The Long Walk

The Long Walk

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Walking, there is no end in sight: stranded on a narrow country road for all eternity. It is almost dark now. The clouds having moved in secretively. When did that happen? I am so far away from all that is familiar. The trees are groaning against the wind’s fury: when did the wind start blowing? Have I been walking for so long that time hysterically slipped away! The leaves are rustling about swirling through the air like discarded post-it notes smashing, slapping against the trees and blacktop, “splat-snap”. Where did the sun go? It gave the impression only an instant ago, or had it been longer; that it was going to be a still and peaceful sunny day; has panic from hunger and walking so long finally crept in? Waking up this morning, had I been warned of the impending day, the highs and lows that I would soon face, and the unexpected twist of fate that awaited me, I would have stayed in bed.

It was a sunny day. The leftovers of last week’s snowstorm still blanketed most of the surrounding area. I decided, after straggling about the house for nearly two hours, lethargy slowly creeping in, that I would go for a drive. I leaped in my trusty old Maverick and roared away. The Maverick, which I bought in 1975, was dark blue, (my favorite color). It was a steal and only ten years past its prime. It was a good, trustworthy car and until today, I had not had any problems with it. This was a spontaneous kind of getaway, so nothing was planned, no basket of food prepared, nor did I make any other preparations. Living in the city can be depressing so getting away from the concrete jungle for a few hours was a welcomed escape. I have not lived in this city for very long, although I knew the names of the adjoining towns, there were a few that I did not know. However, being the adventurer that I am, I drove off in a direction that I have never been. I do not know why I did not think to look at the gas gauge before I left perhaps I was too preoccupied with the thought of fleeing that I did not care.

After two and a half hours of Driving, on an old narrow country road, maneuvering the Maverick to its full potential I began to sense the problem with my car even before it actually happened.

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As if telepathically connection to the machine, enjoined. I started to feel the thrashing and lurching, almost as soon as the thought burst into my consciousness. I did not worry, at least not right away. Since over the last twenty years, I have become proficient at troubleshooting mechanical problems with my car. If it can be fixed, I can fix it, at least the basic things anyway. However, this situation was different, because I was out of gas. I knew that because the car sputtered along until the very end. Luckily, I was on a long stretch of road and not beside a curve. I parked the car, and exited (being careful of oncoming traffic) and went to the trunk to get the spare gallon of gas that I always kept there. I opened the trunk and instantly realized that while cleaning the car out the other day I forgot to fill and put the gas back in afterwards.

Hence, there I was, stranded on this narrow country road, with my broken down Maverick, imprisoned by the exploding foliage. At my best recollection It was two hours drive from my, “Welcome Home” mat. I reached for my wallet only to find that I too, had left that at home. Although, I did not really know what I was going to do with money. I mean, after all, I was in the country; it is not likely that a McDonald’s was nearby. Being sure to lock up my car before I left, I started walking. Almost instantly, It started to get cold and a happening of dark clouds began to form through the thick canopy of trees, I assumed that my heading was correct, but I had no way of knowing it for sure. Minutes passed, turning into quarter hours, then half hours as I shuffled forward. The day had been nice when I started out late this morning, however, now, it was spinning out of control. “Stumbling forward”, a vision from times past is signaling the child, knocking on the awareness of ancient times, asking for a minute. I give in. I had been bad one day (had screwed-up), and as punishment was halfhazardly escorted into the cellar, or basement if you will to spend the night. I was afraid. It was night and I was only six years old. I remember it so clearly. There was not much in the way of comfort in our cellar. A rusted old water heater, which clanked and banged to life, (every hour on the hour), sat in one corner surrounded by cotton candy cobwebs thick as rope. It nested in its own spot, perhaps planted a thousand years ago, bolted to the very core of the planet. On the other side of our dungeon sat an old worn workbench dusty from lack of care standing there, emotionless, with canning jars placed indiscriminately here and there. In the middle of the subterranean crypt was the play area where us kids usually had to play during cold winter days. Here sat a rectangle crib framed squarely by steel padded poles with fish-netting walls hanging three feet from the floor. This familiar wretched playpen suddenly did not seem so inviting; after all, it was soon to be my overnight quarters. Entering the confine, after having been told that this was home for the night, I took little solace in the stuffed animals that filled the corral. As my make-believe parent left, I settled in for a long night ahead.

