Four hundred miles is a long drive inside a car. We’d been barreling down the freeways and back streets for too long now. The landscape blurred, like everything else, into a million colors,
indistinguishable from one another. Countryside faded into prairie, and then into a wasteland of brown-red rocks. There was nothing definite outside. Nothing clear cut. No endings, no beginnings.
Everything was just a Pollock splatter on the landscape’s canvas. Night and day were interchangeable. The sky was blue in the tiny fits of day I was awake for, but mostly it was the same flat gray,
or black. It rained every now and then. Sometimes in sheets, and others in that kind of light drizzle that teases you with the promise of clear skies, only to pick up, almost randomly, in intensity
and then flounder again. Once it hailed and left the hood and roof in a state akin to the moon.
We pulled out of Jim’s driveway too long ago, but his jalopy had somehow made it this far. The engine popped and sputtered every second of the trip. The trunk no longer closed, and the hood was
gone. Pockmarked doors lined the sides. We lost the back bumper sometime around mile one hundred and fifty, and the muffler departed at some point as well. The inside was no better. Everything was
falling apart. The dashboard was melted, the seats were ripped, and all the windows on the passenger side were busted out, but we still had the radio. Thank God we had the radio. Sometimes when we
were sick of hearing each other or ourselves talk it was all that kept us from each other’s throats. The car rumbled, and rattled, and lost little parts to the pavement here and there. It was
shedding paint, leaving a trail on the road like some mechanical Hansel and Grettle dropping car crumbs to show us the way back home.
Road lines passed, and passed, and passed. Trees blurred into green-brown clouds along the roadsides, accompanied by fog formed of speed-skewed grass. Occasional pebble peaks pierced through the
two-inch green canopy. Every few minutes (It could have just as easily been seconds; we hadn’t been able to tell time since the clock stopped working.) a brownish puff of animal would appear only
to fall out of view almost instantly. Every roadside attraction seemed to be smeared as soon as we hit it. Particles rearranged every time we went hurdling past a new highway lawn ornament. We
created instantaneous, split second visual nebulas of seemingly unending sea of highway shoulder decorations. We vaporized rows of trees, families of animals, dirt patches among green fields and
grass tufts, stranded in rocky wastelands, rocks piles, and miniature boulders waiting to fall on free climbing ants. There were so many people that seemed to disassemble themselves upon crossing
paths, and reform the second we passed.
It was something like mile one hundred thirty-four when the car finally died. The car broke down at the back edge of some podunk town. The sun was setting, and it was that time of day where
everything looked like life was shot in sepia tone; the kind of atmosphere that can make you miss growing up in places you’ve never even been. The town had the feeling of a memory from some old
summer day. The town was centered around a park, which in turn, was centered around a large bronze fountain in the shape of an obelisk jutting out of a circle of grated metal that was just
beginning to rust. For all its phallic resemblance, it did not move any of its viewers to let out the usual comic musings that would go along with a giant, bronze shaft spewing water up, making a
liquid parasol. It was grand; as if someone had driven a stake into the middle of town the anchor it, striking clear gold as an unforeseen consequence.
Standing there, in front of the centerpiece of town, Jim turned to me, ragged looking, and said in a single breath, half sighing “Why don’t we stay?”
“We can’t. This isn’t where we’re supposed to end up.”
“But… But this town is nice. We don’t have to go back home. We don’t have to worry about any of that anymore. We can start over here. Look that this place! It’s ideal.”
“No, it’s not right. It won’t be right until we get there.”
“Think of what we could miss if we don’t go! We’ve talked about this for years!”
“Yeah, but I never thought it would actually happen. It was just one of those stupid promises you make to yourself when you’re a kid. You mean it, but you don’t think you’ll ever have to make good
“But here we are, almost there, and you want to go back on it?”
“We’re next to broke, we don’t have a car, and… and… and there’s no point.”
“There’s no point? Jim, don’t talk like that. You’re just tired. We can’t rest though. If we rest we won’t make it, and this will all’ve been a waste.”
“It’s already a waste. We both flunked out of school for this thing! I’m starving and exhausted, and all I was to do is pass out. Stop pushing and just forget it, man!”
