ONE OF THESE DAYS
by DREW ATTANA
he van choked, sputtered and died a dozen miles outside of Pendleton, Oregon. Will Gamble steered Richard Pryor on Fire’s seven hundred dollar “tour bus” onto the gravel shoulder slowly, hoping not to wake the rest of the band. But as the tires left the asphalt Jason, the band’s lead vocalist, stirred. He’d been asleep with his head pasted to the side window and when he lifted his head, some of his long, stringy hair remained stuck to the glass. Jason rubbed his eyes and tried to make out what lay beyond the windshield. The headlights shined on an empty highway, the steady rhythm of the painted center divide and a border of dry grass.
After a moment, Jason asked, “Why are we stopped?”
Will didn’t know what to tell him at first. Any lie about engine malfunction, he knew, would dissolve after a short series of diagnostic questions and they’d discover he’d forgotten to fill up the tank. But forgotten was the wrong term. Unlike the three songs at the show in Portland that he had actually forgotten the bass lines to, this mistake had been somewhat deliberate. The guys had fallen asleep and Will thought he could make it to the next station rather than wake them up. It was a twelve-hour drive to Salt Lake for their last date of the tour and Will had hoped to get there with enough time to get some sleep before sound check. No, better to just tell them and get it over with now. Will said, “We’re out of gas.”
Jason glanced down at the green digital display on the dash — which informed them both that it was just after one a.m. — then back out to the road. He scanned as far at the headlights allowed, then looked into his rearview mirror. He pulled out his cell phone and turned it on. Will did the same and they both discovered neither had signal.
“Hey, boys. Wake up,” Jason announced to the two guys sleeping in the back. “Will got us into some shit again.” He clicked on the dome light and cast the tangle of body parts and musical equipment in a soft, amber glow. Will looked for his bass in the rearview, and found it where he’d left it after the show, secured on the wall next to Keith’s Telecaster with a bungee cord, behind Keith’s bright orange half stack.
Landon was the first to sit up from between pieces of his drum kit. He was using a cymbal bag as a pillow and when he lifted his head, the bag slid from the edge of the snare drum and crashed on the metal floor. Keith who’d been asleep sitting up against the back door, belched and spoke first. “What’d he do this time? Forget another song?”
“He forgot to put gas in the tank.”
“Dammit, man. What’s wrong with you?” Keith asked. “It’s always something.”
Will cringed at the sound of this. His muscles tensed. This was his fault, sure. And yeah, he had lost the rhythm to a few songs, but it was a simple mistake. Too much whiskey, nerves. Could happen to anyone. But they weren’t going to let this one go. Will had gotten the feeling that they didn’t ask him to join the band as a replacement bassist but as a replacement scapegoat.
“We sent you to get new instrument bags in Portland and you came back with these huge suitcases,” Keith said, slapping at the canvas. Inside the bags, metal clanked and rattled together. “They’re either too small to fit the important shit or too big to waste on cords and pedals. And seriously, we were in Portland for one night. We’re heading south, away from the rain.. Did you really need to spend the last of our cash on this slicker?” Keith threw the wadded up jacket at Will, hitting the side of his head and bouncing onto the dashboard.
“I thought I was helping,” Will grabbed the slicker and shoved it beneath his seat.
“Don’t think,” Jason said. “All you have to do is steer this boat, make sure you don’t drive it off the road, and stop for gas when the little light comes on.”
Will swallowed hard and said, “There was a station about three miles behind us. I’ll walk back. Go back to sleep and we’ll be in Utah before you wake up.”
“No,” Jason said. “I don’t want you to fuck that up too. I’ll go.”
“I’m with you. I need to buy some smokes,” Keith said. Will watched him open the back door, letting in a gust of February air, and step out. Keith picked up the five-gallon gas can and slammed the door. Landon repositioned the cymbal bag and rested his head on it again.
