An Explanation for A Man Without a Human Head – mOUNTbRENDON

A madman is one who believes himself to be perfectly normal, according to the philosophy of G.K. Chesterton. I have recognized that I am not normal and in the past, this made me feel as if it was me that is mad. But Chesterton disagrees.

A Man Without a Human Head is a journey where I begin to open up my imagination. It is my recognition that we, as a culture are relying far too much on our logic and not near enough on our imagination. We see ourselves as normal, but really we are strange, we are mad, and frankly, we are fucked up. People, are replacing their human heads all around.

“A man who thinks himself as a chicken,” Chesterton wrote in his book Orthodoxy, “is to himself as ordinary as a chicken. A man who thinks he is a bit of glass is to himself as dull as a bit of glass. It is the homogeneity of his mind which makes him dull, and which makes him mad.”

I am not in any way excluded from this. Though I have come to realize the absurdity of it all, as an artist I believe it is my job to experience this all myself. I cannot understand people unless I get inside people’s minds and I am not at all doing it for my own benefit, but for yours and for God’s. This is not a record made for money, for notoriety, or anything of the sort. This is a sacrifice.

Therefore, I too must think myself as a chicken (and often I do unintentionally), as a man without a human head in order to understand and communicate this. A small circle is as infinite as a large circle, it just has the appearance as smaller. So, no matter how large you think your circle is, know that it is as infinite as any other circle, size aside.

A Man Without a Human Head is my attempt to expose all of this, and the absurdity of how we are all living. We must open up our imaginations and allow the fairy tales to once again forgive our logic, and to embrace that which simply does not make sense, rather than strain to make it make some sense.

“And if great reasoners are often maniacal, it is equally true that maniacs are commonly great reasoners.”

“If the chain of causation can be broken for a madman, it can be broken for a man.”

– G.K. Chesterton

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The Crevice (A Short Story) – mOUNTbRENDON

There’s a feeling inside all of us that we can only grasp momentarily. It’s like a deep icy hot burn in the darkest crevice of our hearts. There was a man once who said he lived in that crevice and that it was the brightest place on the face of the earth. But so bright that it didn’t blind. Sight was based solely on color contrast, he said. Not not on contrast of light and dark. He was a strange man who had very poor eye sight, but refused the use of glasses.

“It’s unnatural,” he said. I asked him if he was able to record much of his experience in the crevice.

“Unfortunately no,” he said. “That would be pointless. Nothing would make any sense to anyone else. I’m not sure if words, pictures, or music could do it justice. It was beyond all of that.”

I grew uncomfortable at this point. It was like his eyes began to turn into his head, as if he was beginning to crawl back into his crevice. I took a drink of water, for I could feel the radiant growth of his passion. Was it the feeling of love? of Ecstasy? of meaning? Maybe it was all of these and more. I suddenly felt as if we were standing on a desolate mountain, growing with the most striking and colorful vegetation I’ve ever seen.

“What is happening?” I asked and suddenly, it was all gone. We were back amidst the busy chatter of the downtown coffee shop.

“We were almost there,” he said. I asked him why we left so soon, but he didn’t answer fully.

“You can’t analyze this,” he said. I had so many questions to ask him, but I couldn’t keep them straight, so we sat there. I was looking down at the table, and him with his eyes clothes, a blissful smile overtaking his face.

“I would like to write a book about his,” I said.

“Don’t,” he said, not all at interrupted from his apparent state of bliss. “It’s not about words. All a book will do is confine.” And then, as if that’s what he had been wanting to tell me all along and there was nothing left for conversation, he got up and gently touched my shoulder as he walked away.

 

Days passed, I continued to work a busy life delivering packages to people’s doors, but that state of wonder never left me. I needed more, but confused and overwhelmed, I tried to avoid further seeking. I continued to work, and when I wasn’t working, I kept busy. Why is it that the most natural feeling of meaning is so intimidating, that it takes such courage to seek?

“You’re being ridiculous,” my friend Conner told me. “I think I know what feeling you’re talking about. It’s just a matter of perception. I could feel it right now if I wanted to, but it’s highly impractical.”

“I don’t think you understand,” I told him. “It’s not something you can just call up. It’s like a tornado, or an earthquake. It just happens sometimes, whether you want it to, or expect it to or not.”

Soon, my experience with the man who lived in the crevice faded from my consciousness, like a childhood memory. When it did occasionally pop up in my mind without warning, it seemed so distant that I viewed it like a dream. The reality of it became lost and I continued on with my life, delivering packages to people doors, going to the bars, dating girls – some successfully, some anything but. Life continued and it was good. I was happy and content. There were few problems and the ones that came along did not seem very significant.

Then, years after my run in with the man, I felt something deep in my heart. It was so foreign by this point that it gave me the chills. I was at a concert, one of my favorite bands, and I became overwhelmed with something resembling an intense passion or maybe love. It confused me as I had to casually make my way to the bathroom stall, where I broke down and wept. There was something that was telling me that my life was too easy, that happiness was not in ease. Happiness was in struggle and difficulty, and triumph.

“Hey,” a voice sounded beside me as I made my way back to the crowd. “I know you from somewhere, don’t I?” I immediately recognized him as the man I talked to years ago. He looked aged from the last I saw him, his eyes sunken further into his face, his beard less tame.

“You’re him,” was all I could say.

“I’m a him,” he said with a gentle smirk.

“You’re the guy who lived in the crevice.”

“That’s right,” he said, his face lighting up with epiphany. “I knew I recognized you. We talked in that coffee shop a while ago. How have you been?” he asked.

“I’ve been fine,” I said, trying, but not quite hard enough to hide my recent realization of uncertainty.

“Hmmm,” he said and seemed to be straining himself with deep thought.

“How have you been?” I said.

“Fine,” he replied. “You seem to be struggling with something.”

“No,” I said. “What makes you think that?”

“I can sense it.”

“I don’t know what to say,” I said in denial.

“Have you tried it again?” he asked.

“Tried what?” I answered, hoping he wouldn’t ask about the crevice.

“You know, the crevice.”

“Oh,” I said, disappointed. “No. You?”

“No,” he said, surprising me.

“Really? I thought you were like, an expert or something.”

“There’s no such thing as an expert. I’m beginning to think it was chance that it occurred at all for me. It’s hard to find meaning now, you know?”

We stood there as the band played in the seemingly vast distance. I wasn’t sure what to say, or how to react.

“I was hoping you had figured it out after we met,” he said. “When I saw you – I thought it might have been you – I was hoping you’d figured it out.” I stood, too confused by guilt to say anything.

“I guess that proves that it was chance,” he said, staring into nowhere.

“Do you want to get a beer?” I asked, not sure what else to say. “After the show, of course.”

“No,” he replied, still staring into nowhere. “I can’t. I have plans. I have to go.” He walked away, now resembling a lost mental patient. He stormed out through the glass door and I never saw him again.

I wondered for weeks how he could seem like such two different people after our second encounter. The only thing that was consistent, and even that was a bit of a stretch, was his appearance. He was so sure and confident before, so filled with passion that it bled into me, and then, only years later, he was just the opposite. His uncertainty bled into me, equally as contagious. I felt lost, confused. Suddenly, my life seemed meaningless, everything seemed mundane and unimportant. The thought crossed my mind occasionally to take out a loan and start my own business, a used book store that I would later add a coffee shop to. But for some reason, I never found the courage to do it. I never even told anyone, not even my wife, when I married a year later.

At first, I thought she was the answer to all these uncertainties. My life, for the first year or two of our marriage, seemed to have meaning again. I experienced glimpses into that crevice in my heart, but that soon faded. We got divorced before having any kids. And I was back to where I was before, only more lonely than ever before.

Now, I sit in a bookstore/coffee shop every day and read books, everything from self-help, to poetry. I feel at home in this place, but more lost than ever. At least I feel something, I tell myself. At least I have some place to go that strikes something inside me, no matter how conflicting and unidentifiable it may seem. I sit here, waiting for someone like the man who lived in the crevice to converse with. But waiting only turns into more waiting and that, I fear, will turn into despair. I will die alone, I’m afraid, longing to experience that mountain peak that seemed so real inside my heart. But it’s not real. It never was real. Like my friend Conner said, it was nothing special, I just dramatized it. I shouldn’t do that. I should focus on something else.

A Man Without a Human Head (released) – mOUNTbRENDON

My album has been released. If you’re interested, you can listen to it at the link below and download it too. Or if you see me sometime, I can sell you a physical copy that includes a short story and the color brown. Thank you for your love and support, I hope I can return it in some way.

 

Enjoy.

 

http://mountbrendon.bandcamp.com/album/a-man-without-a-human-head

College Graduation: From the perspective of Steptoe Butte– By: Charles Westerman

You spend four years in college thinking about your graduation day… not once do you think about the day that comes after it. Saturday you’re finally putting on the cap and gown. You finally get that diploma in your hands and the wonderful weight of it makes you think you know what it feels like when hockey players hoist the Stanley Cup.  You hug your friends and kiss your mom. You order a pitcher of nice beer and for once don’t feel like your wallet is sinking its teeth in your keister as you put it in your back pocket.

Yeah. That day you thought about a lot. That day was what helped you bust out those last two pages when your brain felt like the toilet that was always clogged in your ever-to-authentic college house. That day had you signing tuition checks your ass wasn’t sure it could cash.  That unforgettable day of celebration was what let you tell yourself that all the forgettable, overscheduled, lonely days of college would be worth it.

Then that day comes. And yes, it’s great. But even after four years of overpriced learning, you wake up on Sunday and realized you never really learned the sun would still come up after graduation night. Such was the case for me upon graduating from Washington State University.

More than shaking President Floyd’s hand on Saturday, I’ll remember that feeling on Sunday morning better.  You wake up with one monotonous, terrifying and sobering thought: “So college is… over? Yeah I suppose it is. Right? Yeah… definitely. College is freaking donezo. Checkmate. Yahtzee. Gin. Kaput. So… I guess that makes me an alumni now huh? Oh shit. Alumni’s are supposed to have a decent paycheck. What’s that magic job website again? Monster.com? Why a monster? GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY… I’m about to get eaten…”

In high school you graduate and then you spend the summer with your friends sucking the juice out of the last of the good ole days. You don’t really get that in college. The last six weeks everyone is so strung out with keeping up with their big senior projects and looking frantically for a job that you don’t have a lot of time or energy to do much reminiscing.

So maybe you get done with your finals on Wednesday and then you graduate on Saturday. Most all your friends who are younger than you leave three hours after their last final, and by Sunday at 5 pm, three quarters of the ones you graduated with have finished taking down their Bob Marley posters and are halfway to Seattle. It’s a queer, sad feeling. I’ve never said the word ‘surreal’ so much in my whole life as I did in the weeks following.

