Vision of the Spirit Ch. 04bywilderness©
Exhausted by Friday's adventure, Tom's dreamless sleep lasted well beyond dawn. When the sun finally touched his subconscious, he rolled away from the light and opened his eyes. Satisfied warmth surrounded him, as the memory of the previous night replayed. He sat up with a start, realizing Hannah wasn't pressed against his back. She was nowhere in sight. His chest tightened when he reached for his boots and they were gone as well. Scanning the dew kissed field he spotted a fresh path of bent grass pointing toward the homeward trail.
Quickly, Tom broke camp. Checking the fire pit to make sure all the embers were out, he found the word 'thanks', printed with ash, on consecutive stones. "Damn it, what is she doing?" This was unbelievable. After all they shared she discarded him like a used condom. If that's what she wanted, then screw her.
Tom sat down to reevaluate the situation and take inventory. The trail from here to the truck was well traveled. Hannah wouldn't get lost. His truck keys were gone, along with twenty dollars. The rest of his paycheck was still in the wallet. Twenty dollars wouldn't take her far, probably to the closest town with a bank and a bus station.
Using strips of tree bark, he fashioned a crude pair of sandals and attached them to his sock-covered feet with gauze and medical tape. They weren't Air Jordan's, but they were better than bare footin'. The canteen was gone. So he drank his fill from what was left in the cooking pot, and headed out. The walk was slow and steady. Care had to be taken not to step on anything pointy. What a vision quest this turned out to be. The bottom line, the lesson learned, the secret of the universe was, life's a bitch, take what you can get, because sooner or later you get taken.
As Tom marched along the dappled trail, his mood lightened and he decided the quest hadn't been so bad. The danger was real enough, the circumstances beyond belief. And the sex, well the sex had been unworldly good. Funny how he felt empty without her. Hannah Willow Roundtree could fuck the soul out of a man. It was good she left. Reality would be anticlimactic after yesterday. This way, the whole affair seemed like the crazy vision he'd hoped for.
The sun had passed its zenith by the time Tom reached the trailhead. He found his boots hanging from a tree branch, ready for pickup. More than a dozen vehicles were spread across the parking lot, but not his truck. He sat down on a bench next to a plywood map, laced up his boots, and pondered his next move.
A man and woman exited the forest from another direction. The woman had her arm around the man's shoulders, as they limped to a dented green Impala. "I told you this was a stupid idea, Jack. The last thing I want to do on my vacation is wander through the fucking woods. Now I'll be laid up for the rest of the damn trip!"
"I'm sorry, Honey. Please don't swear. I really thought you'd like it once you were here. You have to admit it's beautiful."
"Oh yeah, it's fabulous, if you like bugs and dirt, it's fucking heaven."
Tom didn't want to interrupt their domestic bliss, but this might be his only chance to catch a ride for hours. "Excuse me," he said, walking toward the three legged pair. "Do you guys need any help?"
Jack eyed him suspiciously, and said, "No, we're okay. Thanks anyway."
The wife's demeanor changed the instant she saw Tom. A toothy smile bloomed. She smoothed her platinum hair, and retracted the claws that were visible only seconds before. "Hi. I just sprained my ankle. Nothing serious."
"Okay, great." Tom walked along with them a few feet, and said, "I was wondering if you're headed south. My truck was stolen, and I could use a lift to the nearest town."
"Oh, you poor man," said the wife. "Of course we can."
Jack smiled half-heartedly, and said, "sure."
"I'm Jill Stanhope and this is my husband Jack."
Tom introduced himself, and couldn't help but smile. "You're Jack and Jill?"
Jill's laugh echoed. "Yeah, we went up a hill," and laughed louder.
"Only I didn't break my crown, thank the Lord," said Jack.
The irritated face that Jill made left no doubt their relationship had tumbled down.
"Honey, why don't you sit in the back, so you can keep your foot elevated. Tom can ride in front with me."
After stowing Tom's pack and walking stick in the trunk, they drove off.
Jack asked, "Do you like gospel music?"
Jill sat behind her husband, and leaned against the door to stretch her leg across the seat. "Oh, Honey, don't play that. Put on some Garth Brooks. I just love Garth." When Tom glanced back she winked. "Are you Indian, Tom?"
"Just a little. Not enough to say so." Tom told them his Lewis and Clarke story.
"Wow, that's exciting. You're ancestors are a part of history."
Tom thought, 'what ancestors aren't a part of history?' He looked at Jack and asked, "Where are you guys from?"
