He awoke because his body grew chilled. An eyelid fluttered open, and his breath condensed in the winter air. The Greyhound bus was sitting at a stop, engine off, but there were no other passengers. There was no driver.
He grunted and pulled his pack closer to him, feeling his heart slow and his nerves calm when he checked inside. Whatever was after him didn’t know what the bag contained, and it desperately wanted to find out. He zipped the bag closed, ensuring that anyone or anything watching wouldn’t find out.
He put the tips of his mitten gloves over the chilled ends of his fingers and walked up the aisle of the bus. He bent down to look out the front window, finding that the bus was parked at a rest stop along the route. It was possible everyone had just stepped out for a stretch break, but that wasn’t likely. Not with whatever was after him.
The rest stop was mostly empty this time of night, only a few trucks with napping drivers and minivans with tired moms and dads switching who slept and who drove. In the distance he spotted looming mountains rising out of nowhere just past Denver.
After refilling a few water bottles, he clenched a fist and approached a trucker climbing into her cab. “Excuse me,” he hailed, waving his hands. “Excuse me, but are you headed into Denver? Maybe further?”
“I don’t take hitchhikers.”
He gulped, let his bag slide down his shoulder just a little, and nodded. “Well, that’ll probably work out better for you anyway.”
She grumped and shut the driver’s side door but rolled down the window. “Why’s that? You an axe murderer?”
He shook his head. “No. I just think I’m cursed.”
He looked to either side, then up to the sky. “Some god, or goddess, has it in for me. It started when they burned down my house and killed my dog, but then they took all my friends and acquaintances a couple weeks ago. Shoot, they made everyone on my bus disappear entirely, and I’d only known their faces for all of four hours.” He pulled tight on the rucksack. “If I got to know you, I’m sure you’d disappear too.”
She shook her head and cranked up her truck. “You sound like a nutter. ‘Sides, why’d you want to get me stolen by this pagan god of yours, assuming it’s real?”
“I didn’t want to hurt anyone,” he said. He took off his rucksack and fiddled with the plastic clip. “The god can’t see inside my backpack, but I think it knows and wants what’s inside. I think what’s inside can kill it, and that’s why it’s so scared. If I show you, you become more valuable to the god alive than dead.”
She rolled the window up a couple inches.
“I’m pretty desperate,” the man said. “I haven’t shown anyone else what’s in my bag, and you’d be the first.”
She wrinkled her nose, but took her hand off the window crank. “Fine. If I like what I see, you can hitch a ride.”
He unhitched the bag and stepped on her truck’s runners, giving her just a peek at the contents.
Her eyes widened and he clicked the bag shut before the curious god could sneak its view into the burlap.
“Get in,” she said. The truck’s doors unlocked at the push of a button.
He jumped off her runner and hurried around the front of her truck, then clambered into the passenger’s seat.