US 95 North

When her sister was released from the hospital, buzzed on painkillers and unable to speak with her jaw wired shut, Sadie left her sleeping in their mother’s bed, and on in the US-95 heading north.

She liked driving on the stretch of mostly barren land north of Las Vegas. Under the heat, patches of the road turned shiny, as if it were covered in puddles of water. People lost in the desert would see them, and think they were saved, but every time they got close the water would disappear.

Sadie always figured she was like a desert summer - freezing cold when the sun was down, hot and unforgiving the second it came back up. No one could stay alive if they stayed with her too long.

*** 

“I’m moving to Lovelock.”

“Lovelock?”

“It’s north of Fallon. It’s not far.”

“That’s halfway through the state.”

“It’s not like I’m going to Nebraska, Sadie. I’ll come back all the time.”

Nebraska was the furthest East Sadie and her sister had ever been.

“Why are you leaving?”

“They’ve got jobs there.”

“You mean they’ve got jobs for him there.”

“Yeah, so?”

“I don’t get why you’re choosing him over us.”

“I’m not. I just…” her sister paused in the middle of folding a pair of faded jeans. “I want to be with him.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Yeah, you wouldn’t.”

“That’s my jacket.”

“You never wear it.”

“Because it’s been in your closet.

“You hate this color. You’re never going to wear it.”

“Well, you’re not taking it to Lovelock.”

*** 

Somewhere near Hawthorne, Sadie realized she was no longer listening to music. She didn't have the energy to find a new station, though, and couldn’t bear the silence, so she let the radio play static until she pulled into the dimly lit motel parking lot in the city of Fallon. The sun had gone down, and Sadie shivered, still sweaty from the day.

She grabbed her sweatshirt, but left the gun in the glove box.

The bell above the door gave a half-hearted ding as Sadie walked inside, blinking against the sudden light. There was music in here, and Sadie struggled to understand what the singer was saying. The man behind the counter said something, but Sadie was still trying to listen to the radio. The man rolled his eyes.

“Um, can I get a room, please?” she asked.

“How many people?”

“Just one.”

“Name?”

Sadie’s stomach dropped. There was no reason for it to, but the adrenaline that had fired through her that morning was wearing off, leaving her sweat soaked and jumpy.

“I’m sorry?”

The man leaned forward and enunciated slowly, as though Sadie were hard of hearing, or stupid.

“What’s your name?”

“Clark. Sadie Clark.”

The man wrote something down on a notepad. Sadie looked around the room again. There were generic pictures of Fallon hanging on the walls, and the cactus in the corner was dying. The man coughed, and looked at Sadie expectantly.

“Sorry?”

“How many nights?”

“Just one.”

“That’s twenty bucks. Cash or credit?”

Sadie sighed and put the money on the counter.

“I’m gonna need ID.”

“What?”

“To pay with cash. I need to see your ID. It’s the law.”

“Right.” Sadie hid her shaking hands beneath the counter as she fumbled with her wallet. She had been told not to smile in her driver’s license picture, and it came out looking like a mug shot. She put the card on the counter, but the man barely looked at it.

“Enjoy your stay, Miss Clark.”

Sadie grabbed the key he dangled in front of her. Her hands were still shaking.

Only one light worked in the motel room, and even that one flickered. Sadie turned it off and lay in the dark. It was too quiet, so she turned on the small radio next to the bed and fell asleep to Johnny Cash singing about murder.

*** 

In 1976, Andrew Clark took the same route Sadie had taken, although at that time in history it had been a lot more barren and had not been a state highway. He, like Sadie, had a gun, which he had just purchased. He shot it out the window on his drive upstate to make sure it worked. The strength of the recoil startled him, and he nearly dropped the gun. The power of the thing amazed him.

He was headed to a hotel in Fallon, where a police officer to whom he had payed an exorbitant amount of money told him he would find a certain man and a certain woman. Why anyone would want to run away to Fallon, Nevada, of all places, was beyond his understanding.

*** 

Sadie awoke at four in the morning, dreaming that her hands were covered in blood. They weren’t, but she took another shower just in case. The radio was still playing Johnny Cash, but a different song than the one from last night, and as Sadie dried her hair listening to the deep-voiced singer recount getting his ear bitten of his father, she wondered what sort of life Johnny Cash had had to think of such weird lyrics. He had done drugs, she knew, but she couldn’t remember if he had ever killed someone.

A siren went by, and she stiffened, but it wasn’t for her. Not yet.

“Do you think evil is hereditary?” she asked the mirror. The mirror didn’t know.

She checked out of the motel and got back into her pickup, ignoring the sound of the gun rattling around in the glove box. The day before, when she looked at it, she felt a strange fluttery feeling in her chest that was either fear or excitement. But as she started her car, she realized all of the twisting in her stomach and chest had left her.

The hotel that had once been Sadie’s grandfather’s destination was now a Dunkin’ Donuts where Sadie bought a large cup of coffee. She had left her house in Las Vegas with forty bucks, and was down to her last eighteen, but it wouldn’t matter for much longer. She realized she had just spent her last night in a motel, and wished he had spent more time in the shower.

Traffic was oddly slow, as though the entire population of Fallon had come out for the day. Sadie pulled up at a stoplight behind an old woman driving a tractor. A man drifted through the immobile cars, with a cardboard sign that read, “the end is nigh.” The end is always nigh for someone, Sadie figured, so he wasn’t entirely wrong. He knocked on Sadie’s window and held out a can.