Jill, the spokesmodel, jumped in. "We're from Little Falls, Idaho. You've never heard of it. We're here on vacation. I wanted to go to Reno, but Jack wanted to go to the mountains." A disgusted tone punctuated 'mountains'.
Tom smiled, politely.
Jill puckered her blood-red lips in a faux kiss and winked again.
"I love the mountains," said Jack. "I feel closer to God out here. Do you know Jesus, Tom?"
"Oh, leave the poor man alone. He's just had his truck stolen, for Christ's sake."
"Jill, don't take the Lord's name in vain. God has a plan. Maybe today His plan was to bring Tom to us, so we could share the Gospel."
"Tom, just ignore him."
Jack began his salvation message.
Tom's brain turned off, until Jill kicked the back of his seat. When he looked, she had her shirt pulled up under her chin to expose a nice pair of breasts. They had a slightly deflated appearance that said 'drained by rug rats'. Her wicked grin did not seem to invite salvation. Tom smiled appreciatively, and then stared out the window no matter how hard Jill kicked his seat.
His ex-employer, Jack Mathews and wife Lisa came to mind. Here we go again, he thought. But things had changed for Tom. Trust and fidelity meant something to him now. Suddenly without it, life felt unpredictable and lonely. The pride he'd always felt in self-sufficiency paled compared to the experience of oneness he'd known briefly with Hannah. Maybe it was only foxhole infatuation. The struggle to survive had distilled their bond to its finest elements.
"We're all sinners, Tom, and fall short of the glory of God. If you ask forgiveness and repent, He will cleanse your sins."
"How long have you guys been born again?"
Jack glanced at the rearview mirror. "How long has it been, Honey?"
"Oh, about a week."
'I don't think it stuck to your wife,' thought Tom. On second thought, maybe Christianity was Jack's way of saving his marriage. He had to suspect how bad his wife behaved. A miracle was probably their only hope. "I wish you guys the best, but I've see too much hypocrisy to have faith in anything." Jill stopped kicking his seat. "How long have you guys been married?"
Jack smiled into the mirror, and said, "Five years."
"We have a son and daughter -- Eric and Missy. They're at the Grandparents for the week, so we could have some alone time."
"Hey, that's great. How old are they?"
"Twelve and ten."
"Wow, almost teenagers. You don't look old enough to have kids that age." It didn't take a Ph.D. to figure this one out. Jill married a fool to take care of her and her brood, and now she resented his stupidity, a classic female maneuver. Never trust a needy woman. Their silence confirmed his judgement. The guilty don't self-incriminate. Tom closed his eyes, and pretended to sleep. Hannah appeared in his mind's eye. God, he loved that name. Too bad she was a thieving whore.
Thirty minutes later, Tom entered the granite jailhouse of Antler Forks, and said, "I'd like to report a plane crash."
The announcement drew people out of doorways like ants to sugar. Questions and paperwork took hours to complete. Somehow, Hannah never came up in conversation.
The sun had set before he was free to go. Detective Morris commanded, "Don't leave town without checking in. If you can't find a place to stay, you're welcome to sleep in one of the cells tonight."
Tom thanked him for the offer, but decided he'd rather sleep on the ground than inside a jail.
Antler Forks was a typical tourist trap. The winter population of 1502 swelled to around 6000 in the summer. Neon and mercury vapor lit the streets and blotted out the stars that most of the visitors came to see. Tom passed bar after bar, hotel after hotel, until he reached the edge of town. A sign in front of a fieldstone house, with pretty stone cabins strung out along a white gravel driveway, flashed "Midway Motel _acancy".
A wrinkled old man in a holey tee-shirt answered the doorbell. Blue anchors and mermaids covered his leathery forearms. "What can I do for ya, Young Man?"
"I'd like a room for the night."
The man looked out the window, and asked, "Where's your car?"
Tom gave him the condensed version of recent events.
"Sounds like you've had a run of bad luck. Well, hang in there. It's a good life if ya don't weaken. You got thirty bucks?"
"Yes sir." Tom handed him two bills, and asked, "How'd you come up with the motel's name?"
"Midway?" He chuckled softly, and then stayed quiet for a few moments. "Most folks think it means they're halfway to someplace. I named her after the Battle of Midway."
"Were you there?"
"Yeah, I was there, aboard the USS Hammann, until she got torpedoed." His jaundiced eyes met Tom's, "people forget." The old swab handed over a key on a numbered ring and waved Tom away, "Now git. Don't wreck the place."
