I’ll never know why it’s so hard to find a gas station in a city. It’s one of those rare things that don’t make sense between urban and rural. I feel like it’s easier to find a gas station in the country than it is in the city, unless you’re on a street with no name in Death Valley.
And yes, that song reference was intentional, because it’s opening, building notes were playing in my Audi as we searched for a gas station in downtown L.A.
I left work across the city in Santa Monica, figuring I would fill up on our way out of town, but I didn’t pass a station getting onto the freeway by my office and now I couldn’t find one once I got off the freeway downtown to swing by Taylor’s office, and I was officially on empty. I was waiting for my engine to just shut off as I ignored the navigation on my phone that was trying to get me back on the 10 and ignoring Taylor as she scolded me for foolishness.
“You know there’s no gas stations downtown,” Taylor said with a laugh as my eyes finally came across an Exxon at the end of the block.
“Aha!” I screamed out and pointed out the station that advertised gas for more than five dollars per-gallon, but I didn’t care, I was safe, the road trip could officially begin.
Taylor cranked “Where The Streets Have No Name,” as I parked the car next to a pump.
“Fuck yeah, listening to The Joshua Tree on the way to Joshua Tree,” Taylor yelled just before I turned off the car and headed out to pump gas.
She was right. We were headed out to Joshua Tree for the weekend for no other reason to get out of the city. Both of us were hardcore cubicle jockies at the end of our corporate ropes, dying to do nothing more than check into a cheap motel, smoke weed, lounge by a teardrop-shaped pool, and share a bed as platonic friends for about the fiftieth time, both of us wondering if the other is ever going to make a move.
I sneered at the hideous city as I pumped what must have been the most-expensive gas in the country and hummed the tune of some unknown country western song in my head. I watched as a homeless man staggered through the station lot. I winced when he locked onto me and limped over.
“Sorry man, I don’t have any cash, just card,” I explained to the homeless man with a scabbed face covered with grease.
The homeless man just looked at me and shook his head.
“Looking for my friend,” the homeless man muttered much too loud for the situation and staggered away.
He mumbled something about a van as he walked away and I turned my attention to Taylor in the passenger seat.
I don’t know what to use to describe how I thought Taylor looked. She wasn’t hot. She wasn’t beautiful or gorgeous. She had too many tattoos for that. She wasn’t cute. She was kind of a tomboy, but the kind that pulls it off and can’t help but not get hit on by every guy at the bar except for me.
I thought about this as I looked at her, skimming through Instagram on her phone in my passenger seat. I daydreamed about what it would be like if the two of us ended up together for the 500th time and heard the gas pump click behind me, waking me up.
The dirty exhaust of a passing van did its best to make sure I was awake from that daydream. I was no longer in a Spanish style home in the California desert with a 45-year-old Taylor Davis and two two corgis, I was in south downtown L.A. watching a truck that was the color of the old light brown M&Ms rumble away from me and out onto the street, driving erratically, with the portly, white driver sticking his head out the window, looking for something.
I got back in the car. Taylor restarted the album. I hurried onto the street, seeing a line of cars just about to come out of a red light up the street.
In a flash, my Audi was rocking up and down like I was driving down a cliff.
“Holy shit,” Taylor yelled just as the rocking stopped, the car leveled, and I raced for the entrance to the 10. “What was that?”
“I just drove off the curb, didn’t realize it was there,” I explained, annoyed.
I didn’t need to explain myself at that point. I wanted to run. I wanted to hide. I wanted to tear down the walls that held me inside.
I would soon enough. Once we got outside of L.A. city limits and gridlock traffic and Taylor and I were speeding through the open desert with The Joshua Tree on repeat for the fifth time.
“Shit, we drove past those dinosaurs,” Taylor lamented as the sun started to set on the desert all around us. “The ones from Pee-Wee Herman.”
Taylor looked out at the nothingness all around us, getting dark.
“Where’s stop numero uno?” Taylor asked.
“Figure check into the hotel, drop off our stuff,” I reasoned.
“Let’s go to the bar. We can unpack and jump in the pool later,” Taylor reasoned.
“Not a horrible idea,” I said, even though I knew in the back of my head it was possibly a horrible idea.
Taylor insisted on going to The Virginian for cocktails. I begrudgingly agreed even though I thought it was another bad idea.
The Virginian was one of those places that was on its way to eventually becoming a faux dive, but was still a long way off in its evolution. Hardcore hipsters who at least looked the part of dive bar bad ass were starting to trickle in, along with the occasional out of place semi-hipster like me, but we looked out of place and scared when we walked in, because we were.
