The Direction of Last Things

Austin Philip Banks set his backpack on the garage floor and clumsily fastened the straps of his helmet, his fingers fumbling with the unfamiliar small motor task. Once the helmet felt snug, he put the backpack on and walked his tricycle down to the end of the driveway. He checked the sky. The sun was over the Lowry’s house, so he knew that it was afternoon.  Austin needed to be going west and Daddy had told him that the sun set in the west. He turned his tricycle towards the Lowry’s end of the street and started to pedal.

The house had been empty when he woke up. Though the bed he awoke in was his own, there was an indistinct memory of many days spent in a different bed. Austin was scared when he realized no one else was in the house. He tried watching television, but it wouldn’t turn on. He got the idea that there was somewhere else he needed to be; the thought grew in his mind, an idea of going west. At first it seemed impossible, and he just cried. But with the thought of his tricycle, he decided to make the trip. He loaded his backpack with a few toys, his toothbrush, and a pair of pajamas before going downstairs and and into the garage.

Now he rode into the chilly breeze, turning here and there as the streets wound their way through the neighborhood in which he grew up. He slowed, almost stopped, upon reaching the bridge which represented the hinterlands of his past explorations. Halfway across, he increased the speed of his pedaling and by the time he left the bridge he was going faster than before.

Soon, the houses thinned out. The road on which he traveled merged into a larger road. Normally that road was busy with cars and large trucks. Today, the road was empty and Austin pedaled alone. He came to enjoy the feel of the air in his face and the slight squeak of the wheels.

When the sun was low in the sky and the clouds turned to orange, he had a distant glimpse of a creature. Its head rose above the trees; Austin knew the square head belong to the meat-eating Tyrannosaurus Rex. The sight of it made him feel afraid again, but it was far away, so he continued to ride. The road curved. When it straightened out again, the dinosaur was gone. Now, Austin saw a giant of a boy. It was Leo, his first-grade classmate, the one who always teased Austin and pushed him when no one was looking. But it wasn’t Leo, because Leo was short like Austin and this Leo was nearly as tall as the trees. He was looking north, away from the road, and Austin hoped that he wouldn’t be spotted.

There was a time when Austin looked away and the giant boy disappeared. In the not-Leo’s place was a woman of average height dressed in loose-fitting clothes with cartoon characters printed on them. His heart lurched. The T-Rex had scared him, and the oversized bully had scared him even more; this woman filled him with a dread which he could not explain. He wanted to turn around and go back. He would take his tricycle into the garage, take off the helmet, climb up to his room, and hide under the blankets. He stopped pedaling. The woman was not far from him, only as far away as the mailbox on the corner was from his front door.

Austin got down off his tricycle and started to turn it around. He thought of his mother and father. They had told him, sometime, that he had to be brave. His grandfather Philip had been brave, Daddy said in some earlier conversation, fighting the Communists and then fighting cancer. Austin didn’t know what Communists or cancer were, but they sounded like they should be more scary than the woman standing beside the road.

He looked back and saw the moon starting to rise. Turning to the west, he squinted into the carnelian sun. Austin Philip decided to be brave, like his Grandpa. He pointed the tricycle down the road and climbed back on.

The woman remained motionless. When he got very close, Austin realized that he could see through her. For a moment, he felt tricked. It was only a picture, like the ones inside a television set or on a movie screen. Still, the sight of her made him uneasy and he did not want to stay near her long.

He rode hard until the woman was far in the distance and his little legs were burning with the need to rest. The sun had set completely and the sky was a dim purple. By the road there was a small grove of trees. He walked the tricycle into the grove and unfastened his helmet. A tree hung with apples, another nearby with pears. He found an apple on the ground, rubbed it against his shirt, and took a bite from it. Stretched out on the ground he watched the clouds pass over and by the man in the moon. Before long, he was asleep.


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