Moving

Nothing in Evan’s life moved, not even the rocks. He came from York, a seventeen hour drive if you drove the speed limit, which he did. York was a place of matching curved driveways leading to houses identical in shape if not in size, neighborhoods like hands where each finger lay perfectly against the last. It was a clean place, York, and productive. The early risers there built online industries and internet storefronts and digital marketplaces, all of them apocryphal until the power cord was plugged in.

Evan left York his first year of college. He didn’t tell anyone that he wouldn’t be back. It was either a Monday or a Wednesday or a Friday at nine a.m. when he stood up in class and abandoned his notes on his desk. He’d gotten in his car and kept driving until the road signs looked different. It took him fifteen hours, long after his home town radio station had turned to static. Then he got out by the side of the road and walked into the trees to pee, and he’d driven another two hours to Elevation. In those two hours after the road signs turned from green to blue he’d sped, then, for the first time in his life. We don’t really enforce the speed limit, but he didn’t know that.

He told me, later, it was the first time he’d felt his heart pound since he was nine.

Which was funny, because when I met him was the first time I felt mine stop.

***

Everything about Elevation surprised Evan. The roads surprised him because they jerked around hills and crawled through crevices and gasped up inclines. The old buildings perplexed him, some of them repurposed into shops or houses, some of them collapsed on themselves, lungs that wouldn’t breathe again. He was bewildered when our phone systems went down with no warning or explanation. He didn’t understand how his car was such a commodity or why we only had strawberries in the store when strawberries were in season.

But the thing that bemused him the most were the boulders. Back in York, he said, they didn’t move.

“You mean, while you’re watching?” I asked. One was moving right now, in front of us, as we sat on the hood of his car and shared a battered bag of potato chips. The boulder’s progress was so slow as it crept up the hill that it was hard to tell it was moving at all. It was only when you realized where it had begun that you saw how far it had come.

“Not at all,” he replied. He held his thumb and forefinger in front of his face to measure how far the boulder had moved.

“Maybe they move when you’re not watching and you just don’t notice.”

Evan replied, “Nothing moves in York unless people move it.”

“That sounds boring.”

“You always know where things are,” Evan said. He scratched his arm, which was already browner and leaner than when he’d first arrived. He still didn’t look like he belonged here, but he looked slightly less improbable than before. In front of us, the boulder slid and groaned across the grass, leaving a flattened trail behind it.

***

Evan, I learned, was good at rules, but only when they were written down. Elevation was full of laws that moved as often as the boulders, and if you didn’t keep your eye on them, it was hard to tell they’d shifted. A few months after he’d come to Elevation, Evan didn’t realize that the leftmost parking spot in front of Jim-Joe’s had been claimed by T. W. Fenton, cousin of the sheriff.

It was a long, green evening made gray by creeping mist, and T. W.’s big silver truck was nearly invisible in the shimming light in the parking lot. I arrived just as Evan was saying, “There isn’t a sign saying it’s restricted.”

W. didn’t bother to dignify this comment. He just smacked his fist off Evan’s face, sending him into the dirt and gravel of the lot. He waited a moment to see if Evan was going to stay down, and when he didn’t, T. W. kicked him in the cheek and then placed a boot on Evan’s chest. Evan was already gasping for breath. There was gravel caught in the folds of his t-shirt and his skin was chalky from the dust.

“What are you doing, girl?” asked T. W.

I was already climbing inside Evan’s navy blue coupe. I wasn’t good at driving, but I knew how to put a car in reverse. “I’m moving his car.”

W. removed his foot from Evan’s chest. “Your girlfriend just saved your life.”

Evan didn’t move, but the boulder beside the store did. It shifted as if to get a better view. I revved the engine too high but got Evan’s car out of T. W.’s way, and then I got out to help Evan up. Neither of us looked at the silver truck as it roared into the space the coupe had left behind.

Evan leaned on the top of the car, his chest still heaving. Only one half of his face looked like him. “Can’t drive,” he said. “Can’t see. Everything’s still moving.”

Everything was moving around us — the truck, the rocks, the shifting mist — but I understood what he meant. I sat him in the passenger seat and I drove him back to his place, a back room apartment behind the hardware store. Every gear was negotiable, but Evan didn’t wince at my driving. He just said, ”I never thought I’d miss York.”

His apartment was dark and brown and small, space only to turn but not to stretch, and it smelled of his detergent. I moved his clothing and magazines off his bed, and then I kissed him. His mouth tasted of dirt and blood, so he was becoming one of us after all.

***

Later, we stood in the shower together, eyes averted, and shared his bottled soap. It was bright green and smelled of deliberate muskiness. The bottle was nearly empty; he’d brought it from York.

He squeezed some out into his hand; the container sputtered as he did. He spread the soap slow and careful over my shoulder blades and then he traced a line down my spine. At my feet, the water was murky from the blood in his hair.

“There must be something in between,” he said. “Between York and Elevation. Maybe I drove too far.”

I could hear it in his voice, even if I couldn’t see it; he was shifting, moving, on his way somewhere else. I replied, “You’re what’s in between York and Elevation.”

