Mark picks up a load of fresh fish in Pouch Cove Newfoundland headed for Toronto. But as he heads out, the icebergs that had drifted farther south than usual cause a thick fog to roll in off the ocean, cutting off visibility and forcing Mark to pull over and wait out the weather. As he readies for some sleep he notices people walking through the fog. He tries calling out to them, but they vanish. Deciding there’s nothing he can do for them, Mark turns in…
Mark lay in his bunk for hours, sleeping just a few minutes at a time before opening his eyes to see if the fog had lifted. It hadn’t, and actually looked as if it might be getting thicker. Mark got up and took a good long look out the window. He couldn’t see a thing, and even if the fog did start to lift, it wouldn’t be clear enough to drive for hours yet. Resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going anywhere soon, Mark climbed back into his bunk and finally allowed himself to get some sleep.
And to dream…
He was in bed with his neighbour’s wife. The fact that he didn’t own a home and therefore had no neighbour didn’t stop Mark from enjoying the woman’s perfect body, long blonde hair and temptingly devilish smile.
“Take your time,” she said. “My husband won’t be home for hours.”
“Are you sure?”
“He’s seeing his mistress this afternoon.”
“Well, alright,” said Mark, pulling her close.
Just then, there was a knock on the door.
Another knock on the door, followed by, “Anybody in there?”
Mark rolled over, got up on one elbow and took a look out the passenger’s side window. There was a man outside wearing a dirty yellow ball cap and a red-and-black checked jacket. He was shading his eyes with one gloved hand and one bare one as he tried to peer inside Mother Load.
“What the hell does this guy want?” Mark muttered as he pulled back the covers and got out of his bunk. More importantly, Mark wondered, ‘Where the hell did he come from?’ He hadn’t heard any trucks passing by, but then again he’d been asleep. Judging by how groggy he felt right now, there could have been a whole convoy of tanks passing by and he wouldn’t have known it.
“Anybody in there?” the man outside repeated.
“Hold on!” answered Mark. “I’m not decent.” He put on a jacket and unlocked the door.
Nothing happened for several moments, then Mark reached over, opened the door for the man, and pushed it open.
“Hi stranger!” the man said.
“Hey,” said Mark.
“Mind if I join you?”
Mark didn’t answer right away. Yes, he minded. He didn’t know this man, didn’t know where he came from, why he was here, or what he wanted. And here he was sliding into Mark’s truck and making himself at home like they were long lost friends. Mark thought about that a moment. Maybe he did know him.
After all, Mark had been across the country, hell, across the continent, a hundred times or more. He’d met people just about every place he’d been and it was reasonable to think that a few of them might remember Mark, or his rig, Mother Load. Mark looked closely at the man, trying to recall his thick black eyebrows, brown eyes and the bushy mustache and beard that circled his mouth. The face wasn’t ringing a bell. “Do I know you?” he said.
The man shook his head, and sat down in the passenger seat. “I doubt it. I’m just a driver who needs some help.”
Ah, okay, thought Mark. While that didn’t make the guy any more familiar, it did explain why he happened to show up on Mark’s doorstep. Mark had spent as much time helping people in trouble as he had driving his truck. He sat down behind the wheel and smiled. “I guess my reputation…”
But the guy cut Mark off, not letting him speak.
“See, the weather’s so bad. It’s so foggy out there you can’t see a thing…”
‘Alright,’ thought Mark. The guy just wants to talk. So he let him ramble on.
“It doesn’t matter how many lights you’ve got on your rig, or how slow you go. You could be moving along at a snail’s pace, but there could be another guy driving the speed limit who’ll plow right into you…” A pause. “And being careful won’t help either. You might think you’ve got the roadway in your sights, but you can easily veer off left and right…and you’ll only know about it once you’re rolling it into a ditch.”
Mark nodded. That’s all the guy seemed to need, a nod, because he sure wasn’t having a conversation with Mark.
“See, I should have known better… I got a brand new forest green International 9900 up front and a new Trailmobile in back…Got a wife and three kids back home too. They’re depending on me.” He paused a moment to sniff back a tear. “It’s the youngest one’s birthday today, and I got this shiny little pedal car for him. I was so excited about giving it to him I took one too many chances.”
