This is a story I had wanted to write since I was an ABM student at Tyndall in 2011. I got the original idea while driving to Alabama with my sister. We were supposed to stop at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas for the night, but were lost in the back roads behind the flightline. The roads we were on were in a slightly wooded area, and the sun had already set long before. We decided as we looked for directions to quickly dim the lights of the car to see how dark it really was. And holy shit was it dark there. I re-visited the same experiment on Tram Road, which is next to the Waterstone Apartment complex on Highway 98 in Panama City, where I lived for a year while stationed at Tyndall. The road is winding next to a dank stream, and yes I did turn my lights off while driving. I was not drunk or otherwise impaired at the time, just somewhat foolish.
I want to point out that this story is not meant to be an indictment of drinking, or is it meant to demonize the traditions of old. Squadron bars are an age old tradition, and while I have mixed feelings on traditions, I can say that I have fond memories of the squadron bar, and am sad to see them fading away. The use of alcohol in this story is intended to highlight hubris and immaturity, which are the levelers of great people. That is again not to say that I have a negative outlook on the fighter community either; I have a great respect for fighter pilots and pilots of all kinds. I used the stereotype of the bulletproof fighter pilot to accentuate the character’s flaws and make them more organic to the setting.
That being said, I want to dedicate this story to the officers and enlisted men and women of the military who have retrained or separated due to their difficulties in technical school. While we lose plenty of people to dickish behavior and downright stupidity, many do their best and still fail, and I want the message of this story to be a ray of hope to you as you pursue other endeavors that benefit you in the future. Keep your chin up and aim high motherfukcer!
I’ve always been keen to explore. Every place I have been has been an invitation to seek out new experiences or adventures beyond my current experience. Although, after that one night… I must say my desire to seek out the new has been suppressed by a desire to avoid the unexplained.
I’m not one to be easily frightened. I spent, at that time, around two years in the military. I was a fighter pilot, freshly blessed with the gift of the F-22 Raptor, and staying at Tyndall Air Force Base for training. Before that, flight training at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix and Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. In that time, and even before, I made it a point to travel. Every summer, as I was able, I would venture from my home as far as I could, and to as strange and mysterious a place as I could imagine. The alien amused me, in a way. For instance, my trip to Seoul was done alone, with only the scarcest of linguistic skills to protect me from a literally foreign experience. Yet, nothing about this frightened me, as I enjoyed the challenge of meeting new people, seeing new things, and seeking forbidden knowledge.
I say forbidden knowledge because it always seemed to me, especially in the modern social climate, that experiencing foreign culture was a taboo. To desire to experience the obscure or exotic -in my experience- led some to think that I was an intruder, a person bent on invading a foreign culture and polluting it with my influence. Some would shudder to think that no thing would be of pure origin if people like me would spend their time observing their phenomena in the field. I cannot accept that. The world is mine to observe and experience. I am postured to take in everything, and it would be a stark abuse of my privilege to fail to partake in every treat the world offered to me.
At least, I used to think that way.
The reason this particular experience struck me so was due to the sheer…unexpectedness of it. To this day I cannot explain what I saw, or what I felt, but I can say that I did…something. It escapes me, and words…even emotions fail me. I never spoke of my experience to anyone before save a select few, nor would I do so under conditions other than absolute anonymity. Some may discover who I am, as I am still here at Tyndall far past my anticipated graduation date, but I won’t say any more than that.
As I said before, I moved to Panama City to become among the best fighter pilots in the world. I was told I would be untouchable. That I would bring judgment from on high to our enemies, and oh how I believed it. Oh how I absorbed that imagery. I was St Michael. I was a ghost and a reaper. I’d yet to do anything of significance, and yet in my mind I was a hero. Bravery was an emulation of me, in my young mind, and fear was a fairy tale we laughed about over drinks. I was determined to be THE fighter pilot. I was the last of the breed. I was the victor of the war. I was a real shaved dog’s ass.
