Short Fiction · Short Stories

Nelsons Pond

It has been a long year in Arkansas at college. Now that I am finally home for a while, my best friend Jacob and I decide to catch up. I am worried that things might be strange at first. I feel alien and foreign, like the conversation might be awkward.  Both of us pretending that we know each other, when in reality, we are now different people who only look like ghosts of old friends.

As I enter, Jacob picks things up as if I had never left. “What’s crack-a lackin’ Krack-a-lack?” He extends his hand for a slap, wraps my fingers, and pulls me in for a hug. With that the pretense vanishes.  There will be no conversational tennis match about the stuff we have missed. No tell me about your past, no bullshit, just kickin’it.  It is an unexpected surprise.

He has about seven ounces of mushrooms, and asks me if I want to be the first mate on a cognitive voyage.  I pause for a second, then think what the hell?

“Where can we go? Everything here’s been developed.  It’d be cool if we could find someplace remote, with as mush-room as possible. Know what I’m sayin?”

Jacob laughs. “I know a place. Well I think I do.”  His voice full of promise. “All you can do is try. Am I right?”

“Yeah. That’s all any of us can do.”  I reply.

I am not nearly as experienced or avid as Jacob is in the area of stimulants for mental exploration. I have always been cautious of drugs, but feel more comfortable with those supplied by the earth.  At first, Jacob wants to split them even, but I know it will be too much for me. We decide to split the caps and stems two grams for me, and the rest for him.

 

We are tearing down the back roads in Jacob’s small Mazda B5100 truck.  The road is narrow and winding, lined with trees, making it impossible to tell if a vehicle is approaching.  If any other car were to be on the road, it would be death for all parties. I’m wary of the way he is driving, but don’t want to look like a wimp, so to distract myself, I ask Jacob, “where are we going?”

“Just some place I found a while back, I’m not sure if we will be able to get in, sometimes it’s locked, but if we can’t, we’ll just drive around till we find somethin’.”

My viscera recalls the time we had done this before, how on the way up the second hill, in a series, the road seemed to go in a full loop and we almost crashed.  I did not care to relive this situation.

We are whirring past all of these new subdivisions, and in my head I’m thinking, What happened? There is nothing here but suburban sprawl. We are going to end up driving around.  I know it.  Shit!

“We better get there soon, I feel them starting to kick in.” Jacob says, and lowers the gas pedal even further. Racing the effect of the mushrooms against our arrival. It feels like we are doing 90 when another car comes into view.  Jacob brings the truck over, hits the brakes, then cuts the wheel hard to the right as we fishtail onto a dirt road. The other car honks as it passes.  My heart has a moment of arrhythmia and I am grateful to be alive. Jacob, un-phased, keeps driving like everything is normal.  He lets out a laugh though, which tells me that for at least a second, he was worried.

We tumble through the opening of a small gate, and we are abruptly transported to an undeveloped beautiful relic of landscape.  I am taken aback. It is the perfect time of day to encounter this.  Not quite dusk, but late enough that the sun had begun to paint the world in different shades. This pasture. This pasture is lined with hills that have guarded it from suburban ideals.  The landscape holds valleys, a small pond with a rickety dock made of old fence boards, and a small bridge also made out of fence boards. To the East, across the water, there is a small forest wrapping the ponds’ shores. To the West, an old barn with a pasture behind it, stretching to the horizon.

My heart ignites.

We are here for a mental journey into our subconscious, but more than that we are here to catch up. I can think of no better place for this to happen.

I had not forgotten how full of thought Jacob had been in high school, but I had forgotten the depth of logic that he almost always carried with him.  As we approach a fork in the dirt road, the truck slows.

“To the right, or the left? What do you think, Crack?”

“To the left.” I instantly blurt, “to the right is the choice that everyone makes in the books, or at least the choice the audience knows they should make.” I was here to be dangerous. Here to prove to myself that I had not lost my edge.

Jacob gives me a cautionary glance, “…To the left it is,” and he pulls his B5100 forward into a little jet of land that stretches toward the center of the pond.  The land feels spooky to me. Eerie, yet captivating.