Taylor had downed a few beers on the drive out so she was well-lubed enough to feel comfortable. I was out of place and scared. I felt the eyes of all the local regulars sear into me like a steak on a hot grill when we walked in.
They didn’t want us there. We were just another pilgrim out from L.A. there to drink their dollar PBRs and look at them like animals in a zoo before we started buying vacation homes and VRBOs that pushed them further and further out into the unforgiving desert looking for freedom and affordability. We might as well have painted the words THE MAYFLOWER on the side of my Audi parked out in the parking lot.
I sent Taylor up to the bar and took a seat at a booth in the back, trying to stay out of sight. She was supposed to just get two PBRs and two shots of well whiskey – a locals-approved order if there ever was one.
My heart sank when I saw Taylor get sidetracked by talking to the tattoo-covered female bartender. Taylor was waving me up to the bar within seconds.
I obeyed. I just couldn’t say no to a woman, even if we were always going to just be friends, and even if that was fine with me.
I soon found myself in a stool up at the bar. I could feel the breath of the overweight biker locals sweating in their tank tops next to me like dragon’s breath, but fought off my fear.
Taylor pushed away a couple of overturned shot glasses that were in front of each of our seats and kept chatting with the bartender, who she introduced as “Trixie.”
“Trixie was just telling me about this crazy cave in the park that only the locals know about,” Taylor told me. “Supposedly it’s the best place to smoke. You might see like a U.F.O.”
“Just what I want to see. I’ve been hoping to get anal probed my whole life,” I quipped.
The Bob Seger that was unironically playing on the jukebox cut out right when I started my second sentence.
The 300-pound biker with the goatee that went down to his chest and the tank top that had a cross logo on it that I was only 50 percent sure wasn’t a white supremecist logo heard my statement and stood up in his stool. He announced to the rest of the bar of guys, and girls, who were on his wavelength:
“This guy just said he wants to get probed, anally!”
The 20 or so roughnecks in the bar erupted and I dropped my head down like a humiliated dog. Thanks Taylor.
Taylor didn’t seem to care, she just kept chatting up Trixie and was getting a tour of her two full sleeves. We should have checked into the hotel first and I could have talked Taylor to going to the new craft cocktail bar where I could have kicked the ass of every single patron as a 6’2 guy who wrestled for two years in high school.
Trixie’s tone seemed to change when they got up to her right shoulder and Taylor asked:
“What is that thing?”
I took my shot of cheap whiskey, washed it down with cheap beer and then looked over at Taylor and Trixie through the fog of the cloud of shame all around me.
Trixie was explaining a tattoo that appeared to be a jet black canvas with large, red eyes shining out of it and a row of glistening teeth. I kept my mouth shut and let her weave a tall tale to Taylor in hopes that some fucked out scary story would make Taylor want to get out of the dive we were in.
It had the opposite effect apparently. Taylor hit me on the arm.
“Listen to this, you love this spooky stuff,” Taylor let me know, reaffirming that I was really into horror movies when I first got out of film school before I had given up on my dream of being a writer.
I leaned closer to Trixie. She seemed pleased to have doubled her audience.
“Wait, wait, start from the top,” Taylor instructed Trixie.
“Have you ever heard of The Rock Man?” Trixie asked me.
“No,” I answered back, possibly being sassy in tone, making it obvious I hadn’t heard of the fucking “Rock Man.”
“He’s a local legend and not because he drinks a bunch of whiskey or beer like all these local legends. He’s a monster. The Joshua Tree monster, really,” Trixie went on.
Taylor elbowed me in the ribs. See. Listen.
“You know how there’s been a lot of people who have gone missing out in Joshua Tree over the years?” Trixie asked me.
I didn’t know this specifically, but I took her word for it. I knew that parks in general were magnets for murderers and creepy shit. It made sense. I nodded.
“Yeah, well, it’s been going since anyone has been keeping track of history out there. People go out all the time into the desert and never come back. All the time in the park,” Trixie went on.
I suddenly felt a little cold. What Trixie was getting into was tickling my eerie bone.
“Here’s the thing though, they always say they don’t find bodies, but they find bodies. My uncle was the sheriff here for a long time and he said they found bodies, but they would say they wouldn’t, even to the families of the people, because it was so bad,” Trixie explained.
Taylor elbowed me in the ribs again. I know Taylor. I know.
“They wouldn’t say anything because the people would be almost eviscerated – head missing, throat ripped out, guts spilled – sometimes they’d even just find like a hand or something, nothing else. They wondered if it was like the coyotes or something that were doing it, but they’ve never found any evidence of that,” Trixie said.
“Sounds like the Chupacabra or something,” Taylor piped up.
