The flames from the shack convert my dreams to smoke and waft them aloft to float, swirling and diminishing, towards the distant horizon.
I watch from the ridge, hunched down in the long grass, imperfectly hidden but safe. My tormentors are swept up in their infectious, heady moment of destruction. Their hate binds them together in this instant. The Dalton boys stand shoulder to tattooed shoulder with Billy and Asa Hardesty, egged on by other, lesser players. For this endeavour the raised weal scars across Billy’s back, a tangible roadmap of their feud, are forgotten.
I worm my way backwards, not standing until the crest shields me. I brush the rich dark loam from the knees of my already stained jeans. My hands shake off the last dusty traces of this place and I set off for the road.
Walking has different tunes as well as different rhythms. Walking away is an etude; in a minor key. The notes repeat over and over. A practice piece for your future, constructed from fragments of the ballads of your past. Each step is a beat, echoing your heart, running down towards its last tick.
Eventually my thumb fishes a big truck out of the raging, smoky waters of the highway and I climb aboard, my melancholy etude now drowned out by the roaring techno beat of the accelerating diesel engine.
I lean back into the cracked leather seat and breathe in the driver’s world, savouring it like a gourmet. I identify a tang of bitterness and an aroma of long lost love overlaid with the more mundane strains of tobacco and loneliness. He casts a sideways glance at me and I catch it easily.
“Where you headed?” the road warrior’s standard opening.
“Second star to the right and straight on ‘till morning.” My unfamiliar return gambit causes him to pause before venturing his next move.
“I guess you aint from round here?”
“Travellin’ man then?”
“Since they burned my place down this morning.”
He gives a disgruntled huff, cricking his road stiffened neck with audible clicks while I reflect on the unsatisfactory quality of truth as a conversational medium.
After thirty minutes and a similar number of silent, awkward miles, I spot an approaching town.
“You can drop me off here.”
He crunches roughly down through the gearbox, grinding my unwelcome presence between the cogs, before stopping obviously, rudely short of the town outskirts.
“Thanks. Have a safe journey.” I jump down, gravel crunching beneath my feet before stepping back to avoid a lungful of diesel smoke as the truck pulls away with a disapproving roar.
I set my feet to the road. They know the routine of the blacktop. My old familiar friend and I once more reunited, we settle immediately into the companionable cadence of my resumed rootless existence.
Above me I notice wispy shapes running before the stiffening breeze and wave the net of my imagination above me, trying to capture some new dreams, suitable for this new place.
This story was was RUNNER UP in Jeff Tsuruoka's Mid-Week Blues Buster Week 47 and was loosely inspired by this week's track 'I'm not from here' by James McMurtry
Judge Miranda Kate - the Purple Queen said:-
"Second place goes to Nick Johns – @nickjohns999
This moody piece offered so many snippets of a bigger story. It drew me in and kept me reading – I wanted to know more. I also liked the sense of rhythm of walking, and associating it to tunes and describing it so the reader could hear and feel it at the same time. Great imagery created with few words, painting and weaving an enticing tale."