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Our second place winner of $50.00 goes to Bob Farley. Congratulations!

 

 

Detours

by Bob Farley

 

“Another detour! That’s three today.” Jill Hawkins did not like detours, especially when driving the thirty-foot Holy Roller to Arizona for the winter. She turned the RV onto the narrow street, taking extra care because she was pulling their compact Chevy.

“Recalculating,” said the robotic female voice of the global positioning system. “Proceed five hundred feet, then turn right.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” John Hawkins said. “Maybe we’ll get back on our route in no time.”

“Why don’t I see any other detour signs? And look at this neighborhood. Not exactly Happy Town Drive, is it?”

“Turn right onto…Happy Town Drive,” the GPS said.

Had that been the name of the street they were coming to, John would have thought it a wild coincidence. But it wasn’t.

“Great,” Jill said. “The joker in the GPS again. I should just park it now.”

John said nothing. They’d had the GPS looked at, replaced, and looked at again, but the anomaly would not go away.

Jill hadn’t driven quite a quarter mile when she was blocked by a phalanx of sawhorses keeping traffic off a torn-up section of road.

“And of course there’s no place to turn. Looks like we unhitch the car and back’em out, hon.”

“And guess what?” John said, motioning toward a man approaching from across the street. “Here comes the Welcome Wagon.”

The man jogged up to the driver’s side of the vehicle and made a cranking motion, so Jill rolled the window down a couple of inches.

“I could help you get turned around if you wouldn’t mind giving me a ride to the next town,” the stranger said.

“Appreciate the offer, but we can handle it, thanks,” Jill answered.

“I’ll pay you a thousand dollars.”

Jill shot a worried glance at John, who said, “That’s a lot of money just for a ride out of town, isn’t it?”

“I’m a dead man if I don’t get outta here. Please?” He looked around and behind him, then back to Jill. Sweat beaded on his forehead, despite the winter chill.

“What have you done that’s going to make you a dead man?”

“Nothin’, mister. I ain’t done nothin’,” the boy insisted. “You gonna help me or not?”

John and Jill gave each other “the look.” All during their marriage, they had helped people in many strange circumstances. It was their calling, one they couldn’t deny. They’d tried.

“Okay, son, we can give you a ride,” John said, motioning to the side door. “Get in.”

All the way out of town, their new passenger kept a jittery eye on the world outside his window.

“I don’t want to be nosy,” John said, “but if you’re in some kind of trouble, maybe we could help.”

“Do you believe it’s possible to change the past?” the stranger asked.

John turned his seat to face the young man in the back. “I’d say not. What do you think?”

The boy said nothing.

“How do you change the past?” Jill asked.

“I’m not sure,” the boy said. “I’m not sure how it happens.”

“So, did you change something?” asked John, not sure what to make of the boy’s conversation.

“I tried to, but none of it worked out like I thought it would.”

“And now somebody is after you and you’re willing to pay a thousand dollars to get out of town?”

The boy dug in his back pants pocket, brought out a wallet, and removed all the money in the dollar sleeve. Holding it out to John, he said, “Here’s the money. I wasn’t lyin’ about that.”

John stared at the outstretched hand full of bills and the empty wallet. “Aren’t you going to leave some for yourself?”

“Take it. You’ll need it more than me.”

“What are you talking about? Everybody needs money.”

“Not where I’ll be going.”

“Listen, we’d like to help you, but if you keep answering in riddles, there’s not much we can do. Is that money stolen or something?”

When the boy said nothing, John decided on a rougher approach. “How about we drop you off at the police station, and let them figure it out?”

His lip quivering, the boy leaned forward in his seat and touched John on the arm. His fingers felt icy. “Okay, okay, I’ll tell you. But don’t freak out.”

“Just start talking.”

“The money was to buy an engagement ring for my girlfriend, but…” The boy turned toward the window. A single sob escaped his lips and he blurted, “But my girlfriend and her family was killed, and the police think it was me. Everybody thinks it was me. But it wasn’t. I swear.”

John and Jill took a collective breath and began praying in silence. The boy’s sobbing increased, ending in a cascade that he finally held back, holding his hands to his face.

Jill glanced in the rearview mirror. “Running away isn’t going to help you, you know?”

“I can tell you who did it. It was Janie’s ex-boyfriend, Justin Perdiz. He’s a wacko, a gun freak. He’d been in juvie for a month, and he got out last week. He was real mad ’cause Janie and her family liked me.”

“If you know that, why not tell the police?” John asked.

“The sheriff is Justin’s dad. He’d never believe me, so I came back and changed the past, but not enough, not right.” The boy’s assertions ended in silence, punctuated by the RV tires thumping on the uneven road beneath them.

“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”

“You must admit,” said John, “it does sound a bit farfetched, especially the part about coming back in time.”

“Yeah I know. You can let me out at the light ahead. I won’t be no more trouble for you. You’ve been too nice to bring me this far.”

“Will you be all right?” Jill asked.

“Yeah. There’s people here who’ll take care of me.”

