of the world as it is presented on the TV news, which is exactly the worst place to learn about our neighbors.

Life is too short to be a pessimist

Life is full of ups and downs. Some days it feels like there are more downs than ups, but that should not define your outlook. If it does, then you’re missing out. When I lived in Seattle, the winters could be challenging because of the seemingly endless cloudy, gray days, but then, you’d get this wonderful, sunny day thrown in there that just seemed surreal and amazing. Mt. Rainier would bask in the sunset on Puget Sound, and I’d soak it all in. Those days in the winter made all of the cloudy days seem insignificant. If I had just focused on the cloudy days, I would have missed out on the joy of the sunny ones, and those days made it all worth it. Focus on the beautiful, sunny days.

Like all old people, I have a penchant for offering unsolicited advice. Take it for what it’s worth.

Learn to Lose

When my son was a young boy, he had a very difficult time with accountability. If a situation arose and he didn’t get his way, he’d lash out and then blame anything and anyone for his response (somehow his older sister was his favorite target). It took my wife and I a long time to get him to understand that actions have consequences and that he was accountable for his response no matter what. Granted, most young children have this issue because, in general, they can’t think logically until they are older, but remnants of this problem can persist into the teenage years and even into adulthood. I’ve witnessed it a lot the last few days in the world around me, mostly with adults.

The reality is that life is not fair in any sense of the word, nor should we expect it to be. All of us lose much of the time. In this case, I’m using “lose” in a crude way to describe any situation where life doesn’t go as you planned or you don’t get your way. Certainly, this is overly simplistic, but the premise still holds true: You will lose a lot in life, so you better learn to do it well.

Acknowledging this and accepting it doesn’t make it any easier or more fun, but doing so helps you stay focused on the things that really matter. J.K. Rowling “lost” a lot on her path to publication. Just about every successful author has stories of rejection and famous last words from agents or publishers who didn’t feel their work was worthy of publication. In these situations, you essentially have two choices: (1) roll over and die, metaphorically or (2) learn and keep moving forward.

Obviously, the second choice is preferable, but it’s so hard to do. In moments of frustration, it’s easy to lash out, like my son did when he was younger, and blame anything and anyone for your loss, but not only is that counterproductive, it doesn’t move you forward. If anything, it proves you’re a poor loser, and poor losers get stuck in life like a car whose spinning tires just dig deeper into the mud.

This is not to say that you can’t vent. You can, but put a limit on that and don’t let it define your path forward. We all know people who’ve let a loss consume them and they constantly prattle on about how they’ve been wronged. After a while it becomes trite and annoying, and if they can’t move past it, you’ll often move on from them. We all lose a lot. We get it. Move on.

Winston Churchill allegedly said that “success is moving from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” Regardless of who may have coined this saying, it holds true. We have to learn to lose or we won’t get anywhere in life. Whining and blaming won’t get you there. Just ask my son.

Ring, Part Four

Millie’s hands shook as she sat on the bed in the outdated motel room. She flexed her fingers trying to calm down, but she gave up and pressed her palms into the faded floral bedspread beneath her as she waited for her mom to call her back. She had left a frantic message for her mom on the drive out of town. The old air conditioner in the room rattled to life and frightened her with its monotonous, ominous hum.

A message popped up on her phone, which sat haphazardly on the nightstand next to her. She leaned over so that the facial recognition would pop open the notification. Normally, she’d be excited to receive a group text from one of her girlfriends back at Princeton, but this wasn’t normal. Not even close. She typed a quick response and put the phone back on the nightstand.

The Highway Motel had been the first place she had found after leaving Musk. It sat along the lumbering, rural two-lane road that shot north out of Musk toward Connor, a town about 45 minutes away. Connor wasn’t much more than Musk, but it got her away from the house she rented. She doubted she’d ever be able to go back there, not after what had just happened. It seemed surreal to her, like a story she had read online instead of something that affected her.

The Sheriff had offered to post an officer outside the house until they found the culprit who had broken into her home, but she had refused because she knew she couldn’t stay there even though one of the deputies had summarily dismissed the incident as a sick prank. After they had exhausted their investigation and had done their best to console her, she left, watching their lights flash in her rear view mirror until she turned onto the road that led to Connor.

