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Thread: "On the Trail"

  1. #1
    Inexplicably Undiscovered
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    "On the Trail"


    On the Trail

    A funny thing happened to me on the way home from the Post Office a couple of years ago. We were living in a semi-rural village, where door-to-door mail delivery was unavailable. Having to walk a short distance – a mere six furlongs each way - in order to fetch the mail was a small price to pay, I thought, for the luxury of living there. Even in the biting winds of winter, the trek was a pleasurable respite amid my usual melancholy. On this particular day the mail contained naught but the inevitable bill and still another manila envelope with my address written in my own handwriting; moreover, I was still smarting with really Bad News: It was towards the end of the so-called “Real Estate Bubble,” and the landlord was itching to sell the property while the selling was still good. We, of course, lacked the down payment and fiscal credibility to buy the house ourselves – - which meant, of course, that soon we'd all have to pack up and move elsewhere. It was only a matter of time before I would lose even the consolation of this scenic walk.

    Nearly any place could be idyllic, if like Teilhard de Chardin, you knew “how to see.” Even so, the little village, especially the marsh, the woods, and this trail would have delighted the likes of Thoreau. If you continued up the trail a few yards past “our” house the trail abruptly stopped with a gray-stone wall, the remains of a long-gone bridge. About four feet down from the wall was the Kill, which during various seasons was not meticulous about the borders of its banks. I remember one day looking at a clearing across the stream to see what I thought was a tiny dog with dark fur. Despite its size, the little canine stared me down as if he were a fearsome predator and I were prey. I found out later that this was not a neighborhood pet at all, but a coyote, whose habitat to my great surprise was not confined to the wilderness of The Rockies or the desert Southwest but in nearly every part of the country, even here in the over-civilized East.

    In a frustrating life I found a measure of comfort in natural phenomena, such as the Kill. Its waters wound around the woods, spread out into an expanse of what the environment planners liked to call “wetlands” before narrowing once more into a shallow stream. A century ago trolley tracks ran to the next town along this passage way. Originally it was a route used by the indigenous people who had once thrived here ; local folklore had it that this tribe’s particular version of The Trickster still roamed the village at various times of the year.

    In time, these Mahicans had their land unceremoniously usurped by Dutch settlers, who in turn rebelled against their landlord in the historical rent wars. Then the English took over, then Early American citizens, and now the trail has come down to a foreign-owned utility who lined the west side of the trail with a parallel row of power lines. Apparently, the corporation had been what is called “community-minded” for they had planted wildflowers and ornamental shrubbery and kept the grass part reasonably mowed. I wasn't sure if such maintenance included a right of way to the villagers to walk on the trail, but no one had ever called me on it.

    So I more or less trespassed on the trail every other day. I knew the location of every flower – from the violets in the early spring to the dark purple Nova Anglia asters in late fall. I knew where the fox hid, directly across from a tiny dam down at the eastern end. I knew the neighborhood backyards, none of which were fenced, which I passed on the left going down and on the right coming back. Through the years that we lived there, there were few woodland creatures I hadn't glimpsed: serpents of all types, from a large black water snake the circumference of an anaconda, to a menacing, euphemistically-named “milk” snake, along with all manner of harmless garter and ribbon snakes. Rabbits, chipmunks, and squirrels would dart across the path, but most often we'd see a woodchuck, whose voracious eating habits were the scourge of residential gardens. One day I saw a mother woodchuck, her fat undulating as she ran down the trail, along with four tiny, baseball-shaped clumps of brown fur, each running faster than she was. As many times as I had made the trip during the years we lived there, I had encountered more deer on the trail than human beings.

    Up ahead there a man was – there is no other word to describe it – “cavorting” on the footpath; he looked like, if you will, a “nut.” One time on the trail I passed a guy who seemed to be talking to himself, but it turned out he was merely speaking into a hands-free cell phone, but we really didn't see many instances of public insanity in our little village. In the city across the Hudson in which I had hated growing up – and to which I had feared we might have to return -- it was common to see poor, deranged souls screaming on the streets; even in one of our former midtown neighborhoods a middle-aged woman often roamed around shouting about Jesus and Cancer of the Uterus. And yet this day on the placid trail I would have to confront a raving lunatic. Maybe he wouldn't notice me passing by.

    No such luck. “Ah! There she is!” he shouted. “Let me take a look at ‘cha. My, what a piece of work! I couldn’t have created a more miserable wretch if I'd reincarnated you from a World War II refugee! “ I attempted to skirt around him, but like a nimble basketball player, he blocked me by thrusting his arms out across the width of the trail. He nodded toward the large
    envelope I was holding. “And what have we here? Another rejection? Perfect!”

    How did he know that it was a returned manuscript? I was curious, but not so much that I wanted to stick around, though again, this stranger thwarted me. “No doubt you've heard the story about the man who was sitting on a curb and crying his eyes out. God walked by and asked him why he was so sad. The guy answered that he was a writer. So God sat down next to him and He cried too!. . . Yessir, I couldn’t’ve picked a better occupation for you–" As he ranted on, once again I tried to slip away, only to be pulled back by his strong grip. “Unh-uh! Don't you dare! I'm not done talking to you yet.” I was shaking, my knees were about ready to buckle, I thought I would be physically assaulted or worse, not fourteen feet away from my home. I tried to scream for help, but no sound came out. It was as if I had been struck dumb.

