It was such an innocent looking journal entry. Five lines…just five lines.
I felt the need to write, but had nothing to write about. You see, due to a rather hectic spring, I had not done much riding other than commuting.
When this happens I go read my journal…usually just a few cryptic lines for each day, and pick out an incident or an idea to write about, to flesh out and expand to the experience it was.
I thought this was going to be a short story. But then, I just drive the pen…
The Dragon in the Desert
I was standing around the corner of a brown metal building in the middle of the desert, in the dark, devouring some excellent fried chicken, and waiting to pound some guy flat. The dragon, the wolf, and the owl all agreed that this was the best course of action.
I’ve had stranger days…
But maybe I’d better start at the beginning…
Large, red, and in motion…
What the…? Oh Crap!
< . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . >
I was perfectly content reclining on a large boulder awaiting my visitor. I could see him in the distance, shambling slowly across the desert terrain, sometimes fading away in the shimmering heat-laden air, and then suddenly appearing again somewhat closer. That I was content sitting there watching the man approach surprised me a bit, as my companions were much more interesting and should have commanded all my attention.
Judging by his gait, the man was advanced in age and in need of assistance, but as I was about to get up to help one of my companions turned his head to speak. Now the companion did command my attention, as the speaker was a very large white wolf. He sat on my right, and had been looking out at the old man in the desert. As the wolf turned his head, his piercing yellow eyes looked at me…in me…through me, and his gaze reflected age, wisdom, compassion, and intelligence. I suddenly knew his name was Lucious.
His growl was low but crystal clear, “Wait.”
I turned to him with a raised eyebrow, an unspoken question.
There was no menace or rebuke in the wolf’s deep rumbling voice. “It would be inappropriate,” a thoughtful pause, “and dangerous to go to Him. He…always…must come to you.”
I opened my eyes, and stifled a moan as I instantly squeezed them shut against the searing light.
“This just cannot be good.” I mumbled to myself as I lay there on my back taking stock for a moment. I was pretty sure I was alive, but that was simply a best guess. I was in pain, and I tasted blood. Those are two pretty good clues. I am not sure what exactly to expect when I am gone, but tasting blood is not very high on the list.
I figured I was on the road, as whatever I was laying on was hard, rough, and hot. My back and arms were burning from the heat and I was experiencing several sharp pains from small stones. I could also feel the sun beating down on me, and I was sweating profusely. The real question was which road was I laying on…and why?
Slowly I began to flex various muscles and move my legs and arms. I could tell I had a fair number of bruises, but everything seemed mostly intact. My head was throbbing and my ears were ringing. My nose was also plugged up and my throat was sore. I was vaguely aware that I was wearing a motorcycle helmet, and possibly gloves. Thus my first hint of the situation…it seemed likely I had been riding. But what happened?
I started to sit up, but a wave of nausea swept over me and I flopped back on the hot road with a groan. I desperately did not want to throw up, especially while wearing a full-face helmet. I could hear a car approaching, obviously moving at highway speeds, so I raised my arm and tried to wave it a bit. Whoosh! The car passed and the hot wind and dust blew over me.
“Figures.” I mumbled. They did not stop. Whatever needed doing, I was going to have to do it myself.
I waited a moment for the nausea to pass and unfastened the chinstrap on my helmet. As it is long habit, it is easy to do, even with my skin-tight riding gloves still on. I then slowly sat up, removed the helmet, and wiped the sweat out of my eyes. Stifling another wave of nausea, I blinked my eyes several times and looked around. That was when I noticed there was no visor left on my helmet. The plastic lens was completely gone, and one of the black plastic pivots on the side of the helmet that holds the lens (called base-plates) was broken. The helmet was also a bit scratched up and felt a little…well…weird. I set it beside me on the road.
I had been lying across the white stripe—partly on the two-lane blacktop road and partly on the small shoulder. My brain was starting to come back on-line and was wondering where I was and how I had come to be there. The heat was overwhelming and was obviously affecting my thinking. I suddenly realized that I had been intently but unconsciously studying the area for clues and I chuckled to myself. The terrain around me was hot, arid, and dusty. Prominently featured were sand, rock, fences, some shriveled desert vegetation, and not much else. Triumphantly I decided I was in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, or Arizona. Or maybe Utah, Nevada, or even parts of California. Laughing at myself, I mumbled, “Gee, that really narrows it down a bit.” At least I still had my sense of humor.
I shelved the location problem for a moment and began to concentrate on the situation instead. My head felt stuffed up and my thoughts were coming slowly. I had been looking up the road for a minute or so before I finally realized that the thing I had been focusing on was “The Dragon”, my massive F6 Valkyrie Cruiser. She was lying on her side and facing downhill in the sandy ditch, about 50 yards away from me. Something about the big motorcycle’s position didn’t ring true, but that was overshadowed by my immediate reaction.
“Oh no…” My Valkyrie was down. My ride had fallen. I immediately felt a pang of sorrow. What had happened? How had I let her down? Where the HELL was I? I got unsteadily to my feet, and promptly bent over and retched, spitting blood tinted bile onto the asphalt. I straightened back up and took a deep breath through my mouth. I still could not breathe through my nose. I was starting to recognize the stuffed feeling, as well as the various other facial pains as some trauma to the face. With all the other body aches it felt like I had been in a fight…and lost. It’s been a long time since I had that feeling.
I probed around my face and neck with my fingers. I was very sore, but not too bad. My nose had been bleeding. I fervently hoped that was where the blood I had choked up moments ago came from.
I stood there a moment regaining my stability and accessing my condition a bit more. I was very, very hot, almost burning up, unhealthily so, and I was hurting. I felt sick, and I was very queasy, but I was not scraped up. I had not gone down…not at speed anyway. The aches and pains were too many to catalogue, but none seemed terribly serious. The real threat was the heat.
I concentrated hard a moment, ignoring the ache in my temples. What the heck had happened?
Standing on the side of the road. I had to move something. Red. Lots of red. Moving fast. Then nothing.
