It was after noon when Sue pulled over and offered the stranger a ride. That was so, totally, not, something she would normally do, but somehow she felt compelled. It was the day before Thanksgiving, after all. They had been driving all day and hadn’t even stopped for gas. She had moved to pull off the highway, for fuel, in Bakersfield when she noticed the needle was hovering just above ‘Empty’ but he talked her out of it.
“What are you doing?” he had asked.
“I’m getting gas,” she told him, “The tank’s almost empty.”
“Don’t stop,” he said, “I’ll take care of it.” He moved his right hand, palm forward, in an arc in front of him. “OK?” he asked.
She glanced at the instrument cluster on the dash and saw that the gauge now indicated a full tank of gas. It had remained pegged above the ‘F’ ever since.
He had been wearing boots, jeans, and a chocolate coloured western cut shirt with his thumb out and a small backpack setting next to him, when she pulled over at the base of the ramp in Salinas to pick him up.
“I’m trying to get to Alderaan.” He had said through the window, then he climbed into the passenger seat and tossed his pack in the back. His voice had cracked when he said it, like a teenage boy going through puberty.
“I’m not sure where that is,” Sue had said but I can take you east for a while. I’m on my way to Albuquerque.
“I’ll tell you when to stop.” He smiled and she immediately trusted this young man.
He didn’t talk much and they were now way past Albuquerque. Sue had driven right through town, right past the exit she would take for her mother’s house. Because her passenger hadn’t told her to stop yet; and he had said he would. She trusted him.
She had the feeling that he had been transforming during the ride. She studied him surreptitiously, stealing glances as they drove through the night. Now, he was tall, dark and sometimes, he spoke with a deep voice and an echo. It seemed that he had changed his clothes somehow without her noticing; and he wore some kind of black body armor with a helmet, a mask, and a cape. She could hear him breathing.
They were just outside Roswell when he unbuckled his seat belt and reached for his pack on the seat behind him. He couldn’t quite reach it so he turned around in the seat and got up on his knees, his butt waving back and forth while he wrestled with the back pack. He got tangled up with his cape for a moment before he finally turned back around he plopped down in his seat. He sat there breathing for awhile.
Inhale, Exhale, Inhale, Exhale
Finally he spoke, “I have cookies,” he said and he held up a blue bag of Chips Ahoy, “want some?”
Sue realized she was hungry, “Oh yes please,” she had answered and held out her hand. He carefully counted out three cookies and placed them, almost reverently, on her palm.
“The Force is strong with you.” He said as he watched her eat the first chocolate chip cookie.
“Huh?” she grunted.
“You can drop me just ahead in Roswell at the 285 intersection. I’m being picked up at the Allsup’s station there. My friends will take me the rest of the way to Alderaan. We have a death star.”
She pulled off the 380 into the brightly lit Allsup’s truck stop and parked her car. They both got out and he grabbed his backpack, setting it on the concrete while he rummaged in the top zippered pocket. He removed something and kept it concealed in his hand.
When he stood again, she realized that he was now almost eight feet tall. He leaned down with his arms spread and they hugged awkwardly for a moment. She patted him on the back as they broke their embrace. In his hand he held something small which he placed in her hand and closed her fingers around it.
“This is where I would normally say something profound like, I am your father. But, I don’t think that’s really the case here and besides that would be only half of the story, Sue,” he said as he looked down at her.
Inhale, Exhale, Inhale, Exhale
“You’ll never have to buy gasoline again.” He turned and strode quickly into the darkness of the desert behind the Allsup’s and disappeared from view. She never saw him again, but she would remember him forever.
She looked down at her hand and saw that he had placed a small gold coloured plastic trophy there, “Third Place” it said. She tossed it through the window onto the seat and headed back towards Albuquerque. She would still be home in time to help her mother with the turkey.