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Nowhere to Go, No Way to Get There

The Creative Process

I mentioned a few days back that while on a recent trip to Oregon I encountered a young woman hitchhiking at a rest stop. This short story is the result of that brief encounter. No, the story is not true. In reality I gave the young woman a few dollars and wished her well. What we have here is my over-active imagination. Enjoy!


Somewhere Between Here and There

I pulled into the Baldock Rest Area, just south of Portland, two hours into my trip to Ashland with five to go. The heat was already gathering strength for the day, eight a.m., heading for the nineties, and the reason for my journey had me swimming in melancholy as I got out of the car to stretch my legs.

She was there to greet me, sitting on the pavement, leaning against the rest room wall, a sign in her hands which said “Stranded, need a ride to California.” Her long, auburn hair hung tangled over her shoulders. She was young, late teens my guess, attractive despite the smudged dirt across her face, her face sleepy, and weary, but her eyes alert. A t-shirt hung loosely upon her, “Love Not Hate” its message, her jeans ragged and torn, Nikes adorned with holes.

Thoughts of Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgeway, and Edmund Kemper raced through my mind as I passed her on my way to the mens room. She looked at me, no reaction, another pilgrim passing her by, another missed opportunity, nothing more, part of the ever-shifting landscape of an I-5 rest stop on a Friday morning.

I had already passed by, at seventy mph, two female hitchhikers, blots on the roadside, playing a dangerous game born from necessity. Were they naïve or simply desperate? Did they not know the dangers, or did they not care? I wanted to pull over, get out of my car, scream at them about the risks . . but I chose not to, what would be the point, you can’t change the world, Bill, just keep on keeping on south, towards your destination. But the young woman at Baldock broke through my defenses. She just looked so damned helpless and frail. I found myself wanting to protect her as I came out of the rest room and descended the steps.

“Need a ride?” was all I could muster in greeting.

The head slowly rose to meet my words.

“I don’t give head,” was her weary reply.

“I didn’t ask for one. How about you give me a name as payment? My name’s Bill. I’m headed for Ashland, which will put you a few hundred miles closer to your destination. If you’re interested, follow me. If not, good luck!”

A Deal Struck

By the time I had unlocked my car she was standing by the passenger door.

“I don’t give head,” she said again, more defiance this time.

“We already established that fact. Toss your backpack in the back. I already told you what this ride was going to cost you. Pay up or try your luck with someone else. Either way, I want to get back on the road.”

She looked behind her, back at her former resting place, looked around her at the other early travelers. She tossed it around some, weighing pros and cons, calling on some primal sense to determine for her, and finally opened the passenger door.

“Natalie! My name is Natalie!”


Heading South in Silence

No words were spoken for a good twenty minutes. I’m not much for forcing conversation, never have been, preferring to let it flow of its own accord, but I finally pointed to the glove compartment.

“There’s pepperoni and string cheese in there if you’re hungry. It’s not a gourmet breakfast, but it’s better than nothing.” She gave that some thought, tossed it around as another mile fell behind us, finally opting for common sense and a free meal. A tiny “thanks” was whispered.

NPR kept us company for the next hour, a segment on Afghanistan, then one on sex trafficking.

No preamble . . .

“My step-father raped me two years ago. I’ve been on the road ever since. What do you think of that shit?”

“I’m sorry, that’s what I think, and your step-father should be castrated on prime time television.”

What Do You Say to Make It All Better?

More miles passed. I pulled off to fill up, got us both a corn dog and a bottle of water, another whispered “thanks” as the tires hissed on the heated blacktop, southward, the Oregon landscape slowly rising in elevation, farm lands giving way to pine trees and high desert.

“What’s in California?” I asked.

“Probably the same shit, you know, but it’s warmer than Seattle and winter is coming.”

More miles, more pine trees, exits going nowhere that the eye could see.

“Why Ashland? What’s there?”

“My best friend is dying. I’m going there to say goodbye to him.”

“I’m sorry for you!”

More miles . . . tiny farms . . . abandoned cars . . . the occasional cow, standing sentry on a river bank . . .

“What’s it like, do you suppose? Dying I mean?”

It was a good question, one I’ve found myself pondering from time to time, seventy seeming like a good age for such thoughts.

“I figure it’s one of two things: Either the religious got it right, and there is some glorious afterlife, or there is absolutely nothing. Neither one sounds all that bad to me. I’m not afraid of dying, but I sure as shit don’t want to suffer before I finally fade out, like my friend in Ashland. No cancer, none of that prolonged suffering, thank you very much.”

