I write flash fiction, non-fiction, essays and novels. This month’s Tease is from a novel in progress.
He picked at it, looking down and then off at the approaching clouds. “I suppose I owe you guys a better explanation. You’re already guessing anyway. I would. Young guy, clearly messed up. Something pretty shitty must have happened, right?”
“Look kid,” Mann started, “you don’t have to …”
“I think he wants to,” Jessie corrected him.
“I do,” Tumbleweed confirmed her hunch. “Besides, it’s probably better to explain the whole story, rather than have you put in pieces that don’t belong. It might not matter to the dead, but to those of us they leave behind, it should.”
“The dead?” Molly questioned before quickly being hushed by Jessie and Mann.
All three were listening intently, now, with weighted tension, as they anticipated the kid’s disclosure.
“Max, you guessed correctly when you tagged me as a guide. I once was one, a pretty damn good one. For the Rougettes, out of Grants Pass. Problem is, I thought I was even better than I was, better than the river itself. Something happened to change all that. When you picked me up, hitchhiking, over by Grave Creek, I was having a tough time of it.”
“Down on the river?”
“Down on myself, down on life, and had been, for a long time, longer than anyone should be. Drinking into oblivion every night, waking up in strange places, with strange women.”
Jessie and Mollie looked at each other and shrugged. Tumbleweed kept talking, not looking for a reaction, except perhaps, from himself. He was pitched into memory and nothing could pull him back now. It was as if he had dropped an eighty pound pack after a long day on the trail. Suddenly, with virginal clarity, he appreciated the appeal of confession.
“The night before Max stopped to pick me up,” he continued, “I was on a drunk, but the booze ran out. I dried out in the wild, in the dark. Not good. It made for some awful fits in my sleep, horrible dreams. Terrors. Visions. I was pretty confused. The lines between asleep and awake, dream and reality, were all blurred. I woke up in the morning, in the gravel, beside the passer’s cross at Lost Penny. Sometime during the night, I had scratched myself a message in the dirt.”
“A message?” Jessie asked.
“Don’t interrupt,” Molly scolded her. “I don’t think he’s been in this place for a while,” she added, tapping her forehead.
“It’s okay,” Tumbleweed assured her. “I can see it all pretty clear right now. Clearer than I have in quite a while. It wasn’t even a message, really. Just two words …