Nevada

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It was getting easier, since her parents had died. When they’d fallen from that building, Carrie’s life had completely changed. Her closest relative, her uncle, lived deep in Nevada. Deep, deep, where all there was to see was hills and grass and stone.

Carrie liked the cows. They spent all day wandering around, nibbling on the brush, and sometimes Carrie would follow them all the way up The Big Hill, on the farthest corner of her uncles property.

There was a town about eight miles away, but maybe town wasn’t the right word. Town sounded too big. It was just a stop, a place to get a bite and chat with strangers. None of them were strangers to her uncle. He knew every man, every woman, every kid. They only went into town a couple times a week, and it was just to buy food, or fill up the truck with gas.

Carrie was only nine years old. Her uncle knew that she wasn’t to be trusted with any real work on the farm. All that she had to do was let the cows out at the crack of dawn, and then round them back up before sundown. It was like a game, really. Carrie went all over the land, over the hills, around the big stones, and under the one big tree on the whole property. She’d find every single cow, and she’d offer it food and let it follow her back home. It took a couple of hours to get them all, but it was sorta fun, and the cows were all really nice.

When she’d first come here, there had been seventeen cows, but now there were only sixteen. Her uncle hadn’t told her what happened to the seventeenth one. There’s a little room in the back of the big barn, a room that her uncle never let her look at. He said it was where the cows got turned into meat. Carrie had no idea what happened in that room, and she was scared to look.

Every week, a man in a big truck came by. Her uncle always asked for Carrie’s help moving all of the milk. The man in the big truck bought the milk at two dollars a gallon, which didn’t seem like very much, but her uncle didn’t mind. There wasn’t much to spend money on out here anyway.

Carrie missed talking to people, to kids, to friends. She talked to the cows a lot. Every day she gave them new names, because they were so hard to tell apart. Today the two under the big tree were named Betty and Susie. Tomorrow they might be Billy and Sally. On some days, Carrie had time to go over the whole land, all along the prickly fence, and she’d name every single cow, but she’d always forget which names she’d already used by the time she got to the last ones.

There was a time that her uncle forgot to fill up the truck with gas when he went into town, and he didn’t have enough to get to the gas station. He had to walk for miles to get a big orange container full of gasoline. It took him ages to get back home. Carrie had never really thought about how big the world was before. The hills went on and on and on and on. Before cars were invented, how did anybody get anywhere?

And it captivated her. Most days, just as the sun was setting, just before she was supposed to round up the cows, Carrie would climb up The Big Hill and look at it all. On the clearest of days, the hills never ended. She wanted to run until she found the edge of the world. But there was no edge. It really did go on forever.

On her first night at her uncle’s farm, she hadn’t slept at all. She kept thinking over and over that her life was finished, and this was some new, imitation life. She wasn’t ever seeing her parents again. She wasn’t ever seeing her school friends again. She wasn’t ever going to have new friends, not as long as she was out here.

But sleeping got easier, because it was so tiring to climb the hills all day. When the sun set, Carrie got so tired that she couldn’t think about how sad she was. Or maybe she wasn’t really sad anymore. All that she felt was sleepy.

And this was how some people lived their lives. This was how her uncle did it. There was no time to feel if you were so busy managing cows, milking, bottling, working. There was something new for her uncle to do every single day. He had to fix a leak in the ceiling, or chop wood to build a fire, or go into town for something important. He scarcely even had time to talk to her.

Carrie hadn’t finished third grade, because she’d had to move out here, and she knew that as soon as summer ended, she’d have to go to the little school in town. Wouldn’t she? Her uncle didn’t have time to drive her into town every day, and he couldn’t afford the gas. She’d asked him about getting a bicycle, but he hadn’t really told her yes or no.

Maybe she didn’t have to go to school. Maybe she never had to learn ever again. It sounded nice, but it felt wrong in a way.