Well that wasn’t a lot of help. For some reason the state of Arkansas kept coming to mind, though it was obvious by my surroundings that I was no where near there.
With a small surge of satisfaction I recalled something. Traveling. Yes…I had been traveling. I knew about where I was now. I had left Dallas bound for New Mexico. As I was traveling by myself my route was on a whim. My friend and I had just gotten back from an extensive road trip, the wife had been out of town, the friends were all working, and I had several more days before I had to go back to work myself. I had ridden around town for a bit, then the touring bug, which I had apparently not quite gotten off my back with the long trip just completed, bit me hard. I did enough laundry to get me by, packed my gear back on the bike, and took off for a few more days. Figured I would find some neat roads, and maybe qualify for a “Saddle Sore 1000” (1000 miles in 24 hours) or “Bun Burner Gold” (1500 miles in 24 hours) award from the IBA before I had to go back to work. I have qualified on many occasions for these awards, but have never sent in the documentation to get certified. I finally decided that I would. Riding is the point, yes?
I was terribly thirsty, and feeling nauseous again. I needed to get the taste of blood and bile out of my mouth. When I travel I always carry a two-quart canteen of water. I’ve been teased about it, but I tend to travel long distances in arid areas and in the summer so it has always seemed wise to me. Rubbing my temples to ease my throbbing head I walked slowly toward my bike.
She was on her right side in the ditch, her wheels close to the road and her topsides facing sharply downhill. Even in my muddled state I knew I had not crashed her there. The whole situation did not make much sense. If I did not crash her, how had I ended up so far away from the bike? It looked like she had been parked on the shoulder with her stand down and had somehow been pushed over. There was a strong smell of gasoline. I suddenly spotted my canteen in the ditch a short distance away and all other concerns instantly disappeared. Water!
I grabbed the canteen, sat down in the ditch, and took a long pull. The water was hot from sitting in the sun, but it was wet. Heaven! I rinsed my mouth out and spat, and rubbed water on my face and my nose until the caked blood quit coming off my mustache and out of my nose. Eventually I could breath again. Even though I was still weak and shaky, it is amazing how much better I felt. Water is truly the giver of life.
Careful not to drink too fast, I savored mouthfuls of water while I surveyed the situation. Staring at my bike I could see that in her unusual attitude she had been leaking gasoline into the sand from the tank filler, but was not any longer. There probably was not much left. Because of her position in the ditch, I was unsure if I could right the big cruiser or not. The Dragon is a heavy machine and it is no easy matter to stand her up, particularly as she was sitting now…more than ninety degrees over on the downhill bank of the ditch. She seemed intact though I could not see portions of the right side she was sitting on, but there was no apparent serious damage. The ditch was mostly loosely packed sand, and she had “mushed” into it a bit, so it was unlikely there was much damage.
I had my first inkling that something sinister was at work when sluggish mind noted that all my gear was gone. I carry four duffels bungeed to my back seat, as well as some stuff in my saddlebags. My heavy leather jacket is usually between the duffels if I am not wearing it. One duffel carries my tent, there is one for my sleeping bag, one for clothes, and the last contains things like batteries, digital camera, cell phone, sunscreen, and other miscellaneous traveling stuff. The right saddlebag was pinned under the bike, but the left one was open and empty. There were some small bits of gear scattered about, including my spare visor stored in its sock, but it was definitely not everything from the empty bag. Of my duffels and jacket there was no sign, though the bungee cords were still with the bike.
Had I been robbed? Surely I would have remembered that. Reflexively I checked my back pocket. My wallet was still there. This was dammed odd.
I shelved that train of thought as abruptly I stopped sweating and felt chills. Intense nausea returned and I suddenly felt very weak. I recognized these as signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. It was time to quit wondering what the hell was going on, and get out of the sun and into some air-conditioning. My situation was now getting serious. Everything else be dammed—survival mode on.
I dumped a bit of water over my head, hung the canteen over my shoulder and dragged myself to my feet. I had to get myself out of this, and that meant getting my bike back on the road. There was no help, or even any shade to be found nearby. My brain finally began working closer to one hundred percent and I realized that although I would never be able to stand the cruiser up while she was laying in the downhill attitude, I could simply grab her by the front wheel and slide/spin her around until the top of the bike was facing uphill. Then she should be fairly easy to stand up. I am a strong man, and I have done this before. I was soon to find out that “strong” and “easy” are relative terms. My ordeal thus far had cost me more strength than I knew.
As I was working the big bike around I began to get really angry. My bike was down, and I was not in the best of health. It was obvious to me now that my situation was the result of someone else’s meddling, not my own doing. Further feeding my anger was that I could not remember exactly what had happened. I put the anger to good use, focusing the energy and adrenalin toward the strength needed to spin the big cruiser around and stand her up. In short order, and with only a few cuss words and two missed attempts, I had “The Dragon” upright. The effort exhausted me.
I carefully let her roll the rest of the way to the bottom of the ditch, stumbling beside her and using the front brake to slow her decent, while barely keeping her upright. With exaggerated care and the last of my strength I put the stand down and let it take her weight. With a shock of surprise I suddenly knew that was all I had to give. With a gasp I collapsed and descended back into darkness.
The old man was closer now. Despite the shimmering heat I could begin to make out details. Dressed in faded blue jeans, dusty work boots, a white western shirt, canvas cowboy hat, and wearing a bola with a turquoise clasp, he looked very much at home in the desert terrain. He was Indian, and he was old. His hair was gray, with a just a hint that it had once been black, and was held back in a long ponytail by a sterling band that bore an intricate design that seemed to glow.
Once again I felt the need to go to him, but this time my companion on the left spoke.
If the wolf had been an interesting companion, my other attendant was downright stunning. Beside me on the boulder and towering above me was a dragon. Glistening black, almost iridescent and jewel-like scales reflected the desert sun with copper highlights. Her movements were sinuous and exuded passion and a lust for living. The large talons were copper colored and gleaming, seemingly made of the metal, and they casually left large gouges in the stone as she moved.
