Travis swallowed hard and shifted the Mitsubishi Eclipse into its designer sixth gear. The car was nearing 120mph. His tongue felt like sandpaper. Despite the urgency to get nowhere fast, he secretly wished he’d thought to buy a drink at the last convenience store along I-80. The divided highway spread out before him dark and endless—just what he wanted. Isolation.
His right hand reached over to the passenger seat and disappeared into a plain paper bag. He fingered a small heavy box and then ran his hand over his father’s old Smith & Wesson .45 caliber pistol. His Blackberry bleeped with unread messages. His wife? Co-workers? Who cared. A worried smile played upon his thin lips.
The miles ticked on northward along Route 83. Signals were sketchy as Travis pounded at the radio station buttons so he decided on a CD to match his mood.
Maybe the hardest thing I've ever done
Was to walk away from you
Leaving behind the life that we'd begun
I split myself in two
Proud and alone, cold as a stone
Rolling down that hill into the night
I could see the surprise and the hurt in your eyes
From behind each flashing city light
Love needs a heart and I need to find
If loves needs a heart like mine . . .1
Man, I don’t need this right now. Visions of his young wife and twin daughters swirled in his head. What was he runnin’ from anyway? He began sweating as his mind replayed his last day at work. Fired? How? Broke? This wasn’t the life he’d planned.
Travis clicked another track, choosing “Rosie,” which temporarily settled his nerves. Clicking through the tracks, he found his favorite and cranked the sound to maximum.
Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too
Running on - running on empty
Running on - running blind
Running on - running into the sun
But I’m running behind
Honey you really tempt me
You know the way you look so kind
I’d love to stick around but I’m running behind
You know I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find
Running into the sun but I’m running behind 2
The digital display read 12:05. Midnight. Travis looked out into the blackness of the Nebraska Sandhills and searched for a turnoff. Looked like as good a place as any. A bellowing came from his stomach and he remembered all he’d had to eat was a muffin and his usual cup of Starbucks back in Omaha this morning. It wouldn’t matter anyway in a few minutes.
Then something appeared on the road in front of him.
“What the . . .”
It was too late, Travis hit the antelope head-on. It catapulted over the hood, its antlers cracking the windshield just above Travis’ head.
The Eclipse spun round and round—a
silver bullet out of control in a loaded chamber full of lead.
The next morning found Travis and his Eclipse in a deep ravine off Route 83.
“Margie, look here. There’s a boy in the car. His head is bleedin’, but he’s got a pulse. He’s alive.”
“Alvin, here’s a CD he must’ve been listenin’ to. Jackson Browne’s ‘Running on Empty.’ I remember that one, don’t you?”
“Yep. We’ve come a long way from those days, haven’t we sweetie?”
Margie looked across the battered car at her husband of 30 years and smiled knowingly. “We’d better get ‘im home soon so we can treat his injuries.”
“Grab his cell phone and anything else you can find that might help us identify him. I’m sure someone’s been lookin’ for him.”
Margie’s words were just above a whisper. “Alvin, I’ve found a gun and an unopened box of ammunition. Do you think this boy was tryin’ to hurt himself?”
Alvin shook his head. “Let’s pray right now for him.” With bowed heads, the older couple lifted the stranger up to the throne of grace and mercy. They prayed for healing. “Lord, make known to this man the path of life, not of death. Bring him into Your presence so he can experience the fullness of joy that is Yours alone. Fill him, Lord.”
“Yes, fill him Lord. Take his emptiness away and fill him.”
1“Love Needs a Heart” (George, Carter, Browne, 1977)
2“Running on Empty” (Browne, 1977)
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