Book: literally lost: 64

This excerpt has been taken from a work of travel literature. Readers are invited to tell us: A) Where is the action taking place? B) Who is the author? Blackwell's Bookshops will award pounds 30-worth of book tokens to the first correct answer out of the hat. Answers on a postcard to: Literally Lost, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by this Thursday.

FOR THE FIRST time all day, I had a sense of being in the heart of a vast continent, in the middle of nowhere. Abruptly the highway turned to gravel. Gypsum nuggets, jagged as arrowheads, flew up against the underside of the car and made a fearful din. I had visions of hosepipes rupturing, hot oil spraying everywhere, me rolling to a steamy, hissing halt out here on this desolate road. Uneasily I drove on, and steeled myself for the prospect of a night spent beneath the stars, with dog-like animals sniffing at my feet and snakes finding warmth up a trouser leg. Ahead of me on the road an advancing storm of dust became after a moment a pickup truck, which passed in a hell-bent fashion, spraying the car with rocky projectiles, which thumped against the sides and bounced off the windows with a cracking sound, and then left me adrift in a cloud of dust. I trundled on, peering helplessly through the murk. It cleared just in time to show me that I was 20 feet from a T-Junction with a stop sign. I was going 50 miles an hour, which on gravel leaves you with a stopping distance of about three miles. I jumped on the brakes with all my feet and made a noise like Tarzan missing a vine as the car went into a skid. It slid sideways past the stop sign and out onto a paved highway, where it came to a halt, rocking gently from side to side. At that instant an enormous semi-trailer truck - all silver horns and flashing lights - blared mightily at me as it swept past, setting the car rocking again. Had I slid out on to the highway three seconds earlier it would have crushed the car into something about the size of a stock cube. I pulled on to the shoulder and got out to examine the damage. It looked as if the car had been dive- bombed with bags of flour. Bits of raw metal showed through where the paint had been pinged away. I sighed, suddenly feeling lost and far from home, and noticed ahead a road sign pointing the way to XXXX. I had come to a halt facing in the right direction, so at least something had come of it.

It was time to stop. Just down the road stood a little town, which I shall call Dullard lest the people recognise themselves and take me to court or come to my house and batter me with baseball bats. On the edge of town was an old motel which looked pretty seedy, though judging by the absence of charred furniture in the front yard it was clearly a step up from the sort of place my dad would have chosen. I pulled on to the gravel drive and went inside. A woman of about 75 was sitting behind the desk. She wore butterfly glasses and a beehive hairdo. She was doing one of those books that require you to find words in a mass of letters and circle them. I think it was called Word Puzzles for Morons.

"Help yew?" she drawled without looking up.

"I'd like a room for the night, please."

"That'll be 38 dollars and fifty cents," she replied as her pen fell greedily on the word YUP.

I was nonplussed. In my day a motel room cost about $12. "I don't want to buy the room." I explained. "I just want to sleep in it for one night."

She looked at me gravely over the tops of her glasses. "The room is 38 dollars and fifty cents. Per night. Plus tax. You want it or not?"

We both knew that I was miles from anywhere. "Yes, please," I said contritely. I signed in and crunched across the gravel to my suite du nuit.

Literally Lost 62: The action took place in Antarctica, the author was Sir Ranulph Fiennes. There was no winner. Literally Lost 63: The action took place in California, the author was Umberto Eco. The winner is K Walsh of Devon.

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