Getting to the Painful Real of It All

Warehouses, billboards, a small city, two exits worth, and then unspoiled countryside again. The sky was a brilliant blue, almost too blue, more the product of an artist’s pallet than natural. She took a last bite of her corn dogs, probably cold by that point, not showing any sign of caring.

“I’ve thought about it, you know. Killing myself. Sometimes it seems the smart way to do it, pick the way, no more suffering, just pull a trigger and put an end to my miserable existence. What do you think of that? Like you said, afterlife or nothing, either one sounds pretty good to me.”

I thought about that some, thought about man’s inhumanity towards man, thought about unhealthy thoughts of retribution, all manner of painful penalties for men who do such things to young girls.

“It’s hard to argue against it, Natalie, especially since I’m not walking around inside your skin. I can only muster up one good point against suicide, and that’s the fact that you would be cancelling any chance of good times ahead, any chance at all of finding love and living a good life. Death is permanent; suffering can be temporary. Other than that I’ve got nothing for you, but I will add one other fact for you to consider: your death would sadden me. There’s not a damned thing I can do to change your life. I don’t have profound words which will instantly make your distorted, painful memories disappear. I want to fix you but I can’t. All I can tell you is I’m a human being, one who knows his way around the Suffering Tree, and your death would sadden me.”


Nothing Resolved

A rise in elevation, Grant’s Pass passes by at sixty-five, more buildings, more houses, more people. Morning sunshine has turned to afternoon heat, ninety predicted in the Land of Shakespeare as Ashland comes into view, take the downtown exit, follow E. Main St. as it turns into Siskiyou Boulevard, depositing us in the downtown area, tourists milling around in the early afternoon, looking for shade, looking for souvenirs, looking for instant gratification. I pulled into a parking space, turned, and looked at her.

“This is the end of the line for me, Natalie. It shouldn’t be hard for you to find a ride from here. Take my card, in case you ever want to talk, and here’s twenty for essentials along the way.”

She looked around us, hard to say what she saw, what she was thinking, her face a mask, taking it all in, perhaps gauging the safety factor, perhaps planning her next move, and her next, certainly not going in reverse, not about to open that door to the past, not on that late summer afternoon while the leaves were still green and the air still clear.

She took what I was offering. Looked me in the eyes. Tried for a smile, but it died halfway to completion.

“See ya around, Bill! Thanks for the ride. I’ll think about what you said. I don’t want to make you sad, at least not today.”

And she was gone.

A Final Note

There are so many of them out there, the Natalie’s of this world, people who consider hope to be a pipe dream reserved for someone else and yes, they all sadden me.

© 2019 Bill Holland


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 28, 2019:

Bless you for your "real" story, Marlene. This world would be unbelievably great with about one million more Marlenes in it.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on October 27, 2019:

What a story! I have several Natalie's in my life. They go through moments of lost hope and death is a "real" choice for them. They have my number and I take their call any day, any time. And I make sure they know I am happy they called. Your story may not be true, but it is definitely real.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 27, 2019:

Thank you Genna! Thank you so much. It is a scary world out there. I am amazed that young women still hitchhike but then, if you have no options, I guess you have no choice.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on October 26, 2019:

I often marvel at how excellent writers can draw upon an encounter to open the doors to the creative process. Let your "over-active imagination" rock on, my friend.

I always shudder when I see someone hitchhiking -- especially young women. We live in a world where predators drive the highways and byways, looking for Natalies. The warning, "Never get in the car," echoed through my thoughts. Whether fiction or not, Bill, this young woman picked up your good vibes. Hope needs a point of reference...and I am often saddened over how youngsters such has Natalie have none from which to draw inspiration. I only wish more people in their world had your words, Bill.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 08, 2019:

Thank you again, PS! I hope your day is brilliantly loving.

Patricia Scott on October 07, 2019:

Yes there are...it saddens me to think and to know that some of them are just next door or just down the street. Angels headed to them and to you, my friend. ps

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 27, 2019:

I know you do, Ann!

Ann Carr from SW England on September 26, 2019:

I understand that perfectly, bill.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 26, 2019:

Ann, thank you for your very kind words. I do love telling stories and being a part of such a rich tradition. It connects me with the past while at the same time makes me a part of the future. Some day someone will read a story of mine and he/she will feel connected as well, and I love that.


