Roads

"I want to know how you did that trick with my blunt," I say to Kayla, my hand still in hers as she leads the way toward the main trail. "And the cuffs, too." She continues on without slowing or glancing back.

"You don't want to talk about your reasons with me,” She says, “so I think it's fair I keep my methods from you."

"My reasons?"

"For being here today."

And she's right: I don't want to talk about it. But since she showed up, things seem...surreal. The blunt appearing like she regenerated it, the cuff unlocking, the way she indifferently sank my bike in the lake by swimming out with it and letting it go—something about walking with her was setting off my senses.

"So, where do you live?"

"Far away," she says, evading. "I'm visiting."

"Right. You're visiting, and your visit just happened to bring you to this state game land, on that little deer path to the lake."

"You got me, Wes. I'm your Clarence, and I'm going to show you what the world would be like without you." She stops and turns to me. "Do you think I'm pretty, Wes?"

"You're kidding, right?" I take that to be an obvious ‘yes’ from me, but she shrugs and rolls her eyes.

"That's not an answer, jackass."

"You're gorgeous," I say. She doesn’t respond, either in word or expression. She starts walking, pulling me with her again. "You're just...so all over the place. But you've probably heard that." We jump out onto the railway bed again, which is wide enough to walk side-by-side.

"I've been told I don't have a filter," she says, "but that's useful. It throws people off balance."

"Yeah,” I chuckle. "Like me?"

"Were you balanced before I saw you chained to a hundred pounds of death, smoking yourself stupid?"

"No filter," I say. “Got it.”

"Let's play a game, Wes. I'll ask a question, and you ask a question. We both answer truthfully, or not at all. If you answer me, I'll answer you. Keep it interesting: no follow ups." While I wrap my head around this, I turn to Kayla to try and read her expression.

And the woman is dry. Bone dry. Not a sign that she so much as set foot in the water.

"You-you're dry." I tell her. She smiles.

"Warm day, though."

Bullshit. Her fucking sneakers are even dry. Has she been dry for a few minutes? Am I just noticing this?

“Kayla, how the fuck did you do that?”

“You want information?” She asks. “Play.”

"Fine. Ask away." It takes me a long time to even get that out. I don't know what else to say.

She lets go of my hand to clasp her own together again.

"Let’s see. What’s so awful in this world that you had to come here today?" I kind of knew it was coming, but I didn't expect her to jump right into it. I take a deep breath.

"Me." It's all I say. And it's quiet for a while.

"Huh.” She’s nonplussed. I kind of cheated my answer. “Your turn, I guess."

"How did you make the cuff fall off of me?"

"Magic," She shrugs. I suppose it’s a fair exchange for my one-word answer. "Would you fuck me?" She asks with an even tone. It takes me a second to process the words.

"Uhm--in ideal circumstances, you mean?"

"Answer the question."

"Yeah, I would." Of course I would. Obviously I would. But as much as her line is throwing me off, I have to know from her mouth... "How did you get dry so quickly?"

"Magic," she shrugs. And before I have a chance to call her a cheater, "Were you staring at my chest when I got out of the water?" One after the other. I can not keep up with this woman. It’s one big mindfuck.

"What the hell are we—"

"Not your turn!"

"Yes!" My voice echoes through the stands of oak and hemlock. "I was staring at every part of you when you got out of that water.” The confession actually feels kind of nice. “I was...waiting to watch you get out, really.”

My turn.

"Illusion magic, or 'I have supernatural abilities' magic?" I ask.

"What's your definition of supernatural?" She asks.

"Not your turn," I smirk.

"You forfeit. We said no follow-ups." She steals the smugness in my face again. "Answer my question." I'm getting flustered now, but I try my best to hide it.

"Something that, given my current understanding of the world, is just not possible." I pause. "What's my last name?"

"Timmons," she says, her lightning quick accuracy making a shiver run down me. Maybe it was on my bag. "Do I scare you?"

"How do you know my—"

"Do-I-scare-you?" She asks again. The flow of the rules, making our conversation a rigid game—it's the only thing pushing me forward.

"Yeah. Yeah, a little."

"Good!" She says. "Now we're having fun." Sure we are.

"What would you have done if you'd come a few minutes later, and you actually saw me disappear under the water?" I ask.

"I would've stopped you. Just like it happened." I want to ask her how, since I didn't have a key to my padlock or my cuffs, but I keep mentally deferring to the no follow-up rule. I can't get around it. "Would you like to see more magic?"

