A Lancaster Story
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September 14, 2020
Cover art: Reese Dante
Genre: Contemporary romance
The first and only thing I’ve learned about moose was that there was no right way to hit one.
“Holy shit,” I cried as the animal leaped out from the forest when I rounded a sharp turn of the road. I slammed on the brakes, but my worthless piece-of-crap car skidded into the animal, clipped it, and spun out hard.
I didn’t see the car coming from the opposite direction until I hit it, successfully ending my junker’s ballerina spins. My seat belt caught me before I went through the windshield, snapping me back against the seat. That hurt. My entire body vibrated with adrenaline as everything came to an abrupt stop.
Steam hissed from under the hood of my car.
Shakily, I turned in time to watch the huge, ugly beast trot across the street and up into a tiny, ancient cemetery that hugged the corner.
Son of a….
“Hope you name a baby after me!” I shouted at the moose. I fought with the seat belt, then threw open the driver’s side door and stumbled from the car. That’s when I saw the bumper sticker on the vehicle I’d hit.
Brake for moose—It could save your life!
Life could be such an ironic bitch.
The driver of the other car opened his door and slowly climbed out.
Good news: me, the moose, and the stranger had all lived.
Bad news: our cars were fucked.
“Hey,” I said, my voice a little wobbly. “Are you all right? It—the moose—it jumped in front of me.”
The man removed his worn, frayed cap and scratched his forehead as he studied the damage to his rear end. He was tall. Big—like a mountain. He had a rough-and-tumble country-boy sort of look. His dark hair could benefit from a comb, though, and he desperately needed a shave. The cargo pants and faded flannel over a black T-shirt didn’t help turn him around much either.
And he still hadn’t spoken.
So I tried again. “You okay?”
The stranger finally nodded and put his cap back on. “Moose do that.”
“What? Purposefully try to fuck shit up?”
He stared at me. “You have insurance?”
Fuck. Me. Sideways.
If this impromptu road trip of mine could get any worse, I might as well lie down on the double line and give up now. But this is my sort of tragic existence. I was Gideon Joy, the most unlucky man this side of the Rockies.
And yes, I realized that was pretty melodramatic. The fact that I had air in my lungs and clothes on my back already put me in a better spot than some. But standing on the side of the road, screwed seven ways to Sunday because of a moose with no manners, I really was feeling the twenty-five years of life’s jokes weighing down on my shoulders.
Nothing ever worked out.
Nowhere was ever home.
No one wanted to love a guy with luck so bad, it was laughable.
Now this dude wanted my insurance information, and fuck if I had money for that. The state of my car should have said how well I was doing lately. I had no plans to stay in New Hampshire. (Just driving through, thank you very much.) I had only stopped long enough to piss at a rest area and buy vending machine food, because that was the kind of budget I rolled with, and I wasn’t looking to delay my trip longer than that.
I had squirreled away enough cash to get me from Los Angeles to Portland, Maine, with hopefully something left over to get me back. I was sightseeing, I guess. Road-trip therapy was more likely. I don’t know. It was a rather unplanned excursion.
I ran a hand through my hair and then pushed up my glasses. “I don’t, ah, have insurance.”
The other man didn’t respond, only looked at his car again and rubbed his bristled jaw.
“Do you?” I dared to ask.
Still no answer.
“Hey,” I prompted.
“It doesn’t cover noninsured motorists.”
“Great,” I muttered.
I could—well, not get in my car and drive away, because that piece of shit wasn’t moving anytime soon. But I could run. He didn’t know my name. I wasn’t from here. I could just turn around and hitchhike home. Let the dude worry about repairing his own car.
Except that was probably the lowest, most dishonorable action I could take. I didn’t have much going for me, but I clung to my pride like a raft adrift at sea. I couldn’t walk away from this mess and leave the poor bastard in a predicament as bad as mine.
I glanced up to see him now staring at me. “I’m sorry. I’ll get this fixed. I don’t know how, because I have no money, but I won’t leave you all jacked-up like this.”
“Good intentions won’t pay for a repair.”
“I’m trying to do the right thing,” I retorted. “Cut me some slack, will you?”
“I didn’t wreck your car,” he said, calm as you please.
I relaxed my balled-up hands and took a really deep breath. “Guy—”
He pointed to himself. “Silas.”
Wow. Silas? Who the fuck named their kid Silas these days?
He stared at me.
“Silas,” I corrected. “Give me a minute to figure this out.”
(As if a minute would make me less fucked than I was thirty seconds ago.)
I put my hands on my hips and turned away.
It was quiet. Really quiet.
I hadn’t gotten out of my car since becoming lost in the countryside, away from the highways and rest stops. But sure enough, up here in northern New Hampshire, even in the late afternoon—silence. There was a brisk breeze blowing, rustling the spring leaves like they were Mother Nature’s personal wind chime. It was kind of nice, but a little weird too.
I mean, where were the people? The cars? The sounds of civilization? I’d driven by more animal crossing signs than traffic lights in the last hour.
I turned to Silas. “Where the hell am I, anyway?”
He raised an eyebrow. “In between Lancaster and Dalton.”
“Are those the closest cities?”
Silas didn’t smile, but I got the distinct impression that the question amused him nonetheless. “Not much in terms of cities in Coös County.”
“What does that mean?”
He shrugged and slid his hands into his pockets. “’Bout nine hundred folks in Dalton.”
Was he joking?
He was joking.
Silas didn’t say anything else.
“Fuck,” I growled. “Look, I’m going to pay for your repairs. It’s not like I can skip out on it. Look at my car. Do you know if—if any of these nine hundred people are hiring?” I asked, noting the desperation in my tone.
“A bit far from home,” Silas said instead.
He tilted his chin at my car.
I looked to see he was referring to the California license plate. California wasn’t home, though. It was just a place.