Bud sat there staring down at his corn flakes once again this fine morning. And a fine morning, it was indeed. For the third straight day, Bud hadn't awoken with the shakes. He's even been able to moderate his alcohol consumption to what he laughingly tells himself is his "maintenance mode drinking." In that same three days, the three days since his very vivid dream about the desert, something about Bud was different. He couldn't figure out what it was, but it had something to do with the vision in that nightmare.
Bud imagines he's like that Roy Neary character Richard Dreyfuss played in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Like Roy Neary's story, Bud begins to believe the dream he had the other night was some sort of invitation. An invitation to go out to the Arizona desert, but Bud cannot figure out why for the life of him. Remembering the comments his old high-school classmate Jess Gutierrez made in the newspaper article. The ones about the "unusual circumstances in the desert," Bud decides he needs to reach out to Jess. The problem is Bud has no idea how his "old buddy" will react to his call. Bud is not good at saying he's sorry, and that may be required - given he shined old friend on for all these years. So, Bud stares at his cell phone lying on the kitchen table for what seems like an eternity.
Jessie glances at his vibrating cell phone. There's an incoming call, and he doesn't recognize the number. It's definitely from out-of-state, but he can't make out the area code. "Hi, this is Jess Gutierrez." There's a long pause on the line. "Hello! Anybody there?" "Ah, hey... Jessie, it's Bud Granato." "Bud Granato. Now that's someone I haven't heard from in a very long time. How the hell are you, Bud?" Bud stumbled momentarily for his next words. It's been years since he last talked to Jess. Now, his friend's voice sounds different, and Bud can't figure out what's changed. "Um, yeah. It's been a while, man. Too long, unfortunately, and that's my fault," Bud said remorsefully.
"Nonsense, my old friend! It's REALLY good to hear from you. Bud. Your ears must have been ringing the other day because I was talking about you." "Oh yeah," Bud said hesitantly. "Oh yeah!" Jessie replied. "Someone was asking me how I got into journalism. I told them the story about when we were in junior high. Remember that?" Bud doesn't but is embarrassed to admit it, so he grunts approvingly as Jessie continues the story.
"Yeah, we had to put together that fake TV news program for our media arts class in ninth grade. You were amazing, man. All that research you did and the scripts you put together for all of us to read. You were the whole reason we aced that class!" Starting to vaguely recollect the events Jessie was referring to, Bud responded rather sheepishly. "It was a team effort, Jessie, but it did get me thinking about what it would be like to be a big-time news anchor." "Exactly! Me too," Jessie replied enthusiastically.
Jessie then laid out his life journey from the moment the two of them parted ways after high school. How he went to San Jose State, where he got into their journalism program. How he found a job at the San Jose Mercury News when he graduated and worked his way up from being a neighborhood beat reporter to feature columnist. As Jessie talked, Bud was having difficulty bringing himself to believe he knew the man on the other end of the line. Bud remembered Jessie as a shy, almost mousey awkward guy. If you looked in the dictionary under the word introvert - Jessie's picture would be there. The only time Jessie would really let go was when the two of them would steal booze from one of their parents or from the local grocery store, and after they'd have several pops. They would hang out at the Stoneridge Mall and try to hit on girls from school. "Liquid courage," they called it.
Now here was Jessie, talking to Bud - confident, but modest at the same time. Bud asked, "Jessie. How did you wind up in Parker? Sounds like you had a pretty good thing going on in San Jose." "Yeah, old buddy, that's quite a story, but the short answer is I found her. Bonny, that is, and she changed my life. I met her while on an assignment for The Merc about Native Americans' lack of access to affordable health care. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew I was proposing to her." Bud started to laugh but caught himself. "But why, Parker? Bud repeated the question. "Bonny is from Parker. Both of her parents were Native American. They had lots of medical issues, and Bonny is a registered nurse. When it got to the point where they couldn't get the medical help they needed, Bonny talked me into moving to Parker so she could take care of them. They both passed on a couple of years ago."
"That's true love, old buddy," Bud said. "Yeah, I guess you're right, Bud, but it was more than that, I think. I mean, I had grown weary of the whole Silicon Valley thing. The Mercury News was good to me, but, as you know, the whole newspaper business is going downhill with the rise of social media and the internet." "Boy, don't I know that!" Bud replied. "More importantly, I had been hanging on to some old crutches, if you know what I mean." Bud did, and that made his stomach clench up in a knot for a second. The two of them had gone on many prodigious benders. Way too many for young teenage boys and not a good harbinger of things to come. "That stuff was just not working for me anymore, so I thought the change of scenery would do me good," Jessie added. Bud thought to himself, "yeah, if only it was that easy." "Bonny helped to get me thinking about what I was doing to myself, so I gave up the fight and just started taking some direction from people I have learned to trust..."
