The black tractor-trailer hurtled up the Great North Road, the driver nervously checking his mirrors. Phil's employers had warned him that the highway through the park was dangerous, and he didn't want anything to go wrong. He couldn't afford to lose this job. The road stretched before him, dappled light shining down through the trees that grew tall on both sides of the road. The further he got through the park, the higher the speedometer needle crept.
Something metallic flashed in the sun, and Phil slammed on the brakes.
There was a huge bang, and as the truck jack-knifed across the highway, Phil realized he was too late. He sat, stunned, in the cab of the truck. There was no cell service in the park, and he wasn't sure he could hike to the nearest service station.
A knock on the driver's window caused Phil to jump, almost banging his head on the roof. "Hey," the dark haired young woman at the window said. "Hey, are you all right?"
"Oh, man. You freaked me out," Phil said, rolling down the window.
"Sorry," she replied as he unbuckled his seatbelt. "We were just parked over in the pullout, and saw your wipe out." She pointed to the small rest stop alongside the road, where four motorcycles sat, neatly aligned. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah," he replied, climbing out of the cab. "I'm just a little shaken up, that's all." They both looked closely at vehicle. "The tires are all torn up," Phil said, looking around for the cause.
"Maybe you ran over something," the woman replied. "I'm Lock, by the way," she held out her hand.
"Oh, I'm Phil," he said, shaking her outstretched hand. "I have no idea what I'm going to do now," Phil sighed.
"Well, we could give you a ride to Rick's Garage," she said.
"What about the truck?"
"Well, I could leave Juan and Red here with your truck," Lock pointed to a large Mexican, and a dapperly dressed young man sitting astride a scarlet motorcycle.
"Hey Al," she called out. "Can Phil here ride pillion with you?"
"But Lock... my Strat."
"Fine. Nick, Phil can ride with you."
"Sure Lock!" a youth, maybe eighteen or so, walked a dirt bike over to where Phil and Lock stood. It took a moment for Phil to realise that this was not a boy, but a tomboyish girl. "I'm Nicole Miller," she said. "You can call me Nick. Everyone does."
Almost twenty minutes later, Lock, Nick and Al arrived at a roadside stop. Lock pulled up in front of the gas station, with a faded sign proclaiming it to be the Rick's Garage she had mentioned. Next door, there was a cabin-like structure. Carved into the building's front door was what appeared to be an oak tree, its leaves inlaid with a dark green wood.
"C'mon," Lock said, as they dismounted. "We'll let Rick know you need a tow, and then I'll buy you lunch at the Shambles Oak. Nick, you wanna order us some of Alicia's famous stew?" Nick nodded, and headed for the restaurant. "If Nick doesn't order now, we won't get any food."
"Why?" Phil asked.
"Because she and Al will spend the rest of the day staring deeply into each other's eyes."
Stepping into the garage, Phil saw that while the outside of the building looked shabby, the inside was spotlessly clean.
"Hey Rick," Lock yelled into the back of the garage. "I've got a guy here, his rig needs a tow."
"Lock, is that you?" a woman's voice called from the back room.
"Lizzie? Yeah, it's me. Is Rick around?" A woman in her late 30's appeared through the doorway behind the counter, her dark hair pulled back in a bun.
"Sure, he's working out back. I'll let him know you're here. What should I tell him?"
"Phil here, something blew out a bunch of tires on his rig. We left Juanito and Red out there with the truck," Lock replied. "Lizzie, you stay here and get the details from Phil. I'll go tell Rick."
Rick headed out to deal with Phil's truck, and Lock and Phil went over to the Shambles Oak to wait. Nick was already sitting at the table, digging enthusiastically into her bowl of stew. A pair of thick pottery bowls sat on the table, with covers to keep the stew warm. Home-made biscuits steamed slightly, next to small dishes of whipped butter.
"This looks amazing," Phil said, sitting down, and eagerly picking up a spoon.
"It's better than it looks," Nick murmured between bites. "Alicia is a wizard in the kitchen."
The trio filled up on stew, biscuits and coffee, as Rick worked to replace the tires on Phil's truck. Their conversation ranged from cars to stocks, recipes to religion. Eventually, Rick stepped into the restaurant, grabbed a cup of coffee, and announced that the truck was ready to go.
"Well," Phil said, getting up to go. "I've already left the company billing info with Mrs. Lee..."
"Lizzie'll just die. She hates to be called Mrs. Lee."
"It's on me Phil," Lock said, as Phil pulled out his wallet.
"I can't possibly..." he began, only to be cut off.
"It's the least I can do for an honest traveller."
"You... you restore my faith in humanity. I came into this forest expecting to be held up, or attacked. Instead, I find people who are nothing but nice. Thank-you."
"Drive safe," Lock called, as Phil left. He climbed into his rig, and drove to his destination, without another incident. Pulling up to the warehouse, Phil dropped out of the cab, and handed over his keys. Just as he finished the paperwork, he heard a series of curses coming from the back of his rig.
"What is it?" he asked.
When the teamsters didn't reply, he looked into the back, and realized the problem. Instead of stacks of boxes, marked the TriLeopard logo, there were tree stumps and boulders.
"I see we didn't make it through this run as unscathed as we had hoped," a voice from behind Phil said. Phil spun around to see who had spoken.
"Oh, Mr. King! I'm so sorry. It must've happened when I went for a tow-truck."
"How long have you worked here Phillip?" John King, acting CEO of the TriLeopard Corporation asked.
"A-almost four years now Mr. King," Phil stammered.
Mr. King took a deep breath, his hands clenching into fists. "Damn her," Mr. King sighed, and went off to plan a hostile takeover. That always made him feel better.
I like it. It's a nice, fast moving little story, with a good twist and a fun revalation. You have a tendency toward passive voice - of describing the action and dialog once removed rather than directly. It's easy for me to see it, since that has always been one of MY problems. It's not a major problem, but doing it puts an added and unnecessary layer between the reader and the story. The pacing is good, overall, but there are places where you need to expand the narrative and provide more information to the reader. Action scenes, especially. You want the reader to smell the burning tires and feel the cab shuddering as the trailer whips around in the road. Ignore the offered ending, if you wish. I won't be offended. I just started with a line of dialog and the demon writer arose and finished off the scene. It's a possible payoff that I thought might work, but it's entirely up to you - you understandably may think it's too irreverant. It's your story. Whatever you use, though, give it more detail than your original ending. Stretch it out a bit - make it satisfying for the reader.
Thanks for letting me read it. It was fun.