Read The road Online

Authors: Cormac McCarthy

Tags: #FICTION / General, #Fiction / Literary, #Fiction / Science Fiction / General, #Fiction / Classics, #FICTION / Fantasy / General, #United States, #Fiction / Action & Adventure, #Voyages and travels/ Fiction, #Robinsonades, #Fathers and Sons, #Survival skills, #Regression (Civilization), #Voyages And Travels, #Fathers and sons/ Fiction, #Regression (Civilization)/ Fiction

The road (8 page)

BOOK: The road
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He'd come to see a message in each such late
history, a message and a warning, and so this tableau of the slain and the
devoured did prove to be. He woke in the morning and turned over in the blanket
and looked back down the road through the trees the way they'd come in time to
see the marchers appear four abreast. Dressed in clothing of every description,
all wearing red scarves at their necks. Red or orange, as close to red as they
could find. He put his hand on the boy's head. Shh, he said. What is it, Papa?
People on the road. Keep your face down. Dont look. No smoke from the dead
fire. Nothing to be seen of the cart. He wallowed into the ground and lay
watching across his forearm. An army in tennis shoes, tramping. Carrying
three-foot lengths of pipe with leather wrappings. Lanyards at the wrist. Some
of the pipes were threaded through with lengths of chain fitted at their ends
with every manner of bludgeon. They clanked past, marching with a swaying gait
like wind-up toys. Bearded, their breath smoking through their masks. Shh, he said.
Shh. The phalanx following carried spears or lances tasseled with ribbons, the
long blades hammered out of trucksprings in some crude forge up-country. The
boy lay with his face in his arms, terrified. They passed two hundred feet
away, the ground shuddering lightly. Tramping. Behind them came wagons drawn by
slaves in harness and piled with goods of war and after that the women, perhaps
a dozen in number, some of them pregnant, and lastly a supplementary consort of
catamites illclothed against the cold and fitted in dogcollars and yoked each
to each. All passed on. They lay listening. Are they gone, Papa? Yes, they're
gone. Did you see them? Yes.

Were they the bad guys? Yes, they were the bad
guys. There's a lot of them, those bad guys. Yes there are. But they're gone.
They stood and brushed themselves off, listening to the silence in the
distance. Where are they going, Papa? I dont know. They're on the move. It's
not a good sign. Why isnt it a good sign? It just isnt. We need to get the map
and take a look.

 

They pulled the cart from the brush with which
they'd covered it and he raised it up and piled the blankets in and the coats
and they pushed on out to the road and stood looking where the last of that
ragged horde seemed to hang like an afterimage in the disturbed air.

 

In the afternoon it started to snow again. They
stood watching the pale gray flakes sift down out of the sullen murk. They
trudged on. A frail slush forming over the dark surface of the road. The boy
kept falling behind and he stopped and waited for him. Stay with me, he said.
You walk too fast. I'll go slower. They went on. You're not talking again. I'm
talking. You want to stop? I always want to stop. We have to be more careful. I
have to be more careful. I know. We'll stop. Okay? Okay.

We just have to find a place. Okay.

 

The falling snow curtained them about. There was
no way to see anything at either side of the road. He was coughing again and
the boy was shivering, the two of them side by side under the sheet of plastic,
pushing the grocery cart through the snow. Finally he stopped. The boy was
shaking uncontrollably. We have to stop, he said. It's really cold. I know.
Where are we? Where are we? Yes.

I dont know. If we were going to die would you
tell me? I dont know. We're not going to die.

 

They left the cart overturned in a field of sedge
and he took the coats and the blankets wrapped in the plastic tarp and they set
out. Hold on to my coat, he said. Dont let go. They crossed through the sedge
to a fence and climbed through, holding down the wire for each other with their
hands. The wire was cold and it creaked in the staples. It was darkening fast.
They went on. What they came to was a cedar wood, the trees dead and black but
still full enough to hold the snow. Beneath each one a precious circle of dark
earth and cedar duff.

