Eddie awoke with the sun blazing yellow on the Eastern horizon. He’d been shivering, his cheek pressed against the dusty earth. He pushed himself up and allowed himself a moment to get oriented. Desert. Walking. Head East. Why? Because it was better than staying still. His neck and the back of his arms stung like fire. The bones in his legs flared with pain.
He took out the driver’s licence and studied the face. My face? He looked unhappy. Haunted.
“Well, Eddie, you skittish lemur, it’s time to boogie.” He groaned, staggering to his feet.
Walking east seemed like a good idea yesterday. Now the sun blasted his face. He kept his eyes closed, following the fire behind his eyelids. There was nothing here to trip over.
By mid-morning, his throat burned. His tongue glued to the roof of his mouth whenever he closed it and stuck there with the tenacity of velcro. His steady walk became punctuated with the occasional stagger. Step, step, stagger, step, sway, stagger, step. He found himself singing, uncertain where the song came from.
“Can’t read my… can’t read my… no he can’t read my poker face.”
It was the only part of the song he remembered. He repeated the chorus for hours as the temperature turned from uncomfortable to unbearable. “Can’t read… cannot read. No he cannot…”
At mid-day, he allowed himself a moment to open his eyes and scan the horizon. Something blue sparkled not far to the north. It took shape as he detoured towards it, a blue framework with yellow propellers on the top and in the back. A helicopter? How could a helicopter be that small. For a moment, he wondered if he’d found a vehicle.
It was a helicopter of sorts, a playground prop with a blue metallic frame. Weathered wooden boards formed its floor with a controller stick that moved on a pivot. It stood alone in this desert nowhere, not a kid in sight to enjoy it. Eddie sat down on the bench seat, his knees tucked up to chest height in the tiny space. He reached up and shoved the prop into a slow spin.
Eddie stared out at the horizon. Well, here he was. He was too exhausted to wonder why this playground prop was out here, miles from… anything. It just was. He considered staying here forever, clinging to the only piece of civilization left in existence. When his body stood up and continued eastward, he allowed it. He felt like a passenger.
The day was an endless, mindless march. The sun fell behind. When the purple of sunset flooded the sky, he barely noticed it. The stars. The diamond constellation with its odd planetoids. The moon with its suggested beverage choice. DRINK SKY COLA. Eddie would gladly accept a Sky Cola. Or a dung cola. Any cola.
Another morning. Again, he woke without recalling the moment he’d stopped to sleep. His body throbbed with pain. His skin, his legs, his head. If his mind wasn’t so numbed, he might have insisted he couldn’t go on. He stood up, groaning, knees popping, and shuffled onward. He barely noticed the cold, the heat, the fire on his skin. His eyes remained shut against the light. Nothing interrupted his dull march until mid-morning.
A shushing hum arose from the silence so gradually, it might have just been a buzzing in his ears. He muttered to himself to cover the sound. “Cann read mah… cann read mah… mah… mah… poker fazzze.”
The hum gained a chugging staccato as it grew nearer.
“Poker faze… fazzzzzze...”
An engine, a rising growl from behind him. Eddie halted and nearly fell forward from the inertia. It took ten clumsy baby steps to turn himself around, his knees threatening to give way, his head feeling like an over-inflated tire.
From the west, a plume of dust, a glint of metal floating on the shimmering heat. The mirage grew solid, its blue features and chrome gleam were a sharp contrast to the nothing all around.
For a moment, Eddie wondered if the car would blast over him. He was unsure whether he cared. He stared with limp wonder. The car slowed, its engine purring down to a clicking hum. The driver’s face took shape: a shadow of stubble on a brown bald head, dark eyebrows, an expression of tired bemusement. The driver pulled the convertible next to Eddie, stared for a few seconds, and said, “Hey, buddy.”
“Can’t read my poker face.”
The driver blinked. “Uh-huh. I don’t doubt it. You look like you could use a drink.”
Eddie swayed, fighting to keep his hips above his feet. “Sky Cola?”
The driver was young--nineteen or twenty. He grinned. “Heh. No Sky Cola,” he said, throwing his door open. He reached into the back seat and retrieved a can. He held it out. “But I got a whole bunch of cold Mountain Sunrise.”
Eddie stared at the can, then up at the person offering it. The driver was taller by several inches, his broad shadow eclipsing the sun. Eddie returned his eyes to the can, uncertain what to do with it.
The driver's brows furrowed with concern. He popped the can open and offered it again.
It took all of Eddie’s focus to reach up and take the can, so cold he jerked back and nearly dropped it. He moved it towards his cracked lips. The second the sweet liquid hit his tongue, instinct took over. He gulped, tossing his head back, half of the soda running down the sides of his mouth and down his neck. Five swallows was all it took.
“Yeah, that hits the spot, doesn’t it,” said the driver. “You want another?”
Eddie nodded. The gesture made him dizzy, and he nearly fell over. A moment later, another can hit his palm and he downed it almost as fast. His knees buckled, and he fell backwards onto his backside, the can thunking to the dry earth.
“What’s your name, buddy?” the driver asked.
Eddie didn’t answer at first. He sat gasping, his forearms draped over his knees. He slowly reached into his pocket and drew out his wallet, extracted the driver’s license and held it up. “Does this look like me?”
“I think so. Your name is Edwin?”
He released a tired sigh. “Call me Eddie.”
The driver offered a hand. Eddie took it and pulled himself up. “What’s your name?”
The driver grinned. He drew out his wallet and showed Eddie his license. “Does this look like me?”