Marcie’s dog did nothing but bark that night.
That little mutt – which always smelt of piss – I reckoned was just showing its final ‘how-do-you-do’ before going over.
I knew something was wrong, I mean real wrong, and I could feel it in the pit of my riddled stomach. I ain’t talking about the dog,’ cause I gave up worrying about such things a long time ago. No, I meant something was wrong in here, and out there, everywhere, in fact. Leastways that’s how it seemed. It kinda felt like the world was tipping on its axis.
I know, I can hear you, you think that I’ve been at the Hooch again but I swear to you, that was how I saw it.
It just felt wrong.
Something made me think about leaving. I mean I’d been living out here in the panhandle since my ma and pa went to see Jesus. My granddaddy had won the shack in a bet and had given it to my parents as a wedding present. This little place was all I had in the world – I was supposed to pass it on to my family, but both a wife and kids never showed up – maybe I didn’t go looking hard enough.
Here I was taking about getting in my car and driving through the desert on a feeling. On a hunch. Hey, maybe I was coming down with the sickness that caught my grandma – the one which took her on a journey to the dark side in her head and never brought her back to us.
Marcie’s dog howled and hollered the next day, too. I shouted over to her, asking if everything was all right, but she just dragged the dog indoors and shut the world out. Maybe she felt it too – the weirdness, I mean.
There were only two answers to all of this – either, I was going crazy, or something bad was coming down the road and I had to get away.
If it was just craziness, I could always come back to the shack and go on as if nothing had happened – I’d just tell Marcie I had been on vacation. Not that she’d believe me – since I ain’t been on one since my daddy took me and my brother all the way to the Gulf. That was back in the days when no one could have seen a black man or a woman sitting in the White House. Elvis wasn’t even a King.
I packed a few things – to be honest, it didn’t leave much else in the shack – and I shoved them in the trunk. The wind and the sand were gathering some but I thought I’d better tell Marcie about my plans, just in case she got spooked or something.
I knocked on her door several times, and at first I thought she couldn’t hear on account of the wind, but on my fifth knock I heard her shout ‘go away’. Now that ain’t like Marcie, that ain’t like Marcie at all – something wasn’t right. Maybe her dog was finally going away and her heart was breaking.
“You okay?” I shouted.
“Just leave me,” she called back.
“Can’t I help ya?”
“No. I’m fine,” she said in a real sad voice.
I kinda reluctantly left her. Twice I turned to go back but I thought better of it. It was just that I wondered if she felt what I was feeling – that somehow the world was gonna change and nothing would ever be the same?
I guess I had always been ready for this craziness – I had never thought that the world was anything other than a plain stupid idea – badly thought out at that. So when I get overcome by the thought that it’s all coming to an end somehow, I’m thinking to myself: ‘so what?’. I mean it’s not as if anyone would miss us all when we’re gone.
I jumped in the car and headed towards the mountains – I had checked the gas and it looked as if I had enough to get to Wickamore, which lay eighty miles to the north.
After a couple of minutes, I stopped and checked in the mirror to see if there was any movement at Marcie’s, but the wind and sand were blowing up such a storm that her place and mine disappeared into a sandy haze.
I think deep in my soul, or whatever it is that I have, I knew I wasn’t going to see my old home again. It just felt like a final farewell.
I drove for an hour and never passed one single, solitary soul – I didn’t even see a wild animal, or a bird, or a snake. Nothing.
About ten miles shy of Wickamore, I see this cloud in the sky – I mean one I had never seen the likes before. It was almost Biblical – it made me shudder just looking at it, the shiver traveled all the way down my back.
I felt (don’t ask me why, ‘cause I don’t know) that it was a sign telling me (and anyone else who saw it) that a change was expected very soon.
Something big was on its way, and we would not be the same after.
It was dusk as I crept up on Wickamore – the sand and the sundowner working together to make Main Street look blood-red.
When they later asked me about that day, I had to be honest and say I didn’t remember seeing the sign at first. I was so busy looking at the dying sun, that I didn’t notice it – even although it was big, real big, and hanging from the Town Hall.
I pushed on the brakes so hard when I finally read it.
It said: ‘For God’s sake don’t come here. Turn back.’
bobby stevenson 2016