Mark was confused. He understood that the guy was sorry he was missing his kid’s party, but he was talking in the past tense a lot, like he was never going to make it…Like he couldn’t give his kid the pedal car tomorrow, or the next day.
“Listen, pal, it’s not that bad. This fog’s pretty thick now, but in another few hours, a day at the most, it’ll be gone and we’ll all be on our way.”
The man shook his head. “No, it’s too late. I’m not going anywhere. Not anymore.”
Mark began to feel, not just uncomfortable, but downright afraid. What this man was saying didn’t make any sense, and his mind obviously wasn’t all there anymore. Clearly, he had no business being behind the wheel of a semi.
“I’ve got an idea,” Mark said. “Why don’t you stay here with me until the fog lifts. Then I can drive you to the next truck stop, or maybe into some town somewhere.”
“Thanks, but no. There’s nothing left for me now. I’m done.”
Mark raised his arm to put a hand on the man’s shoulder, but he stopped halfway, as the man’s body suddenly began to tremble, then shake. Then, as Mark watched in fearful fascination, blood began to leak out of the man’s left ear.
“Hey,” Mark said. “You’re bleeding.”
But the man said nothing in response. Instead, he just sat there, staring out the window as more streaks of blood began to appear from his nose and…incredibly from a cut on his forehead.
“What the hell’s going on?” Mark asked.
No response. The man just closed his eyes and took a deep, deep breath.
“Let me get something for that cut,” Mark said, moving from the driver’s seat to the sleeper to access his first-aid kit. He doubted he could do much for the man’s bleeding ear and nose, but at least he could put a dressing on his head wound.
He grabbed the kit and turned back around.
“Got it!” he said.
But the man was no longer there. Not in the truck. Not even on the other side of the door. He was just…gone. And Mark hadn’t even heard a door open or close. It was as if he’d just, well, vanished.
‘Maybe I’m still asleep,’ Mark thought.
He tossed the first-aid kit onto the bunk and then pinched the back of his left hand with the thumb and index finger of his right.
“Ow!” he cried out.
Then looking around the empty cab, ‘What the hell just happened here?’ He had no answer.
Mark switched on his Cobra and tried contacting other truckers in the area to see if strange things were happening elsewhere on the roads. After a bit of static, the radio seemed to come alive with chatter.
“Can’t see a thing…” said one trucker.
“I’m staying put,” said another.
“Nothing’s worth my life,” said a third.
Mark breathed easier, knowing that he wasn’t alone in his assessment of the danger posed by the fog. Still, that told him nothing about what had happened inside his truck.
Then the Cobra chirped up.
“That’s the smart thing to do,” said a driver with a distinctive East Coast accent. “But there’s still a few out there with more guts than brains.”
Mark was curious to know more. “You’ve seen something crazy out there, have you?”
“Not sure if i
t’s crazy or just plain stupid.”
“What was it?” Mark wasn’t sure why, but he wanted details.
“Dumb trucker plowing down the road, just under the limit like it was a clear sunny day… Idiot couldn’t wait to get past me, flashing his lights and yanking on the air horn…”
Mark could almost picture the trucker on the radio shaking his head. “So what happened?”
“What’d you think? I pulled over and let him past. Some jerk wants to get himself killed, who am I to stop him?”
Mark had a strange feeling in his gut, one that was giving him an awful strong – not to mention weird – hunch.
“Do you remember what this blockhead was driving?”
“You bet I do,” said the driver. “It was a brand new forest green International 9900.”
“And the trailer?”
“Trailmobile. It was new too, with all that checkerboard chrome on the sides… Somebody that foolish don’t deserve to be driving that kind of equipment.”
Mark agreed, but he wasn’t about to get off track. “Where’d this happen?” he wanted to know.
“On Highway 20 midway between Pouch Cove and Torbay, probably closer Torbay than the Cove.”
That was just a few miles south of where Mark was currently parked.
The Cobra clicked up again. “Say, why all the questions, brother? What’s your interest in such a dumbass?”
Mark didn’t answer. Instead he jumped into the driver’s seat and put Mother Load into gear. His hunch was even stronger now, and if he wasn’t mistaken, there was a fellow trucker up the road who needed his help, badly. n
– Mark Dalton returns next month in A land of rock and fog Part 3.