Ann Carr from SW England on September 25, 2019:

This is sad, beautiful, poignant with a smidgen of hope. I could see the people, the countryside and the changes of scenery, all so well crafted into this perfectly formed story. Your writing never ceases to amaze me, bill. It seems to flow with ease. You are indeed a master storyteller.

How sad that such situations are more common than we realise, all around the world.



Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 24, 2019:

Your kind words are appreciated, Nithya! Thank you so much.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 24, 2019:

I hope that is so, William. Thank you sir!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 24, 2019:

I appreciate that, Dora. Thank you very much.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on September 24, 2019:

It is sad that there are so many Natalie's in this world. I hope that this Natalie found her way out of her misery. You are an excellent storyteller.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on September 24, 2019:

Touching and powerful, Bill. Maybe the story isn't true, but I'm sure your heart is. Maybe you can't change the world, but you've changed many.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 23, 2019:

Sad for the Natalies but glad for the kind souls like you who present a more beautiful side to humanity. Excellent story-telling as usual.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 23, 2019:

There ya go...have one for me since I no longer can partake. :)

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on September 23, 2019:

Good idea. I think I have some Bailey's in the cupboard. lol

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 23, 2019:

My Monday is going better than yours, Zulma. My goodness, you need a fortified cup of coffee, my friend.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on September 23, 2019:

When it rains, it pours. Now the sink's broken so I now have to wait on a plumber and an engineer. I thought of toting the dishes and such to the bathroom and washing them there, but my daughter used up the last of the washing-up liquid and neglected to tell me so I could have bought some when I went shopping this morning.

(sigh) Why is life so hard? Maybe I'll work on my Halloween decorations. Making stuff always cheers me up?

Hope your Monday is going well, Bill.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 23, 2019:

Good luck with that, Zulma. Damn those socks!!!!

And a very Happy Monday to you, my friend.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on September 23, 2019:

Ah, subtlety, thy name is...not me. lol I admit it. I have no talent for it.

Unfortunately, the only thing that's flowing at the moment is my washing machine. Overflowing, actually. Right now, I'm waiting on an engineer to sort out the problem. It's probably a sock. It's always a sock.

Happy Monday to you, Bill.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 22, 2019:

Thanks for your concerns,Sha, but they are unwarranted...completely!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 21, 2019:

Bill, this story saddens me in more ways than the obvious. Although the shared ride is fictional, the ride itself is not. Nor is your need to solve everyone's problems. The one problem you seem to be avoiding is your own. I don't want to go into this any further. Rather, I'm going to call you.

I hope you pick up.

One thing I'd like to add: I commented on a short story recently, posted by Ruby (if I recall correctly) that all pipes lead somewhere. So do pipe dreams if followed.

I love you, my friend, and I'm concerned.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 21, 2019:

It is my pleasure, Li-Jen! I love storytelling, and I am grateful that you read this and appreciated it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 21, 2019:

Thank you Zulma! You have an interesting knack for prodding me along with your not-so-subtle suggestions.

Wishing you a brilliant weekend. I hope the sun shines and your productivity flows.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 21, 2019:

I am a storyteller, Liz, and I take great pride and satisfaction from that fact. Thank you for the confirmation.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 21, 2019:

I love your last line, Sean...every Natalie is our child! Yes indeed my brother!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 21, 2019:

It's really a very good question, Mr. Happy, and I take no offense at all.

For me, this experience was a chance to practice my craft, or the part of my craft which is creative writing. I wanted to take a seemingly insignificant chance meeting and practice building a story arc from it.

I could have chosen to write non-fiction about homelessness, or sex trafficking, or whatever, but I've done a great deal of that in the past and I'm not sure it has the same impact on readers as a story does.

At heart I'm a storyteller. I believe in the power of stories, and I do believe I was still able to raise awareness even by telling a fictional story.

That's the best answer I have for you. Best wishes for your Pow-wow. Blessings always!

Li-Jen Hew on September 21, 2019:

Hi Bill, wow your over-active imagination paid off! And imagine if the actual woman read this story! It's touching. It's true that we're only human and we may be able to help someone to a certain extent and not dramatically. Thank for being strong enough to share a topic that people might not want to touch on. Thank youuu for writing!

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on September 21, 2019:

I knew the writer in you couldn't let this go. I'm so glad you went with this.

