|Word Count C-1 = 1,812||Montgomery|
“She deserved it...they all deserved it!” brayed Colton. Lighting up a joint, laced with the hallucinogenic PCP, and steering his one-week-old red Corvette onto the 405 Freeway, he issued forth another vociferous tirade: “Why should I hang out where I don’t get any respect! Any guy would be a fool if he did!” Colton’s fury boiled hotter as he obsessed over what had happened only ten minutes before.
Although alone in the car, he headed straight for the carpool lane, reserved for cars with two or more passengers, boldly defying any legal consequences. “I hope the police catch me alone in the diamond lane! Maybe a telecopter will pick up the high-speed chase and put it on TV. Then maybe that ditz will pay some attention to me!”
Once in the left-most lane, Colton found himself behind a sluggard in a car with an out-of-state license plate. “Stupid tour-on! Get movin’ you dimwit!” (“Tour-on” was short for “tourist-moron,” a term applied by Colton to any driver in front of him who prevented him from speeding.)
Wishing—almost believing—that the driver could see and hear him, he shook his finger repeatedly at the exit coming up in less than a quarter of a mile and continued to rant, “If you’re gonna drive like a snail in Southern California, get in the right-hand lane or else get off the freakin’ freeway!” He was incensed that anyone would obstruct the passage of Robert Colton Lowe, III.
The second that Colton saw the illuminated street exit sign, he realized he was headed south instead of north. “Incredible! Un-be-liev-a-ble!” he roared through gritted teeth. Peripherally, he detected a car alongside him to his right. Anxiety briefly gripped him, recalling an episode in a manuscript, “Pride Island,” which he had finished reading that very day. He felt trapped.
Jerking his head reflexively to the right, he was prepared to slam on the brakes if he saw what he dreaded seeing the most at that instant: a rifle leveled at him. But it was only a silver Porsche filled with high school-aged teenagers, most with their eyes glued to the 33-year-old narcissist. He could see them clearly because their interior light was on.
He observed two of the girls laughing, and one guy was shaking a finger at him in the same ludicrous manner in which Colton had been pointing toward the street exit. Two others were eyeing him apprehensively, as though they suspected he had escaped from an insane asylum. But one girl—the closest one to him in the back seat—stared at him, wide-eyed, curiously paralyzed.
Having seen that enamored look before, Colton speculated that she never had beheld such a good-looking guy in her life. Nevertheless, the signals and gesticulations of her companions made him feel like a donkey, and he hated that. “Cretins!” he shouted. He pondered whether or not, if he had had a loaded gun, he might have fired a few rounds at them—though he thought maybe he would not have because of that girl who seemed to be so captivated by him.
In any case, Colton was not going to let these jerks cause him to miss the upcoming freeway exit. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he estimated the nearest headlights to be at least 30 to 40 feet behind him. He applied the brakes, permitting his sports car to slow down enough to change lanes, just grazing the rear bumper of the carload of “cretins.”
Colton then cut across the next two lanes, barely making the freeway exit and almost causing an accident in the rash maneuver. The driver he carelessly beat to the off-ramp sounded his horn behind Colton all the way up the ramp to the traffic light, while Colton shook his clinched fist in the air. “Lucky for you the light is green, or I’d go back and pop your stupid face!” Colton snarled. But it did not matter. The other vehicle turned right, while Colton’s car screeched to the left, crossed over the freeway, ran through the next stoplight, and entered the northbound freeway lanes.
Colton was trembling a bit from his little reckless driving episode, enough so that he stayed out of the carpool lane but still continued to speed down the middle of the highway at 85 mph. With almost no traffic in his way, he could refocus his thoughts on that green-eyed “airhead” at the party. “Who did she think she was, anyway?” he growled, applying a little more pressure to the accelerator.
A still, small inner “voice”—maybe it was the remnant of a constantly seared conscience—seemed to reason, You knew she was a nice girl. Why didn’t you make a proper advance? What if you had seen another guy approaching your sister the way you were moving in on that girl?
“I woulda punched his brains out, but her brother wasn’t there.”
Aren’t you employing a double-standard? How can that be right?
“Maybe, but I’m entitled...I Am entitled! I have that ‘look’ people like!”
He wished that convicting “voice” would shut up; but it continued, though it became even less discernible. How is it that you are entitled? If you demand respect, why were you unwilling to extend the same respect to her?
