Book Excerpt: MOJO

Book Excerpt: MOJO

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by Kris Sedersten

On a country road four miles north of the small farming town of Harvard, Nebraska, a black Dooley pickup sat on a forgotten dirt lateral road once used by local farmers. Traffic had largely been rerouted to roads maintained by the county, in recent years, so the isolated back road was rarely used.

The truck was well hidden; tucked away, behind a wall of rogue bushes and tall, thick trees. The man in the driver’s seat yawned; patiently waiting. He glanced out toward the hilly road to his right. His gaze automatically darting to the carefully spaced spikes he’d planted under the loose gravel a few hours earlier.

The sun was rapidly sinking in the western sky, spilling pink and orange hues across the horizon. The sharp, shiny tips of the hidden steel would soon be impossible to see in the fading light and the man smiled to himself.

A small, light-colored SUV came into view and flew up the hill toward the spikes in the road, kicking up a trail of dust that blew behind it in a long, billowy tail. The man in the truck smirked, and the smug, self-satisfied grin slowly widened across his face while he licked his lips in anticipation.

“Let the games begin!” He whispered under his breath.

When the approaching vehicle topped the hill, the buried spikes immediately hit their intended mark. Both front tires blew at the same time, and the small Tracker jeered dangerously out of control.

Maria, the young Hispanic woman behind the wheel, fought desperately to keep the car under control, but it swerved from one side of the road to the other. The thick layer of loose gravel on the rough surface made it even more difficult to keep it centered between the ditches, and it slid sideways for several hundred yards before straightening up again, still fishtailing. Elia, the girl in the passenger seat screamed, clutching onto the dashboard with both hands, trying to remain upright in the seat.

The road was narrow, and the steep ditches on either side were scattered with trees and wild shrubbery. At the bottom of the hill, a narrow wooden bridge loomed in the fading light, and the driver slammed her foot on the brake pedal with full force, hoping to avoid the collision. The vehicle finally came to rest only a few feet in front of the bridge railing, and wound up situated almost sideways, dangerously close to the edge of the road.

Initially, the two teen-aged occupants were in a state of semi-shock. They huddled together in stunned silence, too terrified to make any movements in either direction, for fear the car would topple off of the road altogether. After unbuckling their seat belts, they hugged one another, each looking for validation that the other was safe and still in one piece. They laughed and cried at the same time, grateful to have escaped injury, or worse.

The man in the black truck watched the near-collision from his hidden spot on the hill. His plan was falling into place perfectly, and he looked on in eager curiosity, impatient for the darkness to fall. He lit up a cigarette, slowly inhaled a deep draw of smoke, and exhaled it in small bursts of perfect circles, sending smoke rings wafting in the air through his open window.

Once the girls were completely satisfied that neither was injured, they exited the Tracker to check out the damage. Both of them used the driver’s side door to avoid tempting fate by putting too much weight on the passenger side of the car that was closest to the ditch. The driver, being the older of the two, attempted to make a call for help on her cell phone while they looked over the flat tires. There was rarely good reception on the hilly country roads between the small towns in Clay County, and she quickly found that this evening was no exception. Her phone was not responding.

The girls soon discovered that both front tires were obliterated, with literally nothing left of them, but random patches of black rubber clinging to the rims in bizarre patterns of torn tread. They were dismayed by the extent of the damage, realizing it would put a serious crimp in their plans for the evening. They had no idea what they’d hit, but it was obvious that they were stranded on the gravel road for the time being, and it was getting darker by the minute, making them even more uncomfortable with their situation.

Initially conversing in Spanish, they discussed the possibility of walking the four miles back to Harvard, where they’d come from. Neither was anxious to walk the country roads in the dark. They had an engagement in the nearby town of Giltner, where they were scheduled to sing the Gospel at a diversity celebration in the community church. But they weren’t going to make it there any time soon, and they regretted the decision to take the short cut through the country that had seemed like such a good idea some twenty minutes earlier.

Together, they searched for a spare tire in the storage compartment of the Tracker. Though neither had ever changed a flat tire before, they were desperate enough to give it a try. The daylight was disappearing and they hated the thought of struggling with the unfamiliar task in the dark, but the older girl searched through the back end of the vehicle, and located the one spare tire they had in their possession, along with a jack, and a tire iron.