Jason was collecting himself in the passenger seat, shoving his cigarette pack into the pocket of his tight black jeans and eyeing himself in the visor mirror. His black eyeliner was smeared. He licked two fingers and rubbed circles on his cheeks until he was satisfied with the face he was taking with him down the highway. He said the band had to always look the part if they were ever going to be famous. He thought it would happen out of nowhere. You never know who we’re gonna meet. We’ve gotta be ready, he’d say. Will just hoped that they’d get that contract before Jason’s head exploded. Jason opened the door and let in another shovelful of cold. Will watched his breath come out in small white clouds, like thought bubbles in comic books. The gravel crunched beneath Jason’s cowboy boots.
“Think you can handle staying with the van?” Jason asked. He sounded like a disappointed father — one who sometimes scolded Will while wearing fishnets and lipstick. Keith and Landon were the brothers who invariably sided with Dad. And why wouldn’t they? Jason was the face of the band, the high, cliff-like cheekbones and surgically split tongue of shock rock. The face that could make teenage boys throw up devil horns and their parents call out devil worship. If their music wasn’t good enough to get them a contract, Jason figured his face would be.
Will said: “I’ve got it.”
“Sure. You’ve got Landon back there to help. The gas station was, what, three miles back?” His words had a slight lisp to them because of his tongue — gasss ssstation. It always made Will want to laugh. “When we get back, you and me are gonna have a talk.”
“When I get back. And turn off the lights so you don’t kill the battery.” Jason reached over and turned the dome light off, then shut the door. Will shut off the headlights, then pulled the keys out and shoved them in his pocket. The black that settled inside the van was the sort of pitch found at the bottom of wells or deep inside lava tubes. Will leaned forward in his seat and stared up through the windshield. He strained to see even a single star, let alone the moon, but the cloud cover was too dense. The only sounds were Landon’s steady breathing as he fell back asleep and the soft groan of the wind working its way over the clay and in through his cracked window. After rolling the window up, Will settled into the seat.
He sat bundled in the driver’s seat, trying to guess where the sun would peek out. He was about to doze off when he saw movement in the front of the van, shapes creeping around the sides and converging a foot from the van’s hood. Will leaned forward, straining for definition. The shapes were human. Will could feel the pressure of their eyes on him. Will switched on the headlights. The empty highway and the expanse of desert on either side were as lifeless as the asphalt beneath the van’s tires. Will decided he was exhausted, seeing things, that his brain was creating variations in the black canvas, like the dancing shapes on the underside of tired eyelids. Will turned the headlights off and leaned back.
Behind him, Landon shifted between the equipment. His breath had started coming in short, controlled bursts, as if he were running from something in his dream. The sound bothered Will. He wanted music and turned around to grab his iPod from his backpack, but the bag had slid out of reach. The van was as black as the night pressing onto the packed clay outside. He wrenched his body around and felt around in the darkness. He knocked over a plastic tub and lid came off, spilling cords and guitar pedals out before grasping his backpack. Will was about to bring the bag up to his lap when a cold hand gripped his wrist.
Landon’s voice, calm and sedated, resonated in the cab. “Calm down. It’s just me.”
Will jerked his arm free. “I thought you were sleeping.”
“I was, but you throwing shit around woke me up.”
“Sorry, man. It’s just too quiet out here.” Will pulled the bag into his lap. He found the iPod and headphones.
“You afraid of the dark, Willy? Don’t worry, buddy. I’ll protect you.” Landon shifted around and his voice got closer as he spoke.
Will clicked the light off again. “Shut up. I didn’t say I was scared. I said it was too quiet.”
“We passed through Pendleton, right? There’s a state pen there. You know that?”
Will didn’t answer because he was sure whatever answer would have made him sound scared. And he was. Will was a patchwork of continually shifting fears — afraid that he’d run out of money soon and have to move back into his parent’s basement, back to his father’s vodka cranberries and fetishes, his mother’s enabling, afraid that he wasn’t pulling his weight in the band, that his fuck ups would cost them a contract. But those were peripheral fears. The darkness of the desert was the focal point then. And whatever might be concealed by the night. Will just didn’t want Landon to know that he was scared. He’d tell the other guys and Will would never hear the end of it.