“I Am Who I Am! That bleach-blonde bimbo wanted me! And every guy was envious of me, because every other girl wanted me too! That broad was being graced by my attention, and she should have felt honored to get it!”
So you disgraced and dishonored her by placing your hand where you knew she did not want it to be, especially in front of all those people. How could you have expected not to have been met with some resistance?
“No...N0...NO!!!” Colton exploded, trying to drown out the annoying inner “voice” and to quell that troublesome feeling of guilt. “Nobody refuses me and gets away with it...not her, not anybody!” He recollected how she gently had moved his hand, softly stating, “No, please. Let’s just talk, OK?” He seethed with rage again, inducing a curious sensation of lightheadedness.
Almost imperceptibly, the inaudible “voice” seemed to make one last entreaty of reason: Wouldn’t it have been better to have overcome your pride, or is this impossible for you? You could have said something like, “Sorry, I guess that last drink affected my better judgment,” and then continued the conversation. No one would have thought anymore about it. In any case, you might have dealt with the situation more appropriately than to have knocked the glass of wine out of her hand, called her that ugly name, then yelled, “This party bites!” and stormed out. How much of a positive impression did that make?
“I won’t be embarrassed by anyone! I have a right to be proud, because I’m exceptional! Anyone can tell that just by looking at me!” Swiveling down his sun visor, Colton reconfirmed this to himself by admiring his phenomenally handsome face in the mirror. He insisted on having a mirror on the driver’s visor, though this particularly oversized reflector, with extra illumination, had to be specially ordered.
Smirking, he recalled how, in front of a handful of customers, he had insulted and shamed the car salesman, who was not certain if that size of mirror would fit. Colton had called him an “imbecile” and had suggested that he flip hamburgers at McDonald’s instead.
With his fingers, Colton combed back, into their proper place, a few short strands of black hair dangling over the right side of his forehead; he did not like to look “lopsided.” As his turquoise eyes darted back and forth from one ear to the other, he reassured himself that they were matched. Sometimes he was preoccupied with the notion that one ear might be protruding a millimeter or so more than the other one. But he would not worry about that again.
The loudest blasting of Colton’s favorite B-52’s compact disk coincided with a sudden unanticipated swerving of his car, as the preliminary effects of a tremendous earthquake began to be evident. It felt like he had four flat tires.
Gripped with dire consternation, he flipped up his visor, only to discern a gargantuan, orange and black steel crane—which he instantly supposed had been hurled by the quake off of the overpass under repair ahead—crashing down and embedding itself across three freeway lanes. His was the middle lane. Did I buckle my seat belt when I left the party? raced through his mind; but, no—his raging anger, unfortunately, had precluded his having done so.
Colton momentarily felt troubled that, at the time he would be found, he would be less identifiable than he would have been had a seat belt been restraining him. The precious moments before impact began with two lucid thoughts; the first was Man, am I gonna get messed up! and the second was What’ll happen after this?
An instant after he perceived the collision had occurred, he presumed that his perfectly symmetrical face was shattering the windshield. In the twinkling of an eye, Colton’s mind reviewed his past—the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the few things done for other people and the countless things done for himself. Mostly, he recalled the mischief he had created as a boy and the hearts he had enjoyed breaking as a young man, the ways he had manipulated people and the lies he had told to get what would profit him, the commitments he had made and broken, and the things—and women—he had taken that were not his.
And what do I have to show for it all? he reflected. Colton had had virtually everything he had wanted; yet, ultimately, he possessed nothing. Eclipsed by the bad, any good he had done flickered like a tiny 5-watt bulb. His entire life seemed fruitless and worthless in the radiant, white-hot spotlight of eternity.
Could time have “decelerated” abruptly, giving him the distinctively peculiar sensation of being trapped in a transitory “time warp”? Or, rather, had time only seemed to slow down but, somehow, his mind had speeded up? He felt like an infinitesimal photon of light which, while propelling effortlessly through the air, suddenly enters a water-filled aquarium. Though remaining on its set course, it undergoes an ephemeral state of slow-motion.
Can this be? he wondered. It felt like he was sliding off of a slippery time line and into the infinite nebula of forever. He was powerless. Yet, in any case, something bizarre was happening.
Perceiving that his head was penetrating the glass, he became reconciled to the horror that, shortly, he would meet the huge, orange and black metal monster face to face. A moment later, that entire telling tale—“Pride Island”—a novel which he had completed reading earlier that afternoon, traveled across his mind. He remembered...he remembered....