The First and the Last
By Ian Darche
Dedicated to Landis Hutchens
Throughout the ages, mankind has always struggled with complex dilemmas, situations that test one's ethical code and inner humanity. In certain events, one's humanity is forgotten in a fit of rage, fueled by anger, causing the brain to focus on one outcome. To achieve this outcome, it is sometimes necessary to abandon a comrade or an ideology in order to survive. There is a war against each other, an inner conflict among the cultures to prove who is the strongest. Those who can command and conquer all others becomes the world's first, and the weaker become the last. Yet, it does not remain this way. Eventually, the last become first and the first, last. This can be said about mass culture, and individual people. Until this conflict and its roots can be dissolved away, the whole of humanity is unlikely to truly come together.
The afternoon bell rang, dismissing all students from class. The streets of the small mountain town soon filled with bored teenagers looking for a modicum of activity to release their inner energy. The glowing sun in the faint, blue sky glistened brightly in its red-orange haze, surrounded by whispers of cirrus clouds. The summer's breeze whistled through the tree-topped mountains that surround the town. The main road leading into town is Virginia Avenue, which runs along the New River. The cool waters trickle alongside the mountains, pushing everything in their path. The town of Narrows is split in two by this river, and the two sides are connected by a small bridge.
The large construction of Narrows High School had released its students back into the city for the rest of the day. Many drove themselves home, some were picked up by their parents, and some walked home. In the case of nineteen-year-old Gwen, she walked.
Gwendolyn, or Gwen as she preferred, was a quiet, shy, but gentle girl in her senior year. Her academic background had not been the best, but she persevered in her studies and never fully accepted her failures. However, at times, she often wondered if it was all worth it. Narrows was not known for its jobs, and many of her friends had already planned to attend college elsewhere, and stay out of the town. She did not really want to leave. She grew up in Wisconsin, and missed it there, but she enjoyed hiking through the mountain woods and breathing the fresh country air.
Strapping her backpack to her back, she waited for one of her friends before she headed towards the river. After about two minutes, her blonde-haired friend, Megan, arrived carrying her two books. Megan's face gleamed with cheerfulness when she saw Gwen standing by the bicycle racks.
"Gwen, guess what!" Megan exclaimed in a quick and high-pitched voice.
"What? What is it?" Gwen asked, indifferent and even-toned. Gwen was known for nearly always remaining calm, even under desperate situations.
"Jason asked me out! Can you believe it?"
Gwen swept her shoulder-length brown hair behind her right ear, revealing four distinct earrings on that ear, two on her upper cartilage.
"What did he say?"
The two began their journey down towards the river while talking. The heat from the sun made them walk faster.
"He didn't really say much, but I finally had the courage to tell him I liked him during lunch. My face was burning red! Anyway, before I went to see you, he caught up to me by my locker."
"He asked me if I would like to see a movie on Saturday! I said yes, of course!"
"That's great, Meg! What movie are you seeing?"
They hurriedly crossed Virginia Avenue and walked along the side of the river towards a grouping of small houses waterside.
"I'm not sure what we're seeing. Maybe that movie set in space. I hear it's really good, and very realistic to actual space conditions."
"Doesn't sound like much of a dating movie."
Megan sighed, "Perhaps not, but you know I like those types of movies. It evokes my fleeting imagination!"
Gwen laughed for a few seconds before responding with, "Your fleeting imagination? You're crazy. You're one of the most imaginative people I know. This, sadly, isn't very many, but still. Hey, have you ever continued with your book? I finished the chapters you've given me. They're pretty good."
She shook her head, "No, I haven't had the time yet, with these exams. I'll try to continue when I have free time, all right?"
There was a silence between them, which was taken over by the sounds of bullfrogs croaking on the riverbank. Before entering the houses, Gwen stopped beside a large oak tree and gazed out onto the river, which elegantly reflected the golden rays of the sun. Insects and birds chirped happily and uninterrupted. Everything was perfectly arranged and beautiful. The simple grandeur of the valleys in relation to the river made the mountains twisting them even more enormous. There were no errors in the setting.
