Black – From the Book: Colors

 Black

The battered Cadillac plunged into the night. No, I didn’t know where I was going, nor did I care. I think it was highway 20 or 30, something like that. I only know I had to keep moving. East, away from Oregon. Away from the sawmill. Horrible scenes started to creep into my consciousness, and I smashed the gas pedal to the floor in a futile effort to outrun them. The Cadillac rattled, and the engine whined, but it obeyed. I watched the speedometer crawl up to 90 and then 100. The worn suspension made the car float like some kind of land locked ocean liner. At the valley of every third trough of imaginary waves, the Cadillac would bottom out with a clunk, then travel up to the crest, lifting the wheels off the ground with a tiny squeak as they lost traction. I pushed the pedal harder. It made me concentrate, force out the terrible memories. The glowing red pin on the speedometer moved on, pegging at 120. The old engine protested, and above the roar of wind noise, I heard a kind of ominous click clack sound, metal being thrown against metal, parts touching that weren’t designed to touch.

So I backed off, let my speed bleed down to 90. I couldn’t risk breaking down way out here, not after what had happened. More of the memory came back, blinding me. I jammed on the break. The car skidded for more than two hundred feet, finally ending up at a ninety degree angle to the highway, the headlights shooting off into the endless puffs of sage brush. If anyone had come along right then, they wouldn’t have been able to see the side of the dark car until it was too late. “Too late.” I whispered. “Like the girls at the mill.”

It was too confining in the car, too close, and I jump out, ran to the side of the road and tried to vomit what little was left inside my empty stomach, the spasms of the dry-heaves folded me in half. I was drenched in sweat from the effort.

Thinking, that’s what was causing all my problems. Too much thinking. And I walked back and forth along the loose gravel of the highway shoulder. “Yeah, too much thinking. Put it out of your mind.” I looked up at the sky. There was no moon that night and high clouds blocked the stars. It was dark, but not the dark of night, it was the inky blackness of a nightmare. I was looking for the lofty expanse of sky with its infinity of stars to relieve my oppressive feelings. Instead I got a weighty blanket of darkness, a kind of breathing impatience, full of loathing and hate, hanging over me like a living malevolence. With each breath I felt a kind of smoky hand reaching into my lungs, clutching at my heart, squeezing and squeezing. “I’ve got to keep moving.” I wheezed.

The next thing I knew, I was back in the car driving east at a steady 70 mph. I didn’t remember starting the engine, or if I had ever turned it off. Gaps in my consciousness were coming more frequently now, a kind of self-willed Alzheimer’s. “I should be afraid of that, shouldn’t I?” I wondered to myself. Instead, I was grateful for the brief bits of nothingness. But now that I was moving again, the images started to flash before me like a bad rock video. Flash! Two girls, 11 and 9 playing with a jump rope. Flash! The eleven year old dead, her eyes open, blood everywhere. The nine year old looking down at her sister. Flash! Both dead girls being dragged across the sawdust layered floor, leaving railroad tracks of blood. “Stop!” I yelled. “Stop! Go away. Go away.” I shouted into the car.” Gotta keep moving. That’s it, keep moving. Focus on the road. Don’t think. There’s danger in thoughts, in memory.

I forced my desperation away enough to concentrate on the dim gray-black of the oncoming asphalt. For a time, my vision followed my thoughts, numbly staring only at the textured road ahead. But ever so imperceptibly, my attention moved to the left as if pulled by some kind of magnetic force, until my eyes were trapped by the broken white lines dividing the lanes. The regularity of the long rectangular stripes repeated at a steady pulse tugging at my tattered mind. I was drawn into their white – black – white throb. Closer and closer, until I was certain they were only inches from my face. White – black – white. I’ve seen this motion before, like stabbing. Push it away! But the white slashes continue to stab at the great asphalt beast beneath my car, over and over with unrelenting monotony, white – black – white. Over and over.