I rolled out of bed with this feeling and said hi to my parents and older brother Mick who had come to celebrate the milestone. Then one of my best friends in college – one of the ones I will be friends with for a very long time – TJ called me and said she was about to head out.

This was the girl whose apartment was on my way home from campus. I’d get done copy editing for the newspaper around 10 or 11 at night and call her up to see if I could stop by. We’d always promise each other we’d keep it to a quick 15 minute chat because we had both school and sleep to catch up on… 2 hours later we were no more studied or rested, but it was sure good to get all of our deepest worries off our chest. That’s TJ. The girl I could tell anything to. A person who I could show a part of myself that I thought unlovable and she always seemed to love me more for it.

One time my sophomore year I played her one of the songs I wrote about what I thought my Dad went through when his first wife died of breast cancer. When I got done I looked up from my guitar (that I’d kept my eyes glued to the whole time because I felt so vulnerable) and she was crying. She’d heard every word. She can empathize and be okay with feeling pain like that, and above all, I think that’s my favorite thing about her.

I drove to her apartment to say goodbye. Teej and I are never short on words around each other, but there was just too much to say to capture it. I wanted to cry but was too shell-shocked and exhausted from all the goodbyes and the “last times” that had been occurring in the last six weeks. I was sick of “last times.” We shrugged and we hugged and just like that — Snap! – TJ was gone.

Then my buddy Max texted me and said that he and his mom needed to get on the road and wouldn’t be able to meet us for breakfast like we’d hoped to.  Max is one of those friends like TJ’s a friend… only he’s a dude. My junior year when I lived right across the street from him, he’d easily come over two times a week so we could get down on Madden 11 (a football video game for you girls who live in a cave).

We’d “start a franchise” and pick teams in the same division, then we’d do a fantasy draft and play each other. We’d debate matchups and I’d always tell him that one of his go to picks, Kenny Britt (a proud owner of a recent DUI at the time), was way too drunk to drive or catch the football. The stakes weren’t as high as competing in organized sports in high school, but we channeled all our pent up competitiveness into those four hours a week. We’d throw on The Black Keys or The Temper Trap (a couple of times I even threw my controller) and let the trash talk begin.

Max even conspired with Mick to borrow my car to pick up his “cousin” from the airport in Spokane the week of graduation. Next thing I know he and Mick are walking into the coffee shop I was studying at.  Having my brother at my graduation meant a lot to me, and having Max take three and a half hours of his last week of college to pickup that big smelly thing I call my brother meant just as much. And just like that – Snap! – Max was gone.

I could write paragraphs like that for at least 10 other people, but I’m depressed enough as it is right now having told you about just two. It was this day that Pullman taught me one of its last and greatest lessons – and it taught me a lot of them in four years – but this day it taught me that you can stay in the same place, but when the people that made that place important and meaningful to you aren’t in it, you might as well be in Nairobi.

Still, my family and I went to breakfast as planned. I told myself that I shouldn’t feel sad. That I should feel grateful for the time I had and that I would see these people again. I told myself I should feel more of a sense of accomplishment– for Pete’s sake I’d just graduated freaking college! But that’s not how my slow processing head or extremely emotional heart roll. They need a week to process getting a second date cancelled, let alone finishing up one of the most important four-year chapters of my life.

So I sat at the Old European with three people who couldn’t have possibly been more clutch with their presence. The Old European is one of my personal essentials of experiencing Pullman. Most all of the people who came to visit me from home got their appetite for pancakes ruined because once you sink your teeth into an Aebleskiver… well it’s like eating Kobe beef, then being offered Cube Steak. It’s where I decided I was officially taking my talents to the Palouse when I visited Pullman for the first time my senior year of high school.

But even in this sanctuary of brunch, with my parents and my brother, three people who know me as well as anyone, I could not find solace from my sadness.  TJ was gone. Max was gone. A dozen other people were gone. It wasn’t something you could see. It was something you felt: Absence.

I get the feeling that my dad sensed I wanted somewhere to reflect and process – and more than that – somewhere that wasn’t Pullman.  On the drive to my apartment after breakfast he suggested we head up to Steptoe Butte. It’s about 32 miles north of Pullman. I’d never been there. It was on a list of about 200 other things my friends and I swore we were going to do some Saturday when we didn’t have a football game or homework or How I Met Your Mother to watch. Some Saturday when the weather was nice and you actually felt like getting out of bed before 10:30. Halfway through your sophomore year you realize you get about three Saturdays like that a year if your lucky. Anyhow, I’d never been to Steptoe Butte but I’d always heard the view was amazing.  And I don’t know how my dad knew it, but I just know he knew I needed a good view on this particular day.

We drove up to the top and for a kid who grew up in the wide open spaces of Wyoming, where a view for miles was always just a near hilltop away, being able to see out like that was more of a relief than when you pee after holding it for an hour longer than you should.  I went off by myself a little ways and lit a cigarette. My mom caught me halfway through, and on this day she just laughed and even took a picture. I finished my cancer stick and told her I was going to quit soon but at the moment it was too much to think about (I’m almost to the four week mark as I type this).

Mick and my dad eventually joined us and we talked very reflectively.  My dad always brings an incredible sense of peace and wisdom to situations like this. My mom — with her back rubs, encouraging words, and never-ending faith in me – never fails to come through. And Mick, with his jokes about how much of a girl I am mixed with statements about my talents that never fail to boost my confidence, did just those things.  It was a three-headed monster of love and support.

They too talked about their fears and anxieties up there on the top of the butte. My dad with his uneasiness and insecurities about running for State Legislature after getting hosed in his re-election for County Commissioner a couple years ago. My mom about her dad who has terminal cancer and her state program (the WBLN) that she’d helped run successfully for 15 years getting shutdown because of a lack of funding. And Mick trying to make the jump in career fields from paradmedicine to sports broadcasting.  It was good to be around other people who had fears and worries, and that weren’t 22 years old.

After that we prayed. We prayed about our own and each other’s anxieties.  We prayed for the rest of our family and I prayed like hell for the friends who had become my family at WSU.  In my family that’s how you deal with fear. You give it to God and you share it with each other, and at the end of the day — neigh by the end of college — I’ve concluded this method works.  It acknowledges your weakness as an individual and calls upon the strength of your community.

We stayed up there for awhile, and I couldn’t help but see the metaphor of the situation. Here I was. I could see for miles in all directions and I could go any which one I wanted to. It’s a cocktail of optimistic exhilaration and terrifying doom. The great American halfway house that college is over; now it’s time to go pro.  I decided right there that this summer I was going to embrace the uncertainty.

I’d applied for a one-year paid residency at a magazine in Chicago that I thought I had a real shot at getting so I didn’t look for much else. I had a letter of recommendation from one of the prominent former writers of the magazine as well as great ones from my journalism professor and worship pastor.  And I’m not gonna lie, I wrote the crap out of my cover letter; and my resume, though not built for most jobs, was very much built for this. They were even looking for a graduating journalism student from the Northwest specifically and WSU has the best program for that in the region.

I didn’t feel entitled to the job, but I have to admit I felt entitled to an interview; just a chance to show who I was in person and how bad I wanted it.  They never did call back. I called the lady who asked my professor to recommend a student for the resume at least 25 times getting only an answering machine each time. I left her two voicemails and sent a couple emails. By the end all I wanted her to do was pickup her phone and tell me I didn’t get it. The tooth for tooth side of me wants to drive to Chicago and put Crisco on her toilet seat…

I’m telling you this because it made the whole “college being over” thing that much more terrifying. I didn’t have a plan. But like I said, up on Steptoe I decided I was going to embrace the uncertainty. To take advantage of having a summer where it was acceptable to not be in school or have a real job. I decided to title it “The Wandering Summer” … but more on that later.

I came down from Steptoe still sad, but not as frustrated about that sadness, for I remembered another lesson I’d learned in college that I’ve mentioned on this blog before: sometimes you need to be sad… sometimes it’s healthy.

It’s often to the simplest ideas in life that are most effective.  So when you come to moments where you feel some perspective is needed, find the highest point within 30 miles of yourself, and do so.

Lebron James: A Defense From the Media – mOUNTbRENDON

This is obviously out of date, since game 7 already happened, but I wrote before then, I swear.

Lebron James has been the most scrutinized, analyzed, and polarized figure in sports ever. You can argue with me on the ever part, but I’ll stick to my guns. James is the first basketball superstar for the digital age as Bill Simmons pointed out in his article on Grantland that Shane Battier, his teammate pointed out,

He sneezes and it’s a trending topic on Twitter. He is a fascinating study because he’s really the first and most seminal sports figure in the information age, where everything he does is reported and dissected and second-guessed many times over and he handles everything with an amazing grace and patience that I don’t know if other superstars from other areas would have been able to handle.

Though I was unable to watch his 45 point game Thursday night due to a lack of cable TV and sparse internet connection, I was overjoyed to see that he is getting praised, but then I stopped and thought ahead to Saturday’s game seven where, unless James equals or somehow surpasses that effort probably even if the Heat win, the media will do little other than destroy him for the next five months.

Most of this started with “The Decision”, where James infamously announced that he was taking “his talents to South beach.” Sure, he was criticized and overanalyzed before, but that moment left such a bad taste in so much of the media’s mouths that it caused this ridiculous spiral of over intensifying every single word, step, and form of body language that has come from Lebron since. And I’ll admit that I was caught up in it’s whirlwind. I went from kind of liking Lebron James to despising Lebron James, thanks, in part to what I still think a poorly handled “Decision”, but mostly due to the media’s influence.

But now, I sympathize with Lebron and I really hope that he succeeds (I think a subjective term in itself) because at this point, I think that it would much greater than any single achievement Michael Jordan ever made. Lebron James is a media guinea pig and I strongly believe that the media in combination with Lebron’s personality was the cause of his decision to go to Miami. If there is one thing that seems evident from Lebron’s personality, having not come close to actually meeting the guy in person, it’s that he wants to be liked. You can see it with how he came in to the league, embracing everyone’s excitement that he was the next big thing, to how he handled his teammates in Cleveland; they always looked like they were having fun as he was always leading elaborate handshakes, chest bumps, etc.

Because he is the first superstar of the digital age, he was the first superstar to constantly here from the media what “we” want from him, nonstop from the media and media-influenced public alike (see Twitter, Facebook). He listened to talking heads as they said things like, “if he doesn’t win multiple championships his career will be a complete failure” (I paraphrased this quote from memory). And so, he decided to join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for a super team in Miami because that was the best path he saw to make everyone happy. It was, to him, showing everyone that he doesn’t care about anything but winning championships – a quality that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have been repeatedly praised for. But when his “Decision” backfired on him, something changed in him as well as the media. Everyone has always wanted Lebron James to be better than Jordan, but those same people measure “better” only by championships.

But it’s much more complicated than that.

Lebron James has been put in a different situation than Michael Jordan and there are many more factors than the ambiguity of the word “greatness” that play into winning multiple championships.