Her name was Adoraim and she looked disturbingly deep into me with her brilliant blue eyes. The pupils were mere slits in the desert sunlight, much like a cat’s eye, but the eyes themselves were hypnotic. When she spoke the voice was deep and husky…and female, but was made up of several chords interlaced. A harmony of voices speaking as one. The effect was strangely alluring and completely captivating.
“Hold.” The voice sent shivers of pleasure up my spine and compelled me to listen. Once again I looked with a raised eyebrow, asking the unspoken question.
“He comes. All is as it should be. Timing is important. The world moves in ways you may not see and in a harmony all its own. Be patient. Wait.”
The large head dipped, and one basketball-sized brilliant-blue eye fixed me squarely in its gaze, “You need water...Drink.”
I awoke with a gasp. I pulled myself up into sitting position and leaned against my bike. Gratefully I opened the canteen and took a long pull. I then sparingly sprinkled some water on my head and shirt, as I still was not sweating and was hoping to cool myself off. I carefully put the cap back on and shook it. There was not much left.
Blearily I looked around. The shadows were getting longer, I had been here a while, though I was unsure when this ordeal had started. I started to stand up, but rapidly learned that I had little strength or coordination and I felt flushed and feverish. I needed water, I needed to cool off, and I needed rest.
With the advancing hours there was one immediate benefit. I gratefully scooted over into the shade made by my bike and looked at the canteen. My condition was not good, and obviously nobody was going to come by to help. The water would not do any good in the canteen if I went into full heat stroke—it would be too late then to drink it. I made a decision. I opened the canteen, sat in the shade, and sipped the water until it was gone. I was expecting that the water and the coming cooler temperatures would help me recover enough strength and coordination, long enough, to get myself out of this. Yes, I was betting. And I was betting it all. I lay down in the shade of the bike. Just a little rest. That’s the ticket. Yes, I would just close my eyes for a moment or two.
Unsurprised, I faced the old man. He was standing in front of me as my companions and I sat on the boulder. Due to my size and his stooped posture we were precisely eye-to-eye. He radiated wisdom, timelessness, and honor, and his face and eyes twinkled with good-natured humor.
As I opened my mouth to speak he held up his hand. His voice was low and raspy, but I could clearly understand, “A moment, we await another.”
Shortly a large owl swooped out of the air, and I shivered as one wingtip brushed the back of my neck as she passed by. She landed with grace on one of the enormous copper claws of the dragon and folded her wings. The dragon was unperturbed, and even managed to look daintily careful with the claw that the owl was perched on.
Her name was Lilith, and I felt I had met her before, though she had not spoken to me then. Her liquid voice trilled, “The time approaches. We will be ready.”
The old man looked carefully at the owl, then back at me. He looked to my right, as if seeing the wolf for the first time. He then looked back into my eyes for an extended moment, but his face betrayed no emotion. Slowly his eyes slid back to my left, and then upward. He spied the dragon in her full glory and gasped.
He recovered his composure quickly, but a quirky smile and a twinkle in his eye remained. “Unusual guides you have brought to my world, especially for one such as yourself.” I got the distinct impression that he thought I should be an Indian. He was not disappointed, not judgmental, just surprised.
He nodded at the wolf but spoke to me, “Your teacher, your guide, your scout.” Now he nodded at the owl. “Your wisdom, your freedom, and your vision for the truth.” He turned his gaze to the dragon.
Again I sensed surprise. He studied the impressive beast for a moment while she gazed calmly back. As with the others he nodded to her but spoke to me, “In truth I have never seen a guide such as this. She is your power. Your magic. She gives you courage and enormous strength,” he pointed slowly to my arm, “and not just here, but rather,” as he pointed to my heart, “here.” His eyes glazed a moment. I felt he was questing, struggling for the right word. “She also gives you…” a significant pause here, “…eternity.”
The old man looked at me a moment. “Tell me warrior,” he moved closer to peer intently into my eyes, “why are you here?”
Why was I here? Why was I calmly and without any trace of surprise or disbelief sitting on a rock in the desert talking to an old man, a wolf, an owl, and a dragon? I myself would have very much liked to know.
Flustered by his gaze I had no ready answer. I mumbled, “Just passing through.”
“Ahhhh, yes. Of course. But where,” he eyed me critically, “ are you passing through to?” he paused another moment, “Where is your destination? What is your purpose?”
For that I always have an answer, though so many fail to understand it that I usually do not express it. For him the truth was required…he could understand or not…as he would. “The experience is my purpose.” I said proudly. “The journey, itself…IS my destination.” At this my companions all seemed to move closer to me, and radiated affirmation. In this we were unanimous.
He nodded, and I could tell this pleased him. It was if I…we…had confirmed something he already knew but was not quite ready to believe.
He nodded. A decision made. “It is good that we meet. You have a quest…an onus…and you should be ready. Time is important and the outcome is not certain.”
“There is one…one who is dangerous. He is why you are here. He is why I am here. And there are others.” At this he looked into the distance. I could tell he was seeing other places. Other faces. There was a sadness in his eyes and he was worried.
I was just slightly impatient. I started to prompt him when the wolf’s tail swatted me on the back of the head. I glared at him, but he was smiling (a wolf really can smile!), and his eyes met mine in wordless communication. I waited.
Eventually the old man spoke again. “This dangerous one. He has a friend. Together, both are formidable. You must confront them. You must do what is right. You must do this at the right time.” He pointed to my heart while nodding at my companions. “Your guides know.”
“Do what is right?” I had seen and heard too many politically correct, bleeding heart, and emasculating messages lately and was frankly sick of them. “This dangerous one…I am not going to have to hug him am I?” If he had done this to me, I was not going to be receptive to unqualified and unsought forgiveness. Oh no…Not receptive at all…
The sarcasm, though probably inappropriate, was not lost or unappreciated by the old man. His eyes twinkled. He moved even closer, his mouth beside my ear.
