by Matt Goldberg
I awoke at 8:30pm. Although there is no trace of the light that once illuminated these hills, I could tell we are in the desert now. The road is as black as the earth surrounding it, stretching as far as the eye can see.
“How long was I out?” I asked my father while rubbing my eyes.
“A couple hours.” He replied.
“How much longer?”
“A couple hours,” he repeated again, this time with a smirk and slight giggle under his breath.
I reached down below the glove box and into the backpack blanketing my bare feet. My hands blindly searching between the McCarthy novel and the bag of stale corn chips for what was surely my only hope for passing the time, my iPod and headphones. I thought I’d listen to some music for the rest of the drive. I had nothing else to do. My plan was to let the music be my soundtrack and the windshield my movie screen.
I rearranged the position of my body, getting more comfortable, and as I reacquainted myself with the surroundings as well, we all do, I saw nothing but black. The car interior blended perfectly to the nothingness that is the California desert like the defense mechanisms of a color-changing chameleon. The only light was the dull green glow of the dashboard, and the bright headlights reflecting the perfectly painted lines on the road below. These lines predict the future. Each bump and turn, snake and ladder, gives me no surprise of the direction I’m headed. Although the distance of my sights remained the same, with each hill I pass over I felt a bit more accomplished. Looking to my right, as I leaned my head against the cold hard glass, I could see nothing but a slight, more blurred version of my legs and the lights of the dash reflecting back at me. Even when I placed my hands on either side of my eyes and looked closely, I could see nothing but a colorless empty graveyard of dust and dying desert brush. Even the sky was dull. Not a single star managed to expose its luminosity through the thick heavy clouds below them. I turned to my father and he was a floating upper body in a sea of black; the upper half of a captain steering his vessel through dark undiscovered waters. With nothing else to fix my eyes on and having no idea of the future that was ahead of me, I placed the headphones over my ears, looked onward at the endless stretch of road ahead of me and pressed play.
I adjusted the levels accordingly, fitting the mood to my current situation. It was a good volume; the type of volume that makes you concentrate on what you’re hearing, the type of volume that really puts you in the world the artists intended. Looking around I noticed I couldn’t hear the puttering sounds of rubber wheels gliding across old tar or the old man muttering to his best friend in the back seat; I was completely engulfed in sound. And that was the way I liked it.
Gazing onward, in a daze created by both the sounds coming from my headphones, as well as the boring repetitions of driving through the desert, I noticed something different. A small drop of water hit the windshield, and then another, and another. Three more drops splattered their guts in a matter of seconds. The rain hit the windshield like torpedoes, dying as they dripped slowly down the glass towards the hood of the car. Each drop was quickly replaced by the other like soldiers in the front lines of a great battle. Rain slammed against plate-glass as their size in number increased as well as their size in shape. Beginning our clamber up the mountain, slowly liquid became solid as ice fell from the sky in incredible numbers. The rain became sticky, no longer dripping down the windshield; it simply melted away upon contact. Then I saw one, a small white ball hit the top left corner of the windshield. Rain turned to snow the way a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. The headlights projected an amazing contrast between the white snow and the lifeless black desert. Taillights are the eyes of a great wolf peering sternly into my soul from deep inside the ragged wood. I was trapped in the follicles of a white wizard and fervently swimming through his beard, I gasp for air. The road ahead supported the never-ending spill of a million white gumballs, as if falling from a counter and bouncing every which way in chaos all over apartment floors. The road slowly changed its shade from black, to grey, to white. Blanketed by soft powdery snow.
It was clear that our travel was nearing an end. The smell of pine made its way through the air conditioning and up my nostrils. Altitude is not just the height of an object- it’s a feeling. Like a fever or a sickness, it starts in your head and eventually makes its way to your entire body.
Watching each imperfect movement of the car as it glided across the icy and snow covered concrete; I felt a lump in my throat. I started thinking about my childhood, the smell of fresh cut grass before a little league game. I remembered jumping in a freshly raked pile of leaves in the middle of October. Laying on a hilltop turning clouds into animals and various shapes in my mind. It was a feeling unfamiliar to me, like everything from that moment on was going to turn out for the best. That’s when I saw it. It was brief, a second maybe (a second that lasted a life time). A shadow appeared in the middle of the road, dancing as it did. As we got closer, the shadowy figure became clearer and for a brief moment, the creature and I were one, both feeling a sense of danger as the lights became bigger in its big brown frightened eyes. Before I could say it, my father jerked the wheel forcibly and abruptly to his left. The car slid on the icy road back and forth for moment before it was uplifted from the back tire and flipped over. The calluses on my hands turned to blisters as I clinched the door handle for my life. The car rolled for days, each bounce and skid was the powerful fist of a great giant punching me from every direction.
When the car finally stopped rolling, it had landed upside down and facing the wrong direction on the road. I slowly opened my eyes, looked out ahead and saw the shadowy figure. It looked around for a moment, gathered itself and then scampered off into darkness as if nothing had happened. I’ve heard of deer often doing that. They find themselves in the middle of a road and then freeze when they see lights. Maybe they do this because they see their own fait and have no way of avoiding it, or perhaps they’re just fascinated by bright lights. I don’t think I’ll ever know.