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Two For The Road

by Ralph Filicchia

The road cut like a straight ribbon across the desert floor. The temperature was close to 108 degrees, and little waves of heat shimmered above the landscape. On the right side of the road, about seventeen miles outside of town, sat the Desert Diner, and beside that, Desert Gas, owned and operated by an older man known only as Fitzy. There were no other buildings as far as the eye could see.

Inside the diner the lone waitress, Candy, said to her boss who was standing behind the counter, “This is murder. I told you we should have gotten that lousy air-conditioner fixed last week. It’s only blowing half strength.”

“Yes, I know,” Mr. Peters said. Peters was in his mid-fifties and had just bought Desert Diner six months ago. “But the guy said he was all tied up and couldn’t handle it until Friday, so what do you want me to do?”

“We ought to lock up and go home.” Candy said. “Nobody’s going to come out this way in weather like this. I’m surprised Fitzy hasn’t closed up and gone home.”

A speeding black, dust covered car came into view. The right fender was rattling fiercely and looked as if it had been recently damaged. It stopped abruptly beside the front door of Desert Diner. There were two men in the car. The one in the passenger seat said, “I just want something cold. Won’t take a minute.”

“Just make sure you hurry,” the other one said. “We can’t afford to waste time.”

“Relax,” the passenger said. “We didn’t leave any witnesses. No one knows anything yet. They probably won’t even find out what happened until tomorrow.”

“Just don’t take all day.”

The young man entered the diner. Candy smiled at him and Mr. Peters struck up his most professional pose behind the counter.

“Sure is hot out there,” the young man said, swinging one leg over a counter stool. “This is the first eating place we’ve seen on this road.” He glanced at Mr. Peters. “Where will this road take us?”

“I, ah... I don’t know,” Peters said.

The young man looked at him through squinted eyes. “You don’t know... ?

“Ah... no I don’t.”

“Well when cars come from the other direction where are they coming from?”

Peters thought for a moment, then turned to Candy. Candy said, “No cars ever come from the other direction.”

The young man chuckled. “They don’t? What kind of crazy road is this? How can someone not come from the other direction?”

Candy and Mr. Peters looked at one another. “It’s always been like this since we’ve been here,” Peters finally said.

The young man shook his head in disbelief. “You probably just never saw the cars when they came from the other direction.”

“Oh, we would have seen them,” Candy said. “We would have heard them, too. There’s no way we could have missed them.”

The young man became wary, not sure if they were putting him on, or if they were dead serious. Had they already heard something? He glanced around but saw no radio or small TV. He finally said, “Well I’m sure you’ll be seeing some come back eventually. Now how about a nice piece of that blueberry pie under the cover there, and a nice cold glass of milk.”

Mr. Peters drew the milk and Candy took a piece of the blueberry pie from the plastic container. Peters said to the young man, “So where are you headed?”

The young man dug into the pie. “Me and my friend out there are heading cross country. See a little bit of America, you know. Hey, this is good pie. Lemme see if I can talk my buddy into grabbing a bite.” He spun off the stool and headed back outside.

The driver looked at him. “You all set?”

“Hey, I think we ought to make it a doubleheader. There’s only an old guy and a girl in there. We take what’s in the cash register and blow. We’ll be in the next state before anyone even gets out here. C’mon, I told them I was bringing you in for a piece of pie.”

The two men came back into the diner. “How about a piece of pie and a cold milk for my pal here,” the young man called out. “I sold him on it.”

Candy beamed and went for the pie, and Peters drew another milk. The two men wolfed down the food while the man and girl watched. When they finished the young man reached inside his shirt and pulled out a handgun. “Okay, now open the cash register.”

“What...?” Peters said, his mouth falling open.

“C’mon, c’mon,” the young man said, sliding off the stool. “Open it up!”

“There’s nothing in there,” Candy said, trembling. “You’re the first customer we had all day. There’s only a few dollars we use to make change.”

“Open it!” the young man said, “or I’ll rap you across the face with this gun.”

Candy opened the cash register and took out twelve dollars in bills, and also two dollars in change. “That’s all there is, honest.”

The driver said, “All right, let’s get out of here. A lousy twelve bucks. We’re wasting our time. Come on, will ya?”

The two men moved toward the door. The young man said, “I’ll be back someday for another piece of that pie.” He laughed. “Maybe I’ll be the first guy to ever come back down that road. Won’t that be something, huh?” And he laughed again.

Peters and Candy moved to the window to watch them go. “Good thing there wasn’t much in the cash register,” Candy said. “But still, it’s awful getting robbed.” They kept watching the car as it moved off in the distance. Then they noticed it stopped. “Look,” Candy exclaimed, “they’re coming back.”

A minute and a half later the car pulled to a stop in a cloud of dust. The young man got out and rushed up to the door. Candy and Mr. Peters hurried back behind the counter. The young man came in and headed for the blueberry pie. “Figured we might as well take this with us,” he said. He glanced at Candy. “Hey, we came back. We get the prize, ha, ha.” Then he turned and with the pie was gone.

The telephone rang. Peters took it. “Hello?”

“What’s going on over there?” the voice asked.

“Who’s this?”

“Me, Fitzy, from the gas station. I thought I just saw a car come down the road from the other direction.”

Peters explained what had happened. “But now they turned around and went back. I don’t guess they’ll be coming back any time soon.”

Fitzy snorted. “I’m sure they won’t. Well, it would have been a waste of time to say anything anyway. They never listen.”

“Say, uh, while you’re on the line here would you mind if I asked you a question?”

“No. What do you want?”

“About that road out here. How come no one ever comes back from the other direction?”

“It would be sort of hard to come back from the edge of nothing, wouldn’t it?” Fitzy said.

“I don’t follow you,” Peters said. “What do you mean?”

Fitzy sighed. “Well suppose I put it this way. Columbus wasn’t exactly one hundred percent right, and all those pictures of the Earth from space satellites showing that the world is perfectly round aren’t entirely accurate. There are a few little areas here and there that don’t show up too good because of the distance.”

“You mean...?”

“Yeah, but there’s no sense in trying to warn anybody, because they just laugh at you. So I gave up long ago.”

Peters stared at the phone for a full minute after hanging up. He pictured the two punks driving off the edge of the world and grinned. It would serve them right. He would have given another twelve bucks just to see the look on their faces when they realized what was happening. Ha, ha! Well, as long as this stuff didn’t affect business he wasn’t going to worry about it.

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Filicchia

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