Roads Ends in Water
An unmarked strip of pavement diverges from the main road and between the angle formed there leans an abused signpost which once bore a name. All that stands along this strip is an overgrown craftsman, its asphalt shingles green with life and stone foundation long displaced by deeper roots. A lone cairn marks where a gravel driveway disappears into the underbrush, lending insight into the origins of the jagged metal forms reaching out between the foliage, disfigured by decades of rainfall turned to rust.
The pavement banks sharp when followed past a modest colonial revival, its porch littered with colorful plastics and occupied by a plump domestic short-hair, then holds straight between a set of decidedly midcentury structures. Dominating here is a low-lying longhall with bricked-over windows, sitting fronted by an empty and unkempt tarmac lot, its adjacent lawn freshly trimmed aside from tall weeds sprouting around a long-decaying backstop. Three ranches crowding across the strip glow from within, curtains drawn, broad concrete driveways stained grey.
Beyond the last homestead the unmarked path continues on to be enveloped in a looming, living tunnel of ebbing and swelling green. Old growth timber stands upon embankments on either side of the asphalt, swaying and creaking at the behest of the breeze. Twisted among the trunks on one side are the remnants of a long-breached steel wire fence while opposite drops a steep gully only blocked by low branches. Below meanders the lackadaisical river through the woodland it has always nourished.
It is quiet here in the sense of urbanity. Silently does the sunbleached pavement wind onwards, but it is reflective to sound, channeling into echoes an endless woodsong. The singing of birds streams high above the rest, twittering and looping, though an occasional rustling of dry leaves on the roadside breaks the intermingling calls. Distant foxes interject barks as they will and the warble of an errant tree frog marks its presence sourcelessly. The cacophony is underpinned throughout by the roar of uncountable leaves in a forest wind and the whimper of water trickling along a limestone cascade.
Following the road as it softly bends through the woods reveals a broad clearing just beyond the fenced embankment, grasses shining golden under open sunlight. An earthen ramp climbs over the embankment to a near spread of level ground, a rectangular slab of broken concrete half-covered in bare, dry dirt. Red cast bricks numbering some dozens lay piled at an end of the ruined slab, disappearing into the surrounding wild growth. One waxed cardboard box, printed in bright colors, rocks with the gusts of wind in its place sideways beside the bricks.
Further along the river pulls away from the road, going deep and unseen within the forest, leaving its counterpart to another course. While each embankment retains its gnarl of timber the greater
woodland follows its river, the retreating treeline now forming the distant border of an open field dense with immature maize. Tall, brilliant green stalks, counting upwards of thousands, each gently agitated by the wind, stretch far from either side of the path here. Another slab of concrete, raised from the surrounding mud but obscured by uncut wild grasses, lays between one field and the embankment, a patch of gravel beside it thoroughly stained by blackened motor oil.
Interlocking geometric patterns of freshly deposited mud are present on pavement ahead, the only markings on the road thus far, overlapping along the edge where there is an opening between the trees. Prominent at the near border of one field stands parked a grand, white, eight-wheeled Traction King. Streaks of rust mar the immense machine and moreso its mounted spraying implement, both caked in dry dust and recently drawn soil. Silent and still, the Traction King rests unmoved by the breeze, angled so its angular nose points out across the crop it annually aids in sowing.
A clearing rises above the embankment further along the path, encircled by a living wall of overgrowth, high enough to overlook the opposing field. There is gravel here, spread loosely about the space as well as packed into the ground. Central in the powdery limestone is a roughly square depression of some size, criss-crossed by innumerable tire tracks. Some cinder blocks sit stacked at one edge of the clearing, retaining a rotten cord of firewood.
Two indigo buntings, both males, flutter to land on the pavement ahead. They peer at each other,
twitching and hopping, then again take flight as a cardinal swoops past fast and low. Sharp chirps and squawks follow from between the timbers all around, hurried and pointed.
Dense are the woods here, the river bending close to the sunlit strip of fractured asphalt again. The road is the brightest element of the scene, cutting its stationary way through shaded forest, unabsorbent of the filtered sunlight falling upon it from between the leaves overhead. Intangible rises a specter from the rough pavement, the invisible light and suspended air mingling, making the road ahead dance.
On either side of the road there are breaks in the embankments, one ascending and one descending.
Following high, again another clearing enclosed by timber, littered all about with spent red plastic
shotshells, its far quarter sectioned off by hewn stones arranged rectangularly. Within the rectangle are twenty or so black plastic sacks, swollen and misshapen, some torn and spilling their contents; a pair of ruined boxspring mattresses, one folded so its springs pierced its skin; and the articulated form of a white-tailed buck which has lain in-place for some time, remnants of its pelt still clinging to its sundried frame.
Following low, a path diverges beyond a rust-ruined chain blockade, asphalt barely visible in two tracks beneath a thick layer of mud, winding deep into the shaded overgrowth. Twisted in vines and footed in tall grass stands bent an entirely oxidized signpost, held together less by its bolts and more by decay, some flakes of yellow paint clinging to its stamped head where once a name was visible. Aluminum cans sit piled in the tall grass around the signpost, shining harsh, and mark their own path down the overgrown road, further cans joined by red, yellow, and blue shotshells all along the way, colorful and scattered like wildflowers first blooming.