He chuckled gently and quietly whispered, “No warrior. No hugging.”
“Then what?” I asked in much the same tone.
He leaned even closer. His breath was hot. “Kick his ass!”
I awoke laughing. Despite my usually colorful and frequently very enlightening dreams I never expected to have a vision, and even if it was just the misfirings of a heat and shock soaked brain, I certainly never expected a vision to be so…forthright.
Evening had come. The beginnings of twilight were upon me. There was a blessedly cool breeze moving my hair. I carefully sat up, feeling much better. The water, the shade, the rest, and the cooling temperature had made a huge difference. I was still desperately thirsty, and still felt a bit weak and shaky, but the improvement was vast.
I got to my feet and began moving about the area gathering what little gear lay scattered about. I knew I had to get moving…I had something to do…but felt no sense of urgency yet. I have always trusted my instincts; they have always been powerful and not at all subtle in their guidance of me. Now I know that what I have really done is trust my guides.
My left saddlebag had been rifled, but the right bag, under the bike when it was on its side, had been untouched. One of the treasures it contained was my tool-kit. I dug through it for a new base-plate (always carry spares when traveling) and installed my clear visor on my helmet. The smoked visor was in many pieces in the area I had been laying, along with a bunch of “road gators” (the motorcyclist’s slang for truck tire tread scattered from the 18 wheelers after a blowout). I did find my sunglasses though, the tough polycarbonate lenses undamaged, but dirty with blood and dust.
I adjusted the right mirror post, and pushed the blinker on the front-right back together. It had separated at the rubber vibration dampener and had been hanging by the wire. Finally, packed and ready I mounted the bike and turned on the key. Friendly lights greeted me from the gauges and running lights. She still had power. I had been concerned that being over for so long may have damaged the battery or drained the acid.
My thumb hovered for a moment over the start button. But I did not push it. Something was bothering me. Tickling the back of my mind. Something I had forgotten. Something important. I have always leant credence to my instincts, and I still had no sense of urgency, so I turned the key back off and relaxed in the saddle a moment. The cooling evening air was conducive to thinking, and the ache in my temples had almost subsided. I was unsure what was bothering me, but my instincts counseled patience…it would come to me.
Even in this world my guides were with me. When the thought occurred to me my heart suddenly jumped in my chest. If what I now believed to be true actually was it would have been catastrophic to start the machine! Was what I thought was wrong, really wrong? Or was it just muddled thinking?
I dug back into my tool kit, triumphantly coming up with a spark plug socket and wrench. I pulled the three plugs on the right side of the massive six-cylinder engine—the side that had been facing down for so long. I also pulled the plug wires off the other three plugs so there was no chance of it starting at all. Then I turned the key back on and tapped the start button.
Swoosh, SQUIRT! Oil shot out of the three right plugholes and all over parts of the bike and spattering into the sand. Some of it flew quite far! Yep, I was right. The engine had been hydro locked…ur…well…oil-locked anyway. Sitting for so long on her side, oil had slowly made its way around the rings and at least partially filled up the cylinders on the downhill side. Oil will not compress like an air-fuel mixture. Had I pressed the start button before clearing the cylinders, it could have immediately damaged or destroyed the engine. I strongly felt that if I could not get the bike on the road, I would not make it through the night. My intincts, my guides were watching out for me yet again.
I put everything back together and straddled the big cruiser once more. I took a breath and held it a moment, then pressed the start button. Grinning and not sure why I ever doubted her, I rejoiced as the superb machine rumbled smoothly to life.
She was smoking quite a bit from the right pipe—residual oil in the cylinders no doubt, so I let her idle a moment while I pondered my next course of action. Where to? Which way? My trip odometer read 22 miles. That meant that I was 22 miles from my last gas stop. I would certainly find people there. I still needed water, and gas, and was intently craving some crackers or something, and I would kill for a Diet Coke at the moment, so I decided to head there. I gunned the Dragon, skidded her sloppily up the embankment and out of the ditch, and turned back the way I came.
It was good to be on the road again! The cooling breeze was intoxicating, refreshing, recharging, and I could feel strength and stability flowing into me as I guided the big cruiser down the road. I allowed the situation to recede to the back of my mind and just live in the moment. It seemed I was drawing strength from my ride. Healing. Calming. Connecting to the world. There is just something about riding…
Within just a couple miles the big cruiser began to lose power. I reached down inside my left thigh and flicked her to reserve fuel. Immediately the power returned, but now I had a new concern. Her normal range before reserve is around 135 miles, and I had made it less than 25. Obviously the gasoline had leaked into the sand while she was on her side, but the question was how much remained on reserve? I had probably been running on gas that was already in the carburetors, there really was no telling how much fuel below reserve level had leaked out. Would I make the rest of the 22 miles?
I felt no urgency for speed, though suddenly I felt it was critically important to get back to my last stop, so I backed off the throttle and set her at 50mph. The Valkyrie will effortlessly carry me to 145mph should I desire, but she burns loads of gas doing so. Backing off to 50mph should add a good bit of range to whatever fuel I had left.
Darkness was falling as the miles ticked by with no cars passing and no sign of habitation at all. I chuckled to myself. When I choose to “get away from it all” I really do!
At precisely 44 miles showing on the trip odometer, a gas station/store slid into view. Just a medium sized brown metal building with one window, a double set of doors, and a gravel lot, it was poorly lit by a single mercury vapor light over the gas pumps. There was a single pickup in the lot with its hood up. As I turned the corner to enter the lot “The Dragon” ran out of fuel and I coasted to the pumps.
Rule number one for me while traveling is to make sure my bike is always taken care of, as there is no telling when I will need her ready and willing to go. This is very analogous to the old west, where the horse was put away and taken care of before the rider, and it is reflex to me at this point. When arriving at a destination, I fuel her up first.
