In the living room.
Anastasia: Dylan. Do you want to go for a walk.
From the bedroom.
Ana: Please come with me. It’s so nice out, I want to take photos.
No response from the other room.
Dylan: I don’t want to.
Ana: Come on!
Dylan: Ugh, but Roran has just been given orders by the Narsuda, leader of the Varden to take over the seige in Arroughs, and Eragon is moving north to Dras-Leona! These are key plot points!!!
Ana: Who ARE you?
Dylan is quite a moment realizing he is no longer fourteen.
Dylan: Let me get my scarf.
By: Dylan Lenz
In those fleeting moments before the sun would rise and set the eastern wood on fire and cast long thin shadows over the field of the birch trees that lined the back edge of the farm, I would smile at my mother. She would see me to the door, kiss my forehead, and then turn my shoulders to pack a few odds and ends she had found around the house into my canvas backpack. Today it was two pears from the tree in our wood, a spool of wire I had left on the table, and my pocketknife that I had spent the previous hour trying to find. She would pull the drawstring of the bag and close the clasp then lean against the back door until I had my boots tied. I would stand up to kiss her cheek, swing my rifle over my shoulder, and then move to leave without a word. Quietly my mother would open the door a moment and let me out without letting the autumn air in.
We lived northeast of Ketchum, twenty minutes past the sprawl of the city where the farms lined the westbound highway that would take us to Boise in a few hours to see my brother who was studying agriculture, if we chose to drive out that way. We lived in the middle of the state, just under Sawtooth - but if you stood tall on the top of Berger’s Hill, and if the sky were clear enough from the July heat, you could make out the Teton’s to the east and see Yellowstone. At least that’s what my father had told me, he was gone, and I had never climbed to the top of Berger’s Hill to see the Rocky Mountains.
At the edge of the field a creek greeted the tree line and hawthorns formed a thicket at the base of the white trunks of the birch trees. In warmer months their leaves would hide the inch-long thorns that would scrap arms and could take an eye if unwatched. The frosts of November stole away the last of their cover and left the forest floor covered in the fallen leaves. Without them you could see perhaps twenty feet into the woods if you stood at its edge, though the hawthorns still kept most intruders out. Two summers previous I had spent the better part of a week cutting a thin path into the woods. A path of narrow width and low overhang, a path that could not bee seen unless you knew exactly where you left it, a path for a boy.
It was at the mouth of the path that Jesse met me. As I walked toward him from the house I saw him wave impatiently. I had turned twelve in September and Jesse was roughly two years older. He had a good foot on me, and was strong. He had a sturdy jaw and thick wrists just like his father and his father’s father. Jesse’s family had come west and settled the valley over a hundred years ago. His father farmed the same strip of land across the road from my family’s farm that Jesse’s grandfather had farmed, and his father before him. Jesse was the only son.
“About time,” said Jesse. He slung his own rifle over his shoulder and began to walk towards the entrance of the woods.
I quickened my pace and took off after him. “I’m sorry, you know my mom, always trying to kiss me goodbye and stuff,” I said, looking up a moment as Jesse paused at the creek. He looked down at me with a strange expression.
The autumn had taken most of the remaining water from the creek until it left it with a shallow flow in the deepest parts of the bed. Jesse stood at the edge of it and looked up at the line of birch and cottonwoods that flanked the water. We walked along the bank until we found the bend we usually crossed at where the water narrowed to only a few feet wide. The edges of the creek had already frozen and ice formed an elegant lace tying the stones of the creek bed together. The creek would freeze altogether in a few weeks until February when the runoff made it so we couldn’t cross the creek on our own any longer.
I handed Jesse my rifle and he jumped across the water with ease, his long legs almost allowing him to simply step across. I threw my backpack to him and he placed it on the ground next to the rifles then looked back at me. He braced his legs and opened his arms incase he needed to catch me. I took a few steps back then ran forward and jumped. Jesse grabbed me as I started to stumble on the other side and kept me from losing my footing and stepping into the cold water. He handed me my rifle and bag and then walked beside me as we walked deeper into the woods.
He was quiet for some time. We crossed a small meadow and decided to stop. I found a good tree to sit in and wait for an animal to wander close to us. Jesse took a branch a few feet above me, one I could not yet climb to, while I sat lower in the tree and dangled my legs underneath. I tossed Jesse one of the pears my mother packed as I ate the other and looked around for signs of movement.
“My mom moved to Boise,” said Jesse.
“When is she coming back?” I asked looking up at him.
“She isn’t.” Jesse said. “She got a job and an apartment. They said that I’m supposed to visit her on the weekends.”
“What’s your dad going to do?” I asked, still looking up.
“Don’t know. I don’t know why he doesn’t just go and get her. They’re still married,” Jesse said. He hopped to a lower branch and waited a moment before jumping to the ground. I followed.
