Page 65 - WTP Vol. IX #7
P. 65

 hand. “Grab any gear you have in the bunkhouse and be back here in fifteen minutes.”
Holt packed the rest of the gear he had stowed in a bunkhouse locker, and crossed the parking lot to the ranger station with two weathered army duffle bags. The ranger was waiting for him, leaning against a porch rail.
“Looks like I’m going to be heading up to Missoula tomorrow. They want to talk with me about this, uh—‘event.’”
Holt shifted uncomfortably but met the ranger’s blue eyes, trying to divine what was happening.
“This has caused a ruckus from here to Missoula.” The ranger unscrewed his thermos, poured coffee into the cup, and took a gulp. “The agency doesn’t like black eyes. I figure I’m in for a good ass-chewing over this.”
“None of this is your fault.”
A few seconds ticked by and Holt scanned his face quickly, straining for an interpretation in the ranger’s silence. It came to him; shit and water flow downhill and big dominos knock over small dominos. The ranger was in for an official thrashing and Holt was fired. He felt like the smallest domino on the face of the earth.
“Not sure they’ll see it the same way. Anyway, the troopers called and they said they don’t need any more information from you. If they do, they know how to find you.” The ranger tossed the rest of his coffee in the dirt. “You’re free to go. Best to put all this behind us and head out now.” No handshake was extended, and he met the ranger’s sharp gaze. The ranger nodded almost imperceptibly as if to say, hit the road.
Holt tossed the duffle bags into the bed of his truck, and sped from the parking lot. A cloud of dust hung in the rear view mirror. Soon he was navigating the curves of the two-lane, holding his hand to his eyes to shade them from the sunlight. It flickered light- dark, light-dark through the trees. The road opened up and passed meadows brimming with wild flowers, cut by clear creeks flowing through them. Vistas of the mountains appeared, some craggy and rock-covered, others topped by green on the cloud- less morning.
Reaching for a stick of Wrigley gum in his jacket pocket, he felt another item. The memory cone. His palm closed on it, holding it firmly as if a special energy passed to him. Overcome, he pulled to the side of the road where he wept so violently he accidentally hit the horn—a shriek echoing up the valley—and startled himself. Events crowded in: Star handing him the memory cone, and baking holiday cookies with his mom. Holt wiped his eyes and nose on the jacket sleeve, and sat back in his seat for a few minutes be- fore pulling back on the road. He set the cone on the dashboard above the steering wheel, like a compass guiding him.
Around one turn he saw it—his lookout— a speck at this distance but it loomed like a tombstone in his mind. He imagined an epitaph but it was more of a message from Star: “You have a good life, get on with it.” It was hard to comprehend how the darkness of Star’s mind conquered the lightness of her heart. Two deaths in a little over a year: his mom and Star. Both hurt, but in different ways. He didn’t want to
be defined or shaped by death; he was too young for that. He was alive, whether it was by luck or fate, and he wanted to make the most of it. The truck entered
a long straight section of road and the sun blazed directly on the blacktop. He wanted to run toward life instead of running away. Holt pushed down on the accelerator, felt the truck surge and said, Get on with it, as the valley disappeared behind him.
Originally from the suburbs of New Jersey, Post worked for the Forest Service in Alaska for forty years. He writes short stories during the long, dark winters. His fiction has previously appeared in Cirque, Red Fez, Underwood Press, Poor Yorick, and elsewhere. The story “Enola Gay,” published in Red Fez, was nominated for a 2020 Pushcart Prize.

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