These were the older style pumps, and they had no slot for credit cards. The hand-lettered cardboard sign on the pump said, “Pay before pumping” but I really was not up to getting off my bike yet. On a whim I pulled the pump hose, flipped on the lever and to my surprise it immediately came on. Cool! A motorcycle friendly place.
I fueled up the big cruiser, cranked her up, and after she was idling smoothly, switched her off reserve. As is my habit, I then pulled off the pumps and parked in front of the store next to the pick-up. As I got off the bike I reflexively glanced in the open hood as I walked by into the store. Bummer. Broken fan belt. As I pulled open the aluminum door and heard the small bell anouncing my arrival I idly wondered where they were going to get one of those out here.
Cool. Blessedly cool. The air-conditioning surrounded and engulfed me as I stood just inside the entrance and sighed. The store was typical for one of these out of the way places. There were several aisles of groceries, two garishly colored Formica booth tables, a soda machine and its attendant rack of cups and lids, and a small selection of hot-dogs, corny-dogs, fried chicken, and other ready to eat things under the heat-lamps. Doors to the restrooms and office along the side wall. Several tables and most of the counter at the checkout sported various Indian touristy-type things. Bracelets, dream-catchers, a few bowls and cups and a selection of turquoise adorned jewelry jockeyed for space.
There was a young lady behind the counter, but I noted few details. I had spotted the back wall ‘O coolers and I was done for. My knees almost buckled at the thought of water, and there was an entire door full of half-liter bottles of the cold, clean life-giving fluid directly in front of me. I was about to make a spectacle of myself. I threw a fifty-dollar bill on the counter, grunted something like, “Sorry, I’ll settle later” and staggered for the cooler.
Flinging open the door, I grabbed a half-liter bottle of water. Turning around and slumping down in the door, kind of sitting on the ledge or door threshold to the cooler, partway inside the blessed cold, I tried to open the bottle. It managed to frustrate me. It had one of those tamper-proof shrink-wrapped and supposedly perforated covers over the pull-up top. I tried for a moment to get a fingernail under the plastic, and finally growled in frustration and simply grabbed the entire mess and TWISTED! The entire thing came apart in my hand and I flung the top away from me as I snarled and took a long pull from the bottle.
No drink, no sweet liquor, no nectar of the Gods could have tasted better at that moment. Despite my training and knowledge that I needed to drink carefully, I downed the entire bottle in a couple snorts. I dropped the drained one and without getting up, reached over my head and behind me and grabbed another. The stubborn top scarcely slowed me this time as I tore it off and drank again. More careful this time, I poured some of the water over my head and rubbed my face and eyes to get some of the dried blood and sand off. My hands came away a frightful mess. Ugh.
I finished the second bottle and tore into my third, repeating the face and eye flushings between sips of water and groans of pain and pleasure. I had reached for the forth bottle when I spotted the candy bar display directly across from me. I spied the “Payday” bars (peanut, caramel) and that triggered an overwhelming craving for them. Salty, sweet. Urrrrrrr… That was what I needed! I grunted something incoherent as I dropped the forth bottle and unintentionally kicked it, sending it spinning across the room as I lunged across the aisle for the candy bars.
Back in my cooler door, tearing into a candy bar, I was well into the fifth bottle (the forth had spun out of sight and was thus unrecoverable) when my faculties began to come back and it finally occurred to me that I was probably thoroughly alarming the clerk.
Somewhat sated, I looked up at her. My admittedly brief impression of her from when I entered was correct. She was Indian, and she was young—maybe 18 or 20 years old. Dressed in faded jeans and a loose-fitting white pullover shirt with a beaded drawstring belt, she was very pleasant to look at. Her long black hair was tied back in a ponytail with an intricate silver and turquoise band, but she was otherwise unadorned by jewelry. Her facial features were the timeless female symmetry and balance that deserve to be chiseled onto a marble statue. Simple, essential, unpretentious beauty.
Her eyes told a story, but I could only read part of it. She was concerned, but not alarmed at my behavior. I breathed a sigh of relief. That kind of trouble I did not need. There was something though…her eyes betrayed an underlying nervousness or worry. Not panic, but a deep-seated fear. Not of me though. That much was clear.
I stood up, grabbed a couple more bottles of water (I already had a handful of candy bars) and headed for the counter.
“I’m sorry about the mess,” I said hoping to explain my undoubtedly horrendous appearance, “I had a little mishap down the road.” I indicated the fifty-dollar bill still sitting on the counter, and waved in the direction of the mess I had made, “Will that cover it? And the gas too?”
She nodded. I looked closely at her. One thing marred her beauty—a spreading bruise across her left cheek, just barely distinguishable under her naturally brown skin. My heart jerked. I suppressed the irrational urge to hunt down and flog whoever had hit her. Heck, I did not even know her! I had enough problems and should mind my own business.
But I am human. And I am a man. And the day’s events were weighing on my mind.
“Are you okay?” I asked carefully.
Several emotions rapidly crossed her face, most too fast to read. I caught a grateful flash, and then outright terror. She blinked, looked away, and snatched up the fifty off the counter. She punched up some things on the register and pushed at least thirty dollars change into my hands.
“Thank you.” There was much meaning in those two words. “And drive carefully.” She handed me a plastic bag with my bottles of water and candy bars in it. Her eyes flicked to the door.
I was dismissed. Okay, I could deal with that. I had probably scared her and she wanted me gone. Whatever it was, it was not my business. I was done here and could make it to my next destination. I had it in mind to go find a town with an air-conditioned hotel, or perhaps a hospital and get some rest, more fluids, a hot meal, and some recovery time. I started to leave but something gently brushed my mind—a tingle, a feeling. Call it intuition. Something was up and I decided I was not ready to leave. I noted that she had a sink behind the counter. “Can I fill my canteen before I go?” I asked as I indicated the sink. I was raised in Texas. Nobody…and I mean nobody in the desert southwest will deny water if it is asked for. It can literally mean the difference between life and death.
