I woke up with a headache worse than the months leading up to my having a stroke. Think an ice pick carving a neat little hole into the base of your skull.
I groaned. And then I groaned some more. Soon enough, I was tired of groaning. Mostly because I had this sinking feeling. Literally sinking. Into some kind of ooze.
My first instinct was to reach out. It was dark, but wet. And I had no clue where I was. The first sound I heard was of a car running. The distinct click, click, click from an engine about to end. I knew this only because it was what my 1988 Acura Legend sounded like the last day I drove it.
“I don’t miss that car,” I said out loud.
No one replied.
My brain told me to open my eyes. As I did, I saw nothing. Slowly, my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I made out some features around me. There was some tall grass. A few cattails as well. I can’t remember the last time I saw cattails. Kind of like a Clark candy bar. They disappeared for a long time, then all of the sudden, you could find them in Big Lots. Problem was, they’re always stale. I decided not to take a bite of the cattails.
I sat up. Instantly, the ice pick in my head felt worse. But I also felt how soaking wet my clothes were. Obviously, I was laying in some kind of swampy ditch. Most likely by the side of the road, my CSI instincts were now kicking in.
Next, I stood up. Just a bit wobbly.
A quick glance to the left and I saw the running car. Except it wasn’t a car. It was a truck. A red Toyota truck, probably from the early 1990s. It looked familiar, but in the confusion of the moment, I had no idea who the truck belonged to.
I staggered out of the ditch and on to a patch of dry asphalt. There were the remnants of someone’s dumped out ashtray, a bottle of Nu Grape and a dead bird. For a moment, I was tempted to see if there was any grape soda left, but it passed.
The passenger door of the Toyota was open, so I walked up and looked in. There was a red wig on the seat. That and a copy of Hit Parader magazine from 1987. A special issue about the “New Heavy Metal Explosion.” That got a chuckle out of me, so I decided to flip through the issue.
As I picked it up, a cassette tape fell out. It hit the seat, bounced to the floor of the truck then out into the road. I bent over to pick it up, got woozy and ended up on the ground with it.
I stared at it for a moment. It was brand new and pristine. Except for one word scribbled on the A side – “Sorry”.
Still in full CSI mode, I stood up and looked into the car. Yep, there was a cassette player.
Then, it dawned on me. This was the redhead gal’s truck! But where the heck is she?
I put the tape into the player.
A voice spoke softly.
Then a long pause.
“I’m sorry. Maybe one day I can explain it to you. But when you told me the words of your former flame, the ‘Love isn’t enough’ part, I had to get away. Just looking at you when you said those words tells me all I need to know about you. And my reaction to it should tell you all you need to know about me.”
I stared at the tape player as it whirred on in silence. “Is she going to say anything else?” I wondered.
Then, the opening chords of The Faces’ “Ooh, La, La” started playing.
“That’s an odd choice, ain’t it?” a man’s voice said over the music. I couldn’t tell if it was on the tape or from outside the door. I didn’t want to look up. And I had good reason.
All I saw was a fist. Then a flash of colors.
I woke up in the middle of the afternoon. It was hot, humid and the dragonflies were everywhere.
There was an awful smell. I looked around, and saw nothing. Then I sat up and saw that I had been laying on top of the dead bird.
I jumped up and ran for a few seconds. Right into a road sign.
“Searcy 1 mile”