She stood up and went to the only window in the room. The floral curtains matched the ugly bedspread and they smelled musty, old, reminding her of a ramshackle general store she had visited once when she first moved to Musk. She exhaled and pushed aside the curtain so that she could see outside. Her truck sat alone on the tattered asphalt parking lot in the fading light of the evening. A freight truck roared past the motel on the road. The window vibrated. She let the curtain fall back into place and returned to the bed.

Suddenly, her phone blasted some techno-beat music. She accepted the call without looking at the screen.

“Mom?” she answered.

“Millie, it’s Carl.”

“Carl? What’s…what’s going on?”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m…no…I’m not.”

“What’s wrong?”

Millie felt confused, disoriented. Carl had never called her before outside of work hours. Some words stumbled out of her mouth as she recounted what had happened. She wasn’t sure she was coherent.

“You’re welcome to stay with us. I can come get you.”

“I can’t ask you to do that.”

“It’s not a problem.”

“What about your kids and your wife?”

“They’ll understand. Besides, my kids could use someone else to talk to.” Carl laughed into the phone. It sounded forced and unnatural for him. Something in his voice didn’t sound right, but Millie let it pass amid the awkwardness. She mostly wanted to end the call.

“I appreciate the offer, but I’m going to stay here.”

“I can come check on you, bring you some food if you’re afraid to go out.”

“I’m not hungry. I couldn’t eat anyway. Thank you though.”

“Call me if you need anything. I can be there quickly.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

She ended the call, and glared at her screen as if she could will her mom to call her at that very moment. When nothing came through, she put the phone back on the nightstand. She lay back on the bed, the musty smell of the bedspread repulsed her, but exhaustion kept her pinned onto the springy mattress. She closed her eyes and drifted off.

***

Something, a sharp, sudden noise, woke her. She shot up from the bed and gasped as if she expected someone to be coming toward her. She gaped at the darkness that engulfed the room. The sun had set leaving the room dark behind the heavy curtains save for the ambient street light that leaked from the edges of the window. The bedside alarm clock, which seemed so much brighter in the dark, flashed 1:17. She had slept for several hours.

She stood up, her eyes now fully adjusted to the sparse light, and stepped toward the window. She pushed the curtain aside and scanned the dimly-lit parking lot. Her truck gleamed under the street light. Another truck had parked beside hers despite the empty lot. She examined the interloper as best she could from her second-story window. In the darkness, the unknown truck looked threatening. She wondered why the owner had parked right next to her. A shiver of fear crept up her spine.

She glanced up and down the walkway outside her room as far as she could see from the window. Empty. She grabbed her phone from the nightstand. Other than another text from her girlfriend, nothing had happened while she slept. It was too late to call her mother again. She’d have to wait until the morning.

The battery icon on her phone had turned red. She flipped on the beside lamp and ruffled through her bag looking for her charger as her eyes adjusted to the tepid light. Then, she did the same with her backpack. No charger. She couldn’t remember where she last saw it. Maybe it was in her truck. Losing her phone connection scared her, but walking outside at that moment scared her more. It’d have to wait until the morning.

She put the thoughts out of her mind as she brushed her teeth and washed her face. She needed more sleep. She needed to figure out what to do. Tomorrow…today was Saturday. She could figure it out once she got some more sleep. She peeled back the tacky bedspread and slid into the cool layer of sheets. At least the sheets smelled and felt clean she thought as she drifted back to sleep.

***

A steady rumble woke her. It took her a moment to remember where she was and what was happening. She bolted upright in the bed, but she slumped back into the pillow once the freight truck had passed on the road outside. Ripples of light fluttered across the ceiling as the old AC unit fanned the curtain making the ambient light dance around the room.

Millie rolled over and grabbed her phone. She poked the screen, but it did not respond. She poked harder, but it stayed dark. The battery had finally died. She felt like she was stranded in the middle of the ocean alone. She slammed her phone down on the nightstand so hard that she feared she had broken the screen.

She stared at the clock by the bed and watched it flipped over to 5:53. She hadn’t slept much, and she felt it in her bones, but she couldn’t go back to sleep. All of her thoughts rushed into her consciousness leaving her hyped up on confusion and worry. She had to find her charger. She had to find a better place to stay. She had to get away from whoever was stalking her.