It was getting easier, since her parents had died. Since they’d fallen from that building, Carrie’s life had been put on pause. Time didn’t pass out here. Every morning was the same. Every afternoon was the same. Every evening was the same. Every night was the same. Was it a bad life? She couldn’t be sure. Maybe some day her uncle would teach her new things, like how to fix a leak in the ceiling, or how to chop wood to build a fire, or how to drive into town, and someday she could own the whole farm.

But for now, life was okay when it was on pause. If time stopped, maybe Carrie wouldn’t even notice.

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Footprints

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There was nothing on the horizon. There never was.

Nonetheless, she kept walking forward. The sun hung above her, heavier and heavier every day. Her feet sunk deeper into the sand with each step, and the sweat was dripping down her forehead.

She had been walking across this desert for an eternity. Still, there was nothing on the horizon.

It was hot out here, unbearably so. But if she stopped walking, she wouldn’t have the strength to start again. She had to keep moving, even after the sun had set.

Day and night. Day and night. And still there was nothing on the horizon.

She thought about stopping. She thought about stopping every day, every hour, every minute. Was she ever going to find something out here? Should she just give up? She had been walking for so long. She had been walking forever. Maybe there was nothing to find. Maybe there was nothing but desert.

Her feet were sore and blistered. She was windswept, and she looked like a mess. Each step forward was harder than the last. She waited for the moment that her feet refused to move forward, but that moment never seemed to come.

There was a trail of footprints pressed into the cracking sand. The footprints went on for miles, and they only moved in a straight line. The further that she walked, the deeper the footprints became, her legs getting heavier, and her steps getting slower.

She wanted to give up. She wanted it all to stop. No matter how many steps she took, now matter how many footprints she left behind, she never seemed to be any closer to the edge of the desert. She was here forever, and she had come to accept that.

So why did she keep walking? Why was it that she kept her legs moving, kept scanning the horizon, kept waiting for something to appear? If she gave up, let herself die out here, then there would be no more walking. No more aching feet. No more hopelessness. She could lie down in the sand and let the desert take her, bury her, turn her into nothing.

And the desert would do it. It would take her gladly. It had always been hungry for her, waiting for her to surrender.

Night and day. Night and day. And still there was nothing on the horizon.

Someday, she would do it. She would surrender. But today was not that day. Keep walking. Don’t stop. There’s something out here. There’s an edge to this desert. And she was going to find it. Why stop today when she could stop tomorrow?

She dreamt of seeing something. A speck on the horizon. A smudge in the distance. She could picture herself running towards it, picking up speed. But it would never happen. There would never be anything to find. The desert was endless.

You are here forever.

Walk as far as you like. You’re not going to find anything or anybody.

Lonely wasn’t the right word. She liked the silence. She liked the crunching of her feet in the crack earth, and the whisper of the wind. She liked the feel of the sun on her back. But it all proved that the desert already had a hold on her.

When had she started walking? She couldn’t remember how she’d gotten to this desert. All that she could remember was the endless journey, the endless nothingness.

And when she remembered how lost she was, she felt angry. The desert became less than a desert, an empty void. Perhaps it didn’t exist. Perhaps she didn’t exist. All that existed was the journey, and if she were to stop, to give in, then it would all disappear. The desert isn’t real. It never was. And she wasn’t real either. All that existed were her footprints.

It was cold at night. There were stars, and she had names for all of them. She liked to think that each of the stars was watching her, waiting to see if she would stop. If she stopped, then they would finally win. That was what kept her walking, wasn’t it? Or was it only the false hope, that kept her legs moving, kept her feet sore?

There is nothing on the horizon. There never will be, and there never was.

She wanted to stop. She had to stop eventually. To surrender meant accepting defeat. Perhaps the sand would bury her. Perhaps a void would open, and this world would disappear. Or maybe nothing would happen, and she would only stand there, staring forward.

She would never find out. She kept walking.

Day and night. Day and night. And still there was nothing on the horizon.

She felt real. The desert felt real. The sun was real, and the stars were real. When she looked back, on those rare occasions, her footsteps seemed to be real. It was only the horizon that didn’t quite seem to exist.

Someday she would stop walking. But today was not that day.