Landon raised the stakes. “It used to be a mental hospital. They shipped the crazies way the fuck out here and dumped ‘em. Real nasty dudes, too. Child molesters, spree killers. I heard that half the city’s population is still made up of prisoners. Imagine if they broke out?”
Will wished he’d go back to sleep, but Landon wasn’t finished. “You know, a guard gets shanked walking by one of the cells and a serial killer gets his hands on the keys. He opens his cell and the nine others on his block. Those nine open another nine and then they’re all free and climbing over the walls. And where are they going? Not toward Portland. They’re heading away from civilization. Right past our shitty little bus. And they’re gonna be hungry.” Landon laughed and started moving around. “Can’t see a thing back here. You got any paper?”
Will felt around the dash and on the passenger seat. A stack of leftover fliers from the Portland show was wedged in the center console. “Yeah.”
“Gotta take a shit, man. Hand it over.”
“Where else, man?” Landon stepped out onto the highway. Before closing the door, he said, “I wanted to tell you something, man. Just so it doesn’t come as a shock. You’re a good guy, but Jason’s been talking about replacing you when the tour’s over.” Landon’s footsteps on the dry grass grew faint and disappeared.
Will replayed the words in his head a few times and realized he’d been gripping the steering wheel hard. He felt his muscles cramping, so he let go and flexed his fingers. He’d show them in Salt Lake, hit every note. He’d show them before they even got to the Utah state line. Will started going through the set list in his head, forming his fingers around an imaginary guitar neck, practicing chord progressions. After a time, Will unraveled his headphone cords and stuck the buds in his ears. He scrolled through the artists on his iPod and stopped at Pink Floyd.
Will closed his eyes and focused on nothing but the song. The track opened with wind howling, but unlike the wind rolling across the desert, Pink Floyd’s wind sounded synthetic like it was being delivered via tin can and string. The wind was overpowered by David Gilmour’s bass line in the left channel, slow and methodical — da-dum-da-dum-da-dum — like the galloping of a crippled horse. And Will was grabbing the imaginary neck, squeezing hard, and tightening his fingertips around the thick strings, plucking the air. Roger Waters enters the song through the right channel playing the same bass line, just a half-measure behind Gilmore, and the two bass guitars duel for a spell, the bass shifting between Will’s ears like a sonic Newton’s Cradle.
Listening to the building rhythm, Will found himself on the edge of sleep. He existed nowhere but within the song — not in a broke down tour van just miles from a prison, not the weak link in Richard Pryor on Fire, the next big rock band — but riding the wail of Waters’ overdubbed guitar as it found a spot between the fighting basses. Will had almost fully melted into the fabric of the driver’s seat when Nick Mason’s drums came in, abruptly, like a call to arms from the watchtower of a village. The percussion signaled that something had to change and Will’s final thought before falling asleep was that he would work harder at remembering his band’s songs, he would solidify the group and help get them signed. He would be the one to push them all into the spotlight. He’d make them all famous.
If they only knew how famous they were going to be. In his headphones, Nick Mason sang the sole lyric in the song, just as Will dropped off.
One of these days, I’m going to c — .
The van rocked back and forth twice, hard, like someone was jumping on the running board, and Will was awake. He could have been out five minutes or five hours, he wasn’t sure. He yanked his earbuds out and searched the side view mirrors. He could see nothing — not Landon or a ghoul or an ax murderer. It had to be Landon fucking with him. He rolled down his window. “Okay, Landon, real funny.”
He listened for a response or shuffling feet but heard neither. Will turned in his seat and studied the back of the van. He could only make out the faint outlines of their gear. How long had he been asleep? Will put the keys in the ignition and turned it to the on position. The green display on the dash showed that it was nearly four a.m, three hours since they’d left for gas. He wrenched around to look. The van was empty. Will moved into the rear and felt around with his hands, grabbing first the cold plastic of a guitar case then the metal of an overturned kick pedal. Landon was still out in the desert.
The van shook again, harder this time, sending him crashing into the dismembered drum kit. It felt as if the van was up on two wheels, about to flip over itself into the ditch, but the vehicle settled back onto the road with a loud shriek of the shocks. Will righted himself, found the handle, and pushed the back door open. He jumped out onto the gravel and scanned the darkness. “I know you’re out here.”