(Walking now, floating in and out of reality, pitch as black not a car in sight. Have I slipped into a different dimension? Has the cheese finally slipped off my cracker? Trapped in a time warp? It seems like days have passed. Why has no one given me a ride?)

I awoke to a crashing sound, awkwardly sensing the dense cellar air, my coconsciousness screaming to go back to road. As I slowly became aware of my right mind, I suddenly realized, I was not alone. Fear swept through me like a sandstorm through a chain link fence. I did not know what to think. Was it someone playing a cruel joke or was it something else; some demons come to get me. I was huddled right next to the thin fishnet walls trying to steal the security of that flimsy backing, but alas, I did not. All of a sudden, a slight gust of air splashed my forehead, instantly, my eyes wide, but seeing nothing, my mouth opened to scream, yet I heard nothing; vocal cords frozen. I wanted to get up and run…. run as fast as I could, but where? There was nowhere to go. My heart, now doing the drum solo, “Wipe Out”, felt like it would soon split open and feed the furnace. I was frozen. I did not know what to do. Slowly, I crept towards the center of the pen and covered myself with the stuffed animals that encircled me. I knew that at any moment the thing in the cellar would soon get me. I shut my eyes.

(The light was blinding. Where was it coming from? Slowly, I realized where I was, on the dark country road).

The road, being so narrow, forced me to walk on the asphalt shoulder which was also the main part of the road, consequently, this put me in harms way from the passing motorists. Having vanished now, in and out of consciousness’ for what seemed like days, I looked at my watch, seven hours had passed since I started this endeavor. Walking, slouched over, cold, hungry, alone. I can only imagine what the passing motorists thought as they overtook me on that wild road. No wonder I am still walking. As I approached a sharp curve that was barely visible through the peeking moonlight, the lights advanced on me, and for a moment, I thought I was road kill. As the rumbling automobile slowed down, I stepped off the asphalt onto the soft, 45º shoulder. It was slushy and muddy from the winter’s weather; I was almost swallowed by the thick menacing bushes, never to be heard from again. The farm truck slowly came to a halt and the passenger side window began to roll down. I could see the escaping, wonderful heat as it waved out. A elderly voice spoke out through the darkness of the cab, “ Are you all right there young feller”, for an instant and only an instant I was afraid, but as soon as I heard the calm tone in the mans voice I relaxed. “Yes”, I said, as I started towards opened window. Following our short introduction, I told the man that I had run out of gas several hours ago. After a few minutes of talking to each other, he too seemed more relaxed. Then, he offered to help, I did not refuse. I stepped into the warmth and off we drove towards my lifeless Maverick. As we arrived, some thirty minutes later, I could see the well-known silhouette: my sleeping car. He had some spare gas on hand and offered it to me. I told him that I would pay him back if he gave me his address. He said, “Not to bother, just help someone out, if they should be in a pinch”, I told him that I would if I was in a position to do so. Later, as the caring gentleman looked on in the darkness of his cab and seeing that my car started up, with his last voice, “good luck sonny”, he was gone.

Even now, as the pen recalls this long ago event, having many times since fulfilled the ancient promise, I am that man. It has been thirty years: that Maverick long since gone retired perhaps at some distant farm. This has been a recurring learning experience for me. I have never again gone for a “spur of the moment drive”, without knowing that my truck is equipped with a gallon of water, an emergency first aid kit, and more importantly a full, two and a half gallon can of gasoline. The place where my mind went, on that old country road, the tremendous aloneness that I felt has put into perspective for me that no matter what kind of dark, cold, and deserted circumstances I might find myself in, a power greater than me always intervenes. Furthermore, I am proud to have continued spread the kindness that was so freely given to me.
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