*Please read my earlier blog entry Brothers Part I: The Stone and the Road before reading this entry*
The sun beat down as I walked alongside the lonely paved highway. Halfway between two small Georgia towns, I hadn’t seen another person for a few hours. The temperature was nearing the high nineties and it was only early afternoon. I still had hours more of this. To my left, the grass and weeds rustled, and a large black snake spilled out from its depths. Noticing me, it curled back and hissed angrily. I was in no mood to examine this find and kept walking down the road. A few steps along I looked back in time to see the snake slip into the opposite roadside.
The stench of roadkill filled my nose and hadn’t really gone away for the last 5 miles. With no breeze and the baking sun, the rotting animal carcasses wafted unpleasantly every couple hundred feet or so. I noticed that I was slowly walking up an incline, most definitely the last hill I’d encounter on my trip. This was because I was entering southern Georgia and then would be continuing into Florida’s coast… all of which is incredibly flat.
Though the incline was barely noticeable, my heart began to beat harder and my muscles seemed to have to work in overtime to keep me moving. Each time I exhaled, a hot wave of stale breath would issue from my mouth, like a dragon breathing fire. My water bottles were both empty and who knows how many more miles I had until I reached the next town… I learned to stop checking my map.. It usually only brought disappointment. I just kept reminding myself that it couldn’t be longer than 25 miles or so, and that I definitely would make it. Though today, with the heat baking my skin and my shirt completely wet from sweat, that thought seemed less and less likely.
I came to the top of the “hill” and saw that it had a very gradual decline into a vast flat of pine trees and scattered farm fields. It seemed like I could see for hundreds of miles and yet I could not make out the town where I was staying that night. I slipped off my pack and sat down in the middle of the road. Since I could see the traffic coming from both directions, I didn’t think this that dangerous of a place to be sitting. And the fact that I hadn’t seen a car for over three hours.
Though I had quite a bit of sunblock on, I felt my skin beginning to burn. My mouth was dry and my feet were actually baking from walking on the boiling blacktop. As I situated my legs into a more comfortable sitting positions I felt something poke my leg within my pocket. Reaching in, I pulled out a small white stone that had a back strip of tar around it’s lower half. “Our parents aren’t being very kind at the moment…” I said out loud, as if my brother and I were back in Wisconsin sitting on a park bench. In my mind’s eye I pictured his gaunt face, his skinny wrists, and then suddenly I heard his misty voice breaking through the thick, muggy air. “I always felt seeing the ocean would feel like going home…”
I looked around, but of course he wasn’t there. I had the sudden urge to whip the stone into the tall grass as I began to think about his mysterious nature… his misty voice. The way he didn’t seem to answer my questions. And his ability to bypass stranger and jump straight into family. But something about him stuck with me. What exactly, I couldn’t ever pinpoint. I laid awake many nights thinking about our conversation and tried to decipher his words… Where he was going and why… A few hours later I’d usually wake up, tangled in my sheets and covered in a cold sweat. I’d dream he was drifting out to a stormy sea in a leaking wooden boat… He would just wave as I’d yell for him to come back to shore.
The very fact that a complete stranger entered my life for a mere 10 minutes and was now causing me to have nightmares bothered me. Since Wisconsin, I had been carrying around the stone with me in my pocket. At first I thought it as a reminder or some kind of token… But I was beginning to feel like the memories and mysteries of my “brother” were doing nothing but causing problems. I stood up and raised my arm, ready to the throw the stone into the grass. As I pulled my arm back I heard the distant sound of leaves on trees rustling.
I glanced to the East and saw the trees swaying back and forth. Within seconds a cool breeze hit my face and the heat seemed to break instantly. The grass fields whipped around like a large school of fish as I slowly lowered my arm. I looked down towards the distance blacktop, which shimmered and rippled like a vast body of water. Though I knew that they ocean was still several hundred miles away I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was actually stretching out right in front of me. For the slightest moment I could’ve sworn the scent of salt and seaweed filled the air and I closed my eyes, trying to capture the moment. But within seconds, it was gone. As the heat crept back onto my body and trees stopped moving, it became eerily quiet. I put on my pack, synched up the straps and started down the hill. “Come on…” I said, squeezing the stone as if leading him by the hand. “Lets get you home…”