The farther you drive out along the roads the straighter the roads get. Broken John says that when they built the city they just paved over all the cattle paths and that's why you never know which way is East, especially if you look at the street signs, because everything is all twisted up like a plate of spaghetti. But out of the lights, yeah, in what used to be the tobacco fields, there aren't so many people and the engineers get to have their own way and lay out everything in straight lines.
Hekka told me, "Hey, there a place where the lines get so straight they curve right out of this world and into the next one," and Broken John said that was crazy-talk. It probably was. Hekka talks a lot of crazy talk. But then he said everybody knows it's not a place, it's a time, and that kind of made me wonder, if that's the only problem Broken John thought of with the idea.
I never got to see that kind of a place. The farthest out I ever went was just a little past where you could see the lights of the highway. One of those little patches of forest with a river running through it, you know? The farmers say they leave them because of preventing erosion, but Hekka told me, "Yeah, leave them because too scared to deal with what would come out of the ground if you disturbed the tree roots holding it down!" I don't know what she meant by that.
This time I mean, I stopped at the nearest point the road would take me, got out of the car and went on into the woods on foot. I didn't look too close for signs in the fields about poison spraying or whatever; probably nothing like that at this time of year anyway and they wouldn't put anything in the woods. It wasn't a very big stand of trees but it was kind of in a little valley because of the river, so you could stand on the ground and look and see just trees and pretend the land wasn't all flat and there weren't all those straight lines, just out of sight.
Still the wrong kind of trees, though. Broken John asked me what I meant by that and I told him, okay, you're from around here originally ("Originally?" asked Hekka, but I let it pass) and I'm not; I'm from out West where the trees go all the way up to the sky and there's no beginning to the flatland and you fall in the ocean and get eaten by whales if you walk too far in any direction. And Broken John laughed and said he'd like to go there and see it for himself some time. Anyway, it was the wrong kind of trees. These ones only go about a third of the way up to the sky.
I walked along the river for a bit and it probably shouldn't have surprised me that it was a lot longer than it had looked from outside and the trees even though they were these wimpy little deciduous ones with most of the leaves fallen off already, the trees were pressing in pretty close and then the river widened out to a pool because those engineers had gone and built a concrete dam across it. In a perfect straight line.
Hekka wanted to find flat stones to skip across the water, but there weren't any and I never could learn to do it right. I tried anyway just to please her. Broken John said I threw like a girl, and she got all huffy and said "Hey, what's wrong with that?" but they didn't stay mad at each other very long. They get along pretty well, I've noticed, as long as I'm careful not to get in between them.
Next to the dam we saw a little concrete hut with a hole for a window and it only took a couple seconds with the bolt cutters to get through the cheap padlock on the wooden door. Inside was bare and not really any less cold than outside, but I squeezed in and leant against the wall and looked out the hole at the dam, and it was a comfortable place all the same.
Broken John said he would fix it up and live there if only he had the money, and Hekka said "Yeah, ought to call you Broke John, you always wanting the money." He got very offended then, or as much as he ever gets, and he started to tell the story about how he got his limp, again, not like we hadn't heard it all before.
Broken John's story is that years ago before he met me or Hekka he'd been, well, let's say he'd been a very bad man, and part of the thing of being a very bad man of the specific kind he was, was that sometimes he had to deliver packages from one city to another on very short notice. He had a muscle car with badly-done fiberglass patches all over its body which he told girls were from bullet holes even though really most of them were from rust, because in those days they salted the roads even more than they do now, if that's possible.
So it was a gibbous moon like tonight and he'd been driving fast on an empty highway, Eastbound, with a package on the passenger seat beside him. He had his headlights turned off, and Hekka interjected "Yeah, those days when car headlights really would turn all the way off" and he twisted up his mouth and said yes of course those days. At some point on the highway which he probably could have figured out from the odometer, but he didn't, he saw flashing lights up ahead and figured, shit, it's the cops, maybe an accident or something. He slowed down a bit and thought seriously about turning on his own lights.
But as he got closer he saw that it wasn't the cops, the lights were red and yellow and flashing irregularly, and then they were zooming past on the other side of the median Westbound and he didn't get a close look but he wasn't even sure they were vehicles at all.
No wheels, he said. I wasn't watching carefully, I've got to say I wasn't watching carefully, but I did kind of glance over there and I'd have to swear that it looked like just big rectangular blobs of light floating along the road. They moved just like cars and trucks and they had headlights and taillights like cars and trucks, but they also had the red and yellow on top.
The procession seemed to go on and on. Just when he thought it was over, he drove for another minute or two and then suddenly without warning they were back, on his side of the divided highway, passing him, Eastbound. And then he really did get scared because they weren't reflecting in his rear-view mirror. He could look over his shoulder and see them, and he sure saw them as they zoomed past him into the distance - and remember he was already driving flat-out in a fast car, so they were going faster than any car - but in the mirror it looked like Broken John, who was just John back then, was the only thing on the road.
He pressed down as hard on the pedal as he'd ever done, trying to outrun the lights or just anyway do something because he felt like there wasn't anything else he could do, and the metal heated up and burned him right through the soles of his crummy city-slicker shoes. "Hey, is that how you got your limp?" asked Hekka, but it wasn't. He got the limp from what the other bad men did to him after he ran out of gas later that night and failed to deliver the package on time.
That was the story that Broken John told in the little concrete hut there by the dam, and it wasn't a good story and I'd heard it before, but it helped to pass the time, I guess. There were some things in there on the wall that looked like electrical controls, and I was playing with them while he told the story. I twisted one knob around so far that it unscrewed and fell off, and I said it was time to leave because we'd broken too much stuff there already, but Hekka said, "No, we haven't broken enough!" and for once, Broken John agreed with her.