Venus got up out of bed and wrote down the dream she just had. She flipped open the screen on her laptop computer and started typing as fast as her shaking hands could go. The backlit computer screen allowed her to see what she was doing without turning on the room light. Her heart was pounding. She wrote every detail but only of the dream, not her thoughts and feelings about it. She would leave wondering what it meant until a later time. At the moment she wanted to make sure she got it down in print while it was still fresh in her memory. When she was satisfied with her entry, she saved the file, turned off the power and closed the case. Venus lay back in her chair and closed her eyes. She wanted to savor the dream for a moment and relive it. It was too late now, she was wide awake. The dream was gone. It seemed too early to get up and too late to go back to sleep. She took a shower hoping that it would snap her out of it. She still couldn't get Mars out of her mind by the time she was getting dressed. She could feel some poetry coming on, so she sat down at her computer again and wrote what came to mind.
Many miles away Mars, who
had the same dream at the same time, stepped out of his van into the foggy pre-dawn
darkness. It was cool, dark, quiet and still as Mars walked, shirtless and in
his bare feet around to the back of his van. His mind was still reeling from
the dream. Was Venus really like that? What did it mean? He smiled, playing
back the dream. Mars looked quickly up and down the road before he began to
relieve himself by the side of the road. Just as he let go, a skunk, which he
hadn't noticed, let him have it square in the face and chest, blinding Mars
and causing him to urinate all over himself as the fat little skunk waddled
off across the road. Mars was bent over in a puddle coughing and heaving his
guts out. Having not eaten in the last ten hours, there was nothing to heave.
The stench was unbelievable and his eyes burned. Every breath he took made him
more nauseous. Mars tore off his shirt and pants and threw them into the brush
as he ran down a slope to a stream next to the road. He ran into the knee-deep
ice-cold water and tried in vain to rinse the stench off. Mars whooped and hollered
and cussed as he dropped to his knees in the middle of the creek and splashed
water all over his face and upper torso.
Trudging back up the embankment, shivering and uttering unspellable sounds, Mars made his way back to his van and changed into fresh clothes. It didn't help to alleviate the smell but it did help him feel a little better. He wondered to himself, "How do you get skunk-stink off of yourself"? He opened all the windows and doors on his van wide so he wouldn't stink it up while he rooted around for something with which to deodorize himself. The first thing he found was some deodorant. He tried rubbing it on thick all over his chest. Then he located a big bottle of cheap cologne. He splashed about half of it on himself, right out of the bottled, onto his face and soaking the top half of his shirt. Now nearly overcome by the fumes of his toiletries, Mars sat down on the floor in the back of his van to gather his thoughts. He pulled out a cigarette, put it to his lips as he remembered that he was replaying the dream he had of Venus when that skunk sprayed him. As he pulled out his lighter he thought, Jeez, that woman really is a jinx. All I had to do was think of her. Mars struck his lighter and the alcohol fumes from his cologne soaked body that had accumulated inside the van exploded with a whoosh! It wasn't big enough to do any damage to the interior of the van but Mars did end up running down to the stream again, this time he was a human torch with his head and shirt on fire. Lucky for him, only the alcohol burned and not his clothing. His hair was a little shorter now and he no longer had any eyelashes or eyebrows.
As he rose to his feet, soaked and shivering, in the middle of the stream. He heard the sound of a rapidly approaching car on the foggy road above him, followed by the sound of slamming metal and squealing tires, followed by a clumsy metallic something bouncing down the road. Then a few seconds of silence were broken by the squealing tires of a car rapidly accelerating away. Again Mars made his way, slipping and tripping, back up the embankment to his van uttering unspellable sounds. He found his van undamaged except that his left front door was now seventy five yards away in the middle of the road. He ran down the road and dragged his door off to the roadside. It was totally demolished. There was no hope of ever using it for a door again. Again he changed his clothes for some dry ones. He closed up his van and drove away. Wouldn't you know, at the first crossroad there's a state trooper on his left. He's pulled over and as the officer is giving him a ticket for not having a door on his vehicle, Mars explains that it was a hit and run and that it had just happened. "Well, all right. I'll let it go this time but you better get it fixed right away." The cop said, "In this state you can't drive around with the driver exposed. You'll have to cover that opening and you'll have to have a window. By the way, you really reek!" The cop drove away, the real reason was because he couldn't stand to be around Mars long enough to write the ticket, he smelled so bad. Mars couldn't afford to fix the door nor could he afford another truck. "Now what?" Mars thought. "What did I do to deserve this? All I did was get up this morning. All I did was think of that crazy woman's name, Venus, and my life goes in the toilet! What! What do you want from me?!?" At that moment it began to rain.
Mars shook his head. He suppresses tears. This was too weird, Mars thought. He was afraid that he might at any moment think of that woman again and another disaster would befall him. "How am I supposed to not think about somebody?" Mars wondered. This could drive a person crazy, he thought. "No", he convinced himself, "It's just coincidence, that's all. Just coincidence".