All of last season, he seemed confused and somewhat scared because of the intense backlash he was receiving, which over time led to – as far as I can tell – a period of maturation which has continued through Thursday’s game six. He seems to no longer care what people think about him and there are reports of him shutting himself off to the media entirely throughout this postseason (I think the best thing he could have ever done). And so, whether the Heat win game 7 or not, whether Lebron has another monster game or not, we should just stop and enjoy what happens, and this is what we should have been doing all along. Because considering the scrutiny, I think Lebron has handled the media and all its repercussions strikingly. Media personalities and so called “experts” should not be spending their time talking about what Lebron “needs to do” to be better, or petty criticisms like how he sometimes looks like he’s having too much fun out there, etc. The media should not be creating news and opinions and I think this applies to much more than just Lebron James and sports.

Gandwanaland – mOUNTbRENDON

This is the first complete, revised, and revised again short story I ever wrote. It was more than two years ago. It’s long and ridiculous.

Enjoy.

Gandwanaland

“Never cross the fence. Never, ever cross the fence.” I can’t get these two sentences out of my mind right now. I heard them growing up too many times. It’s not a common thing, you know, for a Lauratain to cross over into Gandwanaland. Lauratia is where I live. It’s technically called Tangea. That is, until it was divided into the two sides about thirty years ago. Tangea is a small Island located a few thousand miles south of Hawaii.

            I was born and raised in Lauratia where my parents say, “Everyone knows right from wrong.” I’ve learned recently that there’s a difference between “knowing right from wrong” and “doing right from wrong.” I don’t believe that the Lauratians always follow this, which is why I’m crossing the fence; to see if Gandwanaland is any different.

I’ve heard plenty of stories about how terrible Gandwanaland is. Outrageous stories. Stories that may or may not be true. Either way, I’m convinced that the people over there can’t be as evil as everyone here makes them out to be. No one can be that bad, can they? Just because they’re nudists can’t mean that they are all evil. Yeah, they’re all nudists. They just let it all hang out. No pants, no shirts, no anything.

Before Tangea was divided, there was no such thing as Gandwanans or Lauratians. Everyone was just a Tangean. They lived together, nudists and non-nudists, often times as neighbors. It’s kind of a weird thought having a nudist living next door, but that’s how it was until all of the male nudists started slapping the non-nudists with their penises. Yep, they suddenly thought that it would be funny to start penis-slapping the people with clothes on. Well, the non-nudists, as you might guess, took offense to this, so they started avoiding the nudists as best they could. They didn’t fight back or anything, just kept clear of them. However, this didn’t work, because the nudists started sneaking up to the non-nudists’ windows giving them the twirly-bird. In case you don’t know what the twirly-bird is, it’s where you just stand their twirling your penis at somebody. The females would do it too, only with their breasts. It’s strange, I know, but apparently, it happened.

The female nudists may not have been able to penis slap, but that didn’t stop them from causing problems of their own. They were all determined to seduce any non-nudist they could, male or female. They didn’t care as long as they got their sex. Eventually, it got to the point to where they would follow the non-nudists around, rubbing up against them, touching them, and begging them to get intimate. The non-nudists just couldn’t avoid them. Nudists are very persistent when it comes to having sex.

This continued for a while until finally the non-nudists and the nudists started fighting. The nudists wouldn’t let the non-nudists leave their houses without penis-slapping them, giving them the twirly-bird, or trying to have sex with them. Non-nudists began yelling at them to stop, but it never worked. The nudists would just make it worse. They even started having sex with each other in the streets. Right out in the open, in the middle of the street so cars couldn’t pass. They also did it in the non-nudists’ driveways and they would time it to where the non-nudists couldn’t back their car out to go to work or school or anything.

As a result, the buses became a popular mode of transportation. That is, until the nudists started having sex inside of them as well. You could be sitting there reading the paper on your way to work and there would be a pair of nudists doing it in the seat next to you, just humping away with no regard for the rest of the passengers.

The female nudists began to get their way with the non-nudists and the problem began to escalate as the nudists began to develop certain tricks to get the non-nudists in the sack with them. They would do things like sneak into their homes and have sex with them while they were sleeping, or they would drug the spouse and switch places with them.

Well, all of this resulted in more fighting until all of the non-nudists started building houses west of town to escape. Between the female nudists’ sex tricks and the males’ absurd gestures of violence, the non-nudists just couldn’t take it anymore. Eventually, all of them ended up on what is now Lauratia. Soon after, a fence was built to keep the nudists from coming over and penis-slapping anyone.

At least that’s the story I was told at school and by my parents and grandparents and neighbors and friends and Mr. Davenport, the mayor of Lauratia. He once told the story at a city barbeque.

Well, I’m crossing the border. I’m going to climb over the fence and see the nudists for myself. I know what you’re saying, why would you want to cross the border when you’re just going to get penis-slapped by a bunch of nudists? Things just kind of built up through time. It all just began to get too outrageous for me. I decided to drop out of college and things really began to reach a breaking point for me.

Yesterday, I was walking down Main Street and I saw a crowd gathered around a light post. As I got close, I realized that everyone in the crowd was yelling and waving their arms out of anger. Someone had taped up a picture of a nudist. The nudist had shaggy red hair, freckles and bright blue eyes. He was a rather odd looking, naked guy. I couldn’t help but laugh when I first saw this. That turned out to be a mistake. Mr. Davenport’s assistant, Mr. Rite happened to be standing in the crowd next to me.

“Young man, this is no laughing matter!” Mr. Rite said to me as if we were standing over a dead body.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But it’s a little funny. It’s just a picture.”

“Just a picture!” He yelled and then looked around and nudged the people around him. “This boy thinks that this is just a picture!” He then turned to me with a look of concern. “What’s your name boy?”

“Farren,” I said. “And I’m twenty. I’m not a boy.”

“Farren, this is not just a picture. It is a sign of things to come. The nudists are going to start coming across the fence and penis-slapping us like before. It’s a warning and we must do something about it or else they’ll tear down the fence. They’ll destroy Lauratia.” The other people nodded their heads and began to talk amongst themselves. Mr. Rite said something else to me but between the murmur of the crowd and my fear of what he had explained, I didn’t really hear him. He continued to talk about something concerning the doom of Lauratia when I walked away.

“What’s going to happen to us? I don’t want to be penis-slapped,” I thought to myself. If there’s one thing that we Westerners are most afraid of, it’s getting penis-slapped. It’s how we were raised. Show us an enormous spider or snake, or ghost and it’s nothing compared to a nudist getting ready for a good dick-slap.  Someone once said that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  Well, we all grew up hearing that “we have nothing to fear but penis-slaps from nudists.”

As the day went on, I thought about the picture on the lamppost and a few things struck me about it. First of all, this is not the first time something like this has happened and it has never resulted in anything more, despite everyone’s panic. They always panic. Every time.

A few years ago, a nudist was discovered urinating into Tailer’s Fountain in front of City Hall. He was able to run away and somehow escape, but everyone in Lauratia freaked out. They took it in a similar way they seem to be taking the picture on the lamppost. Everyone was convinced that the nudists were planning an attack, so they sent an army of Lauratians to protect and reinforce the fence between Lauratia and Gandwanaland. Well, obviously nothing else came out of it..

That’s just one example of many like it and the result has always been the same: a freak out by Lauratia and nothing more from the nudists.

That evening, I went to my parents’ house for our weekly family dinner. The first thing my dad said to me when I walked in the door was, “Hey son, you hear about the terrorist attack?”  Wow, that was quick. They actually did attack? And so soon?

“No,” I said. “What happened?”

“A group of nudists have crossed the border and posted a threatening picture of one of their own on a lamppost downtown.”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I saw that. I wouldn’t really call it a terrorist attack though.” He looked at me as if I had just stripped my clothes off. We got into an argument about it and it ended with him calling me a nudist-lover, which seemed a little rash if you ask me.

In the past, I’ve always been rather close-mouthed. I haven’t really been one to contribute to a lot of the conversations I’ve been involved in. I think that this is because I’ve never really found my hatred for the nudists. I usually just stay quiet and listen. For some reason, maybe it was instilled in my DNA, but I’ve always struggled to care about the nudists. I’ve never loved them, but I’ve also never hated them. This has made it difficult for me to interact with people, my family included. I try my best to fake it, but everyone always seems to see through me.

I was rather upset after the argument, though. I would have stormed out of the house, but I was hungry and broke, so I figured I’d stay put for dinner. My dad wouldn’t even acknowledge me for the entire meal.

About half-way through dinner, my mom brought up church. My mom is about the sweetest lady you’ll ever meet and she’s all about going to church every week. No excuses. I don’t think she’s missed a church service since she was in the womb. I also don’t think she’s ever bad mouthed anyone aside from the nudists since her time in the womb. Everyone here bad mouths the nudists, no matter how sweet and kind he or she is.

“Are you going to come to church with us on Sunday, Farren?” My mom asked. I was still mad at my dad, so I blurted out, “Not with you guys. I’m going to go to a nudist church this week.” My whole family dropped their utensils and stared at me like I had just vomited all over the table.

“How dare you say such a thing?” My mother screeched. “Besides, you couldn’t if you wanted to. Nudists don’t practice any kind of religion, you should know that. They never have and they never will.”

“You apologize, right now Farren. I don’t ever want to hear anything like that come out of your mouth again,” my dad said.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It won’t happen again.” The rest of the family picked their utensils back up and started quietly eating. I had killed the conversation like I always seem to do at these family dinners. I don’t even know why I try to interact with my family anymore. I always end up saying something stupid that just gets everyone mad at me. When everyone’s plates were almost cleared, my dad finally broke the silence.

“I was talking to Barry at work today and he said that he heard that the nudists enslaved some Lauratians a while back and now they make them do all their work,” my dad said. “I’ve been wondering how any of them make a living over there since they all refuse to do any work themselves. I guess that explains it.”

My mom raised her eyebrows in concern. “Poor people! I can’t imagine what that would be like!”

“Yeah, well that’s why I bought that gun,” my dad said. “There’s no telling when the nudists are coming to cause trouble, and judging by last night it’ll be sooner rather than later. I think we ought to go kill ‘em all before they have the chance to do anything.”

His words hit like a cinderblock slamming on the table. I began understood the absurdity of everything. I knew it was there, but I could never put my finger on it quite like this before. I realized that I don’t ever remember a single family dinner where we talked about ourselves. We only talked about how terrible the nudists were and how they ought to be taught a lesson. It was like that at school and with my friends too. I seriously did not remember one other topic of conversation that didn’t, in some way or another, circle back around to it. I felt something unsettling in my stomach. I was frustrated.

“I dropped out of college,” I blurted out. I don’t know why I did it. I guess I just had to get it off my chest, or maybe it was my form of rebellion in response to my newfound understanding.

