Another older piece. I’m not sure of the date but, judging from the number of edits needed, it was probably from the early days of trying to write fiction instead of poetry. I’m a little baffled why I chose present tense other than I think I originally intended for this to be a series of shorts, The file is named “Assorted Flavours” and the page had the header of “Drive” after the word “tick–“. Oh, how terribly artsy and vague of me — between the UK spelling of flavours and my use of the italicized word “tick” and a time to indicate a moment changing… All with zero follow-up.
Anyway, I’m sharing this because it is more fact than fiction. I apologize in advance if I didn’t make enough edits to make it readable. I did a lot of losing sense of my time-tense in the original version, shifting from present to past to present/past to… well, you get the idea. It’s this problem alone that suggests that this was an early adventure in writing fiction.
As usual with my old writings, I kept edits to the absolute minimum and usually only corrected spelling errors or, in this case, problems with moving POV with respect to time.
Early summer in the arid foothills west of Billings, the windows rolled down and dry heat washing over sweat-stained shirts, cooling to the skin as it saps the sweat and left moment’s dryness before another bead of sweat boils up and takes a seat. Everything is burnt amber and gold, even the sage seems yellowed and dry this drought season, the sand in the tall grass floating on the breeze, a dust you can discern on your tongue as the world whips by.
Dragons and gold pieces fill his head. He imagines himself a valiant barbarian ranger, tracking quarry, finding riches, battling atrocities and scoring cosmopolitan chicks. His eyes do not see the vast endless azure peppered with cotton-puff clouds, nor does he witness the jagged granite teeth of the Beartooth mountains gnashing in the distant haze of afternoon sun. He is a warrior, fighting the bugbear and the ogre. He has the map and there are worlds of treasures to explore.
The fantasy is broken with a query.
“So, when are you going to get your license?” it asks, breaking the silence of the past forty-two minutes.
The Dreamer shakes his head, shakes out the fantasy, shakes himself to reality.
“I dunno, I haven’t thought about it,” he replies.
The heavyset man in the driver’s seat watches the road, the white dashed lines falling under and behind the car. He muses. Then, he poses another question accompanied with a stretch and a yawn, hands off the steering wheel for only moments, to the youth beside him. “Wouldya like to drive now? I’m getting tired.”
Taken aback, the Dreamer looks at his interrogator as if the man is mad. “I’m only fourteen,” he explains to the man. “I don’t even know how to drive yet.”
The car swerves over to the shoulder along the highway in a cacophony of squealing brakes, angry-spitting gravel, and angry horn blasts from the semi-driver who had been following entirely too close for the past 20 miles, but hadn’t seen it necessary to pass the neon blue Escort. Ignoring the near brush with death, Uncle Bob turns to the Dreamer with an honest look of shock on his face.
“What do you mean, you don’t know how to drive?” he asks, shocked almost beyond reckoning. Then his No bullshit stare that dug in behind your eyes to read your mind, meaning the master of the bullshitters was about to call shenanigans if the Dreamer told and incomplete truth or outright lie.
The Dreamer fumbles for a few moments, and looked at his hands, watched the growing glistening sweat brought on by both the heat and having been put into the limelight. The wetness was spreading and he doesn’t want to get it on his new maps, so he slips the papers to the floor and stammers out an answer.
“I just was never taught how to drive, Uncle Bob. I’m too young.”
“Oh for Christ-sake, your father was driving by the time he was six years old – I evidently didn’t teach him a damned thing if he’s let you go on this long without ever having even driven in a parking lot,” is his heated response and he opens the driver’s side door and to make his way around the front of the still-running Escort. The door holding the Dreamer inside is flung open and Uncle Bob stands outside, feet spread apart and his hands on hips. “Well, get out, dammit and get into the driver’s seat.”
All the feeble protests that come from the Dreamer’s mouth are ignored, and Bob waves his hands, making clucking “but but but” noises in unison with the Dreamer’s own protests, dragging him from the safety of his nest in the passenger’s seat. Bob shoved the Dreamer into the clutches of the driver’s seat, closed the door and took the Dreamer’s former place in the adjacent seat.
Leaning over the center console, he gave a quick and dirty rundown of all the important pieces of equipment that the dreamer would need to know about before the odyssey could continue. Brakes, accelerator, transmission positions, signals, speedometer…. Radio turned off…
“Put you foot on the brake and move that stick to D,“ came the order after the two-minute rundown of equipment. The Dreamer started, but then was told to stop while Bob gave him a cursory instruction in the use of mirrors. Bob checked to make sure the slow lane was clear of traffic. When there were no cars to be seen anywhere in the distance, he turned to the Dreamer and said one final word: “Drive.”
There was no point in resisting. The Dreamer fumbled a foot from brake to accelerator, causing the car to lurch forward, and then smoothly climb in speed until the Escort was moving only slightly slower than the traffic that had appeared out of nowhere behind them. Air once blew through the windows, evaporating the dampness from his t-shirt. Bob, sat back, closed his eyes and said, “Wake me when you see the sign for Columbus”.
Soon, there was snoring beside the Dreamer, who felt he should have been much more nervous than he felt about driving without guidance, at least for his first time….