Feeling very uncomfortable now and wanting to change the subject, Bud interrupted Jessie in mid-sentence. "Hey, Jessie! I saw that article in the USA Today, where you were quoted about the stuff going on in Arizona." Jessie replied, "Oh yeah, that. I got several emails from some of my cronies at The Merc when that USA Today story came out. They started kidding me about how they didn't know I was writing ghost stories now." "Ghost stories? What do you mean, ghost stories?" Bud asked. "Well, I told the USA Today that before there was this rash of accidents on the I-10, there was this one accident where a young man was killed in a horrible wrong-way crash. Some weird circumstances behind that crash. The guy was being chased by the local sheriff and drove up onto the highway going in the wrong direction. Plowed into this semi, which caused a chain reaction crash, and a bunch of people were killed. Most of the details were left out of the USA Today article, but that's what happened. Anyway, here's the really interesting tidbit Bud," Jessie's voice got quieter as if he thought someone might be listening in to their conversation. "Every one of the crashes that happened after that first crash involved people who were somehow connected to the guy who was killed in the first crash. That wasn't made really clear in the USA Today article."
"Really? Anything else seem strange?" Bud asked. "Yeah, as a matter-of-fact sports fan, there was!" Jessie replied excitedly. "Several weeks after that first crash where the young man lost his head, there was this other incident further west on the same highway. A guy from Parker and his whole family was traveling home from a vacation at Disneyland in California. I know, or I should say I knew this guy. He's a local high-school teacher here. Anyway, I happened to be returning from an assignment that evening when I drove past the crash scene. Here's the bizarre part, Buddy old boy... The high school teacher who was driving the car - an SUV, actually - was killed, along with his wife. One of his two sons who survived the crash kept rambling on how his dad kept saying someone name Barry took control of the car and forced him off the road. That's when I remembered the name of the guy who was killed a few weeks earlier. Get this! His name was Barry. Barry Jankins! If that's not a Twilight Zone minute, I don't know what is," Jessie said as he broke out in a big barrel laugh.
Bud's head was really buzzing now. It was like that feeling you get when you're really close to remembering something important, but it just keeps eluding you by the smallest of margins. Then he recalled that vague figure of the man in his nightmare. "Jessie. Do you think there's a way I can see a picture of this Barry guy?" "Sure, I guess Bud. There's probably a picture of him on the memorial page his daughter set up for him, but why are you interested in this? "Oh, I don't know. Just a hunch, I guess," Bud replies just as Jessie gives him the URL to the memorial site. Bud opens his laptop and punches in the web site address. Up pops the memorial site with a big full-color picture of Barry Jankins on the front page. Barry is at Disneyland. He has his daughter on his shoulders, and the two of them are laughing gleefully. It's was like a bolt of lightning had just struck Bud.
There's total silence on the phone. "Bud, you still there? Jessie asked. "Ah...Ah... Ah... Jessie, this is going to sound really weird, but the other day I had this super realistic nightmare. I was out in the desert. I could tell it was the desert because these giant saguaro cactuses were waving at me with those longs arms that they grow." That elicits a loud barking laugh from Jessie. "Yeah, really weird, huh, but there's this guy following me around. At first, I can't see the guy cause he's just out of my field of vision. Then, he is standing right in front of me, and he's pleading for help. I only see his face for like a second or two before this ugly ghost thingy jumps between the two of us and starts growling at me like a mad dog or something. This happens like three of four times, then I wake up in a cold sweat."
"Man, that's some heavy dream shit!" Jessie exclaims. "Jessie! The guy in that dream is the same guy I'm looking at here on my laptop screen!" Bud's voice is starting to tremble with palpable excitement. "I'm 100% sure of it," Bud adds. "Woah! Are you sure about this man?" Jessie asked. Bud continued, "Ever since I had that dream, I've had this gnawing feeling like I've been invited on some adventure." "Bud, are you sure about this, and if so, what are you going to do about it?" Jessie asked. "Well. I have some time off coming to me, and it's a slow time of the year here. Maybe I'll go out there for a few days to poke around." "Awesome, dude! Listen, you have to stay with us. Bonny and I would love to spend some time with you," Jessie proclaims. "Ok. Maybe. Thanks for offering. I'll get back with you later today," Bud replies. "Ok, Bud, Listen, I gotta get to work. Let's talk soon." "Absolutely, Jessie! I'm really glad I called. "Me too, Bud! Me too... Bye."
Bud put the cell phone down on the table and quickly fixed his attention back on his laptop to find AA.com, where he started looking for the next flight to Phoenix. "AA.com... isn't that ironic," Bud thought to himself. "I can't seem to get away from thinking about A.A. I wonder if Jessie is involved in that outfit?" Those thoughts would have to wait for now. Bud finally has the coordinates to the destination on the invitation he received in the dream. This was not that time to get bogged down in extraneous and superfluous discussions about the state of his sobriety.
To be continued...