I had come home one day after training. I had soloed in the Raptor for the first time, and my spirits were higher than I could recall. Despite my apprehension, I can so clearly recall that feeling. The speed, the altitude, the adrenaline pumping through my veins. At that moment the feelings of power and sheer universal agency that I had only been told in stories over warm beers had become a shivering reality. As I gripped the stick, I felt rigid power. I keyed the mic with absolute authority and spoke with a prophet’s conviction. I raged through the airspace, and for those few hours aloft, I was beyond touching the face of God. For a few hours, I was a god.
We returned to the squadron bar after the flight and a quick debrief. My IP poured me a beer and said that I crushed it. The smile on his face lit up the dreary bar as he walked me through all the things I did right. In retrospect, there may have been criticisms mixed in, but for the life of me, I couldn’t hear them. My pride had consumed me in that moment and I was deaf to all but praise. I can still feel the ache from smiling so much. I can feel the nausea from one too many beers. I can feel the shoulder slaps from my classmates as we retail each other with our time in the air. We conquered the skies, and it seemed like no earthly force could ever separate us from each other or our goals.
I staggered back into my apartment off of Tram Road late that Friday night. Conventional wisdom would have forbidden me to drive that night, but my newfound sense of invincibility convinced me otherwise. I sat in my living room, heart pounding from what could have been the thrill of the flight or the knowledge that I risked both life and career in my trek home. My apotheosis was almost complete, I was nearly immortal. The only thing that could secure my place among the pantheon of gods and fighter pilots was a certificate and orders to my operational squadron. A simple certificate signed by my squadron commander would set me amongst the stars. Every bar I visited would have a patch of my name and my silvery wings emblazoned upon them. I would hang for eternity among my forebears, and would be spoken of as a legend by those who came after.
I poured myself a shot of Weed and sat on my computer. I downed several of the rancid-sweet drinks in quick succession, and treated myself to the forbidden fruits of the Internet. My dazed mind took me to far-off places, half aloft in the clouds and half present with the vision before me. I remember so little before what came after; I only know what I did, and the blur and fog that accompanied it.
After my treat I spent some time skulking around the apartment. I had no clear vision of what I was doing or why, but for about an hour I simply…was. My vision cleared somewhat, and I found myself starving for something else hazardous for my health. I was hungry, and nothing in my house full of food designed to fuel my body would suffice. I wanted something greasy, dangerous, and foul. I wanted edible violence. In one of the most ignorant decisions of my life thus far, I searched for my car keys, and stepped out the door.
I had deftly avoided local law enforcement and other drivers in the early morning hours as I trekked my way to a local fast food joint I knew would sling a burger at me at any hour. I indulged myself in an oily dinner of fried chicken nuggets, a burger, and a chocolate milk shake. I knew, deep in my mind, that those things would only bring me heartache and possibly attack in the near future, but in my current state of disengagement with reality and sense, I could not care less. Every drip of hot oil and crunch of fried batter imitated the trill of my previous day, and echoed in the danger of my reckless endeavor. I was thoroughly indulged, there is no other word to describe my excess… my recklessness. I wanted all of the danger, I wanted all of the risk. I wanted to demonstrate my god hood to the world. I wanted to exceed death.
I laughed to myself as I gored in my car. As I closed in on my apartment complex, I focused less on maintaining my straight trajectory and began to swerve. I pulled into the drive next to my building and paused at the side gate. I parked there for a few minutes, contemplating how the night was not over, or rather how it could not be if I so chose. I said that it would continue, and lo-it was.
I said before how I was an adventurous spirit. I had noticed for the several months I was at Tyndall the dirt road that ran alongside my building. Florida is spotted with swamps and streams, and plenty of dirt roads barely marked on the map. I realized that I had never taken the time to explore this road before. My high-beams illuminated another path to discovery and fresh experience, waiting to be taken in by me. I slumped over the wheel and began to turn into the dirt road.
The feel of the loose dirt on my tires was exhilarating. The dirt road was lined with trees on either side, with what appeared to be a stream on my right. I sped along in pure ecstasy. I invincibility was the ultimate source of joy and pleasure in my life right at that precise moment. I wanted something new, something that would faze me. I wanted a challenge.
