Chapter 4: Careful With That Benz Zack…

In Wyoming, nobody can hear you scream…

“Oh no!” cried Bill. The tone of his voice combined with the amount of driving already accomplished created a high probability for an unbecoming scenario. He’s going to say we’re going the wrong way. I just know it.

Theoretically though, anything could come out of his mouth. But I knew better. I didn’t have to ask; yet I would anyway. For some foolish reason, in a silly attempt to hold onto some non-existent hope, I’d ask; that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t what I thought it was… I would ask, but I already knew—He better not say we’re going in the wrong direction… He better not say it…

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“We… we made a wrong turn. We’re… we’re going in the wrong direction.”

I knew it. I freaking knew it.

“Well, where do we gotta go?” There I go again with another question I didn’t need to ask. Bill stalled for a second. C’mon dude! Daylight’s burning and we’re wasting time! “Bill…?” He better not say back to Jackson Hole… No way I’m going back. Not this time… He better not say Jackson Freaking Hole…

“Back through Jackson Hole.”

Damn it!

“Nope. Not doing it.”

“But Zack, we got to—“

“That’s easy for you to say! You’re not the one who looked like a dingus in front of every— what?” I didn’t like the look on his face; something wasn’t right, I could smell it. “…You knew the whole time didn’t you?” Bill lowered his head, unwilling to utter a sound. “We’ve been driving for 45 minutes, and you wait until now to say something?”

“It wasn’t that long ago—“

“Then when was it?” Again, Bill countered with silence. Who knows how long he’s been sitting on this information? Was it since we put on “Don’t Fear the Reaper?” Cruisin’ down the road with the sun setting over the Tetons and all that cowbell blasting through the speakers sure made us feel stellar. Or what about when we stopped to get gas and a Mountain Dew? I bought him an entire 1-liter! It was so good, I pretty much forgot about the whole moose incident, until now! I guess Bill never heard the old adage, “Bad news doesn’t get better with time.”

“Look, there’s a highway 189 south, but I don’t know exactly where it leads to,” said Bill while perusing the pixilated map on his phone, poorly generated from the spotty cell phone coverage provided in rural Wyoming. It appeared that my unnerving tone had forced Bill to reevaluate his proposed route.

“What about this dot?” It was the only point of relevance shown, a point unbeknownst to us would eventually dimensionalize into the hellhole known as Rock Springs.

“But we don’t know what it is, or where it leads to… And what if it’s out of our way? Do we have enough gas? We already lost 45 minutes! How much longer? Another 45 minutes? Hours? Days??? I don’t know if we can risk…” Only words. That’s all they were; too many of them, drowning in Astronomy Domine and its succession of lowering pitches that opened Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma. The looming decision drilled into my skull; beating, pounding, attempting to take control; sending me into a state of madness, one of which I was desperately working to stay afloat. Each second of delay marked an exercise of exasperation. Bill went on and I sat, forced listen and watch… watch the remaining pigments of light waste away from contemplation.

I stared… I stared beyond the walls of the canyon that enveloped the isolated highway; it stared back with a shot of smugness, a confrontational smirk of superiority. “Come. Come and see what’s inside…” The rocky landscape set a tension on my soul, urging me towards her, inviting me to discover the secrets hidden deep within the heart of the beast. “Come… I dare you.” It was a challenge to drive, a bet that we wouldn’t make it out alive. I set the car into drive.

“Zack, wait—“

Too late. Hard contact between my foot and the gas pedal sent the Benz speeding off into the south, leaving behind Jackson Hole and all of its self-imposed misery. The madness, however, lingered, concentrating deeper the further we traveled down the rabbit’s hole.

 

***

 

The sun pressed down on the canyon walls, sending a sharp and sudden chill into the car; a most rotten chill… the presence of death. It would be our only company.

