Kamen Pavloff

Tommy is tottering down a country road.

Tommy has no place to go to.

Tommy’s gait is slow, unsteady.

Tommy marvels at the stars and the clear sky.

Tommy doubts the stars will show him the way.

Tommy hears thunder rumble in the distance.

Tommy’s not afraid of thunder. He’s not afraid at all.

Tommy’s not afraid of anything.

Tommy stares at the sun. He can do that because it’s almost hidden under the earth, and its light is not blinding. The sky is stained orange.

Tommy walks forever on.

Tommy’s sick of trees. He’s seen nothing but trees for the last umpteen miles. He can’t even remember the road devoid of trees. It’s been that long.

Tommy trips over a stone. The road is in an awful state. Tommy’s not old enough to blame the authorities for not taking proper care of the roads, but Tommy is frustrated because he trips up all the time. Tommy wishes someone would fix the roads.

Tommy stops for a sec; in actuality, he only slows down to peer at the countryside from a gap between the incessant rows of trees. It is unbounded—flat for miles and as far as Tommy can see. There are no huts, villages, or even a shack of any kind.

Tommy frowns at the sight.

Tommy keeps going.

Tommy wonders where he’s going. He has no place to go to, yet he goes. He doesn’t stop. Why is he here?

Tommy’s mind goes back to the trees. A minute ago, he could not remember a time when the road was not fringed by trees. Now…

Tommy can’t remember how he started on the road. Or why. Or when.

Tommy warily looks around.

Tommy’s journey henceforth is troubled by his obtrusive thoughts regarding home. He misses his mum and dad. He misses the homely light of the living room, with the sound of the TV turned way up owing to his hard-of-hearing gram and with the nostalgic aroma of his mum’s Lancôme perfume. It’s a strong perfume, and if its scent is not present in the house, it means mum is not home. His most recent memory of home is of Christmastime. A giant tree with countless branches and ornaments hanging from them in a chaotic yet delightful fashion stands formidably in the only corner of the house, which is normally unoccupied by flower pots, boxes, furniture, or sundries. The decorative lights flicker gaily upon the Christmas tree, creating an atmosphere of comfort and unassuming luxury, allowing one to have peace of mind for the whole holiday season. There are no quarrels or rows between Tommy’s parents during Christmastime, and there are no quiet suppers punctuated by nasty ireful looks exchanged between his parents. Whenever one of those looks lands on poor Tommy, which fortunately seldom happens, he can’t help feeling scrutinized, as if he’s done something wrong. Because there are no such moments of agony around Christmas, Tommy’s thoughts paint this desirable picture in his mind to accompany him on the dreary trek, instead of one depicting his home during another time of year, when fights are not uncommon. Tommy has felt for a while now that something is amiss with his parents and that something dreadful is approaching… but tonight he doesn’t want to think of that. He wants to be back home.

Tommy gets distracted. He forgets about his home for a minute because he’s noticed that the road has fixed itself. It has become unbelievably even and smooth; not so much as a wrinkle can be seen anywhere upon it. Tommy hasn’t noticed the transition, and he looks back to see whether any is in sight, or whether some sign is present of the road having been recently asphalted anew. He sees no such thing. The road is the most perfect road he’s ever seen, reaching for the unreachable horizon on both sides.

Tommy hears a rustle in the trees’ leaves.

Tommy thinks of birds as a possible explanation, but he can’t hear birdsong. Tommy thinks of wind, but he doesn’t feel or see it. Tommy thinks of monsters, but he knows they don’t exist.

Tommy keeps going.

Tommy sees mountaintops. He’s convinced there were no mountains two seconds earlier. Now they’re right beside him, as though marching forward with him. Where is the plain? Devoured and overrun by humongous, threatening piles of rock.

Tommy hears a whistle from behind. He turns around; there’s nothing there. Tommy’s heart beats faster, for he reckons something isn’t right. Whatever but a man can whistle? He supposes some animals can, but it sounded so human, yet no one is there. There’s no one anywhere. For miles on end, he is alone, the only creature to walk this barren road in the midst of nowhere.

Tommy keeps going.

Tommy notices the trees are gone. Now the mountains seem closer. Tommy feels the way he imagines a horse whose blinkers have been removed must feel; he can’t stay focused on the road.

Tommy hears a horrible sound, like a spoon scraping the bottom of a steel saucepan. It doesn’t stop. It goes on continuously, and Tommy stops dead still, with his hands to his ears, his body scrunching up, his eyes squeezed shut, and he’s wincing in a grimace of pain over and over. The sound seems to be coming from everywhere and to pierce straight through his skull. He turns around arduously, fully expecting to see a man with a pot and a spoon, scraping the hell out of them, smiling with delight at his agony. Then the sound stops.

Tommy is no longer deluding himself that he is safe. He starts running immediately after the sound stops, as though from an evident pursuer, the lack of whom did not make him feel better. Where does he hope to get to? Can’t he see there is nothing anywhere? The road continues forevermore, leading straight into the dark eternal night.

Tommy seeks the sun with his eyes, hopelessly delusional. The sun set a long time ago, the orange stain has cleared, and Tommy cannot find solace in its light.

Tommy hears voices and footsteps, and laughter. Never at the same time. Always only one, which approaches him from behind, real as the asphalt beneath his feet and the mountains by his side, real as his mother and father, always bickering. The sound approaches and zooms past him and disappears right when he expects to feel the cold, stony hand on his shoulder, dragging him back. He glances backward above his shoulder, and still, nobody’s there.

Tommy hears thunder rumble in the distance.

Tommy’s afraid.

Tommy’s terrified.

Tommy sees the thunderstorm, a gray cloud against the black sky, emitting its own fabricated light. The lightning seems exaggerated, as if drawn in a comic book, which Tommy knows is not the case. The thunder, coming closer, can smite him for real and leave nothing behind but his ashes.

Tommy hears the howling of dogs, or perhaps wolves, and gunshots. He winces at every single one and trips over his own legs twice. Whoever’s shooting—are they shooting far away, near him, behind him, or at him? He cannot know. He runs.

Tommy looks up at the stars and the clear sky.

Tommy doubts the stars will save him now.

Tommy hears nothing. All has quieted down. Every single noise has ceased. His mind is incapable of complex thought, so he relies solely on instinct, which tells him to stop running, or he’ll die of exhaustion. So he slows down, a beaten wreck, and tries to catch his breath. His gait becomes slow and unsteady, just like before, but this time even more so and for entirely different reasons. He almost slams face down on the asphalt.

Tommy keeps going.

Tommy hears something.

Tommy is no longer tottering down the country road.

3 Responses

    1. I particularly like this story because Tommy’s true nature remains ambiguous. Is he dead, walking through purgatory? Is he a zombie, mindlessly wandering the country? We may never know.

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