At this time of year the sun lays on black top like a flame spread over a flat cast-iron griddle. The vast plane of sand and cacti surround the residential neighborhoods that inhabit the salinas along I-80. Driving in a cramped station wagon with two people and a dog doesn’t that comfortable, but for Andy and Steve it was a great opportunity to experience life and learn about themselves. 
    “Let’s stop over at this cross street up here and let the dog out. I’m sure he’s had to piss for the last hour,” Steve says. He calls for Andy’s attention and waits for his head to nod.
    As the boys pull off of I-80 onto a single road that evaporates with the heat, their dog, Zeppy, gains a sense of whats going on and starts to whine. The wagon pulls into a lot where there rests an abandoned ranch plot. 
    “He really has to go,” Andy says as he chuckles.
    Steve opens up the back door of the wagon and Zeppy jumps out to find the nearest object that contains any residue of a previous animal. Zeppy ends up finding an old ranch post that had been degrading into the earth and submerses it with a steady stream of dog piss. Steve kicks up a rock to Andy and waits for the return like a game of hacky sack. As the rock goes back and forth between the boys feet, Zeppy starts to get involved by barking and dancing in the sand. 
     The rock finds its way into Zeppy’s mouth and the boys watch and laugh as their dog dirties himself in the sand. Beads of sweat start steam rolling their cheeks to the creases of their grins. An overwhelming sense of freedom inhabits the boys. No rules. No restrictions. Freedom to drive spontaneously with no caution.
    “This feels awesome,” Steve says. 
     “Ya.”Andy find’s himself agreeing.
    “It was pretty nice seeing your parents place. How long have they lived there.”
    “A couple years.” Andy loses the grin on his face.
    For the boys, the past has been filled with many escapes from home. Andy did all he could to avoid another night alone with his father. Steve was always there to pick him up and drive. Scars mark the endless battles between father and son, although Andy never acknowledge that Willie was his real dad.
    The sun starts to set over the mountains to the west and the temperature acts as the sun’s faithful sidekick. Andy goes to the back of the wagon and grabs the canvas sleeping bags and tent from underneath boxes and bags. As the wind starts to push through from the west, the boys use the wagon as a wind break and set up the tent on the opposite side of the gusts. 
    “This wind is killer,” Steve says.
    “Ya, we’ll get use to it,” Andy says. He nestles in a spot to lay down.
    Steve stares at the ground for a moment with a look of contemplation. He thinks of all those times Andy and him traveled to different towns in the region to escape from home. He remembers Andy fighting with his dad a lot. 
    “Hey, remember that time you pushed your dad down the stairs?” Steve asks.
    “Ya. Why?” Andy responds.
    “Why did you push him?”
    “He hit my mom.” Andy says. He lays down on his back and puts his hand underneath his head and uses his fingers as a pillow.
    The last remnants of the sun disappear into the horizon. Color has vanished leaving the contrast of flickering lights on black canvas. Not too often do the boys get to see such and amazing display of stars in the sky. Not even from a small town. Street lights and strip malls usually blanket the detail of the stars with an orange hue. Now they can see every single detail the sky has to offer. The galaxy expands further than they can imagine.
    Zeppy, pushes himself underneath Steve’s arms and sighs. He’s ready for sleep. The boys follow Zeppy’s lead and trail off into their dreams where the second part of the adventure starts. 
    The east side of the sky shares a colorful assortment of magenta and blood orange as the sun lifts off the eastern hills. The air is still cool but the sun gently rests over the boys like a warm blanket. Steve is the first to get up and walks with Zeppy to stretch their legs and relieve themselves at a distant corner of the plot. Andy lays still, unaffected by the footsteps grinding against sand as Steve explores the plot. 
    “Andy. Get up. We have to start driving. We need to grab some gas and food at the next gas station about 50 miles from here.”
    Andy doesn’t respond.
    “Hey buddy, get up. I’m serious. I’m hungry man.” Steve chuckles a bit at the silence. He thinks Andy is playing an old game they had called “Ignore Steve.”
    “Dude, you okay?” Andy is motionless. His body is still and his lungs don’t seam to push up the top of the sleeping bag as it did before the boys fell asleep last night. Steve stares intensely at the body of his friend looking for any movement or sign that he is ok. Nothing. Nothing happens. In a panic, Steve runs to Andy and turns his body from being on his side to his back. A plastic white face. Unreal. This has only ever happened in movies. 
     At no point in time has Steve ever shown any regret for these impulsive trips away from home until now. The boys made these trips to get away from it all and now Steve finds himself further than he ever wanted to be. The desert now seemed to him as an alien planet with no way to get home. 
    Steve begins to investigate his dead friend to find any sign of his sudden death. He placed his hand in every pocket of Andy’s clothes in hopes to discover a pill bottle or a message. Anything that would clue him in to what happened. At this point in time, Steve’s eyes were swollen from the sadness of his deceased friend and blurry vision acted like clouds possessing a white-walled cell. His hands were shaking more vigorously as he went from pocket to pocket. Nothing left to check. All of Andy’s pockets were empty. Steve fell back as though he was pushed over by the disappointment. His tears consumed him like a wave taking over a city with a tourist shoreline. 
     Zeppy was still there.  The dog that has been part of Steve’s life for the past 6 years was still there. Accommodating to the needs of his master, Zeppy began to do a search of his own.
Sniffing the stiff body that lay on the ground, the dog stopped at the clenched fist that was pushed slightly underneath the car which blocked the gusty winds from the previous night. 
    “Did you find something Zeppy?” Steve asks.
    Steve ran over to the alert dog and grabbed the hand of his friend and pealed back the fingers one at a time. Slowly, a message was revealed: 

