|The Taylight Zone - The Nowhere Road Anthology
04 - Desert Highway 666 - Amerika
Arizona is a vast, wide, flat plate of hot, dry sand, sparsely freckled with little dog towns and only one lump of major cities clustered around Phoenix like chicks around the mother hen.
We were nowhere near there, however. We were heading north towards the ainted desert on Route 666, and I only wish I was joking. We were right dead on the loneliest stretch of highway ever to cross the good old U S of A, and though we’ been on it for eight hours of daylight, I was no stranger to the Twilight Zone, and I knew the fun didn’t start just after dark.
So maybe it was the fact that we were driving up the spine of 666, the Number of the Beast, or maybe it was all in our heads, but something happened that early afternoon that would kill the very last shred of reality for my brothers and I.
We hadn’t stopped since Sun City. Our twin tour buses that felt so leviathan in the antfarm of the city seemed like two lonely little silver pills slipping across the desert. My two brothers and I had practiced ourselves stupid; we knew every millisecond of every song on our playlist. There wasn’t anything else of interest to do–––even Zac’s Playstation was lost on us. We were so bored we were sure we’d feel our brains leaking out our ears in thick grey snot if we didn;t find something to do, but quick.
Isaac, Zac, and I sat dow together in a back room of the tour bus to discuss an idea that Isaac had suddenly had.
“Every ninety miles or so there’s a little gas station on the side of the highway, right?” Isaac said.
“Yeah,” we leaned in close and lowered our voices conspiritorially.
“There aren’t any police cars around here, nobody would be able to do anything if we went in and robbed one of those little convenience stores,” he grinned.
If our circumstances had been even slightly approaching normal, we would have simply laughed at the impossible notion, maybe mused over it, and walked away. We hadn’t been brought up to seriously consider stealing or threatening, and it wasn’t like we needed the money. Today, though, the scorching Arizona sun had baked our brains in the ovens of our skulls, and our logic was more than a little offbeat.
“We’ll need a gun or something,” Zac said. Suddenly the conversation had gone from we would to we will.
“There’s a .22 in a box in the back closet,” Isaac said. “Found it a couple days ago.”
“Bullets in it?” I asked, steepling my fingers under my chin.
“Dunno,” he shrugged. “But we won’t need any if we’re just gonna point the thing, right?”
“I guess,” I said. There was a part of me that was actually a little disappointed that we wouldn’t be firing it.
“What about disguises?” Zac pointed out. “Aren’t we gonna need to cover our faces?”
“That’s the beautiful part,” Isaac smiled. “Nobody’d ever believe we’d rob a store.”
“Jeez, Ike, that’s like the all-time cartoon cliche,” Zac laughed. “That’s genius.”
“You know Dad’ll never go for that, not in a million years,” I shook my head, grinning with the rest of them.
“Yeah, we’re gonna go up to him and be like, ‘Hey, Dad, can we go rob a store?’ Yeah, that’s good thinkin’ Tay,” Zac snorted, and I frowned.
“We don’t have to tell them, we’ll just go in and do it,” Isaac shrugged. “What’re they gonna do in the middle of the desert? I’ll bet money there’s no more’n two people in there.”
“Yeah, we’ll just walk right out and take off,” Zac said. We were discussing it as if we were going to hide the chalk in a classroom. It was as if our brains had re-entered our bodies after being through a wash in the fuckup cycle.
On the impression that we wanted Snapple, Dave Beck, the driver, agreed to stop at the next gas station with a convenience store.
“Get bread while you’re in there,” our father said. “We’re out.”
“No problem,” Isaac said, not even hinting at our secret plan. I hoped I was as good as him at keeping my expression from giving anything away. I felt like any minute I’d crack up, simply from the idiocy of it. Did we really think we’d get away with it?
It was sweltering outside, and a jacket wold have been as suspicious as it would have been uncomfortable, so Isaac had the .22 tucked into the top of his boot. I wondered whether he’d thought of the danger of it going off in his shoe and blowing his foot off, but obviously it wasn’t bothering him, so I didn’t point it out.
We entered the convenience store as Dave Beck filled up the rest of the tank for the hell of it. I almost expected things to be different; our surroundings, the aura of the place--something. The door swung open just as easily as ever, not even creaking. I felt different, though. I felt powerful.
