Excerpt from “Strange Things Happen in Nevada” by Katarzyna Kochany, the Grand Prize Winner at the Nevada Sesquicentennial writing competition in partnership with High Desert International Film Festival held in Pahrump in May, 2014. A father son road trip from Idaho to Nevada leads to strange encounters with a Shoshone Indian legend.
Northern Nevada sagebrush steppe looks a lot like southern Idaho. That’s the latest from the Department of Stating the Obvious. I’m here with Dad so what do you expect? He’s the King of Stating the Obvious. If it rains, he’ll say, “It’s raining.” If we’re having potatoes for dinner, he’ll say, “Potatoes for dinner.” Thanks, Dad.
So here I sit with Dad on the Great Basin Highway. A blue sign with white letters welcomes us to Nevada, the Silver State. Another sign provides a toll free number to report shooting from highway. The radio picks up static. I change the station. Country. Casino weekend special, kids eat free. Classic rock. Talk radio. Extreme heat alert warning. Country. Country.
“So can you guess?” Dad speaks for the first time in two hours.
“Where we’re going.”
“Are we there yet?”
“Come on, guess.”
We’ve already passed four signs for roadside casinos with greasy spoon diners. We could also wash our truck at a truck wash. If we had a truck.
“Don’t you think I’m a little young for a casino?”
Dad laughs like it’s the best joke he’s ever heard. Even in Nevada, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t let a thirteen year old gamble, even if he’s about to turn fourteen. Handle firearms, maybe. Drive a truck, perhaps. But not gamble.
“Come on, guess again.” Dad can barely contain himself. I haven’t seen him this excited since Disneyland.
“You okay, Dad?”
“Never better. You, me, and some father-son time.”
“Aren’t you going the wrong way?”
“The giant potatoes are further up North. I think you missed an exit.”
“It’s your birthday so I’m going to ignore the sarcasm. Now guess.”
“I guess when the time is right, I’ll know?”
Dad’s smirk fades. He hates it when I guess correctly. I don’t want to keep playing this game. I also don’t want him to turn the car around in case we are actually driving home to California. So I change the subject.
“It’s hot. I’m thirsty.”
“You can get a soda when we stop for gas.”
“You still have half a tank.”
“We better stop soon. It’s dangerous to run out of gas in the middle of no where. Especially in this heat.”
“Okay. Whatever. I’m tired.” I close my eyes. That was the longest conversation this father and son have had all year.
“I’ll give you a hint.”
I pretend to sleep. Dad doesn’t buy it. He’s used this trick on Mom.
“Son, we’re in Nevada.”
“Okay, Mr Sarcastic. That’s enough. You just might enjoy spending time with your old man. Stranger things have happened in Nevada.”
“Are we staying in Nevada?” Silently I add, please say no.
“When the time comes, you’ll know. It’ll be out of this world!”
It occurs to me that he’s been using that phrase a lot. Out of this world. Is Dad just being Dad or are we going to see Area 51?
Area 51 is famous for UFO sightings. You can get to it by a road that is actually called the Extra-Terrestrial Highway. I don’t believe in aliens, of course. I just wonder. After all, we did live in California. Aliens are a big deal in Nevada, too, especially near Las Vegas. Mom says that explains a lot about Las Vegas.
I stare out the window at the mountains on the horizon. I imagine aliens abducting a bunch of tourists with a giant potato. That’s when the car stalls.