At the end of the dirt road was an intersection. The far side of the intersection had private entrances to whatever type of properties these well-off breed of swamp folk were in possession of. I had spent maybe a minute or two driving down this road before being barred by a fence. Had I a more substantial vehicle, I may have broken through the fence and explored what danger lied beyond. But because I could not overcome that obstacle, I retreated in search of a new challenge.
It struck me, as I was driving back down the long road, how dark the night was around me. The moon was a faint sliver of light in the sky, and the trees barred the light of what stars were visible from glowing this far down on earth. I could not help but wonder how dark it really was. I stared at my headlights, shining brilliantly in the night, making the road ahead of me clear as day. I considered the field of view as my radar picture. For a split second I was in the sky again, scanning my scope for threats. I was an eagle. I observed carefully and in a split second, the radar was hit with electronic interference.
I killed the headlights.
For a split second, all was dark. I had never seen such brilliant darkness in my life. It was different from the dark of a bedroom, or even of a field at midnight. The motion of the car and the sheer blackness of the world in front of me was blinding and terrifying in its majesty. I recalled what I had seen before, tracking the picture in my head. I watched the GPS on my dash to predict the turns in my mind. My heart raced and I was a god again and again. No fear could consume me, it fueled me. No danger could dissuade me, it called my name out loud. And had I not looked up from my dash at that split second of euphoria, I would have never seen the figure crossing the dirt road before me.
I slammed on the breaks so hard I could feel the rocks tear in to the rubber of my tires and plink against my undercarriage. My thrills turned to sheer terror as I swerved to avoid the figure, possibly in favor of the creek that lined the road. I swerved and turned and drifted along the road to a stop, when I killed my engine and panted violently in my seat. I remember sweating and shivering as I thought of the consequences of my actions. At that time, I had killed a man. I was a murderer. I was frozen in fear at the thought of what would happen to me. My god hood was stripped from me. I was brought low by my hubris. I had fallen hard and would soon rest at the bottom of a pit of ice. I was dead.
My mind skidded from the plight of my career to the safety of the person I seemed to hit, or almost hit. What should I do? I contemplated leaving the car to face an either very angry or very dead pedestrian in the middle of the dark road. I worried that I would be found dead myself the following morning, or maybe even later; slain by a gunshot wound by some hick, or stabbed or beaten in a fit of rage. I contemplated running, but upon a quick scan of the surrounding environment, I realized that there was no one to be found. My taillights shone a dim red glow behind me while my high-beams, now wisely turned on, gleamed in front. My heart subsided somewhat as the fear that I had killed an old man on a midnight stroll gave way to a wash of relief as I contemplated the absurdity of such a thing. No one would walk so late in such a wild place. The only built up area is at least a mile down the road: an old veteran’s cemetery next to my apartment complex, where I imagined I would be safe and sound the next day. I would wash my hands of this event, sobered by the near brush with fatality and a newfound investment in temperance, I swore at that time I would never drive drunk again, and would do everything in my power to prevent becoming drunk enough to forget I had made such a promise. That sigh of relief was among the sweetest feelings I had felt in many a year. Not a thrilling rush of adrenaline, or a surge of pride from achieving a long-held goal – this was a feeling of true relief…true absolution.
At this point, my car engine was turned off. There was just enough light emitting from the cab that I could see the dense fog that blanketed Tram Road. I was sat heavily in my seat, still reeling but relieved that I had neither killed nor endangered anyone but myself, and that I had succeeded in doing no damage. As I leaned my head wearily to the left, I gazed briefly in my side mirror. To this day, I’ll never be able to confirm it, and I struggle to speak of it. My eyes widened at the sight: a slim figure in the mist behind me. I felt adrenaline shoot through my veins, tightening my stomach in a nauseating fit of heat and fear. I sat frozen in my seat as the figure stood motionless in the night. It didn’t seem to call out, as I would have heard a loud voice from within the cab, nor did he approach or retreat. He was shrouded in mist, lanky and tall, but distant, despite being no more than what I estimated to be 50 feet behind me. I observed him through the mirror with a dreadful focus. I tried to steel my resolve in the face of potential conflict, but something about the placid way he stood there made me sense weeping in my heart. I felt loose, as if I were to come apart at the seams. My hands weakly gripped the steering wheel, the only tense part of my body my irises as they strained to focus in on the stranger behind me.