Venus was finishing her
coffee at the motel diner, watching the sunrise. She felt all warm and comfortable,
like she could sit there all day and not be bored. She realized that she had
never actually sat and watched the sun come up before. This one wasn't dazzling
but it was beautiful. She noticed a star shining through the haze and was surprised
to see a star while the sky was this bright. Venus knew nothing about astronomy
so she had no way of knowing that the star that was shining a little above the
horizon was the planet Mars. The motel she was staying in was located on the
top of a hill overlooking a series of valleys. Fog filled those valleys and
the sun shone gold on it. The tree covered hills were a dark green-gray and
the sky was baby-blue with a crimson and violet halo around the rain clouds
near the horizon. The Sun warmed Venus through the window next to her booth.
The waitress filled her coffee cup again.
"You don't mind me waiting here while they work on my car do you?" Venus asked the big friendly waitress, who pursed her lips and shook her head, no. Venus had taken her car next door to the garage as soon as the mechanic came on duty. She wanted to have it completely checked out before she hit the road in earnest. Since then she had a nice big breakfast and was now lingering over coffee, basking in the sun in a corner booth. The mechanic from next door came into the diner wiping his hands on a rag. He scanned the diner until he saw Venus, and when he did he perked up and headed straight for her, holding his arm in out in front of him, her car keys dangling from his thumb and forefinger. "Your car's finished, ma'am, here's yer keys. The bill comes to $45." , He said as he took off his hat.
The mechanic laughed, "Heck fire, ma'am, I wish my car ran that good!"
"Great! uh, here's fifty bucks. Keep the change." Venus smiled. "Did you fill the tank?"
"Yes, ma'am, and I parked it right out front for ya." The mechanic said as he backed away and turned toward the door. "'Bye now," he said as he popped out the door. He bounded across the parking lot to the gas station where he worked and with the five dollar tip Venus gave him he bought lottery tickets. He ended up winning $200 dollars with one of them.
Venus went out to her car and got her camera. She took several pictures of the sunrise then got in her car with her camera, tape recorder and computer on the front seat and headed down the road. Venus saw the world through new eyes. Everything looked like she was seeing it for the first time. She kept her speed under 55 mph. so she could enjoy the scenery as it went by. At a road side rest stop a few hours later, Venus had something to eat and got out a road atlas. She was looking for towns with unusual names. There were none close by. She also noticed that certain states had a lot more places with weird names than other states. The only car at the rest stop,Venus was sitting in her front seat reading her atlas with the car door open. Out of the corner of her eye Venus noticed something skittering past her. She looked up and noticed it was a dollar bill. Venus got out of her car and chased it a couple of yards and when she picked it up she saw that it wasn't a dollar bill. It was a one hundred dollar bill! Venus looked around. There was nobody else around when she got here and nobody had arrived since. She checked the money again to see if it was good. Yep, It was the real thing. Venus chuckled and smiled at her good fortune as she put the bill into her pocket.
Mars pulled into the first
service garage he came to. It was one of those run down old backroad kind of
places. The owners name was Elmer, a lanky leather-skinned turkey-neck in a
greasy jumpsuit. "Whoa! what happened to yer door? A-hyeh heh." He
laughed as he came bounding out to the pumps. As he came around to the driver
side of the van he was downwind from Mars. "Hoo-Weee! Polecat done got
"I need a door as soon as possible." Mars stated. He wasn't in the mood for kidding around.
"This here's yer lucky day, bwah. I jes' happ'm ta have a van jus' like this'n out back. Only problem is, this door frame's mangled up too bad. Ah cain't bolt the door on nowhar's so's it lines up proper."
"Can't you weld it on or something?" Mars pleaded. "I don't care what it looks like, I just have to have this covered."
"Wull," Elmer took off his hat and scratched his head, "I reckon I could weld it on."
"Good. Go for it!" Mars said. "How much will it cost me?"
"Oh, I don't know, . . .Forty dollars, I guess. Maybe ten for the door"
"Fine," said Mars, "I'll take it. I'm going to go next door and get something to eat. How long you figure this'll take?"
"'Bout an hour, I guess. Lookie here, fella, g'wan in the store thar 'n see if my wife, Lu can do somethin' 'bout that smell yer a-wearin'." Elmer got into the van and pulled it into his garage.
"Thanks." Mars said sincerely then he turned on his heels and walked across the small parking lot. Mars went into the little mom & pop store next door, owned also by Elmer. He figured he'd get a newspaper and some coffee while he waited for the repair to be completed. As the screen door slammed behind him, a gravely voice greeted Mars with a hardy good-morning then asking him if she could help him find anything. Her name was Lu and she was, like her husband Elmer, what Mars had always pictured Hillbillies to look like. He'd never actually seen people like this in person, and even though his initial reaction was to assume these folks were dim-witted and uninteresting, he caught himself and decided to treat them with the same respect he treated everybody else. After all they seemed like real nice folks.
