He did a bad thing and then he wished himself away. Be careful what you wish for.



I was ten weeks on the road. Going nowhere. I had nowhere to go.

But I was ten weeks on the road, driving every day. From here. To there. Never bound anywhere in particular. Just driving. Listening to the sound of the tires on the pavement. Dreaming with the slipstream. Reading the spaces in the dotted line like obscure Morse. Guessing at the meaning of everything. Realizing the impetus of nothing.

Ten weeks is a lot of days, is a lot of hours, is a lot of miles and a lot of road. Ten weeks is a long run and a long way. Ten weeks lost is about as lost as any man ever gets.

Somewhere down the road, at the crest of a hill on a narrow two lane blacktop that was all but obscured by the overarching boughs of a pine forest, my car started sputtering with a sound of mortal mechanical illness. At the bottom of the valley, where the lane crossed a wild country stream atop a rusted ironworks bridge, it died.

I let it coast to a stop in the grass on the far side of the bridge, then I sat through the night. Thinking. Wishing. Hoping. Praying.

Regardless of my silent penance, the sun rose on the same green valley. On the same tossing brook. On the same bridge. And me sitting there in my dead Datsun. Rubbing my eyes and smacking a foul-tasting mouth.

Opening the door, I breathed deeply of the pine soaked air. Then, scratching myself obscenely, I stood.

The pebbles that lay beneath the thin grass that lined the shoulder gouged my unshod feet. I hopped and danced to the edge of the forest, where I leaned against an incredibly broad trunk to relieve myself.

Amid the sounds of rushing water, I was startled to hear the unmistakable draw of a breath. It came in a long, leisurely inhalation that sucked the wind through the trees and ruffled the legs of my trousers where they dangled between my knees.

I turned my eyes on the deepest darkness between the towering columns, which supported a cathedral ceiling of shining emerald green. And I felt, saw, heard, smelled, touched... something. Something that would sit silently in the shadows, watching, waiting, its patience the slow crawl of a clock's hour hand. Its desires as black and unknowable as the shadows that were its concealing shelter.

Almost, I felt I could catch the sparkle of its distant, malevolent eyes staring back at me from all the unexposed reaches of the forest. A million eyes that were the collective gaze of a single beast. All of which, I felt, must covet a virtual representation of myself, as I stood there at the edge of the trees in early morning silhouette.

Shuddering, I shook my head to clear my thoughts. Nonsense.

And as I walked away, I felt the expiration of that damnable breath, for the subtle wind came hot and moist from the opposite direction, and it drove the leggings of my trousers before me. I sensed a reek of days old death and rotten decay on the air. And it suited me well.

I retrieved a pair of shoes and my carryall from the car. Then I started walking. North. Along the roadside.

My feet hissed through the thin grasses. My steps crunched the stony soil. I walked along the road. Following where it would lead, grateful, as ever, for its comforting direction. And while I walked, I listened... I listened for the forest's sucking breath, which was that dismal country's only sound.

It was an ephemeral sigh, coming and going. It was the carefully couched respiration of a stalking monster, which must necessarily linger close in its search for satiety, but which must also necessarily conceal itself from that which it would murder. Hhhhhhhhu... Uhhhhhhhh... softly. Sensuously. It came. Incessantly. This foul, sucking wind that reeked of rotted flesh and of endless pine forests.

At the crest of a hill far along the road, I was startled to find a clearing in the trees of the valley at my feet. There, a small town nestled among the hills, its whitewashed buildings crouched fearfully beneath the trees. A dozen buildings. Perhaps two dozen houses. Neat. Tidy. Perfect.

And but the one road, as I could see. In. And out.

Depending, I supposed, cinching my carryall tightly to my right shoulder and starting forth once more, entirely upon which way a man's feet were pointed. I started down the hill, and my vision was returned to the cathedral's green ceiling. The town was gone.

But not forgotten. I knew then, at least, I was going somewhere. I thought it would be the absolute end of the road. One way in. One way out. Wasn't that how the end should best be described?

I thought I might stop, and turn, and stand at the point where in became out again, at just that place in the street where forward became backward, there to look back the way I had come. I thought I might look back on ten weeks of the road. I thought I might stare down the terrifying specter of the beginning from the wonderful freedom to be found at the very far away ends of it all.

For here, I would say, staking some sort of mental flag into the uncertain foundations of my mind, is the last of it. Here is where it stops. And, consequently, where it all starts again.

It might be the serpent's tail. Or its head.

Yet it was a distant extreme, one way or another. It was not the center. It was not the middle. It was not halfway.

It was ten weeks on the road. At the end of everything.

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