Keep your head down. Eyes low.
Tread softly, placing your boots with their duct-taped soles in the prints left by the person in front of you.
Don’t go too fast, for the person behind.
Don’t stop. Don’t look back.
And don’t look up.
Keep your head down. The wind is strong, strong enough to pull you off course, if you let it.
The wind carries things with it. Dust that grits up in your eyes and your mouth, a reminder of where you came from, and where you will return. Rain, occasionally. Not the kind you’d turn your face up for, lips open and soft as petals—this rain stings and bites.
Sometimes, if you listen closely, you can hear voices in the wind. They ring out for miles: cries for help, songs of hope, screams of anguish, whispers of love. After a while, it all sounds the same.
No matter what the wind brings, keep your head down.
Do your best not to look around. This way, you can picture the world as it was, not as it is. You can picture fields of flowers, corn ripening in the sun, mountains and rivers and the way the moon caressed the ripples where the ocean met the shore.
Eyes low, so you don’t have to see what the world has become.
Tread softly. The man in front of you is old, his skin wrinkled by time and leathered by the sun. His footsteps are uneven; the left one always drags a bit. He is taller than you, so you have to stretch to place your boots in his footprints.
You have never seen his face, but you can picture it: golden-brown eyes that were warm and twinkled once. A mouth that droops ever so slightly on the left side, which you’d only notice if you really looked. A scar just to the right of his nose.
He talks to you sometimes. His voice is jagged, like roughly broken pieces of slate. He doesn’t talk about himself much, but he tells you stories. Your favorite is the one about where the sun came from, and where it went. It’s different every time.
If you are very lucky, and he is in a good mood, he sings. Just a hum, really, with the few words that he remembers snuck in like a prayer. He isn’t very good, but you can tell he used to be. You like to imagine him on a stage somewhere a long time ago, an old acoustic strapped to his back, crooning with whiskey on his breath into a microphone. And the room is quiet, and the world is full of everything good.
Tread softly, so you can hear the singing.
Don’t go too fast.
The girl behind you is young, too young for all of this. She doesn’t tire easily, she’s tough. You think that she will probably last the longest. Maybe she will survive.
Her face is usually covered with a red paisley cloth. She has dark skin, rich and lush as the earth used to be. It reminds you of home, and so you don’t look back at her.
You talk to her sometimes, but not often. You tell her the stories the old man told you, but never as well. The endings always peter out in some unsatisfactory manner, and you feel guilty for this. She deserves a good ending.
She has a laugh that makes you think tomorrow you might actually get to where you're going. She makes you forget the cold.
She told you once that she doesn’t really remember life before. She remembers a man, probably her father, tossing her towards the clouds while she squealed. And she can vaguely recall the taste of oranges, the way the peel stuck beneath her fingernails when she broke into them, and how the scent lingered there for hours.
When she talks about things from before, it’s like they’re happening all over again. Like she could fix things, just by remembering how the world used to be. And you’ve found that you love her, like a sister, the same way you cherished the warmth of the sun on your face.
Don’t go too fast, so you don’t lose the person behind.
Don’t stop. Don’t look back.
Somewhere in the darkness behind you, there is death. The remains of the ones who fell or strayed from the line. You loved some of them. Tolerated a few. Just like family.
You found them, or they found you, and you walked together. You lost track of the miles, of the names, a long time ago. There was a man who smelled of the ocean and asked too many questions. A young boy who used to run from the front of the line to the back, carrying messages and water and a hopeful smile. There was a woman who was missing one of her front teeth that could fix anything. She was the one who taped your shoe back together for you.
There were many more. And you had to leave them behind.
Sometimes, you think you hear them in the wind. They tell you to keep going, or to turn back, or laugh at you for thinking you will make it to where you’re headed.
They ask if you remember where you’re headed. And you’re not sure you know the answer to that anymore.
But you don’t stop, you don’t look back. Something keeps you going.
Don’t look up.
This rule is the one you made for yourself. Because you trust that there is light above you, somewhere. And you also trust that if you look too hard for it, you will forget to keep going.
You know that if you look up, you will forget what lies ahead, who goes behind. You will lose track of the old man’s footsteps and you won’t hear the young girl’s laughter.
But sometimes, when the road is silent and you can't see the others through the dust, all you want to do is search for the stars.
Don’t look up, or you’ll lose yourself.
Don’t stop, and don’t look back. There is nothing for you on the road you’ve traveled.
Don’t go too fast. She walks in your footsteps somewhere just behind.
Tread softly, right where the old man walked. His steps are surer than yours, the prints he leaves more absolute.
Keep your eyes low, so the world can be how you remember it.
Keep your head down, so you aren’t drawn off course.