The Road is a 2006 novel by American writer Cormac McCarthy. It is a post-apocalyptic tale describing a journey taken by a father and his young son over a period of several months, across a landscape blasted years before by an unnamed cataclysm that destroyed civilization and, apparently, most life on earth.
- He lay listening to the water drip in the woods. Bedrock, this. The cold and the silence. The ashes of the late world carried on the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the void. Carried forth and scattered and carried forth again. Everything uncoupled from its shoring. Unsupported in the ashen air. Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone.
- From daydreams on the road there was no waking. He plodded on. He could remember everything of her save her scent. Seated in a theatre with her beside him leaning forward listening to the music. Gold scrollwork and sconces and the tall columnar folds of the drapes at either side of the stage. She held his hand in her lap and he could feel the tops of her stockings through the thin stuff of her summer dress. Freeze this frame. Now call down your dark and your cold and be damned.
- He pulled the boy closer. Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.
You forget some things, don't you?
Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.
- It took two days to cross that ashen scabland. The road beyond fell away on every side. It's snowing, the boy said. He looked at the sky. A single gray flake sifting down. He caught it in his hand and watched it expire there like the last host of christendom.
- He thought if he lived long enough the world at last would be lost. Like the dying world the newly blind inhabit, all of it slowly fading from memory.
- And the dreams so rich in color. How else would death call you? Waking in the cold dawn it all turned to ash instantly. Like certain frescoes entombed for centuries suddenly exposed to the day.
- In those first years the roads were peopled with refugees shrouded up in their clothing. Wearing masks and goggles, sitting in their rags by the side of the road like ruined aviators. Their barrows heaped with shoddy. Towing wagons or carts. Their eyes bright in their skulls. Creedless shells of men tottering down the causeways like migrants in a feverland. The frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night. The last instance of a thing takes the class with it. Turns out the light and is gone. Look around you. Ever is a long time. But the boy knew what he knew. That ever is no time at all.
- On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world. Query: how does the never to be differ from what never was?
- Dark of the invisible moon. The nights now only slightly less black. By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.
- When he rose and turned to go back the tarp was lit from within where the boy had wakened. Sited there in the darkness the frail blue shape of it looked like the pitch of some last venture at the edge of the world. Something all but unaccountable. And so it was.
- Bye and bye they came to a set of tracks cooked into the tar. They just suddenly appeared. He squatted and studied them. Someone had come out of the woods in the night and continued down the melted roadway.
Who is it? Said the boy.
I dont know. Who is anybody?
- They stood on the far shore of a river and called to him. Tattered gods slouching in their rags across the waste. Trekking the dried floor of a mineral sea where it lay cracked and broken like a fallen plate. Paths of feral fire in the coagulate sands. The figures faded in the distance. He woke and lay in the dark.
- No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes. So, he whispered to the sleeping boy. I have you.
- I should have been more careful, he said.
The boy didn't answer.
You have to talk to me.
You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know. It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?
He sat there cowled in the blanket. After a while he looked up. Are we still the good guys? he said.
Yes. We're still the good guys.
And we always will be.
Yes. We always will be.
- He’d had this feeling before, beyond the numbness and the dull despair. The world shrinking down about a raw core of parsible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true. More fragile than he would have thought. How much was gone already? The sacred idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality. Drawing down like something trying to preserve heat. In time to wink out forever.
- He was beginning to think that death was finally upon them and that they should find some place to hide where they would not be found. There were times when he sat watching the boy sleep that he would begin to sob uncontrollably but it wasnt about death. He wasnt sure what it was about but he thought it was about beauty or about goodness. Things he’d no longer any way to think about at all.
- He walked out into the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of an intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.
- He walked out into the road and stood. The silence. The salitter drying from the earth. The mudstained shapes of floating cities burned to the waterline. At a crossroads a ground set with dolmen stones where the spoken bones of oracles lay moldering. No sound but the wind. What will you say? A living man spoke these lines? He sharpened a quill with his small penknife to scribe these things in sloe or lampblack? At some reckonable and entabled moment? He is coming to steal my eyes. To seal my mouth with dirt.
- And perhaps beyond those shrouded swells another man did walk with another child on the dead gray sands. Slept but a sea apart on another beach among the bitter ashes of the world or stood in their rags lost to the same indifferent sun.
- He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the word and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not.
- Maybe you should always be on the lookout. If trouble comes when you least expect it then maybe the thing to do is to always expect it.
- Maybe he understood for the first time that to the boy he was himself an alien. A being from a planet that no longer existed. The tales of which were suspect. He could not construct for the child’s pleasure the world he’d lost without constructing the loss as well and he thought perhaps the child has known this better than he.
- He tried to remember the dream but he could not. All that was left was the feeling of it. He thought perhaps they’d come to warn him. Of what? That he could enkindle in the heart of the child what was ashes in his own. Even now some part of him wished they’d never found this refuge. Some part of him always wished it to be over.
- People were always getting ready for tomorrow. I didn’t believe in that. Tomorrow wasnt getting ready for them. It didnt even know they were there.
- By then all stores of food had given out and murder was everywhere upon the land. The world soon to be largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes and the cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell. The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them silently as eyes. Out on the roads the pilgrims sank down and fell over and died and the bleak and shrouded earth went trundling past the sun and returned again as trackless and as unremarked as the path of any nameless sisterworld in the ancient dark beyond.
- When your dreams are of some world that never was or of some world that never will be and you are happy again then you will have given up. Do you understand? And you cant give up. I wont let you.
- Do you think that your fathers are watching? That they weigh you in their ledgerbook? Against what? There is no book and your fathers are dead in the ground.
- Along the interstate in the distance long lines of charred and rusting cars. The raw rims of the wheels sitting in a stiff gray sludge of melted rubber, in blackened rings of wire. The incinerate corpses shrunk to the size of a child and propped on the bare springs of the seats. Ten thousand dreams ensepulchred within their crozzled hearts. They went on. Treading the dead world under like rats on a wheel. The nights dead still and deader black. So cold.
- Perhaps in the world’s destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made. Oceans, mountains. The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular. The silence.
- You said you wouldnt ever leave me.
I know. I’m sorry. You have my whole heart. You always did. You’re the best guy. You always were. If I’m not here you can still talk to me. You can talk to me and I’ll talk to you. You’ll see.
- Do you remember that little boy, Papa?
Yes. I remember him.
Do you think that he’s all right that little boy?
Oh yes. I think he’s all right.
Do you think he was lost?
No. I dont think he was lost.
I’m scared that he was lost.
I think he’s all right.
But who will find him if he’s lost? Who will find the little boy?
Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again.
- Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not to be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.