Will Adams sat at the bar, deep in contemplation and self examination. Bourbon had that affect on him and in less than 40 minutes, he was already on his third. He had just turned 42 this past spring and he knew that he was caught smack dab in the crosshairs of a mid-life crisis.
The Mustang convertible he had convinced his wife that they should buy six months ago had done little to alleviate the feelings of missed opportunities, of being wholly ineffectual for his entire adult life.
Beyond not solving those problems, the car had created others, almost overnight. Jennifer, his wife, had grown distant, defiant. She had made a comment, jokingly, the night he brought it home that she was worried he might be trading her in for two twenty year old coeds next. He had assured her that was not the case, but she seemed to have become increasingly convinced by her own words.
The last five months had been hell. She more antagonistic, more insecure, he less than happy as a starting point and going downhill quickly from there. Tonight, she had said she was leaving. She felt she couldn’t compete with the new love of his life: "that damn, fire engine red, whore magnet of a car".
"Good!" he had shouted. "I hope you’re gone when I get back from the bar." He slammed the door to the house and roared off down the street in the convertible, banging hard into each gear on the manual transmission, taking small bits of pleasure at the satisfying chirp from the tires with each upshift.
Self recrimination resulting from the fight with his wife consumed the entire time it took to reach the bar and to empty his first drink. The second drink segued his thoughts into his dissatisfaction with his job.
His salary as a store manager for Fry’s Groceries had reached its ceiling a couple of years ago. With the economy currently resembling water swirling down and out the drain in a toilet, he knew the prospects for a raise or a promotion had already been flushed away, the excrement of a lingering recession that might have been called by a different name in the 1930’s.
He was related in a convoluted, genealogical juniper tree of twisted roots and branches sort of way to the Presidents Adams, of the United States from the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. They and other overachievers of his family name haunted him with their accomplishments. By comparison, his lack of successes gnawed at him constantly from the inside, a parasite consuming its host.
"Fat lot of good that familial relationship has done me," he said to no one in particular.
"I’m sorry. Were you talking to me, Will?" Joe asked.
Will just shook his head.
"Another Wild Turkey?" the bartender asked, wiping a non-existent spot of moisture from the bar.
Will had not realized his glass was empty.
It was too late for coffee, too early to quit drinking, and he had garnered too little relief from too much bourbon so far tonight.
"Got any coffee, Joe?"
He liked a little coffee with his sugar and milk, but slowly, as if navigating through a fog, he realized that combination was probably not a good idea with the bourbon.
"Scratch that, Joe. I’ll take a refill, I guess. Just don’t let me inhale it. Better if I just sit here and sip it for awhile."
Joe obliged with a hefty pour, the patented Joe Bechter overfill for longtime, non-troublesome, but troubled patrons.
"Mind if I join you?" He poured two fingers of the bourbon for himself not waiting for an answer. "Problems, Will?" he asked without taking a sip.
"Addictions, they’re funny things, don’t you think, Joe?"
"How so, Will"
Will plunged ahead, too inebriated or too self-absorbed to notice the sudden hard look in Joe’s eyes and the note of wary caution that had crept into the bartender’s voice.
"Take Kenny, our friend from Sedona’s Finest over there," he said pointing at Kenny Marano with his whiskey glass. "Most people think he’s addicted to that used radiator juice you keep back there labeled as scotch. Nope. Kenny, he’s addicted to nightmares and self-loathing.
"Simmons, now he’s addicted to just hearing hisself talk."
"Me… I’m addicted to constantly trying to prove myself, to find some way to demonstrate to me and everyone else that I’m somebody. Now, I’ve gone and lost Jennifer. That’s not going to help me much in the self esteem department."
"Well, you know what I always say in situations like this," Joe said. "There’s only one thing to do when you lose a woman like Jennifer: drink up.
"Or, you could try groveling, I suppose. I’m not certain how often that works, though," he said with a smile and a wink.
Joe moved on down the bar to refill another container of liquid therapy while Will sat pondering his words. Joe was right. There was only one course of action but it did not involve drinking himself into the bottom of a bourbon bottle tonight. With his decision came clarity and heightened awareness. Colors appeared brighter to his eyes; muted conversations at surrounding tables carried discernible snippets of words to his ears. The air appeared to him to tingle with anticipation and an ionic charge almost palpable.
Will—he of the presidential Adams clan—downed the last of his bourbon and slid off his philosopher’s stool at the bar. The next to last physical activity he would ever know was leaving the Inn Situ that night and heading out to his car. The last physical act he would ever accomplish was pulling the trigger of the gun he kept in the glovebox, thereby exploding the back of his head and splattering its construct and its contents all over the interior of his dream car.
"Will? Will! You all right? You look like you just saw a ghost"
"Huh? Yeah, maybe I did," he answered, not certain of any truth at the moment. "What the hell happened?"
Joe’s face moved into his view, the features fluid around the edges, distorted.
