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Onward

I finally came to a halt beside a shabby hot dog stand, letting my packs fall with a thud into the dust that lay around my feet, carpeting the dry earth. The cool breeze of the early morning had long since evaporated, as had the illusion that I wasn’t lost in a strange town, on an old, cracked road, and with no company but my heavy packs and a strange, snoring, portly old man. He had been selling his merchandise, but had finally been overcome by the midsummer heat, and had dozed off in the shade of his small hut. I swore loudly, and turned to look at a small, faded roadside sign.
I was looking for a collage campus, which upon finding, I would walk through and meet up with the rest of my companions. The problem was, I had been separated from the rest of my group, and had no idea what the name of the collage was. Of course, I also couldn’t read the sign, because blood, dirt, and sweat was dripping into my eyes, which, even on a good day, did not see very well.
The hot dog man snorted and yawned widely, exposing half a mouth of missing teeth, and sighed as he woke up. I slumped down on my pack, thinking, hoping I wouldn’t have to walk the whole way back. I felt a warm sticky substance slowly start dripping into my mouth, which was gaping open, trying desperately to suck in the humid air my lungs so desperately needed. I stripped of my shirt, and used it to wipe of the blood that was sliding down my face, into my mouth. I then tied it around the shallow gash on my forehead, where a swinging canoe, welded by a fellow camper, had crashed painfully, sending me toppling to the dust. As the blood started soaking into my shirt, which was roped around my head as a jogger would rope a sweatband, a large cloud passed over the sun, obscuring the burning light. I sighed, grateful for the break in the relentless heat, ready to start planning my next move.
According to my staffman, this portage was only a mile long, and was not extremely difficult. According to the road sign, I had already been walking for a mile and a half. I was almost ready to start heading back when I heard a voice from across the street.
“You wan’ a dag?” the hot dog man shouted to me, mouth barely opening.
“Excuse me?” I responded, not understanding his slurred words.
“I says, you wan’ a hot dog?”
“I don’t have any money.”
“Shame. What you doin’ out here anyways?”
“I’m on a camping trip, but I got lost, and I’ve been walking for an hour, and I have no idea where the hell I’m supposed to go, and as you can tell, I’m not in a very good mood.” I responded angrily, halting the conversation. In the awkward silence that followed, the sun peered out from behind the cloud, bathing the hot dog man’s side of the road in light and warmth. He looked at me for a long while before he spoke again, this time sounding a little less supercilious.
“You know, you remind me of myself when I was young. Adventurous, strong, young,” he chuckled, and continued. “I once was lost out on a lake in a boat by myself, knowing I had to fin’ a campsite, but there wasn’t one to be found!” he gave a dry smile, then stated: “Bu’ I never gave up, an’ once I found the rest of my guys, we found the best campsite on the whole lake. Had the time of our lives once we got there, I can tell you that.”
He had finished with a much quieter voice, but I had hung on to every word he had said. As he finished speaking, the sun had come completely free from the cloud, and now I too was bathed in light and warmth. I sat still for a couple minutes, listening to the sounds of nature, and the snores that were gently escaping from the hot dog man who had, once again, fallen asleep on the job. I smiled to myself, first faintly, then broadly. I stood up, brushing off the loose dirt that had stuck to my bare, sweaty chest. I heaved up the two packs with a grunt, one my front, the other on my back, for the first time of the day stopping to enjoy the bulging, straining muscles in my arms. Then, I revolved to look at the hot dog man.
“Thank you.” I whispered, letting the grin fade from my face. As the afternoon sun blazed down upon me, I began my walk, not back the way I had come, but onward, down the long, twisting road, as the dust billowed and danced around me.





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