I swallowed the wad of fear welling in my throat and made the choice, at great pain and protest from my instincts, to attempt to speak to the person behind me. His odd behavior was cause for alarm, although he could be just as shocked as I to have survived a near fatal car accident. I rolled down my window and stuck my head out in to the night. The air was moist and warm, but with an underlying chill from the night. A meek breeze forced the mist to waft across the dirt. I shouted to the man behind me, asking if he was alright. He stood motionless. Again, I addressed the apparition, asking if he needed help, or was going to be ok. Nothing.
From my vantage point twisted out of the window, I could barely make out the details of his person. He seemed to be wearing overalls, although I couldn’t see his legs under the fog. My memory tells me that he was fading in to the mist, but my better sense of reason denies that. This was a man, not a spirit. This was a flesh and blood person standing in the wilderness in the early morning, wandering about and making mayhem for passing drivers. My concern turned to irritation, which quickly turned to rage as I demanded the figure say something, anything, to affirm that he was not going to contact the police, or that he did not need medical assistance. I know, in my heart, that I demanded that such an inferior being speak when I spoke to it, and I am humbled by my folly in hindsight. My rage, my drunkenness, and my hubris consumed me, and I was being punished for it, it seemed.
The damp breeze grazed the top of my short hair as I stuck my head out. After maintaining what seemed like an aeon of eye contact with the figure, I concluded that it was some vagrant person, maybe a ward of the state escaped, or some prankster making fun of a passing city person. I retracted my head into the car, convinced that I was safe from any attack, as it would take the person longer to reach my car at a full sprint than it would for me to turn the engine and run. This revelation of confidence put a smile on my face, and I began to turn the key as I looked to my right.
I will never forget the feeling I had at that moment. No amount of liquor or any drug on earth could have resisted the sobering effect of what I saw. Pressed against the window of my passenger window, was a face. But not a face illuminated by the interior lighting, nor by the dim light of the waning moon. I saw, as I tensed my body to turn the car, the impression of a face as condensation on the glass. It was not a physical presence, it was not anything of this corporeal world. I tried to shout, but I only gasped sharply in terror. The engine cranked once as I turned the key.
A dim imprint of a hand dragged its fingers down the warm glass. The engine growled a second time.
I stared at the wheel and the steering column as time slowed to an impossible halt. I felt as if I could not move, but the world around me rushed in a flurry of wind and fog. I stared intently at the key in the ignition as the final crank roared the engine to life. As I undid the parking brake, I could feel a cold chill on my left. There was something, not even the visage of a person, but the presence of the mere idea of a human form, grasping at the rolled down window. I shudder to this day to think, that I had stared so long out the window, and at the passenger side, that I did not notice the open window next to me. I did not look to my left, an occupational habit, and I could feel ice creep on my skin as the temperature plummeted in my heart. Time still slogged in my perception as the world pressed in on me. I could feel eyes, the presence of a watcher, I could feel a whisper, something dreadful in my ear. I could not see the faint figure who drew my attention earlier. I had no clue where anything was and… and I cannot bear to consider it further. I know I made it home, and I know I did not sleep all weekend. I know I kept all the lights on in the small apartment, and I dared not blink for fear of falling asleep and waking in the presence of those wraiths.
