Friday, June 28, 2019

2 Minutes. Go!

The tired evening sits upon the old wooden fence, wheedling. The animals are quiet, lost in the vacant contemplation of the moment: fatigue, full bellies, cool of the evening, falling as benediction. The man stares into his empty glass and scratches the whiskers on his chin - Virginia hills call to him, and he hears the stories of his grandfather which tell him: you are here, you are supposed to be here, you are alive.

The body of the boy is stinking and attracting flies, but it doesn't matter. He'll deal with it. He'll deal with it and everything else because that's what he said he would do. The obligation is a yoke; he is plowing his subconscious. The boy smells like shit. It is a real smell. Alive.

Behind the cabin, the stream trickles by as it has for years and ages, and maybe all time. It is filled with smooth rocks and windfall branches and slick, shiny trout that leap and flash in the falls. Watch this festival of natural absurdity glisten as it tumbles in the green water, heavy with rain.

The night will come, and it will signal the hoot owl and the hound. The boy will take his final resting place in the ground. The night birds will sing, and the neighbors will call that ominous. A panther will cleave the night like a woman's screams, and all will be laid out into the morning.

We don't need your gods. We don't need your medical learning. It's all and more that we know - what's in these hills. Every story ever told by man and half of his sins live in those trees. And when summer hits its stasis point and night is tipping scale toward morning - hell, nothing matters except the stories we tell ourselves. And they get big. Bigger than the hills.

There are more secrets. Everywhere. They clog the tepid air with their contrite seductions. There are corpses in the closets where most store skeletons. There are crossed bloodlines and cursed brothers - and in summer, when the night is a velvet curtain, you walk softly and you listen for the big wind that says the storm is coming. And if you're smart, you pray, whether you believe in it or not.


  1. Fearsome and awesome. So much told, so much untold. The last line is killer, if you'll pardon the expression. I swear I wrote my first piece before I read yours. The mountain lion/panther's scream is another one of those eerie simultaneities that David A points out.

  2. In the desert night, the chill air carries screams farther than in daylight hours. Some of the screams are from mountain lions and sound like a woman.

    Some of the screams are from women.

    Kelly had planned her camping trip carefully. She started with twenty places she wanted to see. Then she checked cellphone coverage maps of the areas.

    And she selected the one without any carriers showing it on their maps.

    Kelly was tired. She juggled two jobs, one of which involved her being on 24-hour call-out, and one was in retail. Kelly was burned out and she wanted to get away from it all. She cleared it with both her managers, and made sure everyone in her address book knew that she would be unavailable for the weekend. “Unreachable” was the word she used.

    The very word sounded delicious as she repeated it in her head.

    When Friday came, she ran out of her office and jumped in her car. She made it to the trailhead just as the sun was setting. She got out of the car, stretched, and checked her cellphone. No bars. “No Service” the screen pouted.

    Kelly thought about tossing the phone in the glove box, but then the practical side of her kicked in, and she decided to take it with her, “in case of emergency.”

    Camping alone was dangerous enough, she thought to herself.

    She popped the trunk and shrugged her backpack on. No tent. She didn’t need the weight, and she wanted to sleep directly under the stars.

    She checked the batteries in the flashlight she carried. All was well. And she took off down the trail.

    Step by step, she left the weight and worry of her world behind. The sound of birds entered her consciousness, and she tried to remember all their names. when she was a child, Grandmother helped her match the songs to the names of the birds who sang them.

    By the time twilight fell, she knew she was near the camping site. When she got there, she was pleased to see that there was an official fire ring. She had no intention of setting fire to this amazing place.

    She dropped her pack to the ground, and looked for exactly the right place to spread her sleeping bag. That done, she sat down on it crosslegged, and closed her eyes. The smells of this place. Pines. Earth.

    Her body was exhausted, but her mind was refreshed. She laid down on the sleeping bag, just for a minute, she told herself. When she opened her eyes again, it was full-on night time.

    The moon was new and invisible, so the Milky way stretched from one side of the clearing she was in to the other. The jagged tops of trees reminded her of a saw, as if this place had been cut from the “real world” and pasted into a place without people, without noise.