“Of course.” There was relief in her words. I was just a customer again.
“I’ll be right back then.” I said over my shoulder as I walked out the door to my bike.
I had looped the canteen over my backrest, and had to step around the bike to get the strap untwisted and pull it off. As I did so, I caught a glimpse of the cargo in the broken pickup’s bed. I am not a nosy man. I am however, alert to my surroundings and unusual events. What I saw in the truck prompted a closer look. What I saw was my unmistakable leather jacket protruding from under a tarp in the red pickup’s bed. I reached in and flipped the cover up. In plain sight were my four duffels.
My blood ran cold. My ears rang. Suddenly I dropped the canteen and put my hands to my temples as my head throbbed violently and my memory returned in a searing, blinding flash.
I was following an 18-wheeler rock-hauler, waiting for a section of road with visibility to pass. As we rounded a long curve and the road opened up I began accelerating for the pass. At the moment when I would have pulled out to pass, the exact instant of my closest approach, the left rear-outside tire on the truck shredded, throwing lots of very large chunks of rubber directly into my path.
These tire leavings, or “road gators” as motorcyclists call them, can be exceedingly dangerous. They are dense and heavy, and stick up at all kinds of inconvenient angles. They have been known to kill riders, are heavy enough to damage your machine, or take you off of it, and they must be avoided at all costs.
I did my best, and actually managed to miss most of the large stuff, but THUMP! I impacted a piece. The bike shuddered. I eased off the throttle and braked as I headed for the shoulder. I turned the bike off, dismounted, and examined her for damage. I could see where the heavy rubber had hit, but it had done nothing serious, just rubbing some road grime off. The truck did not stop, but who can blame him. He may not figure out he has a blown tire for many miles.
Relieved that there was no damage, I started to remount the machine as I looked behind me down the road. The rubber remains were scattered, pretty much blocking the entire road. Several pieces were up on their edge, which is when they are most dangerous. There was no avoiding them. Somebody was going to hit something.
“Crud.” I mumbled under my breath as I thought about other motorcyclists, and the many paper-thin mini-cars often pawned off as safe family transportation nowadays. Resolutely I sighed, hiked up the road and started chucking the largest pieces of rubber off the road. They were very hot and some weighed as much as ten pounds.
I had just finished moving the biggest rubber and turned to head back for my bike when a red pickup truck passed going back the direction I had come. I heard it slow, and turned to see it come to a stop and begin turning around a couple hundred yards away.
I turned again for my bike, figuring that he had thought I was broken down. By the time the driver got turned around and going again I would probably reach my machine. We would meet there.
Suddenly the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Something was wrong. Belatedly and far too late I realized I was hearing intense engine work and a vehicle moving fast behind me.
I turned, and a moment froze in time. A snapshot, if you will.
Clearly in frame was the large red pickup, just a few yards away, heading toward me fast and still accelerating. The truck had Arkansas plates. Strange, the things I notice when in danger.
<Large, red, and in motion…>
I could clearly see the driver intently looking at me and grinning. I could clearly see the passenger, hanging partly out the window and holding a wooden baseball bat. He was taking aim at my helmeted head.
What the…? Oh Crap!
I threw myself backwards; already knowing it was too late.
CRACK! I saw the sky and ground spinning around each other. I knew that was strange, but could not imagine why.
This flashback was nearly instantaneous. I barely missed a step. I calmly reached down, picked up my canteen, and entered the store again. I remembered the clerk now. I had gassed up here before. She had been friendly, outgoing, and personable then. I had even bought a copper bracelet for my wife.
As the clerk filled the canteen I casually asked her, “So, whose is the broken down truck?”
I got the reaction I half expected. She dropped the nearly full canteen into the stainless sink, making a hell of a clatter. She recovered, finished filling the canteen and handed it back to me. Her hands were shaking and her eyes registered intense fear. For some reason I knew it was not herself she feared for.
“I…I don’t know. It’s been here all day.” she managed to choke out.
I lowered my voice and played with the strap on the canteen. “Can you call the police?”
She barely shook her head no. Her eyes were pleading.
“Are they here?” I mumbled while pretending to fix something on the strap.
She held up one finger below counter level, where only I could see it. Her eyes flicked towards the side wall behind me where the restrooms and office doors were.
I heard a door softly close, and watched as her eyes perceptively widened. A single tear escaped her right eye and glistened on her cheek. Her lips were trembling. I am decent at reading people. She wanted to warn me, but was constrained somehow. I let the canteen drop to hang at the end of its strap while twisting two fingers on my right hand through the strap to get a better grip. Her eyes were watching over my shoulder. I was watching her eyes.
My senses kicked into high gear, and I went into an icy-calm state. All my fatigue, aches, pains, and weakness from my ordeal melted away as strength flowed into me. Time slowed to a crawl. My awareness expanded to include all around me, and seemed to be independent of time. I knew exactly what was going to happen.
In slow motion the clerk began to flinch, her eyes started to close, and a hand began to rise toward her mouth.
“NOW!” I screamed as I took two quick steps to my left. In that cry was the force of a dragon’s roar, the mystery of an owl’s hunting call, and the haunting inevitability of a wolf’s howl. It served nicely to frighten my opponent and focus my energy. As I moved I spun around, swinging the full 4-pound canteen at the end of its thirty-inch strap. I easily ducked outside his swing and had time to adjust the aim of my swinging missile. It caught him square in the left side of his head and neck, just below the ear. As he began to spin I completed the arc of the canteen, spun completely around again, swinging the canteen over high as it came around and catching him on the back of the head.
He was already limp as he smashed into one of the booths. The bat he was trying to brain me with (again) clattered to the floor at my feet.
I stood there for a moment, muscles tensed, arms flexed, legs slightly bent, taking several deep breaths and shedding the excess energy. With a wicked grin I suppressed the very strong urge to howl…or roar.
