573 Kilometres to Morning

This is the story of the pilgrimage two teenage boys made across the prairies after their high-school graduation. It's part of the tale of two young men who went back "home" only to find there was no home for them anymore.

But really, this is a story about the road home.

It was 10:30 at night, and the thunderheads were rolling in. They searched the radio station in Steve's mother's car to find something that would tell them how bad the storm was going to be. They found a station. The news was not good. There would be heavy thunderstorms for the next day. And they didn't like the idea of dealing with soaked gear and the process of packing a wet tent in the early morning.

They'd arrived in Mosquito City four days earlier in their cream-coloured Ford Tempo, side windows adorned with stolen Visa and MasterCard merchant stickers. I guess they thought it looked funny. They'd toured their old haunts, snapped pictures of houses they'd once lived in, schools in which they'd spent their youth, and even knocked on a door in an old neighbourhood, to be welcomed with a smiling face of recognition. It all seemed so much smaller, though. And something was missing this time around. The spirit of the city had disappeared for them. They were no longer home.

The two young men had wound up in Oil Town through very different circumstances, several years earlier. Though they attended the same High School, they were not friends all along. They had become fast friends at a party the previous summer, when they discovered neither were Oil Town natives and that both had lived in Mosquito City up until their respective "big moves." Steve had landed Mike a comfortable retail job where he worked, and they had decided that enough time had passed since moving west, and they would take some time off and drive several hundred kilometres east, just to see what there was to see, and to do a little camping along the way.

When the "destination" part of the trip had arrived, they had but one night to endure before breaking camp and heading west again. A well-known Provincial park played home to their tent and gear for four days while the boys roamed around neighbourhoods, shopping malls, and called on anyone they could remember from their junior high days, or earlier. The park itself was fine, save for large (sadly unmarked) patches of poison ivy and a rather vociferous gang of wild turkeys.

Not wanting to have to wake up to a deluge, make breakfast and pack a wet tent in the morning, they opted to pack up in the looming twilight and drive west until they reached the end of the storm. At 19, boys are practically bulletproof. They could handle the fatigue and the slick, velvety prairie roads. The scenery was nothing new to them: prairies and straight road. They'd reminisced on the way down. They'd be tired. But they'd stay dry.

The rains started only moments after the engine started. And it poured.

First stop out of the city was for coffee and chocolate bars (and a girlie mag called "Big'uns", but that's immaterial). At 11:30 PM, and with a long road ahead, caffeine in any form was definitely in order. They drove on. In the windshield, they could see the source of the approaching storm. In the rear view mirror, the thunderheads descended upon Mosquito City, unleashing their torrent. Their destination would be another five to six hours ahead, so they shared the wheel.

They passed through small towns and large stretches of open, poker-straight road, zipping through villages they'd found quaint. This time, they were merely markers on the map, another method to count down the dwindling distance they had to travel before reaching the next vacation milestone. They didn't slow down to read the names on each town's grain elevators, or to enjoy the relaxed, peaceful pace of country life.

At 4:30 AM, they rolled in to the outskirts of Regina, their half-way destination. They were low on gas, and nothing on the sleepy prairies looked open. They were tired and would seek refuge and breakfast at their earliest convenience. Steve and Mike discussed the pros and cons of stopping to sleep. Even though they'd driven the night, and reached the source of the storm by 3 AM, tenting seemed very much out of the question. Sleeping on the roadside wouldn't be safe, given the number of sleepily-driven 18 wheelers on the road.

But one thing you can be sure of on the outskirts of a prairie town is this: a good selection of large farm implement dealerships in which to hide your car and its sleeping passengers.

And so they pulled off onto a service road and tucked their car into a CASE farm machinery lot, nestled behind a very large, very expensive combine. The young men eased their seats back, reclined, and fell instantly silent for over an hour, possibly the finest sleep in the week leading up to this night.

They woke at nearly the same time. Mike quietly took stock of his surroundings and looked over. His best friend stirred from a deep slumber in the driver's seat. Steve opened his eyes, saw the steering wheel in his lap and what appeared to be a giant combine bearing down on him, and with a snort he grabbed the wheel and nearly drove the brake pedal through the floor with his foot. In a flurry of scared, groggy fear and instant relief, Steve quickly realised that Mike had seen it all, and was in the early stages of what would turn out to be a long bout of shared hysterical laughter.

Still laughing, Steve started the car and they soon rolled into town to relive the moment over better coffee and a hot breakfast in a comfortable, safe booth.

Posted bythemikestand at 3:40 PM  

3 stepped up to the mike:

Brianna said... 4:14 PM, April 05, 2007  

Damn. Gripping and somehow eerie -- simply awesome writing.

SRH said... 5:03 PM, April 05, 2007  

Home is where you live, not where you lived. I think most people who have left a place have a story that has a similar flavor to it. Maybe not so well executed, but similar in flavor. Most 19 year olds are invulnerable, I envy your 19 year old immortality.

Steph said... 12:06 AM, April 06, 2007  

Time never really forgets the place where you grew up. It's too bad, because my hometown is magical in my memories.

That was a heckuva wake up call - the combine bearing down on the car. heh heh. I imagine that was pee your pants funny.

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