With a tremor that ran from his toes to his scalp, he jerked awake and blinked into a relentless brightness until his eyes adjusted to look out through grimy windows across a terrain large and merciless in equal proportions. “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” came from the radio. He shuddered in an effort to shed a nightmare and realized he had been sleeping sitting up.
“Shouldn’t sleep in a running truck. My Dad says it’ll give you bad dreams.”
The large, vivid red truck rolled across the plains, along an asphalt ribbon bleached gray by the Texas sun. The truck pulled a horse trailer curiously the same shade of yellow as the stripes along the road and a lone sedan, itself the color of the sky, followed about a half-mile back.
The sun trudged its way across the sky and the men listened to Pink on the radio and shared an odd conversation about Vietnam rather than fighting in the rainy country. Though both young men had college deferments, the subject of war and men killing men for abstract reasons loomed large on the emotional landscape. Nothing loomed large on the physical landscape the two ill-starred young men moved across and the parched plains did not so much roll as twist in the bleak light. This all seemed curiously logical so it was not something upon which they dwelt.
“We’re missing all the good parties,” said Beau.
“Yeah,” said Zack.
“The women dress up in skimpy outfits, in costumes that show a lot of skin and tits. Sometimes you can even see a girl’s nipples.”
“Everyone goes a little crazy for Halloween. Hell, Roger even had me pack a costume to bring with us.”
“He had you pack ah costume when we’re going ta the middle of nowhere. Why?”
“I don’t know. Why do you think they’re making us drive this far?” asked Beau.
“I don’ know,” said Zack, the driver. “I didn’ know back when we left Dallas, when you asked that the first time. Still don’.”
“I was just asking,” said Beau.
“You know what your brother says about that,” said Zack.
“It goes against faith to ask questions,” said Beau, quoting his older brother. “But Roger ain’t in the truck with us, Goddamn it.”
“Don’ take the Lord’s name in vain,” said Zack, a theology student. “How you gonna get inta the Omega Omega House if you keep on cussin’ like that when it’s against the rules?”
“I’ll just get Roger to pull some strings, talk to some people,” said Beau, his tone flippant and hollow.
Zack mumbled something incomprehensible.
“What was that?” asked Beau.
“It was ah rhetorical question,” muttered Zack.
Beau’s older brother served as pledge master, his father and uncles were past members and his family gave money to the O.O.
“Actually, I don’t think getting into O.O. – I mean my getting in – is gonna be that easy,” said Beau. “Roger said there is something I’ve gotta do out here, some kinda initiation thing. Gotta fulfill some O.O. and family tradition.”
“But he wouldn’t tell you what it is?” asked Zack.
It was not much of a question because he knew Roger was miserably hard on Beau, who doted on his older brother and hung himself from his brother’s every word. Beau, following his arrest for public intoxication, called Roger after his brother abruptly left him at the bar but the older brother hung up on him. Beau’s though talk often fell flat. That evening Zack bailed Beau out of jail without comment or complaint.
Roger made Zack bring along his horse for the final step of his fierce initiation into the Omega Omega fraternity. The pledge master remained silent on why the two friends had to go further than any other pledge to gain membership.
“No,” answered Beau. “But he keeps sayin’ this will make or break me as a man.”
“This our turn?” asked Zack, having failed to think of a more appropriate response.
Beau read the written directions and said yes.
A few more turns led the travelers to a desiccated highway stop consisting of a gas station, motel and a shop where once upon a time tourists purchased tacky knickknacks. All the buildings, accumulated debris at the crossroad and the desert itself were different shades of the same color.
To the south rose a pair of hills named Las Hermanitas and a metal sign telling travelers the town of Freer squatted to the north. The crossroad itself was a forlorn place, no longer home to joy and never home to many people.
“Look at that,” said Zack.
Zack pointed to the wall of a gas station, which in few more turns of the sun would simply be another ruin in the south Texas desert, where someone had written “wellcom to nigtmare country” in what appeared to be brown paint.
They exited the truck. Beau walked to his brother’s car while Zack checked on his horse. The young man filled a bucket with water from a tank in the bed of his truck for the horse. Zack looked up from this task and saw the other men talking. Roger told Beau something the younger man did not want to hear, to judge from the expression on his face. The wind shifted and Zack caught the tail of the brother’s conversation.
“But he’s my friend,” said Beau, his tone wheedling.
“That’s why we chose him,” said Roger, his tone smooth as a scalpel. “That’s why Dad and I let you spend time with someone like him.”
Roger came over as Beau fed his horse.
“When you’re through with your horse, get my bags and take them into the motel,” said Roger, wearing his habitual reptile smile.
“Okay,” said Zack.
Zack carried the bags from the car to the seedy motel past a clerk who watched rock videos on a television older than the pledges. The music was from a different band, a different song and a different time than the rock video images flickering across the black and white screen. The rawboned clerk never looked up at the travelers with his hooded eyes, nor was he seen to move at all.
Once in the room, both pledges positioned and repositioned the luggage seemingly endlessly for Roger. The pledge master was on the phone and telling someone in another place “…we’re ready and everything is in place and there shouldn’t be any more trouble this year than last.”
Beau and Zack left the room because only Roger had the right to sleep in a bed and the pledge master told the pledges they would wait in the truck until he fetched them.
“I’m hungry,” said Zack. “Doesn’t look like any place ta eat around here, though.”
Beau mumbled something incomprehensible.
“What was that?” asked Zack.
“I said, Roger brought some sandwiches,” muttered Beau. “But those are just for him.”
“Come on, brother, maybe we can get somethin’ at the gas station,” said Zack.
Twilight festered into night as they walked into the station. The attendant, a rawboned man with hooded eyes, cooked burgers for the infrequent patrons on a fry stove. On the counter sat the burnt down, twisted and collapsed remains of skull shaped ofrenda candles.
Beau seemed to count his fingers two or three times before he finally broke down and told Zack he had not brought any money with him.
“You don’ have any money,” said Zack, exasperated. “You are one of the richest guys on campus, after your brother and you don’ have any money?”
“Roger said not to bring any,” said Beau.
“Yore brother is Roger?” asked the attendant with an old accent before turning to Zack. “You his brother too?”
“In spirit, not in flesh and blood,” said Zack, while getting paying.
“You know my brother?” asked Beau.
“He come in here two years ago, ‘bout this time, for his initiation into that… brotherhood,” said the agitated attendant.
“You okay?” asked Zack.
“There’s somethin’ I need to read to you,” said the man behind the counter.
With a twitch and he began rummaging around under the counter.
“Where’s it? That brotherhood of yers always do it on Halloween. South of the river they call it el Día de los Muertos. They say the dead are here, looking for the livin’ folks these days.”
Then the clerk said something and it might have been “The dead wanna chew the fat of the livin’,” or it might have been “The dead wanna chew the fat with the livin’.”