I used to go out by the highway and watch the cars go by. There weren’t a lot of them, maybe just one every six or seven minutes, who knows how long they came by really, because what’s time when you have nothing to do? But I’d sit there and watch a truck fly by heading west towards the mountains or east deeper into the desert and wonder where they were going, and why.
I’d stare at the mountains with their stately snow-capped peaks, pondering the animals that trampled the lush green slopes. I’d look at pictures of eagles and mountain goats and bears in the books my mom got from the library for me and wish I could go and see them in person. All that scurried ’round here were armadillos, possums and rats.
Then when I was 13 my parents sold their car because of something called ‘the damn recession,’ and dad went away for awhile. I decided I was now old enough to see what was in those mountains. And since dad wasn’t around to stop me, I was going to do it.
So I stole a truck from the neighbor a mile away who was too old to drive, and just sat around drinking moonshine on the porch all day with a shotgun in his hand he never shot. I didn’t really steal it. I just walked up and said, “James Henry, I’m going to borrow your truck for the day.” He mumbled, “If you can get it going, drive it off a cliff, you little shit,” and I told him thanks and hopped behind the wheel. It took a few cranks on the ignition but the rusty old thing churned to life and I was off.
I stopped by Cassie May’s house to see if she was home. Cassie May lives behind the reservoir and is in my class. She’s my only friend. She saw me pull up in the truck and ran out of the house with a smile. “Wanna take a ride?” I asked.
She didn’t even reply, she just climbed in. She was wearing jean shorts that were fraying at the edge and had a flower patch on the thigh. “Don’t you have to tell your parents?” She just sighed heavily and told me to drive.
An hour later the desert receded and the road began to climb into alpine trees that were taller than the watertank in town. We saw an eagle, at least I assumed it was an eagle, maybe it was a hawk, floating over the trees without moving its wings, just coasting along like a paper airplane.
I turned off the main highway onto a dirt road that wound through the forest until I came upon a gate with a sign that said “DO NOT ENTER”. We left the truck there and walked along a barbed wire fence festooned with tufts of fur here and there. An occasional piebald feather.
We walked for an hour until we came upon a stream, about the width of a driveway, with crystal clear water that was icy to the touch. It seemed so fresh, so real, I wanted to taste it. I put my hands together like I was awaiting communion and scooped up a handful and splashed it in my face, then cupped some more and glugged it down greedily. It was the best water I’ve ever tasted, not like the brownish swill that comes out of the faucet back home. I drank a lot of it, as if a sea would fill inside me and carry me somewhere far away.
When I looked up Cassie May was crying. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s so quiet here.”
I didn’t know what to say. I started to mumble something about needing to get home when she walked over and put her lips on mine. They were cold too. I stood there frozen, my thoughts muddled like sunlight through stained glass.
I stood there and thought about the future, filling in an obscure painting in my mind until a white mountain goat, maybe a baby one, who knows, came and looked at us with a blank expression. I didn’t know what to do. “Get out here,” she screamed, her face scarlet with sudden, inexplicable anger, but it just continued to look past us as if we were invisible.
When I got home it was already after dark. My mom was smoking in the living room and she turned and asked, “Oh, were you gone?” I told her no, I’ve been here the whole time. “Oh,” she said.
An hour later I was in the bathroom, straddling the toilet. Holy hell was pouring out of my ass. The sound of runny shit filled the room. Like a bucket of fish bait being thrown on a pond. The smell was strong enough to kill a fly.
Everything was strange. I didn’t know what was happening to me.