I stood still a moment and looked at Jesse and then stared off into the meadow. I had nothing to say. Jesse was my closest friend, both by choice and by circumstance. There were no other boys my age within two miles but I was his friend for reasons besides that. I am confident I could have hated him if I chose to or if we did not see eye to eye. I had no affection for Andrew Briggs the boy who used to live at the farm next to ours – his house was closer than Jesse’s house and I had hated Andrew even though Jesse was his friend. Jesse and I were friends simply because we were. It was never a question of why or what the other had to offer. We would spend our free evenings in one another’s company, talking about girls at school, about our plans, about our families. I wanted to live by the ocean and Jesse never once mentioned that I needed to learn to swim. On the weekends we would go camping or exploring, or we would watch television at my house.
Yet I had no words of comfort for my friend. My own parents had been happily married, they had argued on occasion, but neither ever intended to leave. As my mother often told my sister and I, my father had been the love of her life. She insisted my sister find this for herself, and that I, now a young man, watch for it carefully and be weary of the lusts of youth. I had found love already, or at least I thought I had. I loved Jesse’s sister Sarah and would marry her if I got the chance.
Sarah was eighteen and heading to Lewis & Clark Community College for the spring semester. She also had a boyfriend, Jason Baldwin, who was going to Boise State on a football scholarship. Yet there were times Sarah would smile at me when she would see me, and there was the one time she had stayed in my bedroom with Jesse and I after their parents had a particularly nasty fight. I think it was then that I loved her – while I slept on the floor with Jesse and she slept in my bed.
Looking back that night had been nothing extraordinary. My father had been sick then still, but had walked with my mother across the street to Jesse’s house. They had heard the fight across the road and down the street and decided that Jesse and Sarah would come over for a while. They stayed the night and we brought the television into my bedroom. Sarah fell asleep on the bed as Jesse and I stayed up and read comics. She seemed happy then, but that was before everything else, I suppose. Still, I thought of her most days.
We left the meadow and headed deeper into the woods. Jesse did not tell me anymore nor ask my opinion on the course of action he should take and I was grateful.
“Let’s try trapping,” he suggested. I agreed and pulled the spool of wire from my bag. He began to look for sticks and twigs to rig the traps.
We had never caught anything this way before and had little patience for the monotony of the task. I looked around and found some game trails that ran away toward the creek in the low growth of the woods. We set them there, both trying to figure how something may catch themselves in our novice snares.
In the early afternoon after the traps were set we stopped and ate on a fallen log. We talked about Jane Field from town and how Jesse was convinced she wanted him. She had on numerous occasions spoke to him at length, in private, with no regard for her friends waiting to walk home with her. This assured Jesse he would be the first to have her.
In these conversations I held my tongue, I had no interests in the girls our age and having no personal experience to share, kept quiet to ensure I would not make some falsehood that Jesse could easily reveal as untrue. I loved Sarah though I would not tell Jesse that, not then. Jesse had a different approach to his feelings about women. He was vulgar and the other boys of Ketchum as well as myself liked to hear his stories. I knew of sex only from Jesse and the other young men I knew. My parents hid the subject with the quite reserve they held over politics and religion – two things they would not disclose in mixed company. We were Democrats, that I knew but wasn’t allowed to tell the neighbors.
I pulled out my piece of cake from dinner the previous night. I had eaten some of it, but saved the rest for today. Jesse looked over at me.
“Did you pack any cake for me?” he asked.
“No, this was the last piece,” I said, eating it and staring up at the treetops. We were quiet a moment.
“You know Sarah’s pregnant,” he said, eating the sandwich I’d packed for him. He looked back at me with a knowing glance. My face turned red but I hid it by burrowing a little deeper into my coat. Jesse continued. “That’s why she moved up to Boise early, she’s living with Jason because my parents kicked her out.”
Again I had nothing to say so I left Jesse and walked back to the snares he had set. They were empty but I untied them anyway and rewound the wire onto the spool. I returned to Jesse once my face had stopped burning and my stomach calmed.
“Anything?” he asked, tossing the paper wrappings of his sandwich on the ground.
“Nothing.” I said.
The sun was beginning to fall when we climbed a hill to look out over the woods. Our breaths were deep by the summit, the cold air ripped into our throats and our ragged breaths made us stop. We looked out. I could see our farm and the highway, I could see Jesse’s father driving home down the narrow strip of road.
“Look there,” said Jesse; he stole a glance at me and knocked my arm with his elbow signaling me to watch his eye. I followed his gaze until I saw what he saw, a pair of rabbits under the cover of the hawthorns a few yards from where we stood. They were fat, their fur long and full with the soft down that would keep them warm for the season. They did not know we were watching.
Jesse knelt to his boot and pulled out a rolled plastic bag. He unraveled it and shook out four .22 shells into his palm. I looked in his eyes and he motioned for me to take them.
“Take one,” he said. I picked up the bullet and ran it between my thumb and index finger. They were hot from being kept in his boot. Jesse loaded three into his own gun and brought his rifle to his shoulder. We were not supposed to have these without our fathers present, and I wondered how Jesse had them. The rifles were only for fun, for our adventures.
