Well, shit. I thought, not for the first time. So this is how I die. Murdered, in Idaho.
It hadn’t occurred to me when I whipped my rented Camaro around in the middle of Hwy 95 that driving onto the gravel driveway to photograph a field of sunflowers and a couple of old Willy Wagons might be considered intrusive to the person who lived there. But in all fairness, it also never occurred to me that someone might live in the small brick building with only a single, white garage door.
The man walking toward me was probably handsome when he was younger. Actually, he still kind of was, in the way that old cowboys can be. I considered it a very good sign that his .45 was still holstered, as he approached. I lowered my camera and moved to introduce myself. Embarrassed, I felt caught.
“Hello. I’m Serena. I was just driving through and your flowers and cars were so pretty I just had to stop and take pictures. I hope that’s ok.” Seriously? Your flowers and cars are pretty? He should murder me on principal.
“Hi,” he said back, not entirely friendly, but not entirely threatening.
Sensing it would be up to me to fill the silence, I asked him, “What year are these Willy Wagons?”
He shifted the set of his jaw and asked me in return, “What year is that Camaro?”
“I don’t actually know,” I said as he was already walking away from me. I considered it a good sign that he turned his back on me, but was a little concerned that he was walking towards the open driver’s door. “It’s rented.”
I’d left it running when I got out, not anticipating sticking around very long. In fact, I noticed this was the first time I’d seen the Camaro I’d been calling Louise in day light. It was dark when I picked it up from the rental counter at the airport the night before, and it was still dark when I got in it that morning. I looked around. Mountains to the east; mountains to the west; one long road leading from the mountains in the south to the mountains in the north. Yep. This was not going to be very helpful if I needed to escape, so I started studying his features in case I somehow lived to give a description.
The hair under his dark green Cabela’s cap was solid white, like his short beard. He wasn’t much taller than me, maybe five-foot-six. His crystal blue eyes were accentuated by his layered oatmeal and baby blue henlys, that together with his butt hugging Levi’s, showed quite a bit of muscle on his thin frame. This was a man who looked like he caught all of his food. I wasn’t liking my chances of escape or defense.
He stopped just shy of the car door and asked me, “Do you mind if I have a look?”
“Nope. Go ahead,” I lied.
Motioning to the two cars out by the sunflower field, “Do you mind if I take a few more pictures of your Willys?” Oh, for fuck sake. I hoped my face did not belie the fact that I knew I’d just said something very dirty sounding to this armed stranger.
“Knock yourself out. People are always stopping to take pictures of all of this,” he motioned wide with his arms.
Besides the flowers and the cars, I couldn’t imagine what all of this other people might be photographing. I chalked this up to the fact that I am not a photographer; a fact that made getting murdered over taking a few pictures just that much more insulting.
Instead of taking more pictures, I walked towards the car, to be nearer whatever shenanigan he might be up to. He got in, sat down, looked around, and then popped the hood. Making his way to the front of the car, he asked me if I knew much about them. Camaros, that is.
I told him I did not. It was either this, or the Chevy Malibu and I decided to have a little fun. I don’t know what he saw under the hood of my rental, but he seemed to approve, and walked over to the least-rusted of his Willy Wagons.
“This one is a fifty-seven,” he told me, propping open the hood so he could tell me about the Chevy V8 he’d dropped in, himself. That one was his baby.
Then he turned his attention to his fifty-three and propped open its hood. It was a little more rusted, just a little more dinged, but had the better engine, he told me. It was a 231 odd-fire Buick V6, whatever that means.
He motioned towards tall, golden weeds growing on the other side of his garage. Peeking out from the shadows was the grill of a behemoth sixty-three Willy truck with some other kind of engine in it. He asked if I wanted to go look at it.
I remembered seeing a security expert on Oprah years and years before. He said that you should never let an abductor take you to the second location. That’s where they kill you. The far corner of his garage felt an awful lot like a second location, so I declined the offer, and took some photos of the incongruently new engines on display over here, in the first location, where he hadn’t murdered me, yet.
“So where ya headed?” He asked me.
His curiosity didn’t seem malicious, so I told him, “I’m headed to a writing retreat in Montana.” I motioned with my hand, in a writing motion. “Not a riding retreat. Not like, with horses.” Except that as it turned out, there were horses. But I didn’t know that yet
“That’s very interesting. And you stopped here?” He asked with almost too much enthusiasm.
“Yes. I flew into Spokane last night, so I’m just driving through Idaho.” This was a good opportunity to let him know I’d be missed. It would be noticed if I did not show up. “I don’t have very long to get there and checked in,” I lied.
“What do you write?”
This question embarrassed me a little bit. I don’t know what I write. That’s what I’m hoping to find out. “Fiction,” seemed like an apropos answer.
“That’s great. I’ve had this story in my head for a long time.” He was getting animated, and I was relieved. This man wasn’t going to kill me. He was going to pitch me content!
His story, as it turns out, is not fiction. He is passionate about getting out his message about the eminent return of Jesus Christ. We are, he tells me, living in the end times. As I nodded and smiled while he told me his ideas, I did not have the heart to tell him that his story has already been written; it is the book of Revelations. Though, I can say there is a lot of room for improvement to the ending of that particular story, I didn’t get the idea that he wanted to take liberties with the Word of God.
Two months ago, I would have mocked this man, though not to his face. He’s armed! But I’ve come to understand that all of our stories sound a little bit nuts to the wrong audience. That doesn’t make them any less worthy of being told, nor does it make the teller any less worthy of being allowed to tell them. Plus, this whole end of times, Jesus is coming! is a common theme that has been finding me this year. From the really cool campers on Grandfather Mountain this summer, to the loud, evangelical bikers heading to a rally on my plane from Atlanta to Orlando last month, to the elderly and plump Sunday school teacher sitting beside me at the nail salon last week; maybe I’m supposed to pay attention. God, I hope that paying attention doesn’t mean I have to believe it.
And then he says something I can oh-so relate to. “I’m just looking for my voice. I want to learn how to tell the story.”
I can’t stop myself from saying it. “I know the way! Get in your Willy and follow me.”
He eyed me suspiciously, perhaps assessing the risk of jumping in his car and following me to the second location.
“I’ve got a better idea,” he countered. “You stop here on your way back home and tell me all about it.”
He wants to hear about my writing journey, and where it takes me. We traded phone numbers, for reasons I cannot rationally explain. But maybe he can. Just before I drove away, he walked me to my car and told me, “God sends you the people you’re supposed to meet. I’m glad you stopped this morning.”
It occurred to me then that we’re only one misdemeanor count of trespassing away from a good story.