The van was cooling slowly, pinging and ticking. Seconds before, we had been in dire peril and danger as smoke choked our lungs and obscured the highway from our eyes. But once the car had ground to a stop, seven of us flung the doors open and leaped out onto the gravely separation between road and plants. Choking for fresh oxygen, we stumbled twenty-five feet in front of the now softly smoldering van, and gasped in carcinogen free, plant produced clean air. Five minutes or so later, Jughead slowly exited the vehicle and walked over to us like a ghost, all one hundred and fifteen pounds shaking violently.
The whole situation had been a random chance for Jughead to demonstrate his quality, to inspire us to follow his leadership, and to not question his ideas. In all fairness, he had shown potential by steering us to safety. Unfortunately, that potential had vanished when he prolonged the crisis by planting the van in the middle of an empty road. I could only assume that during the incident all pistons in his brain had locked in terror, leaving him bereft of innovation, only able to follow the straight lines of previous action. My theory seemed to be scientifically sound, because on our ejectment from the van, we had yelled at him to follow, only to see him insanely sit in shock and wait for a potential explosion.
So, as he approached us, there were glances and looks of total disbelief. There were glares of frustration, and there was a common mental rumbling of discontent. In this poisoned atmosphere, he opened his mouth and demonstrated why he never talked.
“I think we have a car problem.” He said, stating the obvious in a high squeaky voice.
Corn kernels produce a slight modicum of noise as they grow in the husk. For thirty seconds, each of the seven of us processed this unique sound, and our snappy rejoinders and insulting comebacks. Abruptly, a hailstorm of insults and curses fell, a babble of angry voices roared forth against Jughead and his wide brimmed ears. The words bounced off onto broad corn stalks, and dripped coldly onto the ground. It was mutiny. The seven of us couldn’t believe that he hadn’t honked, or flashed his lights at the ignorant and now vacant convoy when our van was falling apart faster than a sinking ship. We also couldn’t understand why he had chosen to place us out of the reach of society, when passing motorists could have helped us easily.
Weakly, he held up his hands, and in his high pitched voice, attempted to soothe our nerves by promising to drive back to the on-ramp. Grudgingly, we holstered our remaining comments, walked back to the open doors of the now quiet vehicle and slammed them shut. Methodically, Jughead re-organized the keys, and once the proper one had been selected, inserted it into the ignition. With his practiced even movement he rotated it to the start position. There was a whine, a series of clicks, and then nothing. He withdrew his keys, and again went through his routine. This time there was even less of the faint sounds. Then, he tried again for a third, and then a fourth time. And it would have happened a fifth time, if the Party Member hadn’t reached over and took the keys from his pale hand.
“The car isn’t starting, guys.” Jughead whined.
The humid, cloying air of late Indian summer was too much to bear inside a van that was nothing more than an empty shell. Once again we opened the door, and marched around on the gravel. Curses again rang like heat lightening and thunder across the open expanse. The van was dead. We decided that we weren’t going to push it the mile or so back to the off ramp, because it was an utterly futile and ridiculous idea.