For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
WE'RE A LONG WAY FROM KANSAS, TOTO
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Scott tried to insert the largest of the keys into the lock. It was dark, though, and he couldn’t see well as his body was shading the door lock from the streetlight. He turned around to let the light fall on the key ring that Jeannie had given him. There was no way the other keys were to the deadbolt lock. Scott removed his leather glove and grasped the large brass key in his cold fingers and turned back to the door. He guided the end of the key into the lock but it just would not go in. He felt for the jagged teeth of the key to make sure they were on the downside, tried one more time.
“Oh, great!” he said aloud. “What more?”
As he turned around once again to look at the key in the street light, he noticed movement at the house across from him to the right of Scott’s position. What was it? There were a couple of rooms that had lights on in them. Then in one room in the middle of the house, the light went out. Scott thought he could see the drapes wave in the sudden darkness.
“Huh,” he said, watching, as he stood still on the small covered porch. After there was no more movement, he chalked it up to his tired mind and eyes playing tricks on him and pulled his phone out of his jeans pocket before turning back to the door. He had to keep the aluminum storm door propped open with his shoulder and with his phone flashlight, he bent down to look closely at the lock. There was something odd about it. Then he got it - the lock had been installed upside down. He closed the flashlight app and stood up.
“This guy’s supposed to be a good contractor?” he wondered.
Scott turned the key upside down and it slid into the lock just fine.
Scott had made the climb up the only road into Los Alamos at dusk. The New Mexico last light painted the snow-frosted mesa, along with the sky it met, a dark but vivid salmon color blending into the rest of the night-blue sky much further above. The three-quarter moon was low and bright and very big up at the altitude of seven thousand, five-hundred feet.
The newly paved single lane highway wound up and along the side of the mesa and when the ascent began, Scott knew instantly that he did not want to encounter a big rig coming down from the top. When the Jeep made it to the top, the uniform lights of the municipal airport runway ran straight along and before him toward the small tower at the far end. To his right, the lights abruptly ended, run out of blacktop just before the chasm that was the end of the runway and the end of the mesa.
After he passed the airport, the road in and out of town split into two and a strip of darkened industrial businesses emerged, strung out along the mesa between the two roads. Eventually, the mesa widened and more stores and apartment buildings popped up on both far sides of the road as the two lanes diverged, taking Scott through the downtown area and the one-way road became a two-way street.
Driving through town one-handed, his iPhone in his right hand with Google Maps telling him how to get to Navajo Lane, Scott took in the sites of what seemed to him as a tiny town, compared to LA. Halfway through town he crossed a long concrete trestle bridge that arched over a deep blackness that the streetlights lining the bridge could not penetrate. It surprised him and he experienced a bit of the vertigo he always carried with him to high places. His body stiffened as he brought his eyes around front to avoid the sight. He was surprised at this as he had thought he was over that phobia after confronting it in Estes Park, Colorado, hiking to the summit of Long’s Peak.
Alone on that trip up on the sun-speckled pinnacle at over fourteen-thousand feet above sea level, Scott was thoroughly and literally seized by both the stark beauty of deep blue sky above and the grounding gray and green of the slope and forest below, and the impelling urge to jump off of the ledge he was standing a few feet back from.
It felt like a foregone conclusion that Scott would be carried off into the empty space, whether by a loose rock slide, a gust of wind, or someone sneaking up behind him and pushing him and so he believed to his core that he might as well just step off and get it over with to end the anxious waiting and wondering of when it would come.
Instead, Scott tried unsuccessfully to breath deeply before he crept up on the edge, testing each step for solidity, wind direction, and his fearful impulse. He managed to temper this boldness by telling himself it was alright to be somewhat cautious - that he could overcome this... defect... while still being logical and level-headed in standing a step or two away from the end of the world in front of him. This thought of retaining a degree of control seemed to give Scott what he needed to relax his body and continue his shallow breathing and he was able to stand still, peering over the ledge ahead and downward toward his newly non-inevitable fate.
The heart-filling beauty he was able to behold filled him with some sort of a life force he hadn’t felt before and so was worth both the physical and emotional risk. He continued hiking upward to the the tops of peaks the rest of his time in Colorado with this new boldness and lack of fear. When he left for home, he felt healed, even.
Scott continued to drive through a more residential section of Los Alamos, past the high school and the main fire station. On the outskirts of town, the country club golf course lay in darkness that had fallen but was distinguishable by a large space empty of lights and spotted with residual snow banks along the fairways and the sand traps that contrasted with the rounded greens‘ lighter-shade-of-gray. The deserted and shadowed course gave the impression of an abandoned civilization or an island denuded of vegetation by some catastrophe. “Or a nuclear bomb,” Scott thought, as Google Girl commanded him to turn right onto a state highway that inclined up yet another rise. He complied.
The subdivision he soon turned into was of modular homes, not regular homes as Scott had thought. “Huh, kinda like mine back in S.M.” But a number of them had been clad in adobe skins to match the territory and their substantial appearance belied the fragile and impermanent construction underneath.
“Navajo Lane...” Scott murmured as he squinted at the yellow and red street signs until Google Girl identified the turn. “4439,” Scott told himself.
“Your destination is on your right. You have arrived,” Google Girl cheerily announced. The long, aluminum slat-skinned rectangular box Scott pulled up in front of was anything but cheery, with its three anorexic Charlie Brown Christmas evergreens starving for attention to either side of the lightless small porch. Snow was piled high all around the dented and pushed-in metal skirting. Stark shadows from the weak street light pushed the trees, the house - everything - backwards, ever-receding from within reach.
Scott was taken with a sense of foreboding about this venture that he himself had not yet conjured. What lay inside was not something he was keen to discover.