What Goes Around, Comes Around
Driving down Hwy 101, a blue truck was stopped alongside the road. Veering off, she slid her sunglasses atop her head and put on her caution lights. Walking to the side Caitlin noticed a man on the ground, tending to his tire. A long snake decal covering his back window caught her attention.
"Is it a flat," she asked.
"Yep," he answered from under the car.
"Anything I can do to help?"
"There is but I don't expect you to, people always seem too busy to help others these days," he said.
"Well, I pulled over to be of some assistance, so let me know what I can do," she replied.
"Very well," he answered and popped his head out. "I'm Gerald by the way and I would be appreciative if you took this here wheel down to the nearest station and get it fixed for me."
"I'd be happy to help you out," she answered and shook his greasy hand.
"I've just about got this sucker off, looks like a nail or something small and inconspicuous, just something reminding me to slow down and be prepared for anything," he said.
"That's a positive way to look at it I guess," she said. "Personally I'm still looking to find ways to add balance in my life, so I'm learning to be more tolerant of that which I cannot control."
Gerald smiled up at her. "If you don't stop and take the time to appreciate things, you will lose sight of it," he replied.
Giving one last tug Gerald removed the tire and stood before her. "Sherman's Tires is about thirty minutes that way," he said pointing behind her. "It's the cheapest and quickest. That's the thing about being on this here highway it's a long stretch to a decent place. Seems to me most of these places are looking for the average tourist and charges them an arm and a leg for services."
"I hear you there, love the coast, hate the cost," she said. "By the way my name is Caitlin. Let me get the trunk open and I'll help you get back on the road."
"Sure nice of you to take time out of your busy day to help a stranger," he said.
"I believe you get back what you give," she answered popping the trunk.
Gerald carried the flat tire over and placed it in. "So I guess I'll just wait right here," he said. "I'd hate to leave my car and all, lots of big rigs come down this road and with the sun going down I'd be nervous."
"Suit yourself," she replied. "I'll be back as soon as possible." Pulling back out onto the road she waved and turned off the caution lights. As she drove a little ways, Caitlin heard a loud thud from the back of the car.
Checking the rear view mirror she moved off to the side. Panic washed over her as the brakes went out. The Pacific Ocean shimmered in the setting sun off to her right. Her biggest fear had always been going off the road and plummeting to the water below, with no one around to help, but this couldn't happen now.
With all her strength she cranked the steering wheel hard. In the middle of the road, Caitlin steadied herself, keeping as much control as possible. A horn resounded from a large steel truck with its wheels crossing over the line, heading straight towards her. Again she cranked the wheel but it wouldn't budge.
Screaming she laid on the horn, hoping to catch the driver's attention. The moment of impact was coming close and tears welled in her eyes. She wasn't even supposed to be here, she thought. Millions of things raced through her mind as the two vehicles were set to collide. Closing her eyes she waited, holding her breath.
A gust of wind rocked her car but when she looked, the truck had disappeared, as if it had never been there. Caitlin grabbed hold of the wheel and both it and the brakes were working again. Taking a deep breath she rolled the window down, thankful to still be alive. Her heart pounded in her chest, reminding her how close she had been to losing everything.
Passing through Newport she decided to stop at one of the garages and see if one of them could fix the tire, at this point she didn't even want to be driving. As she calmed herself, a gentleman approached.
"What can I do for you," he asked.
"I was wondering if you could fix a tire for me, it's flat," she explained.
"If you've got a few hours I could get to it but right now we are terribly busy," he replied.
"I'll just look elsewhere, thanks anyway," she said.
Back on the road she turned on the radio, looking for something to keep her calm. In her Pontiac Grand Am she was normally a speed demon, but after the incident with the brakes she felt the speed limit would be a nice change. Not even ten minutes out of Newport a car behind her honked, motioning to stop. Caitlin slowed down to allow the driver to pass her before pulling over.
"You have a flat," called out the driver as he passed.
Slamming her fists against the steering wheel, she cursed and stormed out. Checking each tire she was relieved to find none of them were flat. She figured at this rate she was never going to get to Sherman's before it closed and felt sorry for Gerald to be stuck waiting all this time for her. Flooring her car she sped along the highway, hoping to make up for lost time.
Reaching down she adjusted the radio station when something ran directly out in front of her. Caitlin swerved out of the way and stopped. Looking behind her she saw a body lying in the street.
"No," she screamed as she ran over. "I'm so sorry, please be okay." Lying before her was a big German Shepard, bleeding intensely from a wound above his leg. Crying she pet the dog, talking to him in a soothing voice.
"It's going to be okay boy," she kept repeating. Remembering she had a blanket in the backseat she ran to her car. With a heavy heart she made her way back to the dog. Caitlin had never caused harm to an animal before and she felt her heart tighten inside her chest. Her hands closed around her moon necklace, saying a silent prayer to Gaia to watch over and heal this animal. Kneeling down her body froze.
