The Traveler, Midwest (Episode I)
Dec. 7, 2011: South of Chicago. 0214 hrs.
Dark waves of asphalt rose and fell like deep ocean swells, passing easily beneath. The traveler’s eyes stared out blankly over wine-dark waters and a rushing, moonless night. The trees—and they were indeed trees, scattered carelessly over the landscape and leaning, drunkenly, like tombstone in a ghost-town graveyard—were clouds to him, star-crowned and formless on the edge of the world.
The odometer ground away the miles, like a heartbeat, precisely marking each passing minute, each hour that divided the indifferent seasons that pass into years, each sinking like Atlantis into that immutable past from which he came. Where he was bound was simply away. Away from the past, from that other life, those other lives—from that hard shouldered harbor town rife with ghosts of pirates and sailors, wreckers and fishermen, all lost to the sea, away from the empty mud flats alive with silver dreams, away from the hot taste of salt in the corner of his mouth and the color of her eyes, blue and gray as a windswept dawn.
Still he rose and fell, in a trance of half-remembered, half-tasted beer and cheap rum, like the sharp tang of gunpowder and blood, and all around him bodies pulsing, grinding to a primal beat, sweat dripping on the asphalt and steaming. He blinked and the town was silent again—sea-air and bottles in the sandy gutters—at rest, as if God had finally stopped the carnival.
And inside the wheelhouse the traveler wrung out the miles, knuckles white on the wheel, eyes fixed on the edge of the world. And all around him the ghosts they crowded, whispering.