Drive West At Sundown

December 17, 2007
By Ryan Mills, Tucson, AZ

I never cease to be amazed as I drive west at sundown. Once the sun begins to drop down below the mountains on the western outskirts of town the clouds are painted with amazing shades of reds, oranges, yellows, purples and any colors that are made by the mixture. While driving at this time I often find myself staring at these clouds only to look down just in time to avoid an accident. In two circumstances, I looked down a split second too late and ran into the innocent zombie in front of me.

Today though, I skidded to a halt less than three feet away from the zombie’s bumper. It’s always embarrassing when this happens, a screaming screech for a few seconds pleases nobody. It’s especially embarrassing when you happen to stay in your own lane, but come skidding to a halt directly parallel to some other zombie.

Today though, it was much more than embarrassment that struck me as I looked into the eyes of the driver next to me. She was laughing. Hysterically. Straight brown hair locked in a pony tail, lashed out in each direction because she couldn’t help herself. I must have been staring at her with my mouth hanging open, because all of a sudden she stopped laughing, cleared her face and looked at me.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh.”

And before I could assure her that it didn’t matter:
“It’s just that I was watching you in my mirror as you were coming to the light, and I could tell that you weren’t paying any attention to the road. And then the look on your face as you slammed on your brakes was priceless.”

She couldn’t help but start laughing again, but her laugh was soft on my ears. It was benevolent, even as far away as I was.

The cars ahead of us rolled away. I gave her one last look as she drove out of my life forever. At least the sunset was still there.

I was again taking notice of the brilliant colors of clouds that stretched infinitely above me, but I also kept my eye on the road. This time I saw the light turn yellow so I didn’t have to make any scene. As I slowed on my approach, I realized that the same car would again be next to me as I waited to proceed. She was looking at me as I came to a halt behind an old zombie.
“Your admiring the sunset aren’t you?”

She knew. I wasn’t sure what she thought of me, but the way she was smiling made it easy to speak.
“They’re always breathtaking”

Nodding in agreement, she told me: “I know a place that makes them even better. Follow me.”

The light changed again. In less than ten minutes, I had to be at a meeting with the dean of the university I was attending, but that didn’t matter.

Still stunned at her command, my brain struggled to make my foot move to the gas pedal, and she took the opportunity to switch into my lane.

Her license plate read: FREEDOM

I followed her straight on the same road for a mile or two, my eyes fixed on the back of her head. Never had I ever experienced something like this.

She turned right onto an unexpected street, Necropolis Street, directly off of Welkin Avenue. Necropolis street, to my knowledge at the time, led straight thru a neighborhood which was home strictly to zombies in extremis. None of the residents had been farther than three miles away from their homes in decades. They all just wait for their time.

Who knew that in such a dismal and repulsive place, natural beauties could be magnified for all to be amazed by?

Well, obviously she did.

I followed her along the road, thru all of its turns and stop signs. She didn’t stop for one, and neither did I. Old zombies don’t play in the streets.

Unbeknownst to me, a large hill, or perhaps it was a mountain, somehow secretly stood towering over all the houses and trees. At the bottom of the prominence, where the asphalt turned into dirt, a large sign read: No Trespassing.

She stopped her car right in front of the sign, but didn’t shut it off. I pulled up next to her and rolled down my window.
“Park your car and get in.”

I backed up and steered my car off to the shoulder of the road, running over a few bushes. There were not any houses for the last stretch of road, and looking back, none were visible. Walking to where she was waiting, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought that she might be taking me here to rob and kill me, but it would’ve been worth it anyway.

There were key scratches all along the passenger side of her car, and after I had fastened my seat belt I told her:
“Someone must really dislike you or your car.”
“Oh no, I did that myself. I liked the sound it made, and I thought it might make the car look better. I was wrong.”