Jill pulled off the road and put the transmission in park. “Can we pray with you, before you go?” she asked.

“What good will that do?”

“Kind of a way of changing the future,” John said. “We generally find that works better than trying to change the past.”

“I was gonna start going to church with Janie and her family. I used to go….”

“Doesn’t matter,” John said. “Let’s bow our heads.”

After they prayed, the boy dried his eyes and stepped out of the RV. John noted the name of the street he walked down, watching till he disappeared around a corner. A sign pointed to the local hospital. The boy had gone the same direction.

“Do you think we should have let him go?” Jill asked.

“I think we did what we were supposed to. Let’s see if the GPS knows where the police station is.”

“He just seemed so sad.”

John made selections on the GPS touchscreen and pressed GO. Momentarily, the machine voice said, “Proceed along the highlighted route.”

At the sheriff’s office, they gave their report to an increasingly agitated deputy.

“Could you wait here a moment?” the deputy asked after he finished reading the report. “I’ll be right back.”

After he left, Jill asked, “Wonder what’s with him?”

John shrugged. “Guess we wait.”

He counted seventeen minutes before the deputy finally came back, followed by another officer with a folder in his hands and a bewildered look on his face.

“I’m Sheriff Moses Bitters,” the second officer said. “Sorry to keep you waiting. Couple things about your report didn’t add up, and we had to do some checking.”

“What’s the problem?” John asked.

“Well, we radioed Sheriff Perdiz, told him your story. He was kind of mad at first, but he brought his son in, and danged if the boy didn’t get all shook up and confess.”

“So this other boy that we gave a ride to, he really was innocent?” Jill asked.

“Sure looks like it, but that’s one of the things that don’t add up,” Sheriff Bitters said. He opened the folder and took out a picture. “Is this the person you gave a ride to?”

Jill and John nodded.

The sheriff took a deep breath. “Two nights ago, when the Miller family was murdered, Sheriff Perdiz found Janie Miller’s new boyfriend—Orin Buford, the boy in this picture—not far away, gun in his hand, bullet hole in his chest, suicide note by his side, confessing to the murders. He was still alive, barely, and he’s been in the hospital since then.”

“Oh my goodness,” Jill said. “He must have healed quickly. I mean, he looked fine to us, just a little scared and maybe confused. He kept talking about going back in time.”

“The Perdiz boy claims he saw Orin tonight, too,” Sheriff Bitters said. “That’s what had him all flustered. And me, too. You see, we’ve had a guard on Orin’s room since he was brought in, and he says no one has gone in or come out the whole day.”

“But couldn’t he have slipped out?” Jill asked.

“Could have, except I called the hospital and they said the boy died an hour ago without ever regaining consciousness.”

***

Jill and John woke before sun-up, eager to put distance between themselves and Hope, Arkansas.

“You want to drive the Roller today?” Jill asked. “I can’t stop thinking about that poor boy, wondering if he was a ghost, or a time traveler, or if it was us who finally went off the deep end.”

“A little bit of all three, maybe.”

Jill smiled. “I supposed that’s possible. What are you looking at?”

John had bent down on one knee and reached under the kitchenette table. “What is this?” He brought up a folded green square. “Money.”

“Money?”

He unwrapped the paper and counted. “Two, four, six…ten…ten hundred-dollar bills.”

“Is that the money the boy offered us? I didn’t think you took it.”

“I didn’t,” John said. “I’ll call the sheriff. It has to be the boy’s. His family might need it.”

Soon after he made the call, his cell phone rang back. He grunted a few times and said, “You’re sure? Okay, then. Thanks, Sheriff.”

“What’s the word?” Jill asked.

“The boy’s dad said he wanted us to keep the money. Said if it hadn’t been for us, his boy might have died with everybody thinking he was guilty.”

“What do you think we ought to do with it? Get another GPS?”

“We’ll think of something.”

A half hour later, John had settled into his driving rhythm when an odd thump toward the rear of the ten-ton vehicle caused him to look in the rearview mirror. “Um, sweetie, will you still let me drive even if I don’t think I secured the car?”

“Should we stop and check it?”

“Might be too late for that. It’s about to pass us.”

“What!”

He sped up trying to get in front of it, but they were going down a slight grade.

“Hurry!”

“I’m trying, but I don’t have time. Gonna have to…” He swerved left, scraping metal against metal. “…bump it off the road.”

“You’re driving off the road!”

He twisted the steering wheel and the RV skidded back onto the highway, while their car careened head-on into a concrete culvert off the side of the road.

“Ouch,” John said, as he braked hard and stopped. Outside, he checked the RV’s trailer hitch. “Look at this. The ball joint’s broken off.”

They walked back to their mangled compact, now a sub-compact, and Jill moaned, “My little car.”

“At least we have insurance.”

“Yes, that’ll pay for all of it except the deductible.”

As soon as the words left her lips, they both looked at each other.

“And the deductible is how much?” John asked.

“Take a guess. Take a wild guess.”

 

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