"Looks like a big one," Jim said, flicking on his high beams briefly to get better visibility. "Whoa! Probably a dog or something. Raccoon, maybe." He laughed. "Hungry, John?"
I groaned softly, once again reminded why I hadn't gone on a long road trip with Jim since our freshman year. "I think I'll wait till the next Denny's."
I stared out the passenger window at the mountains and the nearby trees rushing by, even though it was midnight and therefore couldn't make out any details. It would have been beautiful during the day. Too bad we didn't leave at noon, I thought, instead of after dinner. Oh well. Perhaps we'll have better luck on the way back. At least this way there are almost no cars out on the road. No one to get in our way.
The song plowing through the car speakers ended, and I prayed that the tape would be over, but yet another Monks of Doom number started up, just as drearily as all the others had.
I had suggested that we put on a Billy Joel tape I'd brought, but Jim had simply laughed at me, saying that it was time I listened to some new music. I might even like it, he'd said. Well, so far, he was wrong. A sudden, irrational panic seized me: What if this tape never ends, just keeps going on and on? I blinked, shook my head, tried to regain my senses.
I asked, "Are we in Oregon yet?"
"Soon, John. I'm driving as fast as I can."
And he was. The speedometer had been hovering around 90 for some time now. As I watched, the needle climbed higher by a few more miles per hour. I clutched the armrest instinctively.
Jim's speeding didn't seem to matter to I-5, however. It still stretched off into infinity, oblivious to the relatively insignificant cars crawling along on its back.
We were heading north, to Seattle, where our friend Jeff now lived and was throwing a big party, conveniently timed to be right in the middle of spring break. Jeff had graduated the year before and had gotten a job somewhere in or near Seattle. Whenever I would talk to him on the phone, Jeff would always complain about the rain, although he seemed to be growing used to it as time rolled on.
"Hey, Jim," I said. "Have you figured out what you're going to do after graduation?"
"Well..." He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "What's looking better and better each day is taking however much I get in graduation presents, buying a plane ticket to somewhere, and travelling for as long as I can."
I nodded. "Sounds good."
"Yeah. I think I'll do that." He stared ahead out through the windshield, laughed. "Oh hey! What's that, what's that?" He flicked on the high beams and frowned. "Just a strip of rubber. It looked like it could've been interesting." Jim turned to me, smiled. "Sorry to disappoint you."
"Don't worry about it. Just keep your eyes on the road."
He shrugged, glanced down at the speedometer. It had dropped to 80. Jim stepped a little harder on the accelerator to remedy the perceived problem.
"Have you heard from any of those companies you were interviewing with?" Jim asked.
"Nope. Not a peep. Well, actually, I have received a few rejection letters. No call-backs, though. No job offers."
"And grad school?"
I dismissed that question with a wave of my hand, but then said, "Same thing, basically." I shifted in my seat. "Strange. I used to enjoy getting mail. Now I dread it. It's like, what sort of bad news is waiting in my mailbox today? I'm happiest when all there is is junk mail." I looked out the side window again. "I'm glad I'm getting out of town for a while."
"Hey, I know how you feel. Just get away from it all. Distance yourself from your problems."
"Put some perspective on things."
"Maybe... Maybe do something you've never done before."
I looked back at Jim, saw his mischievous, little grin. He glanced at the rear-view mirror, out various windows.
"See any cars anywhere?" he asked.
I was suddenly nervous. "No.... No I don't, Jim. What do you have in mind?"
He took his foot off the gas, and the speedometer began to drop. "Trust me, John." He continued scrutinizing the road, nodded. "It's as empty as it'll ever be, eh?"
"Jim, what are you doing?"
We were now down to 55 miles per hour. The car seemed to be merely crawling along. It made me impatient, uncomfortable.
"What you need is," he began, "a completely new experience. Something that'll get your mind off your current problems. Something exciting." He stepped lightly on the brake, bringing the car to a snail's pace of 40.
"You're scaring me, Jim. Just keep driving. I don't like this."
"Nonsense. Did I steer you wrong with Monks of Doom?" He reached over and turned up the volume just enough to drown out my mumbled "Well..."
Jim looked at me. "Did you say something?" He shook his head. "Anyway. Trust me." He motioned brusquely with his right hand to let me know he wouldn't be listening to anything more I'd have to say on the matter.
Oh well, I thought. Maybe it won't take too long.
The car came to a complete stop. Jim turned the steering wheel left, gave the car a little gas, and smiled a bit too widely. We left the asphalt and headed into the no-man's land between the north- and south-bound lanes, flattening weeds as we bumped slowly across the ground.
A part of me noticed that the dividing strip was amazingly level -- usually there was some sort of dip or steep incline, if not a mountain or lake. Another part of me gripped the padded armrest so tightly I thought I'd puncture holes in the vinyl. And another part of me asked, "What the fuck are you doing, Jim?"
Jim laughed and shut off the headlights. He braked when we were nearly at the other side. "I hope we don't have to wait too long," he said. He laughed again, nervously this time.
As if in response, some trees lit up about a mile down the road where the I-5 curved, reflecting and forewarning us of a pair of unsuspecting headlights. Jim put the car in neutral and started revving the engine.
I wanted to scream, "Jesus Christ, Jim! Stop it! Are you trying to kill us?!" but I was petrified. I couldn't speak. I could only watch as the oncoming car rounded the turn and sped swiftly toward us.
Jim slapped the transmission into first gear, and the tires spit gravel as they spun on the roadside. Our car lurched forward, jumped onto the asphalt, and raced down the road. The lights of the other car shone right into my eyes, and I wondered madly if that driver could see the look on my face.
Only a hundred or so feet separated us. Jim snapped on the headlights, high beams and all, and slammed his fist down on the wheel, blaring the horn. His face was a distorted, evil mask of chaotic rapture. He may have been laughing.
The other car swerved to our left, missing us by about ten feet, and I caught a brief glimpse of the driver through his side window. His eyes were wide, and his lips were curled back in terror. I'd never before seen so much white in a person's expression.
Our cars passed, and I heard the other's tires start squealing. I twisted around in my seat and looked out the back window in time to see the other car, skidding sideways, hit the gravel on the right shoulder, go down a slight decline toward the trees, and flip.
Jim switched off his headlights just as the sound of crumpling metal and shattering glass reached us. He slowed down, pulled the steering wheel right, and sent us back into the dividing strip.
We reached the northbound side and got back on, but we didn't speed up, turn on the headlights, or speak until we'd gone around the curve. The Monks of Doom still played on the tape deck.
Finally, Jim looked at me, his face serene, and said, "Quite an adrenaline rush, eh?" He stared back ahead at the road, licked his lips, and, smiling oh-so-slightly, seemed to settle into an almost zen-like driving state.
I would've been lying if I'd said no. Instead, I slumped down in my seat and closed my eyes. I realized that my hands were tightened into fists, and so I unclenched them and, for lack of anything else to do with them, massaged my temples.
"How much longer till we're out of California, Jim?"
"Soon, John. Soon." He floored the gas pedal, and we flew down the road.
Robert Hurvitz (email@example.com) is a longtime InterText contributor and UC Berkeley graduate who, at last report, lived in Seattle.
InterText stories written by Robert Hurvitz: "The American Dream" (v1n2), "Experience Required" (v1n4), "Frog Boy" (v2n2), "Roadkill" (v2n3), "Dogbreath" (v3n1), "Wine And Cheese" (v4n3).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 2, Number 3 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1992 Robert Hurvitz.