"Yes." No hesitation from me there. I let my instincts carry me to the next one. "Kayla, did you re-materialize the better part of that blunt after we smoked most of it?" Not a follow-up. Specific, hard to evade. She turns to me and nods.

"Locked in." She grins. "Yes." Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

“That's not possible,”  I say. Her turn.

"Do you think I'm lying?" Yes. Yes. You have to be, or I'm going insane.

"I haven't decided," I mutter. She shoves me.

"You think I'm lying. I know you are." Her dark eyes burn into mine, and we’re both stopped on the tracks.

I can't stand how this woman stares at me. She's in my head. She counters everything perfectly, like she knows the whole conversation ahead of time. She's making the impossible happen.

And everything locks into place.

She's making the impossible happen. She was dry after she went into the water. The joint reappeared. My cuff—wasn't ever locked. She knows my last name.

“I think that—I mean...are you a hallucination?” Kayla rolls her eyes and continues walking.

“Yeah, this is all in your i-mag-in-a-tion,” she mocks, laughing at me. “I'm real, dude. Are you fucking kidding? I shouldn't have doubled that suicide joint. You said opium, right?”

“Materialization is not possible,” I say.

“It’s my turn.”

“Yes, that was opium. Not a usual thing. Under the circumstances I figured it’d keep me calm for the last 10 minutes.” I watch her walking slightly ahead of me, disturbing the ground beneath her. I hear the sound of her shoes against the ties. “Kayla, you couldn't have known my last name. You couldn't have just happened to be here. Materialization is not possible and I swear I remember smoking that blunt twice. I'm going nuts.” She doesn't slow or respond. Doesn’t turn back to me. “I mean, you're real enough to me—but you're a projection. To keep me from killing myself.” She starts laughing.

“Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Okay. Time out.” She holds a hand to her face, but keeps walking. “First off, you were the one who didn't want to talk about that. Second, I'm driving.”

“But that explains—” I stop dead now. She keeps walking. “Kayla, did you say you were driving?” Kayla takes a few more steps and stops. She pulls a small set of keys from her shorts pocket and jingles them.

“Absolutely,” She turns around. “Not that you had a car anyway.”

“I—I don't.” I pace up to her again. “But how do you—”

“Did you warn me about the opium before I joined you?” She asks, yawning. “I can’t remember.”

“It was a fucking suicide joint,” I say. She shrugs.

“That’s fair.” She starts walking again.

“Wait, Kayla—” I touch her shoulder. I feel her shoulder. The softness of her skin. Warmth. “I have no idea what's going on, but—um—thank you.” We smile at each other for a while, and I even see her eyes get a little glassy.

“Aww...you're welcome, Wes.” She leans in and kisses my cheek. “You're very welcome.”

When we start walking again, we spend the next couple of minutes in comfortable silence. Soon, the road is in sight, and I see a little red foreign sedan parked at the side in a gravel strip.

“Yours?" I ask.

“Mine,” She says. “So we're going straight to my place, yes? Do you want to pick up anything?”

“Like what?” I ask. “Didn’t you say your place was far away?”

“Couple hours. We should celebrate,” She says. “This is the first day of your new life.”

“New life.”

“Something sank in that lake--and whatever it was, wasn’t you. So now we're going to celebrate.” I chuckle, practically in shock when we approach the vehicle. If I get into this car and drive away, then this woman is real. She has to be.

“I still can't believe that—”

"Hey," she says, cutting me off.

"Yeah?"

“Make me a promise that you will suspend your disbelief for the rest of the day.” Something primitive is going off in my brain—somewhere between animal instinct and the absorbed human history as told in language. Kayla uses the words 'make me a promise', and they strike me to the core.

What the hell is wrong with me?

“I promise.” We're at the car. She hasn't unlocked the doors yet.

“You promise to suspend your disbelief for the rest of the day. I'm not an illusionist.”

“We'll see about that.”

“Nooo...you've seen it. It's been in front of your eyes. Promise. Again.”

“I...promise to suspend my disbelief for the rest of the day.” The doors unlock.

“Get in.” We both open our doors and get into the car, which has a gas station air-freshener slung over the rear view. There's a cooler in the back, a duffel bag, a few suitcases, knick-knacks on the dash and loose CDs everywhere.

She's real. She's a woman with wide musical tastes and a sealed pack of smokes in a clean ashtray. There are stories in this car, stories that I couldn't have possibly made up. She spins a U and starts driving down the road.

“If you know my address too, I think you owe me an explanation.”

