Red Nav Ardnaxela
in a wigwam? I'm starting at the marquee outside the Wickiup Motel in
Holbrook Arizona and I can't believe it's serious, except there's a row
of concrete tipis before me, each one with a door and a tiny square
window near the base. Giant tipis next to a pasture of sheep, the moon
so huge and flat against the sky it looks like paper taped on black
felt. I feel like a plastic soldier in a world of discarded toys.
Route 66, the wide main street of
Holbrook Arizona is lined with steak houses and diners, car dealerships,
lumber yards. There are better places to fade away than the Wickiup
Motel, but I can't help myself. This is my last chance to sleep in a
The motel office is in a
single-wide mobile home, not rounded-retro-Silver-Streak-style like the
hotel itself, but a battered white trash monument with tires on the roof
and a carpet reeking of wet dog whose body made a lasting impression on
a threadbare ochre couch. The counter looks deserted and it's been that
way for a while.
I ring the bell,
once, then twice. The third time my hand slips and sends the brass dome
tumbling off the desk. The bell separates from the base and rolls over
on its back, rotating hypnotically until it comes to rest as a silver
bowl, something Tibetan with a mystical utility, or an offering for
fanged deities, vampire spirits of the mountains.
"Hold your horses!" someone yells. A
teenager with a thin ponytail materializes from around the corner and
throws an index card on the counter.
Make and model of your car." He wavers halfway between the doorway and
the counter, as if unable to cross a boundary, his body drawn back,
battling a powerful magnetic force. "Hurry man, I'm missing the
I toss him a wad of cash
and he throws a key my way. "Number 14." We each wait for the other to
leave. I don't like the way he's looking at me.
I wasn't always this nervous. It started last Christmas in Palm
Springs. Cousin Orville, a minister of some renegade Protestant sect was
visiting, down from Tuleri for the holidays. His eyes had that born
again scan, as if searching for a tunnel in the side of a mountain, a
safe place for an excavation. He was hunting for the weak spot, that
vacancy where lust for Jesus might be planted - an innocent suggestion
that would explode six or eight months later when all the earthquakes,
tornadoes, insurgencies, and mass murders would solidify into one
unshakable image of apocalypse. The four horsemen riding across the sky
engulfed in flames like the Cartwrights racing across the map, only
there would be no Bonanza, no Big Valley, no more Wagon Train. Just the
end of the world. First, the doubt and then the detonation, that was
In less than half an
hour, he had prepared the soil. "You look like a sophisticated thinker,"
he said to me. "Are you ready for the Rapture?"
"I don't believe in Jesus," I told
him. "There was no Y2K. And there wont be any rapture."
"I can see how you might think that,"
he said. "But the evidence shows otherwise." "Evidence?" That was all it
took. One word from me and Orville was knee deep in an authoritative
rant about the end of time and Nostradamus and the Four Horsemen of the
Apocalypse. He stared at me intently and said, "During the Rapture all
the born again Christians will disappear from the world." "Yahoo!" I
whooped. It was a joke, but the despair on his face made me look out the
window and chew off my thumbnail. I was thinking, man, this guy really
believes it. He really believes in the apocalypse and all this rapture
shit. What the hell do I believe?
Wigwam Number 14 has a single bed with a mottled yellow spread. The
heater spews a smell like burning hair. The walls of the tipi slant
inward, coming to a point about four feet above my head. It feels like
space is folding up, as if it's only a matter of time before I'm sucked
into the vortex of an inverted black hole. I pull the curtain open. The
window is opaque with condensation.
The slanted walls make the wigwam
difficult to decorate. It relies on geometry for style. I search through
the dresser, looking for hotel stationary, a t.v. schedule, or a Gideon
bible, anything to connect this room to the predictable world of motel
hospitality. It's empty. On top of the television is a table tent
advertising the Pay Per View movies. The sides are covered with familiar
faces, actors frozen in position, some laughing, some running away. I
position it on the nightstand as if it was a family portrait, the
photograph my father took at Easter with all of us kids lined up in
Inside the nightstand is
a raggedy magazine. I slam the drawer shut so hard that the table tent
slides to the floor. I grab my bag and storm toward the office. There is
no way I am staying in the room with that thing. The thing that started
it all: The Watchtower.
