Thursday, July 07, 2005

Desolation Row

I sensed that something was awry when I espied through the murk the first of the abandoned SUV hulks -- tires shredded to the bare axles, paint bleeding from the body to puddle and steam on the yellow earth, taillights awry and glowing feebly as though struggling faintly even as oblivion overtook them, windows misted and intricately cracked and smeared with dark palmprints, Kerry sticker blistering on the fuming tailgate, and, behind, the irregular track of twisted internal parts. It tilted hideously to the right, teetering precariously as my high beams seemed to reveal ominous small scurryings of dark, incoherent things, intent upon dark doings I dared not imagine. The road grew darker, tentacles of fog clutched at the cringeing night, the trees bent lower in some mute gloating, and I wished I had brought my pistol -- or my crucifix. My wife clutched my arm hard enough to draw blood as we passed the second of these cadaverous remains of what once had been -- in what world of sanity? -- automobiles. I gritted my teeth and said nothing as I heard the seething hiss from beneath my tires and downshifted, trying desperately to avoid the road's gaping pits of nameless bile.

I wiped feverishly at the inside of the windshield with my sleeve. What was that crackling noise? What were those gleaming ivory bits scattered on the faintly undulating asphalt? Stripped bone? Skeletal fragments? Had there been frantic faces pressed against the glass of that last crippled car? If so, their drawn lips and wide eyes told us it was already too late for them, even had I dared to stop. But to stop was to allow the hungry lapping of the road to affix its many mouths to the tires, and then we would stop forever.

My wife studied the map in quiet hysteria, her bloodied nails tearing at its edges. Yes, we were on the right road. All the familiar landmarks staggered from the dark, then retreated behind us, as though in frantic flight. I saw ahead a familiar turn and knew, or tried to believe that I knew, that to take it would, must, deliver us from this creeping, spectral gloom -- bring us once more into the familiar world of solidity, and light, and the breath of living things. My mind writhed as I tried to think how we had gone wrong -- if we had gone wrong -- and wandered unawares and all innocent onto this harshly malevolent mirror-road to hell itself.

The mist parted suddenly, briefly, but in that single instant I saw the sign, and its warning burned into my consciousness, and then I knew, knew with crystal certainty, the vile nature of the horrid error that had been made. The sign, so pale, so stark, so ominous, and so dreadfully plain of meaning, said: Road legally closed. Pass at own risk.