The asphalt hummed and the tires sang. The dinosaur gulping engine in the old Dodge was the baritone, and the desert wind in the open window was a constant alto that marched into Nadine’s head and left a salty dust on her lips. For Roger, tied and gagged in the passenger seat of the pickup, it was all noise. A punishing drumbeat that was, if anything, a cadence to the chaos of the last 48 hours of his life.
“How you holding up Pecker Head?” Nadine croaked. You ain’t sleeping Pecker Head, I know you ain’t. You’re too scared, too scared. “You’re too scared.” She emphasized her deduction by roughly poking Roger with the barrel of the revolver, first in the ribs, then in the ear. “You’re too scared!” Not sleeping, too scared. Not fooling me.
“Not fooling me Pecker Head!” Nadine jabbed him again. Every time she leaned over the old truck swerved, and this time she jabbed Roger in the ribs hard enough that the tires left the pavement for the gravel. The washboard thumping was enough to stir Roger out of his panicked stupor, his eyes darting around and avoiding the weapon and eventually coming to rest in Nadine's gaze. With the barrel of the pistol pushed deep into his cheek, she pulled the gag from his mouth.
“I’m… I’m fine. I am scared. Are we going to stop soon?”
“Stop? You want to stop? We’re almost there, why would we stop now?" Almost there, can’t stop, won’t stop. “I reckon another hour, maybe more, maybe, maybe less and then we’ll be there.” End of the road Dick. “Then you can be four places at once! There’s magic there, magic to make me strong, magic to make your pain stop. You’ll see.” You’ll see the end, Dick.
“Uhm, are you going to drive on the road now?” Nadine gave Roger a stern glare with one red rimmed eye, one eyed one horned, and slowly edged all the wheels back on to the road.
“We’ll be there soon. You’ll see. It’ll make us both better.” Better. Stronger. Cleaner. Nadine gave him another stern one eyed glare, just to make sure Roger knew she was doing this as much for him as she was for herself. You have to pay. Some one has to pay the toll, the bridge was out. “Pay the toll.”
A little more than two hours ago, Nadine had snuck the old pickup through Gallup New Mexico with the head lights off and struck north on Highway 666. With Gallup’s twinkling lights shrinking in the rear view mirror she’d plunged the accelerator to the floor and rekindled the fire in the old Dodge’s eyes. She’d been pushing the truck past the limit of its age and condition since they’d left Las Vegas in the sunset on Tuesday.
Nadine was navigating on old and painful memories. She remembered East and left at Gallup. It was hard to make out landmarks in the dark, but she remembered there were some mountains and some Indians.
“There’s supposed to be Indians.” And blankets, and Pecker Heads.
“There’s supposed to be Indians. We went left at Gallup, but there’s supposed to be Indians.” Don’t look at me. No touching.
“I don’t understand. Where we’re going, or…” Roger’s face contracted in confusion, searching for the right question.
“There were Indians. We went to Gallup, then left, and there were Indians. We stopped for milk shakes. You let me sit on your lap.” No touching. Purple people, eater?
“I… I don’t. When did I? I don’t think that…”
“No this is the right way. We went left, even if there aren’t any Indians.” I want strawberry. “We’re going the right way.” I’ll fix it.
“The right way to where?”
Nadine pulled her brow down in concentration, rubbing at the bridge of her nose with the revolver. You know. No touching. “You know!” Nadine was shouting now, driving with her eyes closed and the barrel pressed to her head. “You know!” You know! He Knows! Prick Head! Pull out the Prick Head!
Lashing out with the pistol Nadine jabbed Roger in the ribs once, twice, three times. Each jab was punctuated with a shriek. “You know! You know! You know!” He knows! Tears pulled the desert’s dust from her red and swollen eyes. “You took me. We went to the corners. It was magic you said." Magic! "You know! You kn… Oh, there’s a sign.”
As if a door had been shut, Nadine’s anger evaporated, leaving only the wet trails on her cheeks. “See it’s not far now. The corners.” Not far. “Almost there.”
“Have we met before?” Roger studied Nadine’s dirty face, trying to make out her plain features by the iridescence of the dash board lights. “I mean before the other night? Before I… I…”
“Before you picked me up?” Mistake. Fool me once shame on you. “Before you thought I was a whore? Before you took me to the magic corners?!” No touching! The anger started to creep back in to her voice and Roger shrank back into his corner of the cab as best he could. “I don’t want to see your one eyed, one horned… purple… thing!” It eats children, not people!
“I’m sorry. So sorry. The way you were dressed. It’s Las Vegas. I’m just a tourist. I thought, I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean”
Again the door closed, and Nadine calmly replied, “It’s okay. We’re almost there. We’re almost… Oh we’re here.”
The pickup’s headlights sliced through the dark and revealed an empty parking lot with empty plywood stands surrounding a raised platform of granite capped in bronze. Inexplicably the two shallow and wide steps that bordered each side of the platform were accompanied with sturdy steel banisters, as if even the frailest of humans would have trouble ascending the ankle high monolith.
With the sky in the east turning from black to blue, Nadine pulled Roger from the truck. “Magic time! Time to feel good!” No touching! Feel the magic! Roger collapsed heavily from the cab of the truck onto the concrete and lay there, shivering and spasming like a silent and sepia tinted serpent’s tail.
“Magic time!” Nadine laughed, and began to motivate him with kicks to the head and body. “I don’t want to sit on your lap!” I can’t go home!
“What do you want from me!” Roger screamed, thrashing around in his bonds. “What do you want me to do?! Just kill me!”
Nadine grabbed him by the hair and pulled Roger to his feet, pushing him towards the border of Colorado with the barrel of the gun. “I want you to be quiet, and don’t tell anyone. This will be our little secret.” No touching! No secrets! “All you have to do is sit there like a good girl, and don’t cry.” At the center of the bronze medallion, Nadine kicked Roger’s feet out from under him. Tripping, he cracked his head on the cold metal and a thin stream of crimson began to trace the seal of Arizona.
The eastern sky was turning from blue to yellow, and Nadine stood to face it, the wind preceding the sunrise and brushing the hair out of her eyes and the stench of the past from her mind. Roger was sobbing with deep heaves of his chest. The tempo of his terror beat against the coming sun and he bleated like a cornered sheep.
“Shh, don’t cry” Nadine consoled him, “it’ll all be over soon. Be brave for me, I’m almost done.” Getting on her knees, Nadine rolled Roger over and leaned close enough to smell the fear on his head. With her nose nearly touching his, she told him “You’re not very pretty, but you’re a brave little girl. You make this place magic.” It was the last thing Roger ever heard. With a casual indifference, she pulled the trigger on the pistol and most of Roger’s mouth disappeared.
Roger’s blood mixed with Nadine’s tears and ran down her chin. “I said no touching!” Turning back to the sun, winking over the horizon and promising a day of heat and yellow, she screamed at it, “I SAID NO TOUCHING! I’M NOT VERY BRAVE AT ALL!” This is not magic!
Nadine stared the pistol in the eye. She smiled, and deep down inside, it winked at her.