I offered him back my name and thanked him for the offer to sit in his little hide-away, although he did not seem especially impressed by either one of these actions. Some time passed, awkward to me at first as I continued to resist itching at my eyes, although Vann seemed perfectly at ease. I guess it was his world I was inhabiting after all so I probably deserved to feel out of place. The wind whistled and blew for about another ninety minutes and then the gentle desert calm returned although the air still had a grainy texture. I figured it was a good time to get moving on however a hand on my elbow stopped me as I was about to stand up.
“Ya want something to drink?”
I considered that offer for a few seconds, envisioning the proffering of a bottle of Thunderbird if I said yes, however my throat was scratchy and my tongue felt like sandpaper.
“Sure…please.” And I was rewarded with the Thunderbird, as warm and as edgy as I remembered it to always have been. I coughed down a couple of swallows and handed it back. “Thanks. You must come this way often, I mean, you had that whole eye of the storm thing figured out.”
Vann waved one of his bony, tanned fingers back and forth above his head. “This stretch, I’ve been walking up and down it for about a year now. Chandler to Oro Valley and back again. Ya can’t get too far into those big cities or they really start to hassle ya.”
I had no frame of reference for that. “How did you….I mean, do you like this…thing you do? Drifting around?”
He drummed his fingers against his chest which was covered by a ratted out t-shirt, although I think it was one of those deliberately distressed items, new but looking old. It had some faded lettering that seemed to reference car parts.
“I did when I started, then I hated it, loved it, hated it…ha! Who knows, I guess I’m used to it. I actually spent a year once in Alaska.”
“As a… I mean, homeless?”
Vann seemed amused by my hesitation, his green eyes sparkling again. “As a hobo, bum, no good vagrant? Yes I did.”
Alaska interested me so I sat back down again and somewhere over the next three hours and a second bottle of T-bird I discovered that Vann may have been one of the most interesting people I had ever met. His thoughts were not always logical, he had a poor view of things in society he did not know much about and his opinion of himself raged between pride and despair. He had stories though, and true ones as far as I could tell. It was late though, very late considering I had only stopped for a quick stretch and to shake the weariness of the road. I stood to go however Vann reached into his pack and pulled out two candlesticks. Unexpected to be sure.
“Here man, come and check these out.” He placed them carefully on the cement and then, even more to my amazement, produced two candles from within his jacket.
“Ahh, what are you doing with candles? Seems a bit weird for a traveling hobo to keep those around.”
He lit the candles with a classic Zippo, nicely polished from what I could tell. “I keep them because of the story.”
“These things have a story?” They looked like thrift store pick-ups to me.
“They do, come on, just listen to it, it’s the last one.” Somehow I felt an obligation to hear him out. That and the Thunderbird had rendered me mostly useless for driving anyway. Where did I think I was going to go? So, as the flames flickered and cast a muted glow against the worn out supports of that water tower Vann told me the story of Castle Danger.
to be continued…