Salton

A man gets stuck in the middle of a desert town.

In a diner far from any oft traveled road, John sat patiently.  Hunched over the counter, he cast a haggard figure.  The shirt on his back and the old work boots on his feet were both coated with dirt.  Running his fingers through his brown shock of hair, the man was able to loose a few bits of dust. 

He watched as the sole waitress moved from table to table, wiping their surfaces with a ragged cloth.  She had already wiped the majority of the tables and now moved between those that were still stained by food and drink.  After each table had been cleaned, she moved to the counter.  Standing a few feet away from John, she scrubbed tenaciously at a single stubborn smudge. 

With no intended audience, she commented, "Looks like this spot doesn't want to come out."

After several more minutes of cleaning, she disappeared into the kitchen.

Looking out the diner's front windows, John's thoughts were carried to the long road that lay ahead of him.  He remembered the waitress's statement that only a handful of towns stood along this two-lane highway.  Fueling stations would be even scarcer.  This piece of information troubled him.  His truck sat outside the diner with less than half a tank of gas remaining. 

As he turned back to the front of the diner, John pulled a heavily worn map from his jacket pocket.  He spent some time unfolding it and set it on the counter.  While studying the map, he glimpsed the approaching waitress.  She carried a pot of black coffee in her right hand and the rag in her left.

When asked if he wanted some, he responded, tersely, "Please."

After filling his cup, the waitress asked John, "Well, John, where are you going to go from here?"

Tracing a long highway on the map with his index finger, John replied, "I'm gonna follow this road all the way here."  He tapped a fork in the highway.  "Then I'll head north to one of the bigger cities."

"You mean like Los Angeles?"

"Yeah."  He folded the map and returned it to his pocket.  "I'm sure I can get work there."

She nodded in agreement and told him, "I'll be right back with your burger."

While watching her leave the room, John grabbed the steaming cup in front of him.  He blew across it and watched the vapor dissipate.  Once it had cooled enough, he sipped at his coffee and waited for his meal.  He did not have to wait long as the kitchen door swung open just minutes later.

Seeing Anna walk from the kitchen, plate in hand, he held his empty mug up and told her, "You make a mean cup of joe."

She set his meal before him and remarked, "Here you go."

Sampling it, John said, "You make a great burger, too."

"Thanks, John."

She moved to fill John's cup.

"No thank you," he said, shaking his head.

She asked him, "Are you sure?  You have a long way to go before the next town."

John considered this and conceded.  "Go ahead and fill it up."

After following John's instructions, Anna left him alone in the dining room.  Starved, he finished off his burger within a few minutes.  Sifting through his pocket's contents, he managed to find enough cash to pay the bill.  John placed these crumpled bills atop the counter plate, stood up from his stool, and walked towards the end of the silent dining room.  Standing by the door, he fastened the buttons of his jacket and readied himself for the trip out into the cold, desert air.

A voice cut through the silence.  "Goodbye, John."

He looked over his shoulder and saw Anna standing behind the counter, keys in hand.

"Goodbye, Anna," he replied.

Opening the front door, he felt the cold air rush to meet him.  John closed his jacket tightly about his body and strode quickly to the lone truck sitting outside.  Once there, he pulled a key from his pocket.  The cold air rattled his hands and he fumbled at the door's lock.  He placed his key in the ignition and turned it.  The truck came alive.  Its bright lights cut through the expansive darkness and its engine let loose a low growl.  Checking his fuel gauge, John saw that his situation was much worse than he had previously thought.  The red needle hung precariously above the "E."  He pulled away from the diner and accelerated quickly down the highway.  In his truck's rear-view mirror, John was able to watch the lights of the diner grow fainter and fainter.

Within minutes, he was able spy a few lights along the road.  He drove for only a short time before reaching their source.  Along each side of the road were various shops, some dimly lit and others not at all.  He searched for a filling station and quickly found one on the western edge of the town.  John parked by one of the pumps and stepped out of his truck.  Looking towards the far side of the lot, he spotted a small, yet brightly lit building with signs for cola and tobacco propped up in its windows.  He walked inside and looked about.  In one of the store's large freezers, John found a collection of water bottles and pulled one from the shelf.  After walking to the counter, he set the bottle down.

Without looking up, the cashier asked him, "Is that it?"

"I need to get some gas from the second pump," John replied, opening his wallet.

He handed the man a few dollar bills and walked out to fill his tank.  Once he had done this, John set the gas nozzle back on the pump.  Driving from the lot, he looked towards the road signs and compared them to the labels of his map.  Following this signage, he quickly found his way back onto the highway.

The End

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