If there was a holy land it would probably be on top of a mountain or by the edge of a gasping ocean thick with foam and fury. If there was a holy land it might be full of pavilions, crushed-sea shell paths, thick emerald grasses, and birds singing in bursting colors.
Perhaps it would be in the Himalayan mountains where two continents neatly came together in a violent love story between shelves of earth. Perhaps it would be on a tiny green island where human hands had never twisted anything into something more than itself.
If there was a holy land in America of all places it would probably be in the Rocky Mountains somewhere cold with headache and reaching for heaven’s door with broken fingers. It could be in a California desert with cracked parched earth and fire-pink skies that promised absolution or perhaps Florida swamps with a certainty of ancient and hungry things.
Or very possibly in the wet forests of Oregon because a Portland witch asked nicely or among the stoic East Coast mansions because someone paid for it.
It was ironic though, without mountains for the gasping or oceans for the salt and baptizing that my eyes strayed again and again across the hand-made printed signs.
HELL IS REAL
WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY?
GO TO CHURCH OR THE DEVIL WILL HAVE YOUR SOUL
Flat as day break and grasses yellow like eye crust and dust layering on dust in your lungs from the roads scattered with small rocks and vacant-eyed drivers in pickups.
JESUS IS REAL.
There was no end to middle America, only more straight roads that didn’t match the crooked teeth of those you passed or the broken down trailers capsized and ownerless. White shacks missing window screens dotted the emptiness, baleful dogs sat by with drooping eyes and a real bite behind their wolf’s blood.
I remembered when my brother used to do these trips with me and point at the little trailers with cinder blocks for wheels and laugh ‘that’s where they make off-brand meth Megan, not even the good stuff.’ We were both young and built up by careful hands. I kept making the trip from one coast to the next each year because I thought I liked the youthful road trip of it all.
HEAVEN IS REAL
Adult Store Next Exit
There was no getting out of middle American, only away, away, away. I drove with my eyes fogging over like a New England morning. The trees grew in from dust and the sun stretched across the sky with lonely determination.
WE ARE ALL LAMBS AT HIS MERCY.
I snapped to attention as the sun burned orange as if possessed with unseen pollution and a sign approached with fine white print against a black background.
THE LION IS COMING, WHERE WILL YOU BE?
I passed another and my skin began to crawl with a slick prickling.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
I almost slammed on the breaks when the next sign came into focus and the burning in my gut matched the burning of the sun.
WE CAN ALL BE SAVED, MEGAN.
I tried to look behind me, but my neck was too stiff and a fear thick as sludge in my veins told me not to. A bile was rising in my throat as a church stood in the distance with no door and I was pressed to keep moving forward by a wordless static shushing over the radio.
A crossroads approached as a fork with dust on either side and a sign with ink-wet letters.
WE CAN ALL BE DAMNED, MEGAN.
Perhaps the Midwest fears with a fear like sucking on copper coins and ice cubes over your heart because there’s never been a holy land for the flat-tongued lands of forget. Forget, forget, forget. More signs lined up before me like a military column with guns pointed at my face.
I tried to pry my hands off the steering wheel but they wouldn’t budge and I kept my foot pressed hard on the gas and eyes completely wide open.
DO YOU WANT TO TASTE IT?
DO YOU WANT TO FEEL IT?
The dust turned black and sun blotted out in a sense of eternity and a reverence for all things. I asked for the end to that road and then prayed for it with a beggars tongue. A final sign sat on the horizon.
COME TO ME.
The sky streaked black with acidic smoke and the air conditioner wailed with murmurs of sorrow and bruised knuckles on cement. The air burned orange and horror grasped my heart until I plummeted through the dark and the dark and the dark.
And then I forgot again.
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