It was raining heavily on the highway. Water drops were splashing fiercely on the windscreen as if trying to punish it for standing in their way of reaching the hot asphalt. It was unusual to rain in the summer in Larrypede. Summers were often scorching hot and humid. The only water drops one could find were the ones from their own sweat dripping from their forehead.
But today the clouds that covered the sky turned the day into night. If you didn’t know that it was just 11am you would have thought it was already evening.
Jessica and Todd had chosen the wrong day to visit their friends in the nearby town. But they were already halfway there so it was easier to just continue than turn back.
Todd had never found driving on the highway so strenuous before. He usually loved driving. And Jessica felt so safe with him behind the wheel that she usually slept the whole drive there.
Today was different, though. And it was not just the rain, thunder and lightning. There was something else in the atmosphere. Something mysterious that kept everyone tense and on-edge. Even the deer and the horses you could see along the highway were unnerved.
Then all of a sudden Jessica noticed something equally strange. They were the only car on the highway. Every so often though they passed by a huge truck with some sort of company advertising scribbled all over its container. But that was it. No other cars. Just their little city car and the trucks.
“Why do truck drivers have such a bad name? Surely driving such a huge car is similar to driving a bus, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s because in the truck the driver has no company? It’s just him and his cargo?” Jessica was lost in her thoughts as she watched trucks pass-by them more frequently now. She remembered all those movies she had seen the majority of which referred to truck-drivers as horny, vulgar and disturbing old men, most of who were very often unshaved. She shuddered, as she turned to look at Todd. He was nothing like that. He was clean, gentlemanly and the smartest man she knew. She smiled as her goosebumps retreated.
They were now witnessing one truck every few metres. And the rain was falling stronger.
Jessica stared out the window trying to look into the driver’s seat. She wanted to ascertain whether the movie stereotypes about truck-drivers were true.
But she couldn’t get a clear view. Not because of the rain. But because of the lack of any driver.
She nudged Todd in panic. Maybe she was just imagining things. But he confirmed as the blood gushed from his face and he turned a ghostly pale.
The trucks had no drivers.
So where were they all going? And who was driving?
A few miles done the road, the little city car was surrounded by huge trucks. There was no way of trespassing or getting away now.
Why is it that whenever you make an important realization something worse happens?
They were only 20 minutes from their destination but now it seemed they would never reach it.
“Why don’t you stop the car?” suggested Jessica as Todd was stirring his head from truck to truck wondering what to do.
“And then what? No one will ever find us!” said Todd in a voice reminiscent of the key character in horror movies.
So all they could do was let the trucks lead the way.
It eventually stopped pouring. As if all of a sudden the skies had opened up and sucked back in all the rain. Even the clouds began to disburse when they finally reached a small farm house in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing else around. Only a few horses, cows and hens. Probably to fool people that it was a farmhouse.
“What is this place? Is this where they’ll kill us and hide our bodies?” Jessica asked terrified.
“You watch too many movies,” replied Todd, trying to remain calm. One of them should.
The trucks parked in parallel at a gravel opening that seemed to be used just for this purpose. Then everything went quiet.
Todd turned off the engine. He squeezed Jessica’s hand, took a deep breath and got out of the car.
There was no one in sight.
Jessica felt something soft rub against her leg. She squirmed and jumped onto Todd.
“It’s only a raccoon!” he laughed mainly out of fright.
There was only one person in Larrypede who was known to have befriended raccoons. And he was thought to be dead after he disappeared ten years ago. No one ever liked him as he never spoke to anyone. No one even knew his real name. They just called him Larry Raccoon.
“Don’t ya worry he won’t harm you! This one’s extra friendly!” An old man humped and wretched-looking came out of the farm house. He had a white beard that reached his chest and ragged clothes as though he had been wearing them for years. He was thin to the bone but appeared to be as strong as his thundering voice.
It was Larry Raccoon. Todd recognized him from the images in the books on the myths of Larrypede. How was he here? Alive?
The old man offered tea and Jessica screamed. In her mind the tea would be laced with poison that would kill them instantly; he would use the horses to drag them into a pit; and no one would ever find them. She snapped instantly when Todd squeezed her hand. Maybe he was right. She does watch too many movies. But then again, you never know…
The tea was just that: a simple herbal drink. But the farm house inside had the appearance of secret cutting-edge headquarters. It was full of equipment, technology that Todd had never seen before, things he didn’t even know existed. And screens filled the place. He could see the entire highway stretch plus all the buildings in Larrypede.
Who was this guy?
Before they even had the chance to ask, Larry began to tell his story. His grandfather had come from the other end of the earth in search of innovation. His dream was to make technology work for mankind and not the other way around as it has become. He set up home at the town that now has taken his name and people flocked from across the country to witness the inventions of the “madman”. Some believed he could do it. Others simply mocked him. The dream was passed from father to son and then to grandson as the town grew. But belief in his purpose floundered. People began to think he was truly crazy as he was secluded in his house day and night trying to realize his grandfather’s dream. He had vowed to make it happen. People began to pay less and less attention to him. The only creatures that willingly came over for some reason were raccoons. And he welcomed the company. One day, Larry believed he had finally made the dream happen. He had created a car that did not need a driver. It could go wherever you wanted it to and you could direct it through a simple remote control and camera. But the car never returned and Larry set off to find it. If he could fix this error he had achieved the dream! But he got lost on the highway – he was never very good with orientation. He couldn’t find his way back and no one ever thought of looking for him. So he set up home in a deserted farm house. And began reinventing his dream from scratch. But this time he knew how to perfect it. That was how the driverless trucks came to be. But from the attitude he experienced while developing such technology he realized people were not ready for it. That’s why he never made a re-appearance. “Mankind is still too stupid and too selfish to take on such great responsibility,” he said.
The why did he bring these two here? He wanted to test his theory. Had things changed?
The bewilderment in Jessica’s face and the dazzlement in Todd’s eyes provided the answer he was looking for. And then Todd simply confirmed: “Think of all the things you could do with this technology! All the money you could make! You could build your own town! Who cares about the people who don’t talk to you!”
Larry shook his head in disappointment. “It’s time you should go,” he said, as he offered some more tea. But this time Jessica was right. He did pour something in it.
When they finally reached their friends’ house, Todd and Jessica could not remember why they delayed by an hour.
“Traffic on the highway,” said Todd. “and bad weather!” added Jessica. “Too bad cars can”t drive themselves yet, would have saved us some trouble” joked Todd as black clouds gathered over the sky and it started to rain again.
Written on the bus ride from Frankfurt to Strasbourg on 9 April 2014.