“It’s not any of that SyFy Channel bullshit,” Trixie corrected Taylor. “I grew up with a guy who went missing out there and my uncle’s friend found just the lower half of his body sitting on top of the rocks. The Rock Monster is a thing.”
“What kind of thing though?” I asked. “How do you know it’s not just some serial killer or cult or something doing this? Or, coyotes or wolves or something?”
“Okay,” Trixie started in again and looked around the bar as if she was going to tell a secret she didn’t want everyone to hear. “It started when we were kids. Every generation of kids who grow up out here hear it. The legend.”
Trixie had me hooked here for a minute.
“It started with the Indians when it was just them out here. They had this legend that if you slept on the rocks out here that it would awake this creature that lived inside the rocks and he would emerge from the rocks at night and mutilate anyone who disturbed him by sleeping on the rock,” Trixie explained.
She started to lose me again. It sounded just like any other bullshit story.
“So, it started like a hundred years ago, when people really started moving out here. Kids sneak out, plan little camp outs on the rocks, and so on, and then one of the kids never comes back. Some kids tell their parents they saw a creature come out of the rocks, just a black vision of darkness with eyes, and teeth. They say it ate their friends. Rumor has it there was even video back in the Eighties, but the F.B.I. came and took it,” Trixie kept spinning.
“No photos or anything?” I asked.
“None that I have,” Trixie answered.
Trixie showed me her tattoo and ran her finger along the black thing with the hideous face.
“The tattoo guy who did this. He was one of the kids who saw his friend get eaten, back in the Nineties. It’s the same look I’ve heard my uncle describe it as. It’s almost like the night itself comes out of the rock and takes you,” Trixie finished.
Trixie looked deep into my eyes with her flexed out wide almost as if she was trying to punctuate the story and convince me of its validity.
Taylor elbowed me in the stomach this time. Trixie went back to pouring beers and shots of whiskey for the thirsty all around us who were probably pissed she wasn’t giving them service.
“What do you think, still want to sleep out under the stars?” Taylor asked me.
“It’s a good story, but I think I can manage,” I reasoned. “I’m more scared of the actual people in here.”
I said this not realizing someone was standing right behind me. I only realized it when his shadow that blocked out the lone light in the room leaned in and loomed over me.
I turned around and looked up at a guy who I dwarfed physically, but whose intensity instantly threw me backward. The guy couldn’t have been taller than 5’5, but his dark eyes were burning into me and his body seemed to pulsate with a burning energy.
“This is the fucker who wants to get anally probed, right?” The little greaser yelled right in my face, the smell of stale whiskey dripping off his lips.
I winced against the burn of the alcohol on my eyes and he went on, delighted with himself.
“Like, E.T., phone home, in my ass,” the little guy did a rather poor E.T. impression right in my face and then locked me in one of those way-too-tight hugs only severely-drunk guys can give you in bars.
I wasn’t scared of this guy. He was your typical, small, round, edgy, white hipster guy who lived for keeping people on edge for some reason. He would just piss me off and annoy me and then go away. I was almost relieved he was there. It kind of reminded me of being in L.A.
I gave the guy a courtesy smile and chuckle. He put his arm around and started whispering into my ear.
I hated it when these guys did this. One of their go-to moves was to be overly physical and intimate with you. Keep you on edge.
“It’s already too late,” the guy whispered into my year. “I’m fucking drunk, but it’s already too late.”
I pulled away. The guys hot, wet, whiskey breath still on my ear. He slipped away into the crowd. I let out a breath. I sucked it right back in.
Coming through the bar was maybe the largest human being I have ever seen in-person. They guy had to be close to 6’10 and he was wide as a fucking sedan. He had one of those square heads where he looked like a pit bull. No neck, just face and jaw.
It seemed like a hush came over our section of the bar when the massive humanoid made his way up to us.
I struggled for words as I looked up and he looked to the turned-over shot glass on the bar in front of me.
“I, I, um, um,” I stammered like an idiot.
The man didn’t say anything back to me. He just slid his way into the stool I was sitting on, pushing me off and into Taylor, interrupting Taylor’s conversation with Trixie.
“What the hell?” Taylor lamented as I almost knocked her off her barstool.
Taylor’s anger melted away as soon as she saw the man now occupying my stool, looking like a literal grizzly bear, pulled up to the bar.
What was concerning was Trixie’s demeanor as soon as she laid eyes on the man. She looked like she had swallowed a big shot of lemon juice. Her face tensed and all of the jovial nature that had been coaxed out of her Taylor seemed to vanish.
Trixie iced and poured a shot of whiskey faster than I thought humanly possible. She poured it right into the shot glass for the man, locking eyes with him and talking to us.
