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