the highway was still hot from the sun, even as it slowly set behind the often talked about but never seen ‘destination’, so he took to the rocky grass off the shoulder. Brown and white clouds kicked up with his every step soaking into the thread of his pants like a stain that would most definitely wash out. He only walked with the sun to his back. At mid-day he’d just turn around. He never stuck out his thumb to the sound of a rattling engine or the promise of headlights. Didn’t matter–or as he would say: “that’s just how it rolls.” It’s not as if he were some unwashed, crazy-eyed, cousin-fucking, bearded prospector from the mountaintop, though he was very clearly unwashed. Not as if the cleanliness of your mind and soul count for anything if the edges of your beard are layered with the fine dust one only finds on the roadside. And, yes, he was near-sighted in one eye prompting a quite uneven prescription, not that he ever wore his glasses even when he did know where to find them. And before your ask, no, he did not, in fact, fuck his own cousin. Though he was unsure about the legal statues of the matter in the state regarding the fornication/marriage of relatives, it said somewhere in the good book that merely thinking impurely of a woman was adultery. Of that he was certain. But it was not for that sin he walked.
the highway was hot all the time, he mused, welling up enough spit to wash out the grit he felt in his mouth, except when he slept. His pace slowed around what he presumed was one or one thirty, about when all the headlights stopped coming and all the taillights stopped going. He was alone with the stars but he’d stopped searching them a long time ago, claiming the deficiency in his ‘bum eye’ to blur them into one bright mist stuck in the sky like a dust-covered spiderweb. He slowed his pace, seeing the last set of taillights wander over the horizon or around the bend or up the hill. It was up the hill but he pretended not to know. He stopped and sat down at the rather large rock he pretended to not remember was by the roadside. He mimicked surprise when he found a splinter of chalk deep in the fold of his pocket, but he didn’t make a fuss when he scratched another tick mark next to a line of others. He actually couldn’t remember how many marks were on the rock, it rained once in a while, believe it or not. He claimed he was going senile, but what does he know.
He slipped off his boot and shook out the pebble he’d been slowly polishing into a gem for the last six miles. The other boot still had laces which he slowly worked off with the only unbroken or blister-free fingers he had–his pinkies and a thumb. His left thumb, in fact. The one the devil kept intact so he could signal for a ride whenever he gave up. His knees creaked a little like an old wooden floor, he thought they sounded more like an old staircase. He stepped heavy onto the gravel near the roadside before he felt the highway under his feet. The dust of the day had finally settled–a blanket thicker and heavier and less perceptible than the darkness of the night. He crawled underneath its covers and rest his head against the cool yellow pillow of the highway.
He fell asleep as the desert coyotes howled miles and miles away, trying to remember the number of times he’d marked that rock. He wouldn’t say even if he knew it for fact.
Headlights hurtled up the hill, sped around the curve, and dawned like two suns over the horizon. The radio was broken, not that it mattered. The tires were white, not that that mattered either. The driver was named Ronald, but it could have easily been anyone. It didn’t matter. The speedometer wobbled between sixty and seventy. Ronald found on his travels that the dust settled between the cracks in the road glinted in the night sometimes, like the road were just an expansion of the sky, but only when the headlights were off. Once he had climbed the hill and braved the curve, he cut the lights and found himself drifting through the starry asphalt river as the engine roared and his sleeve flapped in the breeze.
The headlights sparked back to life and washed out the fallen stars. Ronald peered over the steering wheel, searching for a sign. He was almost certain he had taken a wrong turn and almost wished for it to be true when the lump in the road filled his vision and blood rushed to his toes and his skin felt like it was gone. The tires twisted and hit the rocky dirt with a crash as the headlights shattered against the marked rock. The engine hissed and rattled and coughed as Ronald felt the imprint of the steering wheel in his forehead. He was afraid to check for blood, not that he could see it in the dark. His heart thundered, louder now than the engine and the vile curses from the crazed bearded man ambling toward his window.
He mumbled something with a mouthful of blood, and even if it were discernable, it wouldn’t matter.
The dusty man’s hand came through the open window and struck him across the face.
God damn you! He shouted as the dust began to settle over the wreck and into the blood on Ronald’s chin.
God damn you! He shouted again, working the handle on the bent door. Ronald couldn’t focus through the tears welling in his eyes.
God damn you. His shoulders heaved as he spoke, that Ronald could see. The door opened, the squeal of metal on metal filled the air.
The dust covered man took Ronald by the shoulders and shook him.
You were supposed to be the one! The One, damn it!
Ronald said nothing, not that it mattered anyway.
God won’t let me die, you understand? Someone has to do it for him. And that was supposed to be you!
The dusty man collapsed to his knees and began to sob as the dust filled his eyes and covered his head.
After a long time he stood to his feet and began to wander back to the highway, the dust now settled.
If he wants me to keep walking, he mumbled to himself, then I guess I’ll keep walking.
You ought to do the same, he said, looking to Ronald, because God knows you’ll be walking a long time too.