“How much does it cost to get into heaven?” Sadie asked.

The man shrugged. “Twenty bucks?”

Sadie gave him ten and rolled up her window.

The light ahead had turned green, but the cars in front of her still weren’t moving. There was no traffic on the southbound side.

The sun was beating down on her, and Sadie was beginning to feel sick. She imagined a twister sweeping in and clearing all of the other cars off the road.

In the night, the road was bearable. It was cool, and she could see nothing but what was just beyond her headlights, taking the journey a few feet at a time. Here, she could see the asphalt baking in the heat. In the dark, the other cars were nothing more than anonymous red and white lights. Now she could see straight into the windows of businessmen talking on their phones, teenagers singing along to the radio, and children eating goldfish in the back seat. The road lost its magic in the morning.

The radio was off, and she began to imagine what her mother was making for breakfast, and if her sister was well enough to walk downstairs by herself.

When she began to wonder if they guessed where she had gone, she turned the radio back on.

It was some kind of bubbly pop music, but she let it play anyway.

The tractor ahead of her began moving, but it couldn’t go more than twenty miles an hour. Sadie imagined pulling the gun from the glove box and shooting everyone off the road, one by one.

“Bang.”

*** 

Back when the Dunkin’ Donuts was still a hotel, Andrew Clark shot a man in the heart. Sadie had always imagined this happening in some back alleyway, in the rain, perhaps in some sort of wild-west-type standoff. In fact, as she later discovered, it happened a little after 11, and the man was still in bed next to his girlfriend. Andrew Clark kicked open the door, shot the man, and then calmly sat down at the small dining table, waiting for the police. He didn’t appear to hear the sounds of Mrs. Clark’s screams.

*** 

Sadie followed the mirages still farther north. It was noon. Out in the desert beyond the highway, a herd of wild horses stopped for a drink at a small creek. When the herds got too big, hunters would shoot them from helicopters.

Sadie’s sister had always wanted a horse. She had begged and begged their mother to let her get one, since the day she came back from girl-scout camp. She always swore she would have one someday. Maybe when she woke up and her ribs and face were healed, she would get one. Maybe she would move somewhere with grass.

Sadie was driving to a run-down trailer park. She knew the address, because she had come to visit her sister a few times before. Back then, the place had looked cute and homey. Sadie’s sister had decorated the trailer with blue-checkered curtains and paintings of horses. She bought a cheap set of window boxes and bright pink plastic flowers, because it was a drought and water was too expensive.

As Sadie drove, remembering the flowers and the curtains and the man, Route 95 turned, without any sort of farewell, into I-80. There was a joke to be made there, Sadie supposed, about the end of the road. Only, it wasn’t really the end of the road. It was simply the end of her road. I-80 continued east, through Utah, Nebraska, Ohio, all the way to New York, which seemed way too far for any single road to take someone. Sadie was stopping in Lovelock.

The house in which Sadie’s sister had lived up until last week was dark and empty. A thick layer of yellow dust had blown in from the desert to cover the plastic flowers and the curtains were faded from the sun.

Sadie pulled up to the trailer. The man’s grey truck was nowhere to be seen. Either he had gotten a job that day, or he had gone out to the desert to shoot things. Sadie didn’t mind waiting. She turned off her car and let the music cut out. For once, the silence didn’t bother her.

The screen door on the trailer had been awkwardly taped back together; a haphazard repair of what had been broken when he had pushed her sister out the door and down the stairs.

*** 

The prosecuting attorney had no trouble finding people willing to testify against Andrew Clark. It seemed as though his neighbors came out in droves from Coledale with stories about his treatment of his family. They remembered unexplainable black eyes, sprained wrists, and on one occasion, a broken arm. When it was happening, everyone seemed willing with turn a blind eye, but once it appeared that Mr. Clark was going to jail for sure, they were happy to stand in front of the judge, not to mention the newspapers.

It was these reports, more than the murder itself, that intrigued and horrified Sadie. The murder could be explained away as a crime of passion. He loved his wife, so he killed for her. He loved her, so he beat her. It didn’t connect, in Sadie’s mind. Was this love? Physical, violent, brutal?

No one had ever told Sadie about this part of the story, and when she discovered the court transcripts online, she kept the information to herself. Her father was ashamed of the story, and Sadie’s grandmother never spoke of it. Her sister, separated by a generation, was ambivalent. Sadie was obsessed.

Sadie loved her family, whole-heartedly, unequivocally, but never brutally. Never like him.

“Do you think evil is hereditary?”

Sadie had asked that once, of her history teacher in ninth grade. The teacher told her evil didn’t exist, which Sadie had believed for nearly a year.

Perhaps she did love like him. Perhaps this frozen rage which had begun growing in her when she got the phone call that her sister was admitted to the hospital with a fractured jaw and two broken ribs was the seed of Andrew Clark’s terrible tree.

*** 

A door slammed, jerking her awake. It was night, and the sweat that had been coating Sadie all day was freezing on her skin. The man was back, stumbling through the yard. He paused, squinting at the dark car, which was mostly hidden in shadow.

Sadie opened the glove box and slowly, almost reverently, retrieved the small pistol and laid it across her lap.




Cece Harrs is a senior English major with a creative writing concentration. She enjoys reading and writing and watching dog videos. Cece is the 2019 recipient of the Arcadia University Excellence in Creative Writing Award.

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