This is the intro to a short story I’ve been working on, called “The Ground”. I hope you enjoy it.

**

From the low hanging clouds that stretched from one end of northern Alabama sky to the other, huge drops of rain splashed against my motorcycle helmet that was a little too big for my head. My speedometer said I was traveling at 70 miles per hour, but despite the thunderstorm, cars and semis were racing past me. The spray of water and the powerful wind left in the wake of the larger trucks caused my motorcycle to wobble beneath me. I felt the fear of death for the first time in my life. The fear was primal, something way down inside me, like hope or lust.

I was riding north on I-65 and on the right I saw a farmer leading two cows out of the rain, into a red wooden barn. I thought of Noah, catching and taming all those animals, leading them to the ark. I imagined myself back then, back when the rains of The Flood started. I imagined myself, not inside the ark with the animals and the righteous, but outside as the rain started, grew stronger and collected in to puddles, then ponds. That religious nut, Noah, had said the rain wouldn’t stop, and when I realized he was right, I screamed and banged on the side of that boat, feeling the water rise around me, to my waist, my chest, my neck. When I realized it wouldn’t stop, I clawed at the boat, digging my fingernails into the wood until my fingertips were raw and the water rose to my chin, then my lips, then the skin beneath my septum, then into my nostrils. The water streaming through my windpipe judged me unfit for the next world, the one with color. The next world that started out with two of everything: Two dogs, two mosquitoes, two polar bears. In that world, there would be no question that the chicken came before the egg.

I looked down at two rubber tires, gripping the wet road beneath me. The rain was driving in to the skin on my neck and arms, soaking in to my t-shirt and jeans. When I moved my feet around, I could feel rain squishing between my tennis shoes and socks. Ahead, I saw a dead opossum in my lane. As I approached it, the stench mixed with the moist smell of rain and started a parade of unpleasant memories, which I assumed to be my judgment.

I remembered the time my high school girlfriend came to my house wearing denim overall shorts, her hands deep inside her pockets. She asked me if it was true that I had cheated on her and then why. I lied to her, but she pursed her mouth and hit my ear with her fist. She turned and walked to her car with her fists clinched. She was crying as she drove away. The shame of seeing myself in this memory was blunted by the sweetness of the sin that came before it and which still lingered vividly in my mind, 15 years later, as I rode a 1986 Honda Rebel through the rain, past a dead opossum.

I remembered the time, years before, when my little brother, Jonah, appeared in our living room dressed in black pants, a red leather jacket with zippers everywhere and a white glove on his right hand. He strutted to the stereo, started a tape and danced Michael Jackson’s whole routine from the Beat It video on the hardwood floor in front of us. He finished his performance, which I knew he had been rehearsing for weeks, and stood before us. I laughed and my parents clapped. I could still remember the tears that pricked at his eyes and how he stood there with that white gloved hand dangling at his side, weighing my laughter against my parents praise. That was the first time I hurt someone on purpose and there was nothing in that memory to numb the pain of it now.

I pulled off at the next exit and parked my bike at a Citgo station. Inside the door, I stood next to a 4 foot map of Alabama and bit in to a scalding hot, gooey bean and cheese microwave burrito. Moving my thumb and forefinger against the map, I calculated that I had traveled about 175 miles since I left Monroeville, Alabama six hours earlier. Six hours ago in Monroeville, the sun was still shining and there was no water pooled in the red clay dirt above my brother’s grave.