The Space Between

Kenneth Platt drove his old 1995 pale-blue Ford pickup down the lonely stretch of highway 35 that connected Norfolk and Wayne Nebraska. He was going from the south, towards the north. His destination was Wayne. He drove with that lazy sort of confidence, the kind that comes from doing a mundane task over and over so many times that it could be done without even thinking. This was the way it was with the trip between Wayne and Norfolk; a task that he
had done so many times that he could do it with his eyes closed.

With the cruise control engaged, he hummed quietly to himself as he drove along. His fingers tapped upon the steering wheel as if his hands were a practiced team of sequin-studded Rockets doing their Vegas act for his sole entertainment. Likewise, his right foot, being denied the responsibility of depressing the accelerator, tapped up and down in rhythm to the tune. He drove through the darkness of night, humming and tapping, along that highway that resembled a giant serpent lying in the prairie grass, he watched the road magically appear in front of him. It seemed to grow out of the darkness as his headlights brought it into view.

He glanced in his rearview mirror. Behind him, he watched as the road disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared in front of him. It was as if the furnace-red glow of his taillights incinerated this giant prairie serpent into nothing but ash and blackened bones. He was alone on that road, but this was nothing unusual for that stretch of highway at that time of the evening on that day of the week.

This was a route without glamour and one that Kenneth had taken so many times before that he often arrived at his destination without remembering anything about the trip. In fact, he had been known to joke that a race of aliens routinely abducted him while he was traveling along this stretch of lonely rural highway. On Saturdays, Sundays, and Tuesdays, Kenneth made the trip from Wayne to Norfolk and back again. He lived in Wayne, attending the state-college there, but the town of Wayne was small and lacked job opportunity. So, on the weekends, he worked as a stock boy at a small discount store in Norfolk.

Compared to Wayne, Norfolk was a virtual metropolis, boasting a population of more than 20,000 souls. So, the potential for employment was equally boastful. This is why Kenneth did his lonely commute, at least as far as the Saturdays and Sundays were concerned. On Tuesdays however, he came to Norfolk for an altogether different reason. On that day, he came for lessons, guitar lessons to be precise. One would think that after taking on a full-time college credit load, and taking on a part-time job, extra lessons would be only an unwanted burden but such was not the case for Kenneth.

Like many his age, he had grandiose dreams of being something more than just another guy with a degree, destined for the stagnant grind of corporate life. No, Kenneth had bigger aspirations than that and it involved stardom. Wearing ties, butt kissing management, and working in a cube just wasn’t his thing. For him, this was plan “B”. Nobody knew that this was plan “B” except himself. He always felt that his parents would likely have simultaneous heart attacks if they found out that he was not interested in being the college grad, medium management schmuck that so many others seemed so keen to. No, he had a plan “A” and that plan was to rock!

He wanted to be a rock star and often dreamed of all the fame and glory that came with that lifestyle. Of course, he was not yet good enough for stardom. This was something he regretfully realized. Someday, he would be good enough. Currently, he could play a few Ramones songs, which meant that he knew exactly three chords. This was not sufficient to be the next American idol, but it was a start in the right direction. Everybody after all, had to start somewhere. Even B.B. King had that moment when he first picked up a guitar and strummed the strings and immediately fell in love with the instrument and the potential that could be unleashed from it.

As he rode the snake-like highway, he glanced affectionately at his passenger, the current love of his life. It was not a woman. With all of his activities, he had not found much time to meet women. In the passenger seat sat his guitar, a Gibson Les Paul. He didn’t love it quite the way he would have loved a woman, yet he had been intimate with it, telling it his deepest secrets and desires through lyrics that he wrote. They were only apart when he was in class or asleep. Actually, they were consistently apart only in class, and then only because the professors would not allow the instrument to take up a seat. He had actually been known, on occasion to sleep with it. He did not do this for sexual reasons. He did not do it out of obsession. It was mostly just to creep out his roommate
who objected that his hobby had sped past healthy levels long ago.

As far as his hobby being an obsession, what did his roommate know anyway? He would think on this and smirk. His roommate was a business major, destined for nothing more than days filled with cubicle life, gossip by the water fountain, and annual reviews for miniscule wage increases. That life was not for Kenneth.

The guitar’s polished white finish glistened from the pickup’s greenish dash-light as if it were winking at Kenneth, flirting with him. The flirting worked. Kenneth wished he were home right now, playing those silvery strings and pouring his heart out in song. But first, he had to get home. He didn’t have a case for his love, not even a cheap gig-bag.He did have a roll of black plastic trash bags under the truck’s passenger seat so he could avoid getting the instrument wet if it rained.

It wasn’t that he thought the guitar didn’t deserve a case; he loved it more than that. He simply couldn’t afford one on his college student, discount store stock boy paychecks. He had worked more than full-time at two jobs all summer and had saved every cent he could to get that instrument. After he purchased it and a small Peavey Rage 108 amplifier, which he had to get second hand from a cigarette smoking pawn shop owner that seemed to sweat far too much to be healthy, he just had nothing left for a case.

His humming grew into words and he began to serenade his love with touching lines from his Ramones library. It was a Ramones-medley, a little of Teenage Lobotomy, a bit from I wanna be Sedated, a line from We’re a Happy Family. Then he stopped mid-song, an action that would have probably put off
his love if she had been anything more than pieces of fine wood, bits of precisely formed metal and high-gloss enamel. He stared with eyes wide open out his front windshield and unconsciously slowed the car to about fifty miles per hour.

Ahead of him, a bolt of lightning had torn the night sky into fragments separated by white-blue rips. This didn’t make any sense to Kenneth. First, mere seconds ago, he had been singing and he had been driving under a starry sky. There had not been a cloud to be found from horizon to horizon. Second, although lightning is not unheard of in Nebraska during late September, it is not at all common. He never heard a clap of thunder. Then again, maybe his ears never had the chance to relay that sound to his brain.

Mere milliseconds after this odd phenomenon occurred, something slammed into the pickup’s front windshield so hard that it transformed it into a useless piece of junk.The thing was something like a snake without eyes and apparently with a head of steel. Kenneth only got the slightest of glimpses of this---this, whatever it was. He had just enough time to take his foot off the accelerator. He did not have time to brake.

As easily as the thing had penetrated the windshield, it plowed itself into Kenneth’s skull. It went through his left eye-socket, which was comparatively less solid than automotive glass. It sliced through that tissue like a knife through warm butter. It entered his brain.

Kenneth Platt drove his old 1995 pale-blue Ford pickup down the lonely stretch of highway 35 that connected Norfolk and Wayne Nebraska. He was going from the south, towards the north. His destination was Wayne.
Shawn D. Brink was born in Clovis New Mexico, but has lived in eastern Nebraska since he was five. He holds an undergraduate degree in Secondary Education from Wayne State College and a graduate degree in Management from Bellevue University.