As usual, you made us see your characters and feel their pain. Though you left the ending open, the hopeful optimist in me wants to believe that Natalie found the strength in your words to not give up and fight on till she found the happiness due her.

Have a lovely weekend, Bill.

Liz Westwood from UK on September 20, 2019:

This is a very sad story, but sadly all too common. Just one Natalie is one too many in this situation. You write with great feeling and depth. The sad scenes play out in the reader's imagination. On another level it stirs up feelings of injustice and unfair suffering as well as tackling the issue of death.

Ioannis Arvanitis from Greece, Almyros on September 20, 2019:

This is not fiction, my brother Bill, not at all. This is the cold hard truth that we all have created. I have met several Natalies -and boys too- in my years as a teacher. Love can change lives. So let us give as much as our Heart bears. Thank you for your voice, my brother!

Every Natalie is our child!


Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on September 20, 2019:

I'm sorry, this is a first: I came over and when I read the part about "the story is not true", after reading how "This short story is the result of that brief encounter", I ... I just feel sad in a weird way. I mean, this is the question that came to mind: "Was the actual story of the encounter not "good enough" to write about?" I'm just curious why You chose to make-up a story when there was an actual story behind your made-up story. Haha!! That sounds a little confusing but You well know I just write about stuff that happens and no fiction so, that's where I come from (I also don't read fiction.). But ya, I'm just curious if You do not mind me asking: why not write about what actually happened? Alrighty, I'm going back to packing since I'm off to a Pow-wow and out of the rat-race (city) in an hour. You have a wonderful weekend and please take no offence in me not reading the piece of writing here. I mean none. Cheers!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

Thank you very much, Heidi. Fueled indeed. I could not get that girl out of my mind and just had to write about her.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

Thank you Sis! H.O.W.....it still gets comments on Facebook from time to time. I feel bad that we didn't follow through with that, but perhaps its brief fling with notoriety inspired a few others. We can always hope, right?

Peace and love always, my favorite sister.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

Thank you for your thoughts Linda. No, helping is not always easy, but thank God some people believe in it still.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

Thank you Monkey! No words of wisdom were necessary...caring was necessary and nothing more.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

Mary, thank you for sharing that act of kindness from your granddaughter. That brought tears to my eyes.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

Bill, if I had the time I would love to take you up on that bet. :) Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

Thank you Flourish! For whatever reason, seeing her really captured my imagination.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

Thank you Shannon. I wish I could snap my fingers and make the pain go away in this world.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

No, MizB, not going to happen, but I sure wish it could. :) Thank you my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

Thank you very much, Sally, and it's nice to hear from you again. I hope you are well.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

I appreciate that very much, James. Thank you! I just can't shut my brain off. :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

Thank you Pamela! Unfortunately I have no solutions either. This is a massive problem and continues to grow.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2019:

Thank you very much, Emese. I do always hope awareness has been raised by stories like this one. Sex trafficking is real...homelessness is real...and they won't go away just by ignoring them.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 20, 2019:

Absolute proof that with curiosity and observation, the writer's craft is fueled! This could have been such a random, forgettable incident in the day. But you made art of it. Thanks for sharing your art with us!

Suzie from Carson City on September 19, 2019:

Bro.....I'm aware your wonderful story is fictional but it could just as easily be real.. There have been occasions it has boggled my mind that a complete stranger will simply open up and blurt out a chunk of pain they've carried for years. It's as though they see the perfect opportunity & feel some sort of comfort from a stranger, that leads them to purge painful memories.

You may not think your words were of much help. bro but I have a strong feeling someone like Natalie, who rarely encounters a friendly person with a kind heart, would let those words sink in deep. Just like the snacks you offered her, she was hungry for caring words from another human being.

While we keep our guard up to the nasty, crazies in this world & use common sense.....this particular story is the perfect tale to encourage us to reach out in small ways to those who may consider a simple gesture, a massive difference in their lives.

This has reminded me of our H.O.W. Extravaganza a few years ago!

Great job Bro....always inspirational . Peace, Sis...

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 19, 2019:

Your story is an important reminder about the real-life versions of Natalie in the world. We need to remember them and better still to help them. It may not be easy, but I think it's important tor try in some way, as your namesake in the story did.

