At ten o'clock that morning, he stumbled into the bright airy space of a grassy clearing. Sweat covered his body. Stopping to catch his breath, he looked up at the blue sky. The deepness of it made him believe that he would go on forever like this. He watched the clouds, wondering in what direction they were moving and if they would soon be floating above his home? He wanted to go there and cry, face down on his bed. He wanted to believe that none of this had happened.
He tried to forget about what he was thinking by staring out at the land that surrounded him. A ubiquitous, massive expanse of pine forest stretched into all directions. He thought he stood in the center of some colossal wheel, from which the trees were spokes that radiated outward for hundreds and hundreds of miles. He tried to convince himself that he would soon get out.
The Louisiana humidity had taken its toll on his body. Wanting to rest, he sat down on a rotting, lightning-felled log. He wiped away redbugs that had welted his legs. from his legs. He looked up at the sky again. A pencil-thin white vapor trail left by a streaking jet, had begun to disappear. A crashing noise in the brush, made him jerk his head. Moments later, a whitetail came into the clearing where it paused to sniff the air. When the boy moved his foot, the whitetail leaped as if it had been shot. In three bounding leaps, it disappeared into the forest at the other side of the clearing.
As he stood up, he heard the telltale sign. He froze in place, scared to move in any direction. The coiled rattlesnake lay on the ground on the other side of the log. Its tongue darted in and out and its black eyes looked in his direction. The tail rattled as if on fire. He recalled those times his father had killed the snakes near their hunting camp, hanging the rattles then on the front porch as mementos from his victories.
He had walked all night, crying most of the time. His clothes had gotten torn on brambles and sharp-tined limbs, and his legs and arms were bloodied by the scratches that they had made. He was eleven-years old, but he had not thought of dying. The young are too innocent to think of death even when they are close to it. Still he felt terrified. He wondered why it had all come to this?
It had happened for no reason. He had gone out into the country with his father and mother to watch the meteor showers. They had parked their new Suburban along a dusty road beside a fallow cotton field. A bayou with tall cypress trees jutting up from the black water, bordered the other side of the road. The clear, night sky had filled with thousands of stars.
"Monsters are everywhere," his father had said, laughing as they moved out into the field.
"Martin," his mother said, "I don't see any reason for you to talk that way. Now stop it!"
"It's okay mom. Dad doesn't bother me when he talks like that. I'm used to it by now."
"I'm sure you are," his mother said while glancing at her husband. "But that doesn't make it any more proper, trying to scare our son like that."
"Our son is a warrior. Scared of nothing. Isn't that right, sport?"
"Yes, sir," Logan Banks replied, feeling too grown up now to be protected by his mother's maternal shield.
"What did I tell you, Margaret?"
She shook her hand and took hold of her husband's hand, "I know that I can't win when I'm outnumbered like this."
Everyone laughed and as if pulled by strings, looked up into the sky. The expectations of seeing a cavalcade of falling meteors took precedence over everything else. The incessant thrum from cicadas rose at times to a frenzied pitch. From the bayou came the sounds of bullfrogs, creaking and groaning as if they were trying to rival each other.
"Look," Logan cried, his arm suddenly pointing upward like a javelin moments before it would get thrown.
"I see it," his mother said, excited by the falling star and her son's enthusiasm.
"There goes another," his father said, tracing the star's falling arc across the sky with the index finger of his right hand.
"Dang it, they are fast," Logan added, his head tilted back and searching the sky.
"Oh, I know," said his mother. "We live in such an amazing world."And so they stood gazing skyward, forgetting for the moment the humidity and mosquitoes and the passage of time that slipped by them like a current beneath the surface of the water. Forty-five minutes passed, during which time many falling stars were seen and unofficially documented for the purpose of memory. Logan had been counting the stars in the Big Dipper when he saw something flickering through the trees.
"What's that?" he asked.
"A car, silly," his mother said, "It looks like someone else may be trying to take over our spot."
"No, that's a poltergeist," Logan's father said, taking advantage of the somber tone that he noticed in his son's voice.
"Please, Martin. Enough of that Stephen King stuff. Please wait until we get home."
