I woke up feeling strange. I was so numb that it was difficult to get up. I wonder sometimes how no one can see, not even the one that sleeps to my right. Sometimes I crawl to his side then straddle him to stare at his sleeping face. He never wakes up. I know I’ve worn him out, but I don’t feel bad; I don’t feel anything.
I walked by the river. The air was warm, humid even. I let the dog loose and he keeps running up the bank, then back to me, wagging his tail, oblivious. It’s why I’ve never liked dogs. They’re insensitive to me, and overly optimistic. All the dog-grins and tail wagging makes me irritable. I sit down on a rock, miles and miles from home, and I watch the river, overflowing from the rains. Tourists show on the other side of the bank, and I watch them bitterly as they take photographs. They see that I am there and wave. I make a tired motion with my hand and look away, despising how others always seem to ruin the moments I treasure most. I can’t hear the flow of the water anymore, just their garish voices, and it sets my teeth on edge. Fools with oversized cameras and shorts. Older, with that air of exploration about them, as though they are the first to see this. But I know that many have walked the path before me; it’s in the footprints, in the very trees, in the way that the path is unnaturally flat. The dog at my side doesn’t have a lead, but he doesn’t run to them as I expect. He sits down at my feet, ears pricked, staring at the invaders, like he too knows they don’t belong here. They aren’t leaving, and they’re ruining my peace. I let out a growl of a sigh and get up, giving them one last look of loathing as I depart, moving on to find a place they won’t disturb.
When the walk is done, and I am making my way to my car, I realize I don’t feel done. I’m not ready to go home. I lean against the door, contemplating. I have a full tank of gas, a rarity. I grin, decided. The further I drive, the more wood-filled the landscape becomes. There are no cars, and the pavement is worn. I see a pullout that leads to a dirt trail, and I take it. The car easily makes it over the sticks and debris and toward the flat, treeless spot. There’s large slats hammered into the trees here, way up high where you’d need a ladder. There’s a pit for fire, surrounded by large rocks, and leavings of beer bottles and buckets, probably to catch the blood, I surmise. There’s still rope hanging from one of the wood slats, that cheap yellow kind that I remember the smell of. When I was a kid, my dad would burn the tips to keep them from fraying, and that smell comes to me then, even though this rope is a perfect yellow, free of burns.
I wonder what it must have been like, having the dead hanging nearby while I drank beer and sat by the fire. Death is never new when I find it, it’s always old and rotted, like the fox I found on the road on the way there. It was gnarled and stiffened, its bones a thick dust that sticks to my lungs when I cut through them with a blade. It makes me choke and sputter, as though the very substance of it could take me too, breathe that death into me. His eyes are black sockets, a void, and his nose is black leather. His limbs are at strange angles, and I can still see the marks in the dirt where someone swerved to avoid him. I always take the head. I don’t know why it’s more important than the other parts. Maybe because this is where it saw the world. Everything, every moment, it went though those sockets that are now filled with little black beetles and stinking, fat flies.
I get back in the car with the dog and keep going. There are deer everywhere, so I drive slow, having to stop several times as they cross my path, their long ears flicking as they try to discern what this strange metal beast is. I open the sunroof, even though there is little sun to be had. It hasn’t rained all day, but a few moments later, there is a light patter on my windshield, and I smile at the irony. Soon enough there is a downpour, enough that the road becomes flooded. I look down at the trip, and realize I’ve gone over 40 miles. It’s 6 pm and I should go home. I don’t want to go home, but I should. I turn around on another dirt road, and start back, feeling nothing. I’m not sad or happy or anything at all. I’m just watching the rain. There’s so much of it, that it makes a mist over the ground that gets blown into the trees when I drive by. There’s so much rain I almost can’t see, and when I look out my side window, there is nothing but a smudge of deep green and that misty haze. It’s beautiful, I think, and for the first time all day, I feel something, and I am grateful.
I stop at that spot again, and I get out. It’s pouring so heavily that I am instantly soaked through. I laugh, and run over to one of the buckets, wanting to know. But it’s raining and raining. I cut my hand trying to get it open, and that too, is somehow funny. I look back at the car, and see the dog watching me through the window. I abandon the bucket and get back inside. I have to go home, but I don’t want to.
I’m going faster and faster, and I decide that I don’t care if I hit a deer. I wonder if I hit it hard enough it will come through the windshield and take me with it. Would I ever be so lucky as to have the choice without doing the deed?
As though someone knows my musings, a deer walks out into the road. There’s a moment where my foot doesn’t touch the brake, and I wonder if this creature’s life is worth more than mine. And I smile because I know it is.
I force the car around, and the doe stares back at me, like she knows. There’s a cascade of water up the side of the car as I move through the sheet of water underfoot, and she’s still standing there, looking after me. A moment later, she runs off into the woods.