Viaduct at Quarter Scale or
An Experiment in Multi-linear Storytelling

Brenton Buxell


You live in a pointless town, working a pointless job. You walk to work considering whether or not your entire life is a meaningless sham, a farce of an existence. What are you doing? Don't you realize that this is it? This is the only chance you get.

You cross the train tracks and enter the parking lot. This is the hardest part. There's a moment right as your feet first touch the asphalt when you're fully cognoscente of your position in the dreary machine. Painfully aware of all the wasted days that came before and all those yet to come.

People yell at you all day. The people that don't yell ask tedious questions, trying to enrich their paltry lives with material goods, readymade crap, mass-produced emotional void filler. You just want to shout, Get out of here! Don't buy this shit!

Go out and live.

It's not always going to be this way. You're just paying your dues, you tell yourself. It'll be a good experience for you. It'll build character. Nobody wants to live a pampered life. If life weren't hard, then what would be the point? You're just waiting for the inevitable pat on the back that tells you it was all worth it.

As the day progresses, your mind continues to revert to the same shamefully vapid, self-placating thoughts. You wonder if women find you attractive, if people can notice the blemish on the side of your face, if these pants match this shirt. You wonder, will you ever find love? Will happiness surprise you on the trail of your life like a mugger jumping out of the bushes?

A woman walks up to you. An overweight, middle-aged mixture of perfume and menopause. She's irritated with you before you've even spoken. She's already decided you're human garbage.

She asks if you carry such and such a product.

No, you say, apologizing for the inconvenience.

Well, that's interesting, she says. Apparently she called an hour ago and someone told her on the phone that you do indeed carry such and such a product.

You offer her something similar but once again inform her that you do not carry that particular brand, and whoever helped her on the phone was apparently mistaken.

The look she gives you at the mention of an inferior product could sour a pitcher of milk. No, no, she says, it wasn't anything like that. Oh, never mind.

You think to yourself, how come good things never happen to you? But then you think, if something truly wonderful did happen it couldn't possibly last forever, and in the end you would only be in store for an equally bad let down once it was over. In that case, the most consistently good life one could lead would be to have no good things ever happen to them. Perhaps it's better to lead a lukewarm existence. Free of ecstasy and despair, of thought and choice and responsibility. Don't question it, just go with the flow.

The same woman, having found a more helpful employee, saunters by with a completely different product in her hand, brandishing it like a stolen enemy flag.

At least someone knows what they're doing around here, she says through the side of her mouth without looking at you.

As she passes a strange thing happens. An errant impulse in the back of your brain somehow slips under the barricade of your inhibition and finds its way to the surface.

"Go fuck yourself," you say quietly.

She turns on her heal, her face a bubbling froth of outrage. "I beg your pardon . . . "

"I said," leaning in close now, "go . . . fuck . . .yourself."


"I don't think I have a job anymore," you say to your girlfriend as you enter into her one-bedroom apartment on the third floor of Parkview Terrace. You let yourself in. She doesn't mind. She's fine with you mooching off her. You've been living with her, or at least sleeping in her apartment, for over three months. The only other home you have is a 1983 Nissan 200SX.

She's browsing through the kitchen cupboards and looks startled at the sound of your voice. After closing the pantry, she takes a seat in the living room, or perhaps living area would be more appropriate. It's the left over space when you apportion out the kitchen, bedroom, and bath of this five hundred square feet of apartment. "Listen, we need to talk," she says. "I didn't expect you home so early."

"Yeah, I told off this customer and then I kind of just . . . wandered off after that. I didn't really see the point of staying until the end of my shift."

A young man in a towel enters from the bathroom. "Hey, you don't have any facial moisturizer around here, do you? My pores feel so dry today." He stops when he notices you, still standing in the doorway. "Oh. Hi."

"Who's this chode?" you ask.

Your girlfriend looks down at the floor. Realization strikes you, but it doesn't hit you as hard as you might have thought. It's more like the jab in the back that pushes you off a tall building when you were right about to jump anyway. "Hey, I'm sorry," she says. "I just… I don't think you should stay here any longer."

