He was too stuffed to drive. Instead, Steven Somers lounged in the back seat reading a worn-out paperback, his left arm slumped over the cooler. A barbecue stain could be seen on the collar of his Hawaiian shirt, but that was the only blemish on his clean-cut appearance. Everything, from his designer jeans to his spiked blonde hair carried a sense of style. That style reflected his attitude–meticulous and confident with more than a slight touch of self-pride.
Steven set his book down and looked up at the driver’s seat. In the rear mirror, he could see his uncle’s face. Although the familial traits could be seen quite easily, the differences were noteworthy. His uncle’s auburn hair was given attention than his own, but still was clean and well maintained, kept straight and curtained with fringe across the right eye. However, the biggest difference was their expressions, as while Steven always seemed cheerful and sly, Roderigo constantly had a stern, somber air to him, a fixed, stoic gaze that never changed.
To his uncle’s right, Yvonne rested her head on the window. Though he knew it wasn’t there, Steven could imagine a look of content on Roderigo’s face when he glanced at her, an invisible smile that Steven could sense whenever his uncle caught that peaceful look as his wife began drift into sleep.
Roderigo Somers’ lack of expression threw many off. It gave him a hardened appearance, one a man who could look the devil in the eye and not even flinch. He appeared humorless and even cold, but Steven knew better. Roderigo suffered from disorganized schizophrenia, a form of psychosis marked by disordered thoughts, unending voices and a blunted affect, and while his mind could be mended with medication, the pills could never fix his unchanging face. But that face was deceptive. Roderigo was a man of passion, a soft, caring man who eagerly faced up to his challenges. He was a man who was happy with where his life had taken him, even if the road to get there had given him reason to be bitter.
Roderigo was not paranoid. He did not believe in conspiracies or suffer delusions of persecution. At his worst, he was unintelligible, jumping from topic to topic mid-sentence and stringing together words in a nonsensical fashion. During those times, his beliefs were bizarre, and his mind filled with unintelligible chatter; despite this, he had never been prone to fits of violence.
Most of his bad days were gone long before Steven had moved in with him. It had taken years of therapy, coupled with a little blue and white pill, to get Roderigo where he was. It wasn’t perfect. Ziprasidone quieted the voices and grounded his thoughts, but the voices were still there. They were just easier to ignore. And while his ability to express his emotions never did return, Roderigo was able to bear these inconveniences and life a functional life.
“We’re coming up on the Triangle, Rod,” Steven said.” Make sure you follow the signs, this place is a gigantic clusterfuck.”
Roderigo saw it–a mess of interconnecting bridges and overpasses. Missouri really knows how to fuck a highway, he thought. He was almost impressed.
They heard Yvonne chuckle. “So what are you reading?” she asked.
“Oh this,” Steven said, waiving the paperback book in front of the rear view mirror. Yvonne briefly opened her eyes. “Just some alien abduction book I picked up at that shop in Independence. That store was filled with little treasures like this.”
“You don’t believe that stuff, do you?”
“Hell no. There’s too many plausible explanations. There’s a reason so many abductions happen as a ‘victim’ is waking up, after all. Waking hallucinations seem so real that people often don’t realize what they are. And that’s not counting the number of accounts given by people desperate for a shot at late night TV. There’s a reason they happen in the middle of nowhere too–that’s where there’s nothing to do and no one to call you out.”
He laid the book in his lap, and smiled. “There’s this kid I went to school with growing up, who was absolutely fucked up on meth. He was convinced that giant alien mice ran him through a maze every night before returning him to his hole in Prospect. He simply could not accept that he was hallucinating from lack of sleep.”
Yvonne laughed. “So what happened to this guy?”
“Brain damage. Last I heard he was in a halfway house for the disabled. I’m pretty sure they don’t let him leave.”
“Traffic’s backed up,” Roderigo said. Steven knew he was changing the conversation; he’d had a few bad experiences with halfway houses early on in his treatment.
Yvonne gazed out at the road and was impressed with what she saw: nothing but cars and trucks as far as she could see. “That’s amazing,” Yvonne said. “I’ve never seen traffic come to a stop like that.”
“Welcome to Kansas City. Some moron doesn’t air his tire right, gets on the Triangle, and the whole interstate turns into a parking lot in the blink of an eye.”
“Shh.” Roderigo held his hand up, cutting Steven off. He tilted his head as if listening to something outside.
“What?” Steven heard nothing at first. After a few seconds, though, he began to pick up on it too–a mechanical groan, almost too quiet to hear, obscured by the sounds of traffic. The sound became more obvious as he listened, almost as if it were growing in volume. Then he glanced out the window, and his stomach dropped at what he saw.
Shit, Steven thought. It was subtle, but he could see a slight tremor at the edge of the bridge. This is not good.
As Steven reached for the door, he heard Roderigo shout at him to stay in the car. Steven flipped the lock anyway. Without a moment’s hesitation he kicked open the door and leaped from his seat, realizing his error only after he was several yards from the car.
Just past his feet, the pavement was beginning to crack. Somewhere behind him he could hear Yvonne calling for him to get back in the car, but he was unable to move. He knew what was about to happen.
The bridge was going to fall.
From somewhere behind him, he heard Yvonne’s voice. He felt her hand grab his wrist and pull, only for both of them to be startled by a sharp tremor. “I think… standing still would be a good idea,” Steven said. “I’m pretty sure that was our support collapsing.”
There was a deep moan. The bridge began to slump. Car doors began to open, and footsteps could be heard running across the asphalt. A large section of the road began to fall away, just inches from his feet. Steven’s legs were shaking. His mind screamed at him to run, but he couldn’t. As he felt another jolt, someone grabbed his wrist. He looked back to see Roderigo pulling him toward the car, with Yvonne pace beside him. At last Steven was able to move his legs, and as they threw themselves inside the passenger door, the bridge began to fall.