The dog was gone, no blood or sign he had been hurt. A pickup truck slowed and stopped beside her.
"Anything you need there miss," a man asked. Caitlin stammered for words.
"No, I just…there was a dog and I thought I hit him…but now he's gone," she tried to explain.
"Yeah you've got to be careful around here, they just run out from nowhere," he said. "That's why I take extra good care of my Benny here." Her eyes traveled to a dog seated next to him in the truck. He sat up, his tongue hanging out of his mouth, panting. It too was a German Shepard, just like the one she thought she'd hit.
"Pretty dog," she said, her voice trailing off.
"Yep, he's a good one he is, my best friend in the world," the man continued. She watched him stroke his dog, his hand returning to the steering wheel covered in fresh thick blood. Without saying goodbye she ran to her car and locked the doors. Was she losing her mind? Her hands trembled as she started up the car.
Ten minutes later she came upon Sherman's Tires and sighed with relief it was still open. A nice looking man walked up to her with a newspaper.
"Hello miss, care to read the paper while we tend to your vehicle?"
"That would be fine, what I need is a tire to be fixed. It's in my trunk, did you want me to get it," she asked.
"No, I'll get that, if you could just open it I'll get right to it, shouldn't be more than five minutes," he said.
"Great. Thanks. You've no idea what I've been through to get here," she said.
"Don't reckon I do. Normally I'd be closed by now but we had some late stragglers today. Let's get that tire fixed up," he said. Caitlin opened the glove compartment and pushed the button to the trunk.
Unfolding the paper she started reading.
"Where's the tire," the man called out.
"It's in the trunk," she answered.
"I must have misunderstood you, did you say you have a tire or you need a tire," he asked.
Caitlin put the paper down and got out. Looking in the trunk it was empty.
"I…it was in here," she said looking around.
"I've heard a lot of things today but losing a tire is a first," he joked.
"No, you don't understand, I came all this way," she stammered.
"Are you sure you didn't take it out somewhere," he asked.
"You must think I'm crazy, no I watched the man put it in the trunk myself," she said.
"What man would that be, your husband?"
"No, his name is Gerald, he was stopped with a flat at the side of the road and I offered to get it fixed for him. He's been waiting forever for it too," she whined.
"Ah, I had a good friend named Gerald, course he died about ten years ago. Car accident, a big truck came barreling down the road and smashed right into him," the man explained. "That was a tragic day, hardly a thing left to his blue truck."
"I'm sorry, did you say a blue truck," she asked.
"Yep blue truck, white trim, and a big snake decal across the back window," he said.
"Impossible," she whispered.
"Well little lady, I don't know how else I can help you. When you find that tire, you just come on back and I'll see what I can do for you," he said walking away.
Driving back to find Gerald, Caitlin felt sick to her stomach. Was it possible for two people to have the same colored truck and unique snake decal on their back window? She had spoken to him, shook his hand even, he had been a real person.
Shivers went down her back as she thought of the truck that had almost plowed into her, picturing Gerald standing out in the road. Had that been the same truck as well?
While waiting at a stoplight her eyes glanced over the newspaper in the next seat. The front-page article caught her attention.
At the next right she turned into a parking lot and sat, reading the article. The yellowing paper was dated with today's date but the year was incorrect. Ten years ago this very day, a Mister Gerald Phillips had been fixing a flat tire when he had been hit by a truck, swerving to miss from hitting a dog. Apparently the driver lost control of his brakes and try as he might, couldn't keep from hitting Gerald's truck. Both were killed instantly.
As quick as she could, Janelle drove to the spot where she had last seen Gerald. In her mind she had marked the place just a mile after the sign stating Depot Bay, five miles. Coming up to the point she looked hard, but there wasn't a truck in sight and neither was Gerald. Getting out of her car she walked around, looking for some sign that he had been there, but it was clean, no tools or grease, not a trace. Turning back around, her trunk was open. Something black stuck out. Walking closer she recognized it, Gerald's flat tire. A gust of wind rushed past her as she felt the gentle touch of a hand resting upon her shoulder.
Shivers raced down her spine as she took out the tire and laid it where Gerald's truck had been. Getting back in her car she started it up, looking into her mirror to make sure the road was clear. Before she could move, a large steel truck was headed right for her, completely out of control.
Nancy Jackson has works in Broken Mirrors Anthology, Labor Pool Tales, Strange News Anthology, Cyber Pulp's Halloween Anthology, and in the upcoming Chocolate for a Teen's Spirit II. She is a book reviewer for Simegen and Dream Forge and is moderator for The Horror Writer's Network.