Finally I turned to the young lady. Her eyes registered relieved surprise. I held up the canteen to eye level. The plastic container and canvas case were undamaged. Not so much as a leak. “What do you know?” I said while I smiled at her, “They do make them like they used to!” That drew a relieved laugh out of her.
Back to the business at hand. I was alert and wary, but not overly so. Somehow I knew there was nobody else here, and though there was more to follow, the crises was over for now.
“Where is the other one?”
As she came around the counter she said, “He took Zat. Just took him. They went in Zat’s truck to get a part. Something to fix that truck.” She nodded toward the door and the broken truck outside. Her face clouded. “He’s a mean one…that one. He said he would kill Zat, and me if anything went wrong.”
She smiled. “My name for him. My grandfather. He is very old.” Her eyes turned dark. “I hope he is okay.”
“When did they leave?”
She looked nervously at the door. “Hours ago. They should be back any time. The guy took a lot of money…”
I looked out the door. “Call the cops.”
“I can’t. They killed the phone. Jimmy comes by every night about ten though.”
“Our local guy. Good man, but if he walks in on this he could get killed, or Zat could.”
The big clock on the wall said 9:20pm.
I glanced at the prone man on the floor and waved my hand in his direction. “Duct tape?”
“Yes…yes, of course.” She grabbed a roll from beside the checkout counter. I started to reach for it but she pulled away. “I’ve got it.”
“Okay. My bags are in the back of their truck. I’m going to see if my cell phone is in there.”
She was kneeling and efficiently and thoroughly binding the man’s wrists. She looked up at me with a start. “I heard them talking about you. Bragging. They thought they killed you.”
“I thought they did too.” I grinned ruefully on the way out the door. “They may wish they had.”
I popped down the tailgate and fished my bags and jacket out of the rather large and varied amount of other luggage and merchandise back there. Their haul included a truly impressive quantity of cigarettes. These guys had been busy.
I dug around in my smaller duffel and found my cell phone. “No Service” was prominently displayed on the display. It had been worth a try. I peered back in the door and the clerk had finished wrapping the guy’s hands and was busily wrapping his feet. He was not going anywhere, even if he came-to any time soon.
I looked out into the night and thought for a moment. I could live here. Calm, relaxing, desert night winds. Finally, that gentle touch brushed me. That inspiration I have come to expect in times of duress. I stuck my head in the door. “I’m going to move my bike around back.”
“Okay.” She didn’t look up. She was still wrapping.
From long practice it took only a minute or so to load all my baggage on the bike and bungee it down. Be dammed if I was leaving it in their truck. I put the tarp back like I found it and closed the tailgate. “The Dragon” fired right up and I and rode her around to the back of the store. I parked between the building and some trash-burning barrels. There was no lighting back there. Nobody would find her in the night unless they knew where to look.
I laughed out loud when I entered the store again. The clerk had literally hog-tied the man. She had used so much duct tape it would take hours to free him, and he would lose a lot of skin and hair in the process. His eyebrows too—I noted with amusement that she had taped his eyes and mouth.
She was sitting there on the floor with a small piece of the amazingly sticky tape in her hand. She had a contemplative look that I recognized. It was that dark-side of the man…or in this case woman, that those of us that are human all manage to keep contained…mostly. She had considered and dismissed putting that last piece of tape over his nose. Now she was wondering if that was the right decision, and angry that she had been forced to even consider such a choice. Most folks do not like being forced to stare down their dark-side.
“It’s okay.” I said as I gently took the tape from her. Once again in my life, I had to look into haunted eyes. “It’s okay.”
I grabbed the guy by his duct-taped and hog-tied feet and dragged him toward the office. He slid easily on the smooth concrete floor, but I’d have dragged him even if the floor had been covered in shattered glass. I stuffed him in the office and closed the door.
I returned to find her still sitting on the floor. Thinking. Pondering.
I reached out. Took her hand. Helped her up. “By the way, my name is Daniel.”
“Yes. I know. Call me Angie.” She looked around. “Now what?” she asked. She was scared, and frightened for her grandfather and…I think…me, but overall this was one nervy lady.
“Tell me about this guy.”
She sighed. “He’s big. And he’s mean.” Her hand went to her bruised face. “He carries an ice pick.” Her face clouded, but her eyes showed me a little trust, a little hope. “And he has Zat.”
I was actually relieved. I had been worried that he may have a gun. Because of varied state laws, I usually am not carrying a gun when I travel. Too bad. Mine would come in handy about now. Once again, the law is on the wrong side.
“Well, now we wait. And we hope Jimmy shows up before they do and we get a chance to tell him what’s going on. Do you think he can handle it?”
“Jimmy? Yeah, he can handle it.” She smiled tenderly and I almost looked away. There was something between her and Jimmy. “But what do we do if they get here first?” She was thinking ahead. So was I.
I already knew what we were going to do; because somehow I also knew Jimmy was not going to get here in time. I bent down and picked up the bat. “You stay behind the counter. We want the guy to think everything is going like he wanted it too.” I thumped the counter with the bat and then over-ended it and handed it to her by the handle. “Keep this out of sight if you can, but don’t let him get anywhere near you. Use this without hesitation. I’ll be outside.”
“Wait! You need to eat.” In short order she had grabbed me a Diet Coke out of the cooler, and handed me a plate full of fried chicken. She smiled impishly at me, “You might as well do something while you wait.”
She was right. I still felt pretty good, but down deep I knew I was running on adrenalin and not much else. I could not remember the last time I ate.
And so it came to be, me standing around the corner of a brown metal building in the middle of the desert, in the dark, devouring some excellent fried chicken, and waiting to pound some guy flat. I’ve had stranger days…
I did not have long to wait. That whisper…that intuition…my guardians if you will…brushed the back of my neck and I knew it was time. A shiver traveled down my spine. I took a last bite of chicken, downed the last of the Coke, picked up a short piece of pipe, and waited.
Shortly I could hear a vehicle approaching. The decrepit old truck turned into the lot and pulled up next to the other one. By this time I was unsurprised when I peered around the corner to see the old man from my vision riding in the passenger’s seat.