“Any bar stools with shot glasses turned over on top of them are reserved for regulars,” Trixie announced coldly as if she hadn’t spent the past 40 minutes gabbing it up with Taylor.
I turned to Taylor and said what I had wanted to say since the second we walked into that place.
“Wanna get the fuck out of here?”
We were outside of the bar in a flash and back in the car. Taylor had agreed to just go back to the hotel and then regroup, maybe go to the new cocktail bar. There were rumors of a tiki bar in Palm Springs that may have been worth the drive.
I was about to put the car in gear when there was a knock on my window. Startled, I let out a little scream and jumped up in my seat.
I was greeted by laughs from Taylor and the character who had knocked on the door – Trixie. She motioned me to put down the window.
“Hey, what the fuck?” Taylor asked as she leaned across me and toward Trixie. “You suddenly acted like I didn’t exist once Bigfoot showed up.”
Trixie looked back to the entrance of the bar.
“He’s just a regular, it’s complicated,” Trixie explained, but not really.
“I don’t know what that means,” Taylor replied in a tone that left just enough tact in there to make it seem like she might be joking around, one of her most-powerful skills.
Trixie checked the door again. Then the rest of the lot around us. Her eyes seemed to linger on a beefy, red truck a few spots away from us.
“How about I explain and make it up to by taking you to the best secret spot to smoke out here…and throw in a couple of fat blunts of some killer weed? I get off in twenty minutes,” Trixie said.
Trixie hung in the window with her country, hipster vibe that made it almost impossible not to trust her, even though she seemed like someone who would describe their career as “selling jewelry” or “artist.”
Taylor looked to me for approval. That meant a lot because she almost never did that and that meant she was acknowledging that I had the right idea when I initially thought to skip out on the dive bar. It was appreciated.
I showed my appreciation by giving Trixie a big, dumb grin and saying:
“Yeah, let’s do it.”
“You wanna fuck her,” Taylor said, rather disgusted as I drove us to the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park where Trixie told us she would meet us in 30 minutes.
I let Taylor’s statement rest over Bono’s spoken word section in Bullet The Blue Sky. This being the seventh time The Joshua Tree had been on repeat on the drive and the sixth time since we stopped listening, it simply sounded like the soundtrack to our life and not a ridiculously-pretentious piece of art.
“No, you think you CAN fuck her,” Taylor corrected herself. “That’s what you do, she’s not even your type, but just because you think you have an opening you have to go for it.
I scoffed and shook my head even though I would admit that was at least 50 percent true. A late bloomer who didn’t have sex with a single girl until after college, I sometimes felt like I had to sexually pursue any woman who showed even the most-remote hint of an interest to try and show people who stopped paying attention a long time ago (and who never even were in the first place) that I was a big game hunter.
“I don’t even think it’s me she’s into,” I dismissed everything Taylor had been telling me about my own intentions for the past 20 minutes. “She was talking to YOU the whole time, not me.”
I could tell Taylor was legitimately offended by the way she sat up in her seat, pulling up out of her customary slouch.
“Please, you think just because a girl has a few abstract tattoos that aren’t tramp stamps, tends bar, and talks to another woman about something other than clothes, that she’s gay,” Taylor spat out.
Taylor looked back to the highway behind us as a huge truck rolled by.
“I’m mainly just shocked that you agreed to do this. You were mister no fun guy up until about twenty minutes ago,” Taylor went on. “And you haven’t smoked weed in like five years, and even then, you only did when you were already drunk, so it didn’t really count.”
“Well, I’m looking to change that.”
“Yeah, work has been awful lately and everyone’s doing it so there has to be something good there.”
“No shit,” Taylor started in, but was interrupted by Trixie pulling up in a Jeep with no roof.
I smiled over at Taylor.
“You really think girls who are into guys drive vehicles like that?” I asked.
Taylor punched me much harder than I thought she was capable of.
Trixie drove her Jeep up next to us. I rolled down the window.
“Follow me!” Trixie announced.
I followed Trixie’s dusty Jeep onto an even-dustier residential street that was far too dark for my liking.
“Why do none of these houses have their lights on at nine p.m? “ I asked.
“It’s the desert, you just sit in your backyard and watch the stars, not watch T.V. in unnatural light at nine on a Friday,” Taylor responded.
We drove down a short string of houses before we followed Trixie onto a dirt road that seemed to be part of a rambler house’s driveway, but then again maybe not.
We followed Trixie up the road for about five minutes until she pulled out at a clearing.
Where we stopped initially looked like any square of the California desert you could have found anywhere in it, but with a few joshua trees and some decent-sized boulders. Having been in the park a few times, it wasn’t particularly remarkable to me. I was pissed for driving out there.
