IN THE LAND OF KEYS
By Larry O. Grand
HE woke up again, on the highway. The sound of speeding cars notwithstanding, he simply could not make himself fall asleep. The bright headlights of the ignorant fools who continued to use their high beams despite the flashing lights of the other drivers were not a factor in his continued problem of sleeping, nor was the uneven and odd-shaped gravel digging into his back. It wasn't even the adrenaline rush caused by the cop, who reeked of urine who had spotted him a quarter of a mile down the road and had awakened him the first time, with a rude squeal of the siren, when he stumbled and skinned his knee as he climbed over the fence and tumbled over the embankment and into the abandoned drain pipe. No, it wasnÕt any of those factors. This did not feel right. He fumbled for his Walkman, a few feet away connected to the rest of his body by the thin cord which lead to the two miniature speakers, each a centimeter across, plugged into each of his ear canals. Somehow the auto-reverse switch had been jostled in the chase twenty minutes earlier, because the tape was not moving, and he knew that the batteries could not have died yet because he had opened the pack only that evening, in the coolness of the abandoned barn, which was now four miles away. He felt along the side of the black plastic case, his index finger caressing the smooth controls, past the rewind and fast forward buttons. Ah, there it was. Yes, it was over to the left. Grunting a little, he eased the switch over to the right and depressed the play button. The familiar hum crackled in his ears as the five seconds of leader glided over the tape heads, before silence yielded to the familiar bellow of Bruce belting "Badlands." Satisfied that at least one thing was working, he turned over onto his stomach and tried to figure out what was wrong. Coarse bits of gravel mixed with pieces of glass and other debris commonly found on the shoulders of a highway ground into his bare chest and legs, all attempting to comfortably fit into gravel-sized cravaces on his body and failing miserably each time, since his body did not have any gravel- sized crevaces on the surface. He stretched his arms out in front of his head, mimicking one of those costumed flying super-heroes that he used to read about, whose adventures he still kept in the battered boxes at the warehouse. He exhaled, letting the air rush from between his clenched teeth, his unshaven jaw sustaining some slight discomfort from resting on the gravel. He slowly moved his arms back, away from in front of his face, until the rested by his sides, clasped against his hips. He pondered masturbating as a possible aid to achieving sleepiness. The magazines were also back at the barn, as well as Melanie's semi-nude photograph, which would always work when the colored glossy pages failed to provide proper stimulation. Sure, it would be rough, against the gravel, but the images in his mind should be arousing enough. He was about to give it the old college go when the loud bleating of a truckerÕs horn interrupted his stream of thought. "Get the fuck off the side of the road, ya crazy sack'a shit!" was what the trucker shouted from the open window, but all he managed to hear as the big eighteen-wheel rig sped by at approximately eighty miles an hour was "offth" followed by some unintelligible screaming mixed in with the sonic 'whoosh' the all speeding objects make when they pass by stationary objects. His concentration broken, he decided against doing anything damaging to his private anatomy. Not feeling at all comfortable, and wondering why this time was any different, he rolled once again onto his back, staring into the darkened sky, at the stars which stared back at him. Something was definitely wrong. He could not comprehend why he did not notice this feeling before, this annoying feeling as bits of road debris and more gravel pressed into his back, stimulating his nerve endings and sending messages of discomfort this brain. Another truck flew past, horn cutting a swath through the night silence. Why did that sound annoy him? It never did before; in fact, he had never noticed that the truck drivers had been honking until then. Did they always honk their horns when they saw him lying on the side of the road? He stared straight into the sky and frowned. He reached up with his right hand and gave his eyes a good, hard rub, so that the stars continued to shine on the inside of his eyelids. The bright haze slowly faded away to inky darkness and he opened his eyes again, looking at the stars, to make sure that he hadnÕt seen what he had seen. But they were still there. The stars, pinpoints of light in the night sky, staring down at him, giving him tacit, even irate, but mostly embarassed looks of disapproval. In the past, even a few days ago when he had last tried spent the night by the road, the stars were happy, smiling, glittering. They were his friends. He had smiled at them, and they had smiled back, toothy grins, shimmering and shining in an expression of love and happiness. But now they were not at all friendly, glaring down at him as if he had commited the most heinous crime in the world. These were not his friends. At first he thought that maybe some celestial god of the heavens had come in the night before and replaced all of the stars with evil duplicates. But no, these were the same stars, the same ones that had always been there. And they were not friendly. This was not right. This was definitely not right. For the first time ever, he wondered if his clothes would still be where he had left them.
All contents copyright (c) 1997 Larry O. Grand
Please do not repost or reprint without permission from Larry O. Grand, except for review purposes.
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