I thought I’d do something a little different for this post. I used to be in a writing circle where we’d get a writing prompt and be given an hour or so to write whatever inspired us. Photos make great writing prompts, so I thought I’d do that and see what comes out.
It was Sunday afternoon and I was making my way back to college. Sunday afternoons always give me a heavy feeling in my chest, like something’s ending that I can never get back, and driving along this highway in this particular spot made it even worse. All I could see was the Arizona desert all around me, as if no civilization existed in the world. Eventually we’d reach the town of Opuntia, but for now, all I could hope for was to make it there without my car breaking down.
The windows only let in the hot air of an Arizona autumn, which was just under 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I was climbing up a small hill when I saw a figure standing at the side of the road. It was a guy, probably not much older than me, looking away from the road as if he didn’t give a damn about anything. He wore a sleeveless shirt and these crazy patched jeans, and his hair flapped in the hot breeze. He was holding a small black dog in one hand and had his other in his pocket.
As I neared him, he deigned to turn towards me but made no move to make a sign or smile. I slowed down.
“Looking for a ride, maybe?”
He neared the car, leaned over the open window on the passenger’s side, and revealed a handsome face with a beard. “I need to get back to Opuntia.”
“I’m going right by there.”
He got into the passenger’s seat and put the dog on his lap. He was barefoot and had no baggage with him. He smelled of dust and sweat, like he’d been walking a lot in the desert. Around his neck was a charm on a black band. It looked like some kind of squiggle in the center of a circle. The charm triggered something in my mind, but I couldn’t identify exactly what it was.
“What’s the dog’s name?” I asked as I veered back onto the empty highway.
“This is Tripper.”
I laughed. “I hope he has as much personality as his name has. Where’d you come from?’
“I was just walking around. I’m looking for somebody. Or maybe something is a better way of putting it.” He glanced at me. “I’m a Karadrome.”
Then I understood the charm. Rumors had been going around school that the Karadrome had begun recruiting again. Every time that happened, speculation would travel all over the country about what really went on with them. Some people thought it involved devil worship, but that was just dumb. I heard other people talking about Native American rituals. Some of my friends thought the Karadromes taught you how to do magick. It had happened before. A lot of people said it was just a bunch of drama. I’d seen a few Karadromes around school, and they walked around just like this guy, as if nothing on this earth mattered much to them.
“I’ve never met one,” I told him.
“Well,” he said, turning away from me, “I’m not a very good one.”
“Why do you say that? Or maybe you can’t talk about it.”
“I’m not supposed to.”
We were silent for a bit. I was hoping he would. When I was a kid, I heard my grandmother telling relatives who were visiting us at the time about the wave of magickal trainers that swept through the country when she was a teenager. They disappeared as suddenly as they came, but she had trained for a little while with one of them. I wished I had too, and I felt the same kind of longing now.
“I’m looking for my companion,” he finally said.
“You mean a traveling companion?”
“You could call her that. She’s not a person, that’s the thing. It’s hard to explain.” He shifted Tripper on his lap, trying to find the words. “When I joined the Karadromes, I didn’t really know what they were all about. They don’t exactly advertise, you know? I’m not sure why they thought I’d fit in. I’m not the kind of guy who fits in anywhere.”
“I know what you mean,” I said.
He smiled a little. “That’s why you stopped to pick me up, maybe. I did great for the first year. It’s not easy, you know. You really have to get into it.”
“Into what exactly?”
“The teachings. I can’t tell you specifics.”
“You just know it’s the truth. It’s not brainwashing. They don’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do. They don’t try to convince you to believe in anything. You just — know it’s the truth.”
I smiled. That’s how I felt while listening to my grandmother and her stories of the magickal trainers. “What about your companion?”
“That’s when things started going wrong for me. Everyone has a companion. They’re not people. It’s hard to explain. You go through this training, and you suddenly feel like she’s there with you all the time.”
“You say ‘she,’ but she’s not a person?”
“I think of her as female. Some Karadromes think of their companions as male. The companion’s different for everyone because they’re there to give you what you need.”
“What did she give you?”
“She stopped my mind.” He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I mean, she stopped me from thinking. Because I think too much. I over-rationalize. They told me I couldn’t go any further until I learned not to do that, so my companion was helping me. When I had to make a decision, she stopped my thoughts.”
“But if you couldn’t think, how could you make decisions? We have to think to decide, don’t we?”
“I had to trust my gut instincts. Like I had to decide if I was going to go to college or travel across the country. I was trying to weigh the pros and cons of everything, but she wouldn’t let me. My mind kept getting foggy. I couldn’t think straight. School was about to start, and I had to make a decision, but I couldn’t think. I could just feel what I wanted, so I didn’t go to school.” He shrugged. “My parents didn’t like that, and now I can’t go back. They won’t let me in the house.”
“I’m sorry. It sounds awful.”
“I really hated her sometimes. I told her I didn’t want to be a Karadrome anymore if I had to put up with her, so she left me.”
He kept staring out the window and stroking Tripper curled up in his lap. I could tell this was hurting him. We didn’t say anything for a while. I tried to imagine having this companion, whatever it was, inside my mind, stopping my thoughts and making me strain to understand what I had to do. “If I had a companion like that, I’d hate her too.”
“I didn’t mean it, though. I want to be a Karadrome. Because they know the truth, and I want to know it too.”
We were nearing Opuntia now as the afternoon sun sparkled in full force in the center of a vividly blue sky. “Isn’t there someone you can talk to about this? Don’t the Karadromes want people to stay? Maybe you could get another companion.”
“I’m supposed to stay on good terms with my companion. That’s part of the training, sticking it out.”
“I’m sorry.” We rounded a bend, and I asked him where he needed to go in Opuntia.
He pointed out the window and said, “Do you see like a flashing light out there?” The town was on the left side of the road, and on the right was open desert.
I glanced out of the passenger’s window and squinted. “It’s the sun, I guess, maybe off of some rocks or something.”
“Stop here.” Tripper had come out of his slumber and was showing signs of excitement. He wagged his small tail and hopped onto the window, anxious to get out.
“I can take you into town, wherever you need to go. Just tell me.”
“Stop here.” He had now grown agitated, so I stopped by the side of the road.
He shot out of the car, leaving the door open. I watched as he started to run towards the shining light, clutching Tripper, mindless of the rocks that must have been jabbing at his bare feet. It seemed I only blinked and he was no longer there. Tripper was running around barking. I swear I saw a white mist with rainbow sparkles gyrating up and away towards the flashing light. The mist, barely visible in the bright desert sunlight, seemed to dissipate and merge with the flashing light, and then it was as if the light had never existed.
I got out of the car and ran over to Tripper. Nothing seemed out of place. It was a patch of Arizona desert just like any other. Yet I felt a strange kind of relief in my chest, as if some barrier had been lifted and the loss of the Sunday afternoon was only an illusion.Before submitting a comment, read my Comments Policy. I don't interpret dreams for people anymore, so please don't request that in the comments, through my contact form, or through my social media profiles. Thank you!
Tags: fiction, short story, writing