I find it hard to be at rest sensing that at any moment the owner of the land or a policeman might drive in and bust us for being here. It isn’t really out of city limits. Still, it isn’t really in the city limits either. People think differently in these parts.  It is an area where shooting an intruder is a heroic action.  I envision the property owner with a shotgun, Jacob and I hands held high, our rapidly rolling heartbeats, making a slow retreat toward Jacobs truck. I imagine the war hardened Officer Barber with his gun pulled, and our bodies snug as possible against the dirt as he yells aggressive commands.  I have always carried a higher level of apprehension in clandestine matters than my revelrous friends. A daring fraud, but a good one. I hid it well.

“Hey, Crack.”

“Yeah?” I echo back from the end of the peninsula.

“Get in the truck.”  I walk back and tumble in. “What’s going on?” I asks, more out of fear than of curiosity, but I play it off like a true bastard.

“I remembered something,” Jacob says as he starts the truck back up and we pull around to the path onto the right side.  I guess the books were right.  I feel in my pockets for my smokes. “Screw!  My cigarettes are in my car.”

“I’ve got a few,” Jacob replies.

We arrive at the other side of the lake and park the truck.  Down the path is the rickety bridge I mentioned earlier, enormous white boulders surround its’ edges.

“This place is sweet! How long have you known about this?”

“Just after we graduated.”

“Cool.”

“Yeah, it’s alright.”

We cross the bridge and head toward the barn. There is a broad farm gate made out of about six bars, four short vertical ones and two longer ones running horizontal along the circumference. It is dusk now and we pause for a moment to take in the sunset. To the south a small stretch of road can be seen.  In the distance, one of those flashing red lights you sometimes see in smaller towns used as an electric stop sign.

Somehow the darkness of the East, and the way everything stretches to the sun in the West makes me feel small. I imagine us as evolved bacteria in the universe, as organisms of a destructive species, as germs with germs on them. I wonder if the world will ever strike back, and I’m reminded that there is a tornado warning issued for tonight. Maybe it will? Would tonight be the night?

So far the weather seems ok.  I want to get Jacob’s perspective on the germs thing, but before I can, Jacob breaks the silence.

“Well, there’s a fence here. I guess we can’t go any further.”

I duck between the two bars and straighten out on the other side.  “That’s a great fence!” I say mocking its ineffectiveness.

Jacob follows suit.  We talk for all of maybe two minutes before we are stopped.  Something is moving in the distance. It looks like a dog at first, but as time passes its silhouette grows larger. A wolf maybe? As I think this, the silhouette continues to morph larger.

Whatever it is, it is heading our direction. Something is coming, and fast.

By the time it reaches human proportions, Jacob, his vision straining, asks. “Is someone else here?” Maybe I’m not the only one with insecurities after all?

The thought of the likely gun totting owner swirls in my belly.  “Whatever it is, it’s coming at us! Maybe we should turn around.”

Fueled by the threat of an unknown fate we both begin to run for the fence, but stop when we realize the truth.  “Oh,” I sigh in relief, “It’s just a horse!” and I slow my pace back to a calm stride. We both relax for a moment.

Then it dawns on us that despite our friendly sentiments about horses, this horse is nothing to mess with. It is large and strong enough to send either of us to the hospital, or even kill us, and it is closing in faster than either of us can run.  It takes a moment for the urgency to settle in, “Crap! It’s still coming!” I yell, and set off in full sprint for the farm gate.

The horse is getting closer every second, its’ hooves pounding the ground just behind me reiterating its size and destructive capacity.  I look back at the horse to see how close it really is, and how terrifying it looks in the night.  I feel the horses warm rush from its’ nostrils like steam from an iron as it nearly catches me under its hooves.

“Oooooohhh Crap!”  I yell as I roll through the bars of the gate.  I get under just before the horse closes in. Jacob makes it too. He falls to the ground in exasperation, struggling to regain his breath. I am wheezing but remain standing, my hands on my knees, out of breath and thankful to be alive.