    Unzipping the sleeping bag, she slipped in and zipped it up again. She squirmed to remove her jeans, and put them under her head as a pillow.

    She let her mind wander, and soon she fell asleep. She let herself dream. Her dream started with her Grandmother, and with birds. They were on the porch, watching the hummingbird feeder. Listening to birdsong.

    And then a large bird flew toward the porch. Wings spreading wider and wider. Some might find vultures ugly, but this bird made your average vulture look like a beauty queen.

    Fear seized her gut. She felt her blood pressure and pulse increase. The birds wings punched the air with violent malevolence. It wasn’t heading for her, it was targeting her grandmother.

    And she woke ot the sound of her own scream. She was surprised at how loud it sounded, how frightened.

    Surprised, too, that there was light beside her head. She looked down.

    “I’ve been trying to call you” was the nag on her cellphone screen. “Get back to me asap.”

    A conspiracy of her boss and cellphone demons.

    She wept as she rolled up her sleeping bag and stuffed her gear in her backpack. And she walked back to her car. It was twenty miles of driving before she had a signal. But the peace she found in those four hours she had had to herself disappeared before she got bsck to the trailhead.

    24/7 and a bit of your soul every day wears you down.

    1. I like the direction and pacing a lot. And pouted. Cell phones, I have mixed feelings about. ;)

    2. Lol, me, too. We laugh about the ball and chain from centuries ago. In the future they will laugh at us for being tethered to cellphones. Thanks for the feedback.

  3. He was seventy-five, and I was the only one of his seven nephews who would visit him. Sharp as a tack, he reeled off one-liners faster than anyone I’d ever met.

    Sometimes he’d tell me stories. What it was like to look for someone to love when that search could get you fired or killed. What it was like to change the gender of the one you loved when you talked about them. What it was like to know a friend committed suicide because he was being blackmailed or because he’d been disowned from his family.

    Other times he’d tell me the glorious stories of dating a Marine on the down low. Of finding a bar that catered to a clientele of men who preferred the company of other men.

    The summer he turned seventy-six, I spent a week with him. In the year between this visit and my last, he’d aged a decade. His skin was nearly translucent. In the evening sun, sometimes I thought I could see his bones through his skin.

    There weren’t so many jokes nor very many stories. He walked slower, more cautiously, afraid to fall. I pretended not to notice.

    On my last day with him, I asked him if there was anything special he wanted to do. He looked at me for a second, as if trying to discern my reaction before he’d even answered. He swallowed. Hard.

    “There is.”


    “You promise not to laugh?”

    “I swear.”

    “I want a tattoo.”

    “Let’s do it.”

    We drove thirty-five miles to the nearest tattoo parlor. His face lit up like a Christmas tree when they showed us the books of artwork that, for a small fee, could live forever on skin.

    “What do you think you want?”

    “Oh, I know. But it’s fun looking at other ideas, too.”

    I didn’t press him. He took off his shirt, and I tried to imagine what he must have looked like when he was in the Navy some fifty years before.

    He whispered in the tattoo artist’s ear and prepared himself for what must have been a lifelong dream.

    I watched as they drew an outline of the tattoo above his heart. Simple. Geometric. A triangle.

    He saw my questioning look.

    “It’s what the Nazis made thousands of homosexuals wear in the concentration camps. A pink triangle. We took it back, as a sign of liberation in the sixties, before anyone thought of a rainbow flag. So we’d never forget what happens when a whole group of people are demonized.”

    The sound of the automated needle filled the small space. I watched the black outline take shape. I watched as the pink was colored in. He grimaced every once in a while But was stoic overall.

    The tattooist finished, gave him care instructions, and asked him if he was satisfied. Uncle only nodded, but the grin on his face made him look a decade younger.

    He got ready to pay, but I stopped him. His sky blue eyes searched my face.

    “Think they’d give us a discount for two?”

    He died that winter, and I couldn’t make it to his funeral. But every day when I step out of the shower and look in the mirror, I remember how two black sheep of the family wound up with pink triangles on their chests, and some days I cry.

    1. This is so beautiful. Moved to tears, here. <3

    2. Yep. You got me in the heart. And now I want a new tattoo, too.

    3. Thank you kindly! And I bet you wanted a new tattoo even before the story.


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