The gravel crunches and I feel the jab of the pebbles and stones into my soul. Pressure points that make me twist and move to make way for the new surface that is underneath me. The walk back to the car isn’t much further, I hope. I’ve lost track of how many steps it took from the door slamming shut to where we stopped. I’m tired, I’m ready to rest, but I have to keep moving.
I’ve seen and done many things in my life, this feels no different. The weight back is lighter this time. I struggled to keep up the pace on the way to the pit as if every new step would put me off balance and I would be done for. I couldn’t leave a trace, I had to withhold the weight and keep moving forward.
As the path came to a clearing and the waft of decay hit me, the pit, I knew where this journey has lead me. I despise these trips, I know they are necessary, the ending part of a craft, but there should be other ways to clean up the mess. One, two, three and with a large grunt, the load is flying through the air.
Thud, crash, plop all the way down into the bottomless pit it goes. Despite the large opening, there is little to no echo as things take their plunge into the final resting place of middle earth. I wonder sometimes what else is at the bottom. It’s too dark to see, even with a flashlight. Maybe a mattress, refrigerator, some unknown animal or even a yeti could all be hiding inside the belly of the earth. I didn’t have much time to think about it before we descended on our return.
A few moments of silence, a slight chuckle and a quick turn of the heel to head back to the car. My pace quickens, the longer I’m here, the louder my steps, anyone can see me. With the smell of decay dissipating into the smell of pine needles and dirt, I know I’m just yards away from safety.
It hasn’t always been like this. Everything changed after the fight with his mother. The yelling and screaming, I just wanted to run out of there. That was the night that our trips to the pit started. We used to go out to dinner, the movies, the dog park; all places where there were others. Life was lighter then like I wasn’t carrying the weight of the world on me half the time. But that night something changed.
Our lives took a different turn. The fear and anxiety began to build with the first thud. I’ve lost count how many thuds there have been since that night, but he’s constantly murmuring on about leaving no trace. It’s the woods, the only trace is animal poop and stepping in that is my worst fear. Blood, vomit, urine; I’m ok with all of that, the smell doesn’t last long with those, but poop, that last about as long as the fall in the pit. Not enough scrubbing could ever get that wretched smell out. At least with the pit, I can walk away.
Tonight though, there’s a crack and a yell. I see lights reflecting off of trees and dogs barking. I can’t be seen, he will never trust me again. I quicken my pace, I see the car in the distance, but it’s different. There’s someone standing around it, there’s lights shining from every angle. We turn left, then right, then stop and back up, then forward, there’s nowhere to go. I have failed him. We run faster, past the trees, the path long gone, crunching over dead leaves and sticks; every one of them breaking the sound of silence in our path. Not far and we will find a road or a stream, something to follow. The sounds of others distancing like the smell of the pit. Our pace never slows, then with a large wack, we are on the ground. Blood pooling, I can feel its gooey warmth collecting around me. The sound of the others are far in the distances and here we lay on the cold wet ground, in a pool of blood.
I can’t move, we are immobile. I listen in the distance, I worry they will find us. Slowly movement, I feel a flutter, the fear building, we have to move, slower this time. With a heave and a gasp of breath, we were upright. I limped on the right side, the blood squishing behind us. I was leaving a trace, the pace wouldn’t matter, with time they would catch up to us. They would find us and I would be lost without him.
Each limping step brought us closer to the road. I could hear the sound of cars rushing by, freedom, from the chase was just beyond the treeline. A few steps and suddenly I was blinded by oncoming headlights. The squeal of brakes and the stammering of feet, I felt the uncertainty of freedom lingering in the air.
He spoke no words, but the force of compulsion pulled my limp into a lunge. He wasn’t going to give up, not this easily. I danced with a new weight as we rounded the car door, a slam, yell and suddenly silence. The weight was heavy again, the trickle of blood now a steady stream, but it didn’t last as long. I flew through the air, up into the cab of the truck. It smelled of beer, diesel, and cigars, but it was warm and my trace would be gone.
With a rumble of the engine and the sliding of the gears, I felt a shift in weight as we speed off. The weight was lingering, I knew we would be back when it was safe. There would be one more thud, crash, and plop, I just feared this time it would be me; the weakest link. The drive was fast, sliding around bends, blowing through stop signs and speeding down the interstate. He was in a panic, his muscles were tense, his breath staggered and his grunt a deeper hush; it made space of the cab smaller with each passing second. One wrong move and we would be done for, in a ditch just waiting for the others to arrive.
As the night sky turned into a dusk morning, the tension in the cab started to lighten. We were far away; the pit, the rock, the threats all behind us. But the light of the sun would be our new threat, where others would see our flaws and mistakes. Someone would take notice, someone would call for help, and someone would become our new threat. Just a few miles away, the road turned into dirt and the dust seeped in through the cracked window.