I loaded mine into my rifle and brought the gun to my cheek. Jesse tapped my arm and pointed left. I nodded and took aim at my rabbit; they still did not know we were there.
“On my mark,” said Jesse, pulling the stock of his barrel closer to his shoulder. I looked forward.
Jesse let out a low exhale, his breath came in a thin white cloud and fogged the steel on the back of his rifle. We fired simultaneously and the report cracked the November cold as our faces flushed. The sound rang for a second longer in the greater woods and then faded just as fast. The two rabbits did not move.
Jesse dropped his rifle to the ground and began to look for a way to reach the rabbits. The hawthorns that had kept them safe still did, and in a frenzy Jesse fell to his hands and knees and began to crawl into the brier. He let out ragged breaths through clenched teeth as the hawthorns dug into him. He wormed his way to where his rabbit fell and grabbed it by the ears and started to pull back out.
“Get mine too,” I said looking to my friend.
“Leave it. It’s too far,” said Jesse slowly making his way out.
When he was free of the thorns Jesse stood before me and held the dead rabbit by the back legs. It was grotesque; the rabbits face was covered in blood. Jesse had shot it through the neck. Jesse’s own face was also covered in blood along with his hands – the hawthorns had cut him just under his eye and stabbed deep into his knuckle.
“Give me your knife,” Jesse said.
I slid my pack off and handed it to him. “What are going to do?” I asked.
“Skin it,” said Jesse, taking the knife and opening the blade.
“Do you know how?” I asked.
“Sure, I’ve seen my dad do this a dozen times. It’s not that hard.”
I left him a moment and began to circle the trees looking for a way in to get the rabbit I shot, but there was no way to reach it without tearing apart my own skin. I looked for a long stick so I might reach the rabbit but couldn’t fine anything long enough. If I had brought a hatchet I might have been able to cut a long branch or a sapling, but even then I don’t think I could have pulled the rabbit out. I sat at the edge of the brier a minute and tried to think of how I could get to it. It was no use.
I returned to see what was becoming of his rabbit and found it in pieces. He had no idea what he was doing and had ill-butchered the creature by cutting off its head and legs. They were strewn across the ground along with the guts of the animal. The meat was covered in stray strands of the down fur and Jesse was kneeling, pulling the pieces from the carcass. I leaned against a nearby tree and stood watching him, waiting for him to look at me.
He let out a cry of frustration and threw the rabbit aside. He grabbed a fist of fallen leaves and rubbed them between his hands, cleaning off the blood of the rabbit. He stood, looked at me, picked up the knife and slid it back into my pack that was leaning against the tree. He picked up his own rifle and began down the hill towards the creek.
“What are you doing?” I asked, catching up with his long strides.
“It’s getting late,” he said.
“You can’t just leave it,” I said. “We have to take them with us.”
“No we don’t, a coyote will probably eat it.”
“We should at least bury it,” I said, looking down the hill at Jesse. I stopped walking.
“David, just leave it. It’s fine,” he said, turning back to look up at me. I said nothing and began to walk back to the rabbits.
Jesse rolled his eyes and turned back towards the creek.
“I’m going,” he called.
“Fine,” I said.
I found the rabbit where he had left it and used a broken branch to help dig up the frozen soil; I kicked the parts of the rabbit in to the hole with my toe and covered it. I found a young birch tree that was about fifteen feet tall and pushed it over until the thin trunk cracked near the base. I began to cut away at the sinews of young wood that held it together, spending the better part of an hour until it fell. Taking the last of the wire my mother had packed me I made a noose at the end of the sapling and returned to the brier for my rabbit. I hooked its neck after only a few tries and pulled it towards me. It was still warm. I packed it into my bag, slung my rifle over my shoulder and headed home.
When I got to the creek I threw my bag and gun across first and then stood back to make my jump over the creek. Perhaps it was Sarah that made me halfhearted about the leap, or perhaps it was Jesse not being there to catch me, then again perhaps it was the fear of explaining the dead rabbit to my mother. In any case I did not leap with the same vigor I had earlier that day when the sun was still rising. Now it had fallen over into eastern wood until the shadows fell in on the trees themselves leaving only a dark pathway to greet me if I did make it past the creek. Despite my footing I jumped and to my surprise I landed with ease and good balance.
I picked up my things and shouldered them then rushed to the pathway through the hawthorns towards my mother, who would be waiting and worrying all alone. I noticed the overhang seemed lower than it had that morning and I made note to come back and cut the archway taller the next day.
Curse Your Branches
At birth Adam killed his mother so his father left. Adam lived with his grandfather, but his grandfather’s hands wandered, so Adam decided to leave at eighteen. Adam met Kate at a bus stop in Kansas; she was his father’s age.
Adam moved in with her. He gave her a child. He worked and met Carla. Adam was only twenty-five, and Adam fell in love. Adam left one night without a word or note, just like his father.
- Franz Kafka