“Holy shit, Wes, your promise started ninety-six seconds ago.” I put up my hands in surrender. “Now did you want to stop anywhere before, or what?”

“Kayla, what are you doing here? Today? How did you really find me?"

“I was on my way to the city. I stopped where I felt something...made a turn I otherwise wouldn't have made. Pulled over, started walking. Out in the woods, just on the shore of a lake--something heavy, bending the lines downhill, making me a tunnel straight to your deer path.” She stops, and I say nothing.

I can't think of anything that's not a refutation of her experience, so I have to shut up. It's quiet for a little while until it drills at me again...

“How do you know my name?” I ask. “How did you see that tunnel?”

“Magic, Wes.” She smiles. “You are dangerously close to breaking your promise.”

“When you looked into my eyes,” I say, realizing the feeling I had was more than just a silly crush. “When I shotgunned you that hit.” Her face lights up.

“Ah, so you felt it!” She shouted. “It was wonderful, wasn't it? You wanted me in your head.”

“I liked looking into your eyes,” I say, being as careful as possible. Did I really feel what she's describing, or are we just playing a game?

"It's much easier to read a person when they're relaxed,” She says. “You were very cooperative.”

“Magic," I chuckle. “How is it that you know magic?”

“Information best left for later,” She shrugs.

"Would you—show me magic that would just be completely undeniable?” She shakes her head.

“You promised me it WOULD be undeniable. For the rest of the day. And I don't do requests."

“Then what are you doing here? Isn’t a lighted path a request from fate?” She narrows her eyes at me for an instant. Her gaze jumps back to the road.

“But you aren’t actually denying it anymore, are you?”

“No.” Hell, be honest. “I mean, I didn’t really sense you searching my head--but I sensed something. I mean, there’s a chance you could still be an exceptionally resourceful stalker with precision sleight of hand--but a promise is a promise.”

“You’re still aching for something to seal the deal.”

“If you don’t mind terribly.”

"That's fair enough, I suppose..."

I didn’t know what I was expecting. Something small. Simple enough for her to do while she drove. When she took her hands off the wheel, I was worried.

"Look, Wes, no hands." She's staring at the steering wheel like a fool, feigning awe. Of course we're on a straightaway. "Do you trust me, Wes?" I suppose I don't. Not really. But I don't tell her that.

"Sure," I say.

"I want you to open the door and get out of the car." Her expression drops, no longer smiling.

"What?"

"I want you to take off your belt, open that door, and get out. Leave the car. Right now."

"We must be going forty or fifty miles per hour."

"Sixty-three," She corrects. "Does it matter? You were gonna be fish food by the end of the day."

"I was going to kill myself, not horribly and painfully injure myself."

"I want you to trust me, Wes." She says again. I notice her hands still aren't on the wheel as we go into a light turn. The steering wheel is rotating on its own, and she's not touching it. Not her hands, not her knees--nothing.

"I--yeah. Yeah, okay--I trust you." To convince me to grind down the outer layers of my body against the asphalt.

"Do it." I take off my seatbelt, which retracts as the car starts beeping. I open the door, pushing it against high wind resistance. Thousands of tiny stone and tar teeth pass under me every split-second, waiting to tear my clothing and skin to shreds.

"Kayla, I..."

"You wanted proof, Wes? Do this, and you'll never, ever doubt me again." I look back at her one last time and shake my head before I push against the car's B-pillar and slam the door shut again.

"So much for a promise..." She sighs. When I look back at her, her hands are on the steering wheel.

"I think you're having a lot of fun fucking with me,” I say. “I wish I understood why."

"I told you why, Wes."

It’s weird. I’m angry with her, and I’m not sure why. She was really just daring me to do another version of what I was going to do in the pond. It was a point that poked a little too hard for me.

"Fate certainly brought us together," I say. "You're as fucked as I am."

"Streaks of denial, projection, self-loathing..." she shakes her head. "The rest of the ride could be so easy for you if you were willing to jump in."

"Jump into the moving road, you mean."

"You'd have never hit that road, Wes." She says it like I’m supposed to believe it--like she was going to use the force to throw me back into my seat. Or maybe she meant I wasn’t ever going to go through with it in the first place.

I puff, staring out the window.

Am I dead? Did I go through the motions without even knowing it? Is this my afterlife?

"I really don't mean to sound ungrateful here, but there have to be a million other things someone like you could be doing." I don’t even know what I mean by this. That she’s a superhero or something. I dunno. She kept me from offing myself, and all I can do is bitch.