"I see."

"I mean, let's face it. It's not working out."

You look at your now-former girlfriend and then at her cute boy toy. He has an idiot grin on his face as he sticks a toothbrush in his mouth. "All right," you say dispassionately. "I'll get my stuff."


You drive down Sixth Street heading toward the freeway. Traffic is steady. You're ahead of the evening rush hour. Somewhere off in the distance a train blares its horn. Where are you driving? You're not sure. Away from here. There's nothing holding you back. No job. No girl. You could just skip town and start over someplace else. The thought is appealing, but is there really any reason to believe that the next town along the I-5 corridor would be any different than this one. It would be hard for it to be worse. People will always be people, you suppose.

You watch a man with long hair and a mustache run out into the street, causing three people to slam on their brakes just so he can get to Burrito Loco. You wonder what goes on in their minds, if people are as naive and single-minded in their thoughts as you seem to be. Certainly there has to be a sympathetic soul out there somewhere. After all, you can't be the only one who realizes the horrible cosmic joke that we're all living in.

The light ahead of you turns red and you bring your Nissan to a stop next to a transient holding a cardboard sign. Rarely do you stop at this intersection without seeing one. Your windows are down, allowing occasional relief from the afternoon summer sun, but also leaving you defenseless against the harassment of hobos. You prepare yourself for the inevitable pitch from the street corner beggar, ready to ignore them utterly, as is your custom. After a moment of silence, you look over and discover that the transient is actually a young girl, and that despite the flannel shirt and greasy unkept hair, her face is not unattractive, even if unadorned with makeup and whatever other mysterious product with which women beautify themselves. She looks straight ahead, oblivious to your presence. Her sign reads simply, "I want to go home." There's something in the pathetic honesty of that poorly lettered cardboard sign that touches you. You feel another errant impulse fighting its way to the surface in a desperate struggle for air. The light will be green soon. Aren't you going to do something?


"Where's home?" you ask.

The girl looks at you skeptically. No doubt she's been toyed with before. She looks straight ahead again as she says, "Kelso, Washington." It's a highway stop of a town, a few hours north of here.

The cross traffic slows to a halt. You have a flirtatious desire to do something reckless, out of character. Liberation.

"Get in," you say. "I'll take you there."

Her head jerks toward you as the light turns green. There's still a remnant of doubt in her face. She thinks you're playing a trick on her. Or worse. That you want to get her alone so you can have your way with her.

Cars start honking behind you. "Do you want a ride or not?"

She hesitates.

"Look, you can trust me. On any other day I wouldn't have offered, but luckily for you I'm at a transitional point right now in my life."

A car zigzags around the side of your Nissan, cutting off a minivan in the adjacent lane. She picks up her bag and you unlock the rear driver's side

door. Saying nothing, she tosses the luggage and sign in a heap in your backseat and sits down beside it.

You reenter traffic, taking the freeway onramp. "Not even a thank you?"


The two of you drive in silence for close to an hour but for what seems like longer. Amid your frequent switching of radio stations, you hear the same Rob Zombie song three times. Dig through the ditches and burn through the witches.

Your foot presses the accelerator down to the floor.

"You shouldn't speed," comes a shy voice in the rear of your car. It has a soft musical quality, in contrast to Zombie's raw, guttural lyrics. It catches you off guard.

You turn the radio down. "What are you, the speed police? This is my car."

Her eyes meet yours in the rear-view mirror and she quickly looks away with a dissatisfied air. There's something unsettling in the presence of an irate woman. Feeling the heat of her scorn on the back of your neck, you acquiesce. "All right, if it'll make you more comfortable." You look back at her. "I suppose I can be accommodating," you say smiling. She narrows her eyes.

Another long silence.

"So what's so great about home anyway? Did you decide you just couldn't make it on your own or what?"