They watched the headlights continue to flicker though the trees. Then they heard the sound that the tires made passing over the gravel road. When the vehicle came out of the trees, it passed between the open fields. It then turned right onto the dusty road, moving towards the family at a slow rate of speed. A kicked-up cloud followed the vehicles movements.
The battered, early-model dark brown Nissan truck angled into the field until its headlights found the three of them. If they could have seen clearly into the truck's bed, they would have noticed several wooden pallets, a rusted air compressor, two tied off hefty bags that were filled with coke and beer cans. They would have seen two spare tires mounted on bent rims, and a battered tool box with a lid that was held down by several rubber tie straps stretched across its top. As the passenger side door opened, it made a metallic, twisting sound as if something might break.
The man stood there, grinning. Tall, thin, and unkempt, he wore a dirty baseball cap cocked a little to one side. His red tee shirt had a large hole in the left shoulder and his grimy blue jeans had been tucked down into his tan, oil-stained cowboy boots. He had not shaven in four days, and along with eyes that were set deep into his head, gave him the appearance of one who has not seen many happy days.
"Howdy," the man said with a pronounced drawl. He rested his arms on the top of the door frame. His hands hung loosely like wet dish rags.
"Hello, how are you?" Logan's father replied matter-of-factly.
"I'm fine, how you?"
"We're fine. We drove out here to watch the meteor showers."
"Yea, the Leonids," Logan added quickly.
"Uh, uh. Come all the way out here to watch a bunch of dying stars. That explains it now. I seen ya' drive by and when ya' did not come back, I got worried. Come out here to check on ya' all."
"Why. What's wrong?" Logan's mother asked.
"Folks like you don't know this country. Come out here and make a wrong turn. Then bad things happen. Just last year, a bunch of folks went into the water right over there." He motioned in the direction of the bayou. "Down to the bottom," he said grinning. "Boy they was ripe when they got pulled out a few months later."
Margaret moved closer to her husband. She imagined a family much like her own, screaming in the sinking vehicle, flailing their arms and legs in the black rising water as they struggled to get out.
"What's your name, son?"
"Lo-Gan," the man said as if he had a toothpick in his mouth.
"Yes, sir. That's it."
"Well tell me something, Lo-Gan. Is that your rig right there?" The man began to laugh as if he had said something wonderful and amusing.
"No, sir. That's my dad's Suburban."
"Damn," the man said, "I was hoping you might let me take it for a ride. Big rig like that musta' cost a lotta' money. Bet it got all them fancy things inside. You sure you can't let me take it for a ride?"
"That's enough of that. Leave my son out of anything else that you might think to say. Though I believe that in your case, think might be an inappropriate word. Do I make myself clear?"
Martin took two steps forward, but before he could take a third, the man raised his right hand like a policeman stopping traffic. Martin stopped as if the hand had been pressed with force against his chest.
"Now, now, cowboy," the man began in a high-pitched voice, "this ain't the old west and you ain't Doc Holliday. I come out here to check on ya' all and this is the kind of thanks I get." The man bent down and reached into his truck. When he stood back up he held in his hands a twelve-gauge double barrel shotgun. He grinned again as he stepped out into the field. "This here is Benny. Me and him are friends. Benny, say hello to these good people." For a moment the man said nothing. When his truck backfired, Margaret screamed. She fell sobbing into her husband's arms.
"That wasn't Benny," the man said wildly. "I promise! But damn it, what are the chances of that happening. Who gonna' believe me if I told em' that. Lo-Gan, move over there next to your momma and old man."
"Why," Logan said nervously. He was rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. His legs felt like rubber.
"Cause Benny said so. Listen." The man pulled back the hammers on the shotgun. There came a faint, but distinct clicking metallic sound. "See there. That's Benny speaking. Now get over there, nice and easy."
"You filthy redneck."
"Logan," his father said, trying hard to reason some escape, "do what the man says."
"What did you say, boy?"
"You heard me. I called you a filthy redneck."
"Boy, if you were my son, I'd tan your ass until the cows came home."
"Your son," Margaret sobbed, "you make me sick saying something like that."
