A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Selfhood

(Flash Fiction, 850 words.)

I had fallen into a kind of grumbling funk recently, upon reflecting that I was clearly not the protagonist in my own life story. I’m not sure ‘story‘ is even the right word here. My days are something like the output of a random event sequencer stuck on repeat. Like being a fly on the wall in a room where nothing much ever happens. A peaceful work-a-day grind, neither happy nor sad. Then again, I was not beset with overwhelming problems either. Somehow I became fixated on it. I couldn’t help wonder what life might be like in the plot-driven fast lane.

So, if not the protagonist then what role did I occupy? I wasn’t even sure. I might have been the plot-point casualty, that character whose sole function is to get killed off in order to inject an element of dread into the narrative without a lot of messy exposition. But I’m getting on in years and that seems increasingly unlikely. I could be the comic relief, but no one thinks I’m funny at all.

Then I started toying with the idea of marrying a protagonist. I could at least be an accessory after the fact in a yarn that’s actually going somewhere. In a fit of myopic brilliance I concluded this was a fine idea.

Then I met Anne.

Continue reading “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Selfhood”

The Back Nine

Adrift in the wilds for how many seasons—I no longer kept a count. The days don’t belong to calendars any more, the clock is an angle of light, the seasons become ciphers in broad strokes. Hadn’t seen another human face in scores.

I keep off the game trails lest I become game myself, but I keep tabs, know where they lie. The bears tend to leave me be, but you never know. I sling my hammock up in the canopy and it’s a real charge to hear them down there in the dark. Wondering how interested they’re becoming in me. I trap for meat, saving the rifle bullets for the attack that has never come. Bear, or wolf, or man, it seemed inevitable.

One day late morning, a whiff of campfire smoke. I plot a course of avoidance and three days later, again. I switch from avoidance to pursuit—I’ll go down in a fight if that’s the way it is. Damned if I’ll be prey. I pick up the pace, less stealth, weapon at the ready. Here’s some sign then, human tracks brushed over with pine needle, clumsy, done in haste. Ground cover is sparse here, stick pines scattered like tossed coins, reaching straight up, their lacy foliage lapping up the sunbeams high above. Then I see him.

A stick himself, wrapped in rags and a cut-down blue sleeping bag, a bulging lumpy kit slung over one shoulder, holding a golf club like to swing at a baseball pitch. Crazy hat looked like a nun’s habit. I leveled the Winchester at a sapling three degrees right of his heart. Yo, keeper. What say we ease into this.

Wilders know how to settle a sudden tension. Those that jump to guns are mostly dead by now, the rest of us develop a keen appreciation for alliances. Thing is, I had not had an interaction in so long I was livid with doubts. You forget how real it is when your nerves are lit for battle and your wisdom is calling for calm.

He lowered the club and I eased off the trigger. You tracking me? I ask straight up.

I am not sir. Headed east and south.

That rabbit fresh?

Yessir. Fresh this morn.

The kill swung from his kit, limp ears at the level of his thighs. He had clubbed it coming out of its hole, which impressed me mightily. My traps lately were always sprung or untouched and I had a hankering for meat. I had a bag of fresh mushroom and some radish and we were soon working up some vittles.

Trust is not a thing appears fully formed and time would tell. Camp divided, each to our side with a fire in the center. My Winchester leaned against a trunk behind me, his club in the dirt beside him. A damn golf club. Then it occurred to me.

Don’t tell me, you’re the ‘Lost Linksman.’ Our eyes met with fresh caution and curiosity.

Silly story had been making the rounds of the back country forever. Some country club dandy, not right in the head, tees off and slices into a wooded rough, gets lost. Keeps playing his lie and slices further into the wild. Terrible golfer, and with mental problems too, they say. Obsessed with it, before long he’s lost his ball and his way back. He retreats into survival mode, nothing but a wedge and a whiskey flask to fend off the elements. Years on, the sightings become more outlandish and legend-like, a kind of Bigfoot. Crazy man come at’ya roaring like a beast and swinging. They say his canines had grown into small tusks.