I forgot about Cousin Orville for a while. Then, one day, in early
spring, there was a knock on the door by a nice looking woman in a
flowery dress. It was still a little bit chilly but she had bare arms as
if it was summer. Behind her stood a girl, about twelve years old,
hanging back, curious but slightly afraid, like a medical student about
to dissect a cadaver.
the woman. "I'm Sharon." She presented a manicured hand toward the
"Hello, Sharon," I said. "I'm
late for work."
"Oh, well I won't keep
you." She handed me a little pamphlet with frightened and wide-eyed
cartoon people running away from explosions.
"Are you nervous?" Sharon asked. "I
know I am." She didn't wait for me to respond. " Listen to this." She
opened a notebook and began to read. A truck drove around the corner a
little too fast and the brakes squealed slightly. I noticed that the
branches on the linden tree were the last to leaf out. The neighbor had
already mowed his lawn twice and mine was still brown and patchy,
covered in twigs and leaves. Sharon stopped reading and looked at me.
"Interesting," I said.
"It's right here. God's vengeance. I,
personally, am glad. I'm preparing for a better world in heaven. Are you
"World seems okay to me."
Sharon put the book in her bag. "Then,
I won't waste any more of your time." She turned away but the little
girl continued to stare. She was sizing me up to see if I was evil. Her
look said no. Not evil. Undead. She examined me as if I was one of the
lonely undead. I threw the booklet on the table and Sharon walked
briskly away. The little girl trotted behind, her tiny white shoes
clicking, like hooves, against the driveway.
That was the one look I just didn't
need. At night I close my eyes and dream the same dream. I see that
little girl. She's suspended in a magical heaven with Cousin Orville and
Sharon. They are snacking on Power Bars and fiddling with the knobs on a
wide screen t.v. Sharon licks her finger and bends down to rub a smudge
off the little girl's lustrous white shoes. The television shows the
four horsemen of the apocalypse spreading famine and war and fire across
the earth. Orville says "can't say I didn't warn you." Sharon and the
girl are trying to decide which of the horsemen is their favorite. "I
like Pestilence the best," the girl says. "Look how fast he
The face of the fourth horsemen
looms large across the screen. It's me. It's my face.
As I approach the motel office hoping to change rooms, the door opens
and the teenager steps out. He's changed his clothes and is dressed in a
leotard and black cape. "Toon Red Nav Ardnaxela," he
"Never mind." He smiles,
mysteriously. "Is something wrong?"
the light of the enormous moon, Holbrook Arizona seems perilously close
to the sky. I wonder if the proximity of this place to heaven makes it
unwise to examine things too closely. What if each of the wigwams in the
Wickiup Motel contains something more onerous than the last? Perhaps
Wigwam 15 offers a plague of toads while the blood of infidels spurts
from the faucets of Number 16. On the spot, I change my mind and mumble,
" I just need some towels."
Number 14, I toss my bag into the closet. I need to get out.
I wander toward town looking for a drink. At the end of a shadowy
block, lined with shattered street lights and abandoned commerce, a neon
cowboy beckons me. I stop in front of a cavernous shop filled with
hunting trophies - antlers, the heads of elk and mountain goats, fish
mounted on oak plaques. It's an ark with two of everything - moose,
mountain lion, mule deer.
is perched on top of a steak house, a long ranch style building with a
green awning. Two vampires and a witch stumble out of the bar followed
by a bearded lady in a white party dress. I almost forgot. It's
Halloween. There's a cowboy band playing in the bar and the sounds of
people trying to impress each other with their gaiety. I take a seat at
a small table in the nearly empty dining room. Raggedy Ann brings me a
beer. Partiers stumble in and out of the bar in groups of three. When
you're alone it seems that everyone else is in a group of three.