I could tell that he wasn’t rational. He was fidgeting as he steered through the clouds of dust, I was waiting for the sign when he took a sudden right turn. We swerve – left, right, left again – he needs to gain control before we are both left in the dust. With the slam of the breaks and a few quick turns of the wheel, we cruised back into a straight direction. The load that had become heavy just a few hours ago was now shifting again. He needed to come up with a plan, we needed an escape.
Before I knew it the truck came to a slamming halt and the door was opened. The dust rushed in as we leaped out. We were alone, free of the others that were chasing us. With a few stretches, the load that had shifted in the cab was now on the floor of the cab. The blood had stopped it’s decent, it was now drying slowly against skin, making it uncomfortable, an agitation that was sure to set him off again. With a few heaves, the load was back, I buckled under it, but determined to not fail again. We staggered a few feet as a soft moaning sound came from the load.
This would be another trip to the pit, but when? The others were there, chasing us as if we were an animal for the hunt. This place had more rocks that kept me off balance, we staggered as he dropped the load. The moan grew louder, this was not a part of the plan, this was not part of his routine. With a step back I could feel the weight of the world lifting from inside of me. He was past panic, he was in complete manic.
The blood sprayed everywhere, with each blow, this would not help us. There was no beginning or end to the sprays that now graced the earth’s ground. The plan was completely unhinged, the others would find us, there was nowhere to hide at this point, only time would bring us to the moment of separation.
His whimpers turned into sobs then into laughter, as he looked on at his unplanned masterpiece. With the rustling of things in the cab, he was back to his game. The cold plastic brushed up against me as he placed it on the ground, we dug our heels into the loose earth and pushed the load out of the puddle. This mess was not like the others, the strike of a match and the ground would be new again. But first, the weight, it needed to be lifted, without a stagger. Do I still have it in me? The blood is now crusty and mixed with dirt, it made moving difficult, more than the pain itself. Limping, staggering, tripping my way towards the bed of the truck I wondered what more I could take.
“One, Two, Heave!” he commanded and before I could balance, the weight was tossed into the bed of the truck. A relief, the pain setting in, the night sky turning into morning light and the dust turning into ashes; everything was becoming new again. Flying through the air I settled into the cab as he slammed the door behind us and rattled the dust covered wagon awake.
Soon we were off again, enough to distance ourselves from the cloud of smoke as it turned back into dirt. I could still smell the putrid exchange as it lingered in the air. With the turn of the wheel, we headed back towards the smoldering flame, his plan slowly coming together. The spontaneous actions of the night, provoked by the others, would not deter him from achieving his goals, for this is the strength I cherished within him and the reason I never wanted to fail him.
The drive back was slower, as if we were returning from vacation, tired, dirty, beaten and bruised, but refreshed from the havoc that had just taken place. The dirt road turned back into the highway, he drummed his thumbs to an invisible song, as if satisfaction was finally setting in. A smile crossed his face as he pulled off the exit and made a left towards home.
We took this route every time we came back from the pit. Left off the interstate, two rights, one left and a cruise into the garage at the end of the culdesac. He always left the garage door open so he could slide right back in. But with this truck, could he hide us? With the slam of the breaks and the rumbling of the cab coming to a halt, my doubt was lifted. The cab door creaked open, I could smell the mothballs, lime and formaldehyde rush into the cab.
With a slow motion, we shimmied out of the cab onto the solid dependable ground. He pulled the garage door shut with a smash and we stood in the warm dark space alone. His laugh started out slow as it grew louder and bounced off the walls. The relief, the rush, the ecstasy of the last few hours was relieved. The light from inside the house shined under the door making the shadows of the truck long across the garage floor. We limped towards the door, the load would have to wait until the sun set. For now, we needed to clean up; the dust and blood were congealed in every creavest at this point. Nothing a good shower, scrubbing, and nap couldn’t fix before we made our trip out to the pit later.
I squished with each step, the blood still wet at my souls. With a kick of the door, we stumbled into the kitchen. The sink was filled with the parts of his last piece of work. The stained clothes fell to the ground in a pile next to me and the water turned on in the sink. A large grunt reverberated from deep within his chest. Was it even worth cleaning up after the night we had?
I watch as he rushed around the kitchen in the buff. He was in a frenzy, but we had a few hours until dusk, something had changed, something I wasn’t aware of. He’s always so meticulous when it came to cleaning up and making the house a home again. After his mother, he learned what worked. How putting lime in the bag can help with the smell of decay or how using formaldehyde to slow down the heart can help prevent blood splatter. That bruising causes different patterns depending on the time of impact. If the heart rate is too high, the bruising is darker and deeper; if the heart rate is low, it’s lighter and splattered; if there is no heartbeat it pools at the site of impact. He learned certain tones go with his living room or bedroom and that trial and error were bound to happen with the extractions.
All of his new discoveries I watched with excitement, his joy taking over. He was an artist, he was bound for greatness. But the nights and weeks after each new piece, after each drive to the pit was filled with anxiety, dread, and self-hatred. He paced for hours in fear of his designs being taken away from him, that his work would go to waste. Leaving behind any trace of his work was a falter he couldn’t trust. The others were sure to find the remains, to question him, to turn their nose to the beauty he slaved over.