She got up and stepped toward the window. The morning had yet to yield to dawn. It seemed even darker than when she had peered out the night before. Below, the strange truck still parked next to hers, but it had moved. The owner had backed the truck into the spot. She wondered if she was just imagining things. A panic rose up her spine, but she  tamped it down as an irrational response to something that was likely coincidental. The hairs on her neck tingled.

The AC hacked like an old man as it sputtered to a pause. A silence fell upon the room heightening her senses. She thought she heard footsteps outside along the walkway, but then they stopped. She listened. Suddenly, a knock at the door shattered the silence. She jumped and let out a gasp, remaining frozen in place.

“Millie!”

The voice sounded familiar, but it took a moment for Millie to recognize it. “Carl?”

“Millie, it’s Carl. Are you okay?” The cheap door muffled his voice.

She hesitated for a moment, and then she stepped toward the door to get a look through the peep hole. Carl’s large frame filled the dim view onto the walkway outside her door. She flipped the chain off the rail and turned the deadbolt.

She held the door close to her as she greeted him. “Carl…what are you doing here?” She could feel the tremble in her voice.

“I couldn’t reach you on your phone this morning and I was worried. Are you okay?”

“My phone’s dead. Yes, I’m fine. It’s not even six o’clock.”

Carl stood there looking at her expectantly. “I’m sorry. I was worried. You should come stay with me. This place is not safe.” He stepped back a little and looked up and down the walkway. “Not to mention, it’s nasty.”

“It’s better than that house I rent.”

“Come on. Get your things and I’ll take you back to my house.”

“I can’t ask you to do that, Carl.”

“It’s not a problem. Come on.” He waved his hand as if he were encouraging her to take her first steps.

Something felt off in his demeanor. The whole interaction struck Millie as awkward and out of character for Carl. It took her a moment, but then, she realized something.

“How did you know where I was?”

Carl stopped talking. “What do you mean? You told me.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. Last night, when I talked to you, you said you were staying at this motel.”

Millie tried to remember their conversation last night, but a fog settled over her brain. She didn’t remember saying anything about the Highway Motel.

“But how did you know which room I’m in?”

“I…you…said you were on the second floor. I just guessed since your truck is right there. There aren’t exactly many guests here, Millie.”

The hairs on her neck tingled again. “Carl, thank you for checking on me, but I need to get more rest. I’ll let you know if I need anything. Have a good weekend.”

She started to push the door shut, but it wouldn’t budge. She looked down to see Carl’s big foot wedged against the bottom of the door.

“I don’t think you understand,” he began. “You’re coming with me.”

What I Know

We’re all ignorant, and that’s okay. It’s impossible for any one person to know everything or really most of anything. We all have our natural limits, but some of us just give up or subjugate our thinking to others. The truly intelligent among us understand these limitations. They’ve put their toe on the edge of the precipice and seen the vast abyss of ignorance. Many people quickly withdraw from the edge out of fear and respond with unwarranted confidence. Others pull out a flashlight and try to shine some light into the great, dark unknown.

What I know is based on my on attempts to learn, to explore the endless depths of knowledge, but that’s a journey akin to trying to swim to the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean. Like everyone else, I will barely make a dent in the universe of knowledge by the time I return to dust. I will die ignorant.

Some of what I know is earned through experience, but experience is a nefarious teacher, a duplicitous beast that both broadens and narrows my thinking. That’s why it is often so hard to see someone else’s perspective because your experience is inherently different from theirs.

That’s also why the truth, whatever that is, is so fungible. There are very few absolutes or certainties in life; gravity comes to mind but very little else. Despite this reality, humans are horrible at dealing with uncertainty. Just look around you right now with the coronavirus pandemic. The reactions range from absolute panic to head-in-the-sand, both of which are defensive reactions to uncertainty. No one is immune to this range of responses.

As humans evolved from the age of consciousness 70 thousand years ago, we created constructs that give the illusion of certainty or absolute knowledge. As a species we decided we needed some semblance of certainty no matter how flimsy because our new-found consciousness demanded it. All the while, we ignore the fact that we know relatively little in the grand scheme of the universe and that we will die knowing so little. Some of us like to hide behind a shaky facade of knowledge or heightened relevance among the billions that inhabit this planet, but one peek behind the curtain reveals the truth. It’s ugly. That’s what I know.