Cabin 9 was vintage 1950, everything chipped and worn down, but clean. The mattress sagged in the middle. After sleeping on the ground it felt like a cloud. Hunger pangs drew him away from the bed and back into town. Night rhythms vibrated from every barroom. An all-night diner, advertising homemade pies, proved irresistible. Waitresses and patrons noticed his unkempt appearance and whispered.
'Maybe I should find a Laundromat.' Savoring the last bite of lemon meringue, Tom looked across the street and spied a familiar John Denver tee-shirt and a long black braid enter a crowded bar. "Check please!"
A sign outside 'The Syncopated Cynic' read: Karaoke contest Saturday night, cash prizes. Tom paid the cover charge, got his hand stamped, and melded into the smoky crowd. He stayed in the shadows, until he found an unoccupied space with a view of the room. Most of the patrons were men. This was a john rich environment. Hannah could make some serious money. All Tom wanted was his truck back before she hooked up.
The thumping music stopped, the lights dimmed and a spotlight focused on the small stage. A greasy, lounge lizard announced the first contestant. Unable to see the crowd's faces, Tom began to prowl. An attentive audience listened to the first mediocre performer, and then went back to their neglected drinks and conversations.
Finally reaching the back of the room without success, Tom grabbed an empty stool, and sat down to rest and think.
A waitress, wearing a tissue-thin halter-top and spandex shorts, wiggled over, and asked, "Can I get you something?" When the bottle of Molsen Golden was delivered, Tom tipped and smiled generously. The hottie raked him with a look of interest, until she noticed his shabby clothes, and said, "Thanks, Doll."
Tom leaned his head against the wall, closed his eyes, and shut out the world, until a sultry voice began to belt out Janis Joplin's 'Piece of My Heart'.
"Hey, come on, come on, come on, come on!
Didn't I make you feel…"
The voice held depth and drama. He cracked an eyelid to take a peek and then rocked forward, amazed to see Hannah on stage. The audience became still. Her dirty Denver tee-shirt and the plethora of scratches on her slender limbs only enhanced the tragic refrain…
"You're out on the streets, you're looking good, Honey, deep down inside I know you know it ain't never been right, Never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never hear me cry at night, oh! Each time I tell myself that I can't stand the pain, But when you hold me in your arms, I'll sing it once again…"
Tom witnessed the glitter of tears on her cheeks. Whether they were real or fake, they worked. When Hannah finished, the crowd erupted in a standing ovation. She blew a kiss, took a bow and disappeared backstage.
The next amateur commandeered the microphone, and gradually the room returned to its self-gratifying inattention. Except for Tom. Watchful, he worked his way stage right. After about five minutes, Hannah stepped from behind a curtain, and waded into the crowd. Many stopped to compliment her performance. She acted modest, humbly said thanks, while steadily moving to the back. Once there, Hannah stood against the wall, and people left her alone. She wore a satisfied grin, looked happy. He'd seen that grin before, under different circumstances, and felt a pang of disappointment that he wasn't there to share her moment of glory. Tom felt a strange pride, surprising warmth, toward the thieving whore. She had talent. Why did she throw her life away?
A squeaky soprano broke into song and the male crowd cheered. The well-endowed blonde must have been confused about tonight's contest. She strutted across the stage in a wet tee-shirt. Her bunny hop performance raised a deafening roar. Tom couldn't even tell what song she pretended to sing. He glanced at Hannah, and his heart sank. She slumped forward, stared at the floor, and stroked her braid. At first, Tom didn't understand what happened. But when the next three women all performed in diminishing amounts of fabric and the cheers increased inversely proportional to their modesty, he realized the fix was in. To the Victoria's with the least secrets go the spoils. Hannah finished out of the money. Another little piece of her heart broken.
Anger swelled in Tom's chest. She was by far the best singer, and should've won. He waited for her reaction and hoped for the best, but expected the worst.
Hannah didn't dwell on the loss. A few seconds later, her head was up. She reconnoitered, and settled on two potbellied, polyester playboys. After cupping a hand in front of her mouth for a breath check, Hannah leaned on the table between them and struck up a conversation.
This wasn't right. The whole plane crash ordeal was supposed to have changed Cheyenne back to Hannah. Tom wasn't about to let her off the hook so easily. She owed him, and he was going to make her accountable. Unnoticed, Tom moved behind her, tapped her shoulder, and said, "Nice song, Willow."
