Beside the Road
Sam reached the top of the hill and began coasting down the other side, letting gravity pull her and her bicycle toward town. As she picked up speed, she angled out toward the regular highway lane to give a wide berth to a sedan parked on the shoulder. Its trunk was open and the flashers on; the engine was running, but no one seemed to be in the car or near it.
Strange, Sam thought as she whizzed by it. Out of the corner of her eye, barely more than a blur as she passed, she saw what looked like a person lying on the ground on the far side of the car. “What the heck?” she muttered, putting on the brakes and sliding to an eventual stop. She looked back up the hill toward the sedan. Sure enough, a person-sized lump was huddled in the long grass at the edge of the highway.
She got off her bike and walked back to the car. As she got closer, she saw that the shape was indeed a person, but he or she was twisted into an odd pose, and there seemed to be blood on the shoulder all around. “Oh, my God!” Sam yelled, setting her bike down and running the rest of the way to the car. “Hello!” she shouted. “Are you okay?” The car didn’t seem to have been hit at all; she couldn’t see what would have hurt the person on the ground.
She skidded up to the shape, and realized with dawning horror that it was a policeman, his face battered so completely that she could barely make out any features. His hands and feet were tied together behind his back, and there were loops of duct tape around his face, neck and shoulders.
Sam sank quickly to her knees and touched the man. “Hello?” she repeated more quietly. She was very much afraid that he was dead, but to her relief, he breathed and stirred, and one swollen eye managed to open enough to look at her. “What happened?” she asked him. “Who did this?” She looked around, wishing she had brought her phone with her today. She was suddenly nervous, her heart pounding as she wondered if this man’s attackers were still close by.
In the distance, two cars crested the hill, followed by a pickup truck. “Thank God,” Sam breathed, and stood up, waving her arms over her head. “Help!” she yelled. “We need help!”
Beside her, the man on the ground began to groan and squirm. When Sam looked down at him, his one open eye glanced up the road and back to her, and he shook his head back and forth. Sam turned from him to the approaching vehicles, and then crouched down. “Are they the ones who did this?” she asked, chills running up her spine. Why would they leave him like this, and then come back? It made no sense, but the policeman’s response to her question was clear enough – the cars and the truck were the enemy.
They were less than a mile away, and driving fast.
Sam looked over the fields that bordered the highway – there was nowhere to hide there. She hadn’t even brought her phone, much less any type of weapon, and if the policeman had had a gun or radio, they had been taken from him.
The car closest to them was driving on the shoulder, apparently planning to ram the sedan. Sam made a decision, hoping with every shred of her soul that she would be strong enough and quick enough. She would maybe be able to lift the man for a moment. She tugged on the passenger door, but it was locked. Frantic now, she tugged on the rear passenger door, but it was also locked. “Oh, God!” she whimpered, and, watching as the car barreled toward them, she scooped her arms under the man and hauled him up. He was heavier than she had anticipated, but he was able to help her, leaning his weight over her shoulders so that she could step forward with him.
One step, two steps. “Come on!” she screamed, coaxing her legs to accept the burden. “COME ON!”
Summoning all of her strength, Sam swung the man forward; he slid off her shoulders and toppled into the trunk barely a second before the speeding car slammed into the back of the sedan.
Sam screamed again, falling back into the grass. The impact of the speeding car moved the sedan at least a hundred feet; the car swerved with squealing tires back onto the highway. Both it and the other car and truck slowed to a stop, and the passenger window of the pickup rolled down. A man’s head appeared in the window, and then the barrel of a rifle.
Sam’s eyes opened so wide she thought they might fall from her head. Moving before she could even think, she sprinted toward the sedan. Please, she prayed. Let the door be open.
The car that had hit the sedan was now turning around to come back, and, to her horror, Sam heard gunshots behind her, and the plink of bullets hitting metal. Her hands were badly shaking, but she was able to get her fingers around the sedan’s driver-side door handle. Please, she prayed again, and tugged on the handle.
The door opened.
Before she could get in, a bullet broke the window glass inches from her. The first car had turned around and was speeding directly at her; Sam dove into the front seat of the sedan, not bothering to shut the door as she fumbled for the gear shift.
The first car was only a few feet away. Sam pushed the gas pedal to the floor, and steered the sedan first into the grassy ditch beside the road, and then up onto the highway. She wondered if the policeman was still alive. She wondered if she could get to town or to the interstate before the cars and truck caught up with her. She wondered if they all had guns, or just the one man.
The interstate was only a few miles away, closer than town. She would go there. If she was lucky, the police would try to stop her. Who are these people? she thought. They were right behind her, all three vehicles. It doesn’t matter, she told herself. I just have to get this guy to safety.
She just had to get to the interstate. There would be people there.
Safety in numbers, she thought, trying to make the sedan go faster. Safety in numbers.
She heard a thump from the trunk, and took it as a sign that she was going in the right direction. “Don’t worry, buddy,” she said. “We’re almost there.” Almost there.
Safety in numbers.