Part One of this story can be found here.
I travel light, just a rucksack with a change of clothes and a few personal belongings. I don't need much; out on the road I can pick up lifts in cars; thumb out, watching as the red tail lights brighten in the nanosecond they caught my intention, the car's back end fish-tailing slightly as the driver brakes harder than necessary. I never hurry, just keep the same pace and then I'll be level with the driver - they ask the same questions: where you going? What's your name? How long you been waiting for a lift? I say nothing, beyond my final destination. They usually counter with something about 'quiet one' and 'suit yourself'.
I slump. I've got things to think about: the tape; the photo, now worn at the edges where a hundred fingers have toyed with it, turning it in greasy palms and rough skin; how I'm going to get to the bottom of my Grandad's story. There has to be answers, things he took to his grave. I just need to figure them out, which is difficult with the whining of this nasally prick sat next to me. I can't forgive him the notion that he's driving me across the country. I need to get out.
Drop me here, I say.
A glance. He sees I am telling, not asking. Sometimes you got to be direct.
There is a crunch as my boots meet the gravel that lines the side of the highway. I nod at the driver and he moves off, giving me the finger as soon as he's put his foot on the gas. I ignore him and walk, thumb out awaiting the next lift. I'm waiting for the right person to pick me up, someone that will let me be, or someone that talks non-stop but asks no questions of me. I'm not in a talkative mood. I take the photo from my shirt pocket and study it as I trudge on through the stumps of grey grass that punctuate the gravel every ten feet or so. The sky melts into the horizon, shimmering as the heat of the day reaches its hottest point, the tarmac bubbling slightly, tyre tracks faintly visible on the highway.
I stop, take the rucksack from my back, no longer a human snail; digging inside I retrieve the bottle of water, slightly warm from my body heat and drink before my thirst makes itself known. I'm immersed in the drink and the photo, so much that I don't hear the car until it's pulled up alongside me and the driver leans out, offering me the vacant seat. They only gesture, not voice. My kind of lift. I get in, silent also, place my rucksack on the back seat, the photo on the dashboard. The door closes by itself as my new chauffeur hits the gas, a slight hint of smoke off the back wheels. I don't even look at him; somehow I know he's heading towards Johnson's town: Johnson is the second person from the left, his arm held slack against my Grandad's shoulder, his teeth yellowed from smoking. I don't know if he's alive, if he's mentally stable. He was the only survivor, aside from my Gramps, and I calculate that he's in his eighties, maybe his nineties. He's old, that much I can guess at, surmise.
The next thing I know it's dark and there is rain streaming down the windshield. I am alone. Panicking, I look about me - my rucksack is still nestled in the back; it looks untouched. The photo is still there, but attached is one of those sticky notes. I peel it off and read:
We arrived, I couldn't wake you. Person you looking for lives here, number 30 Main Street. I leave in three days if you want a lift to the coast.
No name, no sign of anyone. All I know is I'm somehow at my destination, that I am on Main Street.
I grab my rucksack, open the car door and step out on to the waterlogged road, my boots slurping in the inch of mud. I begin to walk towards Johnson's house; it's easy to find, the only one on the block that's in need of a paint, that looks like an old person's abode. Dilapidated, gate broken, weeds that tower over my head; some of the windows have been broken by stones, possibly by the local kids, and have been boarded up by amateur hands. The door is falling apart, as rotten as Hitler's heart. I almost daren't knock, in case it falls into matchwood, into jagged splinters that might dig into my hands, may draw blood.
I have no need. From inside comes a voice, thick with drink, or drugs, a voice that seems to know who I am, why I'm here and knows that I'm looking for the answers that have eluded me for many years. It is a voice that has promise - the promise that I will find out what happened out there, what happened to my Gramps, what made him withdraw.
This story is continued here