• Jason Haskins

Saturday night is all right for writing


Back in late March and into early April, when much of the United States (and the world) went into a social-distancing state, my immediate thought was, "I'll have a lot more time to write now!"


Truth be told, it's not like I left the house a whole lot before all of this happened. Self-isolation was something I had excelled at in recent years so time on my hands wasn't really anything new.


Until it was. And motivation dried up quick.


Now, there were many factors contributing to this outside of a crippling pandemic. The distraction of watching sports wasn't present. Personal affairs of the mind and the heart weighed heavy. And, you know, seeing the sheer amount of people nationwide who were affected by the coronavirus was also a dealing blow to the psyche.


The unneeded loss of life. Police brutality. Protests. A re-examining of one's one privilege in the world, hidden or otherwise.


It was all there. And still is, very much present as so many continue to fight for equality and a better world.


Slowly, I've been digging out from the "lack-of-motivation" hole and getting back to a better a balance while staying at home. Over this time, I've realized that it's okay to step back and let the mind rest (best I can). There's time to fight, time to write, and time to explore the world around me (whether that's by reading, discussing, or simply taking a walk by the river).


With it, as writing amps up again, I found myself returning to a short story I'd started in the early days of being at home. This story started out as a way for a good friend and me to stay busy, exchanging stories on a weekly basis. This may have lasted only two weeks, but it is something that kept me going and, now that I've returned to it, decided to share the first little bit.


We'll see where it goes from here, but I know that, despite it all, a world of writing always awaits.


Be bold. Be kind. Mask up.


Paint, colored deep red, was fresh, evident by the bottoms of the letters trailing down in small streaks towards the bottom. The sign was old, its white paint chipped and faded, but the letters popped, meaning someone performed upkeep only recently. Or fairly recently, letting any passerby know what they could find in this area:


TIRE REPAIR


“We need to keep moving,” said the old man, his pace steady as ever, aided by a walking stick, nearly four-foot in length that once served as branch on a mediocre tree somewhere. He turned down the dirt road, following the arrow so politely pointed out on the sign.


Worry washed over me, sweat pooling at the base of my neck. The fresh paint meant another soul was nearby and also meant there was a solid chance I’d have to be personable. This was definitely something I was not looking forward to. Dealing with the old man was one thing. We’d known each for years prior to this, even got along most days, but I hated to deal with people I didn’t know. Not before and especially not now. In the horizon in front of us, off the dirt road to our left, sat row after row of abandoned cars. Some were wrecked beyond the point of ever being driven again. Windows were smashed in, fenders were hanging on by thin pieces of metal on the front of the car, and, from what I could see, many of these vehicles were missing their tires. That sign is false advertising, I thought as we proceeded along, the old man seemingly moving quicker than usual. “Are we sure this is it?”


The old man scoffed. “You don’t trust the map?”

“I don’t trust the fresh paint on the sign.”


“You worry too damned much.”


He was right. I tried to push the feeling away. We were close – I could feel that, too – and something didn’t feel right. No one else was supposed to be in this zone, let alone so close to our destination, and yet here we were. This wasn’t the only hint at something being off. This last stretch had delivered its fair share of oddities, the first of which were the dogs. We’d seen dogs running free in the early days, on search for food or their owners or both. In this last stretch, however, the dogs we saw stood still. They were alive, their heads turning left and right, but as we passed each gravel driveway, the dogs simply stared at us. No barking, no running, not even a whelp as the old man and I passed. The dogs stared, awaiting the return of an owner, like they would have done any normal day.


Except this was far from normal.


“Hold on,” I said, tugging the sleeve of the old man’s blue and black checkered flannel coat.


“Are we sure about this?”


This time, the old man stopped. He sighed first, centering any disdain and impatience he had with me. “Hayden, we’re right here. Down route 93, just like the pieces of the map said. This is it, our future. Maybe someone came along here – without knowing about what we’re looking for – and decided to do a little painting. Mankind might be in survival mode but some of us still get a little bored.”


“I know.”

“I know you know. The miles we’ve walked, the weather we’ve faced, and going hungry can all be put behind us shortly.”

The old man began to walk again, believing this conversation to be over. I, on the other hand, was not quite convinced. “What if it’s just another clue?”

“It’s not,” he replied, his pace quickening. “The map is complete.”

The map. A promise of shelter, food, and eternal freedom was the goal at the end of this path. And the map provided exactly that. Or so we were led to believe.

The pursuit of this mythical place as detailed in the map all began six months after The Event. The old man and I had been together every step of the way. We were neighbors – with a loose, passing friendship attached – in the same apartment complex for the past eight years before all hell broke loose. We were okay in the initial aftermath, him living off beer, cigarettes, and corn beef he’d stockpiled in the freezer while I lived off whiskey and whatever assortment of groceries I’d had in my apartment. We still had electricity in those early days, at least in our complex and surrounding blocks. It was intermittent throughout the city, whole swaths of neighborhoods dumped into darkness, but there seemed to be a general calm despite the unexplained occurrence of The Event. A couple of news stations managed to still broadcast but the old man and I grew tired of watching on day three because the reports were all the same. Fires burning in one part of the world, another part taken over by torrential rains. And locally, there was nothing new to report except the continual message alerting viewers to “Stay calm. Lend a hand to your neighbor if you can and keep tuned in here for more information.” This was usually followed by a list of markets and stores that were open for supplies, a list that grew shorter each day.




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