My skin went cold with the intensity of the memory so close to the surface. Quick, push it away. I forced my attention away from the slashing lines outside the vehicle and back to the distant road ahead; trying numbly to look only at the nothingness ahead. Just don’t think, I begged.

A kind of inhuman force began to push at the back of my head. An invisible hand shoved my head down until I was staring at my hands gripping the steering wheel. “Just hands.” I told myself, “Just two big meaty lumps squeezing the thin plastic of the steering wheel.” I could only see the back of my hands silhouetted against the green lights of the instrument panel. There was no detail, just the shape of hands. Then, before my eyes, they seemed to morph from ordinary hands into something much more ominous.

Forced by the disembodied weight at the back of my head, I moved closer to the inky nothingness of what were once my hands, until I could feel their cold sucking at my cheeks. Those powerful fingers were capable of holding so much darkness. And drawn still closer, I smelled a kind of earthy, rotting odor. I couldn’t turn away, and I was forced to breathe in the fetid air rising from their depths. Shapes began to form in the impossible blackness. Two bodies, one larger than the other at the bottom of a crudely dug grave. Two girls tumbled over one another. A huge pile of dirt stood ready at the top of the hole, already bits of earth were tumbling into the grave, anxious to return to the disturbed ground. I tried desperately to look away now, at anything but this, but the weight of the hand on the back of my head forced me closer – inside the darkness, into…

“THUMP, THUMP, THUMP…” My tires vibrated along the rough grooved asphalt of the shoulder and the spell was broken. Instinct took over and I turned the wheel until the car was back onto the main road. My racing heart threatened to break the tiny vessels in my face. And though my forehead was drenched in sweat, I dared not wipe it for fear of catching a glimpse of the beastly hand-shaped things clamped to the wheel.

Here I was forced to remain, in my self-contained purgatory. Overhead, the weight of the black malevolent sky pressed down on the roof of the car. In front of me, the headlights illuminated the slashing knives of white paint, and below, on the steering wheel, rested the two impossibly heavy lumps of darkness. My world has shrunk until there was only the endless blackness ahead.

I could not hide my crime from myself any longer. I had killed any possibility of hope or future. Racing blindly into the unknown would not wash away the evil I’d painted on my soul. With this thought, the last of my feeble defenses fell away allowing the darkness from without to penetrate within.

And like my shattered will, the vehicle simply lost power and coasted to the side of the road. I stumbled blindly from the car, leaving the door ajar, the engine rattling, and the lights left shining into the distance. At the rear of the car, I leaned weakly on the trunk, my sweat drenched face and back quickly cooling in the cold evening air. Numbly, I staggered away from the car, and the weak bubble of light surrounding it – knowing that this imaginary membrane was the only thing separating me from the emptiness beyond. There was a tugging sensation at the tiny hairs on my arms as I passed through some unseen barrier. The air was even colder on this side, heavier, denser and it was difficult to breathe.

I knew that I was now standing in the very belly of the beast. “How is it that I am still breathing, still erect?” I whispered. But it was not what I expected. For all my fear, somehow I longed to touch the source of my loathing, confront its essence, although knowing that it would surely destroy me.

In response to my morbid curiosity, it touched me, a cold unlike anything born of earth – the distilled essence of a thousand sleepless nights and ten thousand voiceless screams – touched me. “Oh God,” I cried aloud, bent in agonizing despair. Knowing that no such spirit could reach me here, or unclench the black grip that had seized my heart. Oh foolish arrogance. How could I have understood such fear, its vacuous touch?

My body crumpled, pulled inward by the expanding void at the pit of my stomach. Moving up, it engulfed my heart and chest. Breathing was now nearly impossible, and I realized my own death was at hand, that no man can live without some tiny spark of hope. “Oh cruel mother, that you would bring forth one so wretched.” I wished dully that I could cry for myself, for that would mean something was left, something that cares for life. But the thread was broken and I fell into the consuming blackness from which no light can escape – into the womb of dread, never to emerge again.

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