Here the sunbleached road climbs, a modest hill rises above the surrounding farmland and forest,
allowing a great view to the distant horizon. An ocean of green, throbbing waves encouraged by the breeze, millions of leaves flowing in unison beneath crystal blue sky. Upon this sea floats only a buoy in the form of a metal lattice tower with an aviation beacon blinking atop, alone but steadfast in its place, perhaps further from the hill than the clouds.
A broadly trunked deciduous stands separated from the treeline at the far bottom of the hill. This tree wears a chain that stretches across a gravel path which distances it from its fellows to be fixed to a minute obelisk of mossy wood. Beyond the tree and chain spreads an immense field, revealing the river at some distance, bisected by the dusty gravel. This field grows only scrubgrass and hardy wildflowers, swaying in the wind, its only claims to a crop being a few dessicated gourds withering at random.
Where the gravel path slopes upwards at the opposite edge of its field stands a barn, overlooking the broad spread below. The tin-roofed structure is grey with age and many of its timber slats have fallen from their place. It leans with a moan as the breeze turns to gust, entire frame shifting, then returns to its rest. Nearby grows a young cluster of foliage, rising around the splintered beams and brick base of a folk victorian, half of one front wall standing dilapidated with a hollow window frame and suggestions of a shingle roof splayed on the bare foundation.
A black racer unhurriedly emerges from the field to slither over the pavement, destined for the opposing treeline, pausing briefly to flicker its tongue in the wind before slipping away.
The road continues on, now without embankments, straight through encroaching foliage until it reaches a simple wooden bridge. This bridge crosses a craggy limestone creekbed where only a trickle of water runs, sunbleached and dry for some time. Following across, the unmarked path veers along a tooled rockface which thick roots of the old growth above sprout from, then veers again to lead unabated into a field unseen beneath omnipresent sawgrass growing under open sky.
A square roadsign, half-obscured by the sawgrass it leans out from, riddled with punctures revealing its base metal, displays a plain message in black text on yellow.
Road Ends In Water
Its unmarked pavement, broken and crumbling, disappears beneath the brown-hued slackwater which the river has become here. Where the water gently laps at the asphalt it takes on a freshly-poured dark grey, blending unevenly with its sunbleached paleness.
Though murky beneath the stagnant surface, soil hanging suspended in sunlight, the road continues. Shapes loom out from the aquatic atmosphere, largemouth bass and bluegills moving without struggle despite the muck, and crawdads searching among the silt deposited upon the asphalt.
There is little sound here though it is far from quiet. The water itself has an endless drone and from unseen sources comes banging, blooping, and growling. As do the surroundings, the sounds blend into one.
The road descends, sunlight waning with depth. Plastics, wood, and metal collect among the silt of the riverbed. Stumps and branchless trunks emerge from the dirt, broken and scoured. An aluminum jonboat, outboard still mounted, lays upside-down on the oxidized hulk of a Farmall. There is a pitted instant-film Land Camera caught in a tangled fishing net hanging from what was once a telegraph pole, all green with algae.
In the mire ahead stands a capless concrete block grain silo. Waving webs of algae cling to the
submerged structure's walls and mussels anchor themselves to the seams between its blocks. Small fish peck at it from all angles. One towing wagon, constituted by a pick-up truck bed with an axle and wooden slats, wheelless, lays beside the tower.
Five mailboxes stand to one side of the road. Opposite all but one is a plain cape cod, each of a slightly different design, every in some state of ruin. Nothing but silt and placeless plastics rest within the dark interiors. The fifth plot is occupied by the crushed remains of another structure and a ruptured pontoon cruiser atop them.
The pavement further winds along the slackwater floor, soon passing into a leafless wood. Fish swim about where birds once fluttered above, all navigating the same timbers some years apart. Here the silt builds up, piling over any stumps or logs which may lay on the forest floor, and now obscures even the unmarked and broken road.
Shattered treetops emerge from the silt, what few branches on them hang low. Old and fresh cuts mark the barkless trees where they reach closest to the surface. Fishing lures, lines, and bobbers float like ornaments and garland where they have been caught on the saturated timbers, offering the most colorful display beneath the slackwater surface.
Beyond the dismembered forest drops the ground, an aquatic gully, steep of sides and flat of bottom. Rising atop the far slope stands a broad pillar of poured concrete, its form endless in the water, disappearing into shifting silt below and shimmering sky above.
As the pour of concrete climbs it grows brighter, the sun captured in its composites as with the road. Ascending from the still slackwater into open air, the pillar continues skyward despite the streaks of countless raindrops staining its sides, shining dull but sure amid endlessly changing reflections below.
The ocean of green spreads all around the pillar, ebbing and roaring with the wind, alive and glowing under crystal blue. Where the canopy hangs over the slackwater it is mirrored murky, brown and rippling, a vision broken only by the occasional breaching of fish.
At its top the sunbleached concrete pour bears an epitaph, unassuming and sober in dark block
WILLIAM H. HARSHA
Overlooking the impounded river, all still in the breeze, here stands this pillar. Full of machinery, it is an empty tomb, an opaque memorial to an esoteric history, and the lone reminder of where once went those roads which end in water.
Alex Garrett -University of Cincinnati Clermont. Freshman
I started writing when I was very young, inspired by The Reverend W. Awdry's Railway Series as a child. Writing has been a constant element of my life since then, it is the chief expression of my creativity and a helpful tool for communicating clearly in daily life. I'm currently pursuing an English major of some sort at UC Clermont, hopeful to make my writing something more than a hobby, but overall just very interested in learning and experiencing the incredible madness that is the university experience.