He was further out than he had ever been, well past the old half-rusted cattle tin that no cow had drank from in years. He passed that tin a while ago, and three or four miles later he ducked under the park-service gate and crossed over into the Refuge.
He had passed another line too. He had been so careful not to cross it. One had to be careful and measured not to. Just two drinks could mean the difference. But he already had emptied a quarter more from the fifth of Southern Comfort than he should have, so he took another long draw from the bottle. He held the bottle in his hand just as someone might hold a hiking stick.
It would be dusk soon, but he kept going. On his own. There ain’t no other way. He had been careful not to cross that line. But what the hell, he ain’t no saint anyhow. He couldn’t stop walking. There was a place he had to go. He didn’t know of anyone who accused his Pap of being a saint either. He couldn’t stop drinking. It was a place he had to get to. It wasn’t until much later that he knew there was a darkness inside that had to die before there could be any light.
The trail here was straight as a plumb line. He looked back, even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to see stilted buildings on the old man’s property.
Hiking and drinking. Now that was a good hobby, he thought to himself and grinned, as he kept on going.
The sun was low and still warm, and it made everything a shade of pale green-purple. Brian drank from the bottle with the peeled label while he walked along the straight, two-rutted trail before it turned in a half S ahead. But the half S was still a good five miles ahead, and Brian didn’t know what was on the other side.
There’s something good and simple and not fucked up about walking a long trail where you don’t know where it will go.
“I didn’t know you were a Marine?” she had asked him. He could still smell her citrusy shampoo and feel a smooth stretch of flesh that should be nothing more than a hazy memory by now. It was stupid, he thought, that he could still remember the intricacies of her skin. He had told her how he was a Marine only long enough to get the tattoo.
He wondered how far the trail went. He was out where he had never been, where the tall marsh grass grew up everywhere and the pines stood behind the marsh on the ridge. Half-closed morning glories sprouted up between the two ruts of the trail. He wondered now, as he walked further with the bottle in his hand, whether he could get the tattoo removed. He wondered what the MineCo. men would do to this land. Even with the new Casino Row twenty miles to the east and north, there still was some wildness to this land. When he looked south, he couldn’t see the casino lights that they just flicked on, like constant dry lighting. He couldn’t hear the rush of the cars on the highway, and he could pretend this was the Glades his Pap knew. Would they take it away? He knew they’d try, and he didn’t want to think about the men or the dirt-caked dozers back in Miller’s field.
He wasn’t sure if he heard something or if he just saw the amber-brown shape standing thirty yards ahead. The animal meandered across the trail, until she saw Brian, and bolted into the marsh. He froze the same way the animal did, and he could hear the bobcat tearing through the grass towards the sanctuary of the pines.
He stood there in the middle of the trail, and he took a drink from the bottle—the image remaining like the fading light of the day’s end, an image of muscled flesh frozen before springing out into an open run, eyes looking out at him, wild and confused. The animal’s eyes were the color of the marsh waters. As darkness came down, Brian stood there. The animal was a little too big for a bobcat, he now thought. Whatever it was, it was fast, wide striding, jolting towards the pines. Running cat like. It was a doe-like fawn color, but lower, and faster, and with the fierce wildness in the eyes of a predator. Whatever animal it was, maybe it had never seen a human. Maybe it never will have to again.
Brian tried to listen, but the animal wouldn’t be heard. The pines were still a sanctuary, a ridge right up through the Glades encircled by the flat, open marsh.
About the AuthorRoger Real Drouin is a journalist. His fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in the Platte Valley Review, Potomac Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, and the Northville Review. Some of his nature photography and environmental journalism can be found at www.rogersoutdoorblog.com.