A guy dressed up in a camouflage suit
wanders out and surveys the dining room. "Hey, Buddy," he yells. "Join
"Man's gotta eat," I say.
He nods. "Hey, d'ya know what I am?"
"Gonna kick some ass!" he yells.
"Semper fi!" He salutes and the effort sends him precariously off
balance for a moment. "What'r you?"
look at my regular black shirt, black jeans, black shoes. "I'm
Pestilence," I say. "Say what?"
"Pestilence. The fourth horseman of
"I got some horses!"
he yells, then reels back toward the bar.
Look how fast he goes. Every night that dream. After awhile, I began
to study the Book of Revelations. I bought books about The Rapture,
conspiracy, illuminati. The words were dull but the pictures told the
story. Every edition of The Watchtower had a drawing of the four
horsemen where my face was clearly visible. In other sources I found the
same blue eyes looking back at me. Sometimes the face was covered by a
hood, sometimes smeared with eerie blue, but always something pointed to
me. It seemed like coincidence the first time. The second a little
strange. But finally, it was everything I saw. Everything I ate. Every
night, the dream. Pestilence.
I finish my wine and start back to the Wickiup. It seems as good a
place as any right now. The wind is cold and I expect to see a
tumbleweed on the street. One big prickly bush rolling down Route 66.
But there is never a poetic image when you need one. That's when the
whole thing becomes too heavy, when you are looking around at the
scenery of the last days of your life and its just machinery and asphalt
and everything regular. Nothing to announce the end or the beginning of
anything, just shop windows full of antlers or disassembled vacuum
As I pass the motel office,
the door opens and the kid steps out dressed in a leotard and cape and
wearing an authentic sword strapped around his waist.
"What are you?" I ask, pointing to his
"I'm an immortal," he says.
"Toon Red Nav Ardnaxela." He flashes that mystery grin and something
turns in my stomach.
Back in Wigwam 14, I open my suitcase. Underneath my sweatshirt and
an extra pair of jeans is a pistol that belonged to my father. He kept a
large collection of guns in a locked cabinet. They were rarely fired,
but sometimes he took them out and held them, gently caressing the
barrel with his palm. "This is a fine instrument," he'd say. On the
weekends we'd shoot cans at the dump, launching plumes of lit garbage
into the sky. I toss the gun on the bed and fumble around for the ziploc
sandwich bag which preserves the bullets. My finger brushes against the
edge of a photograph. I hesitate to take it out, but I can't stop
myself. It's a photograph of my girlfriend, Mona, and her cat. They are
watching me with the same aloof expression. The cat's green eyes reflect
everything about my life. Empty.
Mona took off, she left the cat behind. I took care of it for awhile but
pretty soon it wandered over to the neighbors and moved into their
house. It didn't even have the courtesy to leave the block, but just
lounged self-satisfied on the lawn next door as if to taunt me with its
betrayal. Toon Red Nav Ardnaxela. What the hell is that? It's stuck in
my mind like a bad song.
Toon Red Nav Ardnaxela. It's familiar. I hear the kid say it in his
bored voice, eyes indifferent like the cat's. Toon Red Nav Ardnaxela. It
sounds like a foreign language. Latin or Greek. It sounds biblical. It
sounds like a revelation.
I look at
the nightstand. Toon Red Nav Ardnaxela, it whispers.
"I wont look at you," I say aloud.
But, then I do. I can't help myself. It's a human failing, this need for
answers. I should have asked for a new room.