    “Listen, everything rotten that ever happened in your life is your own damn fault, with, of course, a little help from moi. I started with Birth Order. Ah, there’s no one more pitiful more than a middle child. And, oh yeah, I made ya ‘shy.’ And then I threw in some early losses, really rough grief for a little girl, huh? Just at the right age so it would make you leery of making lifelong friends, keeping everybody at an arm’s distance, right? Although you managed to have your own ‘family’–“ (he gave the word a little sarcastic, singsong spin)“-–there was nothing I could do about that, I'm sorry to say -- but I dumped some big problems on it – a helluva lot more than your av-er-age family, huh?”

    “And then -- Lord! is there no end to my cleverness? – I made you smart, a little smart, juuuussst enough to raise your expectations, so that they could be dashed right back down! Hah! Remember that high school guidance counselor – what was his name, Father, Father Lumbly? You wanna go back all those decades and just slap his face, don't cha? You want to slap a priest. Well, I'm the one who you should slap– but I won't let cha! Anyway, there you are a bright-eyed senior bursting at the seams with hopefulness, and he says to you, ‘You can go to college, but forget about trying to get into an Ivy League college. Your scores aren't even good enough for the state University. Do you think you're as smart as ------- or as ------?’ “ (The lunatic mentioned the names of the valedictorian and salutatorian from my old high school, names that I myself had forgotten! ) “And he told you, that sainted man, not even to bother applying for scholarships. You wanted to go to college, even –oh ,let’s say- a lower echelon school , so you took out student loans – - debts. Ah, the music of that word– Debt ! Like the Furies it follows you – and it will follow you to your last breath!”

    “I – I gotta go–“ Once again, I tried to run, but I swear on my mother’s grave, I couldn't get my feet to move an inch!

    “And then, afterward, huh, how about all those high-powered jobs you got, huh? Talk about your glass ceiling – you never got out of the basement, did ya? Ha, ha! Everything you did was wrong, even when you were certain you were right, the result was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong! No matter how much you tried, people thought you were a fool. Instead of giant genius, you were a gormless goon. (Oooh! Alliteration! Why you use it in one of your crappy stories, huh? ) Every one of those menial, low-wage, piss-poor scut jobs you had, you either got fired or Couldn't Take Another Minute so you quit, you mealy-mouthed, weakling, failure, LOSER!”

    “And so now, all these years later what d’ya got – nothing! Zilch. Naaaa-Daaaa! Hah! Among all the legions of lives I've ruined, yours represents my best work. Most people your age are getting ready to retire, and you – you never even got started on a ‘career’! You don't even have a car! What kind of adult still takes the bus? Imagine, somebody as old as you still renting! And you're being evicted! Explain that one to your family. Ah, that is my coup de grace, and you, my pitiable wretch, are my masterpiece!” He put his forefinger to his thumb and touched his lips; then let this “kiss” go out into the air. "I was, I am, and ever shall be the regal Coyote to your skittish pheasant, the fearless Wild Cat to your scare-dy little rabbit."

    Finally, I regained my ability to speak. “Er, may I go?”

    “ ‘Go’ ? Where ?” With that he jumped behind a shrub, I heard a motor start up, and a second later, he emerged sitting atop an ATV, which sped out toward the marsh. Instantly, the vehicle disappeared like a flash of lightning.

    I stood frozen on the trail for a moment. Somehow the shaking had stopped. I thought about calling the local law enforcement officials or even the State Police, but as to what had happened or who this person was I couldn't begin to explain. I would be the one who'd sound like a lunatic.

    Finally, back inside, I sat in front of the fireplace, which was yet another thing that I would miss once we left that house. I had little trouble lighting the fire; the latest returned manuscript made fine kindling. It was difficult to put the ravings of this madman out of my mind, especially one so accustomed to being ‘depressed’ that its very familiarity makes it almost as comfortable as a worn-out shoe. That’s not to say that the familiarity ever made it any less painful -- except on that day, when at long last, at least I had a Reason.


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  2. #2
    mazHur mazHur's Avatar
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    you have a nice grip on story writing. I like the theme and the continuity you were able to maintain.
    Couldn't it be a little shorter? Also, a bit difficult for non-Americans to understand for reasons of geographical and other peculiarities. With such control over the pen, I think you could write universally appealing stories like ,,,,say, Ernest Hemingway, Maupassant or perhaps Poe
    Anyway, I tried to read your story only to understand it half ! sorry
    ===============-
    When asked how World War III would be fought, Einstein replied that he didn't know. But he knew how World War IV would be fought: With sticks and stones.
    -(:===============

  3. #3
    Ruadh gu brath ampoule's Avatar
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    For a minute I pictured Christopher Moore (Cayote Blue) as your nutty cavorting man.
    A well-told but sad story.
    No rejection slip here.
    I'm in love with The Vinegar Man and Mr. Tanner, but be careful, it could just as easily be you.

    "If you're going to write you better have somewhere to come from." Flannery O'Connor

  4. #4
    Inexplicably Undiscovered
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    Yo, Mazhur -- 2,000 words is the industry standard for short short stories. This one clocks in @ 1998.
    Ampoule -- thanks for the comment. Yes, the allusion to the Coyote and/or the Trickster was a conscious decision; however in the Native American myths the Trickster figure is one who performs BOTH good and evil deeds, whereas the character in this piece concentrates on throwing wicked monkey wrenches into the narrator's sorry existence. Your Christopher Moore reference is a new one on me-- I'll look 'im up.

    Thank you both for your comments.

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