The Neon Cowboy matched the pace of my Pontiac, like a school of fish drawn towards a curious diver. His horse was so dark, you could only see it through its glistening skin drawn over the mountains of its muscles. The desert belonged to just the two of us.
I waved at the Neon Cowboy. He turned towards me, as if he’d only just noticed me. The bright neon shone on the ground around him, and on the horse’s skin, his clothes glowing green and blue and pink and purple, and his skin pure white, and his hat orange. If it weren’t for his sunglasses, I would think he’s just a flash of light.
The music turned up, I banged the side of the car door. It was a little ditty by a country musician, which I thought the Neon Cowboy would like.
We drove like that, under the moon, until we came upon a gas station. I didn’t really need that much gas, but I did need to talk to someone. I also needed to see if the Neon Cowboy was real, or just my imagination. Could also be both. I had to find out.
I pulled into the place and slowed down. I closed my eyes for a few moments, and when I opened them, I expected to find the Neon Cowboy gone.
The lights, the sunglasses, the orange hat—he was waiting for me on the other side of the road.
“Your buddy need anything there?” An attendant asked.
I glanced at the red-uniformed young man, who had cheeks like the craters of the moon. I turned back to the Neon Cowboy, and in the background, lightning crackled down to the ground in strong, wiry arcs.
“Have you seen him often?” I asked the attendant.
The attendant took a sniff, and so did I. Petrichor rose from the ground.
“Never stopped like that,” the attendant replied. “But always riding past, following some lonely driver out in the middle of the night.”
“What is he?”
The attendant shrugged. “You want to keep him waiting like that?”
I smiled and tapped the driving wheel. “Something I should know about him? Desert legends or things like that?” I licked my lips. “Am I going to die if I see him? Is that what it means?”
The attendant shoved his hands in his pockets, and the rain made its presence known. Long grains of water, striking down like arrows launched by some distant enemy. The Neon Cowboy threw up steam, sizzling in place. He looked up to the clouds while the rain around him came down in green and blue and pink and purple and orange and white.
Waving goodbye to the attendant, I drove out of the gas station. The Neon Cowboy picked up the pace, until he was riding next to me again. The rain tore against us, striking us like spray from a motorboat.
A pair of headlights appeared in the distance, coming in my direction. I pulled my hand back in onto the wheel. Seconds later, a truck passed by, throwing rainwater all over the Pontiac.
The lights on the other side were gone. The Neon Cowboy had disappeared, and I would never see him again.