"It's not in there," I repeat as I
slide the drawer open and take out The Watchtower. Toon Red Nav
Ardnaxela. It opens in my hand. It opens to the face of the fifth angel
sounding the call. Summoning the four
Toon Red Nav Ardnaxela. I
see him there in his cape and crown. Sword raised against an innocent
world. Bored green eyes. I'm immortal, he says. Ha! And beside him is
the red face of War. "I've got horses," I hear him say, swaggering back
to the party in his pathetic borrowed fatigues. Oh, he must be laughing
Toon Red Nav Ardnaxela. I've seen
him astride a white horse with his saber raised. Charging forward across
my dream. And suddenly it's all clear. Why I came to Holbrook. Why I
chose to stay at the Wickiup Motel. Toon Red Nav Ardnaxela. The call.
The fifth angel. The end of the world. I'm not here to end my own
miserable life. I'm here to prevent something from happening.
The office door is locked so I sit down on the steps and wait. He'll
be back with the others, expecting me to prepare for the ride. The moon
is high in the sky, looking small and pale now. The cold desert air cuts
through my jacket. I feel solid and purposeful for the first time in my
life. I am a dangerous angel.
It isn't too long before he, the fifth angel, comes around the corner
munching corn chips from a grocery bag.
"Toon Red Nav Ardnaxela." I
"Dude," He says, nodding his head
enthusiastically. "Toon Red Nav
"I know who you are." I
lift the gun to his chest. " I wont let you do
"Hey, that looks real."
He backs away and puts one hand over
his head. The grocery bag quivers in his left arm. "I can't allow it to
start," I tell him.
"Start what, man?
I just work here. You want money?" He moves his hand toward his pocket
then raises it back in the air, confused about how to proceed. "Oh man,"
he whispers. "This is wrong."
Red Nav Ardnaxela," I say. "The call. You sounded the
"I don't know what you mean,
man. I don't know any call."
call. Toon Red Nav Ardnaxela. The horseman's call. Toon Red Nav
Ardnaxela." The grocery bag slides to the ground. "Man," he whispers,
his voice quivering. "I made that up."
"Toon red nav ardnaxela. The fifth
angel's call. To summon the horsemen. The end. The end! Tell me that's
not what it means! "
"Man," he wails.
"It's just Tessa. The chick from the Highlander! Alexandra Van Der Noot.
That's her name. Alexandra Van Der Noot. It's Alexandra Van Der Noot."
He chokes back a panicked sob and his breath whistles heavily.
"Alexandra Van Der
"The chick from the Highlander.
I stare at him, trying to
"The Highlander. On t.v.
You know, the one where they're all, like, immortal. And you have to
take their heads to kill them. You know, The Game. There can be only
one. Come on, man. You know. It's a game" His voice trails off and he
looks mournfully at the useless sword hanging from his belt. "Man, don't
kill me. It's no call, I swear. It's Alexandra Van Der Noot spelled
backwards. Alexandra Van Der Noot . Toon Red Nav Ardnaxela. I just like
the way it sounds."
"The call," I whisper, lifting the gun and then letting my arm fall.
Suddenly, I want only to lie down. I sink to my knees and then fall to
the asphalt. Toon red nav ardnaxela. It's not a call but an incantation,
making me thick and heavy and cold, a corpse, a soul unaware of the
death of its body. I succumb and press my face against the sidewalk.
Once again there should be a sign, a poem to announce the next moment.
I'm listening for the rumble of hoofbeats. I'm watching feet move slowly
backward and then pivot and run away.
My cheek is frigid and solid like the concrete. I curl up into a ball
against the wind and wait. I become a piece of impenetrable ground, a
mountain, eroding grain by grain in the desert wind. There is time left
for a mountain. A mountain has so much time. Grain by grain I wash away.
Some things end. Some things begin. A herd of deer grazes on my hillside
and I am not disturbed. Wild iris bloom in the wake of deforestation and
fire. These things can never move me.
The police come and hoist me into a van. It takes four of them to lift
my expanding mass of shale and granite. The van speeds off down Route
66. Sharon's little girl points down from her magical heaven saying, "I
like Pestilence. Look how fast he goes."
Lisa Thompson earned her MFA and has been published
in several magazines. This is her first publication at Web del Sol.
She is currently at work on a novel, The Dummy Saint Room.