Wilson’s Essex died silently, without warning, then groaned to a stop on the side of a lonely stretch of Route 66.
Dust settled around Wilson’s car to reveal an immense, rust colored landscape. Shadows stretched across the soundless desert as if reaching for a god that had long forgotten them. A gust of wind kicked sand against the Essex then tossed aside a tumbleweed in the distance. The air was dry. The ether was taciturn.
Wilson was damp with perspiration, and he was spitting expletives. The most foul language Wilson could assemble though, even at the worst of times, consisted of naming a few animals that could be found on ordinary dairy farms back east.
“Rats,” Wilson hissed between clenched teeth.
The ess in rats trailed off into the forlorn and desolate countryside like the hiss of a rattlesnake.
Wilson had never seen a rattlesnake, except in books, and once behind glass at the Museum of Science back home in Springfield Missouri.
Rattlesnakes, Wilson thought, surely must be plentiful here in Oklahoma.
Besides, where else if not here in this arid landscape would a rattlesnake wait.
Wait! What do you mean wait?
Nothing. I didn’t mean a thing. I was just thinking snakes hide is all.
Wilson pushed back at encroaching panic and turned the key on the dash. The engine under the hood only clicked as if someone were rapidly withdrawing a tongue from behind the front teeth.
The engine creaked and moaned as though it were under pressure. Engine parts ticked and popped at overlapping intervals like a broken metronome.
I’ll get out and have a look.
That’s it. Wilson thought. I’ll get out and open the hood.
But the snakes -
The hissing sibilations from the engine continued as Wilson opened his door to step out.
Oh yes – the snakes. Wilson shuddered.
They’re probably under the car.
They’re probably slithering and gathering in the shade of the car – their dusty bellies sliding over one another.
Dozens of them.
I can hear them.
Wilson slammed his door with such force that he nearly fell over into the passenger seat.
Try the key again, Wilson panicked.
Yes, Yes the key.
Wilson’s hand shook with growing hysteria as he turned the key clockwise and then counter clockwise and then back clockwise again. He got the same shame-on-you reply from the engine he had gotten before.
The clicking from the engine was now slower and more deliberate.
Wilson pounded his open palms against the Essex’s steering wheel.
Again Wilson! Again!
Nearly blind with panic Wilson hugged the steering wheel and tried the ignition once more.
The engine exploded to life – Wilson roared with delight!
Working the car’s controls like a giddy girl turning straw into gold on a spinning wheel, Wilson maneuvered the car back onto the highway. Driving into a magnificent Oklahoma sunset, Wilson laughed out loud to convince himself he was never, even for a moment, afraid that a family of rattlesnakes might be gathering beneath the Essex.