 

They settled under a tree and piled the blankets
and coats on the ground and he wrapped the boy in one of the blankets and set
to raking up the dead needles in a pile. He kicked a cleared place in the snow
out where the fire wouldnt set the tree alight and he carried wood from the
other trees, breaking off the limbs and shaking away the snow. When he struck
the lighter to the rich tinder the fire crackled instantly and he knew that it
would not last long. He looked at the boy. I've got to go for more wood, he
said. I'll be in the neighborhood. Okay? Where's the neighborhood? It just
means I wont be far. Okay.

 

The snow by now was half a foot on the ground. He
floundered out through the trees pulling up the fallen branches where they
stuck out of the snow and by the time he had an armload and made his way back
to the lire it had burned down to a nest of quaking embers. He threw the
branches on the lire and set out again. Hard to stay ahead. The woods were
getting dark and the firelight did not reach far. If he hurried he only grew
faint. When he looked behind him the boy was trudging through snow half way to
his knees gathering limbs and piling them in his arms.

 

The snow fell nor did it cease to fall. He woke
all night and got up and coaxed the fire to life again. He'd unfolded the tarp
and propped one end of it up beneath the tree to try and reflect back the heat
from the fire. He looked at the boy's face sleeping in the orange light. The
sunken cheeks streaked with black. He fought back the rage. Useless. He didnt
think the boy could travel much more. Even if it stopped snowing the road would
be all but impassable. The snow whispered down in the stillness and the sparks
rose and dimmed and died in the eternal blackness.

 

He was half asleep when he heard a crashing in the
woods. Then another. He sat up. The fire was down to scattered flames among the
embers. He listened. The long dry crack of shearing limbs. Then another crash.
He reached and shook the boy. Wake up, he said. We have to go. He rubbed the
sleep from his eyes with the backs of his hands. What is it? he said. What is
it, Papa? Come on. We have to move. What is it? It's the trees. They're falling
down. The boy sat up and looked about wildly. It's all right, the man said.
Come on. We need to hurry.

 

He scooped up the bedding and he folded it and
wrapped the tarp around it. He looked up. The snow drifted into his eyes. The
fire was little more than coals and it gave no light and the wood was nearly
gone and the trees were falling all about them in the blackness. The boy clung
to him. They moved away and he tried to find a clear space in the darkness but
finally he put down the tarp and they just sat and pulled the blankets over
them and he held the boy against him. The whump of the falling trees and the
low boom of the loads of snow exploding on the ground set the woods to
shuddering. He held the boy and told him it would be all right and that it
would stop soon and after a while it did. The dull bedlam dying in the
distance. And again, solitary and far away. Then nothing. There, he said. I
think that's it. He dug a tunnel under one of the fallen trees, scooping away
the snow with his arms, his frozen hands clawed inside his sleeves. They
dragged in their bedding and the tarp and after a while they slept again for
all the bitter cold.

 

When day broke he pushed his way out of their den,
the tarp heavy with snow. He stood and looked about. It had stopped snowing and
the cedar trees lay about in hillocks of snow and broken limbs and a few
standing trunks that stood stripped and burntlooking in that graying landscape.
He trudged out through the drifts leaving the boy to sleep under the tree like
some hibernating animal. The snow was almost to his knees. In the field the
dead sedge was drifted nearly out of sight and the snow stood in razor kerfs
atop the fencewires and the silence was breathless. He stood leaning on a post
coughing. He'd little idea where the cart was and he thought that he was
getting stupid and that his head wasnt working right. Concentrate, he said. You
have to think. When he turned to go back the boy was calling him.

 

We have to go, he said. We cant stay here. The boy
stared bleakly at the gray drifts. Come on. They made their way out to the
fence. Where are we going? the boy said. We have to find the cart. He just
stood there, his hands in the armpits of his parka. Come on, the man said. You
have to come on.

 

He waded out across the drifted fields. The snow
lay deep and gray. Already there was a fresh fall of ash on it. He struggled on
a few more feet and then turned and looked back. The boy had fallen. He dropped
the armload of blankets and the tarp and went back and picked him up. He was already
shivering. He picked him up and held him. I'm sorry, he said. I'm sorry.

