The service drive was barely wider than her car, and in the darkness, Makayla missed it the first time she drove by. When she realized that she must have gone too far, she turned and backtracked until she saw it in her headlights, just a single lane of gravel leading back through the trees. The only indications of its purpose were a small metal sign on a post reading Turnpike Authority Employees Only, and a smaller one beneath it that said No Turnpike Access.

She turned and slowly crept along the access road. It made a turn to the right, then another to the left before emerging into a brightly lit cleared area. As she entered the lot, she heard a loud rumbling and a whoosh of air as a large semi truck roared past less than fifty feet in front of her.

She had been told when she was hired that the exit 99 toll plaza was the smallest in the state and that it saw the least traffic, but she was still surprised at just how small it actually was. She had driven the turnpike many times, but always further south, where there were four or more lanes in each direction, and the toll plazas were even wider, with as many as a dozen booths. In front of her, across the dirt parking area, was a small building which she assumed was the office, and beyond that, four traffic lanes, separated by concrete dividers, with a single toll booth in the center.

She parked by the office and went inside. It was comprised of a single room and a small bathroom. There was a row of lockers, a desk, a refrigerator and not much else. No one was there.

She stepped out the door on the highway side and saw a burly woman in a Patriots cap and the brown uniform of the Turnpike Authority sitting in the booth. The woman saw her approach and waved, then climbed out of the booth and walked toward her. Makayla noticed that the woman did not even glance to see if there was oncoming traffic.

“You must be the new girl. MaKayla, right?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“I’m Joanne,” the woman said, shaking Makayla’s hand. “Welcome to the last outpost. I’m going to work with you for a couple hours tonight, get you all set up and make sure you know what’s what…”

Joanne spoke fast, barely pausing to breathe. Probably because she has no one to talk to all night, Makayla thought.

“…after that, you’ll be on your own,” Joanne continued, “Did you bring a lunch? Used to be a vending machine in the office, but the last idiot governor cut the budget and they took it out.”

“Yeah, I’ve got a sandwich and some chips. Is there a cooler or something out here? I brought a couple of drinks. I put them in the fridge inside.”

“There’s a mini fridge in the booth. Best to put everything in there, then the only time you need to go back to the office is when you need to use the toilet.”

Joanne led Makayla into the office.

“Time clock is right here,” she told her, “Just write your name on a card and punch in. Don’t know why we don’t do it on a computer like the rest of the world. I guess the Turnpike Authority is still pretty old fashioned some ways.”

Makayla found an empty locker and hung up her jacket, and they went back out to the toll booth.

There was barely enough room for the two of them to squeeze inside together.

“I got to tell you, honey,” Joanne said, “This is one boring ass job. But overnight shift is where everybody starts. Weekends you get some good traffic, especially in the summer, but most nights… honey, you can go hours and not have anybody drive through here, so bring yourself a book or some magazines.”

She tapped on a portable radio on a small shelf above the counter. “You can listen to the radio but you won’t get much on it. And don’t even think about getting the Internet on your phone to watch movies or anything like that, you ain’t going to get a damn bit of reception out here.”

“I like to read,” Makayla said.

Joanne nodded. “I read a lot of the romance type novels. One thing I would say is don’t be bringing out your Stephen King, your horror stories, vampires and ghosts and such. Reading things like that sitting out here alone in the dark all night, well, that ain’t gonna be a good idea.”

Makayla liked Stephen King but gazing into the darkness surrounding the little plaza, Joanne’s advice seemed wise.

“I’m a little concerned about being a woman out here alone at night,” she said.

“Of course you are,” Joanne said. She opened a drawer underneath the counter. “You got pepper spray in here. Usually anyone giving you any grief will drive off once they see you got it. I only had to use it once. Drunk driver. Think I got more of it in my face than he did.”

Makayla did not find that very reassuring.

“The phone there is a landline, so it will always go through, unless maybe in an ice storm or something. The red button goes straight to the state police post over in Houlton. Can’t say as to how fast they’d get here, but at least you would know they are on the way, and so would anyone giving you trouble. You like animals?”

“Sure. I mean, who doesn’t like animals?”