Isaac wated absolutely no time. He walked briskly, and, seeing that there were no other customers in the store, he took the gun from his boot and aimed it at the young man at the register, whose expression went from apathetic and bored to having wet his pants.
“Good afternoon, sir, we’ll be your bandits for today,” Isaac smiled charmingly, obviously getting a kick out of everything. I had to admit, he’d make one hell of a suave crook.
“Please keep one hand on the counter and open the register with the other,” he said smoothly. The boy, who looked as though he was ready to drop a load in his shorts, fumbled with the register.
“I–– I can’t g-get it open––” the boy stammered, and Isaac nodded for him to use his other hand.
“Hey,” Zac called from behind one of the shelves. “They got those little peanut butter wafer things!”
Get ‘em if you want ‘em,” Isaac shrugged. I began to worry about his coolness over the whole situation. He was pointing a gun, loaded or not, at an innocent guy, and we were robbing this store. The was the first and only illegal thing we’d ever done, as far as I knew. Still, it had its narcotic quality to it.
Zac came and piled an armful of munchies on the counter.
“Did you get the bread?” I asked, feeling like I was standing outside myself.
“Oh, yeah,” Zac remembered and sprinted back to the bread aisle, grabbed a loaf, and tossed it onto the counter.
“That’s good,” Isaac nodded as the scared guy stuffed the contents of the register into a small paper bag and curled the top tight.
“Anything else?” he asked, a normal question in a petrified tone.
“No, that’s all,” Isaac grinned casually, and Zac took the bags from the counter. I saw the guy reach his hand slowly beneath the counter and touch something that clinked unmusically like metal.
“Ike!” I called, and everything that followed happened in a split-second of insanity.
The guy behind the counter drew an impressive gun, and Isaac, whose head wasn’t exactly screwed on straight, must have pulled the trigger out of surprise. I saw Isaac flinch and jolt back from the force of the shot. For a fraction of a second, I thought Isaac had been shot, and I rushed to him to catch his fall. When he remained standing, looking shocked and frozen, my eyes went to the guy behind the counter.
Only then did I realize that it had been Isaac who fired the shot––a red hole had torn itself in the cashier’s pressed white shirt, and the crimson was spreading. The hole was oddly on target: just an inch below his left collarbone––straight to the heart. We were all silent, watching as if extras in a movie. It was too surreal.
The young man’s eyes were frozen open and his mouth hung slightly ajar. We jumped as he crumpled to the floor like a napkin, the gun still trapped in his fist and the shot still ringing in our ears.
Zac spoke first.
I don’t remember too many times ever hearing Zac curse, but it spoke all our minds. It even seemed to speak the thoughts in the dead eyes of the young man lying on the floor behind the counter.
I have no idea what brought it on––it was completely inappropriate--but I simply could not hold in the burst of hysterical laughter that overtook me then. I stared at the ragdoll body of the cashier with a bullethole and a bloom of red in his chest, and I cracked up like I’d inhaled a tank of nitroud oxide. I was aware of Isaac and Zac rasiing their eyebrows at me, but I couldn’t do a damned thing to keep myself sane. I laughed until my face hurt, until hot tears were rolling from the corners of my eyes, until I was doubled over and my legs felt weak. I was gone. And I knew it.
Zac was affected first by the contagious laughter. I wasn’t sure if he started because I probably looked ridicuous, or because he was as gone as I was. In a moment, all three of us were rolling with sick laughter, not understanding why, and not particularly giving a shit. Our minds were prune butter.
“We hafta get outta here,” Isaac said between fits of laughter. “We gotta–– we– we gotta––”
“Shut up, Ike,” Zac gigled, and I stood, smearing the tears over my cheeks.
“You guys,” I said, the gravity dawning and weighing down my laughter. “We gotta get outta here, seriously.” The word seriously appeared to hit everybody hard.
“Just go?” Zac said.
“Well,” I stood there, looking at the body of the cashier that was leaking red onto the clean tile floor. “Yeah. It’d just be that easy.”
“That easy,” Isaac repeated. “Kinda sick, huh?”
“Yeah,” Zac frowned, the laughter having left us all.