No man, he said. A smile crept onto his filthy, hairy face. That bob was nuts I tell you. This is his club right here.

You took it from him.

I kill’t him is what I did. Come at me like a bull hog and I bashed his skull with a cypress knee. The smile receded. His eyes cast downward at the pictures in his memory. It was right believable in the telling.

Talk is a dressing for the wound of life and liars practice a pointed kind of treachery. We ate charred hare and spoke of other things. Better days. All the troubles. We wonder where trouble comes from. The stars do seem to turn on a point within us, so when we see ourselves as the center of all things it feels inarguable. But it just ain’t so. I aimed to part with him the morrow, I being proven trustworthy of my own self and him not so.

We slept on the ground and come morning the camp perimeter was crisscrossed with possum tracks and he was gone. My Winchester was gone. In its place, a golf club, once wielded by the Lost Linksman himself. I mean, if you’re buying what he’d been selling.

Out here, the law is not practiced in court, it’s the ply of reason, catch as catch can. No hearsay, I am my own witness. At bottom it’s no less civil for the lack of wigs, robes and procedure. I picked the wedge up and swung it a few times. I’d never touched one before. I knew he’d try and cover his tracks. Knew too, he weren’t much good at it.

Photo: Village Creek State Park, Texas. ©2020

The Line

I barely had one foot in this world when they handed me a face and a name and a number and said, “get in that line over there.” So I did. I don’t know much else. I don’t know where the line goes. The lady ahead of me doesn’t know either, or the guy behind—you’d think someone would know. And don’t think I haven’t asked around. Everyone has. Around here it’s like talking about the weather. Anybody find out where the line goes? Nah. Think it will rain tomorrow? Maybe. Continue reading “The Line”

This Baby

He gunned the motor and glanced over at me thinking he looked more like James Dean than he did Burt Reynolds. I didn’t have the heart to tell him. “Let’s see what this baby will do,” he said. There was still some grease on his knuckles, from under the hood where he spent most of his time.

“What baby?” I said, looking around the car. I didn’t see a baby. He scoffed and lit a Camel with his Zippo and clicked it shut like a Shaolin pebble snatch. He dropped it in gear and floored it. As the second stop sign came racing past I raised my finger in point of fact. “We’re not so bad that we can’t die young,” I observed. “What?” he shouted and checked the rear view mirror for cop lights. He was too busy driving for this sort of chit-chat.

Past the city limits the road ahead drew to a point on the horizon. A metallic shudder shimmied through the car’s body as we slipped past the nineties and well into hundreds. The windows down, it was all furious air but with a stubborn silence at the heart of the roaring. The self calming effect of speed as it settles in and grows accustomed to itself. It was like a zone where the urge to cheat death feels as comfortable as a slice of pie.

Death may be hunting you but a fast car and a certain amount of attitude can make the chase a worthwhile distraction from the mundane routine of an hour hand stalking a circle of digits. A young buck’s got better things to do. We spotted a couple of skirts in a convertible at the Dairy Queen and pulled in. Sometimes you have to roll out your own welcome mat. He smiled at them and said, “hello girls.” You don’t have to look like James Dean, so long as you feel like him.

Respectable people call it a misspent youth, but we did our best to keep misspending it well into adulthood. We intended to give retrospect something worth pondering. You could see what was coming and the youthful resistance was naturally slow to come to heel. The first one to get married and wear a tie’s a rotten egg. But you can’t argue with the tides. Better to see your doctor in church than your priest in a hospital.

Seventy years later he disconnected the charger from the self-driving electric transport and said, “let’s see what this baby’s got.” I stowed my walker in the rear hatch and said, “what baby?” I didn’t see a baby. He took a deep breath through the oxygen tube at his nostrils and commanded, “take us to the pharmacy.” An electronic whirring shimmied through the robotic vehicle as it slowed to a halt at the stop sign. We were getting tired by now of cheating death. It was starting to feel the other way around.