As the sun sank low along the horizon, John began to concern himself with thoughts of shelter. He knew that a night in the desert would be extremely cold and unpleasant and felt no desire to test his fortitude. A cold wind nipped at John’s back, and he wrapped his jacket tightly around his torso.
Walking across the desert, John was able to hear sounds previously smothered by the roar of his truck. The howls of coyotes and the caws of buzzards all made him tense. Suddenly, John heard a distant rumble. The faint noise failed to match any that could come from an animal. Looking along the road, John was able to spy two faint lights. The lights grew brighter, and larger, and he could make out the outline of a vehicle. The driver, suddenly aware of the man hiking alongside the road, pulled his truck over. Turning his head towards John, the driver looked the hiker over several times and saw that his appearance was atypical of the usual hitchhikers. The stubble of the man's jaw was trimmed, the clothing he wore appeared clean, and the shock of black hair atop his head had been carefully combed away from his brow.
The driver, upon determining that the man was not a threat, asked "Need a lift?"
John looked at the driver and weighed his deal. This decision took just seconds as a cold wind once again bit at John’s back. John, replied in the affirmative, walked closer towards the truck. Once he had lifted his tired body into the cab of the truck. John looked about. On the floor sat a folded map of the area. John glimpsed at it and saw that the nearest filling station was well outside walking distance. The driver noticed that John was glancing at it.
"Feel free to look at it."
John grabbed the map. As John studied his planned route, the driver started up the truck and began to speak.
"I'm glad you accepted my offer. Nights out here can get pretty cold."
John nodded but the driver barely noticed and kept on speaking.
"I'd like to know why you're out here. I'm sure you have your reasons for coming out here but I haven't seen any other hitchhikers carrying nothing but a bottle of water and a wad of cash."
John looked down at the scarce supplies in his hands.
"Sure," the man continued, "a bottle of water quenches your thirst, but you can't eat cash."
John looked at the driver and spoke. "I know. I've tried."
The man chuckled and John continued.
"My truck broke down. I planned on walking to the nearest filling station, but, seeing as how the nearest town is over a hundred miles away, I don't know what to do."
"That happens to a lot of guys out here. Don't know the land and think they can just walk halfway across the desert with nothing but hopes and dreams. You seem like you have a tad more sense than those men, though."
The driver mistook John's glance for a dirty look.
"Sorry if I offended you," the driver continued, "but it really pains me to see such young men walk into the desert and disappear forever."
The driver finished his sentence and John could see him grow visibly upset after this statement. John looked out the window in an attempt to not embarrass the driver.
The driver regained his composure and apologized. "Sorry 'bout that."
John, now fascinated by the passing landscape, mumbled out a quiet "it's okay" and continued to look out the window.
Suddenly struck by a thought, the driver turned to face John and spoke.
"I just realized. I never told you my name. The name's Bill Hodge but my friends just call me Bill. Now that I've given you my handle, I'm sure you'll return the favor and tell me yours."
John turned to face Bill.
"My name's John, John Turner." Grasping John’s outstretched hand, Bill said "Well, Mr. Turner…"
"Well, John, I'm sure you'll understand my thinking when I ask: You don't have a place to sleep do you?"
"I've enough money to rent a motel room for a few nights."
"Now, you don't need to go off and waste your cash on some musty old motel room when I have a perfectly good home just up ahead. Me and my wife, you can call her Mrs. Hodge, have a bedroom that's been empty for close to ten years now. She loves having guests and you would be no exception."
John thanked the man and accepted his offer.
"Great! Now we'll be coming up to the house in just a few minutes. Just be careful when you walk in. Mrs. Hodge turns into some kind of fiend if she ever gets woken up in the middle of the night."
The two men sat in silence for the rest of the drive. As the truck drew closer to their destination, John was able to spot a faint glow along the horizon. From this light, John was able to make out the shape of an old house. The vehicle stopped in front of this home.
Both men got out of the truck and walked to the front door. As Bill Hodge drew a key from his pocket and placed it in the lock, he turned to John and spoke.
“Now I know you don’t have any other clothing with you. There’s some in the extra bedroom’s drawers. They’ll probably fit you."
Bill pushed open the door and John walked through the threshold. Inside, the house had all the workings of a grandparent’s home. The walls were covered with a light sea green paint that clashed with each piece of furniture. Photographs of family members hung in clusters on the walls. Gaudy porcelain figures lined the shelves. A faint hint of peanut brittle wafted through the air.
Upon entering the bedroom pointed out to him by Bill, John spied a large chestnut dresser along the far wall. Atop the weathered top of the dresser stood a collection of framed photographs. A faint glow from the room's lamp allowed John to make out the minute features of each picture. Looking closely at the largest of these photographs, John quickly discovered that the two figures shown were of a much younger Bill Hodge and his son. The boy whose arm was wrapped around his father reminded John of himself. The young man's dark stubble and rugged features were shared by John. Each man, however, displayed much different senses of style. John had worn the clothes issued to him by his father but this young Hodge wore the uniform of a social misfit. Hodge's blue jeans, tie-dye shirt, and long flowing hair starkly contrasted with the more formal attire that John once wore. The boisterous smile that lay across Hodge's face showed a man of great elation. Drawing his attention to the older man standing next to the boy, John could see a similar smile spread across Bill's face. The father appeared younger and more joyous than his present self.
Pulling his head back from the photographs, John stifled a yawn. He looked at a clock along the wall and saw that dawn was only a few hours away. John fell back on the bed. He began to sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.