~ The Road ~
“I like night, Churkk. Dun like day. Dun like heat or light or pantin’ or th’ way groud puffs up dust atcha when ya run.”
Churkk’s scowl deepened. He liked the night as well, but it irritated him to agree with the creature skulking alongside him.
“Night is cool. Night is good. Wraps us up and lets us come out of the cracks and up to see things. What I think is the best is –”
Jek did, looking suitably cowed. He still walked alongside, however, and Churkk swore even the runt’s feet slapped on the ground different than anyone else. Everything about Jek was annoying.
The light from a house poked through the trees at them, but rather than turning to go around it, Churkk took them in closer without explaining. Slowly, they crept up to the corner of the building, then along a wall to the lit window.
Jek started to whisper a question, but stopped short when Churkk smacked him in the middle of his forehead without even glancing back to aim.
Inside, Churkk could see a people-room with things to sit on. The woman sat on one, but didn’t see his long, mud-caked face at the window or the light glinting off his beady eyes, because she was crying — great, shaking sobs that shook her bent shoulders and moved her whole chair.
Churkk watched this for some time. It made him smile.
I lie to myself when I say nothing ever changes back at home — nothing ever seems to change in a place you lived for twenty years — but there were always fewer houses. Farming was a dying profession; every time I drove into familiar territory, the wide open plains seemed wider, flatter — less and less to do with people.
The road was mostly straight, rolling over gradual hills in what could often be an infuriating exchange of Passing and No Passing zones. It would start to wind soon. I knew this area; could still recite the mileage between every major and minor landmark for a hundred miles in any given direction, even landmarks that didn’t exist anymore, such as the old country school house that had apparently been torn down since my last visit and whose absence nearly made me miss my turn onto Vayland Road.
After a few miles, the curves began.
The farmland my family owned was on the high side of the county, raised above the lower, eastern half by a ridge of hills that Vayland Road crept along, curling around cuts in the earth that were somewhere between narrow valleys and broad ravines, filled with thickets and brush that by local wisdom wouldn’t even let a breeze through without a couple of good scratches. Gullys. That was the word.
I’d grown up riding in cars along this stretch of highway, then driving it myself, then driving away. The blacktop lead right past the farm’s driveway.
Mom was out on the front step before I got out of the car.
No one else was there.