“Listen, we’re friends right? That’s why I can’t let you miss out on this. Now, it’s really only about fifteen more miles. I figure we can cover a good six or seven of that tonight alone, and
probably 9 or ten tomorrow and get there in time, but we have to go now!”
“… Okay, okay. I’m sorry, I’m just so tired. But okay, I’ll go.”
So we began walking. It was probably six or seven in the evening when we left town, and we didn’t stop until late. The wind was soft, and there was almost no traffic along the highway, so travel
was as easy as it was going to get. We watched the clouds most of the time, talking to help pass the time. The sun set, and we couldn’t watch the clouds anymore. After that, travel became more
difficult, and we had to stop. There was an empty field with scattered bushes, so we decided to spend the night there, behind the bushes.
We were shaken awake around dawn by a middle aged man in blue flannel with bifocals and a comb-over that was held in place by far too much hair spray, or gel.
“What’re you boys doing sleeping out here? Ya look like hell!”
I looked up, still half asleep “We’re just travelling. Going to The Welcoming Party.”
“Hey, me too. How ‘bout I give you two a lift?”
“Sure, that’d be great!”
We piled in the back of the man’s station wagon, next to his two children and were, again on our way. His wife was an overweight, jolly woman with slightly too much make up, and the worst red dye
job I’d ever seen. Their son and daughter couldn’t have been more than fourteen and twelve, respectively. The boy was skinny, a blonde bowl cut, and one of the ugliest faces I’ve ever had the
misfortune to see. Looking at the girl was like looking at a slightly less mature version of her mother. So, we rode with this bizarro-Rockwellian family for the next few hours.
There was so much conversation, and for the first eon of the drive, I tried to continue, but eventually it donned on me that their “conversation” didn’t need a second side. With that realization, I
let my head drift off to the side, and my eyes redirected toward the road. In what seemed like an instant I was back in Jim’s car, watching the landscape ripple and melt into itself behind a
curtain of frothing, amorphous darkness. The road started to blur, reform, and become blurry once again. Slowly the rest of the outside world joined the road in its visual waffling. Gradually the
shaking of the world outside the family’s station wagon was replaced by nebulas of blues, purples, greens, and reds that signify the beginnings of sleep.
Squealing brakes woke me up as it became apparent from the clamor of the family and Jim that we’d finally made it to The Welcoming Party. We stepped out onto the grassy field about a half mile from
the actual destination, and began walking. The wind whipped at us, and around, causing waves in the grass. No one spoke as we navigated through the field of abandoned transportation.No meaningful
looks were exchanged or even notice taken of each others’ presence. All attention was paid skyward.
Occasionally bumping into a car or an SUV, we made our way to the site. None of us moved our views from the dancing lights above. The lights were dynamic. They flowed from spot to spot in the sky,
changing seamlessly from turquoises and maroons to amber and olive. Slowly, the chameleon globes circled down until they were just above our level, and began floating. It wasn’t until then that we
noticed we were still several sloppy rows of transportation away from them.
A crowd had gathered at our destination. While we were making our way there, the area surrounded by the lights began to ripple. It was barely noticeable at first, a tiny wave that anyone could have
written off as an optical illusion caused by the combination of the darkness, wind, and distance. The ripple grew exponentially, until it looked like giants had been skipping boulders across the
air. After reaching their apex, the ripples faded away, revealing a ruddy, metal gyroscope. The construct was roughly forty feet high, and wide, and was spinning in seemingly unpredictable
directions while gradually slowing down.
After what could’ve been ten seconds, or ten hours (None of us could tell.), the machination halted its movement. For several seconds it floated, suspended somewhere in the neighborhood of two feet
off the ground. Following the odd pause, it began to glow. Light poured out from it, eventually putting the surrounding area in a sepia tone dome.
The dome encased us, restraining the movement of each person there. After some more time passed, a bit more light shines, this time in the shape of a rectangle. Once it took shape, four
silhouettes, of various shapes, in a constant state of flux filed out of the rectangle. They glided towards us, flowing from appearance to appearance as they moved. Then I blacked out.
© Copyright 2016 Jack Flagberry. All rights reserved.