She snapped around so fast that her braid whacked one of the men hard across the face. Her eyes darted around, looking for the police or a possible escape route. "Hi, Tom. I'm glad to see you made it out safe. I knew you would." Her hand dove into her pocket and pulled out his truck keys. "Here, it's parked in the lot behind the bar." They stood for long seconds, eyeing each other. Once she realized Tom wasn't going to freak out, she relaxed a little. "Let's talk."
The man, still rubbing his cheek, yelled at their backs, "Where you going, Darlin'?"
Hannah waved good-bye with one hand and pulled Tom away with the other. "Sorry, Charlie."
Tom was at a loss for words, or feelings. One touch and his emotions became blender mix. He managed to shout, "You should've won."
Hannah ignored the comment and dragged him out into the cool night, where they could speak at normal volume. Dropping his hand, she said, "I didn't think I'd ever see you again, Tom. But, since you're here, I want to apologize for leaving without you."
All his anger had drained away, and before she spoke he'd already forgiven her. But why did he even care? It felt ridiculous. She should be in jail, until everything was sorted out.
"You're an nice guy, Tom. And I don't want my screwed up life messing up yours. I left without you because I don't want you any deeper in my… crap. Now that I'm safe, let's just say goodbye. I can take care of myself." She held out her hand.
The hand hovered, untouched. Tom said, "I thought you'd changed. What were you doing in there?"
Pushing both hands into her back pockets, Hannah looked down, bit her lip, and said, "I need money. I have to get to Vegas and clean out my bank account before I can start over. I don't have any ID."
"How much do you need?" said Tom, pulling out his wallet.
"I don't know."
"Is there a bus station here?"
"I don't know."
"Where are you going to sleep?"
"I don't know."
Tom's anger returned. "I'll tell you where you were going to sleep. In bed with the first horny slob you could find. Were you going to rip him off, too?"
Hannah stroked her braid and began to cry. "So what? Why do you care?"
Unbelievable. "Come on." Tom grabbed her wrist and she followed without a struggle. "Where's my fucking truck?"
It was a lot faster to drive to the Midway motel than to walk. When he parked in front of cabin number 9 they sat quietly for a while.
"If you lend me some money, I'll pay you back."
"I don't think I have enough cash left. I can make a withdrawal on Monday."
"Not until Monday?"
"Is my company that bad, you can't wait 'til Monday?"
"No, that's not it…"
A blinding light suddenly burst through the windshield. Hannah screamed.
A voice shouted, "What are you doin' here?"
Tom recognized the wizened proprietor's gravelly voice. He opened his door and held up his hands. "It's Tom DuBois, from cabin 9."
The light clicked off. "I've been havin' me some trouble with break-ins lately," said the silhouette, tucking a shotgun under its arm. "Hey, I thought you said your truck was stolen."
"Turns out my girlfriend just borrowed it. Everything's cool."
The old man shook his head, turned away, and said, "Women… Good luck, DuBois."
"Sir, you got any washing machines around here?"
Tom unlocked the cabin door, and said, "I have some clean clothes in the truck," then turned back. All of his worldly possessions were stowed beneath the fiberglass cap. There wasn't much, but he was relieved to find everything still in place. The street value of his tools and guitar would've easily paid for a trip to Las Vegas.
When he returned to the cabin, Hannah lay face down on the bed and appeared to be asleep. It had been a long day. First a shower and then about ten hours of shuteye sounded perfect. Quickly, he washed up, saving some hot water for his roommate. After pulling on clean underwear, Tom shook her, and said, "Get up, Stinky, and take a shower."
Without seeming to open her eyes, Hannah dragged herself into the bathroom. Tom crawled between the cool sheets and tried to sleep, but the anticipation of her return energized his circuits. It wasn't long before the water stopped and the bathroom door opened. The light clicked off and she slipped into bed. The natural sag of the mattress brought them together. Hannah snuggled, naked against his back. A tender hand slipped over his chest and across his stomach. When her fingers hooked on the elastic waistband, she said, "You've got to be kidding. Take these off," and began to push them down.
Tom wanted to refuse, and say no, I'm too tired. He didn't like the idea she was paying him off. He didn't want to be the horny slob picked up at the bar. But his mind was weak and his body able. The underpants landed somewhere with a soft plop. Hannah wrapped him in her arms and gave his flesh what it wanted, kisses and caresses that had him ready without ever touching below the imaginary belt, but she was a professional, after all.