The driver stepped out and yelled at the old man, “You stay put!” He had a bag in his hand. This was better than I had hoped. Zat would be out of the way, so I only had Angie to worry about. And myself of course.
I am a big guy. I am also very strong, and supremely confident, and do have some…skills. But I am not stupid. I do not fight, and am slow to anger. My “skills” were acquired via casual interest alone. Thus my “skills” are not “honed”. The driver moved with a fluid motion that told me he did hone his “skills”. He was also a big guy, and I was not in the best of condition after the day’s ordeal. My best chance was surprise.
The driver stuck his head in the door of the store, and yelled for his friend. He also promised Angie some things that though I did not hear clearly, made my blood run cold. He was planning some “fun” once he got his truck fixed. While this was going on I quickly stepped around to the back of the broken truck. I was only going to get one chance. Grimly I knew lives depended on my success. This situation simply could not stand!
He was beginning to tinker under the hood. I waited for the inevitable. He would be looking for his friend shortly.
Finally he cursed and turned around and headed for the door. I took off running, and reached him just as he got the door partway open. He must have heard me coming as he started to turn, but it was too late. The impact was stunning. I hit him hard with my full 300 pounds, smashing him with brutal force edgewise against the open doorframe. The aluminum doorframe, stout as it was, never stood a chance. It crumpled and the glass exploded as we flew through the door.
He impacted the floor hard and with a slap, me landing on top. I had no idea where my piece of pipe was, I had lost my grip on it. He was solidly built and I could feel how strong he was as he began to struggle. It was too late though. I knew going in that I only had one chance, and when lives are at stake I can be ruthless. I was going to make the best of it. I already had a hand in his hair, a solid grip. One pull, one push. One head banged solidly on one concrete floor. Thump. End of struggle.
That was it for me. That was all I had to give. My ears were ringing and my strength had left me. I rolled off the guy with a groan and tried to concentrate on calming the ache in my temples and just simply breathing. My nose was bleeding again. I was vaguely aware of Angie and Zat duct taping the driver; of them helping me to sit in one of the booths; of Zat firmly pressing something into my hand.
Fragmented memories. A big guy with a badge and a gun bursts in (Jimmy I assume). Angie screaming, “No!” He starts to violently drag me out of the booth. Stops and looks in wonder and intense surprise at the small medallion I clutched by its thong. I looked in wonder too. Where had that come from? It was sterling silver with turquoise inset and bore the rising sun and an intricately stylized arrow. The design was a mate to the design on Jimmy’s own hair band, and by now I was unsurprised to realize, it also matched Angie’s and Zat’s. He carefully and reverently helped me back into the booth, but I had been pushed over the edge. The pain in my temples exploded into a vivid multi-colored light behind my eyes and then faded away along with my vision. With a sigh of relief I slipped back into oblivion.
Again I sat with my companions in the desert facing the old man. Having learned something of the ways of this by now, I grinned at the wolf and waited for the Elder to speak.
“Truly your guides are your guardians. They suit you well…and you them. You have done what you must, and the way that you must, and at the time that you must.”
I nodded my head to him and my companions exuded contentment.
“When you are done with your experience, and when your journey is complete, you will return here?” It was more of a question than a statement.
“I will. But that may be a long time”
He stepped away from me, “You have a home here Warrior. Always.”
I was honored. “Thank you. I will visit.”
He looked one more time at my companions, shook his head in wonder, and shambled off into the desert chuckling to himself.
Pulling up to the pumps in front of the dusty brown building in the middle of nowhere, I grabbed the hose and nodded to the two other riders that had already been at the next pump.
“They make you pay in advance.” One of the riders offered helpfully.
He was surprised when my pump immediately came on. He was more surprised when Angie burst out of the store and sprinted across the lot to embrace me in a bear hug. It had been months since I had seen her. She was a little more “rounded” than the last time I was here, and was positively radiant. She was pregnant and beginning to show.
I held her back a little and looked her up and down with a raised eyebrow and a grin.
She laughed. A joyous sound. “Yes…Jimmy’s. His name is to be ‘Daniel’.” She was blushing, a subtle thing for her brown skin.
“Congratulations! And I am flattered.”
“So…Dragon. You’ll stay for dinner?” She looked at the setting sun. “You’ll stay for the night?”
“Dinner will be fine. I’ve got to keep going. I am just passing through.” I wondered if she knew the truth. I wondered if she knew that I had snuck out of work a bit early, and driven over 600 miles just to say “hi”. I wondered if she knew that after dinner I would turn around and drive back home again. All this just because I wanted…needed to. I wondered if she really understood—it is the experience that drives me, and that truly, deep in my soul I understand one thing; the journey is my destination.
After a truly fulfilling meal with my friends I departed for home. Zat nodded goodbye to me, and I could tell he was greeting my guides as well. I felt the presence of the dragon, the owl, and the wolf more strongly than ever, and grinned back knowingly at the Elder. Jimmy shook my hand and made me promise I would come to him if I were ever in trouble.
As Angie gave me a hug, she whispered, “Come back for another visit Dragon, anytime you feel the need. For a meal, for a night, for your life. We won’t ask why, we already know.”
Yep, Angie knew the truth. Of course, I had already known that.
I grinned, The Dragon roared, and we were gone.
Roaring through the desert night air and under the brilliant stars I reflected on just how blessed I am. At just how good a job my guardians do. I have friends…family really…all over the country, and in places I do not even know yet. I find the world to be magical and infinitely varied place. I will never grow tired of the experience, and my journey will go on forever.
So if you see me on the road, wave, or if time permits stop and say hello. If you are the type that can see my guides, guardians, or spirits (whatever term you prefer) privately acknowledge them too, and know that the world is a truly interesting and magical place that you will see on your own journey. If you cannot see them, don’t sweat it at all. Stop and say hi anyway.
I’ll pass your greetings on to them.
I’ll see you on the road.