While traveling, I’ve encountered some serial killers. Well, two. Sort of. Near misses, anyway.
The first time was kind of meta. My car broke down and a nice woman stopped to give me a ride. “I’m going to take a chance that you’re not a serial killer,” I said as I got in. “Well, I’m going to take a chance that you’re not one either,” she replied. We both figured the odds were against that and she drove me to where I could call AAA.
The second time was much creepier. I was driving down the highway, alone, on a Sunday night. It wasn’t dark and stormy, which would have been too atmospheric, but it certainly was dark. All of a sudden, my car started sputtering. From all that I’ve read about serial killers in true crime books, I knew that if my car broke down along the roadside at night, I was a sitting duck.
I nursed my car along. I passed exits with plenty of gas stations, but they were all chain operations where I was more likely to find a burrito and a doughnut than a mechanic. They may have also sold fan belts, spark plugs, and washer fluid, too. But I really didn’t know what was wrong with my car other than making funny sounds – the kind you sound dumb trying to demonstrate – and slowing down.
I took an exit. Lo and behold! A proper gas station appeared, one that was open and wasn’t the burrito-and-doughnut sort. Sometimes I have that kind of luck, like the time a phantom gas station appeared in Arizona when, through a miscalculation, my tank was below E.
A short time later, as I was making pseudo-engine noises to the attendant, a man walked in. He was short and round and wearing rainbow-striped suspenders. Also, he had a beard. Potential serial killer. They look just like regular people, you know. That’s how they lure you in.
After he gassed up, he listened to my attempts at explaining my predicament to the clerk (who was no help at all). “Sounds like you’ve got a broken fill-in-the-blank,” the stranger said. “There’s an auto store just about a mile from here. You could get one there.”
“My car won’t run,” I said sadly.
“I could give you a lift.” There it was, the classic serial killer move – find a woman stranded on the highway and offer her a lift. Of course, the clerk could have described the man with the suspenders, his car, and maybe even his license plate. But then again, maybe not.
“I don’t have any money,” I said. Actually, I had some, though not quite five dollars. And no credit card.
“I think I have an extra fill-in-the-blank at home in my garage,” the gentleman offered. “We could get that.”
“I think I’d be more comfortable waiting here,” I said. That was code for, “If you think I’m getting in your car with you and going to your house, you’re crazier than I think you are.”
“I’ll be right back,” he said and drove off, leaving me alone with the clerk. Who, after all, might have been a serial killer. Could you dump a body into one of those enormous tanks that hold all the gas for the station? I wondered.
Before I could really work up a scenario (or figure out what to do about it), the man with the suspenders returned, which I really hadn’t expected. He installed the fill-in-the-blank and I was on my way. He never even gave me his name, which made me wonder if he had even really existed. I made it home safely, vowing never to travel again alone, or at night, or with less than five dollars in my pocket. Though of course I have, many times since. Shows you how cocky you get when you survive an encounter with a serial killer.