She says nothing.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't say that." You move over to the slow lane to let a late-model Mazda Miata pass you. "I can sympathize actually. Sometimes it's like it doesn't matter how hard you struggle, trying to carve out your own measly corner of the world and make something for yourself, life will just keep sticking you in the ass. You wake up one morning and by day's end it's all gone, and you're like, what the fuck was the point? What have I been doing with my life for the last few years? There's only so much shit a person can take, you know?"

As you glance in the rearview, you can see her eyes regarding you through the disheveled hair hanging loosely in front of her face.

"I don't know," you say. "Maybe it's just as well. I can't speak for you, but the meager portion that I had managed to accumulate wasn't really worth holding on to. Maybe you just have to have everything ripped away from you in order to realize that you didn't really have anything to begin with. Otherwise I would've just kept on doing what I was doing, driving my potential into the ground."

She brushes the hair out from her eyes. In all likelihood she's not listening, but you decide to continue your rant anyway, if for no other reason than to fill the silence.

"Home's a good place to start over. You almost think you can turn back time, go back to when you didn't have these kinds of problems. No cares, no responsibilities."

"No drunk, abusive boyfriend throwing your clothes out into the street in the middle of the night and yelling at you in front of all your neighbors?" the girl suggests.

You stare at her for a second, mulling over the situation she just described. "Yeah, that too I suppose."

She smiles and puts her hand up in front of her face.

"I'm sorry, I guess I didn't really…" you start to say, but she shakes her head. "You sure you don't want to sit up front? It's a long car ride cooped up in that tiny backseat."

She shifts her stuff off to the side and slides into the front seat. "Thank you," she says timidly. "For the ride, I mean."

"Don't mention it." You smile in spite of yourself. "Like I said, sometimes you just need a clean start. Forget all the shit that you've been through and begin again."

She stares out the window. The sun has already set, but there's a residual afterglow that lights up half the sky. Up ahead there's a sign for a roadside motel at the next exit. She nods to it. "You know… we can stop there if you want."

You glance over at her, unsure of her meaning.

She looks down and blushes.


You open your mouth to say something but think better of it. Above you the light turns green. The transient girl with her cardboard sign offers you a furtive glance as you speed away from the Sixth Street intersection. You don't pick up hitchhikers, no matter how cute and vulnerable they may look.

But what if that girl was the one? an insipid voice in your head seems to ask. The one girl in the world that you were meant to be with?

Shut up, you tell the voice, there is no one. No yin to your yang. You are not part of a greater whole. There's no grand cosmic plan. No woman to complete your existence. You're just circling around the toilet bowl on your way to oblivion.

Don't worry. You're free of fate. It's better this way. Better for that poor sap who would have gotten stuck with you of all people, certainly. If someone does just happen to latch on to you along the way and follow you down to your murky fate, then so be it. That's their misfortune.

You're struck by the disturbing idea that this is really all there is. You are already complete.

Are you surprised? What else were you waiting for?

Traveling down the freeway now, your foot presses the accelerator down to the floor.

You'll be all right, you tell yourself. You'll just be one of those quirky people who convince themselves that they're better off alone, that they actually prefer it that way. Single and middle-aged, you'll be like the old spinster who hangs out at dance clubs and actually thinks she belongs there. Happy in her own self-deluded world. First one out on the dance floor.

But then, you hate dancing.

There's no one on the road as the sun goes down. The white lines zip by you at a faster pace than usual, and you realize you're speeding rather flagrantly. Just as the realization hits you and you feel an incredible sense of liberation at the way you're flaunting highway safety guidelines, a pair of alternating red and blue lights appears in your rearview mirror.

They just keep sticking you in the ass.


"Going a little fast there." The cop is an aging sandy-haired man with eyeglasses that slide down too close to the tip if his nose. "How fast would you say you were going?"

"You obviously know already, so why even bother asking me?" you reply.

Why are you giving him attitude? He's just a public official doing his job.

He leans down on the inside of your window frame and eyes you with a look of intimidation. "License and registration, please."

