A NOVEL by Jay Archer David
~ Chapter 1~
Long Road Home
“This guy’s an idiot!”
There are dozens if not hundreds of expletives I could have chosen to describe and otherwise nail this fellow interfering with my space on the road. All drivers know how to utter these loudly from the safe confines of their glassed-in environment. Some drivers still dare Italian moments wherein they enhance these outbursts with hand gestures. However, with the advent of road rage and the uncertainty of the seat-side weaponry that might accompany the offending driver, more and more hands stay on the wheel, and insults are shouted without moving the lips.
For those of us who are mild of manner, outbursts might include, will you look at this guy, and jeez, what a jerk. For the normal of manner, descriptions venture quickly to the profane. But regardless of all the dizzying, creative ways to peg them, bad drivers generally fall into just two categories. Those who drive poorly and shouldn’t be on the road are idiots. Those who drive rudely or recklessly, heedless to how vulnerable 90-mile-an-hour flesh is to tortured metal and glass, who would risk your life whilst being cavalier with their own—those are assholes.
And this guy going a few miles an hour under the speed limit on a winding two-lane highway with eight cars lined up behind him needing to pass—this guy was an idiot.
Oblivious to patterns imprinted on me from countless years of road conditioning, I summarily judged the other driver and condemned him. I had never paused to consider this response before. I was sure my assessment of him would be confirmed if ever I met him at a rest stop or gas station, but I wasn’t about to slow down enough to meet this poke-along, not anywhere. He would soon be no more than a glimpse in my rearview mirror.
I say I had never paused to consider this response before, but today it was different; just a little twist, something under the surface was still jolting me. It had been the same last night when I’d spent hours sleepless in my sleeping bag, haunted, reliving it over and over, the cells in my body remembering the rock, the unbelievably blunt impact of nearly a ton of boulder that shouldn’t have moved, hadn’t moved in centuries—but I had set it loose.
Even now, driving home in this long line of traveling vehicles, the shock delivered two days ago continued to hiss and spark in my nervous system like a downed and severed power line. Outside my driver’s window, the sunbathed road and peaceful arid landscape ceased to be, and in their place that scene of panic that looped endlessly in every one of my nerve bundles, every memory of muscle fiber.
Amid the rush of adrenaline, my nervous system had signaled put out arms, and my arms sprang upwards. With lightning reflexes, my hands flattened against the cold, massive, and moving stone. In that same instant came the thought—hold the boulder there, above and in front of me, or delay it just long enough to nimbly escape upward, up and around.
No problem; no chance. In slow motion, it came down with dreadful energy. I had set it free. Nothing would stop it, nothing could stop it, and I was squarely in its path.
In that moment What? turned into NO!
Pride goeth, and then pain, pain like I’d never experienced.
“Internal damage!” I remember hearing my voice report aloud to no one in particular—as my belly button smashed into my spine. Then as I crumpled, new signals arrived. It was fresh agony from my right arm, which had been used indifferently as a rail under the brutish weight of sledding Moenkopi sandstone. I held the flopping arm feebly. There was nothing to do but experience the pyrotechnics of exploding nerves.
In all the years before now, I had never been really hurt. That changed in a millisecond. Behind tears, waves of agony, and closed eyes, my mind retraced all the chimneys and wall scrambling I had done to get up into this chute. How would I ever climb back down to humanity?
I eased off the gas and stopped pushing on that invisible comfort zone between the idiot’s rear bumper and my front one. At some level I decided not to bolt around him. I’ll go his speed.
As I opened a gap between our bumpers, a slick and bright red Mustang swung out from behind me, darted into the hole I’d just made, and then out again into oncoming traffic. He was taking this opportunity to finally get past the guy in front of us. However, it was a blind, reckless move. It was impossible to see enough of the highway, since we were all traveling up a rise.
The Mustang spun suddenly sideways to the road, then miraculously recovered in the right lane, narrowly missing a head-on collision with 18 wheels of screeching death that had suddenly appeared. Eighteen wheels jacked dangerously in blue smoke to avoid ending its world with a careless Mustang. The truck’s driver, too late, found his horn and blasted it as he straightened out his rig and thundered past me.
After watching the young driver in the Mustang use his insolent reflexes to perform this feat, I reacquired my customary state of grace.
With all my might, I shouted:
Eventually, I leisurely passed the slower driver on a lengthy stretch of straightaway. When we were alongside each other, I looked at him; it was an odd moment that seemed to hang there indefinitely. A brilliantly strong and vibrant senior face peered at me through the reflecting glass. Perfect teeth behind a striking mustache and carefully groomed gray beard, shiny baldness aloft. His eyes twinkled as our gaze connected.
It didn’t actually occur in his muscles, but something in him winked at me as I passed. He wore a perpetual smile, and though it wasn’t for me, it increased just a tick. Ever so slightly he nodded. I sensed something kindred, like I’d always known him. Then it was over, and I crossed the parade of center lane stripes. His sleek, modern yellow truck and camper were diminishing in my rearview mirror.
I felt warm.