"Well now, ain't that just like a mother? Getting' all worked up like a bitch in heat. Maybe I'll tan your son's ass right now. Do it right in front of ya' until he squeals like a pig. You ever seen the movie Deliverance?" With that he began to laugh, his body shaking and trembling like he was having some kind of fit. Just then, a bright falling star passed overhead. He looked up as star's passing got reflected in his eyes.
"Now, now. Isn't that nice," he said, smiling.
Overcome with rage, Margaret broke free from her husband. She charged ahead, though it was more a bumbling forward pitch as her sandaled feet kept tripping her up. "You bastard," she cried out, "who do you think you are!"
He said nothing. His body remained stationary. In a smooth motion, he brought the shotgun up to his waist. Then his right index finger tripped the front trigger. The blast deafened everything. Logan watched his mother fly back three feet behind her husband. It appeared as if she had been tied to a rope and someone had taken up the slack, violently pulling her back.
"Logan, run. Get out of here!" His father had reached down and come back up with a huge clot of dirt. In one fluent powerful motion, he threw it towards the man. The second shotgun blast caught Logan's father flush in the chest.
"Damn it," the man said, wiping the dirt out of his eyes and off of his face. He got into his truck and came back with two more shells, which he pushed into the open breach. He closed it, looking around, trying to get his bearings, though this was difficult because his eyes were watering.
Logan tore across the open ground, moving side to side so he would not make a good target, hoping he could no longer be seen in the glare produced by the truck's headlights. "Son-of-a-bitch," he heard the man yell.
The third shotgun blast sent buckshot ripping through the weeds off to Logan's right side. It came close to striking his legs and back. The fourth blast made tiny explosions of dirt come up from the earth off on Logan's left. By now the piney woods were just ahead of him. Seconds before he ran into the forest, he looked back over his shoulder. He saw the headlights of the truck still shining like stars. He shut his eyes, feeling the pine limbs raking his face and body.
Carefully, Logan stepped backwards to get out of striking distance of the rattlesnake. When he knew that he could not be bitten, he turned around to consider where to go, or where not to go. He knew it didn't matter. In any direction that he looked, it all seemed the same endless unceasing wall of green. He wanted water and he wanted this to all go away. His innocence, however shattered, still made him believe that he just might be dreaming. And so he started to walk towards the woods on the other side of the clearing, hoping soon that he just might wake up.
He felt tired and hungry. He had run most of the night, moving through deadfalls, bloodroot, tangled vines, and undergrowth thick enough to hide fallen trees. The mosquitoes gave him fits, biting his exposed skin for hours and hours. Swarms of Black flies kept biting the back of his neck. He found no well-worn path to walk on. Nothing gave him a sense of direction, or some semblance of hope to make him believe that he might be going towards civilization.
Now moving forward again, he stopped after a short time to cry again for what had happened. He covered his face, noting all the scratches on his palms, how his tears mixed with his dried-up blood. He cried until he heard a noise. He looked up to find a gray squirrel on a pine tree trunk. The squirrel faced the ground, chattering and jerking its tail back and forth. Logan threw a stick at it, missing by a foot. His fatigue allowed him to step into a mound of fire ants. They boiled up his right leg, seething because their nest had been disturbed. He slapped at them, but not before he felt their painful bites above his ankles.
He pushed forward, trying to forget the bright, welcome light of the clearing. The piney-covered land rose up into a gentle incline, before it leveled off into a flat country filled with thick vegetation and the first beginnings of some hardwoods.
After two miles, the land sloped down to a bottom filled with palmetto plants. It was brighter there and far less dense than those miles of trees through which he had just walked. He took his time going down the hill. In the bottom swale, he weaved among the palmetto plants, always cautious of snakes that could be hidden in the thigh-high grass. He paused to look around again. He knew that this forest had been timbered before. The thinned out, second-cut growth of pines and oaks gave hope that he might be nearing a place where people lived.
He came to a slough, stopping and standing at the edge where he watched the copper-colored water trickle by his feet. He wanted to bend over and take a long drink, but he knew that the tepid water would make him sick. Downstream, about thirty yards away, a snowy white egret perched near the end of a gray, rotting limb, which appeared as if it would not hold the bird's weight. Logan turned to watch it as he waded through the ankle deep water. The bird stared back for a few moments. Then it flew out of sight.