"I have a better idea. Why don't you get back in your squad car and leave me the fuck alone. Go drink some Fibercon. I mean, look at you, old-timer. What business do you have still being a cop? Shit, I could even kick your ass."

What are you stupid? No, not stupid, just tired of living a complacent existence. You're upset and you want people to know about it. You want somebody to feel your anger.

The cop backs up. "Step out of the car, please."

"Oh shit, now I'm in trouble," you continue recklessly. "Officer Fibercon is about to ruff me up . . . "

"Step out of the car, now," he says raising his voice.

You open the door with your hands up in mock surrender. The policeman deftly turns you around and shoves you into the side of the car, kicking your legs apart with one swift motion. He's surprisingly strong for an old guy.

"You've just bought yourself a night in jail. Maybe this'll teach you to be more cooperative in the future."

"Show more respect for my elders, you mean?"

He closes a handcuff around your left wrist and pulls your arm behind your back. "You seem to have a problem with authori—"

An intense white light and the screeching of tires interrupt the cop's observation.

You hear the grinding of metal as your arm feels like it's wrenched out of its socket. There's a horrid crunching sound and you land on your side, arm outstretched on the pavement.

White spots mar your vision. You look up, but it takes several moments to register the sight of your deformed Nissan. There's a gash along the side of the hood and the driver's door is completely gone, torn off its hinge.

You can hear an engine gunning in the distance, along with loud young country music being blasted from low fidelity speakers. You stand up precariously, and look down at yourself. Your left wrist is slightly bruised from the pull of the handcuffs that still dangle from it, but otherwise you appear to be uninjured. The policeman lies unmoving, twenty feet or so ahead of you.

There's blood coming from his mouth, and his neck is twisted too far to the left. One of his leg's looks like it's on backwards. You try to check his pulse. His limp neck is full of unnatural bone protrusions.

You've never seen a dead person before.

His eyes stare blankly ahead, behind half-closed lids.


It's always the quiet ones. The ones you'd least suspect. Maybe she was just down on her luck. Slumming. Lucky you.

Her boyfriend apparently kicked her out of their place. She's on the rebound. And here you are taking advantage of her.

But why should you feel guilty? She practically threw herself at you.

The girl turns out to be kinky. She's convinced you that it would be hot if you were to tie each other up. As if the sexual act is somehow made all the more sultry by one person being practically immobile. Of course, she just happens to have the handcuffs with her in her bag, for just such an occasion.

You first, she insists. What, are you going to argue?

Some women think men are stupid. They don't realize that men aren't necessarily stupid; they'll just do anything for the sake of sex. This can invariably lead to stupid decisions.

She's on top of you now. Her hand slides down toward your pants. It wanders into your front pocket. She fishes around for a moment. Something jumps inside you as she latches onto the object of her search.

She pulls out your car keys. You make a move toward her but are quickly yanked back by your metal tether to the bedpost. She retreats to the other side of the room. You jerk your arm in frustration and bang your left wrist on the inside of the handcuffs, bruising the skin.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"I'm sorry," she says. "But if it's any consolation, you were right. I was looking for a fresh start."


Half an hour later you manage to snap the bedpost in two. It's no use following. The only other car parked at the motel is a beat-up Subaru Brat. It's unlikely the owner will consent to accompany you in an attempt to give chase. And you're not ready to turn car thief just yet. Not for the sake of your rundown Nissan.

It was the first car you ever owned. Still, it was a piece of shit.

You ask the motel manager if you can use his phone. He eyes the handcuffs on your wrist with suspicion but eventually agrees. You call the police, to report your car stolen.

Apologizing for the damage, you quickly leave the motel and wander out along the desolate highway.

You walk for hours in the cool night air.

You realize you've never wanted to be happy in your life. Happiness is a trick, a cheap slut of an emotion that loves you and leaves you. Frivolous and carefree, it comes and goes of its own accord. It teases you. It flaunts itself around for a while, but never stays.

