J a n u a r y   2 0 0 6

Guest Writer

part one
guns, ammo, bait and pizza
by Troy Eggleston

e drove like twisted fiends in torrents of Midwestern snow. Ghost-barreled bullets shot straight toward the windshield, spinning our brains in reverse motion. We were impatient. We couldn't swim. The radio fuzz was climbing. The last sardonic verse of the apostolic right had crept its way into the white noise of the a.m.

"There comes a time when you are left alone. No comfort or fear, no words to be spoken."

Like a metronome, the wipers etched out the beginnings to an end, just an unwavering hum crawling up the base of your spine. I turned to my friend to see if he was sleeping. He wasn't. Somehow the absence of light had affected our ability to speak. Silence spit like a pipe organ for what seemed hours. The sun had been lost for days. I turned my head back to the swirling vortex of the road and stretched like a bored feline.

"You alright to drive?" His words shredded the hush.

"Yeah, I'm good." Yet another lie. We were both dizzy and high.

Apparitions kept winding their way through our foggy skulls. Hours back we had decided on an alternate route, one that supposedly would split our time in half. A single-lane road carving its way through some of the most beautifully treacherous terrain, illuminated by a big, pale orange moon.

We were committed.

Our car was small. It was bent and stubborn. The front end was smashed, the driver's side had collapsed inward. The brakes hissed like cornered snakes and the hood had to be tied down after we realized the distinct possibility of it taking flight into the darkness.

And I kept thinking of the fall. The snow was so thick the radio voices had threatened to issue citations to anybody driving on the white of the roads. One small distraction could send us into a fiery departure from all we had come to accept. It seemed such a lonely idea, to die both figuratively and literally lost.

Our stomachs were boiling from the mud-slick coffee at the roadside stations. Our thoughts were drawn to the dying bright lights of the stars. It was a beautifully wounded scene, although separate eyes may have told a different story. Semi beams would come barreling around the thin side of a mountain with a snakeskin boot on the gas and amphetamine glory in the gut.

I was too cautious to laugh. All of the lonely were out at this hour, talking themselves out of sleep while seeking some source of redemption. We were all headed somewhere for some reason but most of us just got used to the idea of transition. The perpetual in-between thin-skinned day-job peddler reeling in the promise of a moment of a better day.

Eddie was staring out the window with his Docs on the dash. He was listening to the road. I had been as well. The hypnotic engine was beginning to bury its yellow daggers into my crumbling heart, making me feel close to what it is to be alone. A caged sort of gospel rained on me while a choir of lunatics sang their mournful reprise.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Eddie now had the bemused look of a child on his long, taut face. We were right in the belly of something, as our little toy car trotted along the blinding snow. The moon was laughing. It crept in and out of the crevices in the sky.

Eddie reached behind him and grabbed a beer. "You want one?"

"Sure," I mumbled.

I was used to going against my better judgment. I had decided to let the storm be my sanctuary. I released all my faith into apathy – a difficult spot to be in because I had no idea where either of those virtues lie.

I was headed to my father's place, the 50-year-old man who 26 years ago sent me swimming into some cavernous and potentially dangerous place where I sat perfectly still for nine months meditating and, just as I approached a perfect thought, I was pulled out of my universe into a bright, exaggerated world.

We passed through a tunnel. I held my breath. I had the perfect photograph in my head. Light captured in darkness revealing its feminine side. The rest is too hard to explain.

"What about your dad?" Eddie asked, offering me a hit from his embellished flask.

"What about him?" I accepted.

"You gonna call him?"

"Naw, things are starting to look familiar."

Truth is, nothing was remotely familiar. The storm had already put us a day behind schedule and I knew that I should call my dad to tell him that everything was alright. But our relationship was complicated.

Occasionally I would catch a glimpse of some relic, some huge degenerate building that would stare back at me like an untidy suicide. Then, just as I would ease in to reminiscing of my days spent, I'd find myself second guessing my faithful instinct which had proven to be a circular, tedious bore.

It had always seemed a desperate town to me. Gray patches of sunlight would sit like a somber crown over the dirty rag streets. Tight-fisted boys walked squarely toward the cemetery bars to share a smoke with the dead. It was as if there was no ambition. Anyone could play, anyone could devour the mundane, but nobody cared to. Working-class heroes, drifting minutia, all of the miraculous had seemed buried.

To think I was going back again. My father is a strange man. He feeds off routine. I am scared of routine. I am his lazy son. I am his only son. It was one in the morning and I was lost in a white night. Voices collapsed in my head. A dead deer beside a speed-limit sign played like a dream.

Winding through some dissonant meditation, I found myself swerving to the left of the road. I quickly pulled back from the ether and stopped the car. I stared directly ahead, clinching my jaw. The radio had been feeding back for some time, sketching erratic lines in my skull. I abruptly turned it off and sat still, stricken by some crushed delirium.

I turned to look over at Eddie. He calmly pulled another hit from his chrome flask.

Then, suddenly, like a couple of possessed clowns, we began laughing at each other irrepressibly. We were mad. Ice was collecting on the naked trees outside. I felt embarrassed for them. There were coffee stains on our teeth and gardens on our faces. An abandoned barn leaning heavily to one side struggled to preserve its dignity in the torn light of our high beams.

Eddie was tall and awkward in the seat beside me. Tears were welling up in his eyes. We laughed for what seemed hours and, within that time, everything felt as if it was OK.

"Wh ... where the fuck are we?" Eddie could hardly make out the sentence trying to restrain his deep guffaw. "This is outer space land, man. Did you see that fuckin' sign back there?"

I had no idea what he was talking about.

"Who the fuck would have a shopping list with guns, bait, ammo and pizza on it?"

"What are you talking about?" The absurdity of the question extended our crazed fit.

"About a mile back, there was a little corner store that had a big neon Las Vegas sign out front that read 'GUNS AMMO BAIT AND PIZZA.' I mean, what the hell, man, that ... that is some outer space shit."

"You were seeing things. Too much cheap whiskey."

"Fuck if I was. Turn around. It's about a mile back, bright as the sun. You're the one floating on whiskey if you didn’t see it."

"This is Tennessee, afterall."

"I thought we were in Ohio. Either way man, we need to go back and investigate."

"No," I argued. "We're almost there. Let's just push onward."

"Almost there. You don’t even know what state you're in. Come on. I need some bullets for my pistol, anyway."

The laughter began to subside and Eddie stared at me like a little boy with a slingshot in one pocket and a dead bird in the other. I took a deep breath. There was no point in arguing. I turned the car around and drove.

It was just over a mile up the road and, sure enough, a neon sign fit for Bellagio stood erect, shadowing the small store it was advertising.

"See? Crazy as hell." His face was all lit up and mischievous.

We pulled into the gravel parking lot next to an orange International with a gun rack mounted on its roof and a rendering of the Tasmanian devil on the hood.

"I don't think they're open," I said.

Eddie turned to me and began singing.

"The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout ..."

It was frigid outside. We walked around to the front of the store, passing the flickering sign that buzzed like a country of mosquitos. We pulled at the door, setting off a symphony of old rusted bells.

They were open.

– return next month for part 2 –

E-mail Troy at tolstilts@earthlink.net, and find his previous efforts in our archives.

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