THE JOURNEY SOUTH OF SNOW
DAVID S. OSGOOD
THE JOURNEY SOUTH OF SNOW
DAVID S. OSGOOD
Martin danced around an exhausted bonfire. Gatherers were passed out in the meadow or finishing cigarettes before tasting filter. The craft keg was long gone, now used as a stool to hang ribbons from a slouching tree. Maceo Parker’s singular saxophone licks ended abruptly as the portable pill speaker ran out of batteries. Martin bounced at an angle on one foot until he lost balance and collapsed ceremoniously in the dirt. The fire turned to embers; the only glow left in the meadow came from a string of lights attached to the bus with no wheels.
Martin put his elbows on the diner booth table and cradled his headache in his hands. Cassidy was too imaginative to be bothered with a hangover. When the food came, she ate her veggie burger like a wild elk while he circled his fork around a deconstructed burrito. He looked up at her briefly, but she was far away. She had a knack for being in two worlds at one time, a type of celestial multi-tasking that usually ended with a ferocious idea.
“I’m thinking I should climb down a mountain by moonlight with wings on for the documentary,” she said. She was filming a migratory documentary about the American Robin. She aimed to debunk the myth that birds fly south for the winter to escape cold weather. They left for food, she learned, navigating by sun during the day, and by the moon and stars at night. She compared the robin’s intrinsic night navigation system to a soul searcher on an expedition to nourish lost spirituality. It was deep, but she was deep.
“Are you going to make the wings yourself?” he asked.
“I have a picture of them in my mind so, yes, they will have to be created. It’s more authentic that way.”
He had been filming her documentary for the past several months. He was surprised at how close he could approach birds before they flew off, as long as he moved slowly and kept the sun behind him. Sneaking up on a bird with a camera was like navigating a staircase after curfew and avoiding the creaks. Outside, in, outside, in.
Martin returned to the meadow again, surprised at how stark it was. Less than twelve hours earlier it had looked like a magical junkyard. The only remnants of the gathering hung from the ribbon tree. The string of lights had been stripped from the bus—taking its powers away—leaving only a dilapidated, 1949 Carpenter, its stories muted and lost in a web of weeds. He stepped on to the bus and sat in the driver’s seat, outstretching his arms to meet the steering wheel. From this angle he could see the world unfolding. His eyes bent the trees and only sky remained. He felt the bus slide on its skeleton and rise from the earth, its shell a vibrant yellow and its innards an elaborate circuitry. The engine fluttered and new wheels emerged that spun him down the hill like life without brakes. Martin was catapulted back to reality when his elbows met the wheel. The horn still worked.
Every day he returned to the bus. He brought tools and cleaning supplies, determined to bring life to a vehicle bankrupt of breath. For weeks, the work was absent from the naked eye, like cleaning out a closet no one ever opens. He patched the underbelly and made new holes for screws beside disintegrated ones. He removed the bench seats one by one, stuffing and sewing in a furious sea of white and green. When work bled into night, he built a small fire from debris and sat in contemplation of the galaxy. When it got cold, he thought of the robin, migrating south where food was abundant, following the celestial highway as its guide.
Cassidy finished the wings, strapped them on her back, and made the motion of snow angels in the air. She packed a camcorder and a freezer bag full of homemade energy bars into a weather-resistant sack. Martin picked her up and they navigated the sagging sun until they reached the valley. They washed their faces in the stream, talking about what life would be without the elements. The trek was rough, but they trudged on throughout the early evening until they reached a peak impersonating the summit. Cassidy unattached the wings from her pack in anticipation of her flight. Martin shuffled down the path with the camcorder to capture the journey. The moon dangled behind her as if she had hung it there. He made a signal for her to start flapping.
As he watched her move in slow-motion down the rocky terrain, he envisioned a hand as big as the earth coming down and sculpting the mountains from a flat landscape, drawing a line in the valley below where a stream could flow. He saw Man formed from clouds, and he saw everything else succeeding it as a departure from what was intended.
Martin did not fix the wheels on the 1949 Carpenter. Everything else was revived, but the bus was not meant to move. It was designed for wanderers to discover and dream. The bus was beauty out of place, like a cactus in a terrific rainstorm.
He waited. It would be days before anyone stumbled upon the man and his masterstroke. A woman approached from afar with hoop earrings big enough to fit through. Her hair was wild and untamed; her dress a kaleidoscope unhinged. She chewed on a honey stick and spoke with her hands.
“That school bus don’t run,” she said.
“Depends on how you look at it,” Martin replied.
“It may look pretty, but it got no wheels. What you gonna to do with a bus that don’t move?”
He invited her inside. They shared stories about life below the surface of things. More came and soon the bus was full. It started to snow, and no one was hungry.
David S. Osgood is a short story writer. He resides in Holly Springs, North Carolina, where rural and suburban collide among crepe myrtles. David has a Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing from the University of Southern California and a Master's from Babson College. This is his second publication.