Until we jumped out of the car and Trixie stood in front of a natural rock pool, smiling ear-to-ear, with a burning joint in her mouth. Okay, maybe this was pretty magical.
I looked up to the stars and it looked like a fucking Van Gogh painting and Trixie’s weed smelled delicious.
“Yo, this place is amazing,” Taylor said, taking in the scene of what looked like a little 10 foot by 10 foot natural pool built out your typical Joshua Tree boulders.
Okay, the night may have been actually heading in a good direction.
We were in the pool and high within 10 minutes. I jumped in wearing just my boxers, the girls in their underwear.
We traded some more general small talk before we hit that first awkward silence that always happens when you have a group of people with at least one person in it that you don’t know as well as they should be given what you’re doing. Then Trixie broke the ice by getting up with no warning and sitting on the edge of the pool, basically naked, given that she was wearing a white bra and underwear.
“So about that story about the monster thing that I told you about back at the bar, don’t let that scare you. I’m pretty sure it’s bullshit. We should all just sleep out here, under the stars. I have a full like tent sleeping bag set up in my Jeep,” Trixie said.
“That’s awesome,” my reply should tell you how unbelievably high I was.
“For sure,” Taylor agreed, very high as well.
Trixie slicked her hair back and looked up at the stars with a loose neck. She looked like the model for some kind of edgy clothing brand, her tattoos perfectly nonsensical and perfectly spaced all across her upper body to where you saw just enough of her pale skin.
I think Taylor and I were both mesmerized. How was this woman so effortlessly cool and sexy? She seemed like some kind of Instagram influencer that you would never actually meet in real life, yet, here we were in a boulder pool with her in the Joshua Tree Forest in the middle of the night.
“Are you originally from L.A?” I asked, expecting the answer to be yes, or no, but San Francisco, or New York.
Trixie shook her head adamantly.
“No way, hate L.A. Born and raised out here. Indio,” Trixie explained. “L.A. fucking sucks. No offense.”
“None taken,” I explained. “I’m a Sacramento native, she’s from Chicago.”
“We’re still both city kids though. So I’m still scared of that monster story you told us. I might have to share a sleeping bag with my man here,” Taylor said, finishing with a laugh.
“It’s not the monster you gotta worry about, it’s the people,” Trixie mumbled.
“What?” Taylor asked, the tenor of her voice suggesting that she properly took in the ominous tone of Trixie’s statement.
“People are the ones you need to be scared of,” Trixie explained, speaking much louder and puffing off the nearly-dead joint. “We make up all these monsters, get scared of sharks, bears, mountain lions, and shit, but man is by far the most-dangerous animal.”
Trixie exhaled her smoke up into the air that was now thick with fear, he little monologue reminding us of how odd and vulnerable the situation we were in was. I mean, we were sitting in our underwear in the desert with a complete stranger.
“Remember the Bigfoot guy who took your stool at the bar?” Trixie asked.
“Um, yes,” I think Taylor and I responded with the same “no duh” response.
“That guy’s a legit murderer,” Trixie said.
“What?” Taylor and I in unison, again.
“It’s so fucked up, that guy was like just as big as he is now when he was seventeen. He was like five years older than me in high school and supposedly he killed some guy from Palm Desert when they were in a wrestling match at a party when they were in high school, but really, a bunch of people saw it, and he definitely intentionally suffocated the guy, and he was the one who picked the fight, and he didn’t let go when it was obvious that he was killing the guy. No one at the party wanted to testify against him though in case he got off and he would fuck them up,” Trixie wove a new tale.
“Well that’s quaint,” Taylor quipped.
“It’s not really funny,” Trixie corrected, sounding stone serious even though she should have been thoroughly-stoned at that point.
A cold silence cut through the hot night.
“He did shit like that a couple of other times. Supposedly he went to some junior college in Arizona to play football after high school and this girl pressed rape charges against him, but he got off on a technicality again. Then, this girl around here dated him for a while and said that he got drunk all the time and told her fucked up shit about crazy things he would do,” Trixie kept spinning her web of horror all around us.
Some more eerie silence.
“She said that he would drive into L.A. or Vegas all the time and find random homeless people, or hookers, take them out to the desert, kill them, and torture them, and then burn their bodies way out in the middle of nowhere, so no one could ever find them,” Trixie kept going.
I felt Taylor kick me under the water. I started to think of an exit strategy.
“Everyone says he just drives around town looking for people to pick fights with and he’s a lot less careful these days. He likes tourists, supposedly foreign ones mostly, where it’s hard for authorities to investigate,” Trixie kept going.