“Well you’ll see a good few of them here on a slow night. Deer. Moose sometimes. All sorts of critters. Once in a while a bobcat or a fox will run by.”

“That would be cool.”

“Yep, it breaks up the monotony. Of course, there’s plenty of bugs as well. Not so bad this late in the year, but in spring and early summer, they can be miserable. You’ll want to use plenty of bug spray. You could get eaten alive out here.”

Makayla saw a pair of headlights approaching from the north.

“One good thing on this shift,” Joanne told her, “They can’t really sneak up on you, you see him coming a long way off.” The lights drew closer and a pick up truck slowly rolled to the booth. The driver held out a dollar bill.

“Have a good evening, sir,” Joanne said as she took it and deposited it in the cash drawer.

“Pretty much all the big trucks, and about half the cars use the EZ Pass lanes,” Joanne explained as the pick up drove off. “All you have to do is watch them fly by.”

“What if someone uses the EZ Pass who shouldn’t?”

“No problem. They get caught on the camera.”

“So, what do you do? Do you rewind the tape and get their number or something?”

“No, that’s all automatic. I guess you could rewind, but I don’t know why you would bother.”

“Okay, I was just wondering.”

A big logging truck came down the road and zoomed through the plaza, causing the booth to shake as it blew past.

“Jesus, that felt close,” Makayla said.

“You’ll get used to it.”

Joanne turned up the radio. It was set to a country station out of Presque Isle. They made idle chitchat for another hour or so. Only two more cars and a lone semi passed through. Finally Joanne looked at her watch.

“That’ll do it for me, dear. I think you’ll be all right. I wrote down my personal number. That’s my cell phone right there. You give me a call if you have any problems. It will usually go through. I’m not sure I’ll get out of bed for you, but if there is anything you need to know you can call me up.”

“Thank you, I appreciate that.”

“All right then, have a good night. Jasper will be in a bit before seven to relieve you. He’s pretty reliable.”

Makayla watched Joanne go into the office and a few minutes later, saw her headlights come on and her car pull out of the parking lot.

I wish I had brought a book, MaKayla thought. She got out her phone to see if the reception was as poor as Joanne had described. She tried to connect to the internet, but after a couple of minutes of watching the little wheel spin on her screen she gave up. I could download some movies at home, she thought, maybe some audiobooks.

A few cars went through the tolls in her first hour, and she had no problems. Only one needed change made, all the rest had their dollar bills ready to hand over.

After two o’clock no there was no traffic at all. She ate her sandwich, then spent some time cleaning out her email box and deleting old photos. She realized there was no reason she couldn’t get out of the booth and move around. If she didn’t stray far, she would see the lights of any oncoming traffic in plenty of time to get back in the booth before it pulled up.

She stepped out of the booth, stretched and walked around it in a circle. She heard a low chittering sound overhead and looked up. Several bats were swooping around the tall floodlights, feasting on the moths who had been drawn to the illumination.

She flopped back into her seat in the booth. Thinking she might find something more interesting on the radio, she spun the dial. She tried to pick up WKIT, the rock station out of Bangor, but it faded in and out. Her choices were Joanne’s country station, a brimstone and hellfire sermon or a sports talk discussion about the Bruins’ chances for the Stanley Cup. Christ, she thought, I may have to learn to like hockey if I keep this job.

But did she want to keep this job? The money was pretty good, but the hours were awful. The uniform was hideous, but it couldn’t be easier work.

She was still upset about losing her job at Eaton’s Store. She’d started working there part time when she was still in high school. After graduation, while most of her friends went off to college or the military, she stayed, showed up every day, did her job. She thought about leaving, looking for something better in Bangor or Waterville, of maybe even moving down to Mass. But she didn’t, she just worked Eaton’s cash register. She didn’t expect to ever go anywhere. She would still be there if not for Eric Miller.

She had still been dating Paul when Eric started working at the store, but she had been restless and ready to move on from that relationship for a while. Eric was tall and good looking and started flirting with her on his first day. He asked her out on his third.

They dated for the next few weeks, and began sleeping together regularly. At work, they tried to keep things cool, but it wasn’t easy.