I was late to the squadron Monday morning. My face was dry and cut up from hastily shaving. I had not showered since Saturday morning; the fear of closing my eyes only to open them to the unknown was too much for me. My eyes were bloodshot and crusted. I was weak and inattentive. I could barely focus on driving, as every turn and every stop reminded me of what I had seen. Nothing in my mind was vivid save for the sight of that strange person lingering in the mist. I could see nothing but that face to my left, and the oppressive sight of an invisible stranger to my exposed left. I kept to myself amidst the judgmental gaze of my peers. Every blink shed a tear, only to dry and crust in the corner of my eyes as I attempted to listen to the instructor. I know I was called out of the room and sent to speak to the flight commander. He interrogated me to no end, but I could not bear to tell him what I thought I saw. I could not explain to him how afraid I was. What kind of fighter pilot loses sight of a bogey? What kind of fighter pilot lets a bogey so close to him in a moment of vulnerability? I could not say; I would sooner lose my assignment for not disclosing the source of my misery than to a mental health diagnosis. I was not crazy, but for all he or anyone else here knew, I was beyond help.
I was immediately sent for urinalysis. I sat dozing off in the drug testing clinic lazily drinking sips of purified water. Every blink became a quick dream, an experience between consciousness and fantasy in the twilight of reality. I could feel the sleep creep like a hand from the back of my skull, shaking me from within. I shuddered constantly as I fought off the sleep. There was no escape. There was no freedom from this pain. I fainted while urinating, much to the amusement of my monitor, and to the ire of the clinic manager, as I had to stay and drink more water while I waited for the urge to strike me again. I left the clinic in embarrassment, and I will never forget the feeling of shame that I incurred that day.
When I returned to the squadron, I was instructed to see the commander. This was unusual, as any disciplinary action was typically taken at the lowest level, usually the flight commander with the concurrence of the director of operations. The commander invited me in, and I sat drearily in the seat across from him. He asked me, begged me even, to tell him what was wrong. I told the best cross between a lie and the truth as I could, stating that I was hit with a sudden bout of insomnia, and I could not figure out why. I was told to return to academics and participate to the best of my ability, and at the pleasure of my instructors. I was to report to sick call the following morning to be evaluated for insomnia and any other pressing medical issues.
I was fortunate that I was able to recall in my daze the services available to me. I walked to the chapel during lunch to speak with a chaplain. I had never felt the need to see a clergyman before, nor had I ever considered their services to be for people like me, or people like I used to be. In my most humble moment, I was invited to the chaplain’s office and offered a seat. I told him what I had done, confirming the anonymity that was promised by his service. I told him of the party, of the drunk driving, and of the incident on Tram Road. I told him what I saw, what I thought I saw. I told him of the grim face and the icy hands and the empty gaze. I had not cried in years as openly as I did there. I bit my finger and tried to suck back the tears to no avail. I had never been this afraid before, and I could not for the life of me tell you of what. I looked up expecting the cynicism and ridicule I anticipated from my leadership, only to be confronted with a gaze of warmth and concern the likes of which I had never experienced before. The weeping feeling I had felt in my heart on the road broke like a shard of ice into a torrent of tears and weeping. He walked to my chair and placed his hand on my shoulder. Holding me there, he recited a prayer. I turned and grasped him as hard as I could, crying and fearing for my life and my mind and my soul. “Please” I begged him, “Please don’t make me go home”.
I spent the night in the inn on base. While restless, I was able to get some semblance of sleep, although I was plagued by nightmares. These were not the frightening kind of witches or demons chasing you, nor the often comic scenarios of public nudity. It was a feeling of… outsided-ness, a feeling of being something else, or someone else. I could not feel anything but cold and distance, like an echo in time. I did not see the faces or the figures, but I could feel the gaze watching me. Its cold judgement was kept at bay by what my subconscious could conjure of the chaplain’s prayer and his loving embrace. What comfort I could dream of kept me warm and safe for the duration of the long night. And when I awoke early the next day, I felt a sigh of relief.
