A Renaissance Among Scorpions

An open road extending into the horizon

By Jason Weiland

You can almost make out the color of my 1970 AMC Gremlin and the patina of the sun-baked paint combining into a shade that can only be described as puke-yellow.

I’m stuck here and haven’t moved since dawn.

Car’s pointed west, sure enough. A stretch of Route 66 that meanders its way through a corner of the Hualapai Reservation, veering off toward Vegas or L.A., pick your poison.

A sour orange sun teeters on the horizon, the last of the moisture its victim hours back. The road trails off into the darkness of the east, one lane behind me. To the west, as the sun reflects off the arid hills a rainbow of scarlet and amber, a lazy, dry dust devil loses the last of its rotation and dies on the road.

Just like the Gremlin.

I was no stranger to the road as a child.

I knew there was something different about me, but I did my best to hide it from people who mattered. A little too sad and hopeless, I was, a little too afraid of my own shadow, and not enough afraid of the demons that spoke to me.

I smiled when I was supposed to smile, and prayed when they needed sufficient evidence of my humanity. Reality told me I would never be normal, but at least I could act like I was for the benefit of the people who loved me.

With air conditioning a distant memory, I am at the mercy of the stifling heat and the noxious fumes of the cars that speed past. My breathing’s labored, vision dizzy and clouded from dust particles and spent gas. Through the haze, though, I can make out rough images of the vehicles and their occupants: a BMW, driven by a slight, older bespeckled man with shaggy-gray hair, a hint of a smile on his lips, a Lambo with a bald man at the helm, a caricature of some decades-old Bond thriller, bookended by a Tesla whistling past, the predominant sound a low hum of rubber on asphalt.

After a lull, in come the SUV’s, the Outbacks, the Accords, their guide the great sums of greenbacks in the lead, trying their best to catch up but not gaining ground, interspersed with pickup trucks, adorned with a smattering of confederate flags, piloted by goateed men in conspicuous red baseball hats.

Oh, I went through the motions.

Jobs and money. Marriage and children. Did my best to raise them well. But the demons never left. No, they were committed.

’Til death do us part.

Intermittently I lived in barred-over hospitals, spent hours on end with counselors of various sorts, people with the usual letters behind their name, all of them with wares to hock: my cabinet decades-stocked with pills that made the devils take a reprieve to Indonesia for a weekend getaway. Like good husbands, they came home for a hug on Monday without fail.

The rest of the drivers trickle through, white-knuckled, peering through the gloom at the distant tail lights, subconsciously telling themselves it has to be this way. A glimmer of hope for what lies on the other side. A new car. A new life.

Even them. Even they don’t notice me.

The last stream of the sun’s rays dip down below the horizon, the road clears, and I am alone as the last tail lights fade into the darkness.

I’ve failed at many things, but my biggest failure was suicide. The first three times were cries for help, really. But optimism ran strong on the fourth attempt. I was all in. So there I sat, slumped in a beanbag on the kitchen floor, legs sprawled and useless, the window to the outside world dimming, dimming.

Then fear crept in. I didn’t want to die. The damndest thought after the pills, the determination, the revelation of this being the only way to peace.

I didn’t want to die.

The ambulance trip and subsequent tube running through my nose to my stomach loaded with charcoal was intel I got after the fact. The scar on my nose from the tubing a longstanding reminder.

Three times via blade and once with pills. Jason 4. Death 0.

My arms and head are a roadmap through the worst parts of my life.

Just a little light left now, and I turn the ignition, tentative. The old Gremlin roars to life; my hand withdraws absently, my reaction a little dismayed. I flip on the headlights, now beaming down an empty road to the west.

Sin City, or the City of Angels. Places where dreams are reality, so they say, so everyone says.

So everyone does.

I take a deep breath of the humid evening air.

The desert foothills are mere shadows now. Creatures emerge from beneath their lairs: rattlesnakes, wolf spiders, scorpions. Out to hunt while it’s cool, their prey unsuspecting.

The Gremlin’s tires grind against the asphalt as she turns, heads east, back where she came.

But not where she came from.

I’m going home.

Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story