"Well," the bartender said. "I don’t know for sure. I had just handed you your drink and started to walk away. You slammed the drink—which, by the way, you told me not to let you do. Next thing I know, you went all stiff like you were having a seizure, then you fell over like you’d been shot when somebody dropped a glass and it shattered all over the floor. Lucky you didn’t shatter your skull.
"Are you sure you’re gonna be OK?"
Will didn’t answer. He sat there on the floor, trying to absorb what Joe had said while at the same time trying to unlive the last few moments of what appeared to him as valid memories.
"Tell me again what happened," he said finally.
"Time slipping," proclaimed James Simmons who had moved over to offer assistance if needed. "I’m telling you, Joe, there’s something strange going on with this place."
Joe turned on him sharply with fire smouldering in his dark eyes, his mouth set in an angry line.
"You’re just an old fool" he said with too much force for the comparative lightness of the remark.
Simmons pressed on. "You know I’m right", he said, jabbing a finger at Joe. "It’s happened before." He reached down a large, calloused hand to help Will up from the floor and get him reinstated to his seat at the bar.
Will, still trying to make sense of everything going on around him, asked "What do you mean, time slippage?"
"He’s just enjoying hearing himself talk," Joe said, turning and walking away now that the situation with Will seemed to have passed the emergency stage.
"Time slipping," Simmons said, drawing up a stool with his foot, "is what just happened to you. I’m certain of it. In most cases that I’ve found, it reveals itself as a kind of vision. These visions are so real, so entirely encompassing, that the person experiencing it believes what they see to be veritably true and actually happening to them. Most of the time, these appear to be visions of potential near future events; only infrequently are they concerning events in the past. So, which was yours? Past or future?"
"I don’t know what you’re talking about," Will said, unwilling to discuss the vividness of his experience. He remembered walking across the parking lot and sitting in his car, opening the glovebox. He could still feel the weight of the gun in his hand, could still feel the shape of the steel from such a foreign object in his mouth. Could still taste it on his tongue. He shuddered involuntarily from the memories.
"Uh huh," Simmons said. "Look, I can tell, it was a traumatic experience for you. I’m not sure how these déjà vu moments of the past fit in yet, but I can tell you that any of the future visions are simply only a possible scenario. They’re not set in stone. Does that help? At least a little?"
Will nodded without enthusiasm. "It all seemed so real," he said. "Still does."
He went on to describe his experience to Simmons in fits and starts. Simmons let him talk without interruption. Will’s voice trailed off into silence as he related remembering feeling his finger wrap around the steel of the trigger, sensing the initial tension in the mechanism as he began to squeeze it. He could continue no further.
Simmons ordered another Coor’s for himself and another bourbon for Will who looked at it but made no move to put it to his lips. The alcohol suddenly smelled like cordite and, he was certain, would taste like lubricting oil on his tongue. He pushed it away to the inside edge of the bar, far enough to not be able to smell it, yet close enough to grab if he decided he needed it.
"There is a strangeness to this place," Simmons said, his voice resonating with that storyteller timbre it was known for.
"This land is sacred to the Hopi and other Indian tribes. The Hopi considered the Red City to be a great cultural and religious center. Many experts believe that Sedona is that Red City. With the red rocks that make up this place, the connection is easily made, but some of the legends themselves offer strong supporting evidence for this conclusion as well.
"Long, long ago, the Native Americans traveled from the Red City, towards the Mesas in the North, but walking the "Good Red Road" from north to south was a pilgrimage, a quest to the site where they could communicate with the ancient spirits.
"I believe these time slipping events are an attempt by those ancient spirits that still inhabit this place to communicate with people here now. I have no idea of their intentions, good or bad, or whether they even have intentions as we would define that word.
"Given the nature of your experience and others that I am aware of, it may be that they are angry at our presence here. Or, perhaps these violent visions are their method of illuminating our minds to help us make the most of our sojourn here and avoid those predicted outcomes."
He reached for his beer, allowing Will to absorb his story. Out of habit, Will reached for his own drink but replaced it without taking a sip. The cordite smell was still too strong.
Simmons talked for an hour, relating the experiences of others that had had run-ins with the ancient spirits. While he talked, Will’s mind wandered. Though he heard every word that Simmons uttered, his vision was of things past, of people he had never known, yet he recognized them. They were his relatives, his own ancestral spirits. He saw the good and the bad. He knew their secrets and their innermost desires. He was witness to their achievements and their short-comings and a party to their compromises.
All the while, Simmons continued his tale on the history of Sedona and the "people of Sedona" as he called them, referring not to the current inhabitants, but tribes and clans and individuals that had been marked by this special place, this most curious of locales in the world.
Will left the bar that night, sober and deep in contemplation. He walked across the parking lot to the Mustang, opened the door. The interior had an aroma like his last bourbon—the smell of a recently discharged gun. The decision to sell it came instantly and easily.