By contributor Ahron Balatti
“You’re an asshole, Ahron.”
I just smirked.
“You think you know everything. You’re honestly just a huge jack-ass.”
I laughed as I walked out of my friend Molly’s house. So what my trash GPA was keeping me out of university? So what I could only get a job delivering pizzas? I was 17—I knew everything.
I had this terrible 96 Honda Civic which barely drove and I was pushing everything it had down Baylis Road in Qualicum. I drove passed a guy with his thumb outstretched, his shoulders slumped. Clearly, he must’ve also been having a bad night. I turned my Civic around, and pulled up to him.
I rolled down my squeaky window, “Hey buddy, where you going?”
His eye widened and a grin broke across his stubbled face. “Deep Bay! Can you help me out?”
Deep Bay was about half an hour north of Qualicum—the opposite direction I had intended to go, but I had already pulled over, and the chances of another car pulling over were next to none. Only a true asshole would’ve said no.
As we drove, the hitchhiker told me he was a rigger who had recently been laid off. “I had a beautiful wife, but she left me the second the money was gone.” He wiped at his nose his black sleeve. “I haven’t seen my kids in month. I was living with my dad but he kicked me out just before you picked me up.”
I figured he had a place to stay in Deep Bay.
The more we drove, the more uncomfortable I felt. He was friendly—wouldn’t shut the hell up, actually. My stomach was starting to turn, like it would before a job interview or something. I didn’t know where in Deep Bay we were going. The hitchhiker shrugged off the question when I asked for more specifics.
As we pulled further into Deep Bay, I cleared my throat.
“Dude, where am I taking you?”
“If you keep driving to Courtney, I’ll give you gas money,” he said, his eyes wide.
I looked at the clock on the dash. “It’s like three-thirty in the morning.”
“So what? You’re randomly just going to leave me on the side of the road? You should’ve just left me at my dad’s if you were just going to abandon me on the side of the road somewhere.”
I scoffed, “Dude, you said Deep Bay—”
“Take me to Courtney, and then you get home safe.”
A half hour later, as we entered Courtney, the hitchhiker opened up some more. He told me that he had done drugs for most his life, and had only recently gotten clean. He told me his wife had actually left him because he had spent all the money he brought home on meth. She didn’t want the kids around an addict. He told me he was in prison for a few years, for beating up a guy and stealing his car.
We pulled into a Petro-Can’s florescent parking lot, and he toppled inside. I figured it was the perfect chance for me to escape. I turned the car on and put it in reverse. But then I stopped.
I thought about the guys I know who’ve done time. I’ve known really good people who have gotten themselves lost in addiction and ruined everything around them. It would be another year from that point that my own little sister would finally get into rehab.
He hadn’t killed me yet. Worse comes to worse, I could always fight my way out.
Then he told me to drive towards the woods in Courtney.
We drove for another good half an hour. The only time the hitchhiker spoke was to tell me things like “Left here” or “Slow down, you’re gonna miss the turn.”
Finally, he told me to stop. It was the absolute middle of nowhere. My heart was pounding, my palms sweaty, my pupils enlarged.
He looked over at me with his cold, sleepless eyes. “I’m going to use your phone.”
I didn’t stop him as he reached into the center console of my Civic and pulled out my cracked iPhone 4. He quickly dialed some number and waited, tapping his fingers on the dash.
The conversation was three sentences. “Hey, it’s Justin. Usual place. Whatever 50 bucks will get me.” He hung up my phone. We sat in total silence for what felt like hours, but was probably closer to two minutes.
I finally got the courage to speak up. “So, what’re we doing here?”
He gave me a knowing look. “Well kid, if you haven’t figured it out, we’re buying drugs.”
“Like…like weed? Are we buying weed?” My voice shook and broke worse than it had before I hit puberty. “’Cause like, you know…. Like what do you mean drugs?”
“You think we drove for an hour in the woods at five AM to buy weed? You’re a dumbass.”
I must have looked like a deer in headlights, certain of my impending death.