“Oh shit!”  Jacob gasps in exasperated relief. “What the hell?”

We both fall into the kind of laughter that follows the end of an intense situation.  The stars are out now, and I take them in considering all of the stories I have been told about them through life.  Was my grandma up there?  Had she looked out for me?  I imagine her ghost for a brief instant pulling back on ethereal reins, slowing the horses’ speed. I ask Jacob what his thoughts about the stars are, and to my surprise he says flatly “They are balls of gas.”

“Well,.. yeah…  I know that, but do you think there is more? Something to do with their placement? Are they trying to communicate somehow?  Tommy and Sara told me once that they went to a psychic and burned a candle together to ensure that their souls ended up on the same star, which to me sounds like a really uncomfortable place to end up.”

I recall my youth, and the massive number of stars there were when my Dad would take me camping. Their demanding wonder.  Jacob is silent, so I add, “What do you think it was like before electricity?”

In my mind the idea of mystic erosion percolates, beginning with the discovery of the stars make up- then further distilled with the advent of streetlamps. I wonder around this idea too quick to make sense of it.  A hundred different possibilities all culminating to the same forgotten result.

There is a long silence which is normal at first, but then edges toward awkwardness.  “Amazing.” Jacob says, “We think we’re the most sophisticated people on earth, but a tribe in Africa, I think they were called the Dogons, knew stuff we didn’t find out until just recently!  They knew about Saturn’s rings, and Sirius B, and Jupiter’s moons. Stuff we couldn’t possibly know about without modern technology.” There is a sense of bewilderment in his tone. “We tried to discount it by telling the world that they had probably been told this information by a westerner with a knowledge of astrology, but there is no way to prove it. You know what I’m sayin’?  The Dogons say they are… from there. Of course we wrote it off as legend, or folklore or something, but they were right in the details. It kinda makes you wonder how smart we are versus how smart people we classify as lessers are.  It’s a tough call sometimes, but as long as we have a fear of being wrong… people are going to fight to be the most right, even if they are wrong.  That’s why we learn so slow.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.  No one wanted to believe that Dr., Ignaz Semmelweis, who told surgeons to wash their hands for years. They took the suggestion as an attack.” I wonder how many times my own hubris has stifled myself or others, and what impact it might have.

The cicadas are out now, and they hum a mantra both calming and reminiscent of ritual murder. An avalanche of history cascades through my mind as I consider the effect that hubris has had on modern culture.  I wonder how many times my own hubris has stifled myself or others, and what impact it might have.

We rise, and begin a slow meander to the other side of the property where there is a path leading into thick woods.  The feel of the place screams to me of some form of ancient knowledge. I can’t stop thinking about Druids, and witches, about the mystical Argonauts who claim to be able to manipulate an unexplainable realm.  The tree branches curve and wind in such a way to resemble a swarm of serpents. Somehow this brings to mind Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown.  I wonder if that serpent-esque walking stick had been plucked from a similar forest, and if I unwittingly, am walking with the friendly guise of a dark lord.

I begin to wonder if I will come out of the forest with a new view on society.  Unable to connect with others. Jacob after all looks almost the same as the Rasputin, tall, bearded, and gaunt. At least on occasion he is equally idealistic and jokingly mad. Not to mention, his name is Jacob.

I decide that I really don’t really care. It’s part of the journey, and I may as well be here now.

We come to another split in the path, this time two paths lay ahead, and two behind.

“Right or left, Crack?”  Jacob inquires, assuming we will continue our forward trajectory.

I pause and assess the split.  To the right, the path is wide and leads around to the tiny dock on the pond, next to a grove of trees.  To the left is a dark tunnel of twisted shadows.

I consider the growth of trees, and try to draw a moral parallel.  Trees are always striving to reach the light, but they grow crookedly: winding and twisting and gnarling their way to maturity.  Maybe they aren’t so unlike us after all. Still, they look scary as fuck.  Tonight has become more than just hanging out.  It is a journey now, a test of courage, and I feel an urge to confront my insecurities.