"Now I think you're mistaking me for someone else," She says. "Right now, I don't give a fuck about a million other things. My concern is in this car."

"Should I be fond of being your new counseling project?" My attitude here makes her turn with some shock, but she’s not angry--just surprised.

"Well...It’s not really a question of whether you like it or not...which, you do--or you wouldn’t have let me go swimming with the bike you were gonna take over the river Styx.” She smirks. “You are right up my alley, though. I need a challenge."

And this sets me off again. I'm being treated like a petulant child by this woman.

"So...stop fucking acting like a child,” She says.

And this stops me hard again. I look over at her quiet smile--her eyes unflinchingly on the road, ignoring my surprise. She’s in my head,

"Fuck, it's hard for you to just let things happen, isn't it? You worry a lot."

"I tend to think twice before letting certain things happen--like leaping from a car." I raise my eyebrows at her. "The conscientious worry. Carefree is careless."

"Do the conscientious consider the possibility that the self is not the ego’s property to discard?" Biting words, but the question’s asked without much emotion. "As for leaping from cars, can you tell me the difference between bleeding to death internally and becoming a waterlogged, anoxic corpse?"

She's not afraid of sinking the knife deep, and now I'm getting angry. A beautiful woman gets high with me and pulls me from the throes of suicide just--

“To avoid feeling it, right? To avoid feeling what you were actually doing to yourself?” She keeps going, and her words blend so close to my thoughts that I didn’t realize she was answering her own question. “To deprive your body--the living organism which gives you clear signals on how best to stay alive--no chance to allow you to reconsider?”

"You saved me to lecture me,” I say, laughing. “Really, is there a soul-saving quota for you or something? Are you going to just fade into the sunset when I finally learn some fundamental truth about--"

Hard brake. The car squeals like mad, throwing both of our bodies forward until they're arrested by our belts. I see her arms tense against the wheel. It’s a violent moment. The car hates it, and loose CDs, change, and all the bags in the back shift.

"If you want, Wes," Kayla says with an eerie calm that matches the stillness of the road beneath us now, "You can get out of the car and lay on the pavement. I will promise to back up a few hundred feet and finish the job you started." I look over at her eyes, staring dead into mine. I've little doubt she's serious.

"You are fucked.” I say. I’m scared now--but my survival mechanisms aren’t working. Idiotic pride is coming from somewhere. “You’re more fucked than I am." Silence for a while. It’s killing me. She doesn’t look angry--not tense or disappointed--not ANYTHING, but she won’t budge. It’s a stare I can’t decipher. All I can do is keep talking. "Maybe you could just take me back to the lake if you've changed your mind," I say. "If you're going to threaten me--"

"Threaten you?" She laughs, and it’s still loose. Without tension. "With what? Taking away something you were gonna give away a few minutes ago?" She shakes her head. "It's not gonna be that easy, Wes." The car begins forward again, and we sit in silence for a minute, continuing down the road.

"Just let me out," I say. I can’t take silence in a car with a person I just met. It gets worse from here. "Just fucking stop. I'll walk from here." Kayla shakes her head.

“Something you were gonna give away a few minutes ago, Wes.” She seems to think about it. “Left out on the curb. Free to anyone who gets there before the dump truck.”

It sounds ugly, and I want to respond to it, but it’s a trap. She’s not wrong--I was about to throw away my life. Isn’t ‘feeling threatened’ just a pretense at this point?

"You gotta lighten up," Kayla says, shrugging. "Stop being so eager to sabotage yourself."

"My head is fucked," I say. "The cuffs, the blunt, the weird confidence, the way you seem to be reading my mind now and then…” I choke on the last part, but I have to let it out. I have to. “Are you human, Kayla?"

I think her lips say a silent *for fuck’s sake* first, but I can’t tell.

"Your thoughts show on your face, stupid...” She mutters. “Yes, I'm human. HU-MAN." She sighs. "I have blood and teeth, and bones, and organs; I fucking bleed once a month...I'm a warm blooded mammal, Wes--Homo sapiens sapiens. Nothing up my sleeve."

Nothing. Ha. We’re well past that now.

"Nothing, Kayla? Then help me make the leaps. The keys to my cuffs and chains were GONE--but you touch them and release me. That blunt was GONE, Kayla--and we fucking smoked it again. Help me make the leaps."

"I think you're high on weed and near-death, bud." I can't stand the look on her face, so certain and deliberate.