A water moccasin swam towards him. He did not fear it because he had come out of the water. He moved up the hill, at times falling forward under the weight of his exhaustion. He heard thunder and five minutes later it rained when a dark cloud passed overhead, blotting out the sun. The rain made his body feel better. He opened his mouth and leaned back his head. Then he fell to his knees because he had almost fallen backwards. He drank as best he could. The water soothed his lips and tongue, though his thirst continued to fester like an open sore.
The summer shower lasted ten minutes. Then the land became the way it had been before the rain had arrived; the sun burned down through the trees, and the humid air made every action uncomfortable. Logan hesitated before moving forward again. All around him he heard the small dripping sounds made by rainwater falling down through the leaves. It made him think of footsteps walking his way. Footsteps that would lead him home.
But the only footsteps that he heard were the sounds that his made as they moved across acres and acres of fallen pine needles. He began to cry again. He believed that he should have followed the water because in time it would have led him to places where people lived. He knew it to be a bad mistake, because he no longer knew which direction to go if he decided to turn back. The forest turned thick again, nearly impenetrable. His clothes had long-since dried. He had been walking now for three hours since it had rained. Even though the land had long ago leveled out, Logan felt sluggish. He stopped sweating and then he wondered if his Labrador back home had any water. It seemed strange to think of such a thing. He sat down, resting his back on the trunk of a towering pine tree. He shut his eyes. Hearing some blue jays scream in the branches high above him, he opened his eyes again. He squinted and leaned forward, looking through the trees as best he could. He wanted to cry out but he was too weak.
Something told him he was seeing things. So he made his way forward until he could see it better. Yes, it was there before him. He stood back in the trees, hidden by the low-hanging pine limbs. He studied the sagging, single story clapboard house covered by a rusted tin roof. Still, that something continued to tell him to wait before going out into the clearing. He waited and he listened. He watched for any movement, something that would let him know everything had ended.
When the front door opened, Logan felt as if he had been snake bit. He felt feverish and he began to shake. Like Logan, the man wore the same clothes from the night before. Aside from that, he acted as if nothing had happened. A cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth. In his right hand he carried a can of Budweiser. Logan saw his father's large, stainless steel watch, wrapped around the man's wrist.
The man sat down in a wooden rocking chair. A red cooler sat on the ground near the rocker's slants. Near one corner of the house, beer cans had been piled as high as the bottom of the window. The man began reading a paperback book. From time to time, Logan could hear him humming a tune.
Logan's heart now felt as if it would tear a hole in his chest. He moved backwards, looking down to see where he had placed his feet. He believed that if he could loop undiscovered around the house, then he would find a road. He could follow the road until he found someone, any one that would help him. Trembling, he slunk back into the dark reaches of the forest.
It took him fifteen laborious minutes to reach the other side of the house. A road that would lead him to freedom cut through the forest like an arrow. He could have paralleled the dirt road, staying in the trees until he had gone far away. But he paused to consider the brown Nissan.
Of all things nurtured by beauty, love blooms the brightest flower. Logan recalled his parents, the life he had spent with them, their circles of laughter. The simplicity of their entwined lives, passed before his eyes with the daunting quickness of a dragonfly's wings.
Logan stood up from the underbrush. He walked towards the truck as if it belonged to him. The shotgun lay in the gun rack. Logan reached in through the open window and came out with the gun. He snapped open the breach. In it were two shells and he pulled them both out to make sure that they had not been fired.
When Logan came around the corner of the house, the man dropped his paperback book. He tilted his head to one side, startled by Logan's appearance and condition. Then he began to grin, believing that he would end all of this before it got out of control. He sipped from his beer, continuing to grin as he stood up.
"Lo-Gan, what the fuck you doing? Are ya' trying to become a man?"
The cicadas droned on and on, their noise rose up out of the forest as if they believed that they had little time left to sing their songs. Logan raised the shotgun, leveling it at his waist, and aiming it straight ahead. His bloodied fingers pulled back the hammers on the shotgun.
"You little monster," the man said, dropping his beer to the ground.
Logan began to growl, his parched lips curling back to reveal what he had lost and found. He bolted forward, seconds before he pulled the triggers, seconds before he tasted another man's blood in his mouth.
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