Elia dug out the owner’s manual from the Tracker’s glove compartment and she scanned the material for instructions to guide them in changing the flat tires, while the darkness continued to fall. She was impatient and frustrated at not finding the information she needed. She tossed the book onto the seat beside her, and started to voice her complaints.

“I don’t see why we’re messin’ with this, Maria,” Elia said, pointing out the obvious. “Even if we can change one-a the tires, we aren’t gonna be able to drive on the other one!”

“I know that: But at least it’s givin’ us somethin’ to do besides just sit here and look stupid,” Maria snapped.” Maybe we really should just start walkin’ toward Giltner. I think there’s a farmhouse just a couple of miles down the road.”

“Not if we keep goin’ toward Giltner,” Elia argued. “There’s nothin’ for at least five miles in the direction, ‘cept maybe a cemetery, and cornfields. None-a that is gonna help us.”

“Well, let’s head back to Harvard, then. This is gettin’ ridiculous! Whoever heard of two flat tires at the same time? How can that even happen?”

Elia looked down at her shoes, wishing she had on a good pair of tennis shoes instead of her high heeled dress pumps.

“Whatever! Let’s just do it. But my feet are gonna die in these shoes!” She smoothed out her tight fitting little black dress and sighed. “Hey, at least I still look good!”

“I’m glad I wore flats!” Maria said appreciating the conservative brown slacks and blouse she was wearing. “You always gotta be the diva! Maybe you’d be better off goin’ barefoot!”

Before Elia could respond, the welcome sight of headlights came toward them from over the top of the hill.

Both girls frantically waved their arms, signaling for the oncoming vehicle to stop. It was common in Nebraska for farmers and townspeople to stop and help stranded motorists on the road. People were neighborly like that in and around Harvard. The hope of rescue was alive, and the girls were ecstatic at the renewed possibility of being on time for their debut at the church.

“Stop! Stop!” Elia yelled out to the driver of the big black truck that was rapidly approaching them. “Please stop!”

Maria joined her, jumping up and down on the side of the road. “Help! Please help us!”

The enormous Dooley pickup pulled over to the side of the road just a few feet from the crippled Tracker. The roar of the engine quieted as the driver hopped down from the cab and joined the girls on the road. They were immediately put at ease by the friendly stranger and his air of confidence. It was difficult to see his face in the fading light but he laughed a lot when he spoke and he was pleasant; reassuring. Then, after checking the damage, the man was certain he had another spare tire in the back of his truck that would fit their vehicle, and he insisted upon changing the tires for them; just as they had hoped.

Taking control of the situation, the stranger walked back to his truck and gathered the necessary tools. He engaged the girls in small talk while he assembled the jack and rolled a usable tire closer to the Tracker. It was indeed exactly the right size and they couldn’t believe their luck.

Elia was talkative, and she readily joked with the stranger as he worked on the first tire, while Maria slowly walked down the road; putting distance between her and the others. Being the responsible one, she was determined to let Reverend Carter at the church know why they were late for their engagement and she didn’t want anyone to worry about them. It was dark now, but she could see fairly well from the headlights of the Tracker that was perched cockeyed on the side of the road; and she appreciated that while she meandered closer to the old bridge, still trying to find reception on her cell phone.

Meanwhile, the man carefully explained each step in the process of changing the flat tire to his captive audience. Elia listened closely, grateful for the crash course in auto mechanics, taking mental notes for future reference.

He eyed her carefully while he went through the motions of preparing the tire. She was a beautiful girl with long black hair and delicate facial features. She was a little too petite for his taste, but her tiny figure looked strong and well put together just the same.

Elia was bent over the tire, concentrating on the task at hand, when from out of nowhere she felt a blinding pain in the right side of her skull. She slumped to the ground, trying to raise her arm up to hold her head and stop the agony, but she couldn’t move a muscle. Terror seized her as she felt consciousness slipping away. Awareness faded into a foggy blur, but not before she realized that the tire iron the helpful stranger still held in his hand was now covered with dripping blood—her blood—that flowed down the metal bar and melted onto the ground beside her face.

She had a fleeting thought of her boyfriend and she pictured herself safely cuddled in his arms. Then everything faded to black.

The stranger started to whistle while he bent over to scoop the girl up in his arms. He swung her limp body over his shoulder and carried her over to the back of his truck. He flipped the tailgate open with one hand and plopped her body into the truck bed. She landed with a thud on a ragged assortment of spare tires that lined the bottom of the box.

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