|3) You’re in the woods and you’re lost. You’ve
just panicked your way through setting up your tent, and the sun’s setting,
and you keep telling yourself I’ll wake up with the sun tomorrow, and
I’ll walk due some-direction, and I won’t vary or veer and sooner than later
I’ll hit a road or trail or something
the sun’s kissing the horizon
and I won’t panic ‘til then, or at all, and this’ll be a dumb story I tell someday, about how I went solo hiking near Witch Lake, WVa, with the maps for Witch Lake, IL and ha, ha, ha…
and the sun is gone, and the sky is fading from liquidy blue to loam black. You turn in, zipping the screen, the nylon window, your sleeping bag.
You wake up because a baby is crying. You’re so far out from anything, it’s so dark, that for a while you just lie in your sleeping bag, trying to get your bearings. It feels like you’re spinning, spinning in a witch’s cradle your mind pipes up, and you curse yourself for being a silly ass.
Your watch says it’s 3:03 am. You sit up, unzip your bag, and listen.
Somewhere, not far off, there is a baby crying. Its sobs are ragged and desperate, tracing through the dark like witch’s whistles, or jet-black bottle rockets with no reports. The sound arcs up out of the night, flat and echoless and angry.
How close to the tent is it? Not so close, but is it quiet because the babe is far off, or because it is near but small and weak? It’s not closer than a yard, but a yard is so near, even within your mostly-dead flashlight’s meek beam.
Or is it only quiet because it chooses to be quiet?
What the hell are you thinking?
But how’d a baby get out here? You have this picture in your head, inexplicable, ridiculous, but chilling, of an infant with awful, spindly 12-foot limbs and a baby’s body, a baby’s crumbled, squeezed, panicked gourd of a face. You imagine it lumbering towards the tent’s animal warmth on its knobby, extruded limbs. Babies cry when they’re lonely. Or hungry.
You shudder and force that mess of limbs out of your head: It’s ridiculous, if for no other reason than that it is quite clear that the crying isn’t moving. You imagine a baby lying in the coarse tall-grass, ineffectually kicking, crying itself breathless, then gulping in a deep sob only to cry more, fruitlessly. The sobs dig at you; you want to unzip the tent’s door and hunt out into the woods, find the little fella and gather him into your arms, take him into the tent, care for him. You want to believe that you have a little steel in you, when push comes to shove, that you’re principally a creature of compassion.
But you can’t. How does a baby get out here into the woods, so far from anything, from even light? How does it end up out here and stay quiet until 3:03 am, and only then start to fuss? How is it that a crying baby is alone? You think of gypsies and drifters, of Indians with their babies swaddled to buckboards to keep them from fussing and queering a hunt
Or an ambush.
Your body feels like Saran Wrap, tight and crinkling.
In elementary school Mrs. Bachman told you about mimics and actors: fish that dangled food-looking bait in front of their gapping, needle-toothed mouths; birds that pretended to be injured so as to draw out would-be predators; cuckoos leaving their eggs in others’ nests; wasps implanting their brood under the living flesh of caterpillars. Something vicious and hungry and wily playing at being weak and needy, things that seem one way, but really are another altogether.
So you just sit there, knowing that your heart will break if you find a blue little frost-trimmed baby out in the meadow tomorrow morning, or that it will burst with terror if you go out and cast back and forth across the moonless field, feeling eyes crawl over you, searching for the source of the cries—
which have suddenly stopped.
Has it left? Has he died? Is it drawing in for the kill? Your chest tightens into knots-- is the silence good or bad? Perhaps it feels better but worse, but the crying begins again, maybe a little softer, certainly neither closer nor farther off. Your watch says it’s 3:08 am.
4) You’re taking a shower late at night and suddenly go blind, completely stone blind. Your shower is one of those deep, old, bathtub-&-curtain arrangements. You’re also running out of warm water.
After several minutes you’ve positively, undeniably confirmed that your are, indeed, blind, that it isn’t some sort of power outage or momentary hysterical dysfunction. You cannot see, and there is no reason to believe that you will be seeing anything anytime soon.
The water is now lukewarm, quickly heading toward ice-cold.
What do you do? How do you begin to address this situation?
As those first dizzy moments pass, you hear glass break, the bolt thrown on your front door, heavy boots on your stairs.
The bathroom door has no lock.
5) Your phone is ringing. It is very early in the morning and your phone is ringing and it wakes you up. On the phone is a very good friend of yours—your best friend, even. She’s hysterical, crying almost too hard to speak. She says that something has happened, that she needs help very badly. That it’s unpleasant, but she needs help.
You say you’ll be right over.
You arrive, and your friend is still hysterical. There is a naked female corpse—maybe 30-something, maybe younger—crumpled at the bottom of her cellar stairs. You’ve never seen a dead person before, not even at a wake or funeral. She looks a lot worse than you thought she would—not that there’s anything gory, just that you didn’t realize how disturbing it would be to see a woman crumpled like a discarded doll.
Your friend, your best friend, says: We’ve gotta get rid of it.
(It?, you think)
She says: There’s a pipe saw in the garage.
She says: What’s wrong?