Thursday, April 29, 2010

Devil's Highway

For his last birthday in Southern California, a place he had spent 4 years feeling something like the sad kid at the carnival, his friend slipped a Taurus .38 snob nose into his hand. "Take this with you, for the road" his friend said, as though it was some talisman of protection. "I'll eat it before I make the state line" and he left it behind with a shiver, knowing he would do just that. His friend meant well but couldn't see the terrain he was crossing, even now before setting out - nobody could, not even him. He drove in a daze, hardly blinking, through the night until crosswinds blew his VW bus across the double yellow lines repeatedly and all at once the sky opened up sounding like it meant to press the roof down and crush him, blinding him and overrunning the windshield wipers instantly. Lightning lit up the empty world like a strobe illuminating the huge and horrible stone monoliths of Monument Valley, but he could not see the road and soon left it completely, rolling to a stop in this the place where his bottom was about to fall out - Highway 666.

The rain pounded down with a supernatural force so fierce he could not hear his own screaming as he punched the dashboard, the stearing wheel, the windshield, and he was terrified in the small child way, crying out for God to save him. Afraid of himself now, he stumbled from the van into the desert darkness, out among the lightning forking in all directions across the sky, striking down at the rock formations, and both feared and hoped it would swallow him whole. He ran at first, and then walked as the rain slowed and suddenly stopped, thunder still rumbling and strobe lightning disorienting him further until he sat on the ground. The immense space reduced him to less than what he felt like and stared at him with malice until dawn. Light came slowly, proof that some of him was still here - he was almost glad, in a hollow way, for not bringing the gun - and he walked back to the highway, and the van stood there very still, undamaged, alien and terrible.

 "You going out on to The Nation?"
Hearing the attendant speak startled him, he didn't want to see people but needed the gas and wanted coffee, "Yeah".
"Better not, there's been trouble.. just yesterday..some killin'. Ain't safe for a white man on the Navajo Nation now."

He was back on the road headed north on 666 oblivious to the warning, now almost invisible to the staring desert, under the glare of the mid-day sun. After maybe an hour, he passed a boy on his right on horseback facing the highway with a sign on the ground in front of him that said PICTURE $5.
After more hot miles, passed by occasional pickup trucks overloaded with Indians, he saw a sign for Shiprock and RODEO and turned in off the highway.

He didn't know it then, but Shiprock is the capital of the Navajo Nation. He parked outside the fairgrounds and got out of the van, and if his center wasn't missing, he would have felt a twinge of fear or at least a heavy dose of anticipation. There was a lot of activity and a big crowd roaming the grounds, but it was relatively quiet and noticeably free of Whites. He walked up to a food stand and ordered a Navajo taco with beans and chili on frybread and a cold Coke. He walked and ate and watched and listened, and not one person looked at him in the face or took any notice of his presence. "I am a ghost", he thought after awhile, taking a seat in the bleachers to watch a brave Indian dressed as a cowboy ride a brave bull, and for the first time in months, he relaxed.

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