The prompt was this picture. I imagined what would happen if my friends Tim, Randy, and I took a road trip to seek some profound conclusion and found this at the end of the road. And here’s what I came up with in 5 minutes. It should be noted that our regular banter is not that different from this. Although I did a bit of role reversal for fun.
“What the hell?”
Tim blanched, his eyes radiating confusion as we stared at him. “There’s got to be something more.”
“You dragged us 500 miles for this?” Randy was clearly ready to explode. “It’s a freaking question mark, Tim!”
“Actually, it’s a sign with a question mark on it.” As usual, Tim knew the right moment for a snarky reply.
“In the middle of nowhere!”
I put my hand gently on Randy’s arm. “Look. We’re here now, so let’s look around and take a deep breath.” The sweltering heat oppressed my lungs as I breathed, and I felt a trickle of sweat rolling down from my forehead across the arch of my nose.
“The air is fetid, dry, hot. It’s totally desert. Oh look! Another cactus. It’s totally unlike the other six I saw in turning to discover it!” Randy expelled breath loudly and pushed away my hand. “Waste of time, gas. Half a day gone!”
“Where there’s a question, there’s an answer,” Tim said. “Remember what pastor always says?”
“Hmph. I’d like to see him out here in this heat after a long drive preaching that crap.” Randy shook his head.
Tim and I looked at each other and started to laugh.
“What is so funny?” Randy frowned, arms crossing over his chest as he shot darts at us with his eyes.
“You are, man. Chill out. We all wanted to come. Made the decision together.”
“Don’t you start, too,” Randy snarled at me.
I shrugged. “Just speaking the truth.”
“With love,” Tim added, grinning. We both laughed again.
“You two are idiots.”
“Maybe, but what does that make you?”
“Shut up, Bryan,” Randy rolled his eyes at me, but a grin forced itself onto his face.
“Well, since we’re here, we might as well take a picture.” Tim fumbled with the camera case as it dangled around his neck.
The piercing West Texas sun cut into the skin on the back of my neck like a blade. “Hurry then before we all fry.”
“Just follow the signs, you’ll find the answer,” Randy grumbled.
“Hey! We know never to waste our time on those signs again, don’t we?” Tim said as he attached the camera to the tripod and set the timer.
“I was hoping for a more profound answer than that.”
“Stop whining and smile.” Tim slipped in on the opposite side of Randy, our arms around his shoulders as we smiled and waited for the familiar click.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the forthcoming space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.