I KNOW WHERE I AM, AT LEAST—Clark Humphrey
I’m out of the car again. I’m on the side of a lonely county highway. About twenty feet from me there’s a sign post with a flower pot and a reflecting metal sign in memory of someone who’d apparently been run down by a drunk driver. The sign “lights up” when a car with its high beams on passes it. The girl beside me says there’s one of those about every mile or so on these roads. I just hope nobody ends up putting one of them up for me.
There are no streetlights.
There are no sidewalks; just a narrow strip of grass between the pavement and a deep ditch. I have to step carefully when a car passes on my side.
The few drivers here, at this time of night, don’t pay attention to the potential presence of any people standing or walking. They don’t pay attention to the speed limits either.
Most of the time, when there’s not a car coming or going, it’s really really dark here. Clouds are gathering in the big sky above me, hiding the stars I could see less than an hour ago.
I’ve been surrounded by darkness for nine hours now and I’m still alive, still awake, and still alert, though I’m also still lost.
The darkness. That’s what our old pastor said we had to always prepare for. He always said the world was going into a time of great tribulation, any day now. He said it even more often whenever a Democrat was in, or threatening to get into, the White House.
He said we had to be always aware, always ready. Our spiritual “houses” had to always be in order. Because when the Rapture came and the End Times began, only the truest of the true believers, with the purest of pure souls and the sinless-est of sinless lives, would be chosen.
Who wouldn’t be chosen: the materialistic masses who only pretended to believe in some faint imitation of Christianity. The members of churches that got the Gospel wrong or added things to it (Mormons, Catholics, and most others). Even if what they got wrong was some tiny, tiny point of doctrine or policy or Scripture interpretation, such as how many days Jesus was “dead” before His resurrection.
The old pastor kept saying this right up to the day he lost control of the Calvary Fellowship Ministry, in what some ex-members called a “palace coup” by the board of deacons. Where he went to after that, nobody seems to know. Maybe he was raptured.
I have only a little more of an idea about where I am now. Before the car I was in stopped, I caught sight of a road sign. We’re apparently between Beaver Springs and Trojan Park. I tell this to the girl. She makes a dirty joke of it, naturally.
In the darkness, where I can’t see her prematurely aged face, I realize where I remember her voice. She’d been a couple grades ahead of me in school. She’d been in my church. Her family was one of the ones that quit after the old pastor got fired. That family, and several of the others who left the church, also moved out of town, apparently in search of a new church that would be just as strict as their old one used to be.
Don’t remember her name, though.
Why is she here? (For that matter, why am I here?)
I ask the first real question I’ve asked of anybody this strange night.
I ask her name.
She tells it.
No, it doesn’t strike any memories in me. But then again, I have been known for withdrawing into my head a lot, pretty much all my life.
We talk a little more. Just about small stuff. Like how cold it is out right now, and when the woman and man who drove us up here in the car, then stopped and got out, will ever come back.
I don’t ask what this job she’d had with the woman (and possibly the man) was.
I don’t ask what the man and woman are doing wherever they disappeared to off the road.
She tells me a few things anyway. Maybe she can tell how lost, how confused, I am.
But she doesn’t tell them completely. She apparently assumes I know even just a little about my own present situation, which I really don’t. (But I don’t tell her that.)
She says the woman and man are into what the woman once told her were “multiple streams of income.” That means, the girl says, that they’ve got a lot of fingers in a lot of candy jars. She calls the woman her mother sometimes; her sister some other times. She just calls the man by his first name. Tonight, the girl says, they’re making a deal with someone she called by a nickname I never heard of, but who seems to be somebody they all knew. It’s apparently connected to some other deal earlier that fell through or went south. That might be the altercation I saw earlier tonight, elsewhere along this or some other nearby road.
After what seems like forever but is really just 20 minutes (according to the cell phone I don’t dare let lose all its battery power), the woman and man emerge from a dark gravel driveway. They’re jogging back toward the stopped car they’d parked at the head of the driveway. In the darkness I can’t see their faces very well. But from their body language, they don’t seem to be particularly upset or angry (in the man’s case, at least not more angry than he’d seemed before).
We get back into the car. The girl (well, she’s really a young woman, and looks from some angles like an early middle aged woman) is with me in the back seat, as before.
As we pull back onto the road, I briefly turn my cell phone back on and check our location. We’re less than 20 miles from the bridge where I’d crossed the state line so many hours ago. But we’re traveling further away from there.
When I power down my phone and stick it back into my pocket, the girl leans over to me. She whispers that she knows who I am and why I’m here. (The last part is more than I know right now.)
Then she says she’ll protect me. But she doesn’t say from what.