For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
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The chill of the winter night high up on the mesa had settled in and got Scott moving at a brisk pace once his room-sweat began to evaporate and it gave him the shivers. Frost-covered grass on the side of the road crunched beneath his boots. Scott zipped up his coat and stuffed his hands in the pockets, hunched up his shoulders to push the collar of his coat higher onto his still moist neck. He breathed in the high altitude air and kept coming up a bit short of what he needed.
“Geez,” he said, then thought, “This is like being back in Estes Park”. He had learned the hard way on that trip that the key to acclimating to higher altitudes was to drink tons of water. He hadn’t done that, but he made resolve to begin swigging bottled water as soon as he got up in the morning. If he was going to stay. That fucking IF. IF in his life was the source of many side trips, mistakes, and bad moves. The word, ‘recrimination’ came up in his mind. “Is that the word that applies?” he wondered. He would have to look that one up. He didn’t want to pull his phone out of his pocket because his ungloved hands were nice and warm in there.
It was quiet out under the night on the lonesome road. No cars at all. Yet another meme appeared. Then he heard a slight echo of his own footsteps in the frozen grass, but lighter and more of a pitter-patter. Scott looked backward but could see nothing. Suddenly, he was painted with light as a pair of sun-bright lights rose into the air from the blackness toward the end of the mesa. They blinded him for a moment until he shielded them with his hand. Then he realized that they were the headlights of car come up the slope from down below the mesa. As the car came up to him at speed, the driver laid on the horn and Scott could make out glowing embers inside the car as it passed. He turned with it backward toward the motel to momentarily see the illuminated face and glowing eyes of a coyote that was following him. The creature was stopped, motionless as it saw Scott staring back at it. The people in the car must’ve seen it and that’s what they were honking at, he thought. “Another dog?!”
As the taillights receded, it was just the two of them out by the road in a standoff. Scott wasn’t scared - he knew from encounters with coyotes in So Cal that it was rare they’d be bold enough to attack a full grown human.
“You’re supposed to be the trickster,” Scott said to it. Coyote just looked to the side as if consciously ignoring Scott. “What are you here to tell me?” he asked.
In response, Scott was called to see a montage rush through his mind of the massive folly that he had been part of since leaving LA. Hell, since before that when he agreed to make this trip. In an instant, he visited all of the flip-flopping he had done along the way.
“I am really sick of changing my mind on this. I’m sick of myself. Eck! Waffle House! Worse than a woman who can’t settle on where to put the damn couch.” He thought all of these things and more to himself.
Coyote looked back at him and although Scott could only make out the body posture in the dark there, he knew that Coyote knew. After twenty seconds of staring at each other, Coyote turned around and headed off into the brush toward the edge of the mesa. Scott’s gaze followed him until he - or she - disappeared. At that moment, the airfield runway lights disappeared like a UFO might be there one instant and in the next be gone. He was moved to look upward now that he was beyond the reach of any lights and the sky poured out its stars over him. The blanket of tiny lights was something to behold, that close to the heavens.
Scott Loader was not an un-self-aware young man. He eventually got to truths about himself and was not always ready to defend himself at any cost. Standing there, the black, white-studded sky said things to him that the day and days before had needed to be revealed.
The silent communion with his inner self just about moved him to tears. His eyes became moist with the cold air and his inner turmoil. The truths that were told - by... who? Who was telling and who was listening? Not any kind of God, he was sure. But he could imagine an extension of himself that was contained by his body and at the same time surrounding him. But could it expand out into the cosmos? He didn’t know. What he did know - now - was that his wishy-washy reticence was nothing more than a holdout. Scott became just a bit dizzy, standing with his head tilted upward for so long and trying to breath in the not-enough oxygen.
Fed up with his small, whiny Self under such an awe-filling canopy, Scott was done with holding Betty’s personal quandary hostage to his own comfort levels.
“‘Whatever it takes, Loader’. That’s what the men would say,” Scott thought.
Scott ran a sleeve across his eyes and turned around and began walking back to the motel, a perceptible increase of strength in his stride. Another car came up the grade but this one slowed down before it got to him and a spotlight flared into Scott’s eyes as he looked backward toward it, then it moved off of him into the brush after the now-phantom coyote before it was extinguished. The car pulled along side of Scott. It was a police car and the officer inside rolled his window down.
“Need a lift? Gettin’ down to twenty-five tonight.”
Scott, relieved that it was not just anyone asking him, replied, “No sir, just stretching my legs before heading back to the motel up there. But thank you anyway!”
“No prob. Name’s, Jordan - Officer Jordan. My dad’s ‘Sir’ and as long as he’s alive, I don’t figure I’m entitled to such a high station, so don’t call me that,” Officer Jordan smiled. “Alright then, have a good night. Oh! And keep an eye out for coyotes out here. They shouldn’t be a threat, but they sure can be a nuisance.”
“I’ll do that. Thanks a lot,” Scott offered.
Officer Jordan continued, instead of driving off. “Haven’t seen you around before. Just get in to town?” he asked.
“Just tonight, yeah. Here for just over a week.”
“Doing?” Jordan inquired.
“Offered to help with a house rehab for a friend.”
“A friend. She’s got a contractor named Todd that I’m going to be working with.”
