They followed a stone wall past the remains of an orchard. The trees in their ordered rows gnarled and black and the fallen limbs thick on the ground. He stopped and looked across the feilds. Wind in the east. The soft ash moving in the furrows. Stopping. Moving again.He'd seen it all before. Shapes of dried blood in the stubble grass and gray coils of viscera where the slain had been feild-dressed and hauled away. The wall beyond held a frieze of human heads, all faced alike, dried and caved with their taut grins and shrunken eyes. They wore gold rings in their leather ears and in the wind their sparse and ratty hair twisted about on their skulls. The teeth in their sockets like dental molds, the crude tattoos etched in some homebrewed woad faded in the beggarded sunlight. Spiders, swords, targets. A dragon. Runic slogans, creeds misspelled. Old scars with old motifs stitched along their borders. The heads not truncheoned shapeless had been flayed of their skins and the raw skulls painted and signed across the forehead ina scrawl and one white skull had the plate sutures etched carefully in ink like a blueprint for assembly. He looked back at the boy. Standing by the cart in the wind. He looked at the dry grass where it moved and at the dark and twisted trees in their rows. A few shreds of clothing blown against the wall, everything gray in the ash. He walked along the wall passing the masks in a last review and through a stile and out to where the boy was waiting. He put his arm around his shoulder. Okay, he said. Let's go.
He'd come to see a message in each such late history, a message and a warning, and so this tableau of the slain and devoured did prove to be. He woke in the morning and turned over in the blanket and looked back down the road through the trees the way they'd come in time to see the marchersap pear four abreast. Dressed in clothing of every description, all wearing red scarves at their necks. Red or orange, as close to red as they could find. He put his hand on the boy's head. Shh, he said.
What is it , Papa?
People on the road. Keep your face down. Don't look.
No smoke from the dead fire. Nothing to be seen of the cart. He wallowed into the ground and lay watching across his forarm. An army in tennis shoes, tramping. Carrying three-foot lengths of pipe with leather wrappings. Lanyards at the wrist. Some of the pipes were threaded through with lengths of chain fitted at their ends with every manner of bludgeon. They clanked past, marching with a swaying gait like wind-up toys. Bearded, their breath smoking through their masks. Shh, he said. Shh. The phalanx following carried spears or lances tassled with ribbons, the long blades hammered out of truck springs in some crude forge upcountry. from The Road.
New York times Sunday Book ReviewSPOILER WARNING!