“Maybe we should slow—“ Bill came to an abrupt stand still, silenced by the soft, yet commanding Wah pedal augmenting the tone of the guitar coming through the speakers; a tone that altered my perception of reality. We were under its control now, our destiny purely dependent on its mercy. Bill’s arm hair stiffened from the thousands of beads along the surface of his skin, formed within a matter of seconds…

Alone in the heart of Wyoming, the most sparsely populated state in the country, nobody can hear you scream. He knew it. He accepted it. He fully understood it…

…I did not.

My eyelids narrowed, beating into a nature that I was in contest with; a nature that had taken me into consumption, all driven by an eerie organ solo, now in harmony with the existing guitar procession. Bill watched from the corner of his eye as the speedometer rose with steady inclination. “69… 70… 71…”

For a short moment, I came out of my meditated conscious. Logic prevailed for that short moment, one last-ditch effort to save me from myself. It presented me with a choice; a stark contrast of reason and madness, a choice between good and evil, one last chance to turn back before becoming one with the darkness taking over. I turned to Bill and smiled. “75… 76… 77…”

Bill lowered himself into the crease of his seat, playing out a variety of possible death scenarios that could culminate in the lonely patch of the Wyoming wilderness. It was the only thing he could do. He dared not speak, not for the time being, for any uttered syllable would do nothing but exacerbate the situation. His words would simply be of no use… he was talking to a ghost.

“Hopefully we’ll drive off a cliff and the car will explode on impact. It’d be the quickest, and definitely the least painful. But what if we flip over into a ditch—God I hope we don’t flip over into a ditch… I wonder how long it takes for somebody to bleed out? Even if it’s an artery, that still takes a long time, I think… Are there wolves out in Wyoming? What if we’re stuck and get eaten alive, or have a group of vultures slowly peck away at my skin—Oh God, not the vultures…”

The centrifugal force caused by the sharp turn on the highway knocked Bill’s concentration and shifted his body towards the center console. The swift force went unnoticed by me, as did another glance at the speedometer from Bill, his curiosity only a vehicle to intensify his anxiety. “85… 86… 87…”

One by one the bugs gathered, mosquitoes, dragonflies, wasps, moths, entire arthropod families, accumulating onto the surface of my windshield, a newly designated insect burial ground; It was distinct life, a conglomerate of free spirits roaming the earth one second, and an indistinguishable mulch of blood and guts the next, all with no warning whatsoever. The mass genocide was horrifying, fuel for my decent into darkness. It was total power, an evil pact with Mother Nature bestowed upon me, to control, to live… to destroy. Bill’s heart was sent into a furious tremble; I could feel it. “90… 91… 92…”

Bill’s knuckles turned white as he gripped the side handle of the door and turned whiter as the music built into an anticipated climax, anything he could do to hold onto dear life. My knuckles turned white as I gripped the steering wheel, unwilling to give up the power I had just inherited. “No one man should have all that power,” wise words from the great philosopher Kanye West proving all too well to be accurate; wise words that had vanished from every crevice of my intellect.

Bill’s breaths turned heavy and rapid in a panic; mine turned heavy and rapid—in through the nose and out through the mouth—to focus in on the task at hand, a task forced upon me by nature, void of its internal meaning. “100… 101… 102…” His eyes widened with fear; mine with rage. There were veins—horrendous veins, bulging from my dilated pupils, doped with an extra dose of adrenaline, waiting for their moment to burst.

The music’s tension was heavy now, a bomb seconds from detonation, a bat on the verge of making its run out of Hell, an axe murderer ready to snap, ready for destruction, ready to release carnage—complete carnage on a population! Victims, all innocent and unsuspecting! Seconds from the end… the end… the end—

Then, the words entered my head, softly, subtly, with no hint of its origin but for the dying sun, bleeding out a dark shade of red across the barren desert. They existed as its last words, a catalyst for annihilation. The last words my conscious recognized…

“Careful with that Benz Zack…”

“107… 108… 109… 110—”

“AHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

The cacophonous cry matched the growing roar of my engine, an ugly farewell to the last traces of forested life. Thousands of more bugs met the speeding deathtrap, joining the growing number of its kind. There they laid to rest in several deformed pieces, turning into a thick film as the windshield wipers swung back and forth, inciting my sick and twisted pleasure; one that I wanted, one I needed… one I just couldn’t get enough of.

