Cracked Roads by Mark McConville

Cracked Roads.

Last summer we spoke about moving away. Paradise beckoned, hope was infused in our alcoholic bloodstreams, but we were steady on our feet, paying our dues and searching for a utopian bubble we could laze around in. Departing this ruined sanctuary, where blood was scrawled in unruly text across walls and doors, kept us awake for days. Chances were scarce, finding work even more of a challenge. In time, we would have died and been thrown into unmarked graves.

We were the voiceless and the disenchanted blots on society. Under scopes, under scrutiny, packed like tins of sardines in a one-room apartment. No clean water, no heating, but plenty of thinking to do. Thinking? It made us go manic, mania hitting against every receptor in our brains, every core of our minds. We were the unlucky few, as they danced in their expensive robes, drinking ancient whiskey.

Cutting away the sinew of hatred would have taken years. As outcasts, we had to leave the regime. Penniless and hopeless, we still could breathe and walk and talk. Being alive may have been treacherous in these callous times, but at least our bodies had heat and our feet weren’t broken or snapped or skinless.

We set out on a day the sun beamed on cracked roads. We had flasks of water and bravery. No food for ravished stomachs, but enough motivation to create a better world for ourselves. The road was straight forward and long. Beside it there were rotting pastures and reactors. These reactors powered the electricity into the homes of the elite. For us they were monuments of greed. They never impacted our lives. They stood there, ugly and grey.

We walked for hours, afflicted by sun burnt skin that peeled. Hunger also took hold of us. Back in that town, we ate scraps. On that road, there wasn’t any sheep or cattle, only dead flowers and weeds. At one point, we felt overwhelmed, drawn to death. Being drawn to death frightened us, it made us reflect on what we were doing. Leaving the blackness of home-life felt good. It felt like a unanimous decision.

I looked at her as she slowed down. Like an over-worked animal. She swayed side by side, talking to herself, and then screaming out for hope to shine upon her. God was nowhere to be seen as she kissed her rosary beads. She turned to me, her eyes half shut, begging me to tell her everything will okay. I had no answers; we were out of our depth. Dying per minute, bellowing out for someone to save us. The heat tortured us, sunk into us, laughed at us.

I would be hours before sunset and we were walking towards nothingness. And then, at the corner of my eye, I saw a man holding a skinned animal. It looked fresh and edible. All I needed was to start a fire and cook it. I sauntered towards the man. He smiled at me, and then laughed. I placed my hand out to take the animal from his grasp, but it fell right through, and he turned to dust. My mind played a trick on me, the heat a culprit. And I was on my knees. She was next to me, laying her head on my shoulder. All of our worth was sinking deeply into the void, an abyss darker than closed eyes.

It felt like a split second, but we must have been sleeping for an hour at least. I opened my eyes and heard someone speak. She wasn’t beside me. I looked at their badges. They were the runaways, the pact, and the scavengers. They spoke and spoke, committing sin as they did so, hatching plans, dreaming up situations in their bespoke minds.

I shook, my hands shook. My dry mouth unbearable. I wondered where she was. After they spoke, they turned their attention to me. They brutalised me. They kicked as I screamed. They drove away as I shouted her name.

Hours after, I was next to a burning fire. A man with a thick beard was praying to God. It was night; the sun had dissipated. The pain, it was gone. I still had the bruises, but I felt no discomfort. The man told me, to settle. To breathe easily, softly. I asked him why he saved me. He said knew I had reasons to walk upon the cracked roads.

I looked up at the stars that night and wondered if she was still alive. I also knew I would endure sinister nightmares until my heart resisted its valves.