It’s three hours from Vegas to Barstow. Eileen made the drive in
two. She was just outside the city when her car began to blink
—a red light beneath a single bar of fuel. She slowed down. She held her
breath. She looked up—distant lights; dreary forms.
She bit her nails. She hit her steering wheel. She scanned her
surroundings. A sign appeared: GAS – LODGING. She pulled off the
freeway and plunged into a plumy darkness.
She searched for the salvific light of a Chevron Station or the
muscular neon of a Mobile-Mart but nothing of the kind appeared.
Only squat houses—wood-framed—and slim signs—handdrawn—
passed by in the night, offering little sense of geography. She steered off
the road, turned off her car. The engine hissed. Dirt settled. Crickets
She shifted in her seat, pulled out her phone.
She found her location: Newberry Springs. She looked for a gas
station: nothing nearby.
She stared up at the moon. She scratched her head. She squinted her
A big-rig passed, rattling the thin frame of her vehicle. The power
startled her, took her breath. She hit her steering wheel. She bit her
nails. She had to get back. Back to her job, her boyfriend, her family,
her friends; away from Vegas, the noise, the smoke, the plastic, leaving
it all behind in a haze of fifteen-hundred dollars and a handful of fetid
Her phone rang—an unknown number. She didn’t pick up.
She started her car and moved on, intent on getting to the city even if she stalled outside of it. Five miles down the road she spotted a tall
Texaco sign—red and black and rotary. She hit her steering wheel. She
broke a smile. She drove up to an empty pump and swiped her card.
Declined. She tried another. Declined. She looked around. The station
was empty. Curious, she stepped inside.
No one was there.
She stood next to a clothing rack full of camouflage fatigues.
Fluorescent lights buzzed above her. Speckled tiles spelled grim designs.
Motes of dust floated through the air. She bit her nails. She looked
around. She stepped outside.
She tried her card again but it still didn’t work. She turned it over,
found a number on the back: 1-800-TO-WELLS. She called it. She was
put on hold. She sighed, paced, stared up at the Texaco sign, watching it
swirl and shake and spin in the thick blank night.
“Hello, this is Mary from Wells Fargo, how may I help you?”
“My card isn’t working and I need to use it. Now.”
“All right miss, may I have the card number please?”
Eileen moved into the light but the numerals were too faint to read.
She strained to see them. She spoke in stops and starts. When she was
finished she was asked to provide her social. She forgot the number and
had to fish it out of a tattered Hello Kitty wallet that said HAPPY in
bright gold letters.
“All right and what transaction are you trying to make?”
“What? I couldn’t hear what you said.”
“What are you trying to use the card for miss?”
“To buy some gas. My tank is empty, I need to get home.”
“Okay, I think I might see the problem. Give me one sec.”
Empty tones of muzak. Still shapes of night. Crisp wisps of wind.
Eileen bit her lip, rubbed her eyes, kicked the ground. She was hungry.
She was tired. She had to piss.
“All right miss, I’ve just approved use of your card beyond the
“So, it should work now?”
“Yes, just keep in mind that you’ll be paying more interest.”
“Your account is maxed out but I’ve approved you for more money.”“I understand that part. What was it you said about the interest?”
A call was coming through. The same unknown number. Eileen
stared at the screen. She didn’t pick up. She tried to resume with Mary
but they were already disconnected.
No one was there.
She swiped, filled up, approved the amount and entered her car. Full
tank. Green light. Open road. She was three miles away from the Texaco
Station when she remembered she had to piss—dull pressure; dim pain.
She tried to find a suitable stopping point but everything around her was
dark and foreboding and dingy. So, she ended up under the light of the
Texaco logo again, pulling into the same spot as before.
She got out, locked her car, and headed inside. The store was
still empty. The tiles were still sinister. The lights were still buzzing.
She found the bathroom in the back, hidden in the small space of an
adjoining Subway. She looked up at the menu options. She looked down
at the food. She was hungry. She was tired. She had to piss.
When she got out she heard something behind the counter—a deep,
numb drone. She stopped, stared, listened. The noise faded out. Then
it started again: a dishwasher, lodged in the back—white and drab and
wide. She bit her lip. She rubbed her eyes. She studied the menu. She
wanted everything on it.
No one was there.
She left through the front and found her car. She got back on the
freeway and listened to the radio—static bursts; frayed voices. She stayed
in the left lane. Cars sped past her. Lights whirred by. Cities coalesced
and collapsed; faint margins fleeting in the dark. She tightened her grip
on the steering wheel. She squinted into the night. She turned off the
Barstow was behind her now. Home ahead.
She descended the peak of the fifteen, moving through the wide
maw of the mountains and noting the cars in the nocturne. Vast gaps of
space. Long swarms of color. Tumid flows of tail-lights. She was tired.
She was hungry. She was driving.Her phone buzzed, throbbing against her thigh.
She plucked it out of her jeans and held it to the steering wheel. The
same caller. The same number. She answered, afraid.
A scratchy silence. Then…a shrill voice.
“Congratulations, you’ve just won a free cruise with Royal Caribbean
to the destination of your choice. Log on to literacle.com to
claim your prize and you’ll be—”
Eileen hung up, threw the phone into the empty seat beside her.
She bit her lip. She rubbed her eyes. She stared forward—into the
road, on through the night, back to the world. Home. Safe. Happy.
Vegas was two-hundred miles away.