Bill brought the car to a violent shake, unable to calm the senses triggered by the kamikaze mission he had foolishly joined. I joined in his tremble, unable to calm the excitement from the kamikaze mission I had foolishly accepted. My bloodshot eyes beamed at the changing road and landscape moving back and forth against the winding blacktop.   I crossed over solid white and yellow lines, a combination of colors and shapes whose significance had been forgotten in my fit of fury. Any wrong move meant instant death, a concept that could not be acknowledged, not to a full-blown crack head, his habit fulfilled for the time, yet still in demand for more of his fix, and getting exactly what his heart dangerously wished.

There was darkness now, darkness that encouraged—demanded our intense push forward! Deafening screams continued to howl through the car, challenging my sustained psychosis. “Please… stop!” I couldn’t tell whether it was the Benz or Bill crying out for mercy; both were subjects to the cruel and unusual punishment.

The rocky landscape, changing ever so rapidly with the increase in speed, became one solid streak of brown stone, seamlessly turning a darker shade as dusk turned to twilight, and twilight to starlight. Air, country, and road had become one with each other. The thick film of permanently deformed insect parts continued its build with each stroke of the windshield wipers, worsening the field of vision again and again until it was non-existent.

Then, there was nothing… nothing but a solid black piece of metal flying down a black road at intense speeds, the operator’s mind blacked out with rage, made to traverse the blackened countryside against the black of the night. There was no trace of our existence except for the constant scream inside and out of the car, dragging on and on until there was nobody left to utter a scream, their silence commenced by the parched and swollen throats that had expensed the remainder energy required to make a sound. The music continued on; the developed fury unabated, even in the absences of screaming. The drug had accomplished its deliberate effects, lasting well into the night. It was the last thing I remembered… the last resemblance of a coherent thought…

 

***

 

We pulled into the gas station of Little America in the middle of a line of semi-trucks, having survived a roller coaster that had intentionally been blotted from memory. The car was in one piece, puttering into the gas station with less than a gallon of gas and a solid streak of organic bug compounds across its windshield.

“Hey dude, we’re ahead of schedule! How about we stop at this place called Rock Springs for the night? I saw a sign for it a few miles back… It looks like it’s only about 30 miles from here… I’ll start pumping up and get us a Rockstar or two. Maybe you can start wiping the windshield down. It’s gonna need it big time, and it might…” I stopped. Bill sat in the corner of his seat, permanently lodged in the small crease between the seat and the door. His body was emotionless, completely frozen except for the constant vibration sent throughout his whole body and cold droplets of sweat pressed out from his brow and down his bug-eyed, pale face, dripping into his mouth held agape.

…It was simply no use. I was talking to a ghost.

Chapter 3: The Fool on the Hill

“WARNING TO TOURISTS. DO NOT LAUGH AT THE NATIVES.”

The large, all caps message plastered across a yellow, tarpaulin background was the last trace of civilization before entering Wyoming. The sign baffled Bill and I, as many questions arose pertaining to its origin.

Warning to tourists

What happens to those who laugh at the natives? And being that they had to put up a sign like that, I assume that there was once a major problem that got out of control, resulting in the sign’s placement. I mean… if people are laughing, the natives must be funny right? And why is that a bad thing? I kind of like it when people laugh at me, unless I do something embarrassing, which in that case, that’s my fault, and in the end, can’t really blame somebody for doing so. And if I saw somebody walking around with a T-shirt that said, “WARNING, DO NOT LAUGH AT ME,” I guess I would be sort of curious as to why, with possibly an intention to provoke to find out exactly what would happen, depending on how nerdy they looked…

