A blue Honda Accord slowed, then stopped, a man of about 25 in the driver’s seat. The man turned down the stereo, the gritty chords of a Metallica song Gary didn’t know dwindling to a soft murmur. Gary watched the young man lean over the passenger’s seat. “Everything okay?”
Gary looked at the man and lowered his sunglasses. “Yeah, I called 911.” He hadn’t.
“Okay then.” The man sat up, turned up the music, and sped off.
Gary watched him go, then pushed his glasses back up, and turned his gaze back to the silver convertible Lexus, 50 yards off the road, smashed into the only tree for miles, burning and smoking, the crackle of the fire audible even at this distance. The tree was burning now, as was the grass around the car, and it was spreading, driven by the wind. He sat astride his motorcycle, chewing a toothpick, the sun reflecting off the chrome of the sunglasses, heating his black leather jacket. None of these things, including the motorcycle were his exactly, but his father had always told him possession was nine tenths of the law, and the previous owner had no need of them now, unless the man’s will specified he be buried with them. Gary had needed a ride, and that’s all that had mattered.
Gary smiled and let the toothpick fall. It stuck in his trimmed beard for a second, then dropped, bouncing off his chest, the bike, then came to rest on the shoulder of the road, next to Gary’s foot.
He wondered just how Jason could have crashed into the tree. He thought that was some pretty bad luck, and wondered why it was on fire, that was movie shit. “Or it was deliberate?” There was no one there to answer.
Gary watched the fire for a long time, watching as it drew nearer to the road, and intensified. No other cars passed. He started the motorcycle and turned the throttle. The tire spun in the soft dirt of the shoulder before hitting the pavement, and accelerating down the road.
A glint of light struck Jason’s eye as he shuffled along the highway, the sun blistering his back, his head wrapped in a sweat soaked tee shirt. He diverted toward it, seeing, as he approached, the remains of a once fine side view mirror, the wasted remains of the shining American dream. He bent to pick it up, brushed the yellow grass aside which sent grasshoppers scattering. As he stood, he heard the soft murmur of a car rising as it approached, and he looked back down the highway from the way he’d come, the mirror temporarily forgotten in his hand. Do I hide, or ask for help? He dragged his aching body back to the road and stuck out his thumb, although he knew no one in their right mind would pick up someone who looked like him.
As he watched the car approach, he looked past it, to the smoke in the distance, still black and voluminous, rising from the remains of his convertible. He wondered if Mona would be okay, how long it would take to get to her, if he could even make it. He turned his attention back to the traveler, and saw it was a late model Honda, blue and sparkling in the sun. It reached him, and didn’t slow as it passed, only a blast of rock music, wind, and dust. He dropped his hand and his head for a moment, then turned and began his slow progress up the road.
He turned the mirror over in his hand, its chrome surface hot from the sun, and dull from age. The glass was still there, but cracked, and when he looked into it, he saw his rough features reflected back at him, his red skin, sunken eyes, grey whiskers, and imagined some teen boy checking his own reflection, sweeping his black hair back into place before dropping his foot hard down on the gas pedal, and speeding off to pick up his girl.
Jason laughed, then tossed the mirror back into the field. “I could have that with Mona.”
No one heard him.
He walked on, no other cars passing him, and nothing in site but grassland and slowly undulating hills. Not a town, not even a gas station, just yellow grass, grey asphalt, and blue sky. Despite the makeshift turban, sweat dripped from his brow, running into his eyes constantly, down his cheeks, over his dry, cracked lips. He stopped, wiped his face with little effect, then pointed his face to the sky, placed his hands in the small of his back and stretched. When he was done, he looked forward, and saw the road stretching on and on, a gentle curve leading it around a hill, larger than the others. At the base of the hill, was a small building, and Jason blinked, then squinted, craning his head forward, as if this would let him see better. “Finally.”
Then he heard it, the blatting sound of a big engine, or one without a muffler, coming up from behind, and he turned, once again sticking out his thumb. He lowered it immediately as fear gripped his heart, constricted his throat. “Gary.”
Mona sat in the little building, and wondered where Jason was. He should have been here by now. She shifted on her seat, and looked out the window, the grey ribbon of highway visible as it curved around and up the rise, a shining blue car came streaming down the hill, and out of sight, but she heard it go past, the faint sound of music audible over the road noise of its tires. She licked her lips. It was hot in the building, there didn’t seem to be air conditioning, and the windows appeared to be painted shut. Jason had told her there was no water, but he’d be back in an hour, and would bring some. According to the clock above the stove, it had been three.
