Trucker Marshall Westray travels up and down the inhospitable Dalton Highway in Alaska delivering equipment to the oilfields at Prudhoe Bay. Leaving the town of Deadhorse for his last trip to Fairbanks before his vacation, he stops en route, climbs behind the cab and finds a man in his bed!
The stowaway is half naked and very easy on the eye. Luka tells Marshall he was desperate for the ride and begs him to take him all the way to Fairbanks. With Marshall’s job at stake, he’s not sure what the right thing is to do. He’s instantly attracted to the stranger and he knows the guy is in need of help – there’s more to his story than meets the eye. What should he do for the best when it’s just him and Luka and 498 miles of wilderness?
Marshall Westray hurried out of the cosy office and across the parking lot through the howling wind. First he put his thermos of coffee in the cab along with a couple of snacks, then he pulled his hat low over his ears and began his checks. Walking around the truck, he looked at tyres and the straps holding the load. He moved on to checking the oil and the windscreen wash.
Finally, he settled himself in the cab, started the engine and waited for the heater to kick in. Christ, it was colder than a witch’s tit. You’d think he’d be used to it after five years hauling loads up and down the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Deadhorse and back again, but sometimes, the frozen north just took his breath away. He shivered in his down jacket, drumming his gloved hands impatiently on the steering wheel, anxious to be away before the twilight turned into the blink-and-you-miss-it shortest day of the year and the sun slid onto the horizon and stayed there until January. The thermometer said minus 21, but with the wind-chill factor, it had to be double that. Still, positively balmy, really, for late November. All around him were indications of climate change. Soon he wouldn’t be able to drive across the ice, and soon he wouldn’t be able to see those polar bears often sighted around Deadhorse. There’d be none left.
This was the last job, then he had six weeks off. He stared out across the flat, solid, windswept wasteland in front of him. Just about discernible in the distance was the Brooks Range. What exactly would he do with that time? This job had never been conducive to meeting people other than fellow truckers, and he’d yet to find a gay one amongst them. They were all men over fifty with huge beards and years of experience. They still teased him as the newbie, even now. Annabel, the recent recruit, had taken on the brunt though; the guys had a new target. New and a woman. Just perfect.
Marshall liked Annabel. She was fun and ballsy and gave as good as she got. He sensed they’d become friends, but he also sensed she found him attractive. He’d slept with women in the past and wondered if he’d sleep with Annabel just to ease his loneliness. He sighed. That wouldn’t really be fair. At the age of forty, he should be looking for someone to settle down with, not giving false hope to people he didn’t really want. Was it better to be alone? Sometimes he wasn’t so sure. Annabel was beautiful. Maybe he should ask her out for a drink.
The heat had finally started to circulate and Marshall shrugged his jacket off and put it on the seat next to him. He kept his beanie hat on until he was thoroughly defrosted. He fastened his seatbelt and checked his mirrors. Here we go. He started to turn the truck in a slow circle towards the exit. His body might have warmed, but his heart felt heavy and numb with cold.
He knew the Dalton Highway well. Apart from turning over and falling into a ditch, the caribou were always a hazard. One jumped out at him within the first thirty miles, but a blast on the horn was enough to scare it back into the undergrowth, much to his relief. He couldn’t have lived with himself if he ever hit anything with the truck.
A voice crackled over the CB. “Hey Marsh, you set off at just the right time.”
Marshall smiled. “Hi Annabel. It getting bad up there?”
“Yeah. These pussies I work with are saying they aren’t going to make it.”
He snorted. “If they want to stay in Deadhorse where they can’t even get a drink, that’s their problem.”
“Like that stops them. Pete was bragging about his bootleg liquor all over the airwaves on the way up.”
“I’d rather buy it in Fairbanks where I know what’s in it.”
Annabel giggled. “Me, too. Got myself a nice Chardonnay for tonight.”
“Wish I did.”
“Not long now. What are your plans for your month off?”
“Nothing much. Sleeping. Um, sleeping.”
“Then maybe you should have visitors.”
The static crackled for a long moment. “Maybe I should.” Marshall wasn’t sure about the turn in conversation.
“I could pop by next time I’m in Fairbanks.”
Marshall hesitated. Tried to gather his thoughts. “Give me a call when you’re in town. I’ll see if I’m around.”
He heard the smile in Annabel’s voice. “Will do. You drive safe now Marsh, you hear?”
“I will. Over and out.”
“Over and out.”
Silence descended on the cab, broken only by the clanking of the load. The glare off the snow necessitated sunglasses. Marshall stuffed a CD into the slot and tried to listen to the soothing tones of Kate Bush. But he was bothered. Bothered by Annabel and his own loneliness.
Over a hundred miles done through the permafrost of the North Slope, and it was time for a bathroom break. Marshall pulled off the main highway and followed the road down to Galbraith Lake, admiring caribou on the way.
He shrugged on his jacket, pulled on his gloves and hat and braced himself for the cold as he swung open the door. A quick hurry to the restrooms at the campsite froze him to the bone. A falcon wheeled overhead as he darted back into the cab.
He swore as he sat there shaking. He started the engine and reached for a sandwich from the seat beside him. He chewed in silence, watching a group of campers trudging towards the outhouses. The coffee in the thermos was still hot, but could do with more milk. Which reminded him, the milk in his tiny fridge out back generally got frozen and he should get it out to defrost. He put his half-eaten sandwich down and climbed from his seat into the back of the cab and went into his living quarters. He squeezed past the bed and reached down to open the lid on his fridge. As he grasped the milk container and half-turned, a movement in his peripheral vision startled him.
Marshall straightened up, heart pounding, and stared at the man in his bed.