The Kafka brothers, tiny men with thin moustaches and matching scars across left cheeks, hardly ever speak to one another and forget the other exists, even though they live in the same house. Now in the bestial winter, they have not spoken in over a month nor have they seen the others’ dark brown eyes. The house is not a mansion and still, their paths have not crossed.
The first wave of the storm is over and the deep snow covers the earth. Yet soon the heavy snow will fall again and a swirling blizzard will sweep across Brooklyn. Outside, the temperature has dropped below zero. And in the old house where he and his brother Joseph live, the boiler is broken and the pipes frozen.
The doorbell rings. Wearing a black winter coat, he saunters to the door.
He opens the creaky door and picks up a large envelope.
Your twin brother Joseph disappeared 18 days ago. Perhaps you should look for him. You might want to search the old house where the two of you live.
Signed, A Concerned Stranger
John rushes slowly through the little house. Inside Joseph’s room, on the night table by the bed, is a note.
The storm’s coming, John. I’m getting out before I freeze to death. And like the deep snow, this house is a coffin. Going back to our roots, back to the Devil’s Highway.
Farewell, my pusillanimous brother
I’m driving cross country in an old black pickup truck heading for the Devil’s Highway. An unfathomable force compels me to search for Joseph.
Hours melt into days, weeks, and months for the journey is endless and unreal, like a dream within a dream shooting forth from nowhere. A chimerical flower blossoms in the wilderness, spreading and exhaling its poison to all who travel through the miasma, waiting for the next traveler to come along and risk driving across 130 miles of hazardous terrain, alone beneath the bestial sun.
An old broken sign dangling in the seething air tells me where I am. El Camino del Diablo, it says. Here I am in the Sonoran Desert, closer to Joseph.
The omnipotent sun burns the mythic road. I park my truck on the side of the dirt road and rest. I drink a large bottle of water and XES, a special potion my doctor prescribed.
I notice mammoth saguaros looming in the distance. The spine-covered cacti are the centurions of the Sonoran Desert, guarding the unreal landscape, a phantasmagoria of shadows dancing in the light and phantoms vanishing in the darkness. Now, as I gaze at the hypnotic saguaros, whose arms spread out and point toward the Heavens like holy candelabra in the haunting landscape, I fall asleep.
Camino del Muerto
Road of the Dead Man
On Camino del Muerto, a full moon illuminates an old man standing near a giant saguaro, hunched over and clutching an ocotillo cane. I stumble across the dirt road. Shrouded in fear, I pass through the thick darkness and reach the little man, a stranger bathed in an eerie circle of light. He has no eyes, only empty sockets.
“On this road, you’re not alone. Open your shriveled mind and listen to the sacred saguaros blessing you with prayers and celestial susurrations. A mile down the road, the anorexic ocotillos sing in the wasteland and dance with the phantom wind. Ocotillos heal the body and soul. And my ocotillo cane is Jacob’s staff. Now, take my holy ocotillo cane. It will protect you on your journey.”
But when I reach for the sacred cane, the old man and the cane vanish.
I jump into my pickup truck and continue driving through the Sonoran Desert. I taste the seething vastness of nowhere, sweat pouring down my weather-beaten face. Across the wasteland, I see waves of glittering debris on the side of the road and in the distance, a long horizontal metallic barrier blocks the Devil’s Highway. I step on my brakes and my pickup truck stops short of the apocalyptic gate which bears Dante’s inscription—Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
The gate opens and I drive through.
On the western side of the road, I discover the graves, a cornucopia of wooden crosses pointed diagonally at the Heavens next to mounds of rocks covering the bones of the dead. I read an inscription about six dead travelers, Unknown strangers in search of adventure.
I stumble across the forbidding landscape until I come to another gravesite.
Looking down at the first grave, I see the inscription, Rose Kafka, wife and mother December 25, 1960-August 10, 1990.
“Mother,” I scream, as I fall to my knees and kiss the wooden cross. Now, I remember Father’s story about two young immigrants escaping from a country of tyranny and violence to come to America. He and Rose traveled across the border one August night when she gave birth to twin boys. Rose Kafka, my mother, died a few minutes after giving birth.
Staring at the second grave, I wonder who the poor soul is buried next to Mother. The inscription reads, Joseph Kafka August 10, 1990 10 AM-11 AM.
My body shakes violently as my frenzied eyes dart and flit across the unforgiving Sonoran Desert. Fists clenched, I scream at the indifferent universe, “Why?”
“How is he doing?”
“Delirious. He’s got 106 temperature.”
“A miracle, isn’t it?”
“That he’s still alive. This virus is a real killer.”
“Maybe he’s in a place worse than death, on fire in a private purgatory.”
“Yeah, he keeps shrieking ‘the Devil’s Highway,’ his antidote to an imaginary winter storm in an unreal Brooklyn buried in his mind where folks are dying in the freezing cold.”
“Could be he’s searching for something. Listen…”
“Mother, I found you and Joseph. I’m home.”