Officer Jordan spit out a laugh and Scott could see specks of saliva fly past him in the spill of the interior cop car lights. Jordan quickly wiped the rest off of his mouth, still incredulous.
“Sorry! Took me by surprise. Todd Wilde a friend of yours?”
Scott was concerned. “No, why is that so funny?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, you’re new to town. Have you ever met Todd?”
“No, only talked to him on the phone. What? Should I know something about him?’
“Let’s just say that he’s quite a character and you better know what you’re doing with him. Keep your eyes open and question everything he says.”
“K. I’ll do that,” Scott said, his mind running away with this.
“Alright, then. You must be freezing your nuts off. You have any trouble, come to the station and ask for me.” Officer Jordan pulled a business card from the dash and handed it to Scott.
“Nice to meet you, thanks,” Scott said. He pulled a hand out of his coat pocket, took the card and with it, gave a wave to Officer Jordan. Jordan tapped the brim of his hat and rolled on, the window rising as he left.
Scott double-timed it back to the motel, confident that whatever the condition of the room, he was tired enough to sleep through just about anything now. Tomorrow would be some kind of a day, he knew.
The shower was adequate, the sheets clean, and because he had left the front and back bathroom windows open while he was out, the air was no longer quite so stale but it was cool and a relief from the hot water he’d run on himself for a long while. Scott had turned the wall furnace temperature down a bit and after he had stowed his pack and snacks and stuff from the Jeep, he was able to slide between the cold, coarse, and thread-bare sheets. Phone in hand, he began checking his social media and email.
Scott wasn’t what he would consider addicted to his phone, unlike virtually everyone else he knew. He could leave it when he needed to or felt he had been on it too long. He never wanted to be addicted to anything. Although girls and sex might be viable options, he kept away from that on his phone. He’d had too many friends embarrassed to hell when they opened their phone to show something to someone and a bunch of raunchy stuff popped out.
This brought a wry smile to Scott’s face as he lay back against the two, too-thin pillows stacked behind him. Could he admit that to his mother if she were to ask him a question like, was he addicted to porn or drugs? He’d taken his share of drugs in his later high school and college days, but nothing harder than LSD. “That’s pretty hard,” he then thought. And pot, hash, and pills were nothing more than ‘getting it out of his system” phases.
He could still put back a few margaritas when the occasion called for it but even at that, he still hesitated. Not because of any moral caution or fear of physiological addiction, but he just didn’t like being ‘impaired’ anymore. He found anything that held him captive against the will of his mind counterproductive to his living his life and he wanted to be as clear as he could be to experience and be prepared for whatever life was going to throw at him.
Now inwardly, he laughed at himself. Life was a batting cage pitching machine-throwing curveballs at about ninety-five miles an hour right now. And how was he handling it? When he looked at how he’d been behaving every time a chang-up was thrown, admittedly, he was a bit disappointed in himself. In fact, there it was, that demon that he’d been thinking about before had been riding shotgun with him all the way here.
What was he going to do about it? Certainly, the ceiling tiles with their pierced holes and white, painted-over fiberboard squares weren’t going to reveal the secret to him. He looked for it there, nonetheless.
And in the morning, when he opened his eyes upward, there still was nothing handwritten in blood or ceiling tile dots converging into letters or celestial bodies to give him any kind of roadmap toward exorcism or excavation of this... defect... that went by many names. Wishy-washy. There was that one again. He liked it. He could play with that one and take it seriously or not, depending on his desire to work hard or slide on it.
His first thoughts relevant to waking up in the motel room, though, were that he was really, really hungry, along with the question of when checkout time was. If it was the usual 11am, then the thought of staying in bed until then was a tossup with his need to eat. But what time was it?
He thought to look at the nightstand but the radio clock there read 3:12 PM. He searched by feel for his phone which had fallen out of his hand where it had lain and now was buried somewhere under the sheets. When he found it and brought it before his face, the lock screen told him it was only a few minutes after seven. And in feeling across the top of the bedspread that had been covering him up to his chin, he realized it was damn chilly. Like there was no heat.
“What is with these recurring themes deal?!” he asked aloud.
Scott had gone to bed naked and now had to get across the room to his pack for a clean pair of undies and so hopped across the cold shag to sit on the chair opposite to dig in his pack. He breathed out to test the temp and yep, he could see it. He eyed the wall furnace but saw no flame action there.
“Pilot light musta gone out,” said Motel Man. “Sorry ‘bout that. You want a discount or somethin’?” Scott almost took him up on it to bolster his aggrieved customer schtick. He almost told him about the housewarming gift in the toilet. Maybe he could get the night for free.
“Well, that’s okay. I appreciate it, though. But you could help me out with something else,” Scott said.
“Sure thing. What’s that?”
“Places to get a good cheap breakfast. I’m starving.”
“There’s only one place,” Motel Man said. To get that you gotta go to CookieSheet’s Cafe up on the divide next to the Price Plus grocery store.”
Scott paid the bill, got directions to the cafe and pulled his somewhat repacked Jeep out onto the road. All of the cars out that early had mufflers that blew out steaming and dripping exhaust into the freezing air as they sputtered along the road, everything creaking and groaning and stiff as a frozen wet shirt on a clothesline. The sun was bright, though, and it promised to heat the world up a bit and Scott was hopeful of that, if of nothing else that the day might hold.