The Boy on the Road
I should’ve ignored the phone call at 3 a.m. from a childhood acquaintance. I didn’t. Groggy and curious, I answered. He was on I-95 – 15 miles north of New Haven, 10 minutes from my current home and about 500 miles from where we met at James River High School in Roanoke.
His car broke down. For some reason AAA didn’t pick up the phone and he recalled from a reunion some years back that I had landed a teaching gig at Yale. He pulled over at mile marker 57.7 and needed a ride to a nearby Motel 6.
20 minutes later, I crept down the right hand lane of I-95 trying to make out my friend in the foggy darkness. 56.5 then 56.9. I slowed to a crawl. 57.6, 57.7, 57.8. Nothing on my side of the road. I glanced over the median to make sure he wasn’t going the wrong way. He said he was going north and that his hazards would be on. I called but he didn’t pick up.
I pulled off at the next exit to head back south. Maybe I missed something. 57.8, 57.7, 57.6, nothing. I took the next exit for another loop. At 57.7 I pulled over and called him. He answered. 30 minutes prior, immediately after hanging up with me he got in touch with AAA, which promptly brought him to the motel. With a sigh, I turned my car back on and hung up.
As I put my phone down, a mid-2000’s Camry with Montana plates pulled up about 50 yards up the shoulder from me. The car sat there for a few seconds before the hazards and the interior lights flicked on. I turned my car back on and as I pulled forward the driver’s side door swung open. I wanted to leave but what if they needed something? I waited in the calm darkness. About 30 seconds passed before a man got out. He put his jacket on as he turned out of the driver’s side door to face me. Something in each hand. The shoulder was tight. His car hugged the right lane – his driver side door opening over it by about two feet. I couldn’t read his face as he stepped toward me. My headlights illuminated his body but his head was still a shadow. I could now make out a phone in the right hand and keys in the left. Nothing to be too nervous about, I rationalized. My car was on if something bad happened. I glanced down at my hands then quickly back at the man. They were shaking.
Somewhere I held out hope it would be my acquaintance but that faded quickly. At 30 yards I turned on my high-beams and he looked away. He turned back squinting with a grin like he couldn’t wait to tell a joke. He was white, had short brown hair and glasses and a beard. He couldn’t have been more than 25 years old. That grin on his face. You could see it in his eyes. He wanted me to roll down the window to talk but I shook my head. He rolled his eyes and took a deep breath, then turned his phone on and pulled up his GPS. He was pointing at something and began smiling again, almost laughing.
He could’ve been anyone and I grew more tense with every possibility that came to mind. Keeping the doors locked, I cracked the window. My heart dropped, “Excuse me sir! Well, you see. My pho-” then it happened. The next 10 seconds were a blur.
It was late but vehicles drive down I-95 at every hour. Drivers are tired at 4 a.m. I sure was. I saw the truck from a reasonable distance in my rear-view mirror. The man must have too. Maybe he was too focused on his phone because a few seconds later the eighteen-wheeler, barreling down the highway ran him right over. Took my side mirror with it. Then drove on. Left the body for me.
I called the police before getting out of the car. My brain fogged up. It was four in the morning. I knew he was dead without peering over my hood. Nobody could survive that. The operator asked the mile marker. “57.7” I replied quickly. She stayed on the line with me as I checked on the kid. He lay 5 feet in front of my left headlight. His torso flattened. Like a pancake. A hint of the smirk still in his eyes. I stared at the pancake for a few seconds ignoring the operator’s questions. Then, “Dead!” I whispered and hung up. I threw up on the body, or on most of it anyway. I tried to turn away before doing so but it came up too quickly. A car whizzed past, blaring the horn as it swerved into the left lane. Another two passed before the police showed up.
I don’t remember most of the night. The detectives asked me why I didn’t get the license plate, or any details about the situation. I didn’t have an answer. They asked if I hit him. I refused to answer. Then they asked why I’d vomited all over the body. I didn’t have an answer there either.
I stayed at the scene for another hour or two before the police let me go. A tow truck came for my car so a taxi took me home. The driver asked what happened. “An accident,” I muttered.
A detective showed up at my door twice in the subsequent weeks but left me alone after that.
I haven’t slept since that night twenty-five years ago. I’m nervous I’ll get another call like the one from that morning. Most nights I lay in bed wide awake. I think of the kid. I think of the conversation we might’ve had. What did he need from me? I haven’t heard from the acquaintance either. Not even a text the following day. That’s okay though.
I stopped going to high school reunions. In fact, I haven’t been back to Virginia. Not worth the risk.
By Jake Menges