My medical examination the next day showed nothing out of the ordinary save for some fatigue. My vitals were pristine, and my energy had started to return to me. The bags under my eyes were proof that some catastrophe had kept me awake for days, but my demeanor and uneasy good humor gave them little cause to send me to mental health or any other evaluation. I was given a week of Duty Not Involving Flying and sent back to the squadron. This would set me back some, but I felt a sigh of relief as I knew I would be ok. I began to disregard the experience as a nightmare, some horrible dream that seemed more real than it should have. I filled a prescription for sleep aids to help me through the next few days, and was given time to study and prepare for my next live flight.
Back at the squadron, my classmates ran the typical jests and prods that characterize fighter pilots. They asked what kept me up, or more specifically, what her name was. Some asked what his name was, an others just commended my achievements in drinking, in a characteristically sarcastic tone. I laughed them off and told them that I had simply gotten sick, and that I could not sleep because I was too nauseous and dizzy. But it had passed, and I’d be back to my old self slaying dragons in no time. They all let out a hearty laugh, and I hoped to God my lie would be forgiven.
Friday night roll call was a loud and rowdy as ever. I checked in as present and brought a bottle of Makers as atonement for my sins the past week. This was not enough to ward off the raucous laughter of the squadron, as nearly everyone present shouted out a potential callsign for me. All night I heard them: “God Bless ‘Drowzee’,” “God Bless ‘Morpheus’,” “God Bless ‘Bags’”. The president of the roll call, our weapons officer, slammed the gavel down for each one. In my newly energized state, I demanded to drink them off. The president rolled his eyes as my classmates handed me a bevy of 30 MM shells filled to the brim with Jeremiah Weed, and I pounded each and every one of them, casting the brass to the ground with such fervor it would seem we were receiving close air support. I slunk back in my seat in a daze, as the gavel fell and my callsign for the remainder of my time at Tyndall stuck, a veiled allusion to my zombie-like state the previous few days.
God Bless “Romero”.
I spent several hours at the bar, some of them vomiting violently in the latrine. I had made it a point to disappear from sight. I felt compelled, driven in fact, to preserve the image of myself as an independent fighter. I made the decision that haunts me to this day, and I picked up my keys and drove home.
I made it home after midnight. I sleepily pulled the car into a distant parking spot away from my apartment. As I shut off the engine, I took a deep breath, partly of relief that the week was over, and that I could continue my life. I walked up the stairs to my unit and entered the apartment. The rooms were in a disheveled state from a week of neglect, but I happily picked up what I could and soon had several trash bags full.
I stepped out of the apartment and walked over to the dumpsters. My stride slowed as I looked off to my left: the side gate of the apartment complex, the one that opened up on to Tram Road, was located there. The road was still paved at that place, but the dead end of the stream and the creeping trees stood swaying in the breeze yards away from where I slept. I strode forward to the dumpster, paying no mind to the road. The garbage bags slammed into the dumpster with a metallic crash, and I began to walk back to my building. My eyes caught the gate, one of those striped arms that you see in parking garages, raise up to allow a vehicle in the lot. I had always been shocked at that gate, because the main gate tried so hard to create a sense of security, only to have it dashed by a wooden slat. I spied the opening gate, only to realize that no car had entered. Maybe someone had hit their key and it went off, or maybe a malfunction had caused it to raise. I considered informing the manager the following day, but for now I was ready for bed.
It was in that instant, that fateful instant that my eyes were frozen. I saw it there: that figure! It was standing at the edge of the street on the pavement. I felt the warmth flood from my body to my feet. I felt my stomach squeeze adrenaline into my system. I…I felt a warm pool of urine cool in my pants, and my stomach weaken shortly after. This time, I was able to let out a scream. I shouted at the top of my lungs, and for no reason! I was not in danger, at least not that I could see. I was simply taken by fear, taken by terror. I stumbled to the line of cars parked near the building. I stood back in terror as the warm breeze illuminated on the glass of the cars the prints of many hands, all of them as if clawing at the windows. Every car, every window I could see had handprints on them. I screamed again, and again. I remember waking up in a police station the next day; the last memory of that night was of a sharp tug on my ankle, and the sting of asphalt as I hit the pavement and was dragged under the nearest car.
