The river is a foot higher than it was yesterday, nearly flooding our campsite. We spend the entire day walking from downtown Indianapolis. Wet sand sticks to our gear. The clothes that had been hanging in the trees to dry are tucked away in plastic bags, soaked. The extra water weight is noticeable and the broken waist strap on my backpack makes the load seem even heavier. Fat catfish wave their fins just under the White River, their wide open mouths protruding up into the air to collect edible floating things that the rain has pushed into the water.
The area immediately west of the city seems a wasteland, with little to no human activity outside of vehicles or structures. There’s a long stretch with no development whatsover, where a possum lies on the white line with its mouth cartoonishly smashed open. An intact row of teeth lies separated from the carcass. Then comes a few miles of real life, strictly black and Mexican, where the people actually exist right out in the hot open air.
“That pack looks heavy”, somebody yells at Sarah from a restaurant patio.
“Yeah, do you want to carry it for me?”
“No!”, followed by laughter from the other diners and employees.
The area surrounding the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the ultimate in urban desolation. Sports complexes don’t come any bigger and uglier than this. Grey steel bleachers loop off into the distance, seating for hundreds of thousands but not a soul in sight. On the other side of the street is an unoccupied strip mall and acres upon acres of perfectly flat gravel. “This is the worst kind of urban sprawl I’ve ever seen”, Sarah confirms.
The first ride is a young Mexican man with an unrestrained little girl who silently stares at us from the passenger seat. Techno music bumps from a speaker box that fills the entire hatchback. The man drops us a few moments later smack in the middle of an interstate sprawl where the 70 West and the 465 Loop intersect. Vehicles pass closely at 80 miles per hour on both sides as we quickly unload our packs and seek the relative safety of the shoulder ahead. Continuing to any I-70 exit would have caused the driver to travel miles out of his way to turn around, and stopping at any I-465 exit would have meant more walking for us, so this is the perfect crazy compromise.
Now is airport desolation, a flat treeless nothing that any experienced hitchhiker dreads, especially under a blaring late-summer sun. Miles of razor wire protects massive FedEx jets and the countless little carts that fit inside of them, all lined up neatly against a backdrop of utter nothingness. Not a soul stirs. The single feature on the horizon is a control tower and terminal buildings miles in the distance. On the other side of us is the I-70. We’d hopped the fence to walk the access road, looking for a entrance ramp to hitchhike from, but the view is clear for miles…….nothing.
Patience exhausted, we slip back through a gap in the fence to try hitchhiking directly from the interstate shoulder. I’m more than a little surprised when just minutes later a clean rectangular car pulls over. Having been traveling at full speed, the vehicle comes to a stop several hundred feet ahead, so I’m not completely sure this is in response to us, or pulling over for other reasons. The passenger side window rolling down is a good sign, but the middle-aged female driver doesn’t immediately speak and remains oddly leaned back in her seat.
“Hi, were you stopping for us?”
“Well, I just wondered if you were OK.”
“Yeah, OK, just trying to get here”, I say, pointing to my ‘St. Louis’ cardboard sign.
“My brother. He lives in Alton, on the Illinois side of the river just across from St. Louis.”
Long pause………”We’ll OK, I can get you that direction at least.”
Marna’s nice rectangular vehicle is about the only part of her life that she’s in control of. She’s spent the day in Indianapolis looking for a son who has abruptly cut off contact. A tanker truck knocked her into a parallel universe in the late 90′s when it rear ended her in the Florida Keys. Now the personalities of all the people in her life have changed and the Earth even has different geological features than it used to. The coastline of Florida is no longer the same shape. She’s given up trying to write about all the strange happenings because someone or something keeps stealing the stories out of her apartment. It or they have also bugged everything she owns. Her purse is one of their favorite targets. Even though she sleeps on top of it, items still turn up missing.
Marna has a few suspects; the government, aliens, and/or human/angel(alien) hybrids. There is a family of these hybrids that controls all the wealth and power of the world today. She suspects that they are upset with her because the accident in Florida made her aware of their existence.
My best advice, “So, it upsets them when you write these things down. It somehow hurts them, so you should fight back by continuing to write.”
“But they will just keep stealing the stories”, she moans.
“Then write a blog about it and keep backups. They can’t steal that.”
Having some computer experience, Marna is intrigued by the blog idea and asks specific questions about what services to use. It’s an hour into the ride and we still have no idea where she’s driving. The path remains true, I-70 west, so we don’t ask any questions unrelated to the paranormal quite yet. I don’t want Marna to get paranoid that I might be an alien spy, which would surely end the ride. She’s already asked casually, “Do you think that you might be a hybrid?”. She laughed at my response, so I think we’re good for now.
“No, I think I’m human because my feet really hurt from walking all day.”
“Well, I stopped back there because I thought you might have been angels sent down from heaven.”
Now I’m confused. Maybe being a hybrid isn’t so bad. I’ll have to feel this out.
Gas is low so we exit in Casey, Illinois. A sign advertises the town’s claim to fame, “world’s largest windchime”. Marna drives away abruptly without pumping any gas. “This town is full of telepaths. I’m not comfortable here. Let’s get the gas somewhere else.”
Sarah asks, “Are you telepathic?”
“Yes I am since the accident.”
We’re two hours into the ride, near Effingham when Marna finally admits that she’s driven an hour past her exit.
“Well this is just such a dangerous place to be. There are so many UFO’s around here.”
“There’s a bunch of truck stops right here. We’ll probably even get to Alton tonight if we continue hitchiking”, I lie. Darkness is falling fast and I don’t want to cause her any more trouble. She agrees but wants to buy us a Wendy’s dinner first. By the end of the meal she’s changed her mind.
“It’s just too dangerous. I’ll get you there.”
“OK, well it’s going to be late then. You can sleep in the guest room and drive back in the morning after you’re rested.”
Marna initially accepts the offer, but then has second thoughts as we continue driving.
“Is it safe? Is it OK if I get up at like 5AM and just leave?”
We abruptly pull into a rest area parking space. Marna stares out the windshield and rubs her temples, then moves to another parking space before continuing on. She stops in the middle of the roadway pointing at an ordinary traffic sign.
“What does that mean?”, she asks in a very troubled voice.
“It just means that the roadway is divided, stay to the right.”
“Oh, well older people like me don’t understand these new signs…..wait, what’s that light in the sky?”
“That’s a star.”
Now we’re back on the road in total darkness for another hour. We arrive just after 11PM to my brother and his wife’s little 1950′s house near the back of a dead-end street. They’re out of town for a night. The house is empty. Marna asks for a computer and surfs Christian Mingle until nobody has an ounce of energy left. I say goodnight and show her to the guest room.
“Are you sure your family is not shape shifting aliens?”
“No, I’ve never changed shape that I know of, and neither has my family.”
“Are you sure?”
“OK, well goodnight then.”