RoadMonkey on September 19, 2019:

Yes, there are so many hurting people. I am glad that you didn't try to give her "words of wisdom". Probably what you did "say" is what she was most able to hear. Your story really seemed to get into her skin.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 19, 2019:

I feel so sad that so many young people fall into the cracks of life. It is so heartening that there are still kind people like you who would take the risk. One time, our granddaughter noticed sores on a street person's leg and she went to the pharmacy and got something to heal the sores. Since then, they have become friends. He even told our daughter she has a kind child. We really are all human beings. I have to confess I am one of those who just pass by many street people.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on September 19, 2019:

I love how you are able to turn a brief encounter with a total stranger into a wonderful, but sad story. Your creative process is amazing. I’ll bet you could write an entire book based on this one fleeting moment.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 19, 2019:

This was sad but well written. That girl you saw the other day has no idea she inspired you to pen this story. I hope she is safe. People often run from something or towards something and you have filled in blanks regarding what she could have been struggling with.

Shannon Henry from Texas on September 19, 2019:

I second every word MzB just said!

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on September 19, 2019:

Well, that ending brought a tear to my eyes, but I don't see a better ending except for taking her home and adopting her. We know that just doesn't happen. A mighty fine story, my friend.

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on September 19, 2019:

You understand humanity and see a story whenever you encounter it, Billy. I so admire you for that.

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on September 19, 2019:

It takes a writer to see a story in every occurrence, no matter how brief or insignificant it seems at the time. It's like you said in this week's mailbag, stories are everywhere. Well done!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 19, 2019:

I don't see any way you could have had a happier ending to this story. It is sad to think of young people, or even an older person on the street not knowing of any path to a happy, self-fullfiling life.

I don't know exactly what we can do about this problem other then offer some words of hope and/or some financial help.

The idea that a step-father would rape a young step-daughter is repulsive and you suggested punishment would work for me!

Emese Fromm from The Desert on September 19, 2019:

Wow, Bill, you made me cry. I'm not kidding, I have tears in my eyes. Even though I knew all along it was fiction; you made it sound real. And I also know that it could be real, that there are so many girls like your fictional Natalie out there, and we can't help them all. But what you're doing, writing about this scenario helps to bring awareness, and that in the long run should help. At least some. Thank you for a great (and very emotional) story.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 19, 2019:

Thank you Alyssa! I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Alyssa from Ohio on September 19, 2019:

What a fascinating story! I love the possibility of deep, meaningful conversation with strangers. Thank you for this! :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 19, 2019:

Yes there are far too many true stories like this one, Peggy, and that is profoundly sad.

Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 19, 2019:

Thank you Ruby! Hell is waiting for anyone who destroys trust in that manner.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 19, 2019:

What a sad, sad story. I know it is fiction, but as you wrote, there are far too many real stories just like that out there. In this story, Natalie caught a temporary lucky break.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on September 19, 2019:

This was a great story, although sad. I could actually see her, her ragged clothing, her sad eyes. I will go through the day wondering what happened to her. Hell is waiting for her stepfather! Thanks for writing about her. I pray that she finds kindness somewhere.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 19, 2019:

Thank you Linda! A lifetime of feeling and struggling with feelings helps a writer, I think.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 19, 2019:

Interesting for sure, Eric. I'll have to think on that a bit, but thank you for sharing what your friend said.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 19, 2019:

Suicide, I think, is the saddest of deaths, Shaloo. Thank you for sharing that story of your coworker.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 19, 2019:

I truly appreciate that, Susan! Thank you for your kind words.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 19, 2019:

Thank you John! Coming from a wordsmith such as yourself, I appreciate your praise.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on September 19, 2019:

Bill, I have goosebumps. This is when your writing is truly at its best. You know how to be authentic; your dialog is perfect, your people have a beating heart and a soul.

Thank you for taking the time to love Natalie.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 19, 2019:

I reckon Dickens got some of it right. Just a little love will carry most of us through another day at least. Thanks for this story Bill.

And a friend told me to get to work making money. I told him I had no interest. He simply said; "you could do more good for more people." Interesting.

Shaloo Walia from India on September 19, 2019:

I really liked the message towards the end. Suicide is never an answer to life's sufferings. Last month a coworker committed suicide at my workplace. I didn't know the man. Hadn't even seen him but it was just so sad. I just wish people had more courage to face life's challenges!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on September 19, 2019:

Such a sad story that I can relate to, to some extent. On a lighter note, I just wanted to say I think you're a brilliant storyteller.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on September 19, 2019:

I am glad you turned the brief encounter into a story, Bill. I once had a similar experience a few years ago so it is all very real even if most of the story is fiction. Good

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