📑 Agent Eldritch: Case Files

Duplicity Or: The Hitchhiker's Guide to Becoming One With the Universe

I've always been wary of hitchhikers. You've heard the stories, I'm sure. Serial killers and thieves looking to cash in on the kindness of strangers. But that's the beauty of going out for a drive in the countryside at 2am, you get to meet all kinds of interesting and wonderful people. What can I say? I felt bad for the guy. It was pouring down hard and he was wetter than a college girl at a frat party. I couldn't help but pull over onto the side of the road, rolled down my window and called him over. He looked like hell, I can still remember it vividly. Bloodshot eyes, five-o'clock shadow, a bruise on his cheek. He also had a large scar running down from the left side of his forehead; a jagged, nasty thing that came down all the way to the base of his neck. He was definitely a tough guy, the type of man who's seen his share of stuff.

"Where you going?" I asked, doing my best to speak over the clattering raindrops.

"Just take me back to the city, I'll call a cab from there." He responded dryly.

"Get in." I replied with a faint smile.

I could see it in his eyes, he knew what it was like to take a human life. Something told me that he might've even enjoyed the prospect of watching that final flicker of lucidity go out as he squeezed the last breaths out of a man lungs. The guy could've easily killed me with his bare hands if he wanted, and yet he simply nodded in a silent gesture of gratitude before getting into the passenger's seat of my old Chevy pickup truck. The engine protested with a rumble as I hit the gas, speeding off over slick asphalt with my new guest.

There was an awkward air of silence between us for the first few miles of road. Not surprising. I was never much of a social butterfly and from the looks of it, neither was my guest. What can I say? I loath small talk. You either say something meaningful or you keep your mouth shut. I glanced over at him from the corner of my eye from time to time, making sure he wasn't doing anything fishy. He seemed nervous, fidgety even. He kept his eyes off into the distance, staring at the road ahead with a solemn air of uncertainty. He mumbled beneath his breath too, but I couldn't make out what he was saying.

It was at that point that I noticed something quite odd.

I saw it when he reached up with his right hand to scratch the side of his neck, a peculiar tattoo. It reminded me of a brand, something you'd see in prison. I only caught a glimpse of the thing but I remember it started with a "D" followed by some numbers. Well, I think they were numbers. My memory ain't what it use to be. Anyway, I'd be lying if I said I didn't panic at that point. I knew nothing about this guy and the fact that he had such a strange tattoo had all kinds of scary assumptions running rampant in my head. My first thought was that he was an escaped convict, possibly even a death row inmate. That would definitely explain the "D" tattoo on his arm. My conscience told me to change course and take him to the nearest police station right away.

There was only one problem, the nearest police station was some twenty miles back in the opposite direction and if I turned around suddenly, it might raise his suspicions. There was also the fact that I was simply assuming things about this stranger. For all I knew, he might've received that tattoo elsewhere. I took another glance at his outfit, making silent note of the wet garbs that covered his heavy frame. A white lab coat with a cornflower blue button-up shirt and some khaki slacks. A mundane choice. Definitely not the type of outfit you'd see an escaped convict wearing.

"You a scientist or something?" I finally broke the silence.

The hitchhiker turned to look at me with a blank expression, almost as if I had insulted him with my inquiry.

"No. Not yet. I'm doing an internship at a government lab. Use to be an engineer." He finally responded with a stiff nod before turning his eyes back to the road ahead.

I felt like he was telling the truth, he looked me right in the eye and didn't falter with his words. Then again, he might've just been a very convincing liar. I felt I shouldn't pry and yet I was curious. I've always had a childlike sense of wonder, a trait I inherited from my mother. To me, knowledge is like a tasty morsel and I just can't help but indulge myself. I needed to know more. Without hesitation, I opened my mouth once more, speaking with boldness.

"How'd you end up out here? There's no labs around these parts, just forest."

"Field work. Came out here to collect some samples and got caught in the rain." The hitchhiker did not turn to face me this time, simply furrowing his brows with visible annoyance as he responded. "I'd rather not talk about work. I'm exhausted." He added gruffly.

"Fair enough." Was all I could muster in response. I believed him. He most definitely looked weary, the bags beneath his eyes and disheveled state of his demeanor were a testament to his struggles. The guy was going through a rough patch, no doubt about it. I wondered if I could help, I did enjoy lending a hand to strangers in need, after all. Sometimes, all it took was a little bit of kindness and a sliver of wisdom to pull someone out of a hard spot.

"Say, why not stay at my place? Cabs don't really run at this hour and I'm sure you could use the rest. Trust me, you do not want to be wandering the streets this late at night." I did my best to fight back a smile as I made my offer, not wanting to make my guest uncomfortable. "It's just me and my mother, and she mostly keeps to herself."

The hitchhiker sighed, his expression stoic as he turned to face me once more. "Thanks for the offer. I guess crashing on your couch is better than nothing. I'll be out of your hair in the morning."

And with that, I welcomed this weary soul into my humble abode.

It was early afternoon the next day when the hitchhiker finally departed my home, looking better than ever before.

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