Gary topped a rise, the wind blowing his hair back in swirling curls. He looked down the road, and saw a shirtless man stumbling down the highway. The man turned, and stuck out a thumb.
Hello Jason. Gary smiled.
The man dropped his hand, turned, and ran, and Gary accelerated, aiming the bike at the man’s back.
It only took a minute, but Gary caught up with him, but at the last moment, Jason swerved, and the bike missed.
Jason swerved, his tee shirt fell off his head, and he felt the wind of the bike as it went by. He looked around, his eyes scanning the ground, looking for something he could use as a weapon. The motorcycle engine roared as it turned around, and Jason looked up, the man on the bike wearing a mask of insanity as he bared down on Jason again. He lurched to his left as the bike passed, but he was too slow, and the bike ran over his foot. Jason screamed.
Gary brought the bike around again, grinning at the sound of Jason’s scream. He stopped, the bike idling between his legs. “Where’s Mona, Jason?”
Jason was limping away, his red back screaming pain at Gary.
No reaction, the man just kept limping away.
Gary turned the throttle, rushing toward Jason once again. This time, he was quicker, and kicked the limping man in the back, sending Jason to the ground, but sending himself spinning off the bike. His knees ground into the rocks, his hands scraped across the dirt, pulling skin off in tiny strips. The motorcycle continued on its path for a couple dozen feet, wobbled, then hit a rock, and flipped, crashing to the ground with an inharmonious clang.
Gary stood, then strode toward the motionless form of Jason, knees and hands dripping blood. “Jason, where’s my sister?”
Mona had nodded off, but the sound of a motorcycle, a loud one, broke the stillness of the building and woke her. She peered out the window again, and saw the bike just as it dipped below the sill and out of sight. A moment later, she heard the engine lower, then rev, lower, then rev, then die. She tried to stand, but the handcuffs were tight on her wrists, cutting into her flesh, and the steel bench they were around was bolted to the floor. She thought she heard voices, and hope flowed over her like a cooling breeze.
Jason had hit his head hard, and he lay stunned, blood mixing with the sweat of his face, the pain of his burnt back forgotten.
“Jason, where is my sister?”
He heard the crunch of the rocks as Gary got closer, and he shook his head. Stars burst into his vision again, and he dropped his head back down to the ground. Gary was almost on top of him, and his mind struggled to review his options. He saw a rock within reach, not a big one, about the size of his fist. He dashed his hand out for it, grasping it and bringing it around in a wide arc to slam into the ground. Five feet from Gary’s foot.
Jason lifted his head, shook it, and set it back down. Gary slowed, but kept approaching, ready for anything. When he was a few feet from Jason, a jagged rock pierced the bottom of his loafer, and he stopped, bit his lip with the pain, and limped backward.
Jason’s hand shot out, grabbed a rock, and swung it in a wide arc to come crashing down on the ground. Their eyes met, and Gary could see the surprize, the frustration, the fear.
Ignoring the pain in his foot, Gary ran at Jason, and kicked him hard in the stomach with each word of his question. “Where.” Kick. “Is.” Kick. “My.” Kick. “Sister?” Kick.
He stopped, breathing heavy, glasses askew, sweat running down his face.
Jason writhed on the ground.
Gary stood over him, hands on his hips. “Where is she?”
Jason cleared his throat, and pointed toward a little building at the base of a big hill. “There.”
Gary kicked Jason again, then turned and sprinted away.
When Gary was gone, Jason crawled to the motorcycle, the pain in his ribs dull, aching, then stabbing him with every breath, breaths which became shorter as he moved. He pulled himself along, barely able to get his knees under him, looking like a soldier in the World War II movies he used to watch as a kid. “Army crawl.” He laughed, then winced in pain.
He reached the bike, his breathing shallow and fast now, and tried to use it to push himself up. He got to one knee, and the world went grey. He opened his eyes and saw the sky, a hawk glided across his field of vision. He turned his head, saw that he was lying next to the motorcycle, but made no move toward it. He could barely breath, and wondered how many ribs were broken, how many had punched through his lungs. All he’d wanted was for Mona to love him, to be with him, why couldn’t Gary see that? Why couldn’t Mona?
Gary reached the building, a dilapidated way station from the 60’s, probably once full of penny candies, soda pop in glass bottles, and other sundries to make the life of travelers easy. He opened the door, and saw there were no shelves, no counter, no happy customers, just a few benches, and Mona, her blonde hair greasy, her makeup running down her face, her lips dry and cracked.
“Gary?” She began to cry, whimper really, and it slowly morphed until she was bawling, trying to speak, but making no sense to Gary.
He ran to her, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her head. “Mona, it’s okay.” After a moment, he wept with her.