Above him, there was a break in the clouds and a few stars were visible. He thought about Jason and Keith. How long had they been gone? Will kept his eyes on the pocket of stars and walked around to the front using his fingertips on the van’s shell as guidance. He put a hand on the hood. He was about to get back inside when he saw it, the shifting in the blackness again. The shapes were there, right in front of the van, watching him.
Will’s movements were slowed as if the darkness had become tangible, a sludge. He reached inside the window and held his breath before turning the headlight switch. When they came on, Will saw the same image — straight, empty highway framed by brown grass and candy wrappers. No monsters or escaped prisoners. This satisfied him until his brain considered more options. Whatever he felt watching him could have crawled under the van or out of the headlights’ reach. He hurried back inside, rolled up the window and locked the door. Then, he reached over locked the passenger side door.
His body was shaking and Will grabbed the steering wheel to stabilize himself. Maybe the other guys were back and helping Landon rock the van. Making a game of it. Three of them could pull that off. They were trying to scare him and for a brief second, it pissed him off. Will was always the butt of everything. The jokes, the scare. Why did he have to be the scapegoat? Maybe it was their turn. He’d show them what it was like to be really scared.
But his resolve began to fade. Maybe his bandmates weren’t responsible. He could feel something, a presence. Will could feel there was something in front of the van, sitting there watching him through the windshield. Will shut his eyes, regretting it instantly. A series of images of what he might see when he opened them again flashed before him — a mangy coyote with wild, crazed eyes and strips of flesh hanging from its teeth, a muscular convict with tears in his institutional coveralls from climbing over barbed wire and a length of steel pipe clutched in his hands. Will pictured the shifting blackness exposed in the white halogen, an indefinable nothingness, a convergence of shadows coming for him. But when he opened his eyes again, he saw none of those things.
In front of the van were three of the black suitcases, lying flat and spaced an equal distance between the painted lines of the lane. What kind of shit were they trying to pull?
Will got out and walked in the beam of the headlights and looked to the sides of the highway, expecting to see the crouched figures of his friends or the little red light of the camera were using to film his reaction but there was nothing, the highway was deserted save for him, the van and the three suitcases. Will knelt before the suitcase nearest the center divider grabbed the zipper. He brought it around the length of the bag and swung open the flap.
Inside the suitcase was Jason’s head, his eyes open and fixed on the pocket of stars above the highway. His split tongue, thick and bloated, hung out the left side of his mouth like a dog on a hot summer’s day. Will pictured the tongue moving — You and me are gonna have a talk. Next to his head were Jason’s tattooed forearms, severed at the wrist and elbow. Beneath, Will could see the rest of his lead singer, legs, and feet and sections of his torso.
Will retched and sat back on his haunches. A shudder rippled out from the center of his stomach and he could hear himself panting. He wanted to run away, back to the van, far into the desert, but before he could stop himself, Will opened the other two suitcases. He found what he expected — the extent of Keith and Landon’s bodies, chopped at every joint and positioned in the same fashion as Jason.
He rose and started walking backward away from the luggage, keeping his eyes focused on them as if the body parts were going to leap out at him. Will’s heel caught on something and he tumbled onto his back. It was another suitcase. Will’s hand was already unzipping it before his brain could protest and he had a brief moment of relief when he found the suitcase was empty. This was erased when a more appropriate thought came into his mind. His body hadn’t been stuffed into that case yet.
He started running down the highway toward the gas station until his lungs burned and his joints seized. He ran until he couldn’t see the residual light from the van’s headlights behind him. That’s when he heard the murmur of voices ahead of him. Two voices. Will crept to the edge of the road. When his feet left the asphalt, he tiptoed through the gravel and ducked down into the ditch. His breathing was heavy, erratic, and he pulled the collar of his shirt over his mouth to stifle the sound. He closed his eyes but all he could see were the bloody contents of the suitcases and he could feel his stomach turning. Will searched for something in the darkness to focus on and keep himself from heaving, but there was nothing. Even the pocket in the clouds had been filled in. He bit his t-shirt and forced himself to dry swallow.