"Dry as a bone a few minutes after you went into the pond--clothed. How, Kayla? Answer the question." She looks at me now, less smug. Almost thoughtfully.

"Like, you made me a promise, Wes.” She sneers. “I am being so fucking light on you. Have been so light on you already.”

“You’re not going to answer,” I say.

“I absolutely will answer that question.” She nods her head, pulling out a cell and steering with her knees for a second. “But in order to do it, you have to play with me. Be here, stop worrying, and stop questioning my motives. Right now I'm just some woman you decided to put your plans on hold for.” She drops her cell in the center console and nudges me with her elbow. “Seriously, whoever else you think I am, you're wrong."

Music starts playing. I’m not even sure what to say at this point--and all I can do is worry. What is this thing? She’s delicate, but she’s powerful. She’s straightforward, but she’s sensitive. She’s showy and coy. She’s...she’s fucking gorgeous. She’s beyond me, and I’m just driving with her. In her car. In her hands. How many thousands of ways can I fuck this up? When does she get sick of me and give up?

Why me?

She takes a deep breath.

"Why you? Why you? Don't let the fates swell your head, Wes. You were there on that lake, so was I, and now you're still here. Do either of us really need to know more?" She finally seems irritated. “I know you’re anxious to ruin this, but I will not let you off that easy.”

She pauses. She’s looking straight at the road as the tension goes from her just as quickly as it rose. She looks at me, smiles for a second, and takes a deep breath as she stares back down the road.

“So stop. I’m giving you another shot at this, Timmons.” She accelerates through another straightaway and clasps me on the shoulder. “Now keep your fucking promise for the rest of the day--and tomorrow afternoon, you can keep a steno pad on hand and ask all the bullshit you want.”

We drive for a while, and after a couple songs, I’m feeling at home. We shoot the shit about her CDs a bit. She isn’t angry, and I’m too mentally exhausted to keep myself strung like a tennis racket. The mundane talk goes easy for a while.

For some reason, I jump branches.

"Kayla, why did you ask me if I wanted to fuck you?"

"What a dumb meta-question," She says. "Never ask that to anyone ever again. Also, I asked you if you would, not if you wanted to." I shake my head, and she continues. "Those are two different things, right?"

Not from where I’m sitting, but I avoid the obvious redirect. I have to press her. "Either way, why did you ask?"

"I will indulge your dumb, unsexy meta-question..." She says. "But it means having to keep your promise, which includes follow-ups, additional details, et cetera..."

"Jeez, you dodge like a pro,” I say. “I’m going to keep my promise."

She thinks about it for a while before she starts.

"It’s machinery,” she says. “Everything is placed and tuned. Certain things link, certain things don’t.”

This already makes no sense to me. This is why she asked if I’d fuck her?

“There are...tracks. Paths in the process, right? They build on each other.” She squints, rolling her eyes and looking around--searching for the words. “Every track has possibilities, but every fork closes off some destinations while opening others.” I try to listen to her--try to hold together everything she’s saying. “What I want to accomplish here wasn’t going to work if you weren’t willing to fuck me, Wes.” She shrugs, inflating her cheeks and letting the air out after a second. “Yep, there you go: the only good ways forward for you come from fucking me."

As if it were in the cards...as if she was a fortune teller?

I wasn’t allowed to ask a follow up. I’m not cool, witty, or well-rested enough to make a joke. I barely understood the sentences together.

Machinery. Tuned. Tracks. Paths. Process. Build. Destinations. Accomplish. Fuck.

“And! And, this is useless, since you already know it--but the reason I’m giving you all of this is because the odds are already well in my favor. You’re in on the next hand--for sure at this point.”

I laugh. Organically. That makes me laugh. There’s so many contradictions to her that I can’t make sense of it. “You make it sound like a science,” I say, staying vague.

She laughs too, and it’s melodic. Beautiful. She glances at me for a second, and it seems like gratitude in her eyes. I don’t know why.

“It is a science, kind of,” She grins, patting me on the leg. “And way to ask a question without a question mark, sneak.”

“I didn’t ask a thing…” I say, smiling as I roll down the window. I lean out it a bit, letting the wind tear through my hair and pushing my legs closer to the center console as she’s rubbing the denim on my thigh.

“I know,” She says. “You’re learning.” She keeps her hand there. Stupid and small as it is--it means the world to me. I’m okay with how pathetic I am.

I have no idea where this car is going, and for the moment, I don’t care.

I’m alive. I can still feel the air in motion--and everything else.