After a quick chuckle, she started up the mountain. As the dumb sign disappeared back around the corner, the sunset became more magnificent. It was beginning to reach the peak of its grandeur, and as we climbed the mountain its features became more apparent. Silence between us was accepted in the presence of such wonder. At the top of the small mountain the road pulled into a cul-de-sac. The car came to a halt facing west at the very edge of the road, and mountainside.

As the sun went down, the car was filled with soft, benign colors until it finally fell too far below the mountain ranges on the western outskirts of town. We sat in tacit admiration on the hood of her car throughout the whole process. Having both just witnessed the most beautiful sunset of our lives, we were left in a surreal, candid mood.

Sitting up cross-legged with her hands in her lap, she quietly played with her hands, and eventually said, “Sometimes I purposefully wake up in the dark so I can start my day with the sunrise. I never have to wake up before at least four hours after it normally rises, but it’s completely worth it.”
“It does give you a little extra happiness throughout the day. I hardly ever do it willingly, but often during the week I’m expected to wake up in the dark so I can get somewhere on time...”

Comfortable silence lingered between us like a rotten smell in the middle of a summer day.

“Watching the sun come up makes me feel so insignificant, but so grateful to be a witness of something so great.
I get through some days just by knowing that i’ll get to see a sunset towards the end.”
“A good one always makes a great night.”
“I’d say it’s one of the only ways to pick up a downed soul.”
“There’s only one cure for illnesses of the heart, mind and soul...”

She leaned over and put her face as close as possible to the side of my head. Her languid breathes tickled the microscopic hairs in my ear before she whispered:

I let the breathe she spoke travel its full course thru my brain before I began to think of anything to say. I was nervously comfortable sitting with her, words wallowed in my subconscious before forming complete sentences.
“I’m loved by people who I see everyday. Loved completely and unconditionally, but it’s still not enough.”
“I’m not talking about love from your family. I’m talking about true love that you find only within your heart’s counterpart. You don’t really love your parents. Nobody does. The “love” that you think is there is only a cellular bond that you have because you share the same genes.
Gosh, I just can’t get passed the fact that i’ve given over half my life to people I hate now. I wish I could take it back somehow.”
“Well, have you found your hearts counterpart?”

She clearly focused most of her thoughts on my question, and after a long minute her answer teased my ears.
“I thought I had. I had found a guy who definitely came close to completing me, but eventually our differences became apparent. For the whole time that we were romancing I felt like my ship was finally sailing. She wasn’t though. The skipper only took her out to see if her parts were nice, then he docked her back in the harbor and left her waiting. She’s still sitting in that harbor. Waiting.”

Her words complimented me, leaving me silent, once again.
“What about you?”

She nodded. I began to think of the current situation I was in with a girl. Uneasy. Intimidating. Unhealthy.
“I’ve never found my hearts counterpart. I haven’t even thought so. Especially not with the girl i’m dating now. I can’t explain it, but it feels wrong.”
“Why don’t you get out of the relationship then?”
“I don’t know. There’s no way that I could just get out of it. I’d see her at random places and it would be too awkward to handle. I’d most likely develop a hernia as a result.”
“Look, no matter what, you can run. If the feelings wrong, just run. It’s crazy, but sometimes there isn’t anything else you can do.”

She was right. She knew she was right. I proceeded into the depths of my mind as we both gazed up at the sky. The clouds that were painted earlier had disappeared by now, leaving empty air for the stars to twinkle down at us.

After some time she realized that she needed to be going. I would have stayed there until the sun rose the next morning, but I didn’t object to her needs. We took our places in adjacent seats and crept down the mountain road. All too soon the ridiculous sign and my beat up old vehicle came around the corner and next thing I knew we were stopped in front of the sign and parallel to my car.
“Thanks,” was all I could muster to say. I opened the door and stepped out. She waited as I opened the driver door and turned my keys to start the engine.

Suddenly I realized that I forgot the most important thing. I stuck my head out the window and asked
“What’s your name?”

Before she gunned it out of sight, she divinely told me that her name was Aurora.

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