The two voices were male and they had gotten closer, or at least they seemed that way. Without trees or much else to block them, the winds could carry voices a long way. And they’re gonna be hungry. Landon’s words stung as Will replayed them again in his head. This gave way to more thoughts, questions without immediate answers. Will knew he needed to be smart, not run off into the desert or back down the highway toward the van. He needed to stay in the ditch with his mouth shut, let the two voices pass and head for the gas station.
Then, the voices were right on him. “But she didn’t leave. She started beating on my door, screaming that I had a small dick and I was just watchin’ her through the peephole until I saw my neighbors coming out.”
The other voice said, “Well, don’t you have a pretty small dick?” The voice was soft and reptilian and it only took Will a matter of seconds to realize that the voice belonged to Jason. But how could that be? Will pictured the suitcase again and Jason’s swollen tongue.
“Jason,” Will shouted and ran out onto the road.
“What the fuck,” Keith said. Their footsteps shuffled on the road, backing away from the sound of Will’s voice. “Who’s there? Will. Dude, you scared the shit out of me. I almost laid you out.”
“I thought you were — ,” Will trailed off. He couldn’t help but let a smile creep onto his face. In the dark, the guys couldn’t see it, but still, he had finally gotten them. Scared them good.
“You thought we were what? Fixing your mistake? Yeah, that’s exactly what we were doing. And I told you to stay with the van.” Jason sloshed the gas around inside the can.
“I was but I fell asleep and there were these suitcases and — Wait. Where’s Landon?”
“Wasn’t he with you?” Keith asked.
“Yeah, but he went out to take a shit and never came back. Thought maybe he’d gone to find you.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Will. I hadn’t planned on a three-hour walk this morning. Let’s just go.”
Will followed behind as they walked the half-mile back to the van. Keith continued his story but Will wasn’t paying any attention. He was too busy thinking about what he’d seen on the road. Or what he thought he’d seen.
When the van came into sight, Will took off around Keith and Jason, toward the headlights. Jason called out after him, “I told you to turn the fucking headlights off.”
He came around the hood and scanned the asphalt. Empty. No suitcases or body parts. He hurried around to the rear of the van, just as Jason and Keith had caught up and swung the rear door open. Landon was lying just as he had been earlier, with his head on the cymbal bag. He was snoring.
Jason nudged Will with the gas can. “Here, this will get us to the next station.” Keith jumped into the back and closed the door behind him. Jason disappeared around the side. When he was finished putting the gas in the tank, Will stuck the can behind his seat and settled in. The van’s engine stuttered and after a few tries, turned over. He looked in the rearview and saw that Landon still hadn’t moved and Keith had reclaimed spot against the door. They were both snoring. Will looked over at Jason, who was smoking the last drag of cigarette. He tossed the butt and let his head roll onto the seat rest. Will remembered what was said before they set out for the gas. Will asked quietly, “What did you want to talk to me about?”
“Don’t worry about it, man. It doesn’t matter anymore. We’re good.”
The sun appeared in the rearview mirror, a gold sliver over the Oregon hills behind the van. He was relieved to see it rising. The band could make it to Salt Lake by late afternoon and make the sound check by six. Just as they crossed over into Idaho, the empty light clicked on again.
The transition between the highway and the parking lot of the deserted 76 station jostled everyone in the van. The equipment clanked together and Will heard simultaneous groans from Keith and Landon. Will pulled the van up to one of the pumps and shifted into park. Jason squinted through the morning sunshine. “Made it to a station this time?” He cleared his throat and turned to the guys in the back. “You guys want to get something to eat?”
“I could go for a big fat frozen burrito,” Landon said. “And a Bud Light.”
“Me too,” Keith said and went out the back door. Landon followed and they disappeared into the mini mart. Will got out and took the nozzle off of the cradle and stuck it into the tank. Jason came around the van, tracing a finger through the layer of clay dust on the paint. He said, “I’m gonna pay inside. Just fill it.”
