The cat came back
irch and bird call, mossy green, rocky stream and escarpment. If the hike had a soundtrack it would be the twang, twang of a jaw harp. It is the kind of day that he would call perfect. If he weren’t perfectly lost. It started with the goat shit back in the pasture. An omen he tried to wash off in the old swimming hole, but the brown froth there stank worse than the shit.
He sits on a boulder here, dumps his rucksack and drains the last of his water bottle. He knows these woods like the back of his hand. Knew them, once. But his hands are looking less familiar every day, too. Wrinkled, hair silvering down the wrist. Yahoos on ATVs have wrecked the old trails and a fire ran through at some point. Probably lit by the same yahoos at some Pabst infused campsite.
He scans the trees. Nothing looks the way he remembers. He can’t find it.
Something itches at his palm and he turns it over. A stripe of orange. Furred and shivering in a slow procession across his skin. Caterpillar.
He reaches out to pet it. The fur soft against his fingertip, feeling this instant of connection. This tie to mother nature. We’re all one, he thinks. His finger there on the single spine like a tuning fork. He feels at peace.
Then he feels pain. A lot of it.
Hornet sting pain. Root canal pain. Miniature hydrogen bomb pain.
He knocks the caterpillar off and pinwheels back, falling onto a soft green cushion. Poison ivy, he thinks. Giant hogweed. It starts to rain.
But it’s there, from his prone position, he spots it. Pushing back tamarack and vine to uncover it.
The log. Running back into dense wood, rock and darkness.
He puts his head into the opening. He can barely make out the pinhole of light at the other end. The sweet sick smell of decay.
He eases in. It’s tighter than he remembers it. Shrinking, like people do as they age. Or maybe he’s let himself go. He has to tuck his arms in at his sides, stretch his legs out straight. He wriggles forward. The slime on the inside of the log helps him. It’s maybe eight feet to the eye of light, opening wider ahead of him. Just a little farther. A little more. Why didn’t he exercise more? Why did he eat so much? A little more. The smell is oppressive. Marching up his nostrils. Not decay, death. He tries to move his arm, but they’re both pinned now, his head jammed against the roof. Stuck. So close. Nobody knows he’s here. They wouldn’t find him for days. Years, even. He panics. His body convulsing.
His head pops through a membrane of cobweb and he tastes fresh air. Sunlight. His arms are still trapped but he can move his head.
The secret glade. His place. Like a time capsule. There, under the rocky shelf, right where he left it, his guitar in its case. Probably perfectly in tune, too. Tweet tweet a bird says above him. I’m not lost anymore, he whistles back. It may have started with shit, but he won’t let that be the word of the day.
Something hits him in the back of the head. Flap flap of wings and caw caw overhead. The something runs down his neck and drip drips onto the rock below. But he doesn’t squirm. He doesn’t fight. If he just doesn’t move things can still be perfect.
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Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.