My First Sergeant freed me from jail the next morning, and I was evicted the following week. I was put on probation from flying and eventually given a Flight Evaluation Board. The board determined that I was suffering from nerves due to a failure to adapt to the stress of flying. An appeal to have the determination considered a medical issue was overturned due to the reports of my insistence to drink and drive home. I saw the looks of contempt in the eyes of my fellow students and instructors as the policy came down from the group commander that drinking would be heavily regulated at squadron events. No hard alcohol could be consumed by students, and all military were limited to two drinks per night. I’ll never forget those punishing gazes, or the insults. Before leaving I found in my locker a name patch with 95th Fighter Squadron colors cut in several pieces. The name on the patch read “Romero”.
An Air Battle Manager student living on base agreed to have me as a roommate while I awaited my discharge. The wing commander had declined to recommend me for re-training, and I waited for around six months before I was formally dismissed under honorable conditions. I never again saw the apparitions I witnessed on Tram Road, and it has been only recently that I am able to talk about it openly. I do not have any doubt in my mind, at least not anymore, that what I saw was real and beyond my understanding. I can blame no one but myself for my behavior, but I curse that Tram Road. I curse that decaying swamp and the land that surrounded it. My I felt such a hatred for Panama City after that, and yet, I felt myself collapse weeping when I realized that I could never go home again. The shame was too much; I could never face my family, my friends, my old instructors or anyone after what I had experienced, and what fate I had earned. Up to the day I left I had no clue what I would do with my life afterward. I had no plans, no ideas…I decided I would simply drive and figure it out on the way.
Before leaving I spoke to the chaplain, as I had done many times in addition to my mental health treatment. We discussed my diagnosis: alcoholism and acute stress, but I insisted that it was something more. For a religious man, he did not seem to entertain the idea that ghosts walked Tram Road at night. I told him to see for himself, to go there and turn the lights out and wait. I begged him to search, and he would know that evil walked the land at night. I ceased my rant when I saw the tinge of disappointment in his eyes, a faint look of helplessness that I’m sure he had spent a great deal of time learning to suppress, only to be defeated by me. I could do nothing but thank him for his time when it my time had finally arrived. He knew I had no plan, and that I didn’t want one. He knew I wanted to wander, and I know he feared I wanted to die. Maybe deep in my mind, I thought I would wander Tram Road myself one day. Or maybe some other road deep in the heart of nothing. Some stretch of desert or winding forest path, I may walk. He could see in my eyes the obsession, and I could see in his the sense of hopelessness that I’m sure weighed heavily on his heart. I felt terrible for letting such a kind man down, someone who was so considerate and compassionate. But I had resolved to fade in to obscurity, and no amount of regret for my harming him would ever make me change my mind. It is my fatal flaw, and one that I feel I will never atone for.
Before I left, he handed me an envelope, to be opened when I finally leave. And when that day came, I sat in a pickup truck I had bought with my last remaining dollars and a trade-in, with all that amounted to my life piled in the bed. I turned my truck to the west, but before taking the long route out of Lynn Have, up towards Dothan, I opened the envelope. Inside was a small pendant of cross. It was simple metal, the kind you find in uniform stores among the novelty dog tags. I’m not a religious person, so this perplexed me. I pulled out a letter inside and read the following:
I’m not supposed to do this, but I don’t want you to go alone into the rest of your life. The decisions you have chosen to make are your own, and I can only hope that you can accept some help from a power greater than yourself into your heart. I cannot offer you forgiveness; that is for you to grant yourself. I know the Lord will forgive you and welcome you into his kingdom, but that is your invitation to write.
I do not know what you saw, or what mysteries lie in our world. I am giving you this pendant not to ward off the evil you think you saw, but to invite you to heal the wounds within. This will not save you from evil spirits, but it will provide as much protection and comfort as you allow it to. There is no special power within this cross, but there is special power within you. I pray that someday you will find a way not to redeem yourself, but to accept redemption when it finds you, and to be ready to truly and with great honesty forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made, and continue your journey in the spirit of love and grace.
May the blessing of God be with you.