Page & a half from my new novel "A Quiet Cabin."
A half mile stretch of the road led to a singular deadly pass, over which a three inch shift of the steering wheel in the wrong direction could send you hurtling into a pine tree and boulder laden abyss one hundred feet deep. Or, you could just let go of the wheel with both eyes shut for a couple of seconds. The image of this stretch invaded William’s thoughts many times both before and after he drove through it without easing up on the gas pedal.
The scenario, which was beginning to seem like the most viable option at the moment, played out over and over again in his head like a scene from an old movie. The van would slide off the edge of the road with a screech, tumbling with him being bounced around in it like a ball in a raffle drum, after which it would finally come to rest on it’s side at the bottom of a ravine, bursting into flames and incinerating him on the spot.
Would it catch fire though? Or would he be found later half dead by the cops and taken to the hospital. There were ways to rig it so that it would catch fire , he thought about it but couldn’t bring himself to decide which method would be best and eventually gave up on an idea that continued to plague him. A small sign with blue paint on it appeared up ahead and William took a hard right into the sandy parking lot of the little general store and pharmacy, grinding noisily to a stop in a cloud of dust to let anyone who might happen to be in the store know, including Pat, that he had arrived.
An Apple bot stood there to greet him after the doors swung open that he always reached for.
“Hello Mr. Turner, how are you today?” He wondered why their voices always sounded like old fashioned Stephen Hawking speech programs. Pat Keegan looked up instantly.
He was standing behind the counter at the pharmacy in his white smock, pretending to be deeply absorbed in some papers, bifocals precariously balanced on the tip of his nose. Though his hearing appeared to be fading along with everything else, Pat’s ears seemed finely tuned to any noise the bot made. When he saw Bill, he quickly looked back to the contents of a paper folder he was studiously holding in one hand.
“Come in for something today, or… just nosing around?” He said finally after William had finished his shuffling tour of the store. Bill ignored the sarcasm.
“Just bein’ nosey Pat, how you feelin’? “
“Oh just about as fine as any young man my age can feel… if he can feel at all.” Answered Pat continuing the sarcastic tone. “See anything you like?” He asked wryly. William placed the loaves of bread, quarts of milk and dozen eggs he promised Suzie on the counter.
“Wehell lookee here!” Exclaimed Pat. Peering at him with his one good eye over the bifocals.
“Who’re you shoppin’ for these days?” Pat continually teased him about being still single at his age and not being able to settle down with anyone. William knew there was an insinuation behind the question and chose to ignore it as usual.
“Suzie asked me to pick these up.” He responded dryly. “Suzie?...” mumbled Pat, caught off guard. “Jesus, daughter-in-law Suzie?… how’re you two love birds getting along these days?”
“About as lousy as usual.” Bill sighed, reaching for his wallet. He grabbed a handful of Dutch Master cigars and tossed a fifty dollar bill up on the counter. “Hey look forget it.” Said Pat. “I know things are tight for you guys these days, we’ll just call it a small donation to the cause from a friend.” He reached out to pat Will’s arm. William withdrew it quickly. “I don’t take charity.” He said contemptuously. “Never have, never will. Just give me the change Pat.” He said, pushing the fifty dollar bill further across the counter until it was right under Pat’s nose. “Whatever you say soldier.” Pat sighed, then attempted to lighten the mood.
“Hey recruit,” he said suddenly, “remember how to disassemble a rifle?” William described the fifteen second disassemblage of a sniper rifle down to it’s major components in about four seconds. Pat’s jaw dropped in admiration and amazement. “Jeeeesus Christ! How in the hell do you remember all that?” He asked, stunned by the immediate and unexpected response. “It’s all stored up there somewhere.” William replied pointing to his head.
“I’m saving it for a rainy day.”
Pat looked outside at some ominous grey clouds which had just started drifting up.
“Looks like you got one coming.” He said pointing to the sky. William gathered up his small bundle of groceries and extended his hand. “That was a kind offer Pat.” He said. “Really.”
“Forget about it for Chrissakes”, said Pat waving it off. “How are Phil and the kids?”
“Phil’s one of ‘em Pat, but they’ll all make decent grownups someday.” Pat laughed.
” See ya now man”, take care of that eye.” William finished heading for the door.
“Goodbye Mr. Turner”, said the bot. “Come back and see us again.” Pat’s face became serious.
“Be careful on that pass tonite Bill, he called after him, “you drive too damn fast.” Bill was out the door before Pat could finish his sentence and it fell on deaf ears except for the bot. “Does Mr. Turner drive too fast?” he asked.
Rain washed down in torrents, drumming on the hood of his car. William had the passenger side window rolled down and the groceries were getting wet. He didn’t care. Rain sprayed out from the back of the van’s tires like dual fire hoses, causing him to slide around corners going at his usual top speed. Fortunately it was just a passing shower and began to abate just as he was pulling up the steep hill through the trees to the house. He came to an abrupt stop on the gravel driveway and jumped out for a smoke. By a stroke of luck he managed to stash the cigars in his top pocket where they remained nice and dry while the grocery bag was almost soggy. He grabbed an oily rag out of the cargo bed, folded it and did his best to dry off the seat. He attempted to dry the outside of the grocery bag with it too but it was useless.