“PRISON AREA: DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS,” A sign flashed past, The Convict laughed at that. He laughed into the unrelenting darkness. He laughed at the absurdity of what the world had become to him. An entity, not an object. A person, not a place.
Psychologically: The Convict was more free than some, more rich than many, and more disappointed than most.
Thirty minutes passed and a pallid face floated by, shining in his headlights. A young boy in oversized clothing, carrying a suitcase. He looked almost sick. The Convict pulled over, and the boy scrambled into the car as though he was being chased.
The Hitchhiker was a runaway, about 12 years old. He’d climbed through his bedroom window because he “just couldn’t take it anymore.” The Convict could sympathize with that.
It felt tranquil and surreal. There was rain playing a metallic symphony on the roof. The car’s wheel stuck to the white line like glue. They could only see five feet in front of them. Trees, like sleeping giants, loomed in the dark.
“I used to think that rain was like an all-encompassing embrace from Mother Nature herself.” The Convict said morosely.
“What do you think now, Sir?”
“A cry for help.”
“But the rain is what keeps the trees alive.”
“I’m not meaning in the literal sense. I’m meaning in the metaphorical sense. It’s unquestionably not an embrace. Mother Nature would never embrace us after what we have done.”
“What do you mean, Sir?”
“Don’t you know about the end of the world?”
The boy's eyes, like those of a doe in headlights, stared at The Convict in fear.
“What do you mean, Sir?” he repeated.
“The Earth is dying and it’s your fault. It’s everyone's fault.”
“Surely it’s not my fault, Sir. I’ve never done anything bad. Well...except running out as I have now,” The Hitchhiker said softly.
“They have brainwashed you. Just like they did to me, and a great majority of the public. I used to think I was innocent too,” he sneered.
“I haven’t done anything bad.”
The Convict didn’t say anything.
By morning The Hitchhiker had decided he wanted to go back home. He said he missed his mother. But that was just an excuse. He didn’t like The Convict all that much. He felt uncomfortable around him. Depressed by the way he talked. He seemed like a cruel man, who felt it his duty to drag everyone down into his pit of self-loathing. A man who made up wild stories just to scare little boys.
The Convict let him off at a train station, and gave him ten dollars. He didn’t feel much different when he was talking to someone than when he was all alone anyway.
He’d spent the last fourteen years of his life alone. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way though. Redemption is not for the faint of heart. He had to learn to hate himself. And then had to learn how to fix himself. He’d read about Utopian societies in a half-destructed prison book. One of them in Iowa was still functioning. No waste, using nature's resources as wholesomely as possible. They lived off the farm. No cars obviously, so he’d have to get rid of his stolen one.
Sunlight saturated the afternoon. It buzzed in the air, a strange energy. Fields of yellow wheat on either side of the road. He had the window open so he could smell the world.
A woman, in her twenties, with blonde hair was sitting on her suitcase next to the road. She smiled brightly when The Convict pulled over for her. She was a school teacher. She’d taken the bus home from work, packed up for no reason, and left.
She told him that she “just couldn’t take it anymore.”
The Convict could sympathize with that.
Soon ink spilled over the vacant sky once more. No rain that night, just a sheen of thick fog. Trees illuminated by street lights looked like watercolor paintings, ruined by a spilled drink. Strange and unreal. He felt made up.
“Where are you going?” asked The Hitchhiker.
“A place that isn’t filled with morons.”
“What are you running from then?” The Hitchhiker asked smartly.
“I’ve only been really, deeply affected by life once. Since that day I’ve stopped caring about anything.”
“That’s not an answer at all.”
“I spent my eighteenth birthday with my mother. She didn’t have anything nice to say to me though, so I left. I went and sat on a box in an alleyway. Metal staircases up and up, until I couldn’t even see them anymore. Morons stacked on top of morons. I was staring at this piece of birthday cake someone had thrown in an overflowing garbage bag, and I started thinking about the whole “Human Condition.” And I realized that day -”
“Birth, growth, conflict, morality,” She interrupted him.
He rolled his eyes.
“ I realized that day that everyone else’s lives are just as vivid and complex as my own, but that none of them matter. As Mother Nature dies, purpose dies right along with her. I stopped caring about fitting into society that day. The day people’s lives start to matter again, I’ll start caring about societal norms again.”
“So, what happened...after that?”
“I turned myself in.”
“If only people today cared enough to learn about it. No... If only the few people that do understand were smart enough to do something about it,” she said meaningfully.
“If only someone could stand up and say something truly meaningful, something that would persuade the masses. Something that would sink in and gnaw at humanity until it realizes it’s flaws. Because we certainly have flaws, but a great majority either doesn’t know about them, or chooses to ignore them.”
The Convict didn’t say anything.
The morning was gray and dreary. One of those days on which every place, person, and object you see tightens like a boa constrictor on any trace of joy you have left. Technicolor fading back to the black and white reality of it all. Depressing.