“Dang it, Farren!” my dad roared. “I’ve tried to be patient with you. I’ve tried everything I could to lead you in the right direction and somehow it’s led you on the path to nudism. Get out of my house! I can’t even look at you anymore!”

“Nudism? Look dad, let me just explain first,” I said.

“No!” my dad shouted and stood up from the table, causing his chair to fall backward. “There is no explanation for this! It’s the last straw! I’ve had it with you! Get out of my house right now!”

“Wait, Jerry,” my mom said quietly. “Let’s talk about this.” My dad stared at me, the muscles in his jaw bulging. I could almost literally feel the burning of his eyes on my face.

“What happened Farren. When and why did this happen?” my mom said, her voice getting quieter with each word.

“About two weeks ago…”

“Two weeks!” my dad said. “I just gave you money for school last week!”

“And I set it aside for later” I said. “I just didn’t want to tell you guys because I was afraid. I should have told you.”

“Like hell you set it aside! You probably spent it all on drugs or something!” my dad said. “How are we supposed to believe you? I’ve had enough. Get out.” His voice had quieted but the anger and disappointment in his tone was still strong as ever.

“Look, I can show you my bank account balance,” I said trying to stay calm.

“Get out.”

“I’m sorry, I – “

“Get out. Now.”

“Fine,” I said. I gave up. I didn’t know how to talk to my family anymore. My words just passed by them like they were part of the wind. I looked at my mom, hoping that she would say something positive like she always seemed to do in rough situations. She looked down at the table.

“Don’t expect any more money to come your way either,” my dad said as I walked toward the door. “And don’t ever expect to be welcome back here. Not until you start acting like a Lauratian.”

Sometimes, when something happens to someone, they suddenly see the world in a different way. This is one of those times. As I walked to my apartment, I seemed to be walking in a completely new world. Everything seemed to be in slow motion. I couldn’t help but view every step, every smile, and every hand gesture, made by the passing Laurations as hypocritical and filled with hate and judgment. The grass seemed less green, the wind seemed more biting, and the buildings seemed more desolate. I couldn’t help but feel two feet tall and everyone else seemed to be about eight feet. I needed someone to talk to, someone that I could trust, someone who would listen to me and support me. I needed my best friend Larry.

If there was one person in the world who I could turn to in a situation like this, it was him. We had been best friends since as long as I can remember. He was always someone that I felt like I could open up to.

Turns out I was wrong. As soon as I told him what I had realized at dinner, he said the following:

“I knew you’d started to change, Farrren. Ever since before you dropped out of college, you’ve been changing. I don’t think it will be long until you become a nudist yourself.” I was astounded, flabbergasted, outraged, and shocked all at once. I didn’t know what to say to him. I had dropped out of college because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, not because I was lazy and didn’t want to work and become a nudist. I couldn’t get that across to him though.

There was no arguing with Larry. Once he got something in his head, it stuck like a Siamese twin. He had always been like that and probably always will be. If he didn’t like someone, he didn’t like them for good. I thought that it was the same for if he liked someone, but I guess I was wrong about that. He was more bullheaded than a worked up bull. Now that he was against me, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went to my room and lied down in my bed.

That night, I spent some time thinking and had come to the conclusion that I was going to cross the border. I woke up the next morning, what is now today, having second thoughts about it. There was frost on the windows and it looked cold. I hate the cold.

Crossing the border seemed rather risky. What if the nudists really are as bad as everyone makes them out to be? Then I guess I’ll get penis-slapped to death, which, I came to the conclusion, could be better than living here under these circumstances.

When I emerged from my room, Larry was there with his girlfriend sitting at the kitchen table. They stopped what they were doing and glared at me.

“I heard you’re becoming a nudist,” Alice said. “I think you should just commit suicide now.” They laughed. I was pissed. It was cold outside. Sometimes I say things that I regret when I’m pissed and its cold outside.

“Yep, you better watch it or I’ll give you both a good penis-slap,” I said. Whoops.

Larry stood up from the table and walked toward me clenching his fists. He is much bigger than me. “You better take that back, Farren, or I’ll knock your lights out.” I laughed. I don’t usually laugh when someone’s about to beat me up, but I was confused, pissed, it was cold out, and he actually dropped the line, “I’ll knock your lights out.” So I laughed and he did just that.

When I woke up, I realized that not only does everyone blow every little thing out of proportion here in Lauratia, but they are also extremely touchy and can turn on you in an instant. This just intensified my desire to get away.

As I was trying to gather my senses and my get rid of the pounding headache that Larry had left, there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find my landlord Mr. Erickson.

“Farren, I’m glad it was you that answered. Look kid, I just talked to your parents and they told me everything that happened. I’m sorry to say, but you can’t stay here any longer. I’ll give you until Tuesday, but you have to move out.”

“Seriously?” I said. “Why?”

“Because I can’t have a nudist-lover living in my apartments. It makes me look bad.”

Unbelievable. I tried to reason with him, but it was no use. He wouldn’t have any of it.

Once Mr. Erickson left, I had nothing else, and nowhere else to go, so I decided to leave for Gandwanaland. I mean, what else was I going to do? I’ve thought about going before, but I never had a good enough reason, or the desperation. Now I had plenty of both.

Without thinking about it any longer, I walked out the door and was gone. I had nothing but the clothes on my back, which is possibly the one thing that was going to cause me problems where I was going, but I didn’t care at that point.

And so here I am now, on my way to cross the border and see the nudists for myself. I never told anyone what I was doing. They would probably throw me in jail, and as outrageous as that sounds, after the last two days, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was what they actually did. So I kept it to myself.

I took an old jogging path that led to the outskirts of town. From there, I found a little path that led through the trees that headed east.

This led me to where I am now, standing in the brush, staring at the concrete fence. There is a guard standing about fifty yards away, pacing back and forth. Crap, I didn’t take this into consideration. How the heck am I going to get across here? Should I talk to the guard? I could make an excuse about why I need to cross the fence. That’ll never work though. No one has a good enough excuse in Lauratia for that. There are other guards set sporadically throughout the rest of the fence, so I can’t really try another area.

The guard looks bored, so maybe I can sneak by before he realizes anything. Being a guard has to be the most boring job in the world. I’ve never heard of any guard catching, or even seeing a nudist. Every time someone has made across, they made it undetected. But how?

I look both ways along the fence, which is more like a wall than a fence really. There’s a guard off in the distance to the right and the other one to the left. I can barely even make out the guard to the right, he’s so far away. They’re marching in unison though, as one walks one way, having his back turned the other, the other guard walks the opposite way. I think I’m going to just try jump and climb over while the guard to the left has his back turned. I’ll take my chances with the other guard.

As soon as the guards change directions I go for it rather surprising myself for my lack of hesitation. My adrenaline rushes through my veins, like nothing I’ve ever felt before as I jump and grab the top of the fence. The guard to the left shouts something out at me, but I can’t make it out. As I pull myself up I hear the guard to the right shout “Hey! Stop what you’re doing!” As I swing my feet on top of the fence, I hear the crack of a gun and a bullet ricochet off the front of the wall. Holy Crap! He actually shot at me! They would rather kill a fellow Lauration then let him or her jump the fence to Gandwanaland.

I’m quickly able to jump down to the other side before he can get another shot off. As soon as my feet touch the ground, I take off running away from the fence with my adrenaline still pumping. I’m not taking any chances. I’ve got to get away from the wall.

I finally stop in some trees. I can’t see the wall from here, so hopefully I’m safe. As I gather myself and catch my breath, my adrenaline starts to fade.

Now what? I’m not exactly sure what to do here. Where do I go? What do I say when I run into someone? How are they going to react to me? I really do not want to get penis-slapped.

It is late afternoon, and the fall breeze stings. I’m wearing a sweatshirt, but it’s pretty light and not very warm, so I start speed-walking. As I make my way through the trees, I emerge at the back of someone’s house. It has a normal looking backyard, with green grass, a few lawn ornaments, a swing set, and a trampoline.

Just as I am about to walk out of the trees and into the yard, the back door slides open and someone walks out. I crouch down back behind the nearest tree and watch as a guy, who looks around my age, walks across the lawn and starts jumping on the trampoline. His demeanor seems pretty normal to me. He has a rather straight look on his face as he bounces, genitalia flapping and everything. Somehow, he looks familiar as his shaggy, red hair flops up and down with every jump. As he bounces, he slowly turns toward me and stares out into the trees.

Holy crap! It’s the guy from the picture! He’s the one whose picture was taped up on the light post in Lauratia. I’m not exactly sure what to do about this. Should I try and approach him? I should have brought a white flag with me. I sit, thinking for a moment and then take my shirt and sweatshirt off. Maybe if I’m half naked, I won’t appear as threatening.

With my shirt off, I emerge from the behind the tree. The man stops jumping and stares at me like I’m a ghost or something. I don’t know what to do.

“Hi there,” I say trying to sound as friendly as possible. He doesn’t say anything, but just stands there and stares at me. Finally, after an awkward silence he says, “Who the hell are you?”

“My name’s Farren,” I say trying, but failing to sound confident. He stands there studying me up and down for about a minute and then says, “Why the hell are you wearing pants?”

“Eh, I’m not exactly from here…” I say sheepishly.

“Where the hell are you from?’ he says.

“Eh… Lauratia,” I say.

He looks at me curiously and then says, “Where are you really from, and why the hell are you wearing pants?”

I take a step forward and say, “I’m serious. I’m really from Lauratia.” Awkward pause.

“What the hell are you doing here then?”

“Eh, it’s a long story. I just wanted to see Gandwanaland for myself I guess.” I can tell he doesn’t really know what to say. I mean, what do you say to someone like me when you’re someone like him?

“You’re not going to penis-slap me, are you?” I say to break the silence. He looks at me for a second and then gives out a squeaky laugh. Then the back door slides open again and a guy around the same age walks out.

“What the shit is this?” he says staring at me.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” the red-head on the trampoline says. “He just walked out of the trees a second ago. Says he’s from the Lauratia.”

“Why the shit is he wearing pants?” the new guy said.

“I told you bro, he’s from Lauratia.”

“Well, why the shit isn’t he wearing a shirt?”

“Beats me. Hey, Ferret. That’s your name right? Ferret?”

“It’s Farren,” I say.

“Right. Why aren’t you wearing a shirt, man?”

“I’m not exactly sure,” I say. “I didn’t know how you would react if I was completely clothed, I guess.”

They look at each other and then look back at me. “You high?” the red-head says.

“What? No.”

“So, what are you doing here,” the other guy says.

“I just wanted to see Gandwanaland for myself,” I say.

“Well, you see it, now you can leave,” the new guy says and then starts laughing.

“Wait man, don’t listen to him,” the red-head says appearing to be in deep thought. Yep, he’s a nudist and he’s in deep thought. Take that mom and dad. “It takes guts coming over here. I’ve never even seen a Lauratian before. What are you like?” the red-head says.

