BACK ROADS
by Mike Alfano
There is nothing like the sound of gravel crunching under foot on a warm summer night. To me it is the sound of all sounds. Peace, solitude, inner strength; an answer to desperation.

It is on these back roads that I walk whenever my body let's me. Whenever I am free from pain. My body is in turmoil most of these days, and my legs usually protest when I want to walk the back roads. But, I try to, sometimes I even have to force myself to walk.

I have to wait for dark, then I leave my tiny cottage, only to be guided by the light of the moon.

I sleep most of the day. My system is turned inside out. People think me strange, but it really is not my fault. This thing within only let's me live in the dark. But darkness is good and I have come to trust it.

Now, as I wake from my sleep, this thing within is growing weak. It is getting harder and harder to get to my feet. I know that I must go out soon. I must tear myself away from my cottage and seek out the moon. I must travel the back roads and find food. For I do not shop in grocery stores. I stopped eating that garbage months ago. Processed, force fed, freeze-dried, canned, hydrogenated, instant; it is all poison, none of which enters my body any more. It is like swallowing a ticking time bomb, never knowing just when it is going to explode. But it would eventually, if I let it.

As I stand, my legs feeling like rubber, they are not sure if they can support me. I am not yet confident that they will. And I ask myself, have I left it too late? Will there be food out there tonight? Or will I die before I find it?

I thought I could last longer, but I was wrong. I cannot trust this thing within. It plays with me as if I were it's toy. But without it I would surely die, and if I die, it would just move on. It would just find another vessel; another desperate soul.

There are many among us in the world today.

"Get up," it tells me. "Follow the moon and find me some food."

"But I'm trying," I answer it. But to no avail. It does not listen to me. It does not believe that I am trying. It thinks that I am weak in spirit.

It yells at me and treats me like a child. Sometimes I ask myself, why? Why did I let this thing enter my life? For it has taken over my very being.

At other time it loves me very deeply. It does indeed keep me alive and comfort me. It gives me strength and courage; as long as I feed it.

Now, as I am sitting in my tiny cottage, looking out at the lake, I sense a storm is brewing as the whitecaps kiss the moon. Yes, a storm is brewing, and the thing within tells me that tonight will be the night. For it knows when the time is right.
I stand, finally, and walk slowly at first, still unsure, then gaining confidence, walk over to the door, open it and stick my head out.

"Not yet," it tells me, then, "close the door." I go back to the table and sit again, looking at the fullness of the moon. A storm cloud passes over it and my hunger subsides, only for a moment. Returning again as the cloud floats on by.

A crack of thunder fills the night. The cottage trembles and shakes, and someone somewhere screams. Maybe a small child or a woman alone, waiting for her mate to return home from work, or the local establishment.

Another cloud covers over the moon, and the thing within grows impatient. "It has to be tonight," it tells me, with an exaggerated urgency. "Unless you want to die."
I wish I knew who it was really worried about; itself or I. A part of me wants to stay inside and end it all. I am tired of hunting for food in the light of the moon. I am tired of being it's slave, and I am tired of taking orders from an entity that I will never see. For I know that this thing within is just using me.

Another crack of thunder and I jump out of my chair. The thing within laughs at me, and I feel like a fool.

"You are such a coward," it insults me. "Get hold of yourself, we have much work to do."

"I can't," I say. "I am still too weak to travel. I need more rest, more sleep."
For a few moments I think that I will never have enough strength to venture the back roads again. That I shall die right here, right now as I fall back into my chair. But this thing within would never let me die as peaceful a death as this. For what man in his right mind wouldn't love to die in a setting as beautiful as this?
***
I will never forget the first time my parents brought me to the country. I was five at the time, and it was on this same back road that I first heard the sound of a gravel symphony under the tires of my father's car.

I fell in love with what I saw and what I heard that day. Unspoiled beauty and nature as it was meant to be. I knew at this age so young, that this was the place where I would become a man. And as odd as it may seem, I knew also that this was the place where death would await me.

I was so passionate with this idea that no matter where life took me, I vowed to myself that I would indeed return.

Eventually, I did return to the city to work. But I was miserable all those days of my life. Living in the fast lane was just not my style. I hated my life and what I had become.

I hated the people, the buildings, the highways, the subdivisions, and the artificial lifestyles of the rich and famous. Nothing in this hell was worth living for. But at the same time, nothing in this hell was worth dying for. So, at the age of thirty seven I sold everything I owned and escaped to the awaiting back roads and the days of my youth.

My dreams have come true. I have grown old along with my tiny cottage, but I had grown selfish. I did not want to die. I did not want to leave this place. This was my heaven; my place in the sun.

I was walking the back roads one night when I first met this thing within. It offered me immortality at a price I thought I could afford. All I had to do was surrender my aging body and keep it's stomach full. It sounded so easy at first, but now I know I was a fool. It never told me of the unspeakable things I had to do.

So this is where we are. This is my dilemma. If I starve this thing within, I die and leave this place for good.

To keep it fed means that I live on and on and on. But I have to ask myself; how long will it be before man destroys this peaceful setting that I have grown to love? How long before the back roads are buried under asphalt?

The questions are endless. So many of them I cannot answer, not tonight anyway. And until I can, I must live on. I must feed this thing within. To do so I have to walk the back roads at least one more time, and find food to quench this hungry soul.
The storm is over. The moon is full and bright. It guides me down the path to the back road. I hide not the crunching of stones under foot.
***
About a half mile down the road I come upon a row of cottages, where the summer people come and go. My senses tell me that someone is awake at the third cottage in.

If I am right, and I usually am, I will find a male and female mating beyond this window I now sit under. They are young, fresh, and alive.

I rise, sniffing at the night air. It is fresh and crisp, with just a hint of a chill. From the bedroom I smell human juices. Juices permeated with passion and lust.

The thing within tells me that it is time. I look at the curtained window, circle once or twice, then sit back on my haunches and leap through the air. Through the window I go, landing on the bed.

They both scream in terror as they try to hide their nakedness. But there is nothing they can do.

I lunge first at the male, for they are usually the stronger. His hands go up in self-defense and he tries to push me away. I feel his fist slam into the side of my head, and am stunned for a few moments.

The second time, I give it everything I have, and as strong as he is, he has no chance. The throat is just too vulnerable.

She, on the other hand, still in shock, is easy. It is quick. I don't believe in making my prey suffer needlessly.

It is over and done with in a very short time. The thing within is finally pleased and content. One last slurp of blood and I will leave. I must not miss a drop, for one never knows when I will be permitted to walk the back roads again.

"You did well tonight," it tells me as I return to two legs. And the crunching of gravel under foot makes me want to live again.  €

Story copyright ©1996 Mike Alfano <reaper1@idirect.com>

Illustration Copyright ©1996 Romeo Esparrago.

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