The dazzling bright white lights of a truck hurtled past, accompanied with cacophonous discordant horn dopplering, chased by a slushy swish from the cold rain. Briefly, the taillights morsed as the driver pumped the brakes at the curve ahead, the message from the red squares flashing, over and over: tough + luck + stop + tough + luck + stop + tough + luck.

Silence settled again on the long straight road gunbarrelling between the thick pines, grown in orderly rows for crow-flown miles and miles west and east of the needle strewn, snow-crowned highway sludge along which Dag Heuter was trudging as night fell.

Heuter watched the receding tail lights with his right hand clapped to his head, as if trying to prevent his hat blowing off. With ear flaps tied snug under his chin, the gesture was more frustration, an invocation. His left arm curled in what looked like it could be trying to be a fist coming up for a jab. Brief freeze. He made a pushing gesture of dismissal and walked backwards a few steps, as the four red squares fused into a single condensing gas dwarf and vanished into the cosmic night. Heuter squinted with some difficulty to see as he turned into the rain, still walking, hands jammed back into his jacket pockets, facing the oncoming traffic.

Facing the direction oncoming traffic would come from eventually, he qualified to himself, turning positive, turning again to look at the tiny tiny pulse of red flicking further back down the road. He put a gloved hand up to his throat and tightened the zip two teeth back to the top.

Since abandoning the cold shell of his own wheels, but uncertain which way salvation lay nearest, Dag Heuter had decided to walk back to the last town he remembered. It had seemed like a few miles or so. Heuter knew he was an unreliable guide. The lack of traffic meant he was sticking up a hand for anything, going anywhere, but so far, not so good. He licked dry, chapped lips and thought of one, probably two beers and a couple of whiskies in that little brown wood and smokey bar he’d been in.

It might have been only minutes later that there was a swoosh through the slush and wet. Heuter straightened, regarded the lights playing through the spray up ahead of him, his shadow on the trees. He turned and shaded his eyes with one hand, throwing out the other first in a kind of wave, then a more resolute hitcher’s thumb. The car – some kind of pony – slowed, then passed him, before coming to a halt a few yards ahead. Picking up his step, Heuter shambled towards what he could now make out was indeed a Camaro, the rear lights making a red fuzz in the rain.

Up against the passenger side door, Dag Heuter stood with one arm on the roof. As the window wound down about halfway, he paused for a second before lowering his head to peer inside. There was a moment’s silence.

The figure inside the car said,
‘Jesus, Dag. What happened to your face?’

Dag Heuter looked up into the spray illuminated by the headlights and smiled painfully. Of course. He lowered his head.

‘Hey, Petch. Uhh, gimme a ride, I’ll bring you up to speed?’

‘I doubt that,’ the driver said. There was another moment’s pause.

‘Well, get in.’ A sigh.

The window closed as Dag opened the door and slumped inside.

Coming up in part two: Dag and Petch retread some old ground.

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