Through the windshield the highway feels like a coast of black sand, or a tarry sea, waves of rubber churning the asphalt. At best lonely currents guide them forward, over stubby white eels and coral yellow. At worst wrecks leave mirror shards like sea glass for waders to net and polish.
In the evening the sun dips and darkens, an open sore, and the sky shyly tips sideways to hide the wound beneath the horizon. Semis bend their loose joints around the corners of crossroads, Chinese dragons bowing their heads in the day's wake. Purple clouds shed their silver linings and drape their wings over the opalescent aether of twilight.
They save their money for gas and skip the hotel stop, Mom and Dad switching seats under streetlights in the forever of the Midwest. Atop the tremor of the engine his siblings' heads knock timid rhythms against the cold glass of car windows, but his fatigue sinks into night's quicksand, and before long he has forgotten how to close his eyes. The moon trills its name in swells of roadside rainwater, blushes against the shoulder of the earth.
In the dark he daydreams that he is sleeping, cradled between whitecaps, doused in gullsong, drifting further and further, farther and farther from shore.
And when light's modesty fails and morning boasts its way over the new landscape, and the truck sculpts wheel tracks into the gravel of their new driveway, and their things are straining to fill the nothing of new rooms, Sam feels the weight of an old shadow, pale and lithe, and hears its snakeskinned seraph's laugh, and tastes its capricious smile.
He is still too close.
So he moves. His parents don't understand, but his conviction weathers them. They have no chance. His slow breathing is the steady crawl of a brook, certain and relentless, the sort that, given time, will carve a gorge out of a mountainside.
With abating funds he coasts on buslines through bald desert and gray-haired industrial towns, hugging his guitar case close, earbuds fizzing as copper threads part ways, cutting off a rough voice that commands: "Swim until you can't see land! / Are you a man or'r you a bag of sand?"
In the crook of California he meets the ocean and introduces himself with bare feet, and as the tide rises he sits and watches the water bruise the sand, the sand heal instantly, the water bruise the sand. By the time the brine soaks the seat of his pants he is daydreaming again (further and further, farther and farther from shore).
He finds things: shells like the fragments of skeletons, and stones rubbed smooth by ebbs and flows; and then roommates, an apartment, a job selling books he'll never read; a drummer, a bass player, a pianist, an expensive hankering for weed; the ability to sleep. And he loses things: guitar picks, old shoes, a scarf a friend gave him once; his abs (partially), his shyness (somewhat), his dye job (entirely); days, and then weeks, and then months; never the memories he wants to. He sings, and grieves, and works, and grows, and dreams.
And he swims with strong and fading strokes into the year of the dragon.