One night, when she was closing the front of the store, and he was locking up the back, they got playful, started kissing in the stock room, and thinking they were alone in the store, Makayla knelt down in front of Eric to give him head.

They had not been alone in the store. Makayla didn’t think she’d ever forget her profound sense of embarrassment when she glanced up and saw Mr. Eaton staring at them, his mouth hanging open and his eyes bulging in shock. Nor did she expect to forget the rage she felt when he fired her and not Eric.

“Eric wasn’t doing anything,” he explained when she confronted him about it, “He was just standing there.”

She snapped out of her reminiscing when she thought she saw something moving beyond the bright circle of illumination from the plaza’s floodlights. There it was again, something glittering. Then it was gone. She stared intently into the darkness and thought she might’ve seen it again, a bit of glimmer a short distance away from where she had seen the first one. She opened the half door of the booth and stepped outside, peering into the black distance. Suddenly she froze, realizing that she was staring into pair of piercing red eyes. Another pair blinked into view alongside the first, and then a third a short distance behind the others. Makayla jumped back into the booth and slammed the door shut. She reached into the drawer and pulled out the pepper spray. A face began to emerge, low to the ground. A dog, she thought at first, before it moved closer, further into the light.

Coyotes, she realized, as the light found the second one’s face. There were more at the edge of her vision. Slowly, one by one, they stepped forward, until she was staring at a semicircle of snarling canine faces.

A coyote is not going to attack you, she thought, even a pack of coyotes are not going to attack you. You’re in the booth, you can close the top half of the door. They won’t be able to get to you. You can pepper spray them if you have to. Eventually, a car is going to come by and when it does, they’ll run off.

The lead coyote… the alpha? moved completely into the light and stared at her. She couldn’t help but stare back. She felt as if some silent conversation that she could not understand was taking place between them.

After a moment she saw a growing light coming from behind her. She glanced over her shoulder and saw a logging truck barreling towards the plaza. When she looked forward again, all but the lead coyote were gone. The leader stood his ground, still staring directly at her, until the truck was no more than a few seconds away, then bolted off into the blackness.

The truck, an oil tanker, rattled the windows as it went by. Makayla relaxed. They probably ought to give us a rifle or something, she thought, then dismissed the idea as silly. The coyotes may have tried to intimidate her, but she was never in any real danger.

The rest of her shift was uneventful. Shortly after the sky began to grow brighter in the east, she saw headlights coming through the trees behind the office. A car door slammed shut and a moment later, a squat bald man came out of the office, carrying an old fashioned metal lunchbox. He smiled at her and waved.

“I’m Jasper,” he said as he reached the booth, “How was your first night?”

“It was all right. Pretty quiet mostly. A little busy the last half hour or so.”

A southbound car stopped and paid their toll.

“Not the most exciting job, though, is it?” Jasper asked.

“There was a pack of coyotes hanging around for a bit. That’s probably not too unusual, though, I guess.”

“I’ve seen a few over the years, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a whole pack.”

“Well, they were out here last night. Hunting for something, I guess.”

Jasper shrugged. “I expect you are probably ready to go home and hit the hay.”

“Yeah, I’d say so.”

“Alright, see you tomorrow.”


Makayla arrived for her second day on the job with her phone loaded with new music and a couple of movies that she had been anxious to see. Watching them on the tiny screen wouldn’t be optimal, but it would do. Perhaps after she got caught up on the bills she had missed paying while out of work, she could buy a used iPad or something.

“How did it go last night?” Joanne asked her.

Makayla shrugged. “Fine, I guess. Pretty quiet.”

Joanne laughed. “Believe me, I know. But Jasper is less than a year from retirement, and unless someone from another station wants to transfer up here, which don’t seem at all likely, you’ll move up a notch and take my shift while I go on days.”

“That would be great,” Makayla said, but in the back of her mind she thought, that would mean more work for the same money, wouldn’t it? Sitting in the booth all night watching movies or listening to music seemed like a pretty sweet gig.

Joanne gathered up her things and once again, Makayla was alone in the booth. The first hour of her shift was surprisingly busy. Although most of the traffic used the EZ Pass lanes, she did collect tolls from at least a dozen cars.