“Uh, I don’t know,” I say. “What are you like?”

He looks at me for a second and then shrugs.

“Fair enough. Are clothes uncomfortable as hell or what?”

“No. They’re actually pretty comfortable. And they’re warm. Don’t you get cold without clothes?” I say.

“Sometimes.  We spend most of our time indoors when it’s cold out though.”

“Hey, Sammie,” the other guy says. “Are we just going to sit here and talk to the guy all day, or what? Let’s go inside man, it’s cold.”

“You want to come, Ferret?”

“Yeah, sure,” I say, trying to gather myself. These guys are actually inviting me into their own house, and they seem nice. My mind is blown. I follow them inside. Their house is a complete mess. It looks like they haven’t done any cleaning in years. There were piles of junk; dirty dishes, old toys, books, trash, you name it.

“You want to get high with us?” the other guy says as we walk down a narrow hallway.

“No, I better not,” I say. I guess we got one thing right.

“Suit yourself,” he says and then leads us into a small room with brightly-colored posters on the walls. “You can just hang out while we smoke, I guess.”

“So what really brought you over here, man?” Sammie says. “I thought you Lauratians were too afraid to go within a mile of the fence, let alone cross over it.”

“We are,” I say.  “Well, I was until recently. I guess I just started to realize how absurd all the rumors about you guys were.”

“Like what?  What kind of rumors?” the other guy says.

“Well, that you guys just sit around and do drugs all the time for one,” I say and then they stop what they are doing, look at each other, and laugh.

“I guess we’re not making the best impression now then,” the Sammie says as he pulls out some kind of green stuff and packs it into an oddly-shaped pipe. “What else?” he says.

“You guys don’t practice religion.”

“That’s bullshit,” Sammie says. “We do that. My folks are actually pretty religious. They go to church service every couple of weeks.”

“Really?” I say.

“Yeah, man. You surprised by that?” he says, rather surprised himself.

“I mean, kind of. Your house looks so disorganized, and you guys do drugs and all that.”

“I don’t see how that has anything to do with religion,” he says in a high voice as he blows out some smoke. The room starts to smell something like burnt hair. “What else?”

“Well,” I say. “You guys are planning a terrorist attack.” That really riled them up.

“Why the hell do they think that?”

“Because they found a picture of you taped to a lamppost the other day,” I say pointing to Sammie.

“Oh shit, dude!” the slapper says. “That’s awesome! I knew they’d freak!”

“Did you guys do that?” I ask.

“Yeah man,” Sammie through his laughter. “We got wasted the other night and Joe here thought that it would be funny. We had the idea a long time ago but never followed through with it. We were surprised we didn’t run into anyone when we went over other than the guards, but they weren’t hard to sneak by. It was all deserted in town, as if you all were abducted by aliens or something. It made it easier though, I guess. It wasn’t even midnight when we did it.”

“Yeah, we all go to bed around ten over there,” I say. “How often do you do that kind of stuff?”

“What kind of stuff?” Sammie says. “Get drunk?” I nod. “Not that often. Once or twice a week probably.” A little less than every night. Take that Mr. Rite.

“They think that we’re planning a terrorist attack? Because of that? Man, you guys really are a bunch of shitheads,” Joe says.

“Hey, can I ask you guys a weird question?” I say.

Sammie raises his right eyebrow and tilts his head and says, “Yeah. Sure. What?”

“Can you promise me that you won’t penis-slap me?”

They both stare at me. Joe blows out a puff of smoke and hands the pipe back to Sammie.

“Where are you getting that from?” Sammie finally says. His sentences are beginning to get more and more lethargic sounding.

“Sorry, but I don’t want to get penis-slapped. That’s why the Lauratians moved away from the nudists and built a fence. Because you wouldn’t stop penis-slapping them.”

“That is bullshit!” Joe blurts. “You guys moved away because you tried to make us wear clothes and wouldn’t give it a rest. You started getting offended by the sight of our naked bodies and tried to make us pay for our health care.”

“What?” I say. “No way. That’s not what I was taught.”

“Well, that’s because you guys are all just a bunch pansy-ass liars with no sense of humor!” Joe says, his tone getting rather heated.

“No sense of humor? What’s that supposed to mean?” I say.

Joe shakes his head in frustration and says, “There’s something you need to know about us nudists, Ferret. We like to make jokes. Practical jokes, sex jokes, knock-knock jokes, whatever. We like our jokes over here. You Lauratians just got pissed off with every joke we made and started confronting us about them. If any of us even went near you children, you all would freak out and tell us to get away. We didn’t have to talk to ‘em, just got near ‘em. Any time we tried to communicate with you, you would just get offended. So, yeah, there was one single instance where someone slapped a non-nudist with his penis to try and get you to lighten up, but you all are wound up so tight, everyone freaked and treated it like the end of the world. Like we were killing your beloved pets or something.” He then takes the pipe back and inhales. I look at Sammie and he’s just sitting there chuckling to himself. I don’t know what to say. Could all this be true? Could this be what really happened? It’s definitely believable. I don’t know what to think anymore. I just sit there in silence, staring at the carpet in front of me.

“By the way, you guys go way too overboard with your pets. They’re pets, not humans,” Joe says.

“Speaking of pets,” he says after blowing out more smoke. “Is it true that you guys are afraid of black cats?”

“No, not really,” I say, keeping my attention on the carpet. “I mean, we have our superstitions about them, but my neighbors have a black cat.”

“Is it true that you guys do everything at the same time of day right down to the minute?” Sammie says, still smiling.

“And that you work and go to school seven days a week, ten hours a day?” Joe adds.

“And that you can get a ticket from the police for being late to public events?” Sammie says.

This is stupid. They’re just doing what every Lauratian does. Exactly, what I was trying to escape from.

“My dad said that you collectively have to wear the same exact clothes and even if you’re allergic to the material you have to wear it or else you get put in jail,” Joe says.

“Look guys –“

“No, my brother told me that they test all the newborn babies for stuff like that and if they test positive, then they just leave ‘em out in the woods to die,” Joe interrupted.

“Hey, I better go,” I say. I had to get out of there. I had already had enough. I was hoping for a difference, but I guess when you live like we live in Tangea, all separate from each other, than you’re bound to do what we’ve done. They don’t pay any attention to me as I get up and walk out of the room.

As I walk back through the trees, toward the fence, still shirtless, I realize that I’m screwed. Each side is just the same and there is no way to be apart from both. There’s nothing in between a nudist and a non-nudist.  You’re either one, or you’re the other; so I either have to wear clothes or live in the nude and neither one seems very appealing.

As I get to the bushes where I first saw Sammie from, I see my shirt lying there. It reminds me of Lauratia. I turn around, looking back at the house that I just left. I’m not giving up this easy. I can’t just base everything off two people. My shirt is still lying in the bushes where I was before I came out to talk to Sammie, so I grab and put it back on.

This isn’t over yet. I’m going to go back and see what else Gandwanaland has to offer. I walk back, around the house where Sammie and Joe are. There is a road in front of the house that leads further east. It looks like there are some houses further down. With my shirt still on, I follow the road. My fear has surprisingly left me. After everything that has happened to me, I don’t think I have anything to fear. At the very least, I have nothing to lose.

As I continue down the road, the houses start getting closer and closer together. There doesn’t seem to be anyone outside. It must be too cold or something. I keep walking and then spot a small child running around with a ball in the front yards of one of the houses. He looks like he’s about seven or eight. When I get right across the street from me, he notices me and stops what he’s doing and runs back into the house. Hmm.

I walk down a few more blocks and only see a few more people, each one reacting the same way. They stop whatever they’re doing, and stare at me. It’s like I’m some kind of monster or something. The further into town I get, the more buildings there are and the taller the buildings get. I must be getting close to the downtown area.

As I get closer and closer, I can hear the echo of what sounds like someone talking through a megaphone. With every pause from the megaphone I can hear the roaring of a crowd.

I turn the corner around a building with a bunch of graffiti on the side. There are a few nudists here and there in the shops and on the street. There is the crowd gathered around a platform a couple blocks further down. It looks like that’s where most of them are.

This could be bad. My fear creeps back into my system. It’s easy to be brave when there is no one around. Now that I’m in the lion’s den, it’s not so easy. A couple of the nudists see me and stop and stare. Pretty soon, about everyone on the block is standing there, staring at me. I should have left my shirt off.

“Is that a Lauratian?” I hear someone say.

“What is he doing here?” someone across the street says.

“Don’t talk to him,” someone else says. “He’ll get offended and leave. Just let him wander around.”

“He’s going to get offended regardless,” a girl not too far in front of me says. “Who are you?” she yells to me.

“Uhhh…Fa-Farren,” I answer. I don’t remember ever being so scared in my life.

“You don’t have a gun, do you?” someone next to the girl says.

“No. I’m unarmed,” I say.

“Hey, follow me,” the girl in front of me says. She’s gotten closer to me.

What the heck. I don’t know what else to do, so I do as she says. When I get up to her, she tries to grab my hand but I pull away. Everyone’s still staring at me like I’m an alien.

“Woah, don’t be so uptight. I know it’s hard for you people,” she says to me.

Why the frick is she acting so friendly to me? She’s acting as if she already knows me. She goes for my hand again. This time I don’t resist.

“I’m going to take you to see Avery. You can talk to him about why you’re here,” she says as she leads me toward the crowd. As we walk down the street, everyone we pass by stops and stares at me. I can hear a bunch of them crack jokes about me. I’ve never felt more uncomfortable in my life.

“As your mayor, I have taken it upon myself to issue a new set of curse words!” I can hear the guy with the megaphone says as we get closer. There is someone sitting at a drum set on the platform behind him. With everything he says the drummer plays a riff and people cheer and dance around.

“’Shit’ is no longer a curse word. It will now become ‘shirt!’ ‘Damn’ will be replaced with ‘belt!’” The people in the crowd are loving it. They laugh and cheer with every word he says. I don’t understand. Why would “belt” replace “damn?” It makes no sense.

The girl leads me right up to the platform. We stand there, right to the side of the stage. I look over at the girl. Her attention is fixed on the megaphone guy like he’s some kind of God or something.

The megaphone guy continues on with his list of new swear words for another few minutes, until he finally looks to his right and sees me standing there with the girl. He stops talking and stares at me.

“What is this?” he says outside the megaphone to the girl. The crowd starts to notice me and a murmuring starts, getting louder and louder.

“He just showed up down the street,” the girl answered. “He’s wearing clothes!”

“I can see that. Come up here boy!” he says, now talking back into the megaphone. Dang it! I thought that getting penis-slapped was my nightmare. I would much rather have that happen to me than be here right now, in this situation.

The girl lets go of my hand and pushes me up onto the platform. The drummer goes crazy on his set. “Who are you?” the megaphone man says into the megaphone and then puts the megaphone in front of my mouth.

