Countdown to a Ten

Submitted into Contest #74 in response to: Write a story in the form of a top-ten list.... view prompt

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American Western Fiction

One of those long boring cross-country trips again. Not much to do while passing the time. He waves at the occasional truck driver coming the other way, keeping an eye out for desert critters that might choose to run out in the front of the car. Beautiful scenery, an arrow straight two-lane highway that stretches across the desert, five miles or so to the horizon.

Easy enough to be bored, mile after mile of the same thing. He uses those little lists to keep himself awake. Top ten lists.

Let’s see now. He wanted to see a red eighteen wheeler. There goes one now. Wave at the driver. Wonder where he’s heading? Where did he start his trip? Does he get as bored driving this same road time after time?

The truck grows smaller in his mirror until it’s gone. Like he was never there.

Well, one down, nine more things to go. What’s next?

He looks for an old abandoned car. Some rusty relic someone limped along for that last mile until it finally gave up the ghost. Parked for the last time, right there, just off the road. There it is, just like he thought it would be. Looks like it’s been stripped of anything useful. Empty shell of a car, once shiny and new, rolling out of the factory door. Rusty but intact, a tribute to the days when cars were built from steel. Someday it will crumble to dust, just not yet.

Eight more on the list to find.

There’s something different. A sign. An old billboard. Leaning slightly, maybe a few more years until it finally falls apart, the old faded grey boards slowly giving in to gravity. Hard to make out what it advertised. Some kind of logo – could be a gas station, maybe motor oil, or a car dealer, who knows what it once said?

Seven left. Time to see what else is on the radio. That country station started to fade some five miles ago, given to static and an occasional seconds-long crackle of clear music. Not much to see, not much to hear out here in the desert. He fiddles with the radio until something else comes on. A weather report. For the desert. Like things will change much out here. Dry and clear. Day after day, dry and clear. Tonight’s forecast: dark, followed by scattered light in the morning.

Six left on the list. Easy enough to find, as a jackrabbit shoots in front of the car. Plenty of room, no danger of hitting it. A little excitement for a change. A dive bombing bald eagle is hot on the trail of the rabbit. He wonders if the critter will make it to safety.

Number five finds another roadside sign. This one’s in better shape, not all faded and broken like the last one.

Roadside Café. Food and fuel. Diesel available. Four miles ahead.

An oasis. He wonders if the sign is up to date. Is the place open? Is it still there? Or did it close ten, twenty years ago, leaving only the sign to mark its existence? In four short miles he’ll find out.

Number four on the list approaches from behind. A glint of chrome in his mirror. Looks like a motorcycle, a mile or more back. Catching up little by little. Makes his list of things to look for, out on his lonesome journey.

It wasn’t long before the bike catches up. He can feel its rumble before he can hear it. Not a stock bike, but a custom chopper. Like in the magazines, on those TV shows. Long stretched out front end, incredible paint job, loud machine gun exhaust filling his car with the sounds of pure power.

If that wasn’t enough, a gorgeous woman riding it! Number three on the list fulfilled! Her feet up on the pegs, right hand on the throttle with her left hand in her lap, cruising. Jeans and tight tank top, sunglasses, cowboy boots, long black hair whipping in the wind. Hair so black it almost shines blue. Tattoos on her upper arms. A free spirit on two wheels.

She smiles and nods as she passes him. She motions as if to make the sign of drinking from a cup, then pointing down the road. A stop at the Roadside Café for a drink? He nods back, she didn’t have to ask twice. Coffee, soda, beer, whatever. Who wouldn’t want to share a drink with the likes of her?

Number two on the list finds the Roadside Café open, alive and well. Small weathered building right out of an old western, gas pumps out front. A small shop off to the rear, old cars gathered around the side. Right out of Central Casting, the proprietor wanders over to greet him. Older guy, about sixty but in good shape, faded overalls, long grey hair to his shoulders, spilled loose from a pony tail. Beat up old straw hat perched on the back of his head.

Yes sir, fill it with regular. Check your oil for ya?

He wonders if there’s a museum inside, with the world’s largest ball of pocket lint or a two-headed snake display. Souvenir stickers and cheap lighters and batteries, shelves of chips and pretzels, bottles of soda in the cooler and fresh coffee brewing. A fridge with fresh homemade sandwiches. He tries the ham and cheese on rye. Pretty good for road food.

Number one on his list sits outside waiting for him at a picnic table. Even more gorgeous than he thought she was. She sips her soda as they talk about where they are heading, why they are going there, where they are coming from. He is envious of her. She doesn’t have to be anywhere, she just points the bike and goes.

Their short date over, she saddles up and starts the bike. She wishes him a safe journey and smiles one last time before she leans over and kisses him on the cheek. She kicks it into gear and roars off, her rear tire gripping the road as it hits pavement.

In way too short a time, she and her bike are far off in the distance, only the bark of the exhaust echoing off the desert hills to prove she was ever there.

One of his better top ten lists. Not much else to do while driving such a long distance. But how to outdo this one? Where to find another number one like he encountered today? Number one, and a ten at that, on the list.

Damn.

December 28, 2020 18:03

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