The road, already bone-jarring as remnants of town faded, narrowed into a faint impression. Kyle navigated the tracks cautiously, gauging exactly how the Mustang reacted with certain types of terrain underfoot––calibrating when to gun the engine and thrust over ruts before the wheel lost contact, went spinning. Rounding the bend into a broad wash, all semblance of road was lost as track fragmented into a scatter of rocks and shards. Throttling down, not quite losing momentum, Kyle kept a tight grasp on the wheel and hugged the bank as closely as possible. There was an insistent sideways pull through 50 meters of breath-held drift, as time slowed and nerve endings coiled against steel––the Mustang somehow making it to the other side without skidding into deeper folds and crevasses.
As the road reappeared and finally leveled, Kyle took stock. Considering that the Mustang was not made for this, they were doing just fine. Notably absent was any sense of fear. In its place, the absolute calm that came after the warp-speed of entering a barrel. A feeling of complete control amidst constant acceleration within a wall of bone-crushing force. Positioning his board at the fulcrum of a cascade capable of taking him 40 feet, deeper, he remained steady, unhurried. Which was not to say he had not kissed reef-laced depths, plunged through the tumble-dry vastness of space… then up and up through ages of water, unable to breath–– simply exhilarated to be alive.
Kyle glanced at Dylan––rigid, drained of all expression, his mouth seemed on the verge of opening, then snapped shut. It took him a moment to recognize the pattern for what it was––dry heaves. Eyes back on the road, Kyle wondered what Dylan would say when words came. Would he admit that the time saved in no way compensated for an hour spent in hell? No. The idea had been his and there was no way he would admit to its intrinsic sketchiness. Kyle tensed his voice, as if considering the possibility of imminent breakdown, “How far do you reckon the nearest services are?” No reply. Then all chance of conversation lost as the track started its descent toward a thin, horizon-scraping road.
Dylan gripped the passenger side with his entire body as Kyle sought out that hinge-tight connection between steering shaft and pedal. Attuned to the minute calibrations that kept them in line with what gravity required, he accelerated. Face drained of color, Dylan rolled down the window just in time, vomiting half-digested hamburger, spittle. Confronted with a pungent echo of In N Out, Kyle opened his window, letting in a crosscurrent of air. Without premeditation, an exultant yell came to his throat, almost a war cry––two months across America––Vegas, Utah, wherever. At the cusp of possibility, the freedom of it all––in a muscle-car sin un cuidado.
The Mustang touched down again, hitting bottom, as a well-groomed track emerged and took them the last stretch to paved road. And then progress was absolutely level, almost motionless, on a landing strip without lights. The car heading out of a crescendo of colors into brutal dusk. They settled into a sparse rhythm of conversational avoidance––Dylan seemed embarrassed, tired. Kyle cued Pink Floyd’s Meddle and the car vibrated with piano strung across a wash of echoes. Several species of gulls hovering in mist as small furry animals crossed Northern seas. The exultant sound of a decaying empire, mixed with new architecture. By the time Kyle had moved on to LA Woman, Dylan was asleep. Then, as the Lizard King insinuated life as crawling king snake a new, pedestrian, danger arose––the red flash of gas pump, needle approaching empty. Except for a couple of trucks that shuddered past, the road was empty too. Creases seeping slow-burn into Kyle’s brow as the miles of sped by in empty darkness––a realization that they might well wind up stranded on the side of the road. Kyle glanced at the sticky In N Out cup in the center cupholder. How much water exactly did they have?