     To my dearest friend,
    We have been on many trips together. All of which have changed my life significantly. You have been the one and only true friend throughout my whole life. I’m sorry I had to do this. There was nothing left for me. Tonight the stars marked the last moment of my existence. It’s too perfect to pass by. I know you’ll understand when you reach your last breath. You’ll want it to end the same. Say good bye to Zeppy for me. He was a great companion and friend.
     Keep on keepin’ on,  brother,
    Andy

    This made no sense to Steve. Why would he just kill himself like that? What was going on? Puzzled, Steve decided to search the wagon for any answers.  He dug through all of the boxes Andy kept sealed tight. During all of their trips together, Andy was only ever particular about his boxes. He never let Steve move them. As any friend would do at this point, Steve opened the boxes to find answers. The first few items that were pulled from the boxes were old pictures of ex-girlfriends and panties. Steve has always known about certain attachment issues that were brought up in conversations but had never seen the evidence. As he dug further into the box, he discovered darker secrets. Black leather straps that have only been seen at erie sex shops lined the bottom of the box along side a rope that was covered in blood. Steve jumped back out of the car and started to gag. Vomit pushed out of his mouth in reaction to the recent discovery. All Steve could think about was his friend as a murderer. The
dark side of Andy that Steve always pushed to the side and ignored. He never wanted to think of his friend like that, but he knew that side was there. And still, there was one more box. Steve stood back with his hands grabbing the locks of hair that were standing up from the shock. What could be inside of that box? As Steve slowly crept to the box, Zeppy was already pawing and growling at the cardboard case that was strategically tucked away in the back of the wagon. Steve pushed Zeppy out of the back and the dogs paws imprinted the sand with
  perfectly placed marks. Both of his hands were shaking and the feeling of passing out was crowding his thoughts. The sun was getting higher in the sky and began pushing out heat like the inside of an oven. Steve felt like shutting down. He didn’t want to see the inside of this box. He was afraid. A pocket knife was resting on the front seat. It seemed to be staring Steve in the eyes, taunting him. He understand that he wasn’t going to like what was in the box.
    In fact, he didn’t want the box to sully the image of his best friend. Andy meant a lot to Steve. After a while of contemplating, Steve grabbed the knife and began carving the top of the box. A smell of plastic and dryer sheets invaded Steve’s nostrils. He realized that Andy had been hiding something from him this whole trip. Steve took the knife and pierced through the plastic. A smell of shit and rotten fish hit the inside of the wagon like an iron beam collapsing through the roof of a house. It was then that Steve caught a glimpse of the object. Willie. It was Andy’s father. He took the head of his father. 
    Moments passed and Steve finally forced his eyes to focus. Along with the head of Andy’s father, the box was filled with pictures of decapitated bodies that were bound by straps and rope. Dozens of pictures. Dozens of different men and women. All of which have most likely hurt and betrayed Andy in the past. I was his only friend. I was the only one he could trust. Zeppy and I.
 


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