“Eh, Farren,” I say quietly. The megaphone, though, amplifies it so everyone can hear.

“Who are you?” I say. The drummer plays a roll. The megaphone man laughs and then puts the megaphone back in front of his mouth.

“I’m Avery Donbagler!” he yells and the crowd cheers.

“Tell me boy. What are you doing with clothes on? Where did you get them? You know it’s a felony to be wearing them here, don’t you?”

“What? No. I got them from home. I’ve always had them. I’m from Lauratia,” I say, this time confidently. For some reason, my confidence is growing again. I’m starting to feel comfortable in these situations. The crowd starts murmuring again and Avery pulls the megaphone down to his side and leans back, staring at me.

“Bullshirt,” he says into the megaphone, the crowd laughs at his use of the new curse word. Apparently they love their curse words over here. “I don’t believe you.”

“I’m serious. I’m a Lauratian, born and raised,” I say before he can get the megaphone in front of my mouth.

“He says he’s a Lauration, born and raised,” Avery says to the crowd. “Get this kid a megaphone,” he turns and says to the drummer. The drummer grabs a megaphone sitting at his feet and brings it to me.

“There,” Avery says. “Now I don’t have to share.” He laughs. The crowd laughs. “So what the Nike are you doing here?”

I still don’t know why, but I now feel completely comfortable. I think something has changed in me. Something that I can’t explain. I’m tired of answering questions and I’m tired of being afraid.

“Doesn’t matter,” I say with confidence into the megaphone. “What’s all this about?” Avery appears to be taken aback by my response. The crowd is silent. Then, he laughs. The crowd laughs and dances around.

“I’m just doin’ my thing! Doin’ what I do! I’m a nudist, baby! And I’m the newly elected mayor of Gandwanaland!” This guy is strange. “What the Abercrombie and Fitch are you doing here, in Gandwanaland?”

“I just got tired of Lauratia. Wanted to check out Gandwanaland for myself. See what it’s all about,” I say casually.

“Bullshirt. There has to be a better reason.”

“Fine. I came over to see if you guys were planning an attack on Lauratia,” I say. What the frick? Why did I say that? That’s not even true. What is wrong with me? The crowd and Avery start laughing.

“What makes you think that we’re planning an attack?” Avery says.

“Because you guys are nudists,” I answer quickly. What is wrong with me? Why am I saying this stuff? The expression on Avery’s face changes drastically. The drummer doesn’t play a riff. The crowd is silent. Did I really just offend them that easily? I thought it was the Lauratians that were supposed to be easily offended.

“Where’s everyone else?” Avery says in a serious tone of voice.

“What? There is no one else. I’m alone.”

“Bullshit.” He forgot to use his new curse word. I smile. What is wrong with me? Who am I?

“So the rumor was true. I didn’t believe it,” Avery says to the crowd. “I was convinced that it was a joke. I’m sorry everyone. I misled you.”

“What rumor?” I say, forgetting to speak into the megaphone.

“What rumor?” Avery blurts. “The rumor that Lauratia was planning an attack on us.” The crowd is silent. “I was convinced that someone started it as a joke, but it looks like I was wrong.” Suddenly, someone from the crowd jumps up on the platform and tries to swing his penis at me. I’m able to dodge it rather easily. Turns out most penises aren’t the proper size to be swinging around and hitting people with.

“Stop that!” Avery yells at the penis-slapper.

“Look,” I say. I’ve given up on the megaphone. It seems a little ridiculous to me. Like we’re putting on some kind of performance or something. “I don’t know anything about an attack. I honestly came over because I couldn’t take everyone constantly bad mouthing you over there. I had to see Gandwanaland for myself, to see if all the rumors over there were true.”

“Rumors!” Avery announced, still speaking through his megaphone. “So, they’re spreading rumors about us over there! Bunch of Nike-heads!” He remembered the new curse that time. “I’m not going to stand for this any longer! Something has to be done about you people!” He turns and looks over the crowd and smiles.

“It’s time to assemble the army!” he shouts. The crowd cheers and dances crazier than ever before. The penis-slapper from before tries to slap me again, but I’m able to dodge him just as easily as before.

“Stop that!” Avery says to the penis-slapper. “You’re pathetic. Get off my platform!” Then, a large group of male nudists separate themselves from the crowd and stand off to the side. They all have extremely large penises. “What’s the one thing that all Laurations are afraid of most? Getting slapped by dick. Well, now we’re finally going to make that happen. It’s time to attack!” Avery announces. “To Lauratia!” he yells and everyone starts running west, down the street with the “army” leading the way.

I’m left there, standing on the platform. There is no one else left in sight. That escalated quickly. I think I just started a war.

Another Moment of Early Morning Silence – By: mOUNTbRENDON

Here’s a short story I wrote last year. It’s rather lengthy, but hopefully worth the time it takes to read. I will be posting short stories regularly throughout the month of June and hopefully the summer. I finally have the time to write as much as I want to and hopefully as much as I possibly can stand.

Enjoy.

Another Moment of Early Morning Silence

I feel the icy breeze slide along my face as it leaks through the thin cabin wall next to my makeshift bed. Even with my torn-up sleeping bag, it’s difficult to stay warm with the fall, Alaskan air becoming progressively colder through each passing night. I have spent nearly four months out here, surviving through the aid of my two older brothers, Mason and Jeremy. It’s been tough, but I’m beginning to get accustomed to the cold and the hunger. I see now that survival can be rather enjoyable when it’s all you have to focus on. It’s definitely tough, but it’s quite the adventure. I’m almost able to see why some cultures fought colonialism so hard.

As I lay, thinking about life as a Blackfoot in the 1700’s, there is a squeaking of what’s left of the floorboards in the doorway. It’s Anne. She normally crawls in bed with me in the middle of the night as the temperature drops. I say hi with a smile. She answers with a smile of her own as I help her squirm inside the sleeping bag with me. I tell her that I’m glad she found us and that I don’t know how I would make it through the cold nights without her. She gives another smile of contentment and grabs my arm, wrapping it over her shoulder.

– – –

The sleeping bag almost immediately begins to warm from the heat of her presence. I grab her hand. Her ring is cold against my finger. We were planning on getting married as soon as we got home. If this is our home though, I told her not to worry about it. That we are already married. Without her here, I doubt I would ever be able embrace this situation, whatever it even is. I remember the beginning, before the cold was so severe and before Anne was here. I was excited and equally scared.

“Why are we in Fairbanks?” Jeremy asked as we drove into Fairbanks, Alaska. “Fairbanks is not at all near Anchorage.”

“Don’t worry fellas,” Mason said as if he was anticipating the objection. “I found a different place that is going to be a lot better.”

“Great,” Jeremy muttered. “Nice of you to keep us up to date.”

I wasn’t any more pleased with the news. Before I left, I made arrangements with Anne. She was going to meet us out here for the last two weeks of our stay.

“Twenty-eight miles south of Anchorage,” I told her, pointing to the map of Alaska we had on the table in front of us. “Then walk thirty degrees west from the little camping area for about ten miles until you come across a large canyon. From there, we would be in a cabin a few miles south, along the mouth of the canyon.”

“And don’t worry about Anne, Will,” Mason said as he turned his head toward the back seat. “I took care of it.”

Of course he did. He always did. But, for some reason I trusted him like no one else. And he probably put more planning and enthusiasm into this trip than Frank Lee Morris and John Clarence Anglin did for their escape from Alcatrez. He definitely brought an overload of supplies – or so I thought at the time.

“It’s always good to be prepared,” he said.

After a few more hours of driving, Mason finally pulled off to the side of the dirt road and got out of the car.

“Alright guys,” he said with a brimming smile. “You ready for a hike?” He had told us shortly after Fairbanks that we had a twenty mile hike ahead of us. “It’ll probably take a few days to get out there,” he said. “But it’ll be totally worth it.”

“What, w-w-we…just leave the car here for the whole s-s-summer?” Jeremy asked. I could tell the annoyance was building. His stutter always surfaced when he was upset in some way.

“Yeah, but don’t worry about it. I’ve got it worked out.” If I hadn’t grown up with Mason, those two sentences would have already become unbearable He had always had that mentality about things. Always care-free. I don’t know how he did it. But I trusted him. I trusted him with my life.

– – –

I wake up to the bright morning sun and crawl out of bed, careful not to wake Anne. Mason is already outside chopping wood. He’s been leading us in building a new cabin lately. A cabin with thicker walls that won’t threaten destruction with every strong gust of wind. One that is better suited for the winter. The cabin we are currently using is pretty old. It must have been built at least twenty or thirty years ago and I’m sure it wasn’t even in the best condition then either. I can’t imagine why someone would want to build a cabin this far in the middle of nowhere. But I guess it doesn’t matter now.

“Hey there, Will!” Mason says with his patented grin as I walk toward the pile of wood lying next to him. “Go saw down a tree, will ya? It’s getting colder and colder every night so we better speed up the process.”

I grab the handsaw and walk into the trees surrounding the cabins. As I get further into the trees, I finally settle on a spot to cut. I see a group of wolf tracks just a few feet away while I line up my saw. Another reason for a sturdier cabin: a bit of security from the wildlife. The sweat starts beading across my forehead as I cut. I never knew how much effort it took to bring down a tree until a few months ago.

– – –

A loud crack of a gun echoes in the distance. It must be Jeremy. He’s been hunting on his own lately. Unfortunately, he’s not very good yet, so he hardly ever comes back with anything. It’s only been a few weeks since he started going on his own. Before that, he would tag along with Mason. But they don’t get along well enough anymore. Not since Jeremy discovered the ruined cell phones.

“You piece of…of…of shit!” Jeremy yelled. I could hear him clearly, even from outside the cabin and over the splatter of my urine on the ground in front of me. “You b…ba…ba…bastard! You planned this the whole t-t-time, didn’t you? You wanted this to hap…happen!” I rush to the open doorway where Jeremy and Mason are standing.

“Oh, come on Jeremy,” Mason said calmly. “I did you guys a favor. We found a way out. We don’t have to worry about the rest of the world now. It’s just us, living the life.”

“Living the l-l-life? What does that even mean? I didn’t want this! I had a career I was working toward. I had friends. I had a…a l-li – a life.”

“Bullshit, Jer. You were miserable. Will was miserable. We were all miserable in that world. That culture. You just didn’t want to admit it.”

“Because it wasn’t true. None of that was true. I knew this was a miss…mistake!” I didn’t understand what Jeremy was talking about, but I had never seen him so angry. His whole face was twitching. “Will was a semester away from graduating college. He was going to propose soon to his g-g-g-girlfriend,” he said. Mason looked at me and then back at Jeremy.

“Will likes it out here. He accepts it,” Mason said. Accepts what? I wondered.

