The morning began like
any other; Ayden was on the road driving again. However, today he found himself
on an unfamiliar road. Not paying attention and driving erratically, he was
sure he was headed in the right direction because all four lanes were bumper to
bumper with cars traveling well over the speed limit. Also, the four lanes in
the opposite direction were virtually abandoned, an intermittent stream of cars
traveling slowly in the right lane. Obviously, the place he had left was not a
popular destination. He felt he had no choice but to keep on going.
Ayden was so
preoccupied with weaving through slower cars, those only doing seventy-five to
eighty miles per hour, that he had completely forgotten about the passenger
sitting next to him. There was no conversation, he just silently watched as
Ayden drove. The passenger did not ask about their destination, he seemed
content to just be along for the ride. He turned to the window watching the
blur of passing trees and traffic.
Lost and moving at
break-neck speed, Ayden briefly thought that if he crashed on this strange
stretch of road he may never find his way home. Home seemed so long gone and he
was not even sure in which direction it was.
slowed to a crawl and it immediately irritated Ayden. The passenger commented,
“Looks like an accident ahead.” Ayden did not acknowledge the passenger,
instead moved to the right heading for the shoulder to get around the obstacle
of slow traffic.
Swerving onto the
shoulder, he thought better of his escape route when he saw flashing lights and
three crashed cars on the shoulder. He held his place in the right lane and
passed the accident minutes later. The passenger said, “Well, those people are
lucky that the rescue vehicles were able to make it to the accident through
this heavy traffic. It looks like all involved should be fine. They will probably
spend tonight at home.”
Again, Ayden did
not as much as glance in the direction of the passenger. He thought to himself
that he was lucky to have not been involved and was relieved to be on the open
road once again exceeding the speed limit. He pulled a joint from a cigarette
pack and fired it up.
The neon sign of
the liquor store at the exit ahead caught Ayden’s eye even in the bright midmorning
sunlight. However, buy the time he decided he need a beer to cool his parched
throat, the exit was a tenth of a mile ahead. From the far left lane, he
crossed three lanes without glancing in his rearview mirror and made it to the
exit four seconds after noticing the sing. It was a miracle there were no cars
on his path.
He exited the
liquor store with a twelve pack and a quart each of vodka and bourbon. He thought
he was playing it safe because he was unfamiliar with the road and there was no
telling how far the next liquor store may be—may as well stock up. With a beer between his legs, he was back up
to speed when he reached the end of the entrance ramp.
Ayden did not
offer the passenger a drink, and the passenger did not ask. He sat quietly,
content to take in the landscape.
Morning faded to
afternoon, as the weather turned colder. Clouds had thickened and the bright
sunlight faded to a gray glow on the road below that had narrowed to two lanes
in each direction still clogged with cars traveling ten to twenty miles per
hour over the speed limit.
Ayden noticed that
the road was now moving through a valley with mountains rising on each side.
The highest peaks rose into low hanging clouds, obscuring their true height. A
river flowing through the valley meandered back and forth across the road. As
they traveled, the mountains closed in and the light faded. Soon the car
labored as the grade steepened, climbing an unavoidable mountain in his path.
The road curved
sharply as it gained elevation. Deep vertical rock cuts grew up on the left and
steep slopes dropped to the right. Occasionally, on the right, were views of
the mountain that lie ahead. Wisps of fog began to blow across the road. It
eventually thickened, shrouding the traffic and slowing the pace to a cautious
crawl. Ayden’s patience quickly diminished. In frustration, he turned to the
passenger and asked, “Is there a way out of this mess?”
He responded, “The
main road will begin to descend into a valley several miles ahead and we will
drive out of the fog.”
Ayden could not stand
idea of several additional miles creeping through the fog and exited onto a two
lane road with no traffic to slow his journey. The fog diminished and he was
again traveling well above the speed limit, happy with his choice. With his
newfound freedom, leaving the traffic behind, Ayden took the cap off the vodka
bottle again and pulled a beer from the back seat. Turning the passenger he
said, “So much for your advice, we’re making great time.”
“Yes, we are
moving along. Where are we going?”
yourself with that—I’m driving—how ‘bout a beer?”
“No thanks, not
Suddenly the fog
closed in much thicker. Ayden was having difficulty seeing the lines on the
road and the curves that lay ahead. His hands tightened on the steering wheel
and fear of driving over a cliff or into oncoming traffic gripped him. He saw
the fuzzy outline of gravel drive and eased the car off the road.
“Okay, how the
hell are we going to get out of this?” he asked the passenger.
“Let me drive, I
can find the way down the mountain.”
“Well, okay. I
could use some sleep.”
They traded seats
and the passenger, now driver, turned into the road. However, it seemed to
Ayden they were heading in the wrong direction.
“You’re going the
wrong way. You are taking us back the way we came from.”
responded after a few seconds, “You must be confused because of the fog and
because you’re now sitting in the passenger seat, Trust me and get some sleep.”
