Where the Highway Ends
David Edward Trench was seventeen and hitchhiking across western Texas. He had ten dollars in his pocket, and everything he owned was in his backpack. He was wanted by the law in three states for small-time robberies, but none of that was going to matter to him after tonight. In three hours David would be dead.
David looked up at the dark and threatening sky and moaned, "Oh, man. I'm going to really get soaked this time."
A brown, long-horned steer in the pasture across the road looked up at the sound of his voice. For a brief moment they stared into each other's dark eyes. The bone-thin steer quickly lost interest and went back to searching for something edible among the cacti and the west Texas dirt. David saw a jackrabbit scampering through the scrub brush. The steer ignored the long-eared creature as it hopped past.
David looked in both directions of the narrow straight road. He could see from horizon to horizon, and there wasn't a vehicle of any kind in sight. There hadn't been in hours.
His brain teased him with a list of what-ifs. What if the world had ended and everyone but him was dead? What if this was a dead-end highway and he was the only person on earth that didn't know it? What if he was headed straight toward some military test sight and was about to be blown up? He knew they still did nuclear testing someplace out west. He had read about it in the Enquirer. Any minute now a hydrogen bomb was going to explode, and he would disintegrate before he even had time to piss in his pants.
David tried telling himself how crazy this kind of thinking was. There was just a temporary lull in traffic. That's all. This road he was traveling went to El Paso and then on to New Mexico and eventually would take him to California. There wouldn't be any bombs going off like in all those fifties "B" movies or killer viruses making him puke his guts out and maybe not dying but wishing he could. No. This was just a regular two-lane highway across a really big state that didn't seem to have a whole lot of people in it, at least not west of Dallas and Fort Worth. No. This highway went all the way to California, and that was where he was headed. He was going to make a new life for himself there, maybe even change his name, and no one would ever find out about his past and all those robberies.
He had had two short rides today. With the luck he was having if a car did stop it would probably be a cop. Wouldn't that just take the cake?
How had it come to this anyway? How did he end up on the wrong end of the law when he had started out with nothing but good intentions? He had always tried to be good. He respected the law. His foster parents, the Millers, were good Christian people, and they had tried to raise him in their good Christian home. They had always taught him that stealing was wrong. A person wasn't supposed to steal, cheat, lie, or kill. So, why was he wanted in Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma? All he ever wanted to do when he set out was just to go to California and start a new life. He hadn't started out with any bad intentions. Committing those robberies had never entered his mind.
David was sixteen and had two hundred and seventy dollars in his pocket, a full tank of gas, and lots of food in the back seat of the old blue 1968 Ford Falcon when he started out. He had gone as far as Knoxville, three hundred and fifty-five miles, when the fan belt broke. That hadn't been so bad, and there had been a gas station across the road from where he had coasted to a stop. He pushed the old car across the road and fifteen dollars later he was on his way again. A tire blew just outside of Nashville. He didn't have a spare. That had been som