“He burned the cell phones, Will,” Jeremy said, turning his eyes toward me with some ashy remains of one of the cell phones in his hand. “And the GPS and the m–m-m-maps. Everything. He planned this whole thing. He trapped us he-he…he trapped us here.” I didn’t really know what to say. They were both staring at me, waiting for me to react. The cell phones were the only form of outside communication we had. Service was terrible here, but there was higher ground to be made.

I looked at Mason with astonishment and asked why.

“Because I love you guys,” Mason said. His face was a serious as I ever remember it. “Everyone is always looking for a way out. Well, I found ours.” The corner of Jeremy’s mouth was twitching violently as Mason spoke. He opened his mouth but no words came out, so he walked outside and disappeared in the trees. Since then, things have been different.

“Look at you!” Mason says with a large grin as Jeremy emerges from the trees holding a rabbit and carrying the gun on his shoulder. The sun is beginning to set and fresh meat couldn’t sound better, even it if is a fourth of a rabbit. I’ve been helping Mason with the new cabin since I woke up. I have been thinking a lot about the cell phone incident lately. I remember the next few days after it happened.

– – –

I wondered how he could possibly do something like that. I trusted him and he betrayed that trust. He betrayed me and he betrayed Jeremy. When I finally talked with Mason about it, he told me that he wanted to make up for his and others’ failures with us growing up. He said that we deserved better than what we got and that he knew we were both struggling to get through things and that the modern society wasn’t right for us.

“It always ate me up inside,” he said. “How I wasn’t there for you two growing up and how I missed so many opportunities to help you deal with everything. You guys needed me and I was too selfish to see it. I never did anything back then. But I’m doing something now.”

I couldn’t understand how he was so confident in this whole thing. He had never once shown any sign of doubt in his actions concerning this “trip” as we called it. So, I asked him where he got his confidence.

“Let me tell you something,” he said as he put down his ax. “Life is all about confidence. How do think American colonies defeated the British back in the day? It’s confidence, Will. It’s all about confidence. Even when you have no idea what you are doing, if you have confidence, it’ll work out. People believe you and you start to believe in yourself.” Although he was trying to comfort me in his own strange way, it left me deeply troubled. I felt even more deceived then before.

Since then I’ve had some time to digest his words though. I think I understand his motivations and I’ve come to the conclusion that he knows what he is doing. There is no way he is planning on keeping us out here forever. I’ve been studying him closely lately and I’ve seen no sign of doubt in him. He knows what he is doing, so I’m just going to enjoy the time we have out here and make the most of it. We doubted him on the hike and he came through then and found this cabin, even if it is poorly constructed. He’ll come through again.

We stopped for a water break and the only sound was our heavy breathing until Jeremy spoke.

“Are you sure you know where we are…we are, w-w-w-we’re at?” he said over his breath.

“Yeah, don’t worry about it, Jer. I know exactly where we are. I’d say we have about six or seven miles to the east. We’ll be able to make it by this evening.”

Jeremy shot me a doubtful look. I could tell that he was frustrated. I didn’t know what to think. If it turned out that Mason was lost, then we were in serious trouble with my poor sense of direction and Jeremy’s lack of wilderness experience; not to mention the fact that Mason was the only one who had even a vague understanding of our location. He was the only one who knew what he was doing out here.

After we had a few more small drinks of our water – Mason was having us conserve what we could for the time being – Jeremy and I looked at Mason. He was looking up at the sky as he kept turning around, looking in different directions. Then his face lit up and he said, “Yep, this way,” and motioned us to follow him as he started off in his brisk pace.

“I don’t think…think that he knows what he’s doing,” Jeremy said quietly to me. I told him that I was sure he did and that we needed to just trust him. Jeremy looked forward with a sense of reluctance. I told him not to worry.

“I’ll follow him,” he said. “But I will worry. I’ll definitely wor-worry.”

We continue working on the new cabin as Jeremy walks through the trees holding up a rabbit. Mason drops what he is doing and runs over to Jeremy.

“Yeah you did!” Mason exclaims and gives Jeremy a brotherly shoulder punch. I can see a slight, crooked smile subtly appear on Jeremy’s face through his scraggly beard. I’m sure it is the first smile his face has conjured up in weeks.

“It’s only a rabbit,” he says. “Only a small rabbit.”

“Nonsense,” Mason says as he begins to pick up what he was working on before. “It’s just the kind of thing we need. You know how to skin it and everything, right?”

– – –

Mason and I continue to work on the cabin as Jeremy works on preparing the rabbit. Pretty soon, he nearly has it skinned and is sitting by the campfire, finishing up. I can’t wait to scarf that meat down. Anne will be so excited when she sees Jeremy’s rabbit sizzling over the campfire like a small roasted pig. Last time Mason shot a deer she jumped up and down like a six year old girl who just received a pink pony for her birthday. She gets so excited about things. That’s one of the traits I love most about her. I don’t know how I would be taking all of this if she hadn’t somehow found us. I remember when I saw her emerge from the trees.

It was a few days after the cell phone incident and we had been out here for what had to have been nearly two months. I had been feeling particularly lonely and fairly depressed so it was perfect timing. Mason was gathering firewood and Jeremy was attempting to hunt when she arrived. They hardly spoke anymore; at least Jeremy. Mason always tried to act normal but Jeremy either ignored him or walked away.

When she emerged from the trees I was chopping wood. I dropped my ax in amazement. It was the most beautifully astounding sight I had ever seen, far greater than the Alaskan night sky, or the mountain-filled backdrops, or anything else that nature could have provided. Her smile filled her entire face as she ran toward me, giving me the tightest and warmest hug I had ever had. I felt like I had just been rebirthed and was seeing the world with brand new eyes for the first time. Her make-up was flawless, like she had just stepped out of a dressing room on the set of a movie. She was so beautiful; she always is. When I asked her how she found us she just smiled and said that Mason gave some pretty darn good directions.

That was a turning point for me. I didn’t have to deal with Mason and Jeremy’s tension as much anymore. I had someone else to talk to. Someone else to escape to. I had a motive for surviving and a motive for embracing the wilderness. From that point on, I haven’t cared as much about my brothers’ frustrations. I have been able to just work on the cabin silently alongside them, enjoying the wilderness and then retreating to my bed with Anne. She was all I ever really needed anyway.

I run inside to tell Anne about the rabbit and she lights up like the sun. She expresses her worries about food and then gives me a big hug. Despite the fact that we haven’t eaten meat in over a week and have all been pretty hungry, she had never once complained. I’m never ceased to be amazed by her.

Once the sun goes down, we go out and sit around the campfire and eat our portions of the rabbit. It doesn’t take us long to scarf it down so Mason pours us each a cup of hot water. I’m definitely glad Mason brought the kettle. You’ll never know how good a cup of hot spring water tastes at night in the Alaskan wilderness until you’ve experienced what we have.

“Mom would be proud of us,” Mason says smiling after he sits back down on a log across from me.

“Don’t talk about mom,” Jeremy says. “She would be any…anything but p-p-proud of what you’ve d-d-done.” His stutter is becoming more constant.

“Don’t worry, Will,” I remember Mason telling me in the car as we were heading to our new home at the Wilson’s for the first time. “I’ll take care of you. We’ll make it. Don’t worry about it.”

– – –

I came home from school that day to find several police officers crowding our home. Jeremy was sitting silently on the curb as one of the police officers was trying to talk to him.

“Are you William?” an officer asked me. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he told me that mom had died. His eyes seemed glazed over and his breaths were shortened. Everything turned into a daze. The few days afterward are a blur. I only really remember the night after the funeral.

“Alright kids,” Mrs. Wilson said. I could still hear the pity in her voice. It annoyed me. “I made some hot chocolate for you.” We were sitting in the living room of their large six bedroom house. They didn’t have any kids of their own. We drank our hot chocolate as we sat and pretended to watch The Lion King. I hated Disney movies. We all did.

I couldn’t sleep that night, so I went into Mason’s room. Jeremy was already there, sitting on the floor against the wall.

“We were just about to come get you,” Mason said as I approached his bed.

“I-I-I h-h-hate the Wilsons,” Jeremy said. That was the first time I had heard him speak since she died. It was the first time I had heard his stutter.

“We can’t live here,” Mason said. “We need to run away.” I saw something different in his eyes that night as the light of the lamp next to his bed left his face shadowed and his eyes glimmering. “They don’t understand us. They can try all they want. And this house sucks. It’s way too big and expensive and fancy and…” his voice trailed off with his thoughts. Jeremy and I sat there in silence until Mason dropped the bomb on me.

“Mom killed herself, Will,” he spouted. The daze hit me again, much like the one just days prior. “I know that no one has told you. They probably think you’re too young to know. But it’s the truth and I think you should know.” I looked at Jeremy. Tears were sliding down his face as he stared at the floor in front of him. I was unable to say anything as Mason studied me from just a few feet away.

“She doesn’t deserve to raise us,” Mason said. “She’s a coward. We can take care of ourselves. Let’s run away.”

– – –

The rest of the night escapes my memory aside from Mason continually insisting that we needed to run away and Jeremy shaking his head. The next several nights were similar. Two weeks later, Mason had developed a plan of escape. I don’t remember too many details, but I remember that it scared me to death. He couldn’t convince Jeremy to come. I was too scared.

“This is j-j-just l-l-like when we were…we were kids,” Jeremy says a certain amount of intensity that only he could play off as mild. “You r-r-ran then, except you w-w-were s-s-smart enough to…to leave th-th-the two of us be-behind.”

“If you two would have come with me in the first place, things would have been different,” Mason says. “It would have worked and none of us would have had to stay with the Wilsons and their house maids.” I begin to walk away. I’ve had enough of their arguments. The times where I am actually able to enjoy being out here are the times when I’m alone or with Anne. Never when I’m with the other two. Not anymore.

As I begin to near the cabin, I hear Mason yell something directed at me so I turn around. They’re both staring at me.

“Where are you going?” Mason says.

I look at him confused and tell him that I’m going for a walk.

“Come back over here,” he says. “I want to know what you think.”

I shake my head and continue to walk away. I don’t want any part in their argument. As I walk inside the cabin, I see Anne sitting in my bed, staring at the floor. Mason’s yelling something at me, but I don’t pay attention. He has never liked Anne. Not since the first time I introduced them back in Washington.

– – –

“I don’t understand what you see in her, Will,” he said after I dropped Anne off. We had all gone to dinner since it was the first time Mason had visited me at college. I was excited for the two to meet. I thought for sure they would hit it off.

“You’re too good for her,” he said as he rolled down the window and lit a cigarette.

I asked him what he meant by “too good.”

“She seems so materialistic,” he said. “Everything she said was so self-centered. She has changed you.”

I didn’t even really know how to respond to that, so I just shook my head and continued driving.

“See,” he said as he let out the cigarette smoke. “You need to fight for yourself. She has weakened you. I can’t stand to see my little bro be influenced like this.”

