A Simple Stretch of Sand and Gravel: Wendig Challenge
The prompt this week was a pair of themes:
1. Doing a good thing sometimes means being evil.
2. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
In my narrator’s head, he thinks he’s doing the first. But that’s only what developed after I started riffing on the second. Story after the break
A Simple Stretch of Sand and Gravel
I hate the phrase “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” because the road to hell isn’t paved at all. Turns out it’s a simple stretch of sand and gravel wandering its way through the Pine Barrens, the sandy-earthed, sometimes swampy, pine forest of southern NJ. Sure, I know people intend the adage to be metaphorical, the idea being even unintentional evil can build up over time, but those people haven’t stood where I’m standing or seen what I’ve seen. Metaphor doesn’t mean anything when your feet are in the middle of a literal road ending at a portal to the underworld. Nevertheless, that’s just where I find myself today, penning this, my last journal entry. I am preparing to walk forward into the warm maw gaping up at me from beneath a stand of pitch pines.
Much is made of the story of the Jersey Devil, and they all miss the forest for the trees, if you’ll forgive both the cliché and the pun. The Jersey Devil is not simply some wild creature haunting the eastern area of the Pine Barrens. It is not the 13th child of the Leeds family. It’s not the strange flying goat cryptozoological nonsense image plastered all over visitors’ centers, book covers, and Weird NJ. Nope. The Jersey Devil is Lucifer Morningstar. Satan. Old Scratch himself. It’d be a stretch to say I’ve met him, but we have had conversations here in the woods. He never appears in his full red-horned costume. In fact, it’s never really him at all who appears. Sometimes he looks like Benny, my childhood puppy who was hit by a car when I was 8. Other times he looks like “Pits,” a kid I used to bully in high school until he hanged himself.
It’s funny. I remember the dog’s name even though he was in my life for only a year, but I have no idea what Pits’ real name was. He was always just “Pits” to everyone at Absegami.
The road to hell I stand on now is, of course, not the only road to hell. Wikipedia has a lot of information on those places, but the editors treat them like superstitious nonsense. They’re wrong. Oh, how they’re wrong. Pits told me about the big hole in Turkmenistan and the eternal fire in Azerbaijan. Supposedly those are simply natural gas deposits burning in perpetuity, and they may be, but they are also portals to Hell. Benny mentioned the Fengdu Ghost City in China, apparently built to cover up the gruesome discoveries of demonic presences and sacrificial corpses, and the old abandoned sewer drain in Clifton where lonely, curious kids go to drown their sorrows.
Huh, hadn’t really thought of that before. Two literal roads to Hell in New Jersey. Makes sense when you think about it. Jersey isn’t really what you might call Heaven on Earth, if you’ll pardon the Belinda Carlisle reference.
In any case, most of those ingresses require people to push through hurdles like intense fires or watery paths impassable without serious scuba gear. The pathway here in the Pine Barrens is unguarded by any natural phenomena. And, while I can’t be 100% sure, I don’t think anyone but me even knows it exists here. The myth of the Jersey Devil kept people away from this area for years, and the generally inhospitable nature of the area have kept people away in the current age of reason and shitty cellphone reception. You wouldn’t want to get lost in the middle of nowhere, and even my apartment building just a few minutes away from here gets awful cell coverage. Even the GPS system doesn’t work out here, but it could be because of some sort of interference from the hole more than anything.
When I came across this entryway last year, I wasn’t a believer at all. Farcical tales of winged demonic adversaries of a benevolent God struck me as the same sorts of fairy tales from the pens of Grimm or Scheherazade or Edith Hamilton. Benny was just a dog and Pits was just a loser, but the two of them have shown me the truth. I’m still not sure the Big Guy with the Beard (or however you conceive of Him in your own mind) exists, but the Adversary sure does. And the sacrifices I’ve made over the last month proved it to me beyond the shadow of a doubt, even if my friends and family insist on sending me for psychiatric help.
I would say I’m here to block up the hole, but I think we all know that’s a lie. I’m here to complete the summoning. “This town needs an enema!” shouts Jack Nicholson’s Joker when his news coverage is swallowed up by news of the Batman. Well, Pits thinks the entire world needs an enema, and Benny showed me how to do it.
That’s why I’ve got Norah tied up and lying on the ground next to me. She’s unconscious now, passed out from fear, I think. It’s not from anything else, as the bloodletting won’t come until after I get her down into the warm passageway. I don’t think anyone will miss her, at least not for the first day or two. She’d been planning to spend the week camping along the Appalachian Trail, something I overheard from my adjoining cubicle. I’m glad I bought the wholesale-sized package of zip ties, because it took a lot more than I was expecting to hold her. I’m just glad she’s not fighting it anymore. She’s heavy, but dragging a limp body is so much easier than a fighting one.
Well, I think I’m done explaining myself. Time to get this over with. As Boyz II Men sang, we’ve come to the end of the road.