A Short Story
Below is the first part of a short story I’m writing called A Guide to Being Wild. It’s a first draft and the rest remains unwritten. The reason I’m posting it on here, even if it’s a bit sloppy, is to force myself to write the rest of it. We’ll see what happens. Enjoy.
Milton Avery, Edge of the Woods
A Guide to Being Wild | Part One: Trees Are Too Old to Care
“To be honest, Derrick, I don’t know a goddamn thing about surviving in the wild,” said Carl, a defeated, hungry man on the verge of disillusionment. He was only a short distance from shore, but his pace was grueling as his feet struggled to balance on the slippery rocks. His grit was fleeting, though not completely gone. Before he could make it to the relief of dry feet, a small stone no larger than an apricot gave, sending the 43-year-old website designer crashing into the waist-high water. Derrick, who was watching from the shore, couldn’t help but notice his friend falling on the reflection of a thin gray cloud.
“You’re a lucky man,” yelled Derrick, as Carl’s fat head broke from the water.
“What? How could anyone as wet and cold as me be considered lucky? For Christ’s sake, my shoe fell off.” He looked back in search of the rogue sneaker. “I think that’s it over there.” He pointed to a bit of debris shaped like a foot floating 400 meters away.
“You’re lucky because you fell on a cloud. Out of all the things to fall on, I’d say that’s pretty damn good.” Derrick’s commentary wasn’t helping.
“I’m staying in the water. I’m going to just stay here until I freeze to death. I think it’s already happening because I can’t feel my legs and I heard that’s the first thing to go when you die of hypothermia,” said Carl, his balding head protruding from the water, like an island of sand and prairie grass.
“Who told you that?” Asked Derrick.
“Pearcy from work.”
“He never died of hypothermia, how does he know?”
“He reads a lot.”
With much pain and hesitation, Carl lifted his body out of the water. He looked as cold and miserable as he actually was. The time for being stoic was long gone.
“I’m gonna just take the shoe for a loss and come in,” said Carl.
The two men were taking turns hunting for fish. Neither had the speed or know how to catch a fish with bare hands, yet it seemed the thing to try. Unlike Carl, Derrick remained comfortable and dry thanks to his ability to walk on slippery rocks, and his cunning maneuver to let the big guy stay out a little longer. As he watched his friend return without a catch, Derrick felt the electric clutch of anxiety on his stomach as it sent waves of adrenaline up through his lungs and heart. He thought about beer. He thought about how he may never drink a beer again and it gave him anxiety.
As Carl waded to shore, small waves permeated the water around him. Derrick thought it looked humorous, like a lonely whale sending out its song across the globe. Despite the frustrations of living out in the wild for three days, Derrick still found Carl to be a man of immense humor. It was as if God put Carl on this planet to remind all of humanity that life is a little ridiculous, and if you can’t laugh from time to time what’s the point?
Carl looked extra ridiculous in his ill-fitting crew-neck, which was turned inside out due to the corporate logo on the front. The shirt stretched tightly over his awkward body. Carl was cursed with a set of arms that, when in rest, looked as if he were initiating a hug. Further, many people wondered how he could wash his hands, since it didn’t seem possible for him to squeeze the two arms together, but he could.
The corporate logo, which shall remain unnamed, was the cause of some conflict early on in the trip. In a PDF aptly named A Guide to Being Wild, Derrick listed things he wished to leave behind if they were to get the true experience of leaving society. One of the bullets mentioned no corporate logos, since the whole point of the adventure was to get away from shit like that. He was convinced the pervasiveness of logos had permanently damaged our ability to realize we don’t need certain things. To put it in a way that made even his most loyal friends suspect him of paranoia, Derrick claimed logos to work in the same way as parasites. He imagined a corporate logo pitching its influence on our subconscious like a flea stuck to a dog.
Derrick read about a parasite humans contract as a result of living indoors with cats, one that makes us do extreme sports and drive too fast. Derrick started to wonder if corporate parasites held similar control on our actions. In the same regards, he convinced himself that logos made us think objects with no real value were worth buying, even when potentially harmful. Perhaps the same parasites that were making us drive too fast were also controlling the brains of CEOs. Wouldn’t that be something? The two argued about the shirt for a good hour before Carl decided it wasn’t worth the energy and turned it inside out.
Carl sat on the rocky shore and examined the lake he had just escaped. He looked down at his wet clothes and awkward body and said something about developing a rash and dying from the cold.
“Don’t be so dramatic. We have matches, a reusable grocery bag full of homemade trail mix, and two blankets,” said Derrick as he helped his friend up. Though the purpose of the adventure was to escape society, the two men weren’t stupid. After all, the trail mix was homemade and the bag reusable.
Near the shore, a frenzied orgy of black bugs floated over the water. It looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. Carl commented at how nature can be quite disgusting. “Be like the ocean, Carl,” argued Derrick, referring to a Buddhist teaching about the importance of being big like the ocean. You see, the ocean is not disgusted by anything! It takes in our pollution, the sunlight, organic matter, etc., all without bias. Derrick appreciates how often Buddhists use the ocean as a metaphor to help overcome suffering and fear.
The friends walked back to their camp, which consisted of two blankets, a bag of trail mix, and a fire pit. The rocks they had put over the bag to protect it from squirrels and birds had not worked. All that remained were a handful of almonds and cocoa nubs scattered across the dirt. “Wow! They ate the whole bag. There had to have been about two pounds worth of mix in there,” said Carl, as he ran his hands through his thinning blonde hair. They were equal parts stunned and regretful. It was childish to think a few rocks could stop a squirrel from two pounds of food. “I don’t understand why you would bring so much food in an open bag like that,” said Carl. “It was a game time decision,” said Derrick.
It was early fall. The scent of dead leaves danced with the balsam firs nearby, giving the campsite a smell no Yankee Candle could imitate. Carl placed some tinder on the hot embers from the morning’s fire. After he got it burning to his satisfaction, he lied down on a blanket and closed his eyes. Derrick was relieved to find Carl didn’t want to talk. It was difficult to get any good thinking done, given his empty stomach and the audacious mosquitoes leftover from the summer buzzing in his ears. Despite all the distractions, Derrick watched the fire and thought of the trip. Was this a mistake? Had he taken his fascination with the wilderness too seriously? If he were so determined to break free from his old life, then why did he have to drag Carl into this mess?
This wasn’t the first time Derrick took a fascination too far, but it certainly was the most dangerous case. Giving up water bottles and reading poems by Gary Snyder never left him hungry and cold. Transforming his front lawn into an experiment in permaculture was time consuming, but he never felt lost. Trading the car in for a bike after his wife died took some adjusting, yet he always had a warm bed to retreat to when the sun went down.
Maybe this was a mistake. He looked around at the ancient trees. Some of them could be hundreds of years old. He felt no sympathy from them; the trees were too old to care.