With the rustling of a bag, he scooped up the blood-stained clothes and tossed them into the trash. The air was filled with bleach, breathing was becoming difficult. He picked me up and placed me next to the hot running water. I knew it would burn, but he needed to get the blood off before we made our trip to the pit. Nothing could be left behind and I didn’t want to be the weakest link to cause him to break.
As the water raised I prepared myself for the splash of the scolding hot water, but before I knew it I was submerged into the depths of the sink. Bleach burning, the water boiling; would I even come out of this the same? Slowly the blood started to separate, the water swirled as the two became one. It looked like a moving piece of his artwork under harsher conditions. I wish he could capture this, it feels safer, less invasive than his other projects.
After a few moments in the spiraling mixture, he pulled me from the depths of the sink. I could breathe again. Some elbow grease was all it took to rid the lasting pieces of blood. As he moved from the kitchen to the garage I sat in the sun, soaking up the warm rays. There was nothing I could do to help, he was in a zone that needed to be left alone. I watched from a distance as I laid there drying in the warm air.
Would he get some sleep? The hours are passing by and his anxiety was sure to slow him. With the slamming of the garage door, a grumble and pattering of feet across the floor towards the bathroom I could hear the water start to run in the shower. He was on his last step, cleansing himself. The sun was slowly setting again, his window to sleep was fading fast. I worry he will make mistakes, irreversible mistakes, ones that will lead us to be separated; my greatest fear.
I watched as the sun set over the horizon, the shower turned off and the house fell silent. Peace for even just a few moments. As the pink and blue sky turned into a darker screen the pattering of footsteps grew closer. He was awake, beer in his hand, a smile on his face; everything was going to be ok. We sat watching the lights in the sky slowly flicker to life as the moon made its way towards the heavens. Any moment now and he will be ready.
Just at the moon reached the center of the sky we were off again. The rumble of the truck cab shook me. The air was dry, the dust settled into the leather seats and the smell of bleach mixed with the musky smell of his cologne. Something was different, this must be the last journey. One last trip, this had to be it, I had one more load to carry before we could be free. We shot out of the garage with force, I slide as he slammed the brake to turn us around. He had spent all day carefully cleaning up, making sure not to leave behind any trace; now was not the time to become sloppy.
The trip to the pit was easy, we have driven it so many times before, instead of a left he made a right, instead of a right he made a left; I was lost. Where were we going? The smells were not the same, the ground under the tires felt different. With the windows open I waited for a hint, was this new, did he have somewhere else he was headed. The pedal was to the floor, the sound of others in the long distant as if a memory was trying to chase us. Then all of a sudden I could smell the mixture of pine and decay, but we aren’t in the same location. Twigs breaking, tree branches whooshing by as we bounced up and down. Suddenly without warning, the truck came to a halt.
We sat there, the headlights staring out into an opening. He drove the truck to the pit, not to his spot, not where we could hide, but right to the edge of the pit. The smell of decay was overwhelming as he opened the door. We flew out of the cab and made our way around to the back. This load would be heavier; broken and tired it would feel as though the weight of the world was on our shoulders. But he didn’t open the bed of the truck. With a heavy sigh and a deep breath he put all of his weight into his shoulders and started to push. I could feel the pulling and tearing of the weight, it was different, it was heavier, it was dangerous.
Inch by inch we made our way to the edge of the pit pushing the truck. As the front tires rolled off the edge, the weight we had be holding onto fell away from us and dangled on the ledge. It was a ledge of safety and sanity. He had a plan, to remove the evidence, to remove the last few hours and find a way back to our comfort. With one last heave, the truck would be over the edge and into the never ending pit. How long would it take to fall I wonder?
Taking a step back to assess the force needed I can see the wheels turning in his brain. He was ready, I was sure of it. Two forceful steps and one huge push and suddenly I was flying. This wasn’t part of the plan, how could this be part of the plan. His screams echoed off the wall of the pit as he descended down. There was nothing I could do, no way to save him. I had failed him. I heard a smattering crash and explosion into the depth of the earth. There was a bottom to the pit and he was now in it.
I hung on to the branch I had tripped over. The night sky turned into the day and the sound of the others began to approach again. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t hide, I was tired and alone. As time passed, there was nothing I could do. I waited for them to find me, to rescue me. It was not long before someone was standing over me, questioning where I had come from.
They screamed for help as if they had found a dead body. They never touched me, the blood must have been too much. Quickly more came and surrounded me. Their inquisitive eyes looking down at me. They peered over me, into the pit below. The flames from the truck slowly became no more.
“It’s a shoe sir” I heard from the back.
“Bag it and tag it” the response rang clear.
I was more than a shoe, I was his sole, the thing that carried his weight, his story and he was my artist.