The wondering went on for several minutes. “What exactly would happen if later that day we found ourselves in a situation where a couple of natives caught us laughing? What would be the consequences of those actions…? Would they yell at us…? Kick us out…? Fine us? Could they put us in jail for simply laughing? What about beating us up, or even worse, sentencing us to a long and painful death…?” None of the punishments seemed to fit the crime, nor did they even seem legal. Regardless of what happened to the poor souls who got caught laughing at the natives, we figured we’d refrain from any type of laughing for the rest of the day, no matter how big the temptation, or at least try. No reason to cause unnecessary trouble if at all avoidable, unless they actually did something that was considered to be really funny. In that case, we’d have no choice in the matter.

Besides, the words Taylor said to us before leaving Boise still ran fresh in our heads, and the last thing we wanted to do was stand out and look like a couple of stupid tourists! “And you know what, I betcha they’re the reason why there’s been so much trouble!” No way we were going to be associated with them, no matter what! We even held our tongue at the local saloon in Alpine, Wyoming when our pizza came out a few minutes undercooked and underwhelming in size!

In all honesty though, there wasn’t much that constituted the signs placement, at least between Pocatello and the Gran Tetons, and the drive through the Palisades Reservoir, a long and thick lake augmented by the ingenuity of man, was especially exceptional. The route lead up into a valley lush with timber, spanning the length of the sparkling lake; truly a gem hidden along the Southeastern border of Idaho, one that if the logic of Idahoans prevails, will be kept secret for a long time.

Palisades Reservoir

“Hey, do you mind if we listen to something else?” asked Bill.

“What?” It was hard to hear him over the music.

“I said ‘Do you mind if we listen to something else?’”

“Do you have a problem my music selection?”

“Well, it’s just… although I found blasting Kanye West for the last 40 minutes slightly thrilling—“

“Just slightly?”

“Okay okay, thrilling, it’s just that we’ve already listened to ‘Yeezus’ once already—“

And?Man, was the guy trying to break the world record for consecutive offensive comment or something? We barely made it out of Idaho and already he’s starting to piss me off!

“Well, we are playing the music kind of loud, and… and in the spirit of the natives, maybe we should play something a little more subtle… you know, a classic of sorts…” I remained silent for the time being. The kid kind of had a point, but I was still a little steamed to admit it. “…For Taylor…”

“…What did you have in mind?”

“Oh, I don’t know. The Beatles? Maybe?”

“Which album?”

“I always liked the Magical Mystery Tour…”

I took my time shuffling through the music selection waiting for the album come up on my console display. Bill nodded his head in approval as Yeezus came to an abrupt stop and the Magical Mystery Tour faded in—Of course he did!

“Hey, does something feel weird with this album to you?” asked Bill.

“…Now that you mention it, something is a little strange with it…” Both of us were right; there was something very peculiar about the album as we climbed up the grade and into the reservoir, like it was trying to tell us something. “But what?” Whatever it was, neither of us could quite put a finger on it…

Then, Paul McCartney’s graceful voice appeared…

Day after day
Alone on a hill
The man with a foolish grin is keeping perfectly still…

My jaw hung agape, as did Bill’s. We both turned our heads a quarter turn towards each other, letting our dropped jaws naturally form a grin. We both knew it and reveled in the moment, the culmination of magnificence exposed before us through song and sight. The brilliant blend of McCartney’s lyrics with the intermittent wood flute solo served as an omen, one that most Beatles fans, including us, had taken for granted all these years!

“McCartney… he knew, all along,” said Bill.

“I can’t believe it…” Both of us waited a moment as the first chorus played.

But the fool on the hill
See’s the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See’s the world spinning ‘round…

“Ben Woodward!” Both of us shouted it at the same time. We broke our no laughing rule and burst into uncontrollable hysteria. The CD replayed itself several times over the rest of the drive to Jackson Hole. The description was just too perfect.

