I wanted to write, but nothing came to me. The feeling reminded me of walking through the desert with an empty canteen, but constantly thinking about taking a drink any way. You’ll eventually do it out of habit or compulsion, no matter what your rational thoughts say. Sometimes you’ll even get a trickle of water out of it, a sliver that more reminds you of water than gives any sort of quenching. Yet you swallow any way, because it’s what you have.
Drinks had been played thin, boosted my tolerance of alcohol and caffeine to a level that cracked even my apathy. I wanted to not drink more than I wanted to do something interesting. I also wanted to be alone, which was fairly normal, but knew I needed other people around, which was not at all normal. The saving grace was that I had make-work that gave me something to pretend to do around people that I didn’t have to talk to. That probably spared my sanity a good bit of stress while doing nothing for my dwindling savings.
This was an inflection point in my reality. Not the good kind, where one chooses between two paths that make them a better person and their life a better experience. This was a lower bound, where you gently bottom out before building momentum and returning to a life that could at least pass for normal. I sat and considered a few courses I could take for the day. Most of them involved some sort of exercise, like walking or boating, but all of them tired me out by the thinking of them, before I could begin and gain some tangible exhaustion. I left to let a distraction find me.
At the creek, there were rocks in the bed below the trail. Nobody was sure where they had come from. They were large and natural, not concrete rip-rap that you might find near an old construction site, diminutive monuments of a sunburned driver who wanted to see his children ten minutes sooner, and took those ten minutes from the time it would have cost to drive to the dumping grounds. There was no construction nearby, and they were the wrong kinds of rocks. These were cut from a stream with an actual current, where a subdued torrent of silted water slowly carved them out, then brushed their edges to an eggshell finish, and were out of place in the coastal plains.
I’d been to this spot several times over the past few months. Each time I passed the trail, it was closer to the water. The at the last passing, I realized it was the bank moving, and not the trail. Soon the trail would be severed, only an imaginary line down the bank, through the water, and back up the bank. The rocks wanted to be there. I didn’t know exactly where, and I couldn’t fathom exactly why, but the rocks had a need and I couldn’t ignore it.
The cairn started out small, as all cairns must be started. My mortar was weaker than that of a pile that grew over a hundred years, but it was enough to let the rocks pile up. I tasted dust and sweat and an absence of humidity. The air wasn’t heavy with water like it normally is, and tasted more of dying microflora than moisture ripped from standing bodies of water. There weren’t many bodies of water left standing or otherwise. There was more grit on my hands than in my mouth, which was good, but the balance was slowly tipping. It became a long, unsteady farce of race. Working harder made it worse, as did working faster. And it was a sort of work born from the compulsion that glowed from that carpet of rocks by the creek. It wasn’t required of me, but it had to be done.
My doldrums were buried under the stack of foreign rocks. I put them on the edge of the path, nearer the water. The trail would grow around the rocks, the creek would keep its distance. I understood why the rocks wanted to be there, and it made my labor easier. The stack grew, until the all the stony brothers were in their new home. I hadn’t realized it until my race was over, but I was exhausted. I couldn’t hear my arms over the crying of the rocks, but once the rocks were satisfied, my arms plaintive cry rang in my ears. Even if it wasn’t for such, I appeased them, sitting against a tree and crossing them over my knees.
In the shade of the tree, I watched the rocks lounge in their new home, imagining them shuffling around and finding comfortable spots to set. After a few minutes I stopped imagining, and the rocks kept shuffling. A rock half way up the pile tipped onto a new side. I idly wondered at this, because the rocks didn’t have any means of locomotion that I could recall. Its brother followed its lead, and tumbled to the bottom of the pile. I watched with a resigned interest as more followed, taking the bank and half of the trail with them. All that was left of the cairn was a bite in the trail and an expanse of rocks trailing into the creek.
I wanted to write, sitting in the shade, but nothing came to me. But I knew where the rocks had come from.