There’s a mysticism in the yellow flecks of paint designating the right way from the wrong. The road runs long and jagged out here in Alabama, hugging the edge of the tree-line and jutting out over the quivering waves of the Tennessee river. The road is paved sometimes, sometimes not, the gravel growling underneath the tires until with a shudder of your car you find the smooth edge of civilization pressed up hard against nobody’s woods.
Out here, suburbs exist but they aren’t the norm. Here, there is City and then Not, buildings and then mountains straight on ’til morning. There’s a Target in the middle of a cow pasture. The Lacey’s Springs kids go muddin’ on quiet weekend nights, churning up chunks of earth until it splatters against their car doors. Park your car and leave the path, they say, and there are Rules: hold your breath in the woods as much as you’re able, because the unmarked settler graves of the Lonely Dead dot this area. Arrowheads break under the weight of your sneakers. And for fuck’s sake, watch where you’re walking. The ground is shot full of limestone and liable just to open up and swallow you down the gullet of one of its many caverns. Don’t go down to Cry Baby point on foot. You’ll live your life as a cursed shadow, your every breath full of demons and haints.
Safer to drive, they say. Safer to get into your truck and press the pedal and let the scenery fly into harmless pastel beside you. Stick your head into the wind if you want; this time of year you’ll smell flowering plum and wet dirt and oakmoss just beginning to wake up from winter. Turn on your headlights and you’ll see the flash of reflective eyes from the woods – coyotes, probably. Maybe a deer or two. More often than not, though, you’ll see wildlife as a blood smear on the pavement; too fast and too careless drove the human trespassers. You don’t believe that raccoons are actually ever alive. You’ve yet to see one.
Driving in Florida – it was never like this. You always had someone riding your ass, or some tourist going 20 mph down the highway. It was stop-and-go traffic, and you were never really alone, not even on nights when you were the only one out on the road. There were always lights, there were always sleepy toll workers waiting for you down the way with their palms out. It was never just you and the open road. You never drove for fun.
Out here, the road curves sweetly like you’re running your hand down someone’s hip. You pull it against you and think: one more time. There’s no destination in mind, and there won’t ever be.