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Homeward


He stumbled. He knew the way, or at least he was reasonably sure he did, but he had a hard time staying on track.

He fell. He decided to just stay there for a minute, and catch his breath. When he got up, a moan escaped his lips; he didn’t hurt, exactly, but he was frustrated. He looked up at the afternoon sun, and didn’t remember it getting so late. Where did the time go?

He just shrugged and walked it off. Home. That was his thought process; I have to get home.

He’d been drunk before, of course. There were times where he couldn’t remember events from a night of revelry, but he’d never had a substantial blackout before. For the life of him, he couldn’t remember what had happened between doing shots at the bar and stumbling around now, at least sixteen hours later. Was he asleep? Where were his friends?

Why did he have only one shoe?

He thought about asking the woman sitting in the park bench. Asking her what? He forgot.

He was so confused, but he felt that he couldn’t possibly still be drunk.

“My god,” he thought, “am I sick?”

The lady on the park bench was pretty. He moved in her direction. She looked past him.

He loomed over her, and she continued to ignore him.

“Hey,” he tried to say, but his words came out a gasp. Tongue tied, he stood there, trying to ask a simple question without appearing to be a fool or simpleton. He just needed to use her phone, if she had one. He grew nervous and agitated; it was like he was stuck in a dream, and he couldn’t get the words out.

All she did was dismissively grunt in his general direction.

He knew when to take a hint, so he kept walking towards home.

He wasn’t tired, but annoyed and hungry. There was a shadowy spot underneath an old oak; he liked how the moss hung to give shade. He sat down, leaning against the trunk. He looked back towards the hotel, but couldn’t see it. Where were his friends? What had happened to the bachelor party? He didn’t remember walking so far, but things had been a mess since waking up.

His eyes wandered the streets around him, and he thought it odd how there was absolutely no vehicle traffic. Cars had stopped in some places, and the roads were completely clear in others. Vaguely, he registered the sounds of alarms and horns blaring in the distance. He saw a lot of folks walking, not seemingly in a hurry, and completely unconcerned about the heat of the day.

He drifted off, tired of thinking, tired of trying to remember and piece it all together.

Awareness floated back to him on the beams of a full moon. He was walking again. Just as confused as earlier, at least he was no longer hungry. He found it odd that he was now barefoot, but he didn’t dwell on it.

He had to get home.

He smiled a little as he remembered being this drunk once before. He was being led back to the hotel from a night on River Street by his less-inebriated friends. He became obsessed with the fact that his wife was missing. “Where did she go? IS SHE OKAY?” he yelled, and he lit out to find her at a full-trot. A keystone cops moment followed, wherein he ran circles around the old weathered brick building that housed a nightclub, chased by four of his closest and dearest. When he finally stopped running (he found her safe and sound hugging a lamp post) the almost-sober of the group ushered the concerned parties to the suite before police could be involved.

Lost in thought, he tripped over something on the shoulder of the interstate.

Wait. The interstate?

Headlights in the distance illuminated his path. He looked down at what nearly made him fall. He couldn’t tell for sure what it was, but it was slippery and smelled delicious.

“A food truck accident?” he thought.

He shambled on towards the headlights, intending to wave them down for a ride. He reached out to them, waving his hands.

The car swerved towards him, and didn’t slow down.

Confusion turned to anger when a side-mirror grazed his arm. He spun around, and landed in the ditch. The car kept going, red taillights in the distance weaving around other vehicles in the dark.

Anger added itself to the perpetual confusion and frustration. He tried to get up, but found his left arm uncooperative. He roared in fury, and slowly got back to his feet.

He looked down, and in the moonlight, his arm hung limply. It was twisted and obviously broken.

“Wow. I must really be blitzed,” he hazily thought.

There was no pain.

He walked on.

Slowly, the miles melted away as surely as his thoughts. Blackouts became more common. Words became disjointed images in his mind, and soon the only two things that he knew were hunger and the need to go home.

Time became a blur, discomfort became a constant companion, and anger colored everything with a hazy white film. Days became nights, and strangers shambled beside him. He didn’t speak. After it became obvious that they would ignore him, he began to return the favor.

He finally recognized the exit ramp for home.

He left the pack of weary travelers that had both welcomed and spurned him, and he refused to rest until he could do so in his own bed.

His wife and children would be worried sick, and the Missus would probably be angry that he hadn’t called. She never really wanted him to go off to Savannah with the boys for the bachelor party, anyway.

These thoughts seeped in and leaked out just as quickly, and it was hard to concentrate. He vaguely remembered being upset that she hadn’t come looking for him, but these complex ideas, too, just became images.

Home. Hunger. Eat when I get there. Rest when I get home. One foot in front of the other, fall down. Get up. Keep going. Home.

Hunger.

Her.

Love?

Longing for her.

Longing for home.

Blackout.

He couldn’t get inside. The front door wouldn’t open. He knocked with his good arm. He beat at the door with both arms in a slow-motion frenzy as frustration mounted and became anger.

Ever present, under his roiling emotions, that hunger kept gnawing at him.

“I’m home, let me in,” he thought he said, but the reality was that only a growl escaped his dried, cracked lips.

He heard crying from inside. Something was wrong! The need to feed flared white-hot, and his fury peaked. He knocked louder, and he yelled for her to let him inside. His arms flailed against the door, and his growls became a constant moan.

Finally, the door opened, and there she was.

He saw a flash of light, but he never realized it was the flash of a muzzle. The sound of thunder that echoed into the pines and elms surrounding their secluded country house never reached his ears; he finally stopped walking, moaning, and longing.

“There will be others. Close the door and let’s get the barricade back in place before they get here.”

“We need to bury him, mama! He’s been missing since this thing started, but now he’s home, and we need to take care of Dad!”

“That’s not your daddy any more, baby. He died weeks ago.”

Under the cover of darkness, as quietly as they could, they laid him to rest next to other family members. Each of them in that shallow makeshift cemetery had been driven by longing and hunger; each of them had been looking for a missing piece of themselves that could only be found back home.


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Credit To – Nick O’Caliban

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