I told him not to worry. I had control of my life and if he gave Anne a chance, he would see that she was not who he thought she was.

He wouldn’t let it go the rest of the night, no matter what I did to try and kill the conversation. That was the only time I ever remember yelling at him. He was going on and on about how I had changed since we were kids and that I was putting too much of myself into my relationship with Anne. The next day he left without saying a word. The next time we talked was when he pitched the idea to come here for the summer. He said we needed to escape the American culture for a while.

– – –

I could tell that Anne wasn’t too excited about it when I brought it up with her the next day, but she still said that I should go.

“I’d really like to shoot one of those wolves,” Jeremy says, clutching the gun as we hear some wolves howling in the distance. “One of these days I’m going to figure this whole h—hunting thing out.”

I smile and ask him how he’s doing with this whole thing; how he is really doing.

“I think that M-M-Mason is a s-s-s-sleazy piece of, of shit,” he says as casually as his stutter will allow.

I tell him that I’m sorry that things happened the way they did and that Mason is going to give up on it soon. I assure him that he will lead us back.

“I don’t know,” he says as he rubs the nozzle of the gun with his sleeve. “He seems pretty de-de-determined.” He points his face up toward the sky and closes his eyes, taking a deep breath. “As much as I do enjoy the fresh air,” he says as stands up, using the gun as a crutch. “I would r-r-rather d-d-die than spend much longer out h-h-here alone. It’s too c-c-c-cold.”

– – –

There have already been a few snow flurries; nothing heavy but enough to leave a light blanket on the ground. We can sense that it won’t be long before it comes down with a vengeance. We’ve all been working hard on the new cabin, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do to get ready for winter. Jeremy and Mason continue their mutual silence aside from the occasional yelling match. I’m so glad that I have Anne to talk to at night and give me someone else to spend my time with. She has always been comforting in rough times. Always has the right thing to say.

After the sun goes down, we eat some berries around the campfire. No one seems to feel like talking much. Just the sound of wind swiping against the back of our ears and the crackling of the fire fills the empty space.

“I-I-I’m leaving,” Jeremy finally says to break the silence. “Tomorrow mor-morning.” I don’t even look up from the campfire. I have assumed that it was bound to happen sooner or later. Mason begins an attempt to reason with Jeremy but it has no effect. Jeremy gets up and heads toward the cabin and Mason follows, continuing his attempt despite its obvious ineffectiveness. I look at Anne and she sends back a look of pity. We’re both thinking the same thing. Jeremy’s going to die if he leaves. There’s no way he’ll find his way alone and Mason is too stubborn to lead him in the right direction.

I put the fire out and Anne and I head to bed. We can hear Mason continue to talk to Jeremy. Soon after, we can hear him give up and go to his own bed.

An hour later, I walk into Jeremy’s room and toward his bed. The dirt covered floorboards creek as I walk through the door but stop creaking when the floorboards stop as I get further inside the room and the bare, forest floor begins. He looks up at me as if he was expecting my arrival. “I c-can’t do…it,” he says. “I would r-r-rather die than stay here w-w-with h-h-h-im.” I remind him of our failed attempt to leave a few weeks previous.

“Wh-wh-which way is east?” Jeremy asked as we stopped; the trees above us roaring. I said that I had no idea and looked at Anne who shrugged her shoulders. The trees were too thick where we were so I couldn’t even see where the sun was.

Jeremy let out a loud grunt of frustration and picked up a large rock and threw it at a tree. “W-w-w-we’re lost! What are we supposed to…to do?”

I told Jeremy to settle down. I didn’t want him to upset Anne. He picked up the rifle and fired it into the air. “Yell for Mason,” he said with defeat. “We c-c-can’t do this.”

I tell Jeremy to just have patience; that Mason is bound to give up on this sooner or later.

“No,” Jeremy says. “He w-w-w-won’t. H-h-he’s cr-cr-crazy, Will. He wants us to…to bond. H-h-he told me that w-w-we need to be-be-become b-b-brothers again.”

I tell him that we could fake it until we get out.

“I’m s-sorry, but I c-c-can’t d-d-do that,” he says. “I’m a terrible actor.”

– – –

“Congratulations,” Mason said over the phone. It was a few days after he first told me about his plan and I had just told him that I was going to propose to Anne.

“You sure you want to do that though?” he questioned.

I told him that I had never been so sure about anything in my life. I had been talking with Anne about the trip to Alaska. It wasn’t for sure yet, but I was starting to look forward to it anyway. She mentioned that it would be cool if she came out to see us for the last week or so.

“Just to make sure you are all alive,” she joked. I was going to do it then, after she met up with us.

“Alright, well we better make sure that this trip happens then,” Mason said after I told him my idea.

“Have you told Jeremy?” Mason asked. I said that I hadn’t, but I was going to write him an e-mail with the headline, “I got married,” so that maybe he reads it at the very least.

A couple days went by and then Jeremy finally called me.

“Y-y-you got m-m-married?” he said without saying hello. “What were you thinking?”

I laughed and told him that I wasn’t really married. Then I told him about my plans to propose.

“Oh,” he said. “Well, congratulations then. I h-h-hope things go well for you.” I reminded him about Mason’s plan and he said it sounded stupid. I told him about my plan if we do make it out there, but the conversation never really went anywhere. It never does with Jeremy.

A few weeks later, Mason contacted me with a detailed plan for the summer. He had a list of things to pack, a map and about everything else. I told him that if he could get Jeremy to agree to it, then we should go for it.

Two weeks later, Mason showed up at my apartment.

“He agreed,” he said as soon as I opened the door.

I asked how he convinced him.

“I’m just a very persuasive person,” he said. “You better start getting things together. We’re leaving in two weeks.

– – –

Scattered snowflakes are softly floating down the white forest floor. I can’t look up at the flakes for very long because of the brightness of the sun. The only sound I hear is the soft crunch of my footsteps. It has snowed off and on the past couple of weeks, but no kind of blizzard or anything, at least not yet. I really thought that we would be buried in snow by now. I switch the saw from my right hand to my left. The metal of the handle gets too cold to hold in one hand for very long and I forgot my gloves back at the cabin. I should be cutting down a tree right now, but I would rather just take a walk.

As I come to a bit of a clearing, I see a bald eagle silently fly overhead. It looks so free and triumphant. It has no restrictions. If it gets lost, it can fly high enough to find its sense of direction again. Do eagles even get lost? Probably not. It’s in their instincts. And that’s all they need to survive, their God given instincts.

A small gust of wind causes a brushing sound in the trees behind me. Maybe we could make it out here for the rest of our lives. Where else can you take a walk for only minutes and see a prestigious bald eagle? We may not have the instincts of a bald eagle, but maybe we can develop them. We can learn by experience, by watching the wildlife. We have done a pretty good job so far. I think we could be happy. I could take care of Anne. She could be happy. She’s all I really need to be happy anyway.

There is a man’s yell in the distance. It’s Jeremy. I drop the saw and take off running back through the trees. It feels more brisk in the shadows, but as I run, the sweat accumulating on my forehead tells me that the cold is not an issue. The snow is beginning to thicken. All I can hear is the wind brush my ears as I run. All other sounds seem to have disappeared.

As I emerge from the trees and into the clearing where the cabins are, I see Mason running out of the old cabin with one of the makeshift blankets. His face is filled with urgency. I rush over the woodpile and see Jeremy lying there with blood leaking from his leg. The ax is on the ground next to him; the tip coated in blood.

“It’s alright, Jer,” Mason says as he begins to wrap the blanket around the wound as a bandage. Jeremy rips the blanket from Mason’s hands.

“I’ll d-d-do…it,” he snarls as best as he can manage. Every time Mason tries to help with the wound, Jeremy pushes his hand away and grumbles something neither of us can understand. He stands up as best he can and limps into the cabin. Before he walks in the door, I can hear him stutter something about dying out here and having “enough of it.”

“He was chopping fire wood and the ax ricocheted off the wood and into his leg. It’s a pretty deep wound, but he’ll be alright,” Mason says and then walks over and picks up the ax. “Just hope it doesn’t get infected.” He wipes the blood off with his shirt and begins to chop.

“Where’s the saw?” he says to me between swings.

I’ll get it later.

The rifle is leaning against the woodpile, so I grab it and take it in to the cabin to give to Jeremy. I lean the gun against the wall by his bed and tell him to let me know if he needs anything.

“He t-t-took our l-l-lives, W-W-Will,” he says through his teeth. “W-w-we didn’t ask…for…for th-th-this.” I turn around and walk outside.

The next morning I wake up to the sound of yelling. I look at Anne. She’s obviously been up for awhile listening. Her face is extremely troubled. I crawl out of the sleeping bag and run to the front of the cabin. Jeremy is pointing the gun at Mason.

“I’ve had e-e-enough of th-th-this sh-sh-sh-sh-it. Just take…l-l-l-lead us home. Please.” I can see Jeremy’s eyes starting to water, his voice filled with desperation. Mason takes a step backward.

“What do you have to go back to?” he in a calm but shaky voice. “You were wasting your life away back there.”

“M-m-m-my l-l-life is w-w-wasting away here,” Jeremy is able to choke out.

Anne walks up from behind me and leans up against my side. I put my arm around her but continue to look at Mason and Jeremy.

“T-t-take u-u-us b-b-back,” Jeremy says.

“Jeremy, just stop. Put the gun down and here me out.”

My ears are ringing from the blast as I stand in the doorway. Everything seems still as if frozen in time. My surroundings seem to be filling with mist as if part of a dream.

Another blast.

The air is still and the blanket of snow is turning red just ten yards in front of me.

I turn to look at Anne. She’s not there. It’s silent. My arm is still held out as if around her, but there is only empty air. The earth has stopped spinning. My heart is pounding like the inside of my chest is the head of a kick drum. Otherwise, I feel numb. Not cold, not warm, not scared, not angry. Nothing. I feel empty. Everything around me feels empty. The world is empty.

The sky has turned a blend of orange, pink, red, and blue. A cold shiver takes over my body as I stand alone above their still bodies. I can hear a wolf’s howl from close by. My hand starts shaking violently. Hours have passed. The smell is indescribable, causing vomit to fill my mouth and explode onto the ground. I don’t know where to go from here. There is no breeze against my ears. No cold against my skin. No feeling inside. Maybe the lack of feeling is a feeling within itself. Even the smell is gone now, along with the taste of vomit. I feel completely empty. And where does one go in a world that is empty? I have been abandoned, just like I abandoned my normal life.

There is some shuffling in the trees nearby. I bend down and pick up the gun lying next to what was Jeremy. It feels heavy. I raise the nozzle to my chin and slowly pull the trigger. Nothing. Only a click. A small pack of wolves emerges from the trees, sniffing the air in front of them. Another click.

The gun is out of bullets.