The car lights went out leaving Chris alone in the darkness of Nevada’s Great Basin Desert. He had stopped on deserted US 93 to exercise his aching back. His timed headlights had switched off and Chris was unable to see the road or his SUV. There was no moon and no guiding light.
Gathering his senses, Chris paused as he heard crunching in the desert, then it was quiet. A chill crept down his spine as he had just passed the junction with Extraterrestrial Highway 375, the gateway to Area 51. Chris shrugged off his skittishness, found his SUV and got in. He started his vehicle and his headlights illuminated the blacktop that cut through the desert. To his surprise, Chris saw a figure standing in the road at the edge of his lights.
The person came forward and it was a young woman dressed in trousers and a loose shirt with a leather bag slung across her shoulder. Black hair cascaded down onto her shoulders and she held out her right arm with a thumb raised.
Chris waved her forward and offered the hitchhiker a ride, saying he was on the way to Idaho, but would stop in Ely where he could drop her off. The young woman said Ely was fine and introduced herself as Claire. He asked what she was doing alone in the desert, but Claire said simply.” I’m going home.”
“Where’s home? Chris asked.
“Home is far away.” She responded.
They drove on in quiet until Chris saw flashing lights closing behind him. He slowed and pulled to the right, but the Nevada Trooper zipped past them, much to his relief. His passenger became agitated and clutched her bag. Chris pointed out the Ely lights on the horizon and Claire relaxed, noting she was tired.
Reaching the Pioneer Motel on the north side of Ely, Claire went with him as he checked for a room. A couple was registering ahead of Chris and to his surprise Claire asked for money to play the lower-lobby slot machines. He obliged and gave her a five dollar bill, eliciting a smile. “Wish me luck.” She waved.
The manager said he had a large room with two queen beds that faced the highway. Chris said fine, thinking to offer Claire one of the beds. He was completing his registration when a state trooper entered and chatted with the night manager. The trooper said a young woman had escaped from an institution for the criminally insane outside of Las Vegas and the lawman produced a photo which he showed to the manager who shrugged and said no. The trooper held it up for Chris who started. The dour mug shot resembled a younger Claire staring into the camera.
Chris gazed at the picture and shook his head, denying he knew the girl in the picture. The manager asked what she had done and the trooper explained the girl had murdered her boy friend, and then killed his father and mother. “Beat them to death with a hammer.” The trooper offered.
”Sounds like a real wack job.” The manager grunted.”I’ll keep an eye out.”
Chris found his hitchhiker at a slot machine and he offered her a bed for the night. She gladly accepted and they went to room 113 on the first floor. The neat room was large with two queen beds and a large flat screen. Claire went into the bathroom and Chris set his bag on the bed nearest the widow which looked east, facing the highway.
In a few minutes Claire emerged from the bathroom and stood by the second bed. “I am not a wack job. “ She said, having overheard the manager. “And I did not murder that family. It’s a cover story and the place I escaped from is not an institution.”
He looked at her, at a loss for words. Claire put her finger to right ear as if listening then looked at Chris. “They are coming for me and will be here at dawn.” She went on to explain she had been held in Area 51 and through a security lapse had been able to slip away. Once outside her people had made contact, directing her to Ely where she would be met and taken home.
Absorbing this fanciful tale, Chris gripped his phone. Was it all a fairy tale or was there a chance it was real? If something was coming, he could video them taking Claire. Put it on YouTube, perhaps fame was beckoning.
Later Chris awoke with a gasp and he saw Claire standing beside his bed. Was it time for her to go? He started to sit up and reach for his phone, but Claire hit him in the forehead with a ball peen hammer. She hit him again and then smashed his phone.
“No YouTube and no fame.” She said, crossing to the window and watching as the morning sun crept over the Wasatch Mountain Range. She put her finger to her ear. Yes, they were arriving, just a few more minutes.
The maid opened 113 and walked in with an arm of fresh towels. On the second bed she saw a man with a bloodied face, his eyes wide open, staring blankly. She uttered a scream and backed up, glancing around for the room’s second occupant.
But Claire was gone.