Ayden could hardly
hold his eyes open and passed out in a matter of minutes. He had an unusual
dream, despite being extremely intoxicated.
In the dream, he
was driving in his home town with his friends getting high, as usual. Suddenly
everyone turned against him and they were angry at him for some reason. They
drove to the river, dragged him from the car, and tied him to the hood. They
threw mud and rocks at him and shouted profanities. Then someone released the brake
and the car rolled over the bank into the water.
Ayden was looking straight
up at the surface and the sunlight fading to darkness as he and the car sunk to
the river bead. In the dream, he was thinking that he was lucky that the car
went straight down and did not roll in the current, trapping him under the car.
He believed he had a chance, however slim, to free himself. Twisting and
turning, he managed to free his hands, allowing the ropes to loosen just enough
to allow him to slip free. His first move was straight up to the air above;
however, he knew those who pushed him in waited there. So he swam with the
current to a bend in the river and surfaced out of view. He turned and ran
downstream not looking back.
When he woke, he
felt out of breath and relived that it was just a dream. The dawn light through
gray clouds half lit the countryside and the interior of the car. Ayden asked
the driver where they were.
He said, “We are
about one hundred miles from home. We should be there soon.
Ayden was suddenly
sat straight up, shaking the sleep from his foggy head, and said, “Pull over
right now—I knew we were headed in the wrong direction.”
He slid over
toward the driver, grabbing the wheel, turning it hard to the left, and forced
his foot to the brake peddle. The car careened across the deserted two lane
road, skidding to a stop on the shoulder. He opened the door and forced the
passenger out, he thought. Not looking for oncoming traffic, he turned the car
in the opposite direction and accelerated. With his head pounding, he reached
in the backseat for a breakfast beer. As he turned he caught sight of the
passenger staring out the window.
“What the hell did
you have in mind driving in the wrong direction? Where are we anyway?”
“As I said, we
were about an hour and half from home. Where do you want to go?”
“I’m looking for
something new and don’t want to go home. There’s nothing there for me. You have
delayed my travel by at least eight hours.”
The passenger did
not respond to
angry words and they fell silent again.
All Ayden could
think about was making up for lost time. Pushing the car faster, a light rain
began to fall.
Several hours had
passed when Ayden pulled into a gas station to fill up, take a piss, and buy a
cold six pack. The stop took no more than ten minutes. With rain now pouring
from the sky, Ayden was back on the road that soon began to curve its way up
the mountain where the fog had forced to pullover yesterday evening.
Traveling too fast
for conditions, the car was sliding around the curves, not staying in the
narrow right hand lane. He slid around a 180 degree bend and was suddenly face
to face with a truck coming down the mountain. The truck tried to brake but the
wet road caused it to fishtail, blocking both lanes.
Trying to make it
to the right shoulder of the road, Ayden lost control and headed straight down
a steep wooded slope. Unable to slow or steer, he braced for impact as the
trees flew past. It took less than a minute for the accident to unfold;
however, it seemed much longer to Auden. Finally, the car slowed and suddenly
crashed a stop at the bottom of the slope into a stream. The air bags deployed,
keeping Ayden from crashing into the windshield. He laid dazed and
semiconscious, unable to move.
dragged Ayden to the right seat and slid into the driver seat. He started the
stalled car and eased it out of the rain swollen stream, driving downstream a
short distance to where the road had crossed it a few hundred yards from the
Ayden was now
fully conscious and could not believe that the car was out of the stream and
moving back onto the road, heading down the mountain. Nonetheless, he screamed ,
“Hold it, your going the wrong way again.”
The driver said,
“You are in no condition to drive—you are lucky to be alive. Don’t you think
it’s time to go home?”
Ayden almost felt
like giving up—he was so tired and he needed rest. However, he said, “Hell no,
I don’t want to go home. Pull the car over now and let me drive.”
The driver looked
at Ayden and did as he asked. Ayden slowly slid over into the driver’s seat, feeling
sharp pain in his left shoulder, arm and leg. He was not able to lift his left
hand to the steering wheel. He pulled the shifter into drive, quickly grabbing
the wheel with his right hand, and headed up the mountain road.
“Please let me
help you—you need to see a doctor and you need rest,” said the passenger.
There was a part
of Ayden that knew the passenger was right; however, what came out of his mouth
was, “I am fine. I don’t want to go home.” He drove on.
As he reached the
plateau at the top of the mountain, Ayden suddenly felt ill because of the pain
and because he had had nothing but beer, vodka, and bourbon for the past two
days. Unable to focus on the road, he swerved to the shoulder, dropping the two
right wheels into a ditch. He tried repeatedly to pull the car ahead, but he
was stuck, again.
“Okay, I give up.
If you can get us out of this one, I’ll agree to go home,” he said to the
“Okay then, let’s
Trading seats, the
driver backed out of the ditch, and they headed down the mountain road toward
Copyright © 2007 Mark Holmberg. All rights reserved.