 

***

 

We entered Jackson Hole to a much expected scene given the knowledge Taylor had passed down to us; a quaint little town plagued with an overabundance of tourists who sucked its natural resources dry as they crept about like zombies from one square to the next, preying on as many native relics they could infect. Unfortunately, some of the town’s business folk had given into the demands of the mob, catering to their urbane addictions with premiere hotels and resorts that included hot tubs, swimming pools, continental breakfast, and cable TV among other unnecessary amenities. So much for being one with your natural surroundings…

Not us though. We knew better… much better. We cruised through town, vowing not to act like the rest of the ignorant populace that had invaded such a small town. “God knows I won’t be caught dead associating myself with this madness,” I told Bill.

“Me neither.”

So we headed north…

The plains were endless along the highway towards the Tetons, a blanket of grain strewn across in all directions with only a line of asphalt dividing east and west. A long string of automobiles of all shapes and sizes stretched across the road, further polluting the prestige of the sacred land, of which we were regrettably a part. Then, within a moment, the curtain of nature unveiled itself to the prize we had waited for ever since we left Pocatello—a row of mountains, sharp and pointed towards the clear blue sky, a solid row of grey pencil heads with white graphite, each varying in its own unique shape and size, yet all standing as one wonderful miracle of nature. We had arrived at the Gran Tetons, and the sight was well worth the drive.

And I don’t know if it was a trick of the brain or what, but on the highest peak, I swore I saw a figure, a man towering above the others with his pecks swollen with pride, as he was the true dominion of nature and all those who failed to conquer her. I felt him call out a name—my name in a derogatory form. His strawberry hair, his Alpha Male stature—It was Josh Ulrich. It had to be.

He was out there. He’s always out there, watching us, belittling us… making us his bitch. And he’s still out there… somewhere…

Josh is out there...

***

 

“Hello, welcome to the Gran Tetons,” said the park ranger at the park’s gates.

“Hello, we’d like a single day admission into the park.”

“That’ll be 35 dollars please—“

“35 dollars! I mean…” I recomposed myself. No need to make a scene. Not at the Tetons. “Um… I’m sorry. Due to our time constraint, I think we’ll try our luck with another hike.” No way I was paying 35 freaking dollars just to see a couple buffalo! I don’t need to spend that kind of precious money to enjoy nature. What a crock. What a travesty!

A stop at the information center sent us off onto another path that overlooked Phelps Lake, one that didn’t cost the preposterous amount of 35 dollars to hike; anything to get away from the swath of tourists cluttering the gift shop. Bill and I again scoffed at the number of grown men and women rifling through the piles of overpriced stuffed animals and children’s books. It was ridiculous! At least we had enough dignity to study the art, old paintings, and history on display for a little bit at the Visitor’s Center. The amount of knowledge on display that was being ignored was at the very least off-putting, and the worst repulsive!

At the edge of a trail two miles from our car we came to an opening, a small window into a hidden pocket of nature that rested along the southeastern side of the Tetons—Phelps Lake. Only visible from the point of which we stood, it glittered in response to the sun’s rays, untouched by any foreign body and creating a barrier between the Tetons and the plains they overlooked. Away from the crowds, fanfare, and commotion, we were overcome by a wave of serenity… a calming sensation of tranquility. Bill and I looked out at the lake, and then back at each other. The hike was well worth it, especially the part when we got to mingle with the babe of a park ranger.

 

***

 

“You know, I think we did this right,” said Bill as we hopped into my car for the drive back towards the main road. “I kind of wish we had enough time to hike down to the lake and jump in though.”

“Well, the way I see it, all we would’ve done was introduce an impurity. So I think it was for the best.

“Oh God,” Bill Scoffed. “Such an Ulrich thing to do!”

“Agreed. And get this. For once, we resisted every tourist trap thrown at us!” It was true. It was damn true. We didn’t give into any of the temptations. And perhaps the biggest accomplishment of all, we didn’t laugh at any of the natives!