“Okay, if you’re just trying to scare us and mess with us, you’ve gone too far, seriously,” Taylor said.
“Oh no, not messing with you. I wish I was. I actually came out to talk to you originally because you offended him,” Trixie explained.
“WHAT? What are you talking about?” I fired back.
“You were saying shit about how you can’t imagine how anyone actually lives out here. How you could never live anywhere other than like L.A. or New York, San Francisco, and you didn’t realize that he was standing right behind you. He hates that shit. He literally loves when the European tourists come in because he waits to hear them talk shit about small town America so he has a reason to go nuts on them. I know he’s followed people back to their hotels. Some of the sketchier inns and motels are even cool with him and help him out, because they hate the fucking yuppies and stuck up Euros too,” Trixie said.
“I didn’t say any of that shit,” I shot right back again.
Trixie locked eyes with Taylor. Taylor looked down at the murky water, and her almost-naked body.
Oh God, what did Taylor do? She definitely said that shit. She always fulfilled the stereotype of the Coastal Elite. Fuck.
“For some reason it was like the first thing you launched into when you started talking to me,” Trixie lit into Taylor with a newfound aggression. “Like, you must have assumed I was some L.A. transplant who couldn’t stand the eight-to-eight corporate sodomy work cycle anymore and punted out to the desert, but guess what, I’m not.”
“That’s not why I said that. I didn’t assume anything,” Taylor tried to reason, but it was already too late.
Trixie got up and put her clothes on. I couldn’t help but think that I didn’t expect her body to be as nice as it was again before I got a kick from Taylor underneath the water.
“Are you leaving?” I asked and got another kick from Taylor under the water.
Trixie walked away while putting her shirt on over her wet bra. I think the answer was pretty obvious, and I wasn’t going to protest. I just wanted to get out of the situation. I was going to suggest we just drive all the way back to L.A. in the middle of the night. Fuck the desert. Fuck Indio locals.
Taylor and I waited until Trixie drove away in her Jeep before speaking, well, breathing, really.
“Okay, what was that?” Taylor asked.
I jumped out of the water and started throwing my clothes on.
“Who knows, we need to just get out of here,” I said.
Taylor joined me in getting dressed. I saw headlights approaching as I finished putting my shirt on and Taylor struggled to get her pants on.
The headlights were approaching fast, and they were tall, probably from a jacked-up truck. Not good.
“Just fucking go!” I screamed out as I ran to the car without my shoes.
I jumped in and fired the ignition as I watched the headlights near. I watched Taylor run across the desert, barefoot, in her underwear.
The headlights kept getting closer. They couldn’t have been more than 50 yards away now. I could hear the engine, roaring into the night.
Taylor tripped and fell into the sand behind the car.
“Fucking come on!” I screamed out.
I looked into my side-view mirror and saw Taylor rushing for the door, but more interestingly:
I didn’t see any headlights. I let out a deep breath as Taylor sat down in the passenger seat.
“Come on, let’s fucking go!” She screamed at me over the outro of Bullet The Blue Sky, which had never sounded more eerie.
“The lights are gone,” I thought and said aloud at the same time.
Taylor whipped around and saw what I saw, nothing but endless, dark desert, stretching out to the faint lights of town, off in the distance.
“Let’s still go,” Taylor whispered, as if someone might be in our car that would hear it.
I obeyed the command and whipped the car around, pointed it in the direction from which we came. I started to feel a lot better by the time we were deep into Running To Stand Still.
I had the gas down as hard as I could. The car rumbled hard through the rough sand and rocks until I realized that I didn’t want to risk popping a tire and I slowed.
This was also around the time when I realized that there was more than one road out there and I skidded to a stop at a fork in the road.
“Which way did we take to get out here?” Taylor asked in a panic.
“I don’t remember, I was just following her,” I lamented and slammed the steering wheel. “But we should just take whichever turn leads back to town.
I followed my own directions and took a right. We weren’t that far from civilization, the road would surely lead us back there.
I commanded the car down the road. It instantly was way bumpier. It got to the point where I could feel jagged rocks hitting the engine and I knew we had made a wrong turn.
Taylor said something about us going the wrong way right when one of those rocks finally pierced the radiator and the front of the car started smoking.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” I screamed as I slammed the steering wheel over and over again.
I jumped out of the car and ignored Taylor’s screaming. I went to the front and checked under the hood. I saw the radiator pissing out coolant. I checked the tires and saw we were fairly deep down into some loose sand and pinned between too large, jagged rocks.
I wasn’t going to be able to get the car out on my own.
I saw the headlights come back just as I had that realization. They somehow were only about 20 yards behind us. Had they been following us the whole time, just with the lights off?
