Kyle made his way to the false-fronted general mercantile––the town was not as compact as he’d imagined, buildings spread out in various stages of neglect and decay. Much of the town had been engulfed by fire over the years and he crossed patches of charred rock that bore testament to ancient calamity. As Kyle approached the store, Dylan stood in a rigid pose, hands cupped against the dusty window. He did not move as Kyle took a spot at the four-paned window. Peering in, he understood the reason for his friend’s rapt attention. The interior was a living museum, everything in a state of arrested decay––canned goods on the shelf, barrels of dry goods lining the floor. The cash register stuck on a $3.24 sale rung up, as the mining-equipment calendar attested, in 1947. “It’s like my grandfather’s store out in Milameck.” Kyle said. Dylan blinked back coolly, “Ah yeah, yer mom’s folks were from out woop woop.” His gaze lit on the saloon across from a brick bank building, “Reckon they still have a skeleton propped behind the piano?”
Kyle and Dylan passed the one-room Methodist church and crossed a wide, deserted boulevard. It was hard to imagine this expanse of hard-packed rock as a notorious epicenter of drunken brawls, grudge killings. Far from being a conduit of commerce, the street now functioned as an artery for silence to pour in. Converging on the weathered frontage, Kyle and Dylan peered into the last standing of several dozen establishments that had sprung up to meet boomtown consumption demands. The saloon was still equipped with roulette wheel and poker tables, chips piled in anticipation of imminent action. Bottles of elixir, warped green and brown, glinted darkly on the wood counter. An upright piano sans skeleton upright in the corner, sheet music for Clare de Lun on the stand. In its place of honor behind the bar, an oil painting of a voluptuous temptress––pale skin on bearskin, naked but for red garters. A fertility symbol and, ostensibly, what all these miners were breaking their backs to obtain. “Hard to tell if she is covering her pubes or pleasuring herself,” Dylan cracked. “At least her skin is smooth––like my gal last night, what was her name?” Kyle shook his head. “Smooth as a…” he said with gusto, pantomiming a complex series of actions involving tongue and phantom flesh. “And your girl….?” “Marie,” Kyle offered reluctantly, realizing that Dylan was not going to let this go. “That Marie girl was fucking hairy… I can only imagine the uncharted extent of her jungle.”
It was not quite the knockout blow intended. Whatever one’s aesthetic preferences, Marie was by far the more attractive of the girls––an artist and photographer, she could follow whatever personal grooming habits she pleased and still gain acolytes. What this was really about was a butthurt denial on Dylan’s part that the prettier girl had chosen him. As a ‘God is a DJ’ alpha, to have this surfer runt––whom he had basically taken on a road trip out of sympathy––swoop in on what was rightfully his….. They both opened their mouths to preempt the others’ well-chosen insult and wound up cracking up. The girls were gone, the idiocy of this conversation blatantly obvious. Dylan grasped Kyle’s shoulder, “Oh man, I was just…. we were both pretty drunk.” Kyle nodded “Good times. Funny you should ask though, Marie was hairy… very. And you know what? I liked it.”
Kyle looked out at the aching emptiness beyond town. A sharp wind had picked up and the sun was sinking fast. A middle-age tourist couple hurried past them along the deserted street, determined to reach Tahoe, points west. By the time they completed an abbreviated circuit of the town and returned to the parking lot, the economy rental was a small dot, lost in a cloud of dust. he ranger’s truck was gone as well––strangely, they had not seen any park official come or go.
Kyle preempted Dylan’s move toward the driver’s seat. “Uh-uh, my turn..” Dylan reluctantly gave way. “Anyway, the plan still stands, right? Follow the road out of town––” “Sure,” said Kyle uneasily, I’ll take it easy over the ruts and potholes… anyway, it’s your name on the rental invoice.” That was another of Dylan’s stubborn ideas: follow a 4x4 jeep track for 12 miles to avoid doubling back––if they made it without major mishap it would save them 60 miles on their way to Vegas. Dylan reiterated reasons for this act of two-wheel-drive lunacy with a tinge of nervousness, “The car has plenty of clearance, we’ve still got a couple hours of light…” Kyle started the engine and gave it an unexpected throttle of gas. “That we do. And I agreed to this so-called plan. Fasten your buckle mate.”