He was quiet for a long moment, nothing but the sound of the shower raining on our backs. He said, finally, “I want to know if the boulders would still move, if I took one back to York. Maybe they used to move there too.”

But he didn’t want to go back, and we both knew it. He wanted something impossible. A country that only lived inside him. It wasn’t a place you could drive to; it was a place that you made.

***

But in the morning, the boulders had moved, and he with them.

______________________
Author’s Note: inspired by the Ringing Rocks in PA.

photo courtesy: Peter Nijenhuis

41 thoughts on “Moving

  1. I enjoyed the quiet pace of this story. Very matter of fact and full of an odd sort of magic. I would love to live in a place where the rocks moved and maybe the trees too (kinda Treebeardish but not talking, keeping with the quiet theme). I felt a distance between myself and the characters and it made me all the more curious as to what is really going on in this place. Perfect story after my crazy weekend of sun, camping, parents and kids!

    It looks like you and Tessa are having a ball! Stay safe and thanks for the fun updates!

  2. Thoroughly enjoyable! I must admit, I’ll never look at boulders quite the same way again. ;-D

  3. Fascinating story! I loved the feeling that there was a sense of science fiction here but then there wasn’t, as if it was entirely natural for the boulders to be moving – I loved it! I agree with an earlier comment, I love the slow pace of it… taking you to one moment and then another. Very nice! πŸ™‚

  4. Very nice. I like the tone and mood of this a lot. I was tricked until the end of the second paragraph that this was going to be one of your rare third-person narratives, so I did a double-take when I saw the use of “we.” πŸ™‚

  5. i feel like wanting to go somewhere different all the time. just get up in the middle of something and not go back, but i think i would miss it like Evan did. I like how real it feels with the little magic in it!!! Can’t wait till i get my copy of Forever!!! Love your writing! Have an awesome tour =]

  6. I love this piece! The mood is just amazing,and its fits in with the matter of facttone, that still gives a sense of mystery.

    I saw the video of you and Tessa at the ringing rocks, and maybe you found an answer to why the ringing rocks are so popular…they’re inspiring.

    Anyway, you and Tessa have fun! Enjoy it and don’t get intotoomuch mischief! *Insert evil laugh here.*

  7. I love this idea. Elevation reminds me a bit of Hogwarts, from the Harry Potter books — the way things shift and confuse newcomers πŸ˜‰ It works well as a short-short story. I especially like the narrator’s statement to Evan: “You’re what’s in between York and Elevation.”

  8. I like the idea that he doesn’t really fit in either place, but once he learned to move, he wasn’t content to stop.

    A great fic, with a quiet sadness.

  9. Nice! I liked this…it was very quiet and sort of thoughtful, but as always, your words and the way you put them together are just gorgeous. : )

    There’s a place in…I think Death Valley, where the rocks do move. I’ve always wanted to visit there. Now I’ll have to google the Ringing Rocks. Thanks! ; )

  10. I know! I’m working on a novel in third at the moment and so that is sort of my default setting. I faked myself out too.

  11. Thank you so much! I felt very much like this in college, but the narrator was right — it was me I changed instead. Thanks for the well wishes!

  12. Ah, thank you — and that is so interesting about the Hogwarts connection, now that you’ve said it . . .

  13. I have seen the photos of the tracks they make!! The Ringing Rocks don’t move, but they’re . . . big!

    And thank you.

  14. I loved this. I thought of those rocks in the desert that move first, but I really loved the normal tone, the total acceptance of what I think of as strange. Really fascinating.

    I hope you and Tessa are enjoying your road trip! (And I’m sad I can’t make it to one of your stops.)

  15. I loved this story. I love how your writing is so vivid that I can close my eyes and see the scene like I’m watching a movie.

  16. We are REALLY enjoying it. And yes, I love those strange desert rocks with their dragged paths behind them!

  17. The problem with letting go is that it feels so good you just keep doing it. Once you just get up and leave it’s impossible to find a place good enough to give up the feeling of leaving for.
    I like our narrator in this. I wish we learned a little something about her, other than the voice its self.

  18. Could this story have also been sparked by your many hours of driving you’ve been lately???

  19. this was lovely. i loved how the ‘fantasy’ element, ie the moving rocks, are not the centre of a great mystery or adventure here…. they’re quietly there in the background, hugely significant and yet not taking over the story…. you know what i mean?
    loved this, thank you.

    i’ve discovered whole new worlds of fantasy after joining this comm, so a big thank you to all three of you! πŸ™‚

  20. That was magic. πŸ™‚

    Not just in the ‘elements’ of the story. I swear the words are some kind of magic all on thier own.

    Awesomely done.

  21. There is SO MUCH MEANING in this story. It affects you even if you don’t realize it at first.
    β€œYou’re what’s in between York and Elevation.”
    I just love it.

    I’m 18 and I just wish I could do this; take a car and just drive drive drive. Get away. But I’ve recently started to think maybe that wouldn’t really change anything. Maybe I need to change things.

    • Angelica, I totally don’t think driving away will change problems, but I’m a big believer in road trips as thinking tools. So I vote to drive while thinking about what to change back home. πŸ™‚

Comments are closed.