There wasn’t any more time for thoughts. The headlights were there in a few seconds and I was blinded by the light. I made a move for the driver’s-side door of my car. Maybe we could lock ourselves in there and call the cops? Taylor had assuredly already thought of that, right?
I got my hand on the door handle when I heard the booming voice call out to me from just across the sand where we were stuck.
“Don’t fucking get in there.”
I stopped in my tracks. I could tell by the tone of the voice that it belonged to the monster from back at the bar.
I looked back at him out of the corner of my eye. The only light was the moonlight and I could only see his dark silhouette and what looked like a shotgun, dangling down out of his grasp in his right hand.
“Look, neither of us mean any harm or have anything bad we would ever want to say or do. We’re good people. Neither of us are even from L.A.,” I explained.
The man didn’t say anything, I just heard his boots move through the sand next to me and felt myself get lifted up into the air then smash down against the hood of the car.
I felt my head hit the steel of the hood hard. I wondered if I would lose consciousness. I couldn’t get a look at the guy’s face. He held me at a distance, I think to maybe ensure that I couldn’t see him.
He smashed me down hard against the hood of the car again. I hit hard on my stomach this time and started to throw up.
I could hear Taylor screaming and crying through the windshield. I assumed she must have not had service and wasn’t able to call the cops.
I couldn’t move, stretched out across the hood. I heard the sound of metal scraping against metal, I assumed a knife, skittering against the hood, and tried to roll off the vehicle, but couldn’t.
That scratching sound rang out again next to my head. I looked up and saw a long machete flying through the air, towering over me. I got a dull pain in my stomach and assumed I only had a few seconds left in my life.
My life didn’t flash in front of me. I thought about that fucking Joshua Tree album. Red Hill Mining Town.
I could feel the wind of the knife cutting through the air coming down at me. Then I couldn’t.
I heard a struggle and looked over and saw Taylor and the man in a struggle in the ground right in front of the car.
Taylor dodged the machete a few times, seemingly moving like a mongoose, taking on a cobra, except this cobra was as big as an anaconda.
Taylor was able to get away from the man and run into the desert in the direction of the lights of the town.
The man watched her run away for a second before turning his attention back to me.
I rolled off the hood and swung myself around to the driver’s-side door. I prayed that it wasn’t locked because I was dead if it was since the man was bearing down right on me.
The door sprung open and I dove into the car. I locked it before I heard the man’s hand desperately try to pull the door open.
I heard him pound on the glass of a window a few times. It held. I scrambled up and found the keys in the ignition.
He was gone. His truck roared to life. The headlights shined right at me in the car.
I cranked the engine. Got it to start and stomped down on the gas. The wheels spun, but the car was still stuck right where it was.
The man’s truck hit the car hard and threw it out of its rut. I held on for dear life, but was still thrown into the passenger seat.
I braced for impact again as I watched the headlights near.
This time though, they drove right past, into the desert, where Taylor had run off.
I tried the gas. The car could move again. I tried to map the way out in my head.
This is when I hit a point where I had to make a decision. I could try and drive away to safety, at least maybe get to a point where I could get cell service and call the police, but I would be leaving Taylor high and dry.
These thoughts ran through my head when I looked out the windshield and saw the red tail lights of the man’s truck racing through the desert. I didn’t see Taylor, though I couldn’t imagine she had gotten far.
I stepped on the gas and took off after the tail lights of the truck. I moved slower through the desert, but I kept on the truck’s tail.
The truck slowed. I slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop, my headlights beaming out into the night and illuminating Taylor running half-naked and bare-foot through the desert.
I watched the man jump out of his truck and start to lumber towards her, that shotgun still dangling at his hip.
I had to make a drastic move, and fast.
I mashed on the gas and got the car out of another rut. I drove over some more boulders, probably punctured the radiator another time and got on solid ground, aimed right at the man right as he aimed that shotgun at Taylor.
A shot rang out across the desert right before the front of my car smashed into the man and threw him over the roof and I literally let out a celebratory holler. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but it’s what happened.
Taylor’s screams cut through my excitement. Oh no, he shot her.
I rushed out of the car and ran in the direction of the screams, lit by the headlights of my car.
I found Taylor lying on the ground, screaming out in pain with a drastic tone I had never heard come out of a human being.
But then Taylor rolled over and I saw the real source of her pain – a volleyball-sized cactus sticking out of her torso, literally stuck into her. I dropped down and started to pull the thing out.
“Quiet, quiet, quiet,” I whispered to her.
“Where is he?” She yelled up at me, much louder than I would have liked her to.