That’s more than I did all last night, she thought.

But after midnight, the traffic slowed to a trickle, then stopped. When she had not seen a vehicle in a half an hour, she decided to start one of her movies. But before the opening credits had finished, she saw approaching headlights from the south.

The car stopped several yards back from the booth and sat idling for a moment. MaKayla wondered what was going on; she couldn’t see the driver through the dark glass even when she poked her head out the open top door. After a moment the purring of the motor grew louder and the car crept forward until the driver’s window was even with her booth.

She had never seen a car like it in real life, although she’s certainly seen similar ones in movies and old TV shows. It was bright red in the light of the plaza. The headlights protruded like a crab’s eyes and the rear end sported two sharp fins. There was no backseat but there was a little round window behind the drivers head.

The window came down and she saw the driver. The first thing she noticed was his hair. It was long but combed up from his forehead and straight back across his crown. It reminded her of Elvis or that old time actor, the one who got killed in a car crash.

When she looked more closely at him she realized he was quite handsome. His features were boyish but at the same time there was a little roughness about him, although perhaps it was just the black leather jacket he was wearing over a plain white T-shirt that gave her that impression.

He looked Makayla up and down, while rolling a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. She suddenly felt self conscious about how she looked in her drab brown uniform.

“Hey doll face,” he said, “How’s it shakin’? What’s your name?”

“That’ll be one dollar, please,” she said.

“Is that one dollar for the toll or is that one dollar to find out your name?” he asked, showing a broad grin.

Makayla blushed. “You think that finding out my name is only worth a dollar?”

“A dollar is a lot of money, baby doll.”

“The toll is a dollar and this road goes nowhere. Isn’t my name worth more than that?”

“I can’t say,” he replied, “Because I don’t know what it is. A really good name might be worth more.”

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea to tell people coming through the toll booth my name. There are a lot of weirdos on the road.”

He threw his head back in a hearty laugh. “Baby, don’t I know it.”

“You can’t sit there all night, you know,” Makayla said, even though she was enjoying the conversation. The flirting, she realized.

He peered intently into his rear view mirror. “Is the traffic piling up behind me,” he asked with mock concern.

“I don’t think that’s a problem. It’s pretty lonely out here.”

“Which is why I think you’d be happy to give a guy your name. But you’re giving me the brush off. Heck, they should give you a name tag to wear with that crazy uniform. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you look great in it.”

“Gee, thanks. Baby shit brown is really my color.”

“Oh! The mouth on you!” He laughed and dug in the pocket of his blue jeans. He pulled out a crumbled dollar bill and held it out toward Makayla, but when she reached for it, pulled it back.

“Your name?”

“Your toll?”

“You drive a hard bargain,” he said, handing her the bill.

“My name is Makayla,” she said as she dropped it in the cash drawer.

He knotted his brow. “Makayla? That’s your name?”

“Something wrong with it?”

“Nope, just never met a girl named Makayla before. Where you from?”

“I’m from Mapleton.”

“Are your family immigrants or something?”

It was her turn to scowl. “No. But really, everybody’s family was immigrants once, right?”

He scratched his head. “I never thought of it like that. I guess you’re pretty smart.”

“Smart enough to know you still owe me a dollar.”

“I just gave you a dollar!”

“That was to tell you my name. You still didn’t pay your toll.”

He chuckled and shook his head. “You’re a real whippersnapper, you know that?”

“I don’t even know what it means.”

Distant headlights flickered in the southbound lane.

“You here every night?” the man asked Makayla.

“Five nights a week. I just started, so you probably didn’t see me before.”

“Baby, I never seen anybody like you before.”

“I could say the same about you.”

He laughed again. Makayla smiled. She really liked the sound of his laugh.

“Honey pie,’ he said, “I guarantee you, you have never seen anyone like me before.”

“I’ve got to get this,” she said as the headlights drew nearer. She turned to the far side of the booth as a tow truck, emblazoned with the logo of Barker’s Collision pulled up and paid the toll.

When she turned back, the car was gone. She poked her head out the top door and looked down the northbound lanes. She didn’t see any tail lights, only darkness.