Will watched Jason’s cowboy boots skip over the oily concrete and into the store. He topped off the van’s tank and wiped the streaks of residual gas off his hands with a paper towel. The space beneath his fingernails was dark red, most likely from the desert clay, Will thought. He scrubbed hard, dipping his fingers into the soapy water reserved for windshield cleaning, then tossed the paper towel in the trash. His fingers were still stained. It was really stuck under there like he’d been digging for hours.
He slid back into the driver’s seat and waited. The flat, brown expanse of desert surrounding the gas station seemed to mock him. No malignant creatures loomed there, only sagebrush and rattlesnakes. All manner of insect, fighting for dominance. He sat for a time waiting for a tumbleweed to roll by, the corners of his mouth turned up into a sheepish grin.
Ten minutes passed. How long does it take to heat up a burrito? He studied the windows of the store before getting out. Will walked across the parking lot and went inside. A fat man wearing a mesh trucker hat stating Life is a Game, Hunting is Serious sat behind the counter reading a magazine. The name Earl was embroidered on his denim shirt. Will asked, “Hey, you see where my friends went?”
Without looking up, he asked, “Who are yourfriends?”
“The guys that just came in. They paid for the fill up.”
Earl looked first at Will’s face, then outside at the pumps. “A fill up on the van?”
Earl stood up and set the magazine on the counter. “I don’t know what you’re trying to pull, kid, but no one’s paid for the gas.”
“I just watched them walk in, not ten minutes ago.”
“I haven’t seen nobody come in for the past hour.”
Will backed away from the counter, slowly turning for the doors.
“Where do you think you’re going? You owe me sixty-seven bu — .”
Will was already out the door and running to the bathrooms on the side of the store. The fat man followed him. Will pushed the men’s room door open and found it empty. The women’s was the same. Back at the pumps, he scanned the parking lot and the empty passenger seat. Earl stepped in his path with an outstretched hand, but Will sidestepped the block and headed for the back of the van.
He gripped the rear door handle. They were waiting to jump out at him. The joke’s on you, bud! Will held his breath and yanked open the door. The three black suitcases lay next to one another. And beyond, all the band’s instrument were in ruin, caked at the edges with the same red clay staining Will’s hands. Landon’s snare punctured, his drumsticks cracked in half. The neck of Keith’s telecaster splintered, the strings severed at the pick-up. The mesh of their amps ripped open. Even Will’s prized bass looked as if it had been sent through a wood chipper. A shudder went through him, ending in his fingertips. He reached down and put his vibrating fingers under the lid of the center suitcase.
“You better be looking for money in there, boy,” Earl said as he came around the van. Will turned to him as he lifted the lid. Earl’s face twisted like he’d been shot and his color drained. His mouth gaped. If he was trying to speak, no sound came out. He looked back and forth between Will and the open suitcase and stepped away slowly. The man ran for the store, yelling something Will couldn’t quite make out.
Will stood with his back to van, staring out onto the highway. The dry grass beyond. No cars were passing and he couldn’t feel even the slightest breeze. The world was still. He didn’t want to look inside the suitcase because he already knew what he’d find. He’d seen it last night in the van’s headlights. The only thing playing in his head was the song he’d heard before falling asleep. From the beginning — first the dueling bass guitars, followed by the agonizing guitar then the battle cry of the drums.
One of these days.
As Will turned and stared into the jumbled mess inside the suitcases, the skin and muscle clinging to twisted guitar strings and jagged pieces of cymbals, he finished the lyric aloud.
“I’m going to cut you into little pieces.”
Originally from Los Angeles, Drew Attana spent over a decade kicking around the West Coast, getting into trouble from Tijuana to Portland, before heading to Cajun Country. His fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in Cargo Literary Magazine, Phoebe Literary Journal, Common Ground Review, Merrimack Review, Gulf Stream Literary Journal, West Trade Review, Apeiron Review, Pathos Literary Journal, Eunoia Review, Yellow Chair Review and Drunk Monkeys magazine. He is currently living and writing in Lafayette, Louisiana.
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