"What are you looking at, Gwen?" Megan asked.
"Have you ever felt, sometimes, that a place can be so perfect that you don't want to leave, even though it's killing you to live there?"
"Maybe, perhaps. Why?"
"You know where I came from, right?"
"You said you're from a small town called Cedarburg in Wisconsin, right? You told me the day we met."
"I loved that town. There was so much to do and see. But, I felt cramped from all of the people. It wasn't overly crowded, but compared to here, I felt like I couldn't think. It was a choking feeling, or so it seemed to me. And yet, I feel the opposite here. This town is so small and empty; it feels like I'm trapped inside of some void. This void is something I cannot seem to escape. I came from too many people, to not enough. There isn't enough here that I can survive on, yet I don't want to leave. It's so beautiful and fresh here. I'm not sure what I should do."
"Is that why you've been acting down lately?"
Gwen nodded silently, still while looking at the fantastic nature.
"I think I know what you mean," Meg said, "I've felt like that too, with this town. If I decide to stay, I'll work at the post office with my dad. If not, I don't know where I'll go."
"I'm thinking of leaving. Just leaving. And never coming back. I don't care much for my family."
"Where will you go?"
Gwen took a deep breath before she answered, "I'll take the mountain highways north as far as I can go. I want to find more civilization. I'll keep a journal of my quest. When I arrive back in Cedarburg, I'll mail it to you."
"Are you really going to do this? How will you eat? And bathe?"
"I'll secretly buy some snacks and drinks. I'll have to go without much bathing for a while. I'll have to sleep outside."
"You're crazy for actually wanting to do this."
"I'm tired of staying here. I want to explore. I want to do something."
"Have you thought this through?"
"Thoroughly. I have an atlas, and one hundred dollars saved up from babysitting and that part time job I had. I'm not sure when I should leave, though."
"This is too sudden, Gwen! You can't just leave! You're my best friend. We always hang out together. We've practically done everything together. Let me come with you."
"Meg, you can't be serious."
"Why not? You're serious. You're planning to go off into danger, which you may not survive. If you've got me, you have a better chance of making it."
"I can be resourceful, you know. I'm not helpless."
"I'm CPR certified, you know. Just in case."
"And what about your family? You've got two sisters and a brother, all of whom love you."
"They'll be fine, and I'll see them again. Somehow."
Gwen carefully examined the quivering face of her best friend, who was near to cry. Gwen turned to her and grasped her friend's hand strongly, saying, "If you're serious about this, meet me at dawn near that old Jehovah's Witness church on Old Virginia Road." Megan only nodded.
Their talk was finished, and the two tired girls went to their homes. Gwen lived in a musty and rundown, white house beside the lake. The torn screen door creaked, as did the white-painted front door. Inside, her overweight mother slept loudly on a reclining loveseat in front of the television set, which was still on with the news. Quietly, she crept down the back hall and into her room, the last door on the left. She locked herself inside. Her room was small, but it had a large window, and its own bathroom with a small shower. It was originally supposed to be a guest bedroom.
She set her backpack down beside her bed, and sat down, stretching her legs covered by thin, black leggings underneath her purple shirt. She had always been fond of a more punk appearance, but never stuck with only one fashion choice. She unbuttoned her black vest and tossed it aside, revealing her purple tee shirt underneath. She also took off her white and black checkered belt, and placed it on her desk. She sat there for several minutes, caught in a daydream. When she snapped out of it, she began to prepare.
She dumped out the original contents of her backpack, and replaced them with spare clothes, a toothbrush with paste, her atlas, her saved money, a flashlight, a compass, and a knife. There was some extra room, and she felt it was necessary to bring more underwear, bras, and socks. The idea of having to reuse dirty ones for says on end made her cringe. When her pack was set, she shoved her schoolbooks underneath her bed, and placed the filled backpack by her desk. She felt ready.
Her heart pounded in her chest, beating loudly. It echoed throughout her whole body. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell phone. She texted Megan, asking her if she was in or out. Megan replied that she was in. Thus, their journey began.