"Hoo-boy! somebody got skunked this morning!" Lu was a twig of a woman and seemed to talk just to hear herself and she seemed to be on a permanent high. Everything she talked about she saw only the positive side. She followed Mars around the store because nobody else was around. She talked so much Mars forgot what he came in the store for. He went up and down each aisle figuring he'd know what he wanted when he saw it. Eventually he picked up a newspaper, a package of donuts and while Lu was making him a large coffee to go, Mars spotted the gun counter. Part of the store was a mom & pop mini-mart and part of it was a gun store. "You sell guns?"
"Sure, didn't you see the sign? 'Pendergast's Guns & Gas' the locals call it the Gun Garage, he-heh. Whad'ya think, can I sell yew a haind gun?" Lu smiled, handing him the coffee, awaiting his answer. "That'll be $3.71, please. That is, unless you'd like something else. Oh, by the way I put some tomatoes in the bag. You have to wash the smell off with tomatoes instead of soap. Jes' mash 'em right into yer skin. Really, it works."
"O.K." Mars said trying to hide the doubt in his response, "Thank you very much, you're very kind to do this." He said handing Lu the money. "Now I just want to have my coffee and read the paper while Elmer's working on my van. I'll find a quiet spot outside and relax while I'm waiting. I've had a real bad morning so far.
"I'll bet you have." Lu laughed. "You're very welcome young feller. Now, you jes' go out thar 'n find a nice spot under a tree or somethin' an' you have yerself a nice day. Things can only get better, hon. You'll see."
Mars walked outside and spotted a grassy spot away from the road next to the store. As he rounded the corner of the building he collided with Lu and Elmer's very large son Floyd. A stunned Mars picked himself and his purchases up and confronted the towering Floyd.
"Why'nt chew watch were yer goin', bwah?" Said Floyd, and as he got wind of Mar's scent, added, "Ga-all, dang! Yew, stank! I mean, yew really stank! How kin yew stan' it?!"
"Look, Gomer, I'm not in the mood, O.K.? I'm having a rotten day so far and you ain't making it any better. Just leave me alone until you're pappy fixes my van." Mars went to walk around Floyd but as he was passing him Floyd grabbed a bunch of the front of Mar's shirt.
"I don't like yer tone of voice, stranger." Floyd threatened. "I'll thank yew ta show a little more respek."
"Take a hike, Frankenstien." Mars foolishly replied as he pulled Floyds hand off his shirt.
Mars never knew what hit him. Floyd left him lying face down in a puddle of hot coffee and tomatoes by the side of the store with a broken nose and two black eyes.
It might have been the sirens that eventually brought Mars back to consciousness. In any event, he stumbled to his feet, in coffee soaked clothing, dripping bits of tomatoes, some of which still stuck to his face. Holding on to the building, he staggered around to the front. Fire engines were just coming into view down the road. Elmer was running back and forth in front of the gas station's garage as it billowed thick black smoke. Floyd was hosing down the roof of the store. Mars blinked his eye to focus them. The sun, now bright, gave him a headache. Now flames could be seen leaping out of the garage. By the time the fire trucks pulled into the lot, the garage was a raging inferno. The firemen immediately started to evacuate everyone from the site. This building was a goner and the store was going to go next. It was too risky to try to save it while the gas station, practically on top of it, was burning. The cans of solvents and lubricants laying around in the garage began to go off like bombs and roman candles, then the air compressor went and finally the welding tanks blew the building to pieces, taking part of the little store. The fire quickly spread to the stores of ammunition and powder. Everyone, including Mars had by this time been evacuated to a place down the road and around the bend where the bullets couldn't reach them. At this point the firemen decided to just let the thing burn itself out. The chief wouldn't risk sending anybody in while there was a chance of bullets exploding. Then it happened. The very old and almost empty underground gas tanks exploded with a tremendous roar that rocked the countryside. It threw pieces over a mile, some of it raining down on the evacuated, who found cover in vehicles. The fire was out and in its place was a crater ten feet deep and almost a hundred feet across. There was absolutely nothing left of the property at this address. Not even the property.
Mars, who was given a nose-holding wide berth, Elmer, Lu and Floyd, along with a gathering crowd of onlookers, gazed silently into the smoking crater. A little over an hour ago there was a thriving family business here. Suddenly it just disintegrated. Elmer was sobbing with his face in his hands. Floyd just stood there with his mouth hanging open in disbelief. Lu, always the optimist, piped up, "I reckon it could've been worse. We's lucky, nobody got kilt." Mars was in shock. He stunk to high-hell. His eyebrows and eyelashes, singed off in the cologne fire, no longer kept the sweat out of his eyes. The only thing he owned now was the coffee and tomato stained clothes on his back. Everything else had been vaporized by the fire and explosion. He was really hurting from his beating by Floyd and his mind was having a hard time accepting this new and tragic turn his life had taken. He was hoping he wouldn't have to get used to this.
(to be continued)
Way Out West ©1993 Martin Scherer. Venus & Mars © 1995 Martin Scherer. E-mail: Scherer@tesserak.net