“It looks like left is the path less traveled,” I say, bearing in mind that the books had been right before, and that it may be a foolish, if not risky decision to make.

“You sure about that?” Jacob again gives me a discerning look. It’s like he is testing me.

I pause. Better to face your fears with a friend than never at all I think. “Yeah, I don’t want to live a boring life. No risk, no reward, right?” Jacob relaxes his shoulders and concedes to the decision.

“If you’re not livin’ on the edge you taking up too much space. That’s what they say I guess.”  As he says this, lightning illuminates a distant group of clouds. We look at each other as if to say, “well that was creepy”, and pause for a second before I take the initial steps into darkness.

Five steps forward and I am immediately greeted by a sticky web which folds over my skin. As the web quickly adheres to me, I notice something scaling its edges like a trapeze artist in an whirlwind, a faint glint of brown reflects from its back.

My sister recently had a circular inch of her leg removed due to a brown recluse bite which almost went systemic. A staph infection that migrated to my grandma’s heart had killed her a year ago, and I do not wish to make it a family trend. I fade into panic. I try my best to rapidly rid my skin of the webs’ sticky embrace, hoping to also relieve my mind from the thought of a brown spider crawling around in my clothes.

I discover after a full minute of flapping, scratching and swiping that it is a vast and complicated web. No matter how many times I swipe, I can still feel the web lightly attached to me.  Jacob comes over and begins to help, his hands almost knocking me over.  “You’re good dude, I got it.” Still the unsettling sensation lingers on my skin. As the wind blows every arm hair twitches in just a way to communicate that I have not been thorough in my expulsion of spider silk.  Still, his reassurance that I was clear from the threat of a rancorous staph infection was enough.

Jacob laughs a bit, and as he walks away, he becomes entangled himself in a separate web. I in turn in immediately rush to sweep the webs from his back and arms.

“It’s a phantom,” I reassure him. “There is nothing there. I can still feel it too, but it’s gone. It’s all cognitive. Let it go!” I say this for both of us.

Finally exiting the tunnel, I say “Wait a minute. I have to drain the main vein.”, cautiously walking toward a lighter grove of trees to urinate.  One of these trees has this knot in the shape of a face.  It is haunting, as if a person had been trapped by a sorcerer long ago.  I reach out to touch it and when I do a jolt races across every synapse in my body.  Colors and a sense of terror strobe through my essence as if the tree were trying to tell its story as quickly as possible.  The current of thought is too intense, too scary.  As if I had been burned by a Ouija board I pull away.  “What the fuck was that!?” A warning?  Something else?

Perhaps I had made the wrong decision once again in my defiance of convention. It doesn’t feel like pride, but if I refuse to learn from the past, maybe I have a problem after all?

We enter a small clear space and I look up to the full moon.  Clouds sweeping past it so fast I get a brief sense of vection.  Another distant celestial flash and a low rumble sounds in the distance, though much closer than before.

“Sounds like it’s going to rain soon” Jacob observes.

“It’s Texas,” I say, “let it rain. You never know what’s going to happen.” There is a tornado watch tonight, but we are too young and naïve to heed such forecast. We don’t care.  “Dallas county weather covers such a vast area that the forecasts rarely affects more than twenty percent of the population anyway.”

“That’s the thing,” Jacob spouts, “everyone is always saying that this is going to happen, or that is going to happen, but no one really knows!  People always remark that God’s gonna strike you down!  Or that the poles are going to switch and either kill everyone, or erase their memory, or that science is going to destroy us by colliding atoms together, or that the world is going to end in the next two years. They are all things that could happen, but,..” his voice begins to boom, as if he is inviting anyone else on the property to find us. Challenging them, “…but the thing is, that NO ONE KNOWS FOR SURE WHAT WILL COME NEXT! You know who knows how things will play out?  NOBODY!”

As if to smite us, a gentle mist of rain spreads over the pasture. Jacob throws his arms wide and shouts in a defiant tone.  “People drowning! Children frowning! What will come next!?”

