Friday, November 9, 2007

Eyes On Fire

When I was twenty, my friend B. and I hitchhiked across the country. We slept in forests and under bridges, ate Spam over campfires, and spent hours and hours on the side of the road, long-haired and bearded, hoping for a ride.

At one point we found ourselves in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Council Bluffs might well be a very nice town. You wouldn't know it by us, though. Twelve hours passed as people drove by, honking and flipping us off. It was hot, humid, and unpleasant.

Finally we gave up, pitched our tent on the outskirts of an industrial park, and tried to sleep. It soon started to rain, of course, and then the mosquitoes got inside the tent. We spent the night tossing, turning, and swatting at bugs, while I mentally added the trip to my long list of things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

In the morning, the sky had cleared. Unfortunately, I'd developed some hideous quasi-tropical disease during the night, and as I crawled around shoving things into a backpack I realized my muscles ached and the day had taken on the sort of tinge that I expected at a Grateful Dead concert. In the meantime, B. had been the focus of the mosquitoes during the night and awoke with a face that looked like, well, it looked like he'd been attacked by mosquitoes, lots of them. But, the road called and there sure wasn't much we could do about our woes sitting in a parking lot, so we hoisted our gear and stuck out our thumbs.

To our surprise and delight, a driver pulled over almost immediately. A midsized panel truck, refrigerated, bearing the name of some local company. We ran to the cab and climbed onto the bench seat, B. next to the driver, me next to the passenger door.

"Wow, this is great," said B. "How far are you going?"

The driver turned and looked at is. Except for his eyes, he was as nondescript as the truck, a middle-aged man in a work shirt and chinos. His eyes, though, behind his small oval-framed glasses, his eyes were whirling and frantic.

"Where I come from, it's polite to say 'thank you,'" he snapped.

"Sorry," B. stammered. "Thanks. We really appreciate the ride."

This seemed to mollify him and his eyes returned to normal. "My name's Fred," he offered, sticking out his hand. "I'm going a couple hours down the freeway. I can take you that far."

We introduced ourselves and while I tried to sleep, B. and Fred continued to talk. After all, a big part of the reason for the trip was to meet people and you can't do that by staring through a windshield.

When I awoke from a short nap I could tell something was wrong.

"So," Fred was telling B. "Someday soon I should have enough money to open it."

"Um, what exactly is it again?" B. asked nervously. B. was usually pretty calm, adept at settling me down when I flew into one of my periodic rages. For him to be nervous wasn't a good sign.

"I already told you," Fred snarled. "Weren't you listening?"

B. inched closer to me, almost sitting on my lap. I peeked at Fred. His eyes looked like pinwheels. I closed my own and leaned against the door as a shiver passed through me.

"No, no, I was listening," insisted B. "It's really interesting though. I'd like to hear it again."

"Alright then," said Fred. "It's going to be huge. Bigger than Disneyland. It'll have a roller rink, and rides, and a bookstore, and a restaurant. People can bring their campers and sleep there. There will be a bible store and exhibits from Revelations. You've read Revelations, haven't you?"

B. gave Fred his best smile and nodded that he had.

"Everyone should. The end times are upon us. The Beast is already here. It's time to get ready. Are you ready?"

"Yes," squeaked B.

"Good. Those who aren't ready will be flung into hell. The rest of us, we'll be saved. But first we have to prevail. Do you know how we'll do that?"

B. whimpered and leaned harder against me. I scrunched my eyes more tightly shut and started humming inaudibly to myself. I was sure the fever would break soon and my parents would be there, concerned, like Auntie Em and Uncle Henry at the end of "The Wizard of Oz."

"We'll do it with my iron rod," Fred continued. "I have it with me all the time. I've been training for this. I've been chosen to do this."

With that he shot off the highway onto an exit ramp, took a quick turn onto a county road, and plunged deep into farm country.

B. slumped down like the condemned man he was sure he'd become. Corn and wheat fields flew by as Fred gripped the steering wheel, rocking back and forth and muttering under his breath about iron and the Antichrist while his eyes rolled and sparked. I gazed out the window. I'm going to die here, I thought, buried in a windbreak. They'll find our bodies during spring planting.

Suddenly, Fred braked and the truck came to a stop. He turned and smiled at us, his eyes steady, every bit the small town gentleman.

"We're here," he said. "That was a little shortcut I know. You can get back on the freeway at the bottom of this ramp." He pointed. Sure enough, there was the interstate.

We climbed shakily from the truck and grabbed our belongings. Fred got out and walked over to shake our hands. "Good luck," he said.

"You too," we said.

His eyes started their dance again. "I don't need luck, I need strength. That's what Fred means, you know, 'strength.' I'll need all of it for the battle ahead." He got back in the truck and started the engine.

"We'll see you boys," he called as he drove away. "We'll see you very soon."


Anonymous said...

i guess you call that your 'deliverance' moment?

Anonymous said...

But instead, Fred decided to run for office.

Anonymous said...

they dont call him ready freddie for nothing!

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I KNOW that movie. I do!

Holy crap. I love that. Where'd he keep the chainsaw?

You gotta be young to take that kind of shock and live through it. But obviously, you guys weren't going to die. Because he always takes the couple who had sex first. Then it's the first guy to take off alone saying 'I'll be right back'


Righteous Bubba said...

When I had long lustrous flowing hair I got picked up by a guy who was really really uncomfortably embarrassed that I was not a girl. A ride's a ride.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Snag, we went to a restaurant last night- a brazilian grill - and I couldn't help but think it was perfect for you.

Men bring Grilled, seasoned haunches of meat to your table on swords and carve directly onto your plate - steak, chicken, pork, lambchops, sausages, all kinds of snorkel - and they keep bringing it by UNTIL YOU TELL THEM TO STOP.

It's elegant and savage at the same time.

Kathleen said...

a little bit of Halloween saved up for November!

fish said...

Dr. Mrs. fish used to treat people like your driver. Her preferences were to use clozapine or respiridone...

Anonymous said...

BP, I've been planning to go to a Brazilian grill one of these days. Can you tell what meat they're bringing you? Can you tell them not to bring the enporkulated/snorkel food?