When they came through Morse they were about a hundred strong and it was simply just a matter of packin up and joinin em. I’d been waiting for em to come down through the canyon and was ready to head out on my own when word came they’d be walking through. So I packed up all my essentials, if you will, and waited by morning light on the highway in that quiet valley until I saw them come forth off in the distance like a trickle of dust-burdened Moors. Straight up from the underworld. Then I watched em file past without so much as a nod from any of em and I fell in line and left Morse for good.

We moved our way down into Parachute and Halifax sticking to the quiet highway and some of em spoke to each other while we looked out west to where the Great Smoky Mountains used to reach up to heaven like god’s great violent reminder but were now just a memory. Vacant or discarded. We walked through Joliet and into Slumber where the abandoned mills and factories still hummed because the ghosts of this wasted country still need to work their ten hours to pass the time. By the end of the first day my feet were sore and blistered and our number had grown by almost half and we camped on the side of the highway at the foot of the pines, making small fires and eating canned beans and stew and chili with bread. Coffee bitter and boiling hot on the tongue. A few people had a group reading from their book and we slept in sleeping bags or else on blankets beneath the stars multiplied in the heavens awakened only rarely as a car or rig or van came peeling past us down the highway like thunder.

I’d grown up in Morse and spent my life there fishin like my old man and his before him. I played ball and chased the girls and watched em become women with somethin like fascination and awe. I volunteered for the army and was shipped off across the world to fight in a war I happened to believe in less and less with each passin day. I was over there when the quake happened. Very far from home indeed. I called in as soon as I could and never was able to reach anyone. Two weeks passed before I finally got an e-mail letter from my little sister sayin they were okay but they were all headin south, the whole town, basically the whole region. Or what was left of it. Because the Great Smokies were gone, she wrote, and Lake Morse, too, and the whole country was becoming dry. As if god picked up the world and shook it, she wrote. I remember her words but I don’t remember what I thought about them.

That first night on the road I didn’t sleep and was happy when we finally packed up and started out again with our shadows long and thin beside us down through Othello and the old ghost town of Golden with birdsong and a pallid sun growing higher in the air. We found the Charleston roaring past muddy and brown in the early afternoon just about where it used to be and we walked parallel to it, dipping our dirty hands and arms into it. I took off my boots and socks and set my feet in, feelin debris tickle at my toes and also like maybe it was the best thing I ever felt.

This is an abbreviated chapter.

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