“You’re a nice enough kid,” he said, as he pulled out a smoke and lit it. “Stay cool and you’ll get home safe. My dealer killed my brother like ten years back but my brother was a real goof. You’ll be fine.”
The hitchhiker’s dealer pulled up about five minutes later. He was driving this crazy looking Nissan thing, some sort of fast car that made no sense for the small town of Courtney. He parked behind me. The hitchhiker jumped out of my car and ran to his dealer. Again, I though about making a run for it, maybe calling the police as I drove and living long enough to make it to safety, but we were in the middle of nowhere.
Chances were that Nissan would catch me before I found safety, and that would be the end of my dumb ass. I figured I would just go with the flow. I grabbed my phone, texted my girlfriend to let her know what was happening, that I loved her.
The hitchhiker began running towards my car. This was it. I was done. He was going to cut my head off and use it as a meth pipe. I knew it. I imagined him sitting around a fire in the woods with my dead body in the background. I prayed to God to let me live. I had learned my lesson. I would never do a nice thing so long as I lived. As he opened the passenger side door, I almost cried.
“Hey kid, I need five bucks.”
“I only have 45 dollars, I need five more. Help me out.”
I complied. He ran back to the dealer’s car. Hallelujah.
We took a different route out of those woods and we got out in nearly a third of the time it took us to get in. The ordeal was close to over.
“Hey kid, got a can in here?” He was going to smoke meth in my car.
“No. I don’t drink pop. I’m a weightlifter, pop is bad for weightlifting.”
This made him angry.
“Oh, you’re a weightlifter? You some of tough guy?”
Well, I had always figured I was.
“God no. I just don’t drink pop.”
“Good. You and I are going to party.”
We drove for another 20 minutes out of Courtenay, and pulled over at some truck stop. The hitchhiker planned to search the garbage for a can. The plan was fairly obvious—drive away as soon as he steps out of the car—but it was obvious to both of us.
There were a few flaws. First, his drug dealer had my number, so there was a possibility he could find me. Second, the Civic was slow as hell, so to escape from the hitchhiker, I would need a running start—a solid couple seconds to work enough RPMs to get the car actually moving. All this considered, I was feeling courageous enough to make an escape the first chance I got. The hitchhiker opened up the car door, put his foot on the pavement, took a hard look at me, put his foot back inside the car, and closed the door.
“I don’t like this truck stop. Let’s keep going.”
It was 6:00 am and we were on the outskirts of Campbell River by the time we had found a truck stop the hitchhiker liked. I was exhausted. I had spent the entire morning being pushed around by someone I was trying to do something nice for. The sun’s light was abrasive on my tired eyes, and my throat felt like razor from the half pack of Belmonts I had smoked. The hitchhiker opened the door and smiled at me.
“Ready to party?” I’m not even sure if he knew the sun was up.
He told me not to do anything stupid then stepped out of the car and looked at me. “You and me,” he said as he pointed a meaty finger at his chest, then to mine. He took another step away and stopped. “I trust you kid.”
He took two more steps and I floored it. The car jolted forward with the power of an electric scooter from Walmart. Whatever cylinders that car had left were pushing the engine to its very limits, like a crippled racing horse finally let into a pasture. But it was enough. The hitchhiker sprinted behind me, yelling all sorts of things about the ways all my loved ones would die. I can’t say I cared much in my sleep deprived state.
I got home around 9:00 am and told my mother everything that had happened. She scowled and asked how I could be so stupid. I just told her I was trying to be nice for once.
I crawled into bed and texted my girlfriend to let her know I had escaped and would live another day, and looked up at my ceiling. It was a beautiful site.
I’m not sure if there’s any moral to this story, but I think about that night whenever I feel like being an ass. However so quickly I can go from “I know everything and I’m going to do whatever I feel like” to “I have no control and I’m scared.” Perspective, I guess they’d call it.
Quite frankly, crazy as that bastard was, that hitchhiker had a hand in shutting me up.