Keep in mind, I’d never even considered giving a ride to a stranger before. All my life, I’d been told that’s how you get killed. “Only crazies hitchhike,” they’d say. “They’ll cut your throat and steal your car and you’ll be dead in a ditch.”
I didn’t want to die in a ditch. And I liked my car. But after I’d left the gas station and I saw the poor guy sitting in the gutter on the I-95 onramp, feebly holding out his thumb, I made my choice. I’d be a good samaritan.
The storm in the distance looked pretty threatening. If I let that guy sit there, he’d have to bear the brunt of it. From the looks of him, he didn’t appear to be able to bear much at all. I pulled over to the side and rolled down the window.
“Where you looking to go?,” I asked him.
“Baltimore,” he replied. His voice was stronger than his sickly body had suggested, and that gave me pause. I looked him over again. Dirty jeans, baggy red t-shirt. No bag, no bulges in his pockets. I sighed.
“I can get you as far as Philly.” He nodded. “Hop in,” I told him, unlocking the door.
In he hopped.
“I’m Colin,” I said.
We didn’t talk much for the first few miles, aside from me asking if he wanted some of the Fritos I had left from my lunch stop in Rhode Island. He took them and crunched away as I drove. He caught me studying him out of the corner of my eye a few times, but he didn’t say anything.
As the miles ticked away and rain started hitting the windshield, Frank fell asleep. The open bag of Fritos was on his lap. I wanted a couple, but didn’t want him to wake up thinking I was trying to grab his dick. I had absolutely no interest in his dick.
Frank snored like an o*******g Pratt and Whitney jet engine. In the confines of the car, since I had to close the windows once the rain had started, I noticed Frank had an unpleasant odor. Nothing overwhelming, but still obvious.
Over his snore, his stomach growled and burbled. “Gross,” I thought. Lightning flashed and wind buffeted the side of the car. The traffic ahead of us slowed to a crawl.
One of the annoying things about my car is the climate control only works properly when the car is moving. God knows why. The air conditioning we were enjoying up to that point cut out, and hot air started to blow out of the vents. The windshield began to fog up.
I cracked my window, hoping the outside air might clear the windshield. It did a bit, but visibility was terrible. The rain was heavy and my wipers weren’t doing a good job. All I could see was fog and the brake lights of the cars stopped in front of me. Frank’s stomach kept gurgling. I looked over. He was awake, staring straight ahead.
“You okay buddy,?” I asked. No response. He just stared at the fog-shrouded glass of the windshield. The smell I’d noticed before had intensified.
“Hey, Frank, what’s going on? You sick?”
Still nothing. Thick, humid air poured from the car’s vents despite the AC being set to max. Rain and small chunks of hail pelted the choked highway.
Frank retched. “S**t,” I said, and I frantically reached in the backseat for a bag or bucket or anything that might catch what I thought was about to come blasting out of my companion. My hand settled on one of the canvas shopping bags I used at Whole Foods. “God damn it,” I mumbled, as I placed my favorite shopping bag on Frank’s lap.
He moaned and turned to look at me, his eyes swimming back and forth with what I knew had to be intense nausea.
“Frank, please open the door and puke on the road or at least use the bag. I’m begging you.”
More silence punctuated by gurgling and retching. A boom of thunder caused us both to jump. For Frank, that was all it took. He didn’t open the door. And he didn’t aim for the bag.
A heavy wave of yellow vomit exploded out of his mouth and splashed against the windshield. I screamed. Another projectile torrent erupted from the man, dousing the ceiling, the dashboard, and the center console.
“Get out!,” I shrieked, the smell of the stomach contents invading my nose and threatening to force my own contribution to the mess. Frank sat back with his head down, pasty slime drooling from his mouth into the Fritos bag in his lap.
Cars behind me were leaning on their horns. The traffic in front of us had cleared. I poked at the hideousness on the console to turn on my emergency blinkers, then steered onto the median. On my right, I heard Frank choking. I got out of the car and stood in the rain, watching him. If you told me the following 30 seconds actually lasted 3 hours, I would’ve told you you were way off. It felt like a day.
Frank’s throat bulged as something was forced upward and into his mouth. I saw the something a second later. A colossal, writhing centipede as thick as my wrist began sliding out, its passage eased by the vile lubrication from minutes before. Inch after inch, foot after foot crawled out until it was free. It skittered under the passenger seat.
I’d already dialed the “9” in “911” when the solid matter entombed in his vomit began to move. Frank groaned and I distinctly heard him mutter, “not again.” As the rain soaked me, I watched as small centipedes crawled through the sludge all over the car, leaving trails as they went.
My dialing complete, I waited through seven rings before a dispatcher answered. As I told her about the medical emergency and tried to estimate where we were on the interstate, Frank abruptly opened the passenger-side door and stood on the side of the highway. He was gripping another massive centipede and pulling it out of his throat. I watched it bite his hand over and over until its two-foot length was exposed. Frank flung it into the dirt.
“Sorry about your car, man,” Frank called over the sound of rain and traffic. “I haven’t had an episode since I was a kid.”
I was speechless. I just looked at him as he walked down the side of the median, the torrential rain washing his clothes of the filth and bugs. And as centipedes crawled throughout my car and ropes of stomach contents dripped from its ceiling, Frank stuck out his thumb to flag down another potential ride to Baltimore.