Misery and depression are more faithful companions. They are always there to fall back on. Sure, they exact their price but at least you can count on them. They're like a faithful housewife, after a long hard day of work at the plant. They bathe you in their self-indulgent effervescence. You wallow in it. It sets you free.


Later that night you stumble into a 24-hour convenience store. The clerk sits with his feet up on the counter watching a ceiling-mounted television. It displays a bulletin for a local crime-stoppers show. You walk into the store exhausted, no job, no car, and with the handcuffs still dangling from your wrist. You start to listen to the noise of the TV and you soon discover that the bulletin you are listening to is for a 1983 Nissan 200SX. Your car.


You speed down the highway. A torrent of wind fills the cabin of your Nissan, let in through the gaping hole where your door used to be. You should have called someone. Shouldn't have just left him there, lying on the side of the road in his own blood. Fleeing the scene of an accident, there's got to be a law against that. But even if you did call someone, would they have believed you?

You have to admit, it's a little farfetched. They probably would have thought you had something to do with it. No, it was better to just get out of there. He'll still be just as dead when they find him. Nothing's going to change that. There's no evidence connecting you to him. Except you still have his handcuffs.

It's true that there's still a maniacal highway killer on the loose, but is that your problem? What would compel someone to do something like that? Too much young country, possibly.

You remember seeing something similar on one of those extreme video shows. Horrible accidents caught on film. People burning alive and being dismembered, with millions of viewers watching in rapt entertainment. Everything is exploitable, even tragedies.

It was a similar situation. A hit and run at a routine traffic stop. Only that time the cop was more fortunate. They must have those surveillance cameras in all the squad cars.

Who knows maybe you'll make it onto the clip reel too.

But that would mean . . .

I take it back, you think to yourself. I am stupid.


What can you do? You wanted to start over. Well, maybe here's your chance. A car is just another possession, after all. No doubt if there was a surveillance camera then they'll have the license plate. They'll be looking for you, or rather the car, which isn't even registered in your name you remember.

Along the I-5 corridor, somewhere between Vancouver and Kelso, you pull off onto a disused rural access road. It runs alongside of a muddy creek. You drive until the creek opens up and can almost be called a river.

There's a good spot. A treeless section of yellow grass that drops off abruptly into the river, twenty or thirty feet below. You put the car in neutral.

You take a moment to say goodbye. It's a little ridiculous how people get attached to material possessions. The car has no soul, no life or vitality of its own. And yet it's been your home, your refuge. It's become an extension of yourself. You've imbued it with life. In some ways, it deserves better than to be pushed into a river and left for dead.

But that's absurd. If you're going to start over, you can't do it half-assed. You've got to go all the way. Clean slate.

And so you push the last of your possessions over the precipice, into oblivion, and follow the road back to the interstate.

How do you suppose you arrived at this point? How is it that everyone else seems capable of living a normal life, with normal healthy relationships? Why did you alone have to be different?

It will take you the rest of your life to learn what most people were born knowing. There's some essential component of basic human interaction that you somehow missed out on. Everybody else got one, but you were overlooked. You're standing alone amid a sea of interconnectivity. It seems like you should be able to just reach out and latch on. That is, if you wanted to. You've just got to make the effort.

But then again, who wants to conform? Everybody but you, it seems. You kind of like it on the outside. Not simply conforming to nonconformity, but transcending the social catalog. You will erupt from the milieu of human sludge.

You'll be the first to break off, a schism of humanity. You'll start your own society. Run naked and free. Do away with laws and traditions and accepted social norms.

After several hours of walking, you realize you're finally returning to civilization. There's a convenience store up ahead. You decide to stop in. The clerk is watching some crime-stoppers show on TV with his feet up on the counter.

And that's how you find yourself, exhausted and alone, no car, a pair of handcuffs hanging from your bruised wrist, listening to an APB over the television describing your own vehicle.

Brenton Buxell

Brenton Buxell lives in Eugene and studies at the University of Oregon. This is his first published work.