Reads: 327

Steel like a two-ton box flap swings, groaning and shrieking, as the ferry settles into the dock. The ramp shifts and engines cough into life and Al watches Millie out of the corner of his eye. Her fingers tap the steering wheel. Neither of them say anything. They sip their coffee. Al burns his tongue but that’s not why he’s sweating.

Beneath them the ship moans and shudders as a hundred hydraulic pistons come to all at once. A juice box crushes paper-thin under a hinge the size of a car. The vast door stops still, vibrating in the harsh glow of summer wind. The chain is lifted. The crowd begins to move outward in a jerking, pulsing flush.

They rise, sliding, gliding up the ramp and out into the air. Leaned back in their seats they look like astronauts. Millie with her hair falling back and Al with his vice grip on the armrest. The man with the reflective vest waves them out and Al half expects him to slap the car across the ass in his enthusiasm. They’re out. Takeoff. Down the winding ramp, they roll, with gulls bawling in the heat and the umbilical of cars behind them stretching to rip. Al breathes.

“Well here we are,” he says.

“Here we are.”

The highway winds ribbon-wide across the coastal plain. The mountains up ahead stare out as if to test their entry. Sentinels. Flat-topped and sweeping, their granite walls defy gravity, pushing the limits of their own vastness in this region of dunes and sweeping grassy knobs. And then they’re amongst them. Oh, the mountains. Al can’t help but smile. How long has it been since I’ve seen mountains?

Here and there scars of fresh stone glare like pearls in the sun – a testament to the slides of spring, when hillside forests give way to rain. Sheep in the fields mock them as they pass, scoffing mouthfuls of wild hay.

“Baaah,” Al says.

Millie shakes her head and grins.

They carry on and soon the pavement turns from black to gray and crackle. The highway gives up. As though it’s satisfied with the first impression. Potholes leer like puddles in the shimmering heat and soon they pass a roadcrew slapping ready mix on the asphalt. From here it’s a patchwork quilt and it will be for quite some ways, if Al’s memory is still worth anything.

For a while they search for a station but nothing good is playing, and after a time Millie turns down the tunes and they talk. About nothing in particular. School. Work. Weather. The things people talk about when they aren’t really telling anything. The pauses between words are too long by a hair. Al can feel the tenseness between them. Everything is not all right. It will have to do, though. For now.

Soon enough they’re riding the high, flat ground. Haggard firs a few feet high lean with a wind that isn’t blowing. Their limbs all reach for the east, toward the warmth of the rising sun and away from the gulf yawning on the horizon. That battered land – the Wreckhouse. Beside the shoulder an eighteen-wheeler lies belly up in the brush. A ripped seatbelt hangs out where the side window should be. Somebody’s stacked a little cairn of rocks on the undercarriage.

Al’s head starts to go fuzzy again. He nods to the conversation but isn’t really hearing it. His cradles his arm and thinks about Jess. There’s an odd metallic taste in his mouth. Copper. After a while Millie stops talking and he feels her staring at him. He gives in and rests his head against the window. Everything goes black.


Submitted: January 30, 2017

© Copyright 2021 keithdaniels. All rights reserved.

Chapters

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