I burst out in laughter at the morose comment. In an effort of jubilant solidarity, I add a second line “Banks are crashing! Teeth are gnashing! What will come next!?”

Jacob begins a swirling dance, his arms spread wide, shouting into the collective unconscious, “People breeding! Trees are grieving! What will come next!?” I ascertain that the rules of the game are to create the most ridiculous line possible, and chime back in.

“Sirens wailing! Arms are flailing! What will come next!?” I belt from my depths, and it feels glorious!

“Mosquitos shopping! People dropping! What will come next?” Jacob counters just as his foot trips over a root, and he falls to the damp ground.

I lose the rhythm in laughter, having clearly been upstaged. Finally, less clever than I hope, I end the game with a pathetic, “Clowns amongst us! Someone punked us! What will come next!?”

As we walk, the end of the trail finds us where we began. “Back at the start again Crack. Seems like all paths lead to here.”  A statement which was certainly true, but given my confused spiritual state it carried a deeper resonance.

“Want to take that other path?” Jacob throws the suggestion out, and we set out along the glistening ponds’ shore.

As we approach the tiny dock jutting into the pond, Jacob’s truck is visible across the water.  Jacob takes on an observant quietness and a low crouch. He has noticed something suspicious, though I cannot tell what it is.

I look across the pond, but get no reward. It is clear that something is wrong, but I can’t tell what.

“Hold on.”  Jacob whispers, and throws his arm back to block my path, indicating I

should fall silent. At first, I think it’s a joke, but he maintains his demeanor.

“What’s up?”  I inquire.

“I don’t know.” Jacob pauses. Then he quietly responds, “What do you think that is over there by my truck?”

I peer over. A red light is moving around on the passenger side.  It looks like someone with a laser pointer is having a look, rummaging.  “Is it a person?”

I try to conceive of an escape plan, but nothing comes except a Hollywood Quentin Tarantino style escape. I want to be sure he’s thinking what I’m thinking and say, “Shit! Is someone there?”  I pause nervously for an answer as Jacob silently surveys the landscape. “Do you think it’s a cop?” I follow up.

The wind has picked up by now, and a bolt of electricity branches across the sky too fast for either of us to make sense of the details.  A low boom thunder shakes the ground beneath us like a starched bedsheet.  Even if it is the police, we won’t be able to stay much longer.

We sit for a minute in kinetic silence. “I don’t know, but I’m about to find out,” Jacob finally breaks his concentration.

He takes down the path, back toward his truck like a  mad person who is bent on murder.  I follow close, caught by his sense of urgency. The Quentin Tarantino plan an unavoidable, “go”. I am trying to keep up while working out the details.  Thinking this is crazy, we are gonna to die. I decide that the best plan is to rush in and tackle the person before he can fire. Take the gun and throw it out the truck window as we leave.  All or all, nothing does not exist at this point. If I am going out, it will be on my feet.

When we get back to the truck, we are confused and relieved to discover that no one is here.  It’s peculiar, and we try to figure out what we had seen. Maybe the person had thought to hide?

The rattle of a semi-truck decelerating sounds in the distance, and we squint to see its’ lights slow to a stop near the flashing red light barely visible, swinging around in the heavy wind. We realize our mistake, take a moment, then have a good laugh at ourselves.

“Well I guess that’s that!” Jacob laughs, in the tone of relief he had after nearly getting trampled earlier.

I can’t stop thinking what the hell was that? Still, I am laughing too.

“You wanna get out of here man?” Jacob finally offers.

I look into the tumultuous sky and see the early stage of a funnel cloud twisting around like a thought. “Let’s roll.” I say.  I am beaming with relief.  Perhaps tonight isn’t my night to die after all?  My spirit is grateful to any divine force that may exist.

It looks like for once the weatherman is right. Maybe we should take our night toward more domestic quarters.

Heavy rain hits as we pull out of the property, and speed toward our next adventure. I look down to find my full pack of smokes on the floorboard, and offer one to Jacob as I realize that I don’t even want one. I am enraptured by the thrill of everything, whispering to me through the cosmos: “what will come next?

All I can do is be open to it.

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