 

They were a long time finding the cart. He pulled
it upright out of the drifts and dug out the knapsack and shook it out and
opened it and stuffed in one of the blankets. He put the pack and the other
blankets and the coats in the basket and picked up the boy and set him on top
and unlaced his shoes and pulled them off. Then he got out his knife and set
about cutting up one of the coats and wrapping the boy's feet. He used the entire
coat and then he cut big squares of plastic out of the tarp and gathered them
up from underneath and wrapped and tied them at the boy's ankles with the
lining from the coatsleeves. He stood back. The boy looked down. Now you, Papa,
he said. He wrapped one of the coats around the boy and then he sat on the tarp
in the snow and wrapped his own feet. He stood and warmed his hands inside his
parka and then packed their shoes into the knapsack along with the binoculars
and the boy's truck. He shook out the tarp and folded it and tied it with the
other blankets on top of the pack and shouldered it up and then took a last
look through the basket but that was it. Let's go, he said. The boy took one
last look back at the cart and then followed him out to the road.

 

It was harder going even than he would have
guessed. In an hour they'd made perhaps a mile. He stopped and looked back at
the boy. The boy stopped and waited. You think we're going to die, dont you? I
dont know. We're not going to die. Okay.

But you dont believe me. I dont know. Why do you
think we're going to die? I dont know. Stop saying I dont know. Okay.

Why do you think we're going to die? We dont have
anything to eat. We'll find something. Okay.

How long do you think people can go without food?
I dont know. But how long do you think? Maybe a few days. And then what? You
fall over dead? Yes.

Well you dont. It takes a long time. We have
water. That's the most important thing. You dont last very long without water.
Okay.

But you dont believe me. I dont know. He studied
him. Standing there with his hands in the pockets of the outsized pinstriped
suitcoat. Do you think I lie to you? No.

But you think I might lie to you about dying. Yes.

Okay. I might. But we're not dying. Okay.

 

He studied the sky. There were days when the ashen
overcast thinned and now the standing trees along the road made the faintest of
shadows over the snow. They went on. The boy wasnt doing well. He stopped and
checked his feet and retied the plastic. When the snow started to melt it was
going to be hard to keep their feet dry. They stopped often to rest. He'd no
strength to carry the child. They sat on the pack and ate handfuls of the dirty
snow. By afternoon it was beginning to melt. They passed a burned house, just
the brick chimney standing in the yard. They were on the road all day, such day
as there was. Such few hours. They might have covered three miles.

 

He thought the road would be so bad that no one
would be on it but he was wrong. They camped almost in the road itself and
built a great fire, dragging dead limbs out of the snow and piling them on the
flames to hiss and steam. There was no help for it. The few blankets they had
would not keep them warm. He tried to stay awake. He would jerk upright out of
his sleep and slap about him looking for the pistol. The boy was so thin. He
watched him while he slept. Taut face and hollow eyes. A strange beauty. He got
up and dragged more wood onto the fire.

 

They walked out to the road and stood. There were
tracks in the snow. A wagon. Some sort of wheeled vehicle. Something with
rubber tires by the narrow treadmarks. Boot-prints between the wheels. Someone
had passed in the dark going south. In the early dawn at latest. Running the
road in the night. He stood thinking about that. He walked the tracks
carefully. They'd passed within fifty feet of the fire and had not even slowed
to look. He stood looking back up the road. The boy watched him. We need to get
out of the road. Why, Papa? Someone's coming. Is it bad guys? Yes. I'm afraid
so. They could be good guys. Couldnt they? He didnt answer. He looked at the
sky out of old habit but there was nothing to see. What are we going to do,
Papa? Let's go. Can we go back to the fire? No. Come on. We probably dont have
much time. I'm really hungry. I know. What are we going to do? We have to hole
up. Get off the road. Will they see our tracks? Yes.

BOOK: The road
10.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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