“Taylor would be proud,” said Bill with a nod of approval. “Taylor would be damn prou—“

“Look at these A-holes!” A row of cars lined the side of the road that was clearly not meant for parked cars, (not that we were surprised at all by the human ignorance). “What is going on?” I vented, throwing my hands up in the air and shaking my head, hoping to make the dozens of kids running dangerously across the road with their heads in an uncontrollable shake and arms flailing about feel like garbage, as well as the parents who obviously did not have a handle on their children. I for one surely did not appreciate the slow down, or having to deal with the slew of stereotypical tourist clogging the road, and believe me, by the end of it, I would make sure each and every one of them knew.

“Oh look, it’s a moose,” said Bill, pointing towards the marsh to our right before shrugging it off. “They’re a lot bigger than I thought they’d be.” I turned my head slightly to verify the observation.

“Oh,” I said. Indeed there was a moose, up close and personal standing in the marsh. “No wonder everybody is stop—whoa, that’s a moose—HOLY CRAP, NOW THAT’S A FREAKING BIG OL’ MOOSE!”

My car came to a screeching halt, skidding 10 feet across the gravel road and sending a wide flume of dust into the air. “Hurry, where’s my phone??? Give it to me, quick! NOW!” The door swung open. Bill threw me my phone. It hit my hand, then juggled, and then… gone. It disappeared, lost in the cloud of dust.

“Where did it go? I can’t—”

“Zack, come back! You forgot to put it in park!”

“Crap!”

“Hit the brake! The brak—forget the seatbelt, the brake!”

“The Wha—“

The brake I said, not the gas—No, don’t go in reverse!”

“We’re gonna miss it—“

“You’re phone! You’ll run it over! Get out and—NO! PARK! SET IT IN PARK!”

The door swung open once more and out I rolled, unable to gracefully untangle myself from my seatbelt. My body combed the ground, my arms waving frantically across the gravel, searching desperately for my phone, that one device that was essential to our survival. It had pictures, Google maps, music—everything! On my hands and knees I crawled, scouring the ground for any large abnormality, for it was impossible to see as more dust kept accumulating and accumulating! I just don’t understand how physics and nature works sometim—“Found it!”

I scurried up to the crowd covered in streaks of dirt. There she was, mama moose just minding her own business in the middle of a marsh and chowin’ down on some grass. In one swift motion and a swipe of my finger, I whipped out my phone and snapped a picture. “Perfect. Bill, look at all the cool shots I’m gett—“

There was no Bill; just a Black E350 Mercedes-Benz, with its hazard lights on, parked in the middle of the road, stopping the flow of traffic, 7 cars deep, beginning with some babe in a Jeep Wrangler, a babe looking onward with disgust—looking onward at a dingus; a dingus in a matching pair of Gucci shoes and sunglasses, wearing a tank top from Urban Outfitters and a fresh pair of skinny jeans cut-offs, running back to his car, all covered in dirt. Not even the most innocent of nods could win back her grace… So I drove. I drove and absorbed the look of disapproval from each of the 7 cars plus 2 more by the time I put the Benz back into drive. Bill’s head was lowered deep into his chest cavity.

Moose

At least we got the pic.

***

“That’s probably gonna be a 10 liker on Instagram at least.” It was the first thing that was said since leaving the Gran Tetons. Bill took his time with a response.

“Who knows?” he said to me. I gave him nothing in response. “Is it too late to go home? I don’t know if this was such a good idea after all…” Again, no response was afforded to him. “Good thing Taylor wasn’t with us today.” I just shook my head in disgust. My lips were sealed.

A familiar song came on the playlist… perhaps a little too familiar.

Day after Day
Alone on the Hill
The man with a foolish grin is keeping perfectly still…

I saw Bill out of the corner of my eye; there was a foolish grin on his face, I just knew it. I punched the mute button on the stereo system.

“Hey, I was listening to that song—“

“Shut up Bill.” Another long period of silence commenced.

“Man, I don’t know if Ben Woodward’s the Fool on the Hill anymore. I think we may have a new—“

“I said shut up…”