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The High Road
I woke up feeling like the scraped gum off the bottom of a shoe, in a dustland fairytale far from home. I didn’t even remember the rest of me, there was no difference between the rubble I was lying on and the body I called my own. All I could feel was the drool mixed with bits of dirt that clung to my face as I lifted my head-filled with lead and electricity-an unbearable inch from the floor of the gorge. Staring me in the face was a scuffed pair of harsh charcoal boots. I couldn’t help but to think in a haze that if the owner was unusually cruel (or kind, for that matter) they were close enough to kick me out of my misery, square between the eyes. I blinked quickly, the pupils of my baby blues adjusting to the unforgiving Arizona sun and sending a shock wave to my brain.
The bloom of the sunlight wouldn’t let me see his face.
“Get up, kid,”
The boots could speak.
“Come on; don’t just lie there like a sorry sack of s***.” The toe of the boots nudged my forehead, might as well have been a meteor impact. I winced.
I didn’t even try to speak. I had a bad case of cotton mouth, still tasting faintly of alcohol.
“We gotta get this show on the road.” His voice was gruff and gravelly, and even though he spoke low it sounded like he was in my ear, in my head.
“Well…you didn’t exactly ‘live to tell the tale’, did you?” The man muttered to himself and chuckled like a mongrel dog.
He let out an impatient sigh and finally crouched down to my slow and numb face, and reached out, so close I could make out the folds in his hands.
“I’ll help ya up,”
I made no motion; he took a hold of the situation-and me- grasping my shoulders and flipping me to my back. He sat down beside me, a cigarette in his fingers that rested on the worn knee of his jeans.
In a painful burst all of the burning light was clawing at the seams of my eyelids. I didn’t even have the energy to groan, my head was on fire.
“You look like hell kid, like hell. But I don’t think you’d fit in,” He laughed heartily at that one. “Listen, champ, you’re not much of a talker. So I guess I’ll do all the talkin’,” he took a long drag. “We’re inbetweeners right now, see? Well, you are, I’m just a humble Hermes. I’m here to tell saps like you that you have to wait-I don’t know how long-,”
He paused and mopped his forehead with the back of his hand.
“-but that little stunt you pulled put you in a bit of a pickle. The Big Man will tell you when you can come up, but you have to decide for yourself first before he’ll let you in. S***-am I making any sense?”
He eyed me under his dark brow. I finally willed my eyes back open. I nodded, and shutting my eyes, wondering how I even got here…
I was going a breakneck speed, with a fistful of dollars left from what seemed like practically a whole bottle of vodka in my stomach, filtering through to my throbbing veins, nothing else mattered. A rush of blood to my head, but I wasn’t in for the kill. I’d taken the high road up to Cough Drop with salt stained cheeks, the ledge that led to the gulley where Lea and I used to go watch the sun set before she died, its smoldering tendrils awing us in the front seat of my Ford…maybe I had stepped on the gas with a little too much adrenaline, maybe my aching heart had taken control of the wheel.
I’d decided. When I opened my eyes again I was standing, and the stranger was gone.
I heard Leas’ voice chime behind me. “At least you learn from your mistakes,”
I could hear the smile in her voice. I smiled too, and turned around to face her.