“I ran over him,” I said just as I realized there was a good chance that the hit not only didn’t kill him, but didn’t even injure him enough to where he couldn’t have been coming right back for us.
Too late. I heard someone running through the sand after us. I looked over and saw the man rushing through the desert, but not right at us. He was going for the gun, lying in the sand, just behind us.
I dove to the ground and crawled for the shotgun, getting there just before the man got there. He wasted no time in jumping onto me, knocking the wind out of me yet again.
I held onto the gun for dear life and screamed out for help.
Taylor came to my rescue again, going into hand-to-hand combat with the man as he worked his hands around my neck and started to strangle me. I was quickly out of air.
Shock washed over me when I felt the man start to lift up off of me. Had Taylor somehow pulled him up off of me with her 120-pound frame?
I turned around onto my back and looked up to see that cactus that I had pulled out of Taylor’s torso stuck into the man’s face. He was pulling at the thing, trying to wrench it out, but he wouldn’t be able to.
Taylor rose up from the desert with a boulder that seemed far too heavy for her to be lifting. She smashed it into the man’s face, pushing the cactus further into the meat of his skull and knocking him to the ground.
I joined Taylor as she rushed on the man and grabbed the boulder again. She picked the rock up, lifted it to her face and then dropped it on the man’s face again.
He was still moving, but not well. He slowly clawed at his face, trying to get the cactus off. It was all over for him though. His head was starting to look like a watermelon that you dropped on the sidewalk.
Yet, I still joined in with Taylor and picked up a massive rock. I picked the boulder up above my head, probably straining about 10 muscles in my upper body. I let out a primal scream as I threw the rock down the same time Taylor threw a rock down.
The two boulders hit at the same exact time, pushing each other, and the cactus down into the man’s face.
He moved no more.
The place wasn’t a real dive bar. Faux dive. No real dive bar has $13 cocktails. Wait, that was happy hour prices. $15 cocktails.
I hadn’t seen Taylor outside of a police station since that night. My hands sweated with anticipation as I waited for her. She was 20 minutes late already. That was totally in-character, but everything had been heightened since that night.
Was she okay? Had someone found her? Gotten revenge?
There she was. She walked through the door, flustered, per usual. She sat down next to me and exhaled.
“I hope you ordered me a Hemingway, I saw you Yelp that they’re supposed to be good here. Real grapefruit juice and no simple syrup, that’s the key,” Taylor said as she read an email on her phone.
Nothing had changed except for our ordeal in the desert.
Speaking of which, it was an ordeal beyond just escaping murder. We spent nine months living in the awful thing even after we walked out of the desert at sunrise, holding onto our lives by the skin of our teeth.
The man, whose name ironically turned out to be Jeremy Rock, had a tight-knit family who went to bat with lawyers to claim that he was not attacking us, we actually attacked him. City people coming out to the country for a thrill kill.
Their defense would have had no legs if it weren’t for Trixie basically going to bat for Jeremy in court. She testified about the bad things Taylor said to her about country folk at the bar and she claimed that she actually left the natural pool that night because we were creeping her out.
The court let us go, but there wasn’t really anything they could do to help us. Jeremy was already dead, so the whole thing kind of just went away.
We tried to press to get them to do something to Trixie, but they said they couldn’t prove anything and we would have to go to court with her for at least a year because she was going to fight it. We gave it up. We just wanted to get on with our lives.
Still, it was rather unnerving to know that Trixie was out there doing whatever she wanted to do in life.
We waited for a bartender to tend to us as we sat there, trying to start a conversation about anything else, but struggling. We talked about shows we were watching, work, even baseball for some reason, nothing worked. We both wanted to talk about the night, but had texted each other before to not talk about it.
The frustration about being unable to get Taylor a drink thankfully provided a conversational buffer, something more important to talk about in the moment. The bearded bartender who had served me my old fashioned had been M.I.A. for about 15 minutes and I had yet to see a replacement.
Taylor leaned over the bar.
“Hey, can I make an order,” she yelled out.
Right on cue, a bartender walked out from the back room of the bar. My heart sank the second I saw her.
Long, slender, pale and riddled with tattoos and dyed black, short hair. Just looking at the young woman took my breath away.
You know when you run into someone who looks exactly like someone you really don’t want to see and it stops your heart?
Well, that occured with Taylor and I at exactly the same time and Taylor made the first move as the tattooed bartender looked at us, waiting for her order.
Was that Triixe or did it just look exactly like Trixie?
Taylor gave me an exhausted look. She didn’t even have to say anything.
We soon found ourselves on the sidewalk, walking away from the bar with the Yelp reviews about good Hemingway daiquiris. We could find somewhere else to catch a $15 dollar buzz.