When Johnny awoke the room was pitch black and for a moment he panicked.  He didn’t know where he was, and the darkness and the stale smells were crushing down on him.  It felt like someone was standing on his chest.  He gasped for breath, jerked up in the bed and almost cried out.  Then it came back to him that he was in a crummy motel room in Tooele, Utah, and the reality of the past two days came flooding in on him, accompanied by a deep sense of hopelessness.  He swung his legs over the side of the bed and knocked his knee against the bed stand.  In the darkness, he fumbled for the lamp and finally found the switch.  He had to turn it three clicks before the light came on.  There was a small clock by the lamp.  It was three a.m.  He had slept almost ten hours but he did not feel rested.  His stomach gurgled and he realized he was hungry, but he couldn’t imagine finding a restaurant open at this hour in this tiny town.  He got up and went in to the bathroom.  He stood in front of the mirror and looked at himself.  The face that looked back was haggard and the eyes were bloodshot.  He turned on the tap, filled his hands and plunged his face into the cold water.  He did it three more times until he felt the cobwebs leaving his mind.  He knew he smelled bad and he felt really grubby, so he slipped off his clothes and got into the shower.  When he turned on the tap, the ice-cold water hit him like a thousand sharp needles.  The rush of cold shocked him awake and he struggled with the rusty tap, trying to turn the hot water all the way on.  It didn’t help much and the best he got was luke-warm.  He reached out of the narrow stall, grabbed his razor out of the shaving kit and gave himself a blind shave.  When he was finished he grabbed the towel, dried himself off and went back into the bedroom.  He put on the fresh underwear and looked around for his pants.  They were lying by the bed where he had dropped them, so he slipped them on, put on some fresh socks, pulled on his boots and sweatshirt, and put on his leather jacket.  He grabbed the briefcase, left the room key on the stand by the bed, turned out the light, and went to the door.  Johnny cracked it open and peeked out.

The neon sign in front of the hotel flashed a strange orange-pink light on the courtyard.  There was only one other car, an old Chevy, parked down the row.  The sky was overcast and he could not see any moon or stars.  A few crickets chirped from the vacant lot next to the motel.  Nothing stirred and there was no traffic on the street.  Far off in the distance he could hear a big truck using its compression brakes as it slowed to take the exit off the interstate.  The sound carried across the flat desert and fractured the silence.  The office was dark and a green neon ‘vacancy’ sign glowed in the window.  He slipped out, shut the door behind him, and walked through the passage by the ice machine.  There were a few vending machines there and he bought four Mounds bars and a couple of bottles of Fresca. Then he walked toward the alley behind the motel.  His van was parked where he had left it and he climbed in.  The knapsack was still where he had left it and he slipped the briefcase under the seat and made sure that it was well hidden.  Satisfied, he took a deep breath, started up the van, and drove onto the street.  In a few miles he came back to Burmester and turned east onto the freeway.  He drove awhile, lost in his thoughts, and then he began to pay attention to his surroundings.   Off to his left was a deep darkness and he couldn’t quite figure out what it was.  Then as a car passed him going west, the opposite side of the road came into view for a moment and Johnny realized that he was looking out over water.  It was the Great Salt Lake.  He remembered driving past it on the way to San Francisco.  He remembered thinking back then that it was one of the dreariest places on the face of the earth.

Another car passed going west, followed by a string of cars.  He could see the waves of the lake, lapping against the bare dirt shore.  A dead stump sticking up out of the water came into view.  Then the clouds over the lake opened up a bit and the light from a dim new moon faintly lit the bleak landscape, touching the waters of the lake with a ghastly illumination.  The starkness of his surroundings and the events of the past few days crowded in on him and fear gripped him.  He saw Shub’s eyes, dead, like this horrible place, and he almost ran off the road.  His breath was coming in gasps so he pulled over to the side of the road.

Get it together, Johnny!  Do something!  Get a grip on yourself.

Suddenly a strange thought came to him, strange because he had never had a thought like this before.  He slowly bowed his head and gave voice to his fears.

            “God, if you are real, I need your help.  I don’t know what to do or where to go.  I’ve never asked for your help before, but if you can hear me, I need it now.”

Johnny sat silently behind the wheel.  His breathing quieted and the pounding of his heart slowed.  A big truck roared by and the wind shook his van.  He didn’t hear an answer …


Excerpt from Chapter 4, The Road Home, by Patrick E. Craig