The Hitchhiker wanted to stop for breakfast. The Convict left her at a diner. She thought he had decent ideas. But he scared her. He was a dismal human being. She gave him a dollar for gas.
Ten hours and he’d be at The Farm. He listened to the radio for the first time in fourteen years.
With the windows down, he cried for what he understood. He cried like a baby because he seemed to be the only one on Earth to understand.
The third and final hitchhiker was a man in a business suit. His hair was greased back. His eyes were black and beady. He went to work every day at five in the morning and came back home at nine. He hadn’t seen sunlight for days. He told him that he “just couldn’t take it anymore.”
The Convict could sympathize with that.
The darkness was great and powerful that night. It seemed to boom out whining chords of anger. The rain was light but there nevertheless.
“I don’t know what I’ll do with myself. I don’t even know where I’m going,” The Hitchhiker said quietly.
“Why wouldn’t a businessman like yourself have their own car?”
“I do. I was just in such a rush to get out of there that I left it in the parking lot.”
“It’s funny what we do when we’re not really thinking.”
The Convict told The Hitchhiker about his philosophy that the rain is Mother Nature's tears.
“Why would she cry?”
“Because we’re killing her of course. It’s not like she can get away, she’s been trapped in this moldy prison cell with us. One amazing, glowing being, and millions of rats. We’ve been dining off of her for years, living off of her death. If we don’t do anything to stop it she will die once and for all, and then so will we.”
The Hitchhiker nodded.
“So what are you going to do about it then?” he asked.
“I’m going to a place that uses just a small amount of resources. They live on the land she’s provided. They care for that land. They love that land.”
“You know that you are just one rat in a swarm of millions, right? Just because you change your ways does not really mean anything. If you want to save Mother Earth from her death you need to convince the whole swarm to do better, not just yourself. ”
The Convict didn’t answer.
“You’re sure not convincing me, buddy. In my opinion, we’re already so far down the rabbit hole...there’s no getting out. Might as well make the best of it, you know? Money is power, and if the world’s already dying, why not take advantage of some opportunities while we still have the chance?”
“I used to be just like you.”
“They got us. Money laundering. Corruption. Brought the whole company down in one day. But I was the only one to really pay for it. I used to be just like you. I talked like you, I looked like you.”
“I’m not following…”
“I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation,” The Convict said maliciously
He pulled over and kicked The Hitchhiker out into the unforgiving night.
“You’re just a cynical man posing as a caring one! A HYPOCRITE! A PESSIMIST!” The Hitchhiker screamed as The Convict drove away.
He was in the right town now. He could feel his excitement in his fingertips. People he could finally really talk to. Really connect with.
Real people, not like the schmucks he kept picking up. The Hitchhikers that were scared of him, or didn’t understand him, or tried to contradict him.
The people at The Farm would understand him, that’s for sure. They would accept him with open arms. They would hear his ideas and his stories and they would agree.
He couldn’t wait one more second. Pure air awaited him. Pure clean air and pure food straight from the Earth. Enlightened people who understand the secrets of The Universe. Mother Nature would see him there and she would be proud. Rain would become an embrace for The Convict again. He would love the World and the World would love him back. No more prison cells, no more cars, no more life outside of The Farm.
He drove past the sign in his excitement.
“Moon & Sun Farm”
He turned around and came back. The sign was rotting and black at the edges.
He turned onto the bumpy dirt road, a grin stretched across his face. He rolled the window down and took heaving breaths of pine tree scented air. It was fresh and pure.
A barn appeared on his right. Black with mold and rot. Missing boards and portions of the roof. He parked the car and peered at the farm in awe.
He walked out into the dusty, dry, afternoon air. The sun felt good on his skin. There were rows and rows of beds inside the barn. Blankets pulled taut. Pillows stiff. Untouched for years, it seemed. There were piles of sawdust on some of the pillows, from the termites.
Some belongings were still there. One pair of shoes sat lonely next to a bed. Was the outside world really so alluring that they’d forgotten to put on shoes before leaving? Before abandoning this place, once bright and beautiful, to the termites?
The wooden tables sunk into the mud. Everything had the depressing quality of a bedroom whose former occupant has died.
He walked out to the fields of shriveled, vegetables and fruits. The air was thick with that sickening sweet smell of rot. The grass was yellowed and crunchy.
One patch of wildflowers thrived in the desolation.
He stared at them. It seemed almost metaphorical to him.
He smiled and he closed his eyes and he was alive.
He found a watering can thrown carelessly in the dirt. He walked to the river. He watered a portion of the plants. He watered the magical wildflowers. He washed the blankets in the river. He cut wood from a fallen tree and climbed to fix the roof of the barn. When it was finished he lay down and stared into the neverending sky. He determined that